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    Weekend reads: Top journals under scrutiny; a toxic legacy; science by press release

    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. It was a particularly busy week at Retraction Watch, featuring retractions from four of the top … Continue reading Weekend reads: Top journals under scrutiny; a toxic legacy; science by press release

    in Retraction watch on June 06, 2020 02:02 PM.

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    What the 1960s civil rights protests can teach us about fighting racism today

    Day after day, protests have arisen in cities across America. The outrage was sparked by video of a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, even as the 46-year-old black man begged for breath. Floyd was arrested May 25 for allegedly trying to buy cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill and died after being pinned to the ground for eight minutes and 46 seconds by the Minneapolis officer’s knee.

    That spark easily found both fresh and long-simmering fuel. Among recent events, white men killed a black jogger, a white woman called the police on a black birder in New York’s Central Park (SN: 6/4/20) and the pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on black people (SN: 4/10/20). Those events underscore centuries of racism that has limited black people’s access to housing, health services, education and jobs.

    The anger, anguish and calls for racial justice that first boiled over in Minneapolis quickly spread coast to coast. While many protests have been peaceful, some have turned violent — instigated sometimes by looters, sometimes by individuals among the protesters and sometimes by law enforcement using force to disperse crowds.

    Whether these protests will help dismantle systemic racial inequities in the United States remains to be seen. But some lessons and parallels can be drawn from the civil rights protests in the 1960s, says Princeton University political scientist Omar Wasow. His research shows that the media covered civil rights protests in the ’60s in different ways depending on whether protestors were peaceful or violent. And that coverage shaped public opinion and behavior at the ballot box.

    When protestors remained peaceful, particularly in the face of aggression and violence, the resulting images shocked a complacent nation into action. But when the protestors themselves turned violent, even in self-defense, the media message shifted from a framing around civil rights to one around the need for control, Wasow finds. For example, Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4, 1968, triggered a week of violent protests around the country. Those protests helped Republican candidate Richard Nixon, campaigning on law and order, prevail over Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey, lead author of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, in the November presidential election, Wasow reports May 21 in the American Political Science Review.

    Omar WasowPrinceton University political scientist Omar Wasow’s recent research on civil rights protests in the 1960s suggests that nonviolent protest, especially in the face of aggression, is the best tactic for advancing protesters’ cause.Willi Wong

    “An ‘eye for an eye’ in response to violent repression may be moral, but this research suggests it may not be strategic,” he writes.  

    Science News talked with Wasow about his findings and how they apply to the current protests. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

    SN: What was your big question about the protests of the 1960s?

    Wasow: A large body of political science finds marginal groups have no influence. I wanted to see if protesters actually influence politics. I found that protests could be very influential through their effect on media. If you think about it, almost nobody directly observes a protest. The way a protest reaches us is through the news. That coverage varied if the protest was violent or nonviolent. A nonviolent protest [that made the news] predicted a front-page headline the next day that mentioned civil rights. When protests escalated to violence, that predicted a front-page headline with a word like “riot.”

    So a protest influenced media coverage and that coverage influenced public opinion, or how people responded to survey questions such as: What is the most important problem in America today?

    As protest activity mobilizes, the percentage of Americans who say civil rights is the most important problem in America increases. When protests turn violent, public opinion shifts to concerns about crime and riots.

    SN: How did you evaluate the link between violent versus nonviolent protest and later voting?

    Wasow: In the early part of the 1960s, most civil rights protests used nonviolent tactics even when met with police violence. Those events were followed [later in the decade] by a wave of protests that often escalated to protester-initiated violence, peaking when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April 1968.[That coincides with] a big shift in public opinion. In the early part of the 1960s, survey respondents say the most important problem in America is civil rights. But in the late 1960s, we see a spike in concern for crime and riots. That’s a puzzle. Are those shifts at all associated with protest activities on the ground?

    In political science, voting is a really important outcome, so that’s what I looked at. The basic framework is we have a county and it is “treated” or “not treated” by a protest. A county is [considered] treated if there is a protest within 100 miles and within two years of an election. I looked at two conditions. Under one, I compared counties treated with nonviolent protests to counties that experienced no nonviolent protests. In the other, I compared counties treated to violent protests to those with no violent protests. I wanted to know: Do the treated counties vote differently than the not treated counties?

    In the primary models, I estimate the effect of protests on voting across the 1964, 1968 and 1972 presidential elections. These models compare each county to itself over time. In addition, to try and make better “apples to apples” comparisons, I also used a method called matching that only compares counties with and without protests that are very similar on variables such as percent black or percent foreign born. Another thing I looked at are counties that are 90 percent white. I find that counties close to nonviolent protest between 1960 and 1972 see increased Democratic vote share. Conversely, counties close to violent protest vote more for the Republican Party. That’s likely because, following the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Democrats tend to be seen as the party of civil rights and Republicans as the party of law and order.

    Selma march in 1965On March 7, 1965, protestors marched from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., to draw attention to black voting rights. Historical records show that the activists knew police might retaliate, but hoped that images juxtaposing peaceful protestors against violent police might shock the nation. Soon after this photo was taken, police teargassed and beat the protestors. That event and others helped precipitate passage of the Voting Rights Act.Spider Martin/National Archives photo/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    SN: Could something besides protests have influenced those election results? 

    Wasow: If we had godlike powers, we could randomly assign which counties to treat with violent or nonviolent protests and then see what happens in the November vote. Obviously we can’t do that, but we can look for possible natural experiments. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in April 1968 sparked many violent protests across the country, so I could compare what happens when counties did or did not experience violent protests.

    What I do here, which builds on work by some economists, is use rainfall as something that might predict protest activity. There’s a lot of work that shows protest activity is sensitive to weather. More rainfall equals less likelihood of protest activity. Less rainfall equals more likelihood of protest activity.

    Counties that experienced less rainfall were much more likely than those with more rainfall to experience protests following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. So there’s two steps in the process: rainfall’s effect on protest and protests’ effect on voting. If rainfall can predict voting, the only plausible path is through protest activity. There’s not another plausible explanation.

    I also conducted a placebo test. That’s because rainfall is associated with geography, and geography is also associated with voting behavior. So I asked: Does rainfall before Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated influence voting in November? That’s a placebo, like a sugar pill, because we shouldn’t expect it to have any effect. I find that rainfall before King’s assassination does not predict voting in November. I also look in the last two weeks of that April after most violent protests ended. And again, the rainfall in that period doesn’t predict voting in November. It’s not just rainfall in April. It’s rainfall in one week of April that predicts voting in November. That allows me to say it’s not just geography, it’s not just the South is rainier. I make the case that experiencing a violent protest caused people to vote for order in November.  

    SN: What role do journalists play in shaping the narrative around protests?

    Wasow: I scanned thousands of newspaper pages and created a corpus of articles about protests and then asked: If a protest had been categorized as nonviolent, what sorts of words are commonly used? And similarly, if a protest had been categorized as violent, what are some of the most common words?

    Nonviolent protests seem to be covered as if they were traditional attempts to redress grievances, seek rights. So the words we see are “civil rights,” “demonstration,” “march,” words that suggest this is a legitimate claim for rights. When there were violent protests, the words that were commonly used were things like “riot” and police.”

    The key idea here is people are protesting because they’re angry about some injustice, but the kinds of tactics employed will focus the media’s attention on that injustice or, in some cases, shift the focus away from that injustice. That’s why tactics matter so much. The approach tells the media what to pay attention to and by telling the media what to pay attention to, protestors are telling the country what to pay attention to. This finding was revelatory for me. I didn’t start out thinking this was a study of media.

    SN: Do those findings apply to today, given the media has changed a lot since the ’60s? 

    Wasow: Media are much more fragmented than they were in the 1960s. Everybody has their own unique media feed. That’s going to mean that following the news may be a more siloed experience, where some people are very focused on activist violence while other people will be much more focused on police violence. Depending on which channel you watch, depending on who your friends are on social media, you may be getting very different narratives.

    To be clear, that’s not entirely different from the ’60s. Most of the Southern media was pro-segregation, and media outside of the South tolerated Jim Crow and was not interested in the concerns of black people. The idea that there might be two different visions of what’s happening was not so unlike a black press that covered the concerns of black people and a white press that was indifferent or even hostile to those concerns.

    SN: What kind of impact could violent protests have on the 2020 election?  

    Wasow: It’s hard for people to appreciate that there’s a set of voters who are open to concerns about racial equality, but it’s not their top priority. They also are very concerned about order. Think of somebody who might be an Obama-turned-Trump voter. In the ’60s, there were people who supported the Democratic candidate after the passage of the Civil Rights Act [in July 1964]. But they joined the law and order coalition after the period between 1964 and 1968 when there was a lot more violent protest. These voters are influential because they move between parties and because they are in swing states.

    On the one hand, some whites today have become much more concerned about racial equality and center their conversation on the underlying injustice against George Floyd. But it might also be possible that more whites move toward the law and order coalition and support Trump. I think it’s too early to tell.

    SN: Recently, newspapers have run images of the police taking a knee in solidarity with protestors. How do you think such imagery affects media attention?

    Wasow: My model suggests that peaceful events don’t usually get as much press because they are less dramatic. But I had to simplify the model [for this study]. A slightly more complicated version of the model is that violence is just one way of creating drama. Seeing police behave in a counter-stereotypic way is dramatic. And consistent with my theory, nonviolent protest can be effective if it’s able to do something that captures the attention of the media. Violence is one way of creating spectacle, but it’s not the only way.

    SN: Critics have said your study puts too much responsibility on protestors. What do you think?

    Wasow: What’s important is the causal story I’m trying to tell. A story that says “this is all about white moderates” deprives the protesters of their agency. I want to begin the story with, despite overwhelming odds, this subordinate group at the margins of society has power. And the question is: How can they use that power to advance their interests most effectively?

    SN: What is your advice to today’s protesters?

    Wasow: There are two kinds of deep narratives in which we talk about protests: a rights-, or justice-, framed story or a crime story. That was true in the ’60s and that’s true now.

    In the 1960s, leaders of the civil rights movement were incredibly focused on how to get their message out to the whole country and used protest as a means to gain influence. What they found was that large, peaceful demonstrations without conflict didn’t interest the press. A New York Times reporter covering a march in Mississippi said something along the lines of “no blood, no guts, no glory.” The key idea is that nonviolence was often not enough to generate the kind of attention that was necessary to create a national crisis.

    To create a sense of crisis, it became necessary to engage in this very strategic kind of nonviolent protest, which was for protestors to become the object of state violence. Activists picked places like Birmingham and Selma because there were these police chiefs with a hair trigger for violence who would engage in brutal repression in front of cameras. That would shock the conscience of these otherwise indifferent or even hostile actors outside the South. It changed public opinion.

    If you’re an activist on the ground thinking about and angry about this injustice against George Floyd and a long history of police violence in this country against African Americans, if you want to put that at the center of the national conversation, it’s important to be thinking about this: Is what we are doing on the ground elevating the justice frame or elevating the riots frame?

    in Science News on June 05, 2020 06:42 PM.

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    Following outrage, chemistry journal makes a paper decrying diversity efforts disappear

    The New York Times isn’t the only outlet that has walked back a commentary this week amid reader outrage.  Following a flood of criticism on social media, a chemistry journal in Germany has disappeared an essay by Canadian researcher who argued that efforts to promote diversity in the field were hurting science.  The paper, titled … Continue reading Following outrage, chemistry journal makes a paper decrying diversity efforts disappear

    in Retraction watch on June 05, 2020 06:20 PM.

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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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    University recommends retraction of two computing papers for plagiarism

    Following an investigation prompted by a whistleblower, a university in Australia has recommended that one of its researchers retract two papers, Retraction Watch has learned. The reviews, “Cryptography and State-of-the-art Techniques” and “An Advanced Survey on Cloud Computing and State-of-the-art Research Issues,” were both published in 2012 in the International Journal of Computer Science Issues … Continue reading University recommends retraction of two computing papers for plagiarism

    in Retraction watch on June 05, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    5 reasons you might be seeing more wildlife during the COVID-19 pandemic

    Coyotes sauntering down the streets of San Francisco. Neighborhoods flooded with birdsong. Snakes slithering onto trails and sidewalks. And of course, the rats. Rats everywhere. Somehow, as COVID-19 forced us all into our homes, it also managed to bring nature a little bit closer. Sometimes — as in the case of rats — a little uncomfortably close.

    Newspapers have eagerly reported sightings of wildlife in the streets. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even issued guidelines to deal with an expected flood of rats. It’s easy to think that nature is sweeping into our ordered lives and taking over now. But numbers of rats or coyotes probably aren’t all that much higher than normal, and animals aren’t even necessarily going anywhere new. Instead, COVID-19 has changed the way we interact with the natural world.

    Here are five reasons that people might be running into more wildlife than before.

    1. Human handouts are scarce.

    Restaurants are closed, and dumpsters usually filled with trash lie empty. That might be forcing rats out into the open to search for food. People have certainly claimed to see more rats. But there’s not yet real data to back that up, says Jonathan Richardson, an urban ecologist at the University of Richmond in Virginia.

    “We would expect them to be impacted as restaurants close and trash generation moves to residential buildings,” he says. “It’s very intuitive, but lots of people are throwing that around without data to support it.” He and his colleagues are in the process of gathering some of that data themselves, using surveys of pest management groups and calls to city services about rats.

    Rodents are prone to boom and bust cycles in their populations, as opportunities for food and threats from predators (or pest control) come and go. If food is scarce enough for rats during shutdowns, he says, “it could be the beginning of a bust cycle. A lot of city health folks are hoping that’s the case.”

    But if there is a bust, he says, don’t get your hopes up that it will last. “It would absolutely be temporary,” Richardson says. “They’re just so adapted to breeding quickly and reproducing they’ll be able to repopulate declined populations very quickly.”

    2. Scary humans aren’t around as much.

    Every animal exists in a landscape of fear  — trying to get what they need while avoiding areas where predators might be lurking, says ecologist John Laundre. Those predators include humans. “We are predators on pretty much everything,” says Laundre, of Western Oregon University in Monmouth. “Everything fears us.”

    Pumas in the Santa Cruz Mountains, for example, will chow down peacefully on a carcass while a nearby speaker plays nature noises. But the big cats beat a speedy retreat when the speaker switches to the sound of humans talking, a 2017 study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B showed. Similarly, black bears living near human-inhabited areas avoid those areas during the day. They prefer to venture to peopled places at night, when humans are less likely to be out, according to a 2019 study in Movement Ecology.

    When humans retreat, due to lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, the landscape of fear that we create retreats with us. Animals common in suburban areas, such as coyotes, might normally restrict their activities to the evening and night. But “the fewer people they see around,” Laundre explains, “the more willing they are to come out during the day.”

    3. It’s nice and quiet.

    Not all animals fear us. “We can see a lot of birds flying around and coming to our feeders,” Laundre notes. “They know humans are safe.”

    Those humans are, in turn, taking greater notice of their avian neighbors in the time of COVID-19. “I would say noise pollution is the biggest reason people notice them,” says Gustavo Bravo, an ornithologist at Harvard University. Or rather, the lack of noise pollution. “If everyone is hunkered down at their homes, cities are quieter,” he notes.

    The Sounds of the City project, a New York University study that places microphones around New York City to study urban noise, showed drastic decreases in the sounds of traffic and people as COVID-19 took hold.

    “Birds will adjust their song and the times they are singing to account for urban noise,” notes Deja Perkins, an urban ecologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. “Usually, they sing earlier in the day to avoid competing with city noises such as traffic.” They also sing at a higher sound frequency in urban neighborhoods to help their songs stand out against the city’s roar (SN: 7/16/03).

    While it’s too early to say if birds have changed their singing times or tones in the quieter streets, she says, we are better able to hear them. And people are taking note. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Global Big Day, which invites people to log their bird observations on the eBird app and website once a year, reported a 32 percent increase in participation compared with 2019.

    4. Spring has sprung.

    If the birds seem especially musical, Bravo explains, it’s because they are. COVID-19 happened to hit the Northern Hemisphere at a critical time. “March, April and May are the spring migration months in the Northern Hemisphere,” he says. “Also for the resident birds not migrating, it’s the time they mate. They sing a lot; they’re looking for their partner.”

    Birds aren’t the only animals becoming more common in spring. “This is the time of year – March, April, May — when snakes are coming out of hibernation, to eat, warm up and look for each other to mate,” says David Steen, a herpetologist at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Gainesville. It’s nothing to do with COVID-19. “I’ve been answering people’s questions about snakes and identifying snakes for people for a decade or so,” he says. “This is my busy season.”

    5. We’re finally paying attention.

    But the snakes themselves never changed. “These snakes have always been right next to us,” Steen says. “We’ve been living with these animals [for] so long. We just happen to see them more often [now].”

    People who previously might have traveled to wide vistas and tried to spot rare species may be stuck a bit closer to home, and finally paying attention to their back gardens, says Helen Smith, an arachnologist with the British Arachnological Society who’s based in Norfolk, England. “They’re at home more and in their local patch more,” she says. The BAS has put out several surveys to help people report their spider sightings. “You’re living with these really interesting animals,” she says. “Make friends with them.”

    Our social media fixation also helps shine a spotlight on local wildlife sightings, Bravo notes. “People have started to post about it on social media, and because everyone was looking at social media, it spread it out fast.” In Bravo’s home country of Colombia, he says, “even some national celebrities were posting pictures of birds. It’s not something they’d do on a daily basis, but they’re sitting at home.”

    Perkins, who has been involved with #BlackBirdersWeek, an effort to promote birders of color on Twitter, hopes that the social media and in-person attention will spark interest in local wildlife that extends into the post-COVID-19 world. “I hope that people continue to go outdoors and make these observations and pay attention to the wildlife that we have around us,” Perkins says. “And [that it’s] helping people to notice that people aren’t the only things that thrive in cities.”  

    in Science News on June 05, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    Taking hydroxychloroquine may not prevent COVID-19 after exposure

    Hydroxychloroquine is no better than a sugar pill at stopping health-care workers and others exposed to COVID-19 from getting sick, the first results from a clinical trial testing the drug as a prophylactic suggest.

    In a study of 821 people who had been exposed to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19, 11.8 percent of people taking hydroxychloroquine and 14.3 percent of people taking a placebo developed symptoms. There is no statistically meaningful difference in those numbers, researchers report June 3 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

    “This study definitely tempers enthusiasm for post-exposure prophylaxis among health-care workers,” says Rachel Hess, a primary care doctor and health services researcher at the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City. She was not involved in the study, but is testing hydroxychloroquine in a clinical trial of people newly diagnosed with COVID-19.

    A far larger study of the drug’s potential to prevent disease, which involves thousands of health-care workers, is still ongoing and expected to report results later this year.

    Interest in hydroxychloroquine stems from studies in lab dishes that have suggested that the antimalarial drug could block coronavirus entry into cells and slow viral replication. But studies testing the antimalarial drug against severe cases of COVID-19 largely haven’t panned out.

    A study published May 22 in the Lancet also had suggested hydroxychloroquine carries a higher risk of death for people with serious cases of COVID-19, leading the World Health Organization to temporarily stop one part of a clinical trial testing the drug. But editors of the Lancet issued an expression of concern June 3 that the study might be based on faulty data provided by a company founded by coauthor Sapan Desai. Surgisphere Corp, based in Chicago, refused to turn its proprietary database over to reviewers, so the other authors of the study retracted the paper June 4. The WHO also announced June 3 that testing of hydroxychloroquine will resume after a safety review found no reason to halt the trial.

    Despite disappointing results from studies of patients with severe disease, researchers were hopeful that giving the drug earlier might have benefits (SN: 5/22/20). “There is some thought that it could still be clinically important, but we’re less optimistic than we were before we got our results,” says Sarah Lofgren, an infectious diseases doctor at the University of Minnesota.  

    Lofgren and colleagues recruited participants via the Internet. Study volunteers were mostly health-care workers or family members who had been exposed to a person with a known case of COVID-19 for 10 minutes or longer while not wearing a mask or eye protection. That’s considered a high-risk exposure. Some people in the study had moderate risk exposures, in which they were wearing masks but not eye protection when they encountered the person with coronavirus.

    Researchers asked participants to take a total of 19 tablets over five days, assigning participants at random to get either hydroxychloroquine or a placebo. Neither the researchers nor volunteers knew which drugs each person received. Participants then reported symptoms and side effects for 14 days, with follow-up surveys four to six weeks later.

    Because the study began in March when testing for COVID-19 was scarce, only 20 people in the study got tested with PCR, which detects the virus’s genetic material, to confirm their infections. Researchers relied on other study participants’ symptoms to determine whether they likely had COVID-19. Studies have shown that nearly half of people who contract the virus have mild or no symptoms. “If they were asymptomatic, we missed them,” Lofgren says.

    About 40 percent of participants who took hydroxychloroquine had side effects, which mostly consisted of gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, diarrhea and indigestion. Only about 17 percent of people taking placebo reported side effects. None of the side effects reported by either group were severe. But the lack of clear benefit for people taking hydroxychloroquine coupled with the risk of side effects led a review board to stop the trial early for “futility.”

    Even if the difference between the two groups crossed the threshold to be statistically important, there’s not enough clinical evidence of benefit to suggest hydroxychloroquine can stop coronavirus infection after exposure to the virus, Lofgren says. Lofgren and colleagues also are finishing two other trials testing the drug at two other stages: whether it can prevent infection when given before exposure or hold off serious disease for those already infected.

    But Myron Cohen, director of the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, suggests that the jury is still out on hydroxychloroquine’s preventive powers. The study results “are more provocative than definitive, suggesting that the potential prevention benefits of hydroxychloroquine remain to be determined,” he writes in an editorial also published June 3 in the journal. He notes that some study participants quit taking the drug before they had finished all 19 pills, usually because of side effects. And there was no way to confirm that others took the drug as instructed.

    Hess says she’s waiting for other studies to confirm or contradict this study. These findings indicate that people shouldn’t take the drug as a COVID-19 preventative if not enrolled in a clinical trial, she adds. Instead, wearing masks, social distancing and thorough handwashing will best help protect individuals and communities from infection.

    in Science News on June 04, 2020 07:58 PM.

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    Lancet, NEJM retract controversial COVID-19 studies based on Surgisphere data

    Two days after issuing expressions of concern about controversial papers on Covid-19, The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine have retracted the articles because a number of the authors were not granted access to the underlying data. The Lancet paper, “Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine with or without a macrolide for treatment of COVID-19: a … Continue reading Lancet, NEJM retract controversial COVID-19 studies based on Surgisphere data

    in Retraction watch on June 04, 2020 07:25 PM.

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    Rapid sea level rise could drown protective mangrove forests by 2100

    Mangrove forests can only take so much. The famously resilient, salt-tolerant and twisty trees have so far managed to keep pace with rising sea levels, providing a valuable buffer to coastal communities against pounding storm surges. Now, researchers have found the forests’ limit.  Mangroves cannot survive in seas rising faster than about 7 millimeters per year, the scientists report in the June 5 Science

    Sea levels are rising globally at an average rate of about 3.4 millimeters per year, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (SN: 9/25/19). But over the next few decades, that rate is projected to accelerate to between 5 millimeters per year and 10 millimeters per year by 2100, scientists say.

    That could drown the forests, which act as a buffer protecting many coastlines around the globe by reducing erosion from tides and dampening the energy of storm waves sweeping ashore. And mangroves come with additional boons, says Neil Saintilan, a biogeographer at Macquarie University in Sydney. They provide a safe nursery habitat for tropical fish and help reduce atmospheric levels of the climate-warming gas carbon dioxide.

    Mangroves are carbon-sequestering engines, drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and swiftly burying it in soils. From about 8,600 to 6,000 years ago — a period of particularly rapid expansion for the mangroves — this coastal ocean–based “blue-carbon” storage by the mangrove forests amounted to about 85 pentagrams of carbon, enough to lower atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at the time by about 5 parts per million, Saintilan and colleagues estimate. Currently, the average concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere is about 417 ppm.

    These valuable forests are typically resilient to changes in sea level, holding their ground by building up sediment amongst their tangled roots. Scientists have observed this in the modern era, Saintilan says, by recording how quickly sediment accumulates and the land surface elevation within the forests rises.

    But those data span only a few years to perhaps a decade or two, he says. As a result, there have been two big unknowns: How long mangrove forests might be able to keep up this balancing act; and at what point the seas might simply rise too quickly for the trees, drowning the forests.

    New mangroves form from slender seedlings called propagules, which drop from the trees into the shallow water and float until they take root in a new location. Coastal mangrove forests can buffer nearby communities from storm surges and accumulate new sediment around their roots, building up new land and sequestering carbon.N. Saintilan

    How quickly the seas rise over the next century will depend on the rate of global warming, which causes seawater to expand and ice sheets to melt — and that, in turn, depends on rates of greenhouse gas emissions.

    To understand how mangroves may respond to faster-rising seas, Saintilan and colleagues turned to the past. The peak of the most recent ice age was between about 26,000 and 20,000 years ago. After that, the ice sheets began to retreat as the world warmed, and sea levels began quickly rising, at rates faster than 12 millimeters per year.

    Saintilan and colleagues focused on a time period between 10,000 and 7,000 years ago, as sea level rise began to slow and mangrove forests began to appear. The researchers examined previously published data on 78 organic carbon-rich sediment cores collected from coastal sites around the planet, and compared those with computer simulations of sea level rise rates for each site, to assess when the waters rose slowly enough for mangrove forests to grow.  

    The forests did not grow until the sea level rise had slowed to an average global rate of 6.1 millimeters per year, the team found. Today, under a scenario of high greenhouse gas emissions, sea level rise will accelerate to about 6 or 7 millimeters per year within the next 30 years. Even under mid-range scenarios that include cuts in greenhouse gases, the rate of rise will exceed that threshold by the end of the century, the researchers note. At that point, the mangrove forests sheltering many coastal communities will be unable to keep up, the researchers say.

    “The future of the world’s mangroves is in our hands,” Saintilan says.

    Establishing a threshold for mangrove survival is key to future coastal management, writes Catherine Lovelock, an ecologist at the University of Queensland in Australia, in a commentary in the same issue of Science. The threshold itself may vary by mangrove species or by the frequency and intensity of the storms that strike a particular coastal setting, she says.

    The findings also underscore the need for the world to “quickly and aggressively” act to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, says ecologist Holly Jones of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, who was not involved in the new study.

    In a study published May 29 in PLOS ONE, Jones and colleagues estimated that mangrove forests currently help protect about 5.3 million people around the world from storm surges and other effects of sea level rise. “It is especially painful to think that through our actions, we could be causing mangroves that provide critical protection to people … to drown,” she says.

    Future studies, Jones says, can incorporate the newly reported threshold to anticipate mangroves’ response. From that, scientists may be able to determine which existing forests will survive, and which may need help migrating inland, such as by reshaping coastal landscapes to help the trees propagate.

    “We need to get started yesterday to ensure these important ecosystems are around to protect us into the future,” Jones says.

    in Science News on June 04, 2020 06:00 PM.

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    A #BlackBirdersWeek cofounder aims to amplify black nature enthusiasts

    A black youngster grins widely while holding a falcon bigger than his head. Beside a beaver pond, a black ecologist in waders inspects a sediment core sampler. A bat wriggles in the hands of a black evolutionary biologist doing fieldwork in Belize. 

    These photos and hundreds more bird facts, questions and experiences are flooding social media as part of #BlackBirdersWeek, an initiative aimed at recognizing and uplifting black birders and nature enthusiasts. The social media campaign runs May 31 through June 5 and includes Q&A sessions, a Facebook livestream discussion of Birding While Black, and prompts for sharing photos on Twitter and Instagram of birds and being out enjoying nature.

    #BlackBirdersWeek comes amid nationwide protests against the deaths of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor and many other black people at the hands of the police. The protests have elevated the importance and urgency of the campaign for its founders, @BlackAFinSTEM, a Twitter-based group of black individuals who work in science or related fields. They began planning #BlackBirdersWeek in the wake of an incident on May 25 — the same day George Floyd was killed — in which Christian Cooper, a black birder, asked a white woman in New York City’s Central Park to follow park rules on leashing dogs. The woman refused, eventually yelling that she was calling the police “to tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life.”

    Cooper’s experience resonated with other black birders. “What happened to him could have happened to any of us,” says Danielle Belleny, a wildlife biologist in San Antonio, Texas, and a cofounder of #BlackBirdersWeek.

    She too has had the police called on her while working as a field biologist and while birding. One of her favorite birding memories — the first time she spotted a short-eared owl (Asio flammeus), “a gorgeous bird with brown streaks on its body, striking yellow eyes and these little feather tufts that look like ears on the top of their head” — while in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., is marred by the memory of a stranger trailing her for “looking suspicious.” 

    “I really hate the stereotype that black people don’t do outdoor activities,” Belleny says. “It’s just not true,” and makes it harder for black nature enthusiasts to recreate, relax and fully develop their interests.

    Belleny’s love of the outdoors started early. “There’s a photo of me holding a huge rat snake as a 4-year-old,” she says. Nature shows hosted by people like wildlife conservationist Jeff Corwin further developed her love of nature, but she felt a disconnect because she didn’t see herself represented. “I didn’t know wildlife biology was a job I could have.” 

    Feelings of isolation as a black woman in wildlife science continued in graduate school at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, and her later work in conservation. “It can be really lonely when you don’t see other people like you,” enjoying and working in the outdoors, she says.

    Danielle BellenyDanielle Belleny holds a scaled quail (Callipepla squamata) at the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch in Rotan, Texas, in March of 2016.D. Belleny

    The field sciences are overwhelmingly white. In 2018, individuals who identify as black or African-American received less than 1 percent of doctorates awarded in the fields of ecology, evolutionary biology and wildlife biology, according to data from the U.S. National Science Foundation. Though Belleny loved her work, “I was really upset about my position and considered changing careers to one I could see more black people in,” she says. 

    Belleny’s doubts disappeared once she joined an online community of black birders and naturalists that would become @BlackAFinSTEM. “It’s just a place for us to hang out and talk to each other,” she says. Feeling part of a community made a huge difference — one they now seek to share with the greater online community.

    #BlackBirdersWeek aims to amplify and expand that community by showing “that black people are outdoors, we do this, we love it, and we take up space,” Belleny says. “I hope young people interested in STEM will see it and realize that they belong here, too.”

    And that community has solidified Belleny’s plan to continue working as a wildlife biologist focused on preserving biodiversity. Recently she has developed management strategies for species of conservation concern, like the eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) or piping plover (Charadrius melodus). 

    “Ecological communities are more resilient when there’s more biodiversity,” Belleny says. #BlackBirdersWeek aims to show that diversity strengthens birding and the broader field sciences community, too. “We want to advocate for diversity in birding because it will create a stronger and better community for everyone.”

    The campaign has allowed black birders to use their passion and expertise to stand in solidarity as a community against racism. The response has been overwhelming, with hundreds of black birders, scientists and nature enthusiasts sharing pictures and stories of them outside doing what they love. “I’ve shed a couple really happy tears. It’s just so nice to see so many beautiful black faces,” Belleny says. “We deserve to be in this space and we deserve to be safe.”

    in Science News on June 04, 2020 03:30 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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    Here Are The Personality Traits Most Strongly Associated With Being Environmentally Conscious

    By Emma Young

    Though COVID-19 is front and centre right now, most people would agree that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity. As we explored earlier this year, how to engage people to combat that change is a thornier subject. Now a major new meta-analysis, published in Psychological Science, has revealed that particular personality traits are associated with more — or fewer — pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours.

    The work has potentially important practical implications. Reframing pro-environmental campaigns to resonate with people who would otherwise be more resistant to them could effect real change. As the researchers write, “personality factors may play a significant and systematic role in such reframing.”

    Alistair Raymond Bryce Soutter at the University of Edinburgh and colleagues analysed the data from 38 papers, comprising 44,993 participants from 19 countries across four continents. All of these papers used either a Big Five (extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness) personality test or a test based on the HEXACO model (which includes those five domains, plus a measure of honesty-humility). The studies used a range of scales to measure pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours, from one-item scales asking, for example, ‘Is climate change real?’ to assessments of a suite of behaviours, such as donations to environmental charities and recycling behaviour. This isn’t a problem, but an advantage, the researchers argue: “The breadth of measurement allows the results of the meta-analysis to be generalised across a variety of attitudes and behaviours.”

    The team found that the personality trait of openness to experience had the strongest association with pro-environmental attitudes and behaviour. This makes sense, the researchers note. More open people tend to be smarter and better-informed, and so may have greater knowledge about the consequences of human actions on the environment, which in turn motivates their environmentalism. People high in openness are also more willing to adopt new ideas — so they may be more likely to buy an electric car, say, or install solar panels.

    One other personality trait was just as strongly associated with environmentalism: honesty-humility. This was more of a surprise to the team. But they suggest that as honesty-humility is defined by a tendency to cooperate and not to exploit others, these people may similarly be unwilling to exploit the environment.

    Agreeableness and conscientiousness were also associated with environmentalism, though to a lesser extent. Agreeable people tend to show more empathy and compassion, and empathy for future generations or other animals may come into play here. Conscientious people, meanwhile, might be expected to more closely follow socially appropriate norms such as recycling. However, people who are driven to follow social norms may in some cases be discouraged from pro-environmental behaviours: “For example, an often desirable social goal is being able to travel or own a large house. However, both of these behaviours are often not environmentally friendly.”

    These findings might in theory be used to design more impactful interventions. Since more open and honest/humble people are more likely to adopt environmentally friendly practices, perhaps those at the other end of these scales should be targeted. To reach people who are less open to new experiences, it might be helpful to highlight environmentally friendly practices which are already established, rather than new, the researchers suggest.

    Arguing that there’s a moral imperative to engage in pro-environmental behaviour could also fail to engage those people who are low in honesty-humility and agreeableness, who may be mistrustful of moral-based arguments. Instead, messages could be framed to emphasise personal gains — the cost savings of using electricity rather than petrol as a car fuel, for example.

    Of course, other factors also come into play. Age, social norms, childhood experiences with nature, political ideology — all these things and more are linked to variations in environmental attitudes and behaviours. This new study confirms that personality factors can be important, too. And the team would like to see studies that take a more encompassing approach: “The use of multiple frameworks of psychology in a study, such as including all the above factors, could provide a more holistic understanding of why people act or do not act in pro-environmental ways.”

    Big Five and HEXACO Personality Traits, Proenvironmental Attitudes, and Behaviors: A Meta-Analysis

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 04, 2020 12:42 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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    A Milky Way flash implicates magnetars as a source of fast radio bursts

    Astronomers think they’ve spotted the first example of a superbright blast of radio waves, called a fast radio burst, originating within the Milky Way.

    Dozens of these bursts have been sighted in other galaxies — all too far away to see the celestial engines that power them (SN: 2/7/20). But the outburst in our own galaxy, detected simultaneously by two radio arrays on April 28, was close enough to see that it was generated by a highly magnetic neutron star called a magnetar.

    That observation is a smoking gun that magnetars are behind at least some of the extragalactic fast radio bursts, or FRBs, that have defied explanation for over a decade (SN: 7/25/14). Researchers describe the magnetar’s radio burst online at arXiv.org on May 20 and May 21.

    “When I first heard about it, I thought, ‘No way. Too good to be true,’” says Ben Margalit, an astrophysicist at the University of California, Berkeley, who wasn’t involved in the observations. “Just, wow. It’s really an incredible discovery.”

    In addition to giving magnetars an edge over other proposed explanations for FRBs, such as those involving black holes and stellar collisions, observations of this Milky Way magnetar may clear up a debate among theorists about how magnetars crank out such powerful radio waves.

    Researchers first noted an intense radio outburst from a young, active magnetar about 30,000 light-years away, dubbed SGR 1935+2154, in an astronomer’s telegram. The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, or CHIME, radio telescope in British Columbia had detected about 30 decillion, or 3 × 1034 ergs of energy from the burst. That was far brighter than any flash of radio waves previously seen from any of the five magnetars in and around the Milky Way known to emit radio pulses.

    That report inspired another group of astronomers to check concurrent data from the Survey for Transient Astronomical Radio Emission 2, or STARE2, detectors in the southwestern United States. STARE2, which watches the sky for radio signals at a different set of frequencies than CHIME, measured a whopping 2.2 × 1035 ergs from the burst.

    “This thing put out, in a millisecond, as much energy as the sun puts out in 100 seconds,” says Caltech astronomer Vikram Ravi, who was on the team that analyzed the STARE2 data. That made this event 4,000 times as energetic as the brightest millisecond radio pulse ever seen in the Milky Way. If such an intense burst had happened in a nearby galaxy, it would have looked just like a fast radio burst.

    “I was basically in shock,” says radio astronomer Christopher Bochenek of Caltech, who combed through the STARE2 data to find the burst. “It took me a while, and a call to a friend, to calm me down enough to go and make sure that this thing was actually real.”

    The weakest FRB that has been observed in another galaxy was still about 40 times more energetic than SGR 1935+2154’s radio flare. But that’s “pretty close, on astronomical terms,” says Keith Bannister, a radio astronomer at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Sydney, who was not involved in the work. Magnetars like this “could be responsible for some fraction, if not all of the FRBs that we’ve seen so far,” he says. “This motivates future studies to try and find similar sorts of objects in other, nearby galaxies.”

    If magnetars do generate extragalactic FRBs, then SGR 1935+2154 could give new insight about how these objects do it. Theorists currently have many competing ideas about magnetar FRBs, Margalit says. Some think the FRB radio waves originate right in the thick of the star’s intense magnetic fields. Others suspect radio waves are emitted when matter ejected from the magnetar collides with material farther out in space.

    Different magnetar FRB scenarios come with different predictions about the appearance of X-rays that should be emitted along with the radio waves. Extragalactic FRBs are so far away that “the X-rays are kind of hopeless to detect,” Margalit says. But SGR 1935+2154 is close enough that spaceborne detectors saw a gush of X-rays from the magnetar at the same time as the radio burst. A closer look at the brightness, timing and frequency of those X-rays could help theorists evaluate magnetar FRB models, Margalit says.

    in Science News on June 04, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    Slow but steady: Anesthesiology researcher with more than 100 retractions will earn two more

    Score one for responsiveness.  In mid-May, we reported on the retraction of three review articles by Joachim Boldt, whose papers continue to fall despite his having been exposed as a fraudster a decade ago. At the time, we wondered why another journal, Anesthesia & Analgesia, hadn’t also pulled reviews by Boldt that it had published … Continue reading Slow but steady: Anesthesiology researcher with more than 100 retractions will earn two more

    in Retraction watch on June 04, 2020 10:00 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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    A new device can produce electricity using shadows

    Someday, shadows and light could team up to provide power.

    A new device exploits the contrast between bright spots and shade to create a current that can power small electronics. “We can harvest energy anywhere on Earth, not just open spaces,” says Swee Ching Tan, a materials scientist at the National University of Singapore.

    Tan and his team created the device, called a shadow-effect energy generator, by placing a superthin coating of gold on silicon, a typical solar cell material. Like in a solar cell, light shining on silicon energizes its electrons. With the gold layer, the shadow-effect energy generator produces an electric current when part of the device lies in shadow.

    The excited electrons jump from the silicon to the gold. With part of the device shaded, the voltage of the illuminated metal increases relative to the dark area and electrons in the generator flow from high to low voltage. Sending them through an external circuit creates a current that can power a gadget, Tan’s team reports April 15 in Energy & Environmental Science.

    With eight generators, the team ran an electronic watch in low light. The devices can also serve as sensors. When a remote-controlled car passed by, its shadow fell on a generator, creating the electricity to light up an LED.

    The greater the contrast between light and dark, the more energy the generator provides. So the team is working to boost the device’s performance by borrowing strategies from solar cells for gathering light. Increasing the light these generators absorb would allow them to better exploit shadows.

    Someday, these generators might produce energy in the shadowy spots in a solar array, between skyscrapers or even indoors. “A lot of people think that shadows are useless,” Tan says. But “anything can be useful, even shadows.”

    in Science News on June 03, 2020 04:00 PM.

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    Parents Have More Synchronised Patterns Of Brain Activity When They’re Together

    By Emily Reynolds

    It’s an oft-repeated supposition that you can tell whether someone fancies you by their body language: if they mirror how you’re standing or moving, the theory goes, they might just like you back. But romantic partners don’t just have behavioural synchrony in some cases, they have brain-to-brain synchrony too.

    A pattern that has also been observed in musicians and their audiences, brain-to-brain synchrony is a mirroring of neural activity between individuals or groups. And according to a new study in Scientific Reports, such synchrony in spouses could affect how they respond to their children.

    Atiqah Azhari from Nanyang University and colleagues first asked 24 Singaporean husband-and-wife pairs how many children they had, and the age of their youngest child. All pairs had at least one child under the age of four. Both parents also provided a “parenting response ratio”, which measured how often either the mother or father took the lead (0:5, 1:4, 2:3, 3:2, 4:1 and 5:0).

    The couples were then split into two conditions: half stayed in the same room, whilst the others were separated in different rooms. In both conditions, participants were played a variety of different sounds such as static noise and adult vocalisations, as well as negative and positive sounds of infants crying and laughing respectively. After hearing the sounds, participants rated how distressing they were on a scale of 1 to 5. The team also repeated the same process with control pairs of participants, who had no prior relationship.

    Throughout the experiment, parents wore a cap measuring blood flow in the prefrontal cortex of the brain using a technique called near-infrared spectroscopy (a higher concentration of oxygenated blood is related to greater activation in that particular area). To measure synchrony between partners, the researchers looked at how similar their patterns of blood flow were over time.

    As anticipated, couples who were sat together showed greater brain synchrony than those who were separated; this synchrony was located specifically in the inferior frontal gyrus, left middle frontal gyrus and bilateral anterior prefrontal gyrus. This was only the case for real partners: the control pairs didn’t show any greater synchrony when together than when apart, suggesting that the presence of an intimate partner, rather than simply any other person, was key to enhancing synchrony.

    The kind of sound mattered too: perhaps surprisingly, the sound of infants crying did not increase synchrony between partners who were physically together, while infant laughter, adult laughter and the static sound did.

    Given that the brain areas that showed increased synchrony are involved in attention and cognitive control, these patterns could relate to changes in attention and how people parent. This could be beneficial in positive situations, helping parents respond to their children together.

    But if there’s a higher level of synchrony when a child is crying, then parents may “catch” or be affected by their partner’s stress, leading to less effective caregiving behaviour. This could also explain why there was no increase in synchrony in the “together” condition during the negative sounds.

    This goes some way to explain why younger couples and couples with only one child had higher levels of synchrony compared to older couples. Older couples or those with multiple children were more experienced with parenting, and so their lower synchrony may “reflect a diminished need to respond similarly to each other as they experience greater security in their own roles as parents”, the authors write.

    There were several limitations, however. Firstly, parents were played recordings of unknown children and adults: responses to their own child crying or laughing, therefore, may have been very different indeed. The study was also a one-off: looking at synchrony and its relationship to co-parenting over the course of several months or even years may give a better insight into how this mirroring works.

    Physical presence of spouse enhances brain-to-brain synchrony in co-parenting couples

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 03, 2020 03:41 PM.

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    Lidar reveals the oldest and biggest Maya structure yet found

    Ancient Maya society got off to a monumentally fast start around 3,000 years ago.

    Excavations and airborne mapping at a previously unknown site in Mexico, called Aguada Fénix, have uncovered the oldest and largest known structure built by Maya people, say archaeologist Takeshi Inomata of the University of Arizona in Tucson and his colleagues. This raised ceremonial area made of clay and earth was constructed from around 1000 B.C. to 800 B.C., the scientists report June 3 in Nature.

    The new discovery adds to recent evidence that from its very beginnings around 3,000 years ago, the Maya civilization built monumental structures (SN: 4/25/13). A similar but smaller ritual area previously discovered by Inomata’s team at a Maya site in Guatemala called Ceibal dates to 950 B.C.

    The finds run counter to the idea that Maya society developed gradually from small villages to urban centers with pyramids and other massive buildings, as some scientists have suggested. Those Maya cities and kingdoms of what’s known as the Classic period didn’t flourish in parts of southern Mexico and Central America until around A.D. 250 to 900.

    What’s more, the study is yet another example of how an airborne remote-sensing technique called light detection and ranging, or lidar, is dramatically changing how archaeological research is done in heavily forested regions. The technique, which uses laser pulses to gather data on the contours of jungle- and vegetation-covered land, has uncovered other lost ruins at the Maya city of Tikal in Guatemala (SN: 9/27/18) and a vast network connecting ancient cities of Southeast Asia’s Khmer Empire (SN: 6/17/16), among other finds.

    aerial view of former Maya siteIt’s difficult to see remains of Aguada Fénix from this aerial view of the landscape today. But laser technology gave researchers a look at the site’s causeways and reservoirs, in front, and ceremonial area, in back.T. Inomata

    In the new study, researchers turned to lidar to peer through forests in Tabasco, Mexico and uncover the previously hidden surface remains of 21 ceremonial centers, including Aguada Fénix. Lidar maps showed that each site contains a round or square mound near a long, rectangular platform, running west to east. That layout characterizes similar structures in areas where public rituals were held in many later Maya cities.

    Inomata’s team then used the lidar maps to focus on Aguada Fénix. There, the scientists found an elevated, rectangular plateau measuring about 1,400 meters long and nearly 400 meters wide. Within that space is a roughly 400-meter-long platform — the length of more than four American football fields — positioned east of a 15- to 18-meter tall earthen mound. Lidar revealed other structures around the human-built plateau, including rectangular buildings, plazas and several reservoirs.

    Discoveries at Aguada Fénix challenge a traditional assumption that only large settlements directed by kings and a ruling class could organize and execute big building projects, Inomata says. No remnants of a royal class that appear at later Maya sites, such as sculptures of high-ranking individuals, have been found at the site so far. People living in the region around Aguada Fénix, who were cultivating maize by 3,000 years ago, must have banded together to create a ritual site suitable for large gatherings, he suggests.

    “Though there were probably some [Aguada Fénix] leaders who played central roles in planning and organizing such work, the main factor was people’s voluntary participation, which does not necessarily require a centralized government,” Inomata says. Large crowds from surrounding areas probably gathered at the ancient ceremonial site on special occasions, possibly related to key calendrical dates and astronomical events, Inomata suspects. Nine causeways connected to the site’s rectangular platform carried processions of those participating in rituals, he suggests. A set of jade axes excavated in the center of the platform may have been deposited during a ritual event.

    Inomata’s conclusions make sense to anthropological archaeologist Andrew Scherer of Brown University in Providence, R.I. “The public spaces at Aguada Fénix are huge, and there is nothing to indicate that access was limited to a privileged few,” says Scherer, who did not participate in the new study.

    A limestone animal sculpture found at the site, possibly representing a white-lipped peccary or a coatimundi, contrasts with sculptures at later Olmec and Maya sites that celebrated supernatural beings and human leaders who governed ranked societies, Scherer says. While the meaning of the newly discovered sculpture to its makers is unknown, there is no evidence that animal depictions such as this referred to high-ranking Maya individuals.

    Maya animal sculptureExcavations of the oldest and largest Maya ceremonial structure unearthed an animal sculpture, possibly representing a white-lipped peccary or a coatimundi, that the researchers nicknamed Choco.T. Inomata

    Francisco Estrada-Belli , an archaeologist at Tulane University in New Orleans, awaits further excavations at Aguada Fénix before assuming its structures were built by a community without a social hierarchy. But the large platform and surrounding plaza at Aguada Fénix resemble those at a slightly older Olmec site, suggesting the two civilizations developed in parallel, says Estrada-Belli, who was not part of the new research.

    Some researchers have argued that the Olmec society, which was located west of Aguada Fénix near Mexico’s Gulf Coast and is known for constructing giant stone heads, served as a “mother culture” for the Maya. That mysterious culture arose around 3,500 years ago and lasted until roughly 2,400 years ago. But Inomata suspects a more complicated situation existed in which Maya and Olmec people influenced each other’s ritual practices between around 3,000 and 2,800 years ago.

    The Maya expanded on an Olmec tradition of building long platforms and developed ritual areas featuring a western mound or pyramid and an eastern long platform, Inomata says. That Maya practice then appeared at an Olmec site called La Venta, which flourished between 800 B.C. and 400 B.C.

    Inomata’s scenario suggests that the two ancient societies may have been more like older and younger siblings than mother and child.

    in Science News on June 03, 2020 03:00 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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    What parents need to know about kids in the summer of COVID-19

    As states reopen, the coming months bring the prospect of gatherings at pools, playgrounds and even amusement parks. But in this summer of COVID-19, many parents are left wondering what their kids can safely do. 

    There isn’t a satisfactory answer, because there’s still so much unknown about the coronavirus in regards to children. While studies from China to Italy to the United States have reported fewer confirmed cases of COVID-19 in children than adults and fewer seriously ill children than adults, recent reports of a dangerous inflammatory condition (SN: 5/12/20) illustrate that harms may still emerge.

    And concerns about COVID-19 extend beyond kids to their family members and other contacts. If children easily spread the coronavirus between each other and bring it home, they could put relatives at risk and perhaps ignite local outbreaks. At this point, it’s “still unclear whether they contribute significantly to transmission,” says Aubree Gordon, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “But they well may.”

    Scientists don’t have a full understanding of COVID-19 and children in part because they don’t have a lot of data from places well suited to provide it, such as schools and day care centers. With the pandemic keeping most kids from engaging with their communities as they usually would, we’re left with an incomplete picture of how readily children spread the virus.

    But there are studies and reports that have provided clues. This research provides a preliminary snapshot of what the illness means for kids and what we know so far about their role in spreading the infection.

    Children are getting sick less often than adults

    Much remains unknown about why COVID-19 can be devastating to some healthy adults and children. But at this stage, studies report relatively few cases of severe illness in kids. “Children overall are doing much better and are less sick than adults,” says Samuel Dominguez, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora.

    A study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that of close to 150,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of April 2, just over 2,500, or 1.7 percent, occurred in those under the age of 18; that group of children accounts for 22 percent of the U.S. population. The researchers had hospitalization information for 745 of the children’s cases: 147 had been admitted to hospitals, with 15 in intensive care. Three children died, the researchers reported in the April 10 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. CDC data as of May 23 continues to show a much higher hospitalization rate for COVID-19 in adults than in children.

    But word of a dangerous, excessive immune response in some children that may be linked to a SARS-CoV-2 infection renewed fears. Eight children with persistent fever and gastrointestinal symptoms required intensive care in London in mid-April. The children, one of whom died, had tested positive for antibodies to the coronavirus, the study authors reported online May 7 in the Lancet. A positive antibody test is evidence of a prior infection (SN: 4/28/20). Days later, also in the Lancet, doctors from the hard-hit Bergamo province in Italy reported similar symptoms in 10 children, eight of whom had evidence of antibodies to the coronavirus.

    As of June 1, New York state’s Department of Health is investigating 189 cases of the inflammatory syndrome. Washington, D.C., and a growing number of states, including Wisconsin, Louisiana and Florida, also have reported cases. The CDC has released a health alert and case definition for the syndrome, which they’ve named multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C.

    The syndrome shares some symptoms with Kawasaki disease, which mainly strikes children younger than 5 and is marked by high fevers, inflammation and sometimes poor heart function. But multisystem inflammatory syndrome is also hitting older children and teens and frequently includes gastrointestinal symptoms not commonly seen with Kawasaki disease. 

    Researchers theorize that the syndrome is an immune response linked to an infection with SARS-CoV-2, showing up around four weeks later, says Jeffrey Burns, a pediatric critical care specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital. Children becoming critically ill from the syndrome at this point “remains very infrequent,” he says.

    It’s not clear why children don’t tend to get as ill with COVID-19 as adults. “I don’t know if that is really a biological or immunological phenomenon or if it’s an exposure phenomenon,” says Dominguez, tied to how quickly schools were closed and children were isolated due to social distancing. “Did we just spare them because they weren’t exposed?”

    It’s not clear how much kids contribute to spread

    In January, a 9-year-old on a ski holiday in the French Alps with his family was exposed to a traveler with COVID-19. His experience may provide the best-case scenario of what can happen when a child is infected.

    After contracting the coronavirus, the child experienced mild symptoms. And despite attending three different schools while ill, he did not transmit the virus to any of the 55 school contacts tested, researchers reported April 11 in Clinical Infectious Diseases. Nor did his two siblings become infected. Yet influenza was spreading between children at the schools and among the siblings at the very same time.

    One of the rationales behind the quick closure of schools in the face of COVID-19 was drawn from past experience with children and influenza. Children — particularly young children — are considered the main drivers of flu transmission within communities, and shutting schools has curtailed the spread of the flu during past epidemics and pandemics.

    But the role that children play in spreading SARS-CoV-2 is less apparent. The vacationing schoolboy and his classmates may have just been lucky, but there’s other early evidence that children may not be as important to the spread of the coronavirus as they are to influenza.

    A peek into schools in Australia early in the pandemic suggests that the virus may not spread wildly among students. In New South Wales, the Australian state that includes Sydney, 18 people from 15 schools — nine students and nine staff — were confirmed with COVID-19 from March 5 through April 3. Even though 735 students and 128 staff were in close contact with the initial 18, only two students appeared to have contracted the coronavirus at school from those first cases.

    Ireland reported its first case of COVID-19 — a student who had been to Northern Italy — at the beginning of March; schools closed at the end of the day on March 12. In that time, three students (one without symptoms) and three adult staff with COVID-19 were in contact with 924 children and 101 adults at schools. None of the contacts become infected, researchers report May 28 in Eurosurveillance.

    Sweden has kept many schools open during the pandemic, but the country’s Public Health Agency hasn’t released data on how students and teachers have fared. Meanwhile, in Israel, some recently reopened schools have shut again after cases of COVID-19 were reported among some staff and students.

    Within the home, studies have suggested adults rather than children are more often the first to get sick in a family. But kids may not be any less susceptible to infection, according to a study in Shenzhen, China of 391 COVID-19 cases and 1,286 close contacts. Children under the age of 10 were as likely to be infected as adults, the researchers reported April 27 in the Lancet Infectious Diseases.

    One sticking point in understanding the role children play in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 is that researchers don’t know the extent to which kids can be infected and asymptomatic but still pass the virus along. Studies of adults have found that they can spread the virus if they never have symptoms (SN: 3/13/2020) and before symptoms appear (SN: 4/15/20).

    Without widespread testing, it’s hard to pin down the number of children with asymptomatic cases of COVID-19. A few studies have provided estimates. For example, out of 728 confirmed cases in children in China, 94 did not have symptoms, a total of 12.9 percent, according to a study in the June Pediatrics. A smaller study found a higher percentage: Among 36 children up to the age of 16 who were confirmed with the infection as of March 1 in Zhejiang, China, 10 were asymptomatic, or 28 percent, researchers reported in the June 1 Lancet Infectious Diseases. It’s also not clear yet whether asymptomatic kids readily infect others.

    It remains possible that children haven’t distinguished themselves as major transmitters of SARS-CoV-2 up to now because they haven’t been interacting as they usually would at schools, day cares and playgrounds. “Certainly children are major spreaders of other kinds of viruses,” says infectious disease pediatrician and vaccine researcher Kathryn Edwards of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville. “So that’s what’s so curious.”

    Closed Arlington playgroundPlaygrounds like this one in Virginia closed in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As states begin to reopen playgrounds, pools and other recreational areas, it remains to be seen whether gatherings of kids will lead to an uptick of cases.E. Otwell

    What happens over the summer may fill in some blanks

    Countries around the world have begun to reopen some of their schools, with modifications such as smaller class sizes, socially distant seating and frequent handwashing breaks. The experiences of school systems abroad may provide more data as U.S. officials consider plans to reopen schools here.

    Those plans will proceed without a vaccine. Promising candidates will need to be studied in children to make sure they are safe and effective for younger ages. Current vaccine trials are being conducted in adults (SN: 5/20/20), although the University of Oxford has announced plans to begin testing their COVID-19 vaccine in children.

    That leaves officials as well as parents waiting for more research, testing and contact tracing (SN: 4/29/20) to reveal more about the virus’ spread and its impact on children. Until then, it will remain challenging to decide what’s safe for kids during the summer of COVID-19.

    in Science News on June 03, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    Race to be first to report first case of COVID-19 death during pregnancy leads to a retraction

    A group of researchers in Iran has retracted their case report on what they claimed was the first known case of a pregnant woman who died of Covid-19.  The reason: According to the corresponding author, another group of researchers in Iran, who had first seen the patient at their hospital, had beaten them to the … Continue reading Race to be first to report first case of COVID-19 death during pregnancy leads to a retraction

    in Retraction watch on June 03, 2020 10:00 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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    NEJM, Lancet place expressions of concern on controversial studies of drugs for COVID-19

    [See update on this story.] As controversy swirls around two papers that used data from Surgisphere, the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet have placed expression of concerns on the relevant papers. Here’s the NEJM expression of concern: On May 1, 2020, we published “Cardiovascular Disease, Drug Therapy, and Mortality in Covid-19,” a … Continue reading NEJM, Lancet place expressions of concern on controversial studies of drugs for COVID-19

    in Retraction watch on June 02, 2020 04:07 PM.

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    These tube-shaped creatures may be the earliest known parasites

    Tube-dwelling creatures that spent their lives cemented to the shells of clamlike brachiopods over 500 million years ago may be the earliest known parasites.

    “Parasitism is an integral part of life on Earth, but it’s been hard to determine when it emerged,” says Tommy Leung, a parasitologist at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia. But, he says, it likely arose early, in part because today “practically every living thing has some kind of parasitic thing living on or in them, even down to parasites themselves.”

    Sometimes, scientists get lucky and find parasites preserved with their hosts in amber (SN: 12/10/19). But usually parasites don’t fossilize well because their bodies are often small and soft, Leung says. And even if two organisms happen to be entombed in the same fossil, it can be difficult to discern whether their relationship was parasitic, mutualistic or somewhere in between. Fossils of tongue worms from 425 million years ago represent a clear early example of parasitism, but previously found older fossils from the Cambrian only hint at possibly parasitic relationships.

    Now, a 512-million-year-old bed of tube-encrusted brachiopods in Yunnan, China offers compelling evidence of a parasite-host relationship, Zhifei Zhang, a paleontologist at Northwest University in Xi’an, China and his colleagues report June 2 in Nature Communications

    In a tan-colored outcropping in southern China, researchers discovered thousands of brachiopods clustered together. Hundreds of them had numerous tubelike, tapered structures affixed to the exterior of the shells. Those structures were arrayed like the spines of a fan with the mouthlike parts positioned along the open edge of a shell. The tubes appeared only on brachiopods, never alone or associated with other fossils, suggesting that the organism couldn’t survive on its own.

    fossilized brachiopodThis 512-million-year-old fossilized brachiopod is encrusted with tubes that may be the remnants of ancient parasites. Scientists think that the tubelike organisms stole food from the mouths of filter feeding brachiopods.Zhifei Zhang/Northwest Univ.
    fossilized brachiopodThis 512-million-year-old fossilized brachiopod is encrusted with tubes that may be the remnants of ancient parasites. Scientists think that the tubelike organisms stole food from the mouths of filter feeding brachiopods.Zhifei Zhang/Northwest Univ.

    The brachiopods were likely filter feeders, catching whatever food happened to drift into their open shells. Zhang and his colleagues hypothesized that these tubes might have snatched food from the edge of the shell before the brachiopod could eat it, making them kleptoparasites.

    If that were true, tube-covered brachiopods should be lighter than their tube-free brethren, since they’re getting less food. The researchers estimated the mass of brachiopods with and without tubes, finding that the tube-free brachiopods were almost always heavier than their tube-laden brethren, though the number of tubes didn’t have any effect. 

    The study “demonstrates these organisms had an intimate association,” says Leung, who wasn’t involved in the study. But he isn’t so sure that the relationship was antagonistic. If the relationship were truly parasitic, brachiopods with more tubes should be worse off, he says, but that wasn’t the case. While brachiopods with tubes were smaller, Leung says this might not reflect a cost of parasitism. Instead, the tube creatures might just prefer to affix to smaller shells.

    Whether a relationship is parasitic or not can depend on the ecological context. Tube-laden clams might become stressed by tubes only if food becomes scarce. Or, perhaps tubes catch food too small for the brachiopods anyway. “With these kinds of relationships, the answer isn’t always that this is good or bad,” Leung says. “Interactions are usually more complicated than that.”

    in Science News on June 02, 2020 03:02 PM.

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    The Dead Sea Scrolls contain genetic clues to their origins

    Genetic clues extracted from slivers of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls are helping to piece together related scroll remnants and reveal the diverse origins of these ancient texts, including a book of the Hebrew Bible.

    The scrolls are made of sheepskin and cow skin, which retain DNA from those animals. Analyzing that DNA represents a new way to figure out which of the more than 25,000 Dead Sea Scroll fragments come from the same animals, and thus likely the same documents, say molecular biologist Oded Rechavi of Tel Aviv University and his colleagues.

    Findings so far suggest that the Dead Sea Scrolls reflect religious and biblical developments across southern Israel around 2,000 years ago, not just among people who lived near the caves where many scrolls were stored, as some scholars have contended, Rechavi’s team reports June 2 in Cell.

    Researchers estimate that the Dead Sea Scrolls were written between the third century B.C. and the first century A.D., during what’s known as the late Second Temple period. That was a critical time in the development of Judaism and the emergence of Christianity. “Our results demonstrate the heterogeneity inherent in Second Temple Judaism, which formed the matrix for [early] Christianity,” says Tel Aviv University Biblical scholar and study coauthor Noam Mizrahi.

    The Dead Sea Scrolls consist of about 1,000 ancient manuscripts, including the earliest known versions of books of the Hebrew Bible and non-biblical religious, legal and philosophical documents. Most scrolls and scroll fragments were found between 1947 and the 1960s. The largest set of finds comes from 11 caves near Qumran, a site located in the Judean desert on the Dead Sea’s northwest shore.

    Many researchers have surmised that scrolls from the Qumran caves reflect the beliefs of a small Jewish sect that broke from mainstream Judaism and settled in Qumran (SN: 11/17/17). But DNA evidence in the new study suggests that ideas in those documents also extended beyond the Qumran community.

    Qumran siteDNA gleaned from Dead Sea Scroll pieces, many of which were found in caves such as this one near a site called Qumran, has yielded clues to the geographic spread of ideas and beliefs in those ancient manuscripts.Shai Halevi, Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

    Rechavi’s group obtained DNA from minuscule bits that either fell off or were removed from 26 Dead Sea Scroll fragments. Those samples contained no writing.

    After excluding DNA left by people who had handled the scrolls, the scientists identified DNA of animals used to make the ancient parchments. All fragments were made of sheepskin except for two made from cow skin.

    Comparisons of mitochondrial DNA, typically inherited from the mother, and nuclear DNA, inherited from both parents, enabled the researchers to identify close or distant relationships among sheep used to make the scroll fragments. The researchers assumed that fragments from closely related sheep were more likely to come from the same document than those from distantly related sheep or from cows.

    Studies of the texts had previously suggested that many Qumran scrolls display spellings and other features of a writing tradition particular to a small group of scribes, and the genetic evidence supports that proposal. Seven of eight fragments containing writing previously classed as part of that “Qumran scribal practice” came from closely related sheep, suggesting that those fragments represent manuscripts that had originated in the same place.

    “For the first time, this theory [of a Qumran scribal practice] has been supported by independent ancient DNA research,” says Biblical scholar and linguist Emanuel Tov of Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Tov is past editor in chief of what’s now the Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Project.

    Four Qumran fragments from the Hebrew Bible’s book of Jeremiah likely came from two different versions of that book, the investigators find. Two sheepskin fragments belonged to one book and two cow skin fragments belonged to another. Cows couldn’t have been raised in the parched Judean desert, so cow skin scrolls must have been produced elsewhere, Mizrahi says.

    Scholars had already noted that the style of writing on the cow fragments differed from that on other pieces from the book of Jeremiah.

    DNA findings also indicate that a non-biblical text about religious practices known as the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice was popular beyond Qumran. Fragments from three copies of this text found in two Qumran caves were made from skins of closely related sheep. But a fragment from another copy found at Masada, about 55 kilometers south of Qumran, came from a genetically separate line of sheep, suggesting that people there assembled their own copy of the text.

    Distinctive sheep DNA from a Qumran fragment of the biblical book of Isaiah suggests it came from outside Qumran at a site that’s yet to be identified.

    in Science News on June 02, 2020 03:00 PM.

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    Women Are More Likely Than Men To Be Told “White Lies” In Performance Reviews

    By Emily Reynolds

    It’s not uncommon to tell a white lie at work: why you took a slightly too-long lunch break or how much you’ve really done on that big project. Often, white lies are socially useful — telling someone that you like what they’re wearing is probably a kinder option than admitting that you hate it, for example.

    When it comes to performance reviews, however, white lies are less beneficial. The whole point of such a review is to help improve how someone is working and identify and mitigate potential problems, so lying defeats the object. And according to a new study from Cornell University’s Lily Jampol and Vivian Zayas, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, it’s women who most often bear the brunt of untruthful performance reviews.

    To build on previous research suggesting that women and men receive different kinds of performance evaluations, the team recruited 182 participants who read a hypothetical scenario in which a manager was giving feedback to an underperforming employee.  They learnt that the manager had six feedback options to choose from, ranging from the most truthful and harshest statement (which most closely matched the manager’s actual evaluation of the employee’s poor performance), to the nicest but least truthful statement. Participants were randomly assigned to one of six conditions in which they saw a check mark next to the feedback that was actually given.

    Participants then guessed whether the employee was male or female, and were asked to indicate what the manager’s perceptions were of the worker’s warmth, sincerity, confidence and competence. They also rated how likely the manager would be to assign an important task to the employee in the future.

    As expected, participants tended to assume that employees shown less accurate but kinder feedback were women: two-thirds of participants believed that an employee given the least truthful but nicest evaluation was a woman, for instance, while just 7% thought that an employee given the most truthful and harshest feedback was female. Results also suggested some stereotyping around gender and traits: those who believed the employee was a woman also believed that the manager perceived her to be less confident, and as feedback got kinder and less accurate were more likely to assume the manager perceived her as warm.

    A second study looked at whether people would actually be more likely to tell white lies to under-performing women than under-performing men. First, 66 participants read and rated two mediocre essays they were told had just been written by a pair of students participating remotely (in actual fact, there were no real writers taking part). Initially, participants evaluated these essays from 0 to 100% on dimensions like “focus” and “logic”, providing feedback only to the researchers.

    At this point, the first names of each writer were revealed: Sarah and Andrew. Participants were then asked to provide ratings directly to each writer, and give some feedback, which independent coders rated on positivity and constructiveness. Participants also rated the writers on warmth, competence and future ability, and indicated what percentage of the truth they believed they had told Sarah or Andrew.

    Mirroring results from the first study, participants were more likely to tell white lies to the writer they believed was a woman, with participants giving Sarah more favourable evaluations during the second phase of the experiment than during the first. Participants rating Andrew showed no difference in evaluation. Feedback for Sarah was also more positive than feedback for Andrew. Interestingly, the majority of participants (65%) were aware of having told white lies, but also reported that they gave equally truthful feedback to Sarah and Andrew, suggesting a lack of awareness of the gendered dimension.

    Given the biases many women still face in the workplace, the results seem counterintuitive – surely women are rated less kindly than male colleagues? The team argues that gender stereotypes are at play here. Women are often perceived as less confident than their male counterparts, as this study showed. A manager may therefore decide to lie because they believe they will be boosting a female employee’s low confidence. Another suggestion is that women are still seen as a low-powered group: criticism, therefore, may be perceived as needless denigration.

    Either way, such “benevolent sexism” is not helpful. Though on the surface a kinder performance evaluation may seem positive, it may be holding women back, failing to explain how they could improve at work. It can also feed into ideas that women are inferior or subordinate to men and therefore need protecting.

    Whereas other parts of HR or management processes have used techniques such as blind hiring to remove bias, it’s harder to see what kinds of adaptations could be made to tackle these tendencies – you can’t give blind performance evaluations, after all. Understanding more about how women experience benevolent and non-benevolent sexism is a start, but there’s much more work to be done to eradicate many obstacles in their way.

     Gendered White Lies: Women Are Given Inflated Performance Feedback Compared With Men

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 02, 2020 02:31 PM.

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    A new 3-D map illuminates the ‘little brain’ within the heart

    The heart has its own “brain.” Now, scientists have drawn a detailed map of this little brain, called the intracardiac nervous system, in rat hearts.

    The heart’s big boss is the brain, but nerve cells in the heart have a say, too. These neurons are thought to play a crucial role in heart health, helping to fine-tune heart rhythms and perhaps protecting people against certain kinds of heart disease.

    But so far, this local control system hasn’t been mapped in great detail. 

    To make their map, systems biologist James Schwaber at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and colleagues imaged male and female rat hearts with a method called knife-edge scanning microscopy, creating detailed pictures of heart anatomy. Those images could then be built into a 3-D model of the heart. The scientists also plucked out individual neurons and measured the amount of gene activity within each cell.  

    These measurements helped sort the heart’s neurons into discrete groups. Most of these neuron clusters dot the top of the heart, where blood vessels come in and out. Some of these clusters spread down the back of the heart, and were particularly abundant on the left side. With this new view of the individual clusters, scientists can begin to study whether these groups have distinct jobs.

    The comprehensive, 3-D map of the heart’s little brain could ultimately lead to targeted therapies that could treat or prevent heart diseases, the authors write online May 26 in iScience.

    in Science News on June 02, 2020 11:37 AM.

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    Anesthesiology group loses ten papers at once in one journal

    A group of anesthesiology researchers in India has had 10 papers retracted from a single journal because of a “high rate of similarity from various other articles along with overwhelming evidence of data fabrication.” The retractions came after one of the authors of the papers submitted a manuscript to a different journal whose editor sniffed … Continue reading Anesthesiology group loses ten papers at once in one journal

    in Retraction watch on June 02, 2020 10:00 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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    Top journal retracts study claiming masks ineffective in preventing COVID-19 spread

    One of the world’s leading medical journals has retracted a widely circulated paper published in April that concluded that “both surgical and cotton masks seem to be ineffective in preventing the dissemination of SARS–CoV-2 from the coughs of patients with COVID-19 to the environment and external mask surface.” The study, published by the Annals of … Continue reading Top journal retracts study claiming masks ineffective in preventing COVID-19 spread

    in Retraction watch on June 02, 2020 01:09 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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    Chicxulub collision put Earth’s crust in hot water for over a million years

    The asteroid that slammed into Earth 66 million years ago left behind more than a legacy of mass destruction. That impact also sent superheated seawater swirling through the crust below for more than a million years, chemically overhauling the rocks. Similar transformative hydrothermal systems, left in the wake of powerful impacts much earlier in Earth’s history, may have been a crucible for early microbial life on Earth, researchers report May 29 in Science Advances.

    The massive Chicxulub crater on Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula is the fingerprint of a killer, probably responsible for the destruction of more than 75 percent of life on Earth, including all nonbird dinosaurs (SN: 1/25/17). In 2016, a team of scientists made a historic trek to the partially submerged crater, drilling deep into the rock to study the crime scene from numerous angles.

    One of those researchers was planetary scientist David Kring of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. A dozen years earlier, Kring had found evidence at Chicxulub that the layers of rock bearing the signs of impact — telltale features such as shocked quartz and melted spherules — were subsequently cut through by veins of newer minerals such as quartz and anhydrite. Such veins, Kring thought, suggest that hot hydrothermal fluids had been circulating beneath Chicxulub some time after the impact.

    Hydrothermal systems can occur where Earth is tectonically active, such as where tectonic plates pull the seafloor apart, or where mantle plumes like the one beneath Yellowstone rise up into the crust. The molten rock rising through the crust in these regions superheats water already circulating within the crust.

    But the Yucatán peninsula is tectonically quiescent, and has been for 66 million years, Kring says. So, as part of the International Ocean Discovery Program’s Expedition 364 to Chicxulub, he and colleagues drilled 1,335 meters below the ring of the crater, retrieving long cores of sediment and rock.

    The team then analyzed the minerals found in the cores. “It was immediately obvious that they had been hydrothermally altered. It was pervasive and apparent,” Kring says. The intense heat of the circulating seawater caused chemical reactions within the rock, transforming some minerals into others. By identifying the different types of minerals, the team determined that the initial temperature of the fluids was more than 300° Celsius, later cooling to about 90° C.  

    The chemically altered rocks beneath the crater extended down about four or five kilometers below the crater’s peak ring, a circular, mountainous region within the vast crater. The hydrothermally altered zone covers a volume more than nine times that of the Yellowstone Caldera system, Kring says. Paleomagnetic data suggest that the hydrothermal system lasted for more than a million years.

    Rock coreA core of rock and sediment extracted from within the Chicxulub impact crater revealed centimeter-sized cavities within the rocks containing hydrothermally altered minerals. Here, tiny cavities within impact breccia — a type of rock formed of broken fragments cemented together by fine-grained sediment — contain analcime (transparent crystals), which forms at temperatures around 200° Celsius and dachiardite (red crystals), which forms at temperatures around 250° C.D. Kring

    Those conditions, the researchers say, may have also been capable of fostering life akin to the extremophiles that thrive in Yellowstone’s boiling pools. In addition to the metal-rich fluids that could provide an energy source for microbes, the Chicxulub cores revealed that the rocks were both porous and permeable — in other words, filled with interconnected nooks and crannies that could have been cozy shelters for microbes.

    “It looks like a perfect habitat,” Kring says.

    Kring has previously suggested that the very same destructive impacts that annihilate life may also create appealing habitats — not just on Earth, but potentially on other planetary bodies such as Mars. Even more tantalizing is the possibility that hydrothermal systems, engendered beneath ancient impacts, may have been where life on Earth began (SN: 3/1/13).

    Evidence from lunar craters suggests that Earth was heavily bombarded by asteroids about 3.9 billion years ago (SN: 10/18/04). Most of those more ancient craters on Earth have long since vanished or been altered by the constant tectonic recycling of Earth’s surface (SN: 12/18/18). So the hydrothermal system beneath Chicxulub offers a window into what such systems might have actually looked like much deeper in the past, says geophysicist Norman Sleep of Stanford University, who was not involved in the study. “It shows the reality of the process,” Sleep says.

    The new study may set the stage for the possibility of life thriving beneath an impact. But whether a microbial cast of characters was actually present beneath Chicxulub is a question for future studies, Kring says.

    “Let me be clear: This paper has no evidence of microbial life,” Kring says. “We just have all the properties of hydrothermal systems that do support life elsewhere on Earth.”

    Ancient environments that provided water, chemical building blocks and energy “are very promising candidates for hosting [life’s] origins and early evolution,” says NASA astrobiologist David Des Marais, who was not involved in the study. Impact-generated hydrothermal systems aren’t the only such environments; researchers have also made a compelling case for hot springs, Des Marais says.

    That’s an ongoing debate, he notes, adding “I consider hydrothermal systems to be highly promising exploration targets for astrobiology.”

    in Science News on June 01, 2020 04:56 PM.

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    Nature retracts study touted as step toward treatments for bone diseases

    A Nature study that could have provided a “potential therapeutic target for osteoporosis and bone metastases of cancer” has been retracted. Since being published in 2014 by researchers at UT Southwestern, MD Anderson and elsewhere, “miR-34a blocks osteoporosis and bone metastasis by inhibiting osteoclastogenesis and Tgif2” has been cited more than 200 times, according to … Continue reading Nature retracts study touted as step toward treatments for bone diseases

    in Retraction watch on June 01, 2020 03:00 PM.

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    ‘Tree Story’ explores what tree rings can tell us about the past

    Tree Story
    Valerie Trouet
    Johns Hopkins Univ., $27

    Once you look at trees through the eyes of a dendrochronologist, you never quite see the leafy wonders the same way again. Peel away the hard, rough bark and there is a living document, history recorded in rings of wood cells. Each tree ring pattern of growth is unique, as the width of a ring depends on how much water was available that year. By comparing and compiling databases of these “fingerprints” from many different trees in many different parts of the world, scientists can peer into past climates, past ecosystems and even past civilizations.

    Humans’ and trees’ histories have long been intertwined. In her new book Tree Story, tree ring researcher Valerie Trouet examines this shared past as she describes the curious, convoluted history of dendrochronology. It’s a field that was born a little over a century ago, almost as a hobby for an astronomer at the University of Arizona.

    Andrew Douglass was interested in tree rings for what they might tell him about how past solar cycles influenced Earth’s climate. He began amassing a tree ring collection dating back to the mid-15th century. Then Douglass began examining an even older source of data: ancient wooden beams from Puebloan ruins in the U.S. Southwest. By linking the patterns in the beams to his own tree ring samples, he created a long chronological history for the region — and so the science of dendrochronology was born. Through this new dating technique, Douglass also solved a long-standing mystery, calculating ages for the different Puebloan sites ranging from the 10th to the 14th century.

    Trees rings have documented other pivotal moments in human history, Trouet explains. Unusually wet years from 1211 to 1225 may have given a boost to grasses in central Asia’s steppe — fodder for Genghis Khan’s mounted forces and key to the rapid expansion of the Mongol Empire. The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident left its mark in the strangely aligned wood cells of surviving pine trees. Wood patterns in a violin crafted by Antonio Stradivari (and worth an estimated $20 million) authenticated not only the violin’s age but its geographic origins.

    Tree ring data spanning over 1,000 years was also instrumental in helping scientists reconstruct the planet’s recent climate history and in highlighting the dramatic warming observed in the last century.

    a diagram showing tree rings and corresponding eventsTree rings preserve clues about past environments. A wide ring, for example, records a rainy year; a thin ring corresponds to a dry one. Even forest fires leave telltale marks.C. Chang
    a diagram showing tree rings and corresponding eventsTree rings preserve clues about past environments. A wide ring, for example, records a rainy year; a thin ring corresponds to a dry one. Even forest fires leave telltale marks.C. Chang

    Trouet, a member of the University of Arizona’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research in Tucson, is a dendroclimatologist; she uses tree rings to study Earth’s past climate. She tells of “the thrill of the chase” to find the oldest, least disturbed trees on Earth, with circular rings and growth related only to changes in climate. These trees have helped her identify, for example, periods of medieval drought in northern Africa that are linked to a large-scale weather pattern known as the North Atlantic Oscillation — also the probable reason for a historically documented period of warmth in Europe known as the Medieval Climate Anomaly, she suggests.

    Now, she and colleagues are examining tree rings from Europe to trace how the high-speed jet stream winds that encircle the Northern Hemisphere have shifted over time. The waviness of the jet stream — how far south these winds might dip and curl — is linked to patterns of storms across the northern latitudes. Understanding those links in the past, Trouet argues, could provide clues to how storminess may change in the future, as the planet’s climate changes.

    Tree Story gives readers a lively, sometimes visceral feel for Trouet’s work. She describes the beauty of tiny wood cells smaller in di-ameter than a human hair, and the elbow grease involved in manually twisting a borer into the heart of a tree to retrieve a sample. “This requires quite a bit of upper-body strength, especially if you’re coring dozens of trees a day, and this often comes as a surprise to dendro newbies.” Trouet’s humor also comes through when she describes how fieldwork is sometimes driven by testosterone–fueled stubbornness, and how she has had to convince male colleagues hunting for trees in the mountains that it’s OK to admit to being tired, hungry or cold. “As a woman scientist, I got 99 problems, but at least starving or freezing to death to protect my ego ain’t one.”

    Peppered throughout the book are italicized terms and helpful definitions of scientific jargon such as “crossdating” (matching ring patterns among different trees, whether alive or dead, to create a consistent chronology). I particularly enjoyed getting a glimpse into odd tree ring lingo: To “hit the pith” is to core all the way to the oldest part of a tree; “cookies” are the round cross sections of a fallen trunk, cut with a chainsaw or an ax.

    Trouet loves trees, but she says she is not a tree-hugger, nor does she believe trees are sentient. Instead, she is drawn to unlocking the secrets the trees contain. “Wood is gorgeous,” she writes. “And finding matching tree ring patterns is like solving a puzzle — it is addictive.”

    Buy Tree Story from Amazon.com. Science News is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Please see our FAQ for more details.

    in Science News on June 01, 2020 02:00 PM.

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    ‘Negligence’ — a lot of it — leads to a retraction

    Some words do more work in sentences than others. Take the example of the word  “negligence,” which in the case of the following retraction notice is a veritable beast of burden. The 2019 article, “Conservative management of subglottic stenosis with home based tracheostomy care: A retrospective review of 28 patients,” appeared in the International Journal … Continue reading ‘Negligence’ — a lot of it — leads to a retraction

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

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    A weird cosmic flare called the ‘Cow’ now has company

    First, astronomers discovered the “Cow.” Now they’ve rounded up a small herd.

    A short-lived celestial flare-up with a bovine nickname has been joined by two similarly unusual outbursts. The mysterious events were brighter than typical supernovas, explosions of stars that are a common source of temporary light shows in the sky. And the novel bursts came and went quickly, with their visible light brightening and dimming over days instead of the weeks typical of normal supernovas.

    As particularly luminous examples of a poorly understood class known as fast blue optical transients, the three novel bursts have unknown origins. But they seem to be kin. “It’s like people going out to find different creatures and find out how they’re related to each other. We’re in the early stages of the ‘zoology’ of this class,” says astronomer Anna Ho of Caltech.

    Detected in June 2018, the Cow earned its moniker thanks to the automatically assigned letters within its official astronomical name, “AT2018cow.” It is joined by the “Koala,” Ho and colleagues report in the May 20 Astrophysical Journal. Named for the ending letters in its handle, ZTF18abvkwla, the Koala appeared in September 2018. The third event, reported in the May 20 Astrophysical Journal Letters, resisted cute nicknames. Known as CSS161010, it was detected before the other events, in 2016, but its significance wasn’t understood until now.

    A possible explanation for the events is that they result from an unusual type of supernova, one that explodes into a dense shell of material. For all three events, telescopes detected radio waves in addition to a short-lived flare of visible light. Those radio waves could have been produced by accelerated electrons, kicked up when a blast of debris from the explosion slammed into that surrounding shell. If an aging star shed its outer layers before it exploded, that could have created the sheath (SN: 6/21/19).

    But the events are still enigmatic. “We don’t actually know what they are yet,” says astrophysicist Deanne Coppejans of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., a coauthor of the paper on CSS161010. Scientists still can’t rule out the possibility that the events could be the result of a black hole ripping apart a star, rather than the aftermath of a supernova, she says.

    After the Cow was discovered, scientists had speculated that whatever created it may have involved some kind of cosmic “engine,” a dense object like a black hole or spinning neutron star that could add some oomph to the eruption by launching powerful jets of material. Now, in light of the two teams’ new results, “I’m driven to think that there really is some kind of central compact object driving these explosions,” says astrophysicist Brian Metzger of Columbia University.

    That’s because the two new events both spewed matter at blazing speeds. The Koala ejected its detritus at more than 38 percent of the speed of light; CSS161010’s ejecta reached more than 55 percent light speed. The Cow’s offal reached a relatively measly 10 percent of the speed of light. In the case of CSS161010, the researchers also observed X-rays, which could likewise have been stirred up by such an engine.

    Scientists have been regularly detecting fast blue optical transients only for the last several years. Transient blips of light in the sky are spotted by comparing different images taken of the same locations at different times. In the past, telescopes surveyed the sky at intervals short enough to catch normal supernovas but missed briefer events. Faster-paced surveys have recently made it possible to spot changes that occur on timescales of days. Those surveys include the Zwicky Transient Facility, which detected the Koala, and the Catalina Real-time Transient Survey and the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae, both of which detected CSS161010.

    But watch this space: “There are more surveys coming online that are going to be capable of detecting these things,” says astrophysicist Patricia Schady of the University of Bath in England. That could include the Vera Rubin Observatory, which will start up in 2022 (SN: 1/10/20). To fully pin down the source of the events, Schady says, “we really do need more of these things.”

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

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    We have learned much, and need to learn much more

    One year ago, the cover of Science News focused on the threat posed by a global disease outbreak: measles. Vaccine use had faltered, leading to 1,282 confirmed cases in the United States last year, and more than 400,000 worldwide. Little did we know that we would soon be under attack by a ferocious new viral foe. When this magazine went to press in mid-May, the United States had over 1.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 92,000 deaths, out of 4.9 million confirmed cases and about 324,000 deaths worldwide.

    The speed and scope of what has happened to us all is still hard to grasp. I never imagined a world in which going to the grocery store could pose mortal peril, but here we are. Some days it feels as if everything that was once certain in life has been erased by uncertainty and dread.

    In this issue, we step back from the daily flood of news to consider where we are in the fight against the virus, less than six months in. It’s not where anyone would hope to be: no approved treatments, no vaccines and with many countries still lacking systems for testing or contact tracing.

    But we have also learned so much, so fast. Since December 31, when China reported a cluster of pneumonia cases of unknown cause, researchers worldwide have been racing to learn the workings of the new virus, identify its vulnerabilities and develop treatments and vaccines. The pace is dizzying; two prominent online repositories of “preprint” studies, bioRxiv and medRxiv, have posted more than 3,000 coronavirus-related studies since January.

    Some of this work, which is not yet peer-reviewed, will turn out to be wrong, such as a study claiming that the virus had recently mutated to be more contagious. But many other efforts will either prove useful in their own right, or help advance the work of others.

    We’re watching science happen in real time right before our eyes: messy, flawed, riveting. For many of us, never has the effort been greater; never has so much been at stake.

    in Science News on June 01, 2020 09:00 AM.

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    Special Report: Fighting the Virus

    Less than six months ago, news broke that a mysterious pneumonia was sweeping through a city in China. For many of us in the United States, the danger seemed too distant for concern. People continued to fly, gather for family events and conferences — and set off on cruise ships. Within a month, though, the new coronavirus, eventually named SARS-CoV-2, had crossed borders to at least 19 countries, including the United States. By March 17, the virus was in all 50 states. Nine days later, the United States had more active infections than hard-hit Italy and China.

    In many countries, schools closed and moved classes online, businesses were shuttered and people were ordered to stay home. Overwhelmed hospitals, caught short on supplies, went searching for ventilators and personal protective gear. People died; others feared for their lives and their livelihoods. As the virus spread, scientists raced to figure out how the pathogen attacks and how it might be tamed. The work continues, but the public is understandably impatient.

    This special report investigates what it will take to regain some sense of normalcy. It’s going to take safe and effective treatments and a vaccine, along with testing and contact-tracing systems. The stress of the pandemic and all the uncertainty can mess with our brains, but we might need to get used to it. As George F. Gao, director general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing, says: “We’ve got to dance with the virus.” — Cori Vanchieri

    As we wait for a vaccine, here’s a snapshot of potential COVID-19 treatments

    Though a vaccine remains the ultimate goal, researchers are on the hunt for new ways to treat COVID-19. Read more

    To end social distancing, the U.S. must dramatically ramp up contact tracing

    Life after social distancing may involve apps that ask you to self-isolate after you’ve been near someone who tests positive for COVID-19. Read more

    What coronavirus antibody tests tell us — and what they don’t

    Antibody tests can give a clearer picture of who has been infected but don’t guarantee immunity for those who test positive. Read more

    How coronavirus stress may scramble our brains

    The pandemic has made clear thinking a real struggle. But researchers say knowing how stress affects the brain can help people cope. Read more

    in Science News on June 01, 2020 09:00 AM.

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    Readers ask about dust in space, playgrounds, and COVID-19

    cover of April 11, 2020 issue

    Not your bookshelf’s dust

    Dust may explain why the star Betelgeuse suddenly dimmed in 2019, Lisa Grossman reported in “Betelgeuse is not about to explode” (SN: 4/11/20, p. 6).

    Reader Steve Ostrom was intrigued by how gas clouds around red giant stars like Betelgeuse condense into dust. “I have read many times about ‘dust’ in space, and have always wondered what that is,” Ostrom wrote. “I doubt it’s the same dust that accumulates on my bookshelves every month. Exactly what is this ‘dust,’ and how does it condense out of gas?”

    The definition of dust in space depends on where you’re looking and who you’re talking to, Grossman says. “Planetary scientists have a different definition than astrophysicists. But in this case, the dust that red giant stars puff out is gas from the star that has cooled down enough to turn solid,” she says. Below a certain temperature, atoms start to collide and stick together, but the details are far from understood, says cosmochemist Larry Nittler of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. The composition of the dust depends on the composition of the star — carbon-rich stars make mostly carbon dust, while oxygen-rich stars make mostly silicates.

    Playground perks

    Playground designs that encourage active imaginative play can make a difference in how much kids move, Emily Anthes reported in “Building playgrounds that get kids moving” (SN: 4/11/20, p. 20).

    Reader Stephen Restaino believes that such playgrounds may have other b­enefits, like decreasing b­ullying and boosting grades. A pediatrician, Restaino mentioned studies that suggest active recess decreases in-class behavior issues. “This isn’t just about … getting a child’s heart rate up,” he wrote. “It’s time for these researchers to go back and talk [with] parents, teachers and [administrators] for a more substantive, broader evaluation of these new playgrounds and the other perks that accrue from money well spent.”

    COVID-19 Q&A

    Science News reporters Tina Hesman Saey, Aimee Cunningham, Jonathan Lambert and Erin Garcia de Jesus are f­ollowing the latest research to keep you up to date on the coronavirus pandemic. The team is answering reader questions about COVID-19.

    Reader Nick R. asked if exercising outdoors while practicing social distancing is safe.

    Exercising outdoors while keeping at least six feet from others is g­enerally considered a low-risk activity when it comes to catching COVID-19. But virus-laden droplets can travel farther than six feet (SN: 5/9/20 & 5/23/20, p. 6). Whether six feet is safe enough outside likely depends on the weather, how long the virus remains infectious in those conditions and how little of the virus is needed to kick-start an infection. Scientists are still working to understand the interplay of those factors.

    A brief encounter with an infected person outside probably isn’t enough contact to catch the virus, some evidence suggests. But if parks or trails are crowded enough to make it difficult to stay away from others, it might be a good idea to exercise during off-hours or wear a cloth mask.


    In “Relic’s origins may refute tie to Jesus” (SN: 4/25/20, p. 13), Nazareth is incorrectly identified as the location of Jesus’ tomb. Experts believe the tomb is in Jerusalem.

    in Science News on June 01, 2020 09:00 AM.

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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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    Weekend reads: Hydroxychloroquine paper earns correction; company allegedly fakes COVID-19 data; why retractions fail

    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 clinical trial about COVID-19 by a convicted felon A … Continue reading Weekend reads: Hydroxychloroquine paper earns correction; company allegedly fakes COVID-19 data; why retractions fail

    in Retraction watch on May 30, 2020 12:00 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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    More ‘murder hornets’ are turning up. Here’s what you need to know

    Two new specimens of Asian giant hornet have turned up in the Pacific Northwest, suggesting that the invasive species made it through the winter despite efforts last year to stamp out the menace to North America’s honeybees.

    A big, yellow-and-black insect found dead in a roadway near Custer, Wash., has been identified as the Asian giant hornet, or Vespa mandarinia, Sven Spichiger, an entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture, announced May 29. It was “probably a queen,” he said, from a brood in a 2019 nest and now ready to found a colony of her own.

    Canadian scientists have also confirmed their first giant hornet of 2020, a specimen spotted May 15 in Langley, British Columbia.

    Dubbed the “murder hornet” to the annoyance of entomologists, the predator earns its nickname from its proclivity to nab a honeybee, bite off the bee’s head carried home to nourish young hornets. Raiding parties of several dozen Asian giant hornets can kill whole hives containing thousands of bees in a few hours.

    Those are just some of the details that make V. mandarinia the newsiest stinging invader in years. It’s a fierce little predator, though not as apocalyptic as “murder hornet” headlines have suggested.

    Amid the uproar over the “new” hornets, a few facts have been overlooked. For one, North America has previously had at least one close call — not publicized at the time — with the world’s largest hornet. Unlike the current sensational invasion, however, that early episode had a happy ending, at least for the people and native insects of North America. Not so much for the hornets. What’s more, these aren’t the only big, bad hornets that have arrived at the borders of the continent.

    Here’s what we know so far, and what we don’t, about Asian giant hornets and the threats they pose.

    Is this ‘invasion of the giant hornet’ really new?

    Not entirely. What’s new for North America is that last year scientists confirmed Asian giant hornets in the wild.

    In September 2019, beekeepers tracked down and destroyed a hornet nest about the diameter of a large grapefruit near a public footpath in Nanaimo near Vancouver, Canada. Lone flying hornets also showed up on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, one at a hummingbird feeder near Blaine, Wash.

    But that wasn’t the Asian giant hornet’s first touchdown on North American soil. California had an overlooked close call in 2016. It wasn’t just some lone hornet hiding in a cargo container, says entomologist Allan Smith-Pardo, now at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service office in Sacramento, Calif. He was the scientist charged with identifying any suspicious wasps or bees found in cargo or mail nationwide. An inspector flagged an express package coming into the San Francisco airport without any mention of insects in its labeling. Yet it held some kind of papery honeycomb-like nest.

    Giant hornet nestAfter sightings of giant hornets on Vancouver Island in Canada, beekeepers tracked down this nest in a forested public park within the town of Nanaimo. A carefully suited-up team anesthetized the hornets with carbon dioxide and dropped them in alcohol, which killed them.Paul van Westendorp

    The inspector wondered if someone was smuggling in bees, which U.S. rules strictly ban in order to slow the influx of viruses, predatory mites and other menaces. Smith-Pardo identified the package as something even more dramatic: a whole nest of Asian giant hornets. “There were no adults in the package, but plenty of pupae and larvae,” he says. A few were still alive.

    Instead of some bizarre attempt at international sabotage, the package was probably a gourmet treat or even a health aid. In their native home, “collected adults, pupae and larvae are soaked in liquor,” says retired entomologist Jung-tai Chao, who studied paper wasp social behavior at the University of Georgia as well as hornet ecology at the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute. This “hornet liquor,” he says, is believed to ease arthritis pain.

    The 2016 hornet package was opened in a secure room that keeps biological hazards from escaping. So that potential insect disaster became no more than a data point mentioned briefly on page 23 of the May 2020 issue of Insect Systematics and Diversity. The overview looked only at hornets intercepted in California during one decade, so there could have been other run-ins with giants.

    Is the Asian giant hornet the first hornet to try invading North America?

    Far from it.

    The hefty, though not record-setting, hornet V. crabro spread from Europe into New York state around the mid-19th century. Now found in scattered places east of the Rockies, the European hornets nest in hollow trees and cozy nooks within walls. Humans who blunder too close can get painful stings, says Bob Jacobson, a retired entomologist in Cincinnati with a long-standing interest in hornets and venoms. His cousin was stung by the species.

    Like the Asian giant hornet, the European invader attacks honeybees, and Jacobson has seen it go after bumblebees, too, as well as yellow jackets and some other wasps. Unlike the new invader, though, a V. crabro hornet hunts alone. It picks off a bee on a flower or at a hive but doesn’t gang up in groups for mass slaughter of whole insect colonies.

    Other hornets have also turned up in North America without stirring public interest. That data search of interceptions in California between 2010 and 2018 showed that inspectors stopped four other species besides the giant. In Canada, just in 2019, entomologists identified two different invasive hornet species, including V. soror, which is almost as big as the Asian giant. Whether those arrivals could make a permanent home remains to be seen.

    Let’s back up. What are hornets, and why do people get so spooked by them?

    True hornets are big, predatory, colony-forming wasps, in the Vespa genus. Apart from the European V. crabro, they’re native to Asia. They need meat to feed their young, unlike honeybees, which collect plant pollen as baby food. Another difference: A honeybee dies after its single-use stinger rips out of its body. Hornets, however, are among the insects that can sting and sting again.

    The latest hornet identification key lists 22 species: striped and spangled in various browns and rusts, gold and bluish-blacks. North America also has several native wasps popularly nicknamed hornets. These natives, however, belong on a nearby but different twig of the insect evolutionary tree.

    Why do Asian giant hornets attack honeybees?

    The Asian giant hornet doesn’t really specialize in honeybees, says James Carpenter, a hornet specialist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City who is now marooned in Australia by travel restrictions. For the early months of the one-year life cycle of a nest in temperate climates, workers forage alone, often for beetles.

    Toward the fall, however, the colony’s time is running out, and workers face heavy demands for protein to raise the next generation of queens that will take shelter during the winter and then start their own colonies in spring. Workers band together in unique group-foraging raids. Several dozen attack high-value targets, such as whole nests of honeybees, other species of hornets, and yellow jackets.

    The giant hornets “slaughter the adults, then carry back the brood as food for their larvae,” Carpenter says. “Besides the impact on honeybees, then, they might have an impact on native yellow jackets.”

    Just how big is the Asian giant hornet, and how could beekeepers fight them?

    V. mandarinia ranks as the world’s largest hornet. Queens can grow some 5 centimeters long, about the length of an average-sized woman’s thumb. Wingspans can exceed 7 centimeters, not quite the full width of a woman’s palm. Workers aren’t as big.

    Beekeepers in Asia try to turn the giants’ size against them, says entomologist Jeff Pettis in Salisbury, Md., president of Apimondia, an international federation of beekeepers’ associations. He’s seen various kinds of traps and screening devices set up at hive entrances that let a slim honeybee slip through but block big clunking hornets.

    Not to be deterred, the hornets will lurk in front of a blocked hive to pick off emerging bees. Pettis has even seen apiary workers with a tennis or badminton racket chasing and “just whacking ’em.”

    That’s not at all recommended, by the way. Giant hornets have giant stingers, so it’s better to stay out of their way.

    Wasps, hornets and bees size chartThe Asian giant hornet looms large among other wasps, bees and hornets. This image shows other species found in North America to scale.WSDA
    Wasps, bees and hornets size chartThe Asian giant hornet looms large among other wasps, bees and hornets. This image shows other species found in North America to scale.WSDA

    How bad is the sting?

    There’s no real relationship between how dangerous and how painful an insect’s sting is, says Justin Schmidt, of the Southwestern Biological Institute and University of Arizona in Tucson.

    The Asian giant hornet delivers a big dose of fairly strong venom, he and colleagues determined after testing venom of four kinds of Asian hornets on mice. The giant hornet species could zing the biggest volume into its target, about 1,100 micrograms (dry weight) per individual compared with around 150 from a dainty little honeybee. That hornet venom also has a pretty strong knockdown power. Based on what venom did to lab mice in tests, researchers say that just one full sting would have a 50 percent chance of killing a decent-sized (270-gram) rodent.

    The venom of Tetraponera ants from Malaysia has “exquisite lethality,” but the sting isn’t very painful, Schmidt noted in Toxins in 2019. Schmidt has spent decades developing a ranking system for stings by allowing himself to be stung (SN: 7/24/16), Even though he has personal data on more than 80 insects, the Asian giant hornet isn’t one of them. (So far.) From talking to various colleagues who have been stung, however, he estimates that it’s equivalent to three to 10 yellow jackets stinging simultaneously. That’s painful, but “not the end of the world,” he says. What ranks at roughly 10 times more painful in his view are bullet ants.

    Pain aside, how dangerous will this hornet be for people?

    A much-quoted number from a 1986 paper puts Japan’s death toll for people stung by V. mandarinia at around 40 to 50 people per year. That includes people with allergies to insect venom. (Estimates vary, Jacobson says, but notes a paper reporting 1 percent to 3 percent.)  The less-quoted parts of the report from Japan, however, point out that of the 14 people hospitalized for stings and discussed in the paper, those with fewer than 50 stings had a good chance of surviving.

    Chao, who contributed a case report to that paper, was stung himself while out with his students collecting a large V. mandarinia nest.  He’s allergic to stings. “Unfortunately I did not have my antihistamines with me,” he says. He was rushed to a hospital, where after injections and a few hours’ observation, though, he was released.

    If this hornet gets established, will people need to stay indoors to survive the invasion?

    That’s not the way Paul van Westendorp sees it.

    As the principal beekeeping specialist for the province of British Columbia, he received the first giant Asian hornet specimens from beekeepers last year and knows how much damage the hornets can do. Raiding parties literally leave heaps of headless honeybees around a hive during a takeover to steal the young.

    To put it in perspective, Asian giant hornets perch at the apex of major insect predators. “Apex predators are maybe very fierce in what they can do, but there are only a few of them around,” he says.

    So, for most people the odds of ever coming across one are low.  “On a beautiful, hot summer day, one will normally have no hesitation to go for a nice swim in the ocean — even if we recognize that there are orcas out there,” van Westendorp says.

    in Science News on May 30, 2020 12:07 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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    Genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s also raise the risk of getting COVID-19

    A genetic variant that raises one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease may also make people more susceptible to COVID-19. 

    People with two copies of a version of the APOE gene called APOE4 are 14 times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as people with two copies of the APOE3 version of the gene (SN: 9/22/17). Those people were also more than twice as likely to test positive for the coronavirus than people with two copies of the APOE3 version, researchers report May 26 in the Journals of Gerontology: Series A. The results come from a study of more than 600 people in England diagnosed with COVID-19 from March 16 to April 26.

    Two previous studies showed that people with dementia were more likely to have severe cases or to die of COVID-19. This new study found that even people with no signs of dementia or other diseases associated with having APOE4 were still more susceptible to COVID-19 than people with the APOE3 version. 

    Among nearly 400,000 participants in the large genetic database called the UK Biobank, only 3 percent have two copies of APOE4, while 69 percent have two copies of APOE3. The remainder have one of each version. 

    But the APOE4 version was more common than expected among people diagnosed with COVID-19, the study found. Of 622 people who tested positive for the coronavirus, 37 had two copies of APOE4. On a population scale, that means about 410 of every 100,000 people with two copies of that version of the gene would test positive, the researchers calculate. That compares with 179 of every 100,000 people with two copies of APOE3 testing positive.

    APOE is involved in handling cholesterol in the body and the protein also plays a role in some immune system functions. Exactly how APOE4 may make people more vulnerable to the coronavirus isn’t understood yet. 

    in Science News on May 29, 2020 05:29 PM.

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    A convicted felon wants people to enroll in a COVID-19 clinical trial. What could go wrong?

    Richard Fleming, a felon convicted of health care fraud who has been debarred by the US Food and Drug Administration, would like to invite you to participate in a clinical trial. Fleming has registered a study on ClinicalTrials.gov to evaluate what he calls the “Fleming Method for Tissue and Vascular Differentiation and Metabolism” — a … Continue reading A convicted felon wants people to enroll in a COVID-19 clinical trial. What could go wrong?

    in Retraction watch on May 29, 2020 03:54 PM.

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    Stretched Words And Imaginary Beasts: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

    Keyboard for idea

    Our weekly round-up of the best psychology coverage from elsewhere on the web

    Researchers have finalllyyyyyy studied the ways we elongate words on social media, reports Matt Simon at Wired. The team developed a program that searched through 100 billion tweets for stretched words, finding some interesting patterns. Some words, for example, tend to be “unbalanced” (think “thaaaanks”), while others are balanced (think “hahahahaha”). The Wired story has some cool charts that show how common different stretched variations were for particular words.

    What makes people decide to donate money for tiger conservation, say, but not to save an endangered bat? It could be partly down to the animals’ physical features, reports Amanda Heidt at Science. Researchers looked at people’s responses to a variety of bizarre fictional creatures, finding that they were more likely to donate to conserve larger animals or those that were more colourful or that sported cooler colours. Check out the story for some great pictures of the imaginary beasts.

    Back to real animals, and a new comparative psychology study suggests that goats  understand the meaning of some basic human gestures, writes Candice Wang at Popular Science. Researchers found that goats could follow a human’s pointing gesture to correctly locate a source of food — although not perfectly. They hope that their work can ultimately help to improve the well-being of farm animals.

    Is it really Friday already? At Scientific American, Jacki Rocheleau looks at how the coronavirus lock-down is warping our perception of time.

    While epidemiologists continue to track the spread of COVID-19, other researchers are investigating how conspiracy theories about the virus are transmitted.  A feature at Nature by Amy Maxmen and Philip Ball looks at the work of these scientists, and how it might help inform attempts to “flatten the curve” of misinformation.

    Of course, simply attempting to debunk coronavirus myths may backfire, as several scientists explain in The Conversation. Repeating a claim — even when trying to debunk it — can make it seem more believable. Instead, it may be more useful to ensure that true information is made more accessible and easy to understand, they suggest.

    Finally, it feels like everyone is playing the Nintendo game Animal Crossing right now — but can psychology explain its appeal? Pete Etchells has the answers at BBC Science Focus.

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on May 29, 2020 03:31 PM.

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    A journal publishes a critical letter — then says it was a mistake

    On Sept. 17, 2019, virologist David Sanders — who recently won a lawsuit brought against him for efforts as a scientific sleuth — wrote a letter to the Journal of Cellular Physiology about a 2004 paper whose images raised his eyebrows. The response a day later from an editorial assistant was a hint of what … Continue reading A journal publishes a critical letter — then says it was a mistake

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

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    “Visual-Verbal Prompting” Could Make Interviews More Manageable For Autistic People

    By guest blogger Dan Carney

    A key feature of interviews is open-ended questioning inviting the recall of past experiences and memories — what psychologists call “autobiographical” memory. Having to provide this information accurately and coherently, combined with the stress of the situation, can often make being interviewed a demanding and uncomfortable experience.

    That is especially true of autistic people, who may have difficulties with both autobiographical memory and open-ended questioning. Many autistic people report job interviews as a major barrier to employment, and it’s possible that interview difficulties may also be compounding, or partially causing, problems in legal and healthcare contexts where open-ended interviews requiring autobiographical recall are a common feature. Autistic people are more likely to be involved in criminal investigations, for instance, and to experience physical and mental health difficulties.

    Now, in a paper published in Autism, a team led by Jade Norris from the University of Bath has examined techniques that may help autistic people in these situations. Thirty autistic and thirty typically developing (TD) adults were given eighteen questions asking them to recall specific life events relating to common scenarios across three contexts: criminal justice (e.g. “tell me about a specific instance when… you went to the bank”), healthcare (e.g. “…you vomited”), and employment (e.g. “…you’ve met a deadline”).

    Sometimes participants were also given support in the form of prompts. For some questions, they were asked for general autobiographical information before the question (semantic prompting; e.g. “do you enjoy going to the cinema?”). For others, they received verbal prompting for the specific information required, alongside a pie chart displaying these prompts, after the question (visual-verbal prompting (V-VP); e.g. setting, people present, actions performed). Responses were graded for specificity, with each unit of information also categorized for type (episodic vs. semantic) and relevance (relevant vs. irrelevant).

    Overall, the autistic group’s responses were less specific, and contained a higher proportion of irrelevant semantic information, than those of the TD group. The key finding was that V-VP was most beneficial support technique, associated with greater overall specificity, and a higher overall proportion of relevant episodic information, in both groups.

    This suggests that verbal prompting may be most useful when combined with visual aids, and that this may apply to a range of interview situations. The researchers speculate that V-VP may aid the interrelated recall of information (e.g. who did what to whom, where, and when) — something autistic people can have a problem with. It may also reduce the cognitive demands of open-ended interviews, such as working out unaided exactly what — and how much — information to provide.

    Semantic prompting was not as broadly helpful, but did benefit both groups, in the same ways, on the employment-based questions. The authors argue that this shows the importance of context: semantic prompting may be most useful in employment interviews, where it’s important to convey favourable personal characteristics, and give examples that show these.

    The fact that the benefits of V-VP and semantic prompting were observed in both groups implies that techniques that benefit autistic people are also more generally useful. However, the finding that autistic people’s responses were less specific and semantically relevant overall suggests that — for them — any improvements may be more meaningful, enabling them in some instances to provide sufficiently detailed and relevant information where they might not otherwise have been able to do so.

     The authors also consider ways in which subsequent work could extend on this study. Firstly, they suggest that groups be matched on gender (which wasn’t done here), given that gender differences have been observed in the kind of details reported in autobiographical memories. Secondly, the authors point out that autistic and TD people may have different levels of familiarity with the situations used in the questions. A survey conducted ahead of the study found that TD individuals reported more frequent engagement with the scenarios used for the criminal justice (e.g. going to the supermarket, cinema) and employment questions (e.g. working in a team, being organized) than autistic people, with the latter group reporting more experience of the healthcare-related contexts. Norris and her colleagues suggest that future work should attempt to address how these disparities may affect recall.

    Overall, however, this is a well-designed study that offers a glimpse into how interviews may be made more manageable for both autistic and TD individuals. The findings suggest that these prompting techniques may — by reducing cognitive demand — help people provide more detailed and relevant information.

    Interviewing autistic adults: Adaptations to support recall in police, employment, and healthcare interviews

    Post written for BPS Research Digest by Dr. Dan Carney. Dan is a UK academic psychologist specialising in developmental disorders. He undertook his post-doctoral research fellowship at London South Bank University, finishing in 2013. His published work to date has examined cognition, memory, and inner speech processes in Williams syndrome and Down syndrome, as well as savant skills in autism.

    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 May 28, 2020 10:59 AM.

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    An attempt at a triple play seems likely to result in a retraction

    A group of researchers in China is teetering on the edge of losing a paper because they have apparently tried to publish it three times. Our story starts in Turkey, home to Taner Kemal Erdag, the editor in chief of Turkish Archives of Otorhinolaryngology. In August 2018, Erdag received a submission titled “Increased maternal serum … Continue reading An attempt at a triple play seems likely to result in a retraction

    in Retraction watch on May 28, 2020 10:00 AM.

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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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    Gradual Hearing Loss “Reorganises” Brain’s Sensory Areas And Impairs Memory (In Mice)

    By Emma Young

    In 2011, a US-based study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people with hearing loss were more likely to develop dementia. This alarming result prompted a number of follow-up studies, which have substantiated the link and further explored the risk. But the mechanism of how hearing loss raises this risk has not been clear.

    Now a new study, by a team at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany, offers an explanation. The researchers found that gradual hearing loss (the sort commonly experienced into older age) “profoundly” alters normal processes in the brain’s cortex and hippocampus, and that this impairs memory. This work was conducted on mice, not humans. But it provides useful new insights into what might happen in people.

    Sudden sensory loss is known to trigger widespread reorganisation of key brain areas. This “cortical plasticity” is an adaptive way of dealing with a challenge. If someone suddenly loses their vision, for example, areas of the cortex that were dedicated to vision can switch to processing touch and hearing data, enhancing these senses.

    Information from our senses plays a big part in the formation of our memories, so we have strong links between the sensory cortices and the hippocampus, our most important memory structure. The sudden loss of a sense can therefore also produce disruptive changes in the hippocampus — and memory impairments. Eventually, though, this settles, limiting the disruption to memory.

    A gradual deterioration is different, though. Typical age-related hearing loss starts with impairments in hearing higher frequencies, then mid-range frequencies, then low frequencies. “During cumulative hearing loss, a steady state in terms of sensory input is not achieved,” comments senior author Denise Manahan-Vaughan. “Rather the brain has to constantly adapt to an ever-changing sensory input.”

    For the study, led by Daniela Beckmann, the team used a strain of mice that serve as a model for typical gradual hearing loss in older people. To look at how this hearing loss might reorganise the brain, the researchers examined changes in the animals’ neurotransmitter receptors, a key part of the chemical messaging system that allows for healthy communication between brain cells.

    The team found that progressive hearing loss caused a reorganisation of brain areas, with neurotransmitter receptor changes taking place in both sensory-processing regions in the cortex and the hippocampus. This process also impaired cellular processes related to memory that take place in the hippocampus, and the mice developed clear deficits in spatial memory (their memory for where they’ve been and the layout of their environment).

    This constant change in the mice’s neurotransmitter receptor expression during cumulative hearing loss uses up tremendous resources, says Manahan-Vaughan. Not only do memory structures receive less sensory information — because hearing is becoming impaired — but also the information that these structures receive from the cortex constantly changes (with the progression from high-frequency through to low-frequency loss). “This is very likely why memory becomes impaired,” she says.

    If this process is mirrored in the human brain, hearing loss may, then, amplify or accelerate deficits in cognition caused by the degeneration of brain cells with older age. As the researchers write, “our results suggest that age-related hearing loss may be a contributor to loss of function in the hippocampus that occurs with age.”

    This process does not itself cause Alzheimer’s disease (or vascular dementia, which is also relatively common). But in acting as such a drain on the brain’s resources, and interfering with memory, hearing loss could make it much harder for the brain to cope with another challenge — such as the protein plaques and tangles that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. And this has practical implications, the researchers argue.

    “I think my study shows that it is extremely important to start wearing a hearing aid when hearing loss becomes apparent,” says Manahan-Vaughan. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say this will prevent dementia — this is another physiological process entirely — but wearing a hearing aid is likely to slow down the progress of memory impairments that occur in healthy ageing, simply because one reduces the demands on the brain to adapt to the progressive loss of a sensory modality.”

    Hippocampal Synaptic Plasticity, Spatial Memory, and Neurotransmitter Receptor Expression Are Profoundly Altered by Gradual Loss of Hearing Ability

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on May 27, 2020 01:55 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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    ‘[A] disappointing situation’: Stem cell group retracts with ‘rectitude’ after error

    A team of stem cell researchers at the University of Maryland has lost a 2020 paper after failing to correct an error that they’d caught prior to submission. The paper, “Endothelial/mesenchymal stem cell crosstalk within bioprinted coculture,” appeared in Tissue Engineering Part A, a Mary Ann Liebert publication. The senior author of the article was … Continue reading ‘[A] disappointing situation’: Stem cell group retracts with ‘rectitude’ after error

    in Retraction watch on May 27, 2020 10:00 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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    We’re Less Likely To Spread Alarming Information While Experiencing Physiological Stress

    By Emily Reynolds

    The spread of bad news — fake or otherwise — is likely to be on everybody’s minds at the moment. Whether it’s legitimate updates on the spread or symptoms of coronavirus, or sensationalism more to do with page clicks than scientific fact, it can be hard to tune out of the news cycle — and to know what information you should be passing on to friends and family.

    Past research has found that alarming information is likely to spread further than positive information; we’re also more likely to share news that confirms our own beliefs and biases. But what impact does the experience of stress have on the sharing of negative or alarming news? A new study published in Scientific Reports suggests a complex relationship between the two.

    To examine the relationship between stress and the spread of alarming information, Nathalie Popovic at the University of Konstanz and colleagues recruited 141 participants, who were split into two groups. Half completed a control task, writing notes for a hypothetical job interview that only they would see. The other half prepared the same notes — but, in this condition, were then asked to explain to two interviewers why they were a good fit for the job and perform a mental arithmetic task in order to raise their levels of stress.

    Both groups then read six articles about Triclosan, a controversial chemical substance sometimes used in toothpaste, detergents, soaps, and other consumer goods. Each article took a different position on the substance, containing  a variety of positive, negative and neutral statements about it (despite widespread use, some research suggests it may not be safe). Before and after reading the information, they were asked whether they had heard of Triclosan, whether they were likely to have been exposed to it, and how they perceived the risk of chemical substances in general and Triclosan specifically. They were also given 17 minutes to write a message to another participant about Triclosan.

    Throughout the experiment — at twelve to fifteen minute intervals subjective stress levels were measured using a scale of one to ten and cortisol was measured using saliva samples.

    All participants reported an increase in concern after reading articles about Triclosan. But participants in the stress group — who had higher levels of cortisol — were less influenced by the articles, showing a smaller increase in concern than those in the control group. They were also less likely to share alarming information in their messages to other participants. The bigger the increase in cortisol, the smaller the increase in concern. But those who reported subjective feelings of stress — even if unrelated to the task at hand — were both more concerned and more likely to share alarming information.

    Why the contrast? In a supporting article, co-author Wolfgang Gaissmaier suggests that acute physiological stress reactions may result in adaptive processes intended to calm us down. For instance, we may naturally downplay negative information when stressed, reducing the perception of risk and leaving us better able to respond to the situation in front of us. Feeling stressed, on the other hand, may make us feel more alarmed about risky situations, even when they’re not directly related to the source of our anxiety — and may make us more likely to share that stress with others via alarming information.

    Both reactions have downsides. The endocrine stress reaction may make us underestimate risk, potentially blinding us to genuinely dangerous situations. Overestimating risk, as was seen in subjectively stressed participants, might also get us into trouble: the team uses the example of anti-vaxxers, who erroneously judge vaccines as dangerous and therefore put themselves at risk of serious illness.

    There have been ongoing discussions about the spread of alarming views — including those of anti-vaxxers — for the last few years; never have they been more relevant than at the moment, when much of the world is wracked with anxiety and faced with a seemingly endless stream of bad news. Understanding the circumstances in which negative information is more or less likely to spread may help us tackle it before it does too much damage.

    Acute Stress Reduces the Social Amplification of Risk Perception

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on May 26, 2020 10:52 AM.

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    ‘Patterns in the data have led to questions’: Ob-gyns lose another paper

    A group of OB/GYNs in the Middle East with a history of testing the patience of editors has lost a paper — and received in expression of concern for another — over concerns about the validity of their data.  The articles appeared in the BJOG, a Wiley publication. Both were led by Mohammad Maher, who … Continue reading ‘Patterns in the data have led to questions’: Ob-gyns lose another paper

    in Retraction watch on May 26, 2020 10:00 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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    Weekend reads: Hamsters, cats, dogs, and other fake authors; a fraudster regains her medical license; how to ruin journal titles

    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. Sending thoughts to our readers and wishing them the best in this uncertain time. The week … Continue reading Weekend reads: Hamsters, cats, dogs, and other fake authors; a fraudster regains her medical license; how to ruin journal titles

    in Retraction watch on May 23, 2020 01:11 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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    Flashing Lights And Near-Death Experiences: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

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

    Researchers are investigating whether flashing lights could be used to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease, David Robson writes at BBC Future. People with Alzheimer’s seem to have weak gamma brainwaves, and animal studies suggest that directly inducing brain activity at these frequencies can kick-start the brain’s immune cells. Now researchers are looking at whether inducing these waves non-invasively, through flickering lights or sounds, could help patients.

    We hear a lot about failed replications — so here’s some good news. Prospect theory, a key tenet of behavioural economics, has passed a large replication attempt that involved more than 4,000 participants, writes Cathleen O’Grady at Ars Technica.

    What’s going on in the brain during a near-death experience? Such experiences are difficult to study from a neuroscientific perspective — but Christof Koch explores the possibilities at Scientific American.

    In many parts of the world, professional sports leagues are beginning to return to action — but they’re playing to empty stadiums. So how will this affect the behaviour of players and referees? It’s going to be an interesting time for sports psychologists, writes Eric Niiler at Wired.

    As the government relaxes some lockdown measures, people may experience anxiety when faced with the prospect of going back to work or school. At The Conversation, mental health researcher Olivia Remes has some advice about dealing with these worries and feelings of uncertainty.

    And while humans may be feeling more fearful than before, the opposite is true for many other animals. Our sudden absence from many public spaces has changed animals’ “landscape of fear”, writes Jason G. Goldman at Scientific American — which is why you see videos of goats taking over empty streets in Wales.

    Finally, Aeon has just launched a new digital magazine about the human condition called Psyche. There’s already a load of great stuff on there — and did we mention that the senior editor is none other than Christian Jarrett, founding editor of Research Digest? Check it out!

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on May 22, 2020 01:23 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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    What it takes to correct the record: Autopsy of a COVID-19 corrigendum

    We’ve been keeping track of retracted coronavirus papers, but what about corrections? Here’s a guest post from Richard Jones of Cardiff University about a paper that earned widespread media coverage but turned out to be wrong. According to our best knowledge, this is the first report on COVID-19 infection and death among medical personnel in … Continue reading What it takes to correct the record: Autopsy of a COVID-19 corrigendum

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

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    French hydroxychloroquine-COVID-19 study withdrawn

    The authors of a preprint on use of hydroxychloroquine — the controversial drug heavily promoted by, and now apparently taken by, President Trump, at least for a few more days — along with azithromycin for COVID-19 have withdrawn the paper. The preprint, “Hydroxychloroquine plus azithromycin: a potential interest in reducing in-hospital morbidity due to COVID-19 … Continue reading French hydroxychloroquine-COVID-19 study withdrawn

    in Retraction watch on May 21, 2020 09:39 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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    Memory Complaints Are More Common Among Older Adults With Particular Personality Traits

    By Emma Young

    Memory complaints are fairly common among elderly people. Together with low participation in cognitively demanding activities, such as reading or doing crosswords, they can predict future declines — including the risk of developing dementia.

    It might seem likely, then, that people with poorer cognitive functioning may report more problems, and may be less able to engage in (and so benefit from) reading or other stimulating activities. However, a new paper, published in Psychology and Aging, suggests that another factor is more important in predicting both these complaints and engagement in stimulating activities: personality.

    The researchers, led by Patrick Hill at Washington University in St Louis, analysed data from 136 Swiss older adults, with an average age of about 70. (The data came from a bigger study into how the everyday behaviour of older people is linked to maintaining or improving wellbeing and health). The participants first completed a series of lab-based cognitive tasks, including memory tests, and self-report questionnaires, which included an assessment of the “Big Five” personality traits. Then, at the end of each of the next ten days, they used smartphones to report on any cognitive complaints during that day (e.g. “I misplaced or lost an object such as keys or glasses”), and also instances of cognitive engagement (e.g. “I enjoyed thinking about a complicated problem”).

    Taking into account each participant’s age, education level and subjective health, the team then looked at how initial cognitive task results and personality trait scores might relate to the subsequent smartphone data.

    They found that the number of daily cognitive complaints was significantly correlated with scores on all of the personality traits, but just one of the measures of  cognitive performance (processing speed). Strikingly, scores on the two initial specific memory tests did not correlate with daily cognitive complaints. (This somewhat surprising observation is in fact supported by recent work that suggests our cognitive self-perceptions are relatively distinct from our actual performance).

    When all of these variables were put into a model, however, only one factor emerged as being key. This was openness to experience, a personality trait that entails a liking for intellectual and artistic pursuits, and a willingness to try new things.  Participants who initially scored higher for openness went on to report, on average, fewer cognitive complaints each day, and also more, and more varied, cognitive engagement.

    There may be two reasons for this, the researchers suggest. Firstly, measures of openness tap into a person’s self-perceptions of their intellectual ability and creativity. People with a stronger belief in their intellectual capacities may perceive fewer cognitive issues in daily life. Secondly, people who are more open are of course more willing to engage in varied novel experiences. Because they enjoy intellectual activities, they may be driven to think more, and in more different ways — and this could protect against cognitive decline. In fact, there are other recent findings that diversity in cognitive activity, rather than total time spent in these kinds of tasks, may be more beneficial for cognitive performance in older age.

    The work also suggests that in understanding why some interventions work better for some older people than others, personality traits should be taken into account. Also, interventions that encourage openness may potentially be more effective.

    However, as the researchers themselves add, all of the personality traits, demographic variables and initial cognitive performance measures only account for a small amount of the differences in the level of cognitive complaints and engagement between people. The team would like to see more work to drill into potential links with personality in finer detail. But other factors that are yet to be well-characterised — levels of stress, perhaps — may well turn out to be far more important.

    Daily cognitive complaints and engagement in older adulthood: Personality traits are more predictive than cognitive performance.

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on May 20, 2020 11:03 AM.

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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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    Interview with JBC research integrity manager Kaoru Sakabe

    This is my interview with Kaoru Sakabe, research integrity manager at the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Will the tough stance on science fraud be abandoned, now that the publisher partnered with Elsevier?

    in For Better Science on May 19, 2020 10:10 AM.

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    Pandemic practicalities and how to help teenagers manage time at home

    It’s May and many of us have fond memories of springtime when we were in high school. There was some stress from exams and final papers to be sure, but also more outdoor activities, sports, banquets or awards assemblies, proms, and most of all, looking forward to the summer. High school students today, however, have lost all of that. Seemingly in an instant, they are confined at home, with little access to friends, no organized sports, arts, music, journalism, or other activities. Education via teleconferencing is of variable quality and is no substitute for the interactive learning with other students and a skilled educator. Most of all, our students face an uncertain future. It is especially difficult for teens to foresee or plan for a future with the current disruption. Adolescents may well not be able to deal with these multiple concerns, so it’s predictable and understandable that many high school students are struggling with anxiety and depressed mood. Even before the pandemic adolescents had high rates of clinical anxiety and depression. We are facing an enormous mental health crisis.

    As parents there’s a lot we can do to help support our teens. Here are some practical tips to alleviate anxiety and promote stability during this uncertain time.

    Create a schedule. Maintaining a regular schedule can provide a sense of stability for the whole family. Teens still have school; many parents are working and those form the basic skeleton of the day. Online learning can be draining so I suggest periodic breaks, at least 15 minutes of stretching, running in place, or going outside (if possible) every two hours or so. Teens with attentional issue may need more frequent breaks.  Add structured time for meditation, pleasant events, and physical activity. Many schools, online programs, and apps can support a meditation practice.  At the minimum we can teach our children to take just a few minutes to breathe deeply as a break from the stresses of the day. I am partial to Dr. Andrew Weil’s simple 4-7-8 approach, breathing in for four seconds, holding the breath for seven seconds, and then exhaling very slowly for eight seconds.  I can feel a sense of relaxation at about number five during the exhale. This small exercise is helpful to everyone and can quell anxiety. Evenings might be a time to reclaim long-forgotten family activities from when the teens were younger: baking, doing puzzles, working on family history projects, or even watching television together can foster connection and emphasize the family as foundational.

    Limit access to the news. Normally I think that high schoolers learn about government and global issues and develop a critical eye from reading or watching the news. Right now, however, it can be overwhelming to see the stories, not only of death and pain but also unemployment and the plight of our most vulnerable citizens. You can share with your teen why watching too much coronavirus or political news can be demoralizing. Everyone is different, but 30 minutes is plenty of time to catch up on the news and you can add some time for discussion. You can also help yourself and your teen by being a good role model of having boundaries about watching the news.

    Help them stay connected. Teens can continue to find ways to relate to their friends even during this time of social distancing and sheltering in place. In the past I viewed too much time on social media as destructive, especially to young women. However, in the current situation, social media can, if used responsibly, provide a sense of connection, shared goals, and distraction. I recommend being more flexible about screen time.  Email, texts, and even writing letters will help (and older relatives will appreciate the letters). In addition to connections to their friends, we can encourage teens to form connections to the larger community. We’ve seen that teens can be creative and generous by volunteering, whether making masks, raising money for charity online or contributing art work.

    Foster self-efficacy. In isolation, it is can be difficult for teenagers to feel any sense of competence other than academics. Teens with learning differences may be having an especially difficult time adjusting to virtual learning. Assign tasks at home, including daily chores and longer-term ones like organizing family photos, building a table, creating new menus, and so on.  Older teens can help their siblings or cousins with schoolwork. Ask your high schoolers how they think they can help out; their creativity may surprise you. All these activities help the family and teens still appreciate your acknowledgment of a job well done. Learning a new skill or completing a project also elicits the “I’ve got this” feeling, that leads to improved mood and can foster independence.

    Featured Image Credit: by Anastasia Gepp via Pixabay

    The post Pandemic practicalities and how to help teenagers manage time at home appeared first on OUPblog.

    in OUPblog - Psychology and Neuroscience on May 19, 2020 09:30 AM.

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    Feeling Sleepy? Six Findings That Reveal The Nuanced Effects Of Poor Sleep

    By Emma Young

    We all know that too little sleep is bad for us. Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley sleep scientist and author of the best-selling Why We Sleep, has gone so far as to declare: “The shorter you sleep, the shorter your life.” However, some researchers fear that our concerns about not getting enough sleep are becoming overblown — and that, ironically, they could be making the problem worse. In this feature, we take a look at evidence that “too little” sleep isn’t always the disaster that it’s held up to be.

    It’s not always about a lack of sleep

    You’ll be familiar with the chronotype concepts of larks (early to bed and early to rise) and owls (late to bed, and late to rise). Most kids start out as larks, but during adolescence, many shift to becoming owls. Waking up late is fine for teenagers at the weekends, but not during the school week. Unsurprisingly, then, various studies have found that delaying the time school starts improves academic results for this age-group, and many sleep scientists and paediatricians support such a policy. It’s been assumed that this is because it allows teens to get a decent night’s sleep. But there’s some evidence that this may not be the reason. A recent study of Dutch secondary school pupils, published in Scientific Reports, found that owls did get poorer exam grades, but this effect was largely independent of sleep duration.

    This suggests that even when owls get “enough” sleep, they don’t do as well as larks on exams. And this, it seems, is because exams are often administered in the mornings, when owls aren’t at their cognitive peak. When owls took exams in the afternoon, closer to that peak, they achieved similar grades as larks. This was especially true for science subjects. Of course, if the school day starts later, then exams start later — and this could be a better fit for many teens’ chronotype. What this all means, though, is that, in many cases, trying to get teens to go to bed earlier, to sleep for longer, may not make as much of a difference to their performance at school as has been claimed.

    Cause or effect?

    Anxiety, OCD, ADHD, schizophrenia, PTSD… all kinds of mental health problems are associated with sleep problems, too. It’s now recognised that the relationship is circular, with mental illness and insomnia exacerbating each other. It’s not as simple, then, as a lack of sleep causing symptoms. And certainly, there’s evidence that stress early in life can set you up for insomnia much later. One study found that children who grew up in families with high levels of conflict went on to be more likely to have insomnia as adults. This held even when any sleep problems or depression during childhood were controlled for in the analysis — so it wasn’t a case of participants who’d had trouble sleeping as kids still having these difficulties as adults. And when it comes to depression, the links between sleep and symptoms can be surprising…

    A surprising therapy

    Depriving depressed people of sleep works as an effective treatment. This was shown in series of studies starting almost 50 years ago. But it has become a standard therapy only recently. Healthy people deprived of sleep will generally find that their mood worsens. But for people with depression, staying awake for at least a night can do the opposite (temporarily, anyway). The impacts are rapid, and work on most patients, as a study in Denmark, for example, has found. Exactly how the treatment works is still debated, but it’s thought to shock a sluggish biological clock.

    Sleep doesn’t always improve memory

    The evidence that sleep is important for memory is pretty overwhelming. But, recently, at least one study has challenged the idea that sleep always brings memory benefits. Given the experimental record, the researchers had expected to find that eye-witnesses who were given the chance to sleep would be better at identifying suspects the following day. But they weren’t…

    This was a big study: 2000 participants watched a brief video of a man stealing a laptop from an office. Twelve hours later, they were asked to identify him from a line-up. Half had slept during this time, but, contrary to expectations, they were no more accurate than the others at picking out the perpetrator. More work is needed to try to clarify why not.

    Effects can be indirect

    No doubt you’ve heard that a lack of sleep isn’t just bad for your mental but your physical health. Women who get less sleep are indeed more likely to develop obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, for example. But the major reason for these effects seems to be indirect: women who sleep poorly tend to make poorer food choices, going for higher-calorie, energy-dense foods. These choices are certainly related to a lack of quality sleep, but they aren’t an inevitable result of it. The same team behind this finding suspect, meanwhile, that a poor diet can cause poor sleep: “It’s also possible that poor diet has a negative impact on women’s sleep quality”, notes lead author Faris Zuraikat, at Columbia University. “Eating more could also cause gastrointestinal discomfort, for instance, making it harder to fall asleep or remain asleep.”

    Some poor sleepers don’t suffer at all

    Just how bad is insomnia anyway…? There are a lot of people out there who technically do suffer from insomnia, but who don’t believe, or realise, that they do, and these people experience no distress or anxiety, and are no more impaired in terms of daily fatigue than those who get good sleep. What’s more, a massive increase in hypertension (high blood pressure) was observed among those who regarded themselves as having insomnia, but not among the “non-complaining poor sleepers”. The same review found that 37% of people who think they have insomnia actually sleep normally, and having an “insomnia identity” was more predictive of daytime impairment than poor sleep. Other research has found, meanwhile, that worrying about not getting enough sleep can itself lead to prolonged insomnia.

    Headlines that make people worry that they’re not getting enough sleep could themselves, then, cause some of the problems they’re describing. Which brings me back to the start of this feature…. There’s plenty of evidence that a good quantity of regular quality sleep is important. But how we think about the way we sleep is important, too.

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on May 19, 2020 08:17 AM.

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    Most severe austerity measures in Europe are associated with worse child health outcomes

    European governments responses to the 2008 Great Recession

    The Great Recession of 2008 was characterized by an economic and financial crisis with a decline in gross domestic product (GDP), high levels of unemployment, and a great impact on European countries and worldwide. Austerity measures taken by governments as a response to this crisis were characterized by reducing social spending and increasing taxation, although they were neither homogeneous nor similarly implemented at European level; some countries protected public sector programs and systems while others instituted large budget cuts in education, healthcare, and other public services. There was general agreement that some countries such as Greece, Spain, Ireland and the United Kingdom applied higher levels of austerity. These measures taken by governments would have an impact on the most vulnerable groups, mainly children and youth from disadvantaged families.

    We conducted a systematic literature review to assess the impact of austerity measures taken by European governments on social determinants of child health, and child health outcomes.

    Our results

    The countries that applied high austerity levels showed an increase in material deprivation, child poverty rates, and low birth weight, compared to the pre-austerity period. Higher levels of social protection spending in the period 2008–2013 were associated with lower levels of child poverty. High austerity was reported also to be related to poorer access to and quality of services provided, mainly to disabled children. Reduction of public health expenditure was associated with a reduction of specific vaccination coverage in Italy.

    Austerity and COVID-19

    It is likely that the indirect effects of the pandemic will have profound impacts for child health in the long run

    At the time when we carried out the review, we had not predicted the current COVID-19 pandemic. Early data suggests, unsurprisingly, that the pandemic is impacting the poor and vulnerable most, with stark socio-economic and ethnic inequalities in outcomes.  Although there are still many uncertainties regarding the pandemic, it seems that children are less prone to severe consequences of infection compared to adults. However, it is likely that the indirect effects of the pandemic will have profound impacts for child health, particularly poor children, in the long run.

    In the acute phase of the COVID-19 crisis, key components of preventive child health services have been negatively affected, e.g. immunization. The unintended consequences of lockdown measures and social distancing are disproportionately affecting poor children, increasing hunger, mental health problems and the risk of abuse, neglect and non-accidental injury. Especially, closure of schools and (day)care facilities may have contributed to lower ‘visibility’ of neglect and domestic violence. In the long run, sustained austerity measures to be expected after the acute phase will damage the capacity of social welfare and health systems to respond.

    We recommend governments at European and country level to apply policies that prevent the negative consequences of austerity measures

    On the basis of our review, we hypothesize that those areas and countries that applied less austerity measures are in a better condition to respond to the healthcare and social needs of both children and the general population. Moreover, we recommend governments at European and country level to apply policies that prevent such negative consequences of austerity measures. In the near future important research challenges will be to see if the countries with fewer cuts in expenditure on public healthcare and social services are better able to protect health and well-being of children and families, especially in disadvantaged populations, from the consequences of the pandemic.

    The post Most severe austerity measures in Europe are associated with worse child health outcomes appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on May 19, 2020 06:50 AM.

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    A first-of-its-kind partnership to drive the future of open science in the Netherlands

    EVP Gino Ussi talks about the significant new partnership between Elsevier and Dutch research institutions to support the country’s research and innovation ambitions

    in Elsevier Connect on May 19, 2020 06:02 AM.

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    We Think We’re Better Than Others At Avoiding Online Scams

    By Emily Reynolds

    Some attempted online scams are pretty obvious: those of us who are internet savvy, for example, are unlikely to reply to emails promising us millions of pounds worth of Bitcoin, no matter how often they land in our inbox.

    Others, however, are harder to detect — and we may be overestimating our ability to do so, according to a new study in Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology from E. Blair Cox and colleagues at New York University. It finds that people tend to believe they are less likely to fall for such scams than others, and that this assumption can actually put them at more risk.

     First, 146 participants were presented with 12 phishing emails, based on real examples: one invited participants to test a new iPad, for example, whilst another said that the user’s Amazon password needed updating. Participants were either asked to indicate how likely they were to partake in the requested action (e.g. clicking a link or downloading an attachment), or how likely “someone like them” — a student of the same age and gender at the same university — would be to do so. In the first half of the experiment, participants were told the emails were phishing attempts, and in the second were told the emails were legitimate opportunities.

    Participants also saw “base rates”: true percentages of a similar student population that had engaged in each behaviour, such as “37.3% of undergraduate students at a university clicked on a link to sign an illegal movie downloading pledge, because they thought they must in order to register for classes”.

    When the emails were described as phishing attempts, participants predicted they were less likely to engage with the email than someone like them. Participants also showed no signs of using base rates to predict their own behaviour, while those who rated others’ behaviour did seem to use this figure as a guide. When told the emails were legitimate, there was no difference between the two groups. Two follow-up studies found the same results.

    Next, the team looked at how (and how often) people use base rate information to make judgements about themselves and others, replicating the methods of the first three studies and adding eye gaze tracking. A total of 160 participants were presented with the same 12 phishing emails from the previous studies, and their eye movement was tracked as they estimated how likely they would be to engage with the emails. They were then asked to indicate how many times they had looked at the base rate information when considering their answers.

    Again, participants believed they were less likely than others to fall for an online scam. And, as the eye tracking confirmed, they were also less likely to look at base rate information when considering their own choices, compared to when predicting someone else’s behaviour. However, they didn’t seem to be aware of this.

    This, the team suggests, leaves many of us less than secure when it comes to our online lives: if we don’t take into consideration how often people fall for scams, we are unlikely to realise how susceptible we are ourselves. Companies may also do well to take heed — base rates are often shared with employees to encourage better security practices, but these results suggest that may not work. New approaches may be more successful.

    There are also millions of people who don’t have digital literacy skills: in the UK alone, 8% of people (4.3 million) are estimated to have no basic skills at all. But even if you are someone who knows their way around the internet — or even if you genuinely are unlikely to fall for a scam — the results are a reminder that it’s never good to make assumptions when thinking about our own vulnerabilities or assessing our levels of risk.

    Stuck on a phishing lure: differential use of base rates in self and social judgments of susceptibility to cyber risk

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on May 18, 2020 12:04 PM.

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    Open positions: NeuroFedora is looking to take on trainees

    Teamwork by Perry Grone on Unsplash

    Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash.

    After the recent release of the Computational Neuroscience installable OS image, the NeuroFedora team is looking to work on to the next set of deliverables. For this, we need to expand the team.

    I want to note that we are not only looking for people that may already have the necessary skills. We are looking for anyone interested in working in these areas that would perhaps like to acquire the required skills. We will teach the skills that we can, and where we cannot, we will involve experienced members of the Free/Open Source software community to help us. All one really needs is a few hours a week of free time.

    We are looking for people interested in:

    • Scientific communication, marketing, outreach, and community engagement:
      • To spread information on the staggering amount of Free/Open Source Software that is available for Neuroscience to researchers and the community in general,
      • To disseminate the progress that the NeuroFedora team makes regularly to the community.
      • To just generally monitor our various communication channels to answer queries and participate in discussions with the team and users.
    • Software development:
      • There are still about 200 tools to include in NeuroFedora, so still lots of work to do here. Some tools related to computational neuroscience remain, so we are working on those. However, we want to start making some headway on the next deliverable that will be focussed on neuroimaging and data analysis. Not only do we need to build these tools from source, we also need to test them regularly, and push new versions to our users when developers make new releases.
      • We also want to provide easy to use containers for all the tools that we are including in NeuroFedora.
    • Neuro-imaging and data analysis in Neuroscience:
      • A lot of tools on our list are related to Neuro-imaging and data analysis. To effectively integrate these with the rest of NeuroFedora, we need more people with domain knowledge. If you work these areas or want to work in them and would like to learn more about these tools, NeuroFedora is a great informal environment to start in.

    It is common knowledge that joining Free/Open source communities is an excellent way to pick up skills and experience. So, I especially encourage students to join one, even if it is not NeuroFedora.

    I also have first hand experience of how busy a PhD candidate can get, but in my experience I also found it possible to free up a few hours a week to work on developing general skills that one may not necessarily be able to learn from daily research work. So, I also strongly encourage undergraduate/postgraduate research students and Ph.D. candidates to do the same.

    Get in touch with us today!

    in NeuroFedora blog on May 17, 2020 10:38 PM.

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    New Norms And Difficult Dogs: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

    Keyboard for idea

    Our weekly round-up of the best psychology coverage from elsewhere on the web

    Sharing the content of your dreams with others can improve your relationships and increase your empathy levels, write Mark Blagrove and Julia Lockheart at The Conversation. Listening to someone discuss their dreams can help you enter their world and better understand their perspective, the pair write, while the act of story-telling can strengthen social bonds.

    Scientists have used electrical stimulation in the brain to allow blind people to “see” traces of letters and other shapes, reports Laura Sanders at Science News. Using electrodes implanted in a grid on the visual cortex, the researchers produced patterns of electrical stimulation that represented letters. This resulted in participants seeing patterns of light called phosphenes in the shape of each letter.

    In most Western countries, mask-wearing has (until recently) been uncommon — but it seems to be becoming a new norm, argues Lydia Denworth at Scientific American.  Perhaps masks will be a common sight during the flu season even several years down the road.

    Researchers are worried that anti-vaccine misinformation on social media could hinder efforts to fight coronavirus. A new report has mapped out the connections between various Facebook pages, finding that anti-vaccination groups, while still small, are numerous and often linked to by other pages, writes Philip Ball at Nature. However, pro-vaccination pages are not as well-connected, meaning they may not be reaching people who are undecided about vaccine safety.

    There’s an ongoing debate among psychologists as to how much the field can contribute during the crisis. At Undark, Teresa Carr explores what psychologists’ role should be right now and where they might need to take a step back.

    Like many others, I’m spending a lot of time reading the news at the moment. But how does consuming so much negative and distressing information affect our mental health? Zaria Gorvett looks at the research over at BBC Future.

    Finally, some canine psychology: new work suggests that, just like humans, dogs have awkward “teenage” years. Researchers studied the development of dogs being raised as guide dogs, finding that when they reached their adolescence at about 8 months old they often refused to obey their caregivers. Their attachment style also influenced how they obeyed orders and even how old they were when they entered puberty, reports Virginia Morell at Science.

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on May 15, 2020 11:40 AM.

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    Medical students tackle coronavirus misinformation

    Through their #MOREVIRALTHANTHEVIRUS campaign, med students around the world are spotlighting myths about COVID-19

    in Elsevier Connect on May 15, 2020 09:36 AM.

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    From cancer to COVID-19: Agile research collaboration leads to promising clinical trial

    Research leader in India draws on Elsevier resources and personnel in global push to develop convalescent plasma therapy for coronavirus

    in Elsevier Connect on May 14, 2020 10:07 AM.

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    At 19, am I too young for cannabis? Choosing the ‘right’ minimum legal age for legalized non-medical cannabis

    An increasing number of jurisdictions including Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, Luxembourg and several US states are looking to legalize non-medical cannabis. The decision to legalize cannabis however comes with a contentious question for policymakers: What should be the minimum legal age (MLA) for cannabis consumption? While a low MLA can discourage the underground cannabis market, cannabis consumption before age 25 is said to negatively impact brain development. Policymakers, thus, face a difficult tradeoff between curtailing illegal economic activity and safeguarding adolescents’ well-being.

    Our study published in BMC Public Health shows that there is merit in choosing 19 as the MLA for non-medical cannabis use. We reached this conclusion by looking at how Canadians, who started using cannabis at different young ages, differ in several important outcomes (educational attainment, cigarette smoking, self-reported general and mental health) later in life.

    Why did we do this study?

    Canada was the second country in the world to legalize non-medical cannabis in October 2018. Ahead of the legalization, the federal government recommended a MLA of 18 years. However, after public consultations and for harmonization with the existing minimum legal ages for alcohol and tobacco use, most Canadian provinces set 19 as the minimum legal age; the two exceptions were Quebec and Alberta which opted for 18. Two years into legalization, the policy on MLA for cannabis use in Canada is still evolving. In particular, Quebec revised its MLA to 21 in October 2019 and there have also been calls to raise minimum legal age to 21 in Ontario. Notably, evidence that could shed light on the merits of different proposed MLAs was lacking.

    What do our findings imply?

    Individuals starting cannabis at age 19 have later life outcomes that are better than those starting it ate age 18

    We found that most later life outcomes are better for individuals starting cannabis at age 19 than those starting it at age 18 but not worse than those starting cannabis between age 20 and 25. These results imply that age 19 is the optimal MLA for cannabis use.

    This finding of MLA of 19 is different from the Canadian federal government’s recommendation of 18 and stands in contrast with medical community’s support for age 21 or 25. Yet, it appears to be plausible: age 19 is high enough to address concerns over potential adverse outcomes associated with using cannabis at young age while low enough to discourage the illegal market for the underage.

    Our findings will be useful for policymakers in jurisdictions planning to legalize non-medical cannabis. Meanwhile, in Canada, as the post-cannabis legalization era evolves, it will be important to watch trends in youth’s and young adults’ use and monitor harms over time while ensuring that the legal market is tightly regulated and that cannabis companies do not stray from restrictions on marketing, sales, and packaging that might make products more appealing and accessible to children.

    The post At 19, am I too young for cannabis? Choosing the ‘right’ minimum legal age for legalized non-medical cannabis appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on May 14, 2020 07:05 AM.

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    Never-ageing Anti-aging to cure COVID-19

    Scientists David Sinclair and Michael Lisanti have an ingenious solution to COVID-19: anti-aging drugs. If a disease kills old people, stop being old!

    in For Better Science on May 14, 2020 06:10 AM.

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    Private Good Deeds That Appear To Compensate For Bad Public Behaviour Make People Seem Hypocritical

    By Emma Young

    It’s hard to find a clearer example of moral hypocrisy than this: in 2015, Josh Duggar, a family values activist and director of a lobby group set up “to champion marriage and family as the foundation of civilisation, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society” was outed as holding an account with a dating service for people who are married or in relationships.

    As Kieran O’Connor at the University of Virginia and colleagues point out in a new paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Social Cognition, Duggar’s apparently virtuous public image was in stark contrast to his private behaviour. This was a classic case, then, of hypocrisy. But as the team now reveal through a compelling series of seven studies, another type of discrepancy is seen as being hypocritical too. That’s when individuals are perceived to use private good deeds to assuage their guilt over morally dubious public works.

    In expanding understanding of what constitutes hypocrisy, the work has practical as well as theoretical applications. As the researchers observe: “Understanding how people think about hypocrisy is important because individuals and organisations suffer severe consequences when they are perceived as hypocritical.” A scandal that involves hypocrisy is extra damaging for a politician or an organisation, the team points out.

    The initial studies dug into the circumstances in which we judge inconsistencies in people’s behaviour as hypocritical. In one study, for instance, 317 participants of more than 60 different nationalities (all living in London) each read three vignettes about organisations that cause harm, and people publicly associated with them who acted virtuously in private. In some cases, these private acts seemed inconsistent with the individual’s public behaviour. In others, they did not. For example, a vignette featuring a factory farm that abused animals was tweaked into two different versions, so that an employee made anonymous, lump-sum donations to improve animal welfare, or donated to help high-school students instead. The participants were asked to what extent, in each case, the behaviour was hypocritical.

    The results showed that being bad-in-public but good-in-private is perceived as hypocrisy. And when  good private behaviour was inconsistent with an individual’s public role, they were seen as more hypocritical than when that behaviour was completely unrelated . So a donation by a tobacco industry employee to a fund for lung-cancer research was regarded as being more hypocritical than a donation by the same individual to an animal welfare charity, for example.

    In another study, 409 online participants each read excerpts of similar case studies. As before, they rated the featured individual’s hypocrisy. But this time, they also rated the extent to which they felt the individual was using private virtuous behaviour to try to alleviate their guilt, and completed a questionnaire assessing how praiseworthy they felt the individual to be.

    The team found that good private behaviour that was inconsistent with their public role (rather than simply unrelated to it) made the individual appear more motivated by guilt, which in turn predicted higher hypocrisy ratings. And, in turn, this predicted lower praise for his good deeds.

    A final study on 1,275 English-speaking participants living outside the US found that the extent to which an individual successfully reduced their guilt was important for perceptions of hypocrisy. In this case study, a man who experienced guilt at selling harmful opioids was reported as feeling prompted to make a donation to the arts. When this brought “no relief”, he was perceived as being less hypocritical than when this private act was said to have fully cleansed his conscience. The participants also reported that, in this second version, he felt better than he deserved to feel, and rated him as being significantly less praiseworthy. As the researchers write, “At least in this context, using good deeds to alleviate your guilt was tantamount to claiming an undeserved moral benefit.”

    This work shows that people conceptualise hypocrisy more broadly than had been thought, write O’Connor and his team. It also provides clear evidence for one of two competing theories of hypocrisy: that it relates to perceptions of undeserved benefits (rather than, as has also been suggested, the sending of false signals to others).

    More work is now needed to explore whether more drastic private virtuous actions — giving away one’s entire wealth to fund a new museum, perhaps, rather than merely making “a donation” — might be deemed to compensate for at least certain types of morally dubious public behaviour.

    As the researchers write, “The question of what behaviors will convince observers that a clear conscience does not imply hypocrisy must await future research.”

    Moral cleansing as hypocrisy: When private acts of charity make you feel better than you deserve.

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on May 13, 2020 10:01 AM.

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    ASBMB to partner with Elsevier to publish its journals open access

    The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) will work with Elsevier to transition journals from hybrid to gold OA

    in Elsevier Connect on May 13, 2020 09:22 AM.

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    TeX Live 2020 Update Planned

    This summer, the arXiv development team will begin work on the next major release of the arXiv TeX compilation system, which will be based on the official TeX Live 2020 update. TeX is an open source markup language that allows precision formatting of various aspects of academic writing, including mathematical formulas and bibliographies.

    This year’s update will provide enhanced local add-ons and support for newer font sets. The development team will also use this opportunity to address outstanding bugs and feature requests and further modernize how the compilation system is packaged and run. arXiv’s previous major release was based on TeX Live 2016.

    arXiv accepts more than ten thousand articles every month, and continues to provide access to all arXiv papers since the service was founded in 1991. A stable TeX compilation system is critical to reprocess articles from TeX sources from any point in time. arXiv maintains all past TeX trees so that existing papers are processed using the TeX tree that was in place when the article was originally submitted. This preserves the original presentation of the article.

    arXiv’s new TeX Live release is expected to become available Fall 2020.

    in arXiv.org blog on May 12, 2020 05:41 PM.

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    Children Can “Catch” Their Mother’s Stress — Particularly If She Tries To Hide It

    By Emily Reynolds

    The way parents feel and behave often rubs off on their children. Kids’ own life paths can be influenced by the strength of their parents’ romantic relationship, for example, or how often their parents lie to them.

    We may also pick things up as our parents try to hide them, as new research published in the Journal of Family Psychology suggests. Even when parents try to hide their stress, the team finds, they can still pass on those feelings to their children anyway.

    To examine how stress is passed on from parent to child, Sara Waters from Washington State University Vancouver and colleagues looked at the physiological responses that occur when parents suppressed their anxiety. A total of 107 parents and their children aged between 7 and 11 were first fitted with ECG sensors to measure the heart’s  “pre-ejection period” (PEP), a measure of sympathetic nervous system activation, before spending five minutes listening to soothing music through headphones.

    Parents were then separated from their children and completed a stress test, in which they were asked to give a five minute speech about themselves and then answer five minutes of questions in front of two evaluators. During the test, evaluators provided negative, non-verbal feedback, shaking their heads, crossing their arms and frowning.

    The stressed-out parents were then assigned to either a “suppression” or control condition, before being reunited with their children. Those in the suppression condition were asked to mask their emotion, behaving in such a way that their child would not be able to know they were feeling anything at all, while those in the control condition were told to act naturally, as they would at home. Parent and child were then asked to engage in a six minute conversation about a source of conflict in their relationship, a six minute cooperation task in which they built with blocks, and six minutes of free play.

    Trained observers who rated these interactions found that parents and children were less warm and engaged with each other in the suppression condition. There was also a significant link between a mother’s physiological stress and that of her child: mothers’ PEP reactivity at one time point was related to children’s reactivity shortly thereafter. In the control group, however, stress was not transmitted from mother to child.

    Interestingly enough, stress wasn’t transmitted from fathers to their children, which the team believes is down to how men deal with stress outside of laboratory conditions. Because men are more likely to say they’re fine when they’re not, while women are more likely to show how they’re feeling, the team argues that children were more used to emotional suppression in their male caretakers and were therefore less affected. However, fathers in the suppression condition did become linked to their children’s physiology in the opposite direction: they picked up stress from their children, not the other way around.

    As the study focused purely on pairings between a single child and parent, future research could focus on emotional suppression and stress in larger groups or family systems, exploring how a second parent, sibling or other family member affects this physiological link, for instance. Researchers could also examine the techniques that parents use in the control condition: their warm and engaging interactions may stem from specific, positive emotion regulation strategies rather than simply being the result of not suppressing their emotions.

    Hiding stress from your children is entirely understandable — you may wish to protect them from negative feelings and see emotional suppression as the best way to do that. But, as Waters says, it may be more comforting for children “to have their feelings honoured” — listening to them honestly, rather than brushing over them altogether.

    Keep It to Yourself? Parent Emotion Suppression Influences Physiological Linkage and Interaction Behavior

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest





    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on May 12, 2020 01:32 PM.

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    “Being Fun” Is An Important Marker Of Social Status Among Children

    By Emma Young

    When my 9-year-old has his best friend over to play, the house is filled with the sound of giggles. Yes, this friend plays fair, is outgoing and shares my son’s interests. But he’s also good fun.

    Any parent knows that kids this age are obsessed with having fun (something that’s in short supply for many home-schoolers right now). And yet “being fun” has been overlooked as an indicator of a child’s social status, argue the authors of a new paper, published in the Journal of Personality. Their new studies are, they say, the first to establish it as a unique factor important for understanding social hierarchies among kids.

    Within groups of children, social status is fluid, note Brett Laursen at Florida Atlantic University and colleagues. So far, researchers have identified and studied two factors that are the main drivers of a child’s potentially fluctuating status: likeability and popularity.

    There is some overlap between the two. Both involve being outgoing and prosocial, for instance. But there are also some differences. For example, a popular kid might sometimes be physically aggressive. This can raise their social status while reducing their likeability.

    However, being “fun to be with” is conspicuously missing from the list of traits associated with being well-liked or popular, the authors argue. And yet, as they note, having fun is not only intrinsically socially rewarding but could bring other benefits — fun experiences promote creativity, and being perceived as fun could protect a child from peer rejection.

    To investigate this, the team devised two studies. The first was conducted on 611 school kids aged 9 to 12 in Colombia. These children were asked to identify up to four same-sex classmates who best fit descriptions of likeability, popularity, and also fun. (Fun was measured with two items: “It is fun to hang out with him/her” and “Someone you can have fun with at a party”.)

    The children also named classmates who they thought best fit seven other categories: academic achievement, athleticism, justice (fairness), leadership, physical aggression, prosocial behaviour (eg. being compassionate and caring for others) and relational aggression.  These variables are known to correlate with likeablility and popularity, and the team thought they could potentially also correlate with fun.

    The results showed positive correlations between fun, likeability and popularity: children who received more likeability nominations, for example, also tended to receive more nominations for being fun and popular. These variables were also positively correlated with all the potential confounding variables, except physical and/or relational aggression, depending on the age group.

    The researchers then turned to 662 children of the same ages at two schools in southern Florida, who completed a similar peer-nomination questionnaire to the previous study. To look at changes over time, the team also asked the kids to complete the task again eight weeks later. (Eight weeks might sound like a short period of time to adults, but, at more than half a typical UK term, it’s a substantial amount of time for a kid, the team argues.)

    Again, there were positive correlations between fun, likeability and popularity. But the team also found that being perceived as fun at the first time point predicted increases in popularity and likeability eight weeks later: higher initial fun ratings were linked to bigger increases in both these other measures.

    In their statistical analysis, the team removed the contribution of the variables already known to influence likeability and popularity (such as pro-social behaviour, leadership, physical attractiveness and relational aggression). And they found that the associations between initial fun ratings and later changes in status remained. Being perceived as fun, then, seems to act an independent factor contributing to social status.

    Laursen and colleagues also found that higher likeability and popularity scores at the first time point were linked to higher fun scores at the second, “suggesting that, in the eyes of peers, fun begets status and status begets fun”.

    The study didn’t explore what makes for a fun kid. But the team suggests that such children are equipped with a “constellation of traits”. They are likely socially adept and benefit from “ego resilience” (characterised by high levels of extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness, and low neuroticism). They’re also probably enthusiastic and excitable, but able to regulate these traits.

    The team would now like to see much more work to explore “being fun”. “Anecdotally, we know that children are intensely focused on having fun,” they write. “Scholars should be similarly focused on understanding the contributions of fun to success in the peer social world.”

    Being fun: An overlooked indicator of childhood social status

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on May 11, 2020 02:10 PM.

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    The Chloroquine Elephant in the Room, by Christian Lehmann

    "How I would have loved it if a brilliant genius, in the style of Jeff Goldblum, had discovered, on a corner of a grubby lab bench, THE miracle treatment for SARS-cov-2! But we're not in a Hollywood style blockbuster."

    in For Better Science on May 11, 2020 06:00 AM.

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    Understanding guilt in mother-child relationships

    “You never write…you never call….” The guilt-tripping mother is common stereotype in movies and TV. But how many adult children harbor feelings of guilt toward their aging parents? Who experiences this guilt, and why?

    About one in five adult children experience feelings of guilt toward their ageing mothers, based on data from a nationally representative survey of 2,450 Dutch adults in 2015 who have a mother aged 55 or older. Feelings of guilt in the family have rarely been measured in a systematic fashion but researchers have long argued that guilt is not only something moral, but also a fundamental social emotion. Guilt refers to negative feelings that arise from having done something that is – or is perceived to be – wrong. Guilt is not the same as shame; guilt is the awareness that one has done something wrong, shame is the translation of that feeling to one’s self-image: the feeling of not being a good person. Guilt and shame are emotions that have been linked to depression and low self-esteem.

    People who have negative feelings about their relationships with their mothers more often report feelings of guilt. Surprisingly, people who have both negative and positive feelings about their mothers have more guilt. This may be because children who have negative feelings about their mothers are afraid that this will hurt their mothers’ feelings. This fear of hurting a person is more difficult if one also cares about that other person. Most people have positive feelings about their mothers. However, cultural expectations about positive and warm relationships with mothers leave little room for irritation, anger, and embarrassment, and it is exactly when such feelings arise in a warm relationship that people may feel guilty.

    Adult children are an important source of support for their ageing parents. However, even at older ages, parents continue to support their adult children. The flow of support does not necessarily shift from downward (from parents to children) to upward (from children to parents) with age and for that reason, some children with older parents may feel that they are not doing enough to help. Feelings of guilt are associated with a lack of reciprocity in the support relationship. The less support people give to their mother, in comparison to how much support they receive, the stronger the feelings of guilt. With an increasing number of ageing parents in most high-income societies, demand for social and practical support from children increases and this may create more occasion for guilt to develop. It also seems that children who have strong norms about what people should do for their parents feel guilty more often. People set high standards for themselves, which in turn may lead to a feeling of not having done enough.

    It was expected that infrequent contact would be associated with guilt but while people who had only monthly contact with their mothers feel guiltier, people with less than monthly contact did not report significantly more guilt than those with weekly contact. That primarily the monthly-contact group feels more guilt fits with a pattern of a good relationship that carries a cultural expectation of more frequent contact than can be achieved.

    In psychological theory, guilt is often seen as a negative emotion that motivates positive behavioral change. This theory can also be applied to the mother-child bond. For example, guilt that arises from not visiting enough may motivate children to visit more, hence, reducing guilt. But guilt may also be reduced when parents exercise moderation in their downward support, letting the stream of support turn more quickly in the expected upward direction, from children to parents. Guilt is not always productive. When guilt arises from negative emotions such as anger and irritation, both of which are measured in this study, it is less clear which productive changes a person could make. Guilt that stems from ambivalence may therefore be perceived as more awkward. Adult children may visit their parents more often or offer more support when they feel guilty, but changing the way they feel about their parents is a different matter. This would require a change of expectations and a change in norms. Such mental and cultural changes are more difficult to achieve.

    Featured image by congerdesign via Pixabay.

    The post Understanding guilt in mother-child relationships appeared first on OUPblog.

    in OUPblog - Psychology and Neuroscience on May 09, 2020 12:30 PM.

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    My heart belongs to Daddy, So I simply couldn’t be bad

    "A complex fraud involving a Greek scientist and her network of international researchers has been uncovered by investigators from the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF)."

    in For Better Science on May 07, 2020 07:12 PM.

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    People Who Have Lost Their Religion Show “Residues” Of Religious Past In Their Thoughts And Behaviours, Study Claims

    By Emma Young

    What happens to people when they lose their religion? Do they start to think and act just like people who have never believed — or do they keep some psychological and behavioural traces of their past?

    Given the number of people worldwide who report no current religious affiliation (more than 1 billion) and predictions that this will expand into the future, it’s important to explore just how homogenous, or otherwise, this group is, argue the researchers behind a new paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Personality Processes and Individual Differences.

    Daryl R. Van Tongeren at Hope College, US, and his colleagues conclude from their studies that there is in fact a “religious residue” that clings to people who cease to identify as religious. “Formerly religious individuals differed from never religious and currently religious individuals in cognitive, emotional and behavioural processes,” the team reports.

    Why might such a residue exist? Because for people who are religious, the kinds of attitudes and behaviours that go along with religion are likely to be important to the way those individuals see themselves. Picture someone who grew up in a strongly Christian household, for example, with parents who promoted Christian morals, and who volunteered their time through the church. Even if that person later no longer identifies as Christian, these experiences may have enduring psychological impacts. Our social identities can change, the researchers note, but this usually only happens slowly.

    For their first study, the team recruited just over 3,000 nationally representative online participants from the US, the Netherlands and Hong Kong. These people were asked about their religious identity, beliefs and practices, and the extent to which they were exposed to religious behaviours during childhood. Then they completed a (very brief) measure of their subjective prosociality (their perception of their helpfulness towards other people, for example), a scale that measured their social values, and also a test that assessed their attitudes towards God.

    The team found that a sizeable proportion — 20.94% — of the participants reported being formerly religious. And, they argue, their data revealed evidence for a religious residue effect. On various measures, including religiosity, self-reported prosociality and prosocial orientation (such as wanting everyone in a group to do well, rather than aiming for individual success), currently religious participants scored the highest, followed by formerly religious and finally never religious people. This was true for each of the three nationalities sampled.

    To explore this further, the team ran a second study on 1,626 men and women from the same countries. This time, there were equivalent numbers of never-religious, formerly religious and currently religious participants. And as well as repeating the steps in the first study, these people were given the option of donating a percentage of their participation payment to Save the Children, and also of volunteering to complete another short survey (they could offer anything between 5 and 15 minutes of their time).

    Among those who agreed to volunteer for the extra survey, the currently religious gave up more time than both the other groups. Currently religious people also donated more of their money to charity than formerly religious people — but this group in turn donated more than the never religious. This shows that formerly religious people don’t just say they are more prosocial but act in a more prosocial way than never-religious types, the team says.

    Well, this particular study seems to show that. But, remember, the participants in both these studies were all first asked about their religious identity. If, as the researchers argue, being prosocial is an important element of being religious, then currently religious, and even previously religious, participants had all just been primed to think of religion, and (whether consciously or not) everything that goes with that. Van Tongeren maintains that as the participants were asked a host of different questions, this is unlikely to be an issue. But I don’t think they can rule out the possibility that this inflated these groups’ prosociality scores.

    For the final study, the team shifted to data from New Zealand collected between 2009 and 2017 as part of an annual, longitudinal national sample of registered voters. This revealed that volunteering was about twice as common among religious vs non-religious people. It also showed that the annual chance of a participant losing their religion but still spending time in voluntary or charitable work was much higher than the chance of someone losing their religion and stopping volunteering. This supports the religious residue hypothesis, the researchers argue.

    But plenty of non-religious people also volunteered their time. Being the kind of person who volunteers could constitute an important aspect of anyone’s social identity, in and of itself, and so be resistant to change, whether you are religious or not. However, Van Tongeren maintains that the data provides evidence for the “lingering effects of prosociality, even after people stop identifying as religious”.

    Religious residue: Cross-cultural evidence that religious psychology and behavior persist following deidentification

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on May 07, 2020 11:17 AM.

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    A Harvard PhD candidate is helping women of color succeed in academia

    Her award-winning “Women+ of Color Project” shares best practices for applying to grad school and succeeding in academia

    in Elsevier Connect on May 07, 2020 09:49 AM.

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    The challenge of misinformation during disease outbreaks

    It is likely no surprise that misinformation and disinformation permeate the communication space around public health events. The COVID-19 pandemic has been no exception, and in fact, has highlighted how misinformation and disinformation can damage public health response efforts.  In particular, damage to trust, heightened confusion, and intensified discord can widen the gap between effective public health interventions and public willingness to support them.

    Misinformation about disease outbreaks spreads rapidly in information voids, when there is little true information to ground viewers in the reality of the current situation. While we are learning more every day, there are many unknowns about COVID-19. As a result, the continued lack of definitive information on the virus and its spread has created an opportunity for misinformation and disinformation to take root.

    The lessons we learned from our analysis of Ebola misinformation have direct application to the COVID-19 pandemic today.

    Recent research published by our team takes a close look at misinformation during October 2014, when cases of Ebola were identified in the US. We sought to understand misinformation in the context of an emerging, fear-inducing disease in order to draw lessons for future outbreaks or epidemics that might similarly frighten the public. Little did we know that we would be publishing this research in the midst of one of the largest and most severe pandemics in recent history.  The lessons we learned from our analysis of Ebola misinformation have direct application to the COVID-19 pandemic today.

    First, we learned that misinformation can come in many forms, making it harder for people to determine what information is correct. While about 5% of the tweets we reviewed were false, another 5% were partially true or subtle misinterpretations of true information. While it may seem simple to label information as either true or false, we found making this distinction to be incredibly nuanced. In the process of hand coding thousands of tweets, even trained coders with public health expertise sometimes found that distinguishing between true and misleading information was challenging and required the combined judgement of several people.  Many people may not be able to take the time to carefully and objectively verify nuanced half-truths, instead making judgements based on their own knowledge, experiences, and worldview.

    We found a strong tie between misinformation and political content

    Second, we found a strong tie between misinformation and political content. We had initially, and perhaps naively, thought that misinformation during a health event like an Ebola outbreak would primarily be framed in a health context. Instead, we observed great overlap in misinformation, political tweets, and tweets that seemed designed to induce societal discord. Additionally, both the 2014 Ebola outbreak and COVID-19 have occurred during contentious US election years, and there are indications that COVID-19 misinformation has been politicized. An important lesson emerging from this is that public health events, response activities, and communication efforts, while often apolitical in their inception, can be vehicles for messages that serve goals beyond ensuring the health of the public.

    Finally, we found a several different misinformation types or tropes. Government conspiracies, false rumors of concerning viral characteristics (eg airborne transmission of the Ebola virus), and fake cures were the most frequent types. Today, we see these same rumor tropes appearing during the COVID-19 epidemic. In our sample of Ebola-related tweets, some rumors were refuted, but many were not, casting some doubt on the ability of social media to self-correct effectively. More research must be done to determine the best ways to protect the public from these specific types of rumors and misinformation.

    Developing solutions to reduce the spread of misinformation and disinformation from diverse sources, including public figures, will not be easy. Further research is needed to understand how best to reach populations resistant to traditional public health messaging and health authorities. While essential efforts must be taken by social media platforms to control the spread of misinformation, the suggestion that technology companies should simply act to stop the dissemination of often nuanced and subtle misinformation overlooks the role of many other important stakeholders – and our own need to take a hard look in the mirror and improve the ways that we, as members of both the public and scientific community, consume and provide information to others.


    The post The challenge of misinformation during disease outbreaks appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on May 07, 2020 06:54 AM.

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    How Do Films Like ‘Joker’ Shape Attitudes Towards People With Mental Health Issues?

    Photo: A billboard for Joker displayed in West Hollywood in 2019. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

    By Emily Reynolds

    Much of the discourse surrounding mental health over the last few years has focused on stigma: breaking down those unhelpful myths around mental illness that both prevent people seeking help and, sometimes, lead to outright discrimination.

    What part culture has to play in this mission is an interesting question. Both the “madman” and the asylum have been a ubiquitous presence in cinema, literature and television, often to the chagrin of those who have had such stereotypes directly affect their lives. A new study, published in JAMA Network Open, has looked at the impact one recent film, Joker, might have had on prejudice.

    The film is a gritty retelling of the origin story of Batman’s nemesis, the Joker, inspired by classic 1970s cinema. Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is depicted as having unspecified mental health problems: after his medication supply is cut off, he goes on a violent rampage and becomes the antihero we know from the comics.

    Whether or not the film was stigmatising was subject to great debate at time of release: in The Guardian a pair of doctors  argued that the film perpetuated damaging stereotypes, for instance, whilst another piece in the same paper described it as an authentic depiction of someone misunderstood by an uncaring society.

    To investigate whether watching the film influenced people’s attitudes towards those with mental illness, Damian Scarf from the University of Otago and colleagues held screenings of Joker for 84 participants and of Terminator: Dark Fate, a film with no depiction of mental illness, for 80 participants. Demographic data was taken for all participants, including whether or not they had personal experience of mental health problems.

    Before and after both screenings, participants completed the Prejudice Toward People With Mental Illness (PPMI) scale, which gauges how much the respondent fears or avoids people with mental health problems, and how much they view them as unpredictable or malevolent .

    Results suggested that watching the film did increase negative perceptions of mental illness. Participants watching Joker had a mean score of 2.99 before watching: this increased to 3.20 after having seen it. Those watching Terminator: Dark Fate, on the other hand, had a mean score of 2.91 before and 2.88 after watching the film. Unsurprisingly, those with a history of mental illness had lower PPMI scores across the board.

    There were a few limitations to the research. Sample size was extremely small, to start: future research could look at a larger sample, and at a wider range of media. The study was also unable to probe how often prejudicial attitudes lead to tangibly discriminatory behaviour towards people with mental health problems: though discriminatory behaviours are included in the PPMI scale, self-reporting such behaviours may not be a fully accurate way of linking perceptions and related actions.

    No matter what you think of Joker itself, it’s hard to deny that cinema hasn’t always been kind to mentally ill people, whether that’s in schlocky asylum-based horror films or in less antagonistic but intensely pitying alternatives. As society tries to leave stigma behind, however, it may be time for the stereotypes to be retired completely in favour of the richly drawn and complex narratives that are truly deserved.

    Association of Viewing the Films Joker or Terminator: Dark Fate With Prejudice Toward Individuals With Mental Illness

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on May 06, 2020 02:30 PM.

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    Abdominal Aortic Calcification Screening in Peritoneal Dialysis: How should we implement it?

    Cardiovascular mortality in end-stage kidney disease is much higher than the general population.  The non-traditional risk factor of mineral bone disorders in this population plays an important role in the higher incidence of vascular calcification associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and all‐cause mortality in this population.  Several studies in hemodialysis patients have shown the advantage of using plain radiography to determine abdominal aortic calcification and cardiovascular disease.  Cho et al. recently showed that abdominal aortic calcification score (AACS) is an independent risk factor for severe coronary artery calcification score on CT and predictor for cardiovascular disease in hemodialysis patients. Zhu et al. showed that abdominal aortic calcification is prevalent in hemodialysis patients and has the potential to predict cardiovascular mortality with use of plain radiography.  There have not been similar studies in peritoneal dialysis (PD) patients.

    A study by Ma et al., published this week in BMC Nephrology, sought to examine the predicative role of the AACS for major adverse cardiac and cerebrovascular events (MACCE) and mortality in PD patients.  This study was a single-center, prospective, cohort study utilizing lateral lumbar radiography to determine the AACS for 292 PD patients.  The patient population had a median PD duration of 28.4 months.  One-fourth of patients had a history diabetes and one-third had a history of cardiovascular disease.  The average AACS was 2.0.  The patients enrolled were categorized into tertiles of low (meaning AACS = 0), medium (meaning AACS = 1-4) and high (meaning AACS > 4). The duration of follow-up averaged 43.6 months and there were 65 MACCE and 84 deaths.  It was noted that the AACS was associated with age, PD duration, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.  Ma et al. observed that there was a significantly higher cumulative incidence of MACCE and all-cause mortality in the upper AACS tertile.

    Should we routinely be getting plain radiographs for AACS in our end-stage kidney disease patients, especially our PD patients, based on this study and others?

    Should we routinely be getting plain radiographs for AACS in our end-stage kidney disease patients, especially our PD patients, based on this study and others?  I might strongly consider starting.  An x-ray is a low cost, noninvasive test that could potentially help with risk stratification.  Those patients with a high AACS should have immediate referrals to cardiology for cardiovascular disease prevention and evaluation.  The frequency of testing and the initiation of testing would need to be clarified. Additionally, there is a potential use in kidney transplantation evaluations.  Many transplant centers utilize a non-contrast CT as part of the transplant work-up addressing the site of anastomosis.  Findings often prompt further cardiovascular disease testing.  These CT results could help triage those who needed more extensive testing.  Those with a high AACS might need to go directly to cardiac catheterization for diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease.  Whereas those with a low AACS might go directly to a stress test or coronary CT.  This stratification could eliminate unnecessary testing, prevent complications, and save money.

    The more passive approach would be using the information when abdominal aortic calcification is incidentally found.  Then patients could proceed to a cardiology referral or further testing.  However, in this population with a high incidence of cardiovascular disease and mortality, I would tend to take a more active role in prevention.

    image source: pixababy

    The post Abdominal Aortic Calcification Screening in Peritoneal Dialysis: How should we implement it? appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on May 06, 2020 01:00 PM.

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    Teaching nursing students in the COVID-unknown

    Grappling with “educator guilt,” a nursing professor learns vital lessons far from the front lines

    in Elsevier Connect on May 06, 2020 11:29 AM.

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    Preventing dementia and disability: the association of modifiable risk factors such as financial strain and low income with incidence of dementia and disability in older adults in the U.S.

    Financial challenges are increasingly common for older adults. About 30 percent of older adults in the U.S. live on incomes that are near the poverty threshold and about one third of older adults in the U.S. report financial strain, meaning they have difficulty making ends meet. Importantly, financial challenges are modifiable social determinants of health that should be addressed.

    Older adults facing financial challenges may find it difficult to meet basic needs. They may run out of food or medications near the end of the month when funds run low. They may not be able to afford housing that is properly heated or that meets their needs to safely age in place in their own homes. In addition to lacking basic necessities, individuals face greater day-to-day stress managing household finances. There is good evidence that older adults facing financial challenges are more likely to become disabled and die earlier than their wealthier peers.

    Our study, published today in BMC Geriatrics, links financial challenges to dementia, which is a costly and disabling condition affecting 10 percent of older adults in the U.S. We analyzed data collected over six years from a national sample of 5,034 U.S. older adults to identify new cases of dementia. We compared four different measures of socioeconomic status (income, financial strain, education, and professional occupation) to see which of these predicted new cases of dementia.

    In our study, older adults who experienced either low income or financial strain were more likely to develop dementia than those who didn’t. Education, which has already been linked to dementia in other studies, predicted dementia in our study as well. In fact, The Lancet Commission on Dementia identifies low education as a key dementia risk factor. However, when we compared education to income and financial strain we found similar results for all three socioeconomic measures. This suggests that low income and financial strain may be just as important as low education with regard to risk of dementia.

    These results are important because financial challenges may actually be more modifiable for older adults than education. Most adults complete their educational training early in life, but financial challenges could be addressed at any point in the life course.

    Many programs and policies are already in place that are intended to support older adults facing financial challenges. Public benefits, entitlement programs, and tax credits may alleviate financial challenges. However, these programs are often under-utilized. For example, the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides money to buy food but only about 40 percent of eligible older adults use the program.

    Results from this study complement results of another study our team published in BMC Geriatrics last year, which highlighted the importance of housing quality for financially strained older adults. In that study, we used the same national sample of U.S. older adults to track changes over time in both financial strain and markers of home disorder such as tripping hazards, pests, or broken furniture and flooring. We also tracked mobility over the same time period.

    Efforts to provide basic necessities, including food, medications, and safe and accessible housing may help prevent disability and dementia for financially strained older adults.

    In that study, financial strain and home disorder interacted with each other over time – financial strain predicted more home disorder and home disorder predicted greater financial strain. Importantly, both financial strain and home disorder predicted mobility limitations among older adults, suggesting that both play a role in functional decline. These results suggest that older adults with financial strain may slip into a downward spiral of worsening home conditions and worsening financial strain that leads eventually towards disability.

    These results highlight the importance of early intervention to alleviate financial strain in order to prevent disability for healthy older adults. Also, these results suggest that interventions should include improving home conditions for financially strained older adults, which may break the link between financial strain and disability.

    Together, these two studies add to a growing body of evidence linking financial challenges, including low income and financial strain, with poor health outcomes for older adults. As populations age around the world, we should pay greater attention to supporting older adults facing modifiable financial challenges. Our research suggests that efforts to provide basic necessities, including food, medications, and safe and accessible housing may help prevent disability and dementia for financially strained older adults. Existing resources for food, housing, and health care supports should be strengthened to meet the growing needs of populations aging with financial challenges.

    The post Preventing dementia and disability: the association of modifiable risk factors such as financial strain and low income with incidence of dementia and disability in older adults in the U.S. appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on May 06, 2020 08:00 AM.

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    Increasing choice to encourage the selection of non-alcoholic, rather than alcoholic, drinks

    Whether we are meeting friends in a bar, eating out, or planning a night in at home, one of our first thoughts is often: ‘What shall I drink?’. The choice in bars, restaurants and supermarkets is often overwhelming, with long menus, details of tasting notes, and special offers to review. The one consistent feature is that alcohol is everywhere.

    In England, the majority of adults drink alcohol, and around half do so every week. While the risk of harm remains low for many people, 1 in 3 men and 1 in 7 women drink above the current UK low-risk drinking guidelines (14 units/week). This increases the risk of developing alcohol-related illnesses, including mouth, throat and breast cancers, stroke and heart disease.

    Making alcohol less affordable is one way to reduce consumption effectively. However, we are interested in other potential approaches. Specifically, we were interested in whether changing the drinking environment could influence drinking behavior. Previous research has shown that people are more likely to buy and eat healthier food if a proportion of less healthy meal or snack options are replaced with healthier options. Our study investigated whether altering the availability of non-alcoholic compared to alcoholic drink options would similarly impact people’s choices.

    We asked 808 adult weekly beer drinkers to take part in an online study. They were asked to choose 1 drink, that they would like to have today, from a display of both non-alcoholic (soft drinks and alcohol-free beer) and alcoholic (beer) options. They were shown 1 of 4 possible drink displays that either had the same proportion of non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks (2 of each, or 4 of each), or a higher or lower proportion of non-alcoholic drinks (6 non-alcoholic and 2 alcoholic, or 2 non-alcoholic and 6 alcoholic).

    In real-world environments – such as a supermarket or busy bar – people often have to make quick choices about which drink they choose. Therefore, we also asked half of the drinkers to make their choice under a high time pressure.

    The odds of drinkers choosing a non-alcoholic drink were 71% higher when both the total number of drinks and proportion of non-alcoholic options were increased

    We found that the odds of drinkers choosing a non-alcoholic drink were 71% higher when both the total number of drinks and proportion of non-alcoholic options were increased, and 48% higher when the proportion of non-alcoholic options was increased. There was no evidence that increasing the number of non-alcoholic drinks increased their selection when the proportion of drink types remained the same. There was no evidence that giving drinkers a time limit affected the type of drink they chose.

    As far as we are aware, this is the first evidence to suggest that interventions to increase the availability of non-alcoholic drinks – particularly their proportion relative to alcoholic drinks – could support a reduction in alcohol selection.

    Although many bars and restaurants offer at least one type of alcohol-free beer, this is often kept in the fridge behind the bar, or at the back of a menu, and the range of non-alcoholic drinks is often limited. These alcohol alternatives lack visibility and it requires greater effort for customers to choose them. However, the market for these drinks is growing, which is providing greater choice, and over time, increasing exposure to non-alcoholic drinks could help shift social norms around drinking these products.

    Interventions to increase the proportion of non-alcoholic drinks available are timely and of interest not only to policy makers, but also license holders and drinks manufacturers. Research in real-world settings is needed now to understand the potential impact on alcohol consumption.

    The post Increasing choice to encourage the selection of non-alcoholic, rather than alcoholic, drinks appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on May 06, 2020 06:49 AM.

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    What are your priorities for data sharing?

    This blog was written by Iain Hrynaszkiewicz, Publisher, Open Research, PLOS.

    We’ve been working to identify important problems faced by researchers in the practice of open research. And, to deepen understanding of researchers’ priorities with regards to sharing research data, we’ve launched a new study. If you are a researcher residing in the US or Europe who has shared or reused research data please take a few minutes to take part in the survey.

    The results of the survey will also help determine if and how well researchers’ needs are met by existing tools and services for sharing research data, and inform future PLOS initiatives and partnerships – beyond the publication of open access journals.

    Researchers’ experiences and attitudes about sharing research data are arguably already well studied. The annual State of Open Data reports from Digital Science, and Carol Tenopir’s research are valuable, recurring examples. And a bibliography of studies we’ve read, or re-read, recently is included below [1–24].

    So, why do we need another survey?

    Considering the results of numerous studies, researchers’ concerns about misuse and scooping are amongst the most common concerns about, or barriers to, data sharing. These concerns are followed, in their frequency, by the more practical concerns about copyright and licensing (ownership) and the time and effort required to make research (data) openly available.

    In principle there are numerous solutions available for some of the problems, barriers and concerns represented by these findings – from repositories, institutional research support, training programmes, to journal policies and procedures. Yet in practice — to give one example of assumed good practice in open research — today only about a fifth of researchers use repositories to share data supporting published papers.

    Having reviewed this prior research and having spoken with different groups of researchers ourselves in the last few months, we’ve concluded:

    • There is considerable evidence for various cultural and practical concerns with sharing of research data, and growing evidence of how sharing and reusing data can benefit research, the economy and researchers’ careers. But, 
    • we are less certain about how important each of these problems are, and if and how well existing tools, products, and services help solve these problems.

    Data sharing, research data, and open data are very important at PLOS — reflected in our long-standing policies on data sharing. But there is more that we can do to enable research data sharing and reuse, which may help realise more of its benefits. We expect that this study will help identify researchers’ priorities, which in turn will guide our priorities for new initiatives.

    We’re very grateful for any time researchers can lend to completing the survey and, naturally, we plan to share data from the survey publicly in the future.


    1. Eynden VVD, Knight G, Vlad A, Radler B, Tenopir C, Leon D, et al. Survey of Wellcome researchers and their attitudes to open research. Figshare. 2016; doi:10.6084/m9.figshare.4055448.v1
    2. Tenopir C, Christian L, Allard S, Borycz J. Research data sharing: practices and attitudes of geophysicists. Earth and Space Science. 2018;5: 891–902. doi:10.1029/2018EA000461
    3. Tenopir C, Allard S, Douglass K, Aydinoglu AU, Wu L, Read E, et al. Data sharing by scientists: practices and perceptions. PLoS ONE. 2011;6: e21101. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0021101
    4. Tenopir C, Rice NM, Allard S, Baird L, Borycz J, Christian L, et al. Data sharing, management, use, and reuse: Practices and perceptions of scientists worldwide. PLoS ONE. 2020;15: e0229003. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0229003
    5. Tenopir C, Dalton ED, Allard S, Frame M, Pjesivac I, Birch B, et al. Changes in Data Sharing and Data Reuse Practices and Perceptions among Scientists Worldwide. PLoS ONE. 2015;10: e0134826. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0134826
    6. Borghi JA, Van Gulick AE. Data management and sharing in neuroimaging: Practices and perceptions of MRI researchers. PLoS ONE. 2018;13: e0200562. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0200562
    7. Houtkoop BL, Chambers C, Macleod M, Bishop DVM, Nichols TE, Wagenmakers E-J. Data sharing in psychology: A survey on barriers and preconditions. Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science. 2018;1: 251524591775188. doi:10.1177/2515245917751886
    8. Rathi VK, Strait KM, Gross CP, Hrynaszkiewicz I, Joffe S, Krumholz HM, et al. Predictors of clinical trial data sharing: exploratory analysis of a cross-sectional survey. Trials. 2014;15: 384. doi:10.1186/1745-6215-15-384
    9. Rathi V, Dzara K, Gross CP, Hrynaszkiewicz I, Joffe S, Krumholz HM, et al. Clinical trial data sharing among trialists: a cross-sectional survey. BMJ. 2012;345: e7570.
    10. Schmidt B, Gemeinholzer B, Treloar A. Open data in global environmental research: the belmont forum’s open data survey. PLoS ONE. 2016;11: e0146695. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0146695
    11. Gregory K, Groth P, Scharnhorst A, Wyatt S. Lost or found? discovering data needed for research. Harvard Data Science Review. 2020; doi:10.1162/99608f92.e38165eb
    12. Faniel IM, Frank RD, Yakel E. Context from the data reuser’s point of view. Journal of Documentation. 2019;75: 1274–1297. doi:10.1108/JD-08-2018-0133
    13. Open Data: the researcher perspective – survey and case studies [Internet]. 4 Apr 2017 [cited 15 Nov 2018]. Available: https://data.mendeley.com/datasets/bwrnfb4bvh/1
    14. Allagnat L, Allin K, Baynes G, Hrynaszkiewicz I, Lucraft M. Challenges and Opportunities for Data Sharing in Japan. Figshare. 2019; doi:10.6084/m9.figshare.7999451.v1
    15. Lucraft M, Allin K, Baynes G, Sakellaropoulou R. Challenges and Opportunities for Data Sharing in China. Figshare. 2019; doi:10.6084/m9.figshare.7326605.v1
    16. Stuart D, Baynes G, Hrynaszkiewicz I, Allin K, Penny D, Lucraft M, et al. Whitepaper: Practical challenges for researchers in data sharing [Internet]. 2018. Available: https://figshare.com/articles/Whitepaper_Practical_challenges_for_researchers_in_data_sharing/5975011
    17. Science D, Fane B, Ayris P, Hahnel M, Hrynaszkiewicz I, Baynes G, et al. The State of Open Data Report 2019. Digital Science. 2019; doi:10.6084/m9.figshare.9980783.v1
    18. Science D, Hahnel M, Fane B, Treadway J, Baynes G, Wilkinson R, et al. The State of Open Data Report 2018. 2018;
    19. Science D, Hahnel M, Treadway J, Fane B, Kiley R, Peters D, et al. The State of Open Data Report 2017. 2017;
    20. Federer LM, Lu Y-L, Joubert DJ, Welsh J, Brandys B. Biomedical data sharing and reuse: attitudes and practices of clinical and scientific research staff. PLoS ONE. 2015;10: e0129506. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0129506
    21. Perrier L, Blondal E, MacDonald H. The views, perspectives, and experiences of academic researchers with data sharing and reuse: A meta-synthesis. PLoS ONE. 2020;15: e0229182. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0229182
    22. Linek SB, Fecher B, Friesike S, Hebing M. Data sharing as social dilemma: Influence of the researcher’s personality. PLoS ONE. 2017;12: e0183216. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0183216
    23. Oushy MH, Palacios R, Holden AEC, Ramirez AG, Gallion KJ, O’Connell MA. To share or not to share? A survey of biomedical researchers in the U.S. southwest, an ethnically diverse region. PLoS ONE. 2015;10: e0138239. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0138239
    24. Wallis JC, Rolando E, Borgman CL. If we share data, will anyone use them? Data sharing and reuse in the long tail of science and technology. PLoS ONE. 2013;8: e67332. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067332

    The post What are your priorities for data sharing? appeared first on The Official PLOS Blog.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on May 06, 2020 12:00 AM.

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    We’re Drawn To Fictional Villains Who Are Similar To Us

    Photo: A child looks at a Darth Vader mask at an exhibition in the Louvre, Paris, in 2015. Credit: Chesnot/Getty Images

    By Emma Young

    Watching Return of the Jedi with my kids the other night, I found myself quite liking Darth Vader. After all, he’s self-disciplined, determined, conscientious, and uncompromising — while also being (almost) entirely evil…

    It’s no secret that we can find fictional villains fascinating. It’s been argued that that’s because we are evolutionarily drawn to understanding bad guys, as well, of course, to seeing the good guys prevail. But new research, published in Psychological Science, suggests that this is not the full story.

    In real life, we do tend to like people who are similar to us in positive ways — who are also conscientious, say, or agreeable. But research has found that we recoil from others who are similar to us in positive ways but possess antisocial traits, too — they’re intelligent but deeply manipulative, for instance. This is thought to be because it’s uncomfortable for us to see any similarities between ourselves and “bad” people.

    Rebecca Krause and Derek Rucker at Northwestern University wondered if the same was true when it came to fictional characters, who may not pose the same potential threat to our self-image.

    To explore this, the pair first analysed data from a company called CharacTour, an entertainment website with more than 230,000 registered users at the time of the study. CharacTour staff had identified thousands of characters as villains (such as Maleficent and the Joker) and as heroes (such as Sherlock Holmes and Yoda) and sidekicks. They had also used scales to rate these characters on mini-spectrums for various traits — from chatty to reserved and highbrow to lowbrow, for example. Users could also rate themselves on these traits, using the same scale, and become “fans” of characters they were most drawn to.

    Krause and Rucker found that characters with a higher score on any given trait tended to have a greater percentage of fans with that trait. Strikingly, the similarity effect was even stronger for villains than non-villains. The normal aversion that we feel towards similar, but bad, individuals had vanished.

    The pair also found that villains and their fans didn’t share only positive traits. Compared with non-villains, villainous characters had a greater percentage of fans who rated themselves as dishonest, rude, manipulative and selfish. Fiction seemed, then, to free people to be drawn to the darker sides of our characters. (A finding that made me wonder which dark traits, exactly, I might share with Lord Vader…)

    The pair then sought to firm up their findings, and dig into potential explanations, using a series of online studies.

    The first, which involved 100 student participants, confirmed that it was more discomforting to be compared to a real-life villain than to a fictional one. Further work meanwhile supported the idea that fiction typically frees us from the threat of negative social comparisons — but not in all contexts. When a group of participants was told that they were “weirdly” similar to a “super-creepy” fictional villain in a new film, they reported being perfectly happy to watch the film while alone. But as an option for a first date, it became distinctly unappealing. First dates of course involve potentially important social judgements. The risk of being likened in any way to a “super-creepy” villain clearly represented a threat to those participants’ self-image.

    But a first date is a special case. “Our research suggests that stories and fictional worlds can offer a ‘safe haven’ for comparison to a villainous character that reminds us of ourselves,” comments Krause. This can open us up to learning more about darker parts of the self that we don’t normally explore, the pair thinks.

    Stories might not be the only way to mitigate threats to self-perceptions, they add. Having a secure attachment figure — someone who we know loves us — might also act to protect us from the discomfort caused by feeling at least partly similar to a morally undesirable person, perhaps.  “Although stories were used in the present approach, our findings invite a more general exploration of other factors that might mitigate threat and thus attract people toward comparison with similar but negative others,” the researchers write.

    But, as they warn in their paper, there could be dangers here. If, for example, a person were to see a reality-TV star, say, as a “fiction-esque” and appealing villain, “this could have potentially sinister implications for people’s choice of role models.”

    Can Bad Be Good? The Attraction of a Darker Self

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on May 05, 2020 01:50 PM.

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    Tooth-Fairy-Meets-Easter-Bunny Science of TCM

    Smut Clyde follows the dark path of Traditional Chinese Medicine again. What will he find there? As usual, all the big publishers peddling TCM fraud, that's what.

    in For Better Science on May 05, 2020 08:21 AM.

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    Elsevier’s nurses look at current challenges and the world post-COVID

    At Elsevier, our RNs work closely with nurses in the field to make our healthcare platforms relevant to the work they do

    in Elsevier Connect on May 05, 2020 08:11 AM.

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    Aspiring To Be Rich May Damage Your Relationships

    By Emily Reynolds

    Daydreaming about an ideal life, it can be easy to slip into fantasies about wealth there’s a reason, after all, that “winning the lottery” is the ultimate dream for so many people. The reality of being rich, however, often doesn’t match that dream, with some research suggesting that people who prioritise time are much happier than those who prioritise money.

    A new study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin drives home the message that money really isn’t everything. The team finds that “financially contingent self-worth” self-esteem based on financial success can leave people feeling lonely and disconnected.

    Deborah Ward of the University at Buffalo and colleagues first asked 345 participants to rate themselves on various statements  related to financially contingent self-worth, such as “my self esteem is influenced by how much money I make” and “I feel bad about myself when I feel I don’t make enough money”. Next, participants reported how much they felt time pressures in their life, rating statements including “there are not enough minutes in the day” on a scale of one to seven.

    Participants then estimated what percentage of time they spent being alone and with others (either working or socialising), and stated how often they felt lonely and isolated and how connected they felt to other people. The team also measured participants’ sense of autonomy how much control and choice they felt they had in life.

    As expected, participants whose self-worth was tied to their financial success reported feeling more time pressure which, in turn, was related to greater feelings of social disconnection and loneliness. Participants’ sense of autonomy also partly accounted for this relationship: those whose self-worth was more financially contingent reported a lower sense of autonomy, which was related to worse social outcomes.

    A second study looked at the same factors on a larger scale, with 940 participants completing the survey. Again, results suggested that financially contingent self-worth was associated with both lower autonomy and worse social outcomes; lower autonomy was also associated with spending less time with family and friends.

    In a final study, 246 participants completed daily diary measures at home examining the same concepts as before; this time, however, participants reported how they’d felt or behaved that day rather than in general.

    On days when participants reported particularly high financially contingent self-worth, both autonomy and social outcomes were far worse. Those who regularly reported high financially contingent self-worth were also more likely to report lower autonomy and worse social outcomes in general. These people also reported feeling more concerned about their finances.

    We already knew that basing self-worth on financial achievements can have pretty negative consequences financially contingent self-worth can lead to higher anxiety, increased feelings of pressure, and a higher likelihood of unfavourably comparing oneself to others.

    The new study suggests that there are also social repercussions: if we believe money is the ultimate meaning of success, it makes sense that we’ll spend more time focusing on work than we will our relationships, that we’ll have less free time and that we’ll therefore feel less in control of our lives than we might want.

    It’s important to note that the data is correlational the direction of cause and effect may not be as straightforward as this. But either way, if your self-esteem is financially contingent, working towards less materialistic forms of validation may be a worthwhile long-term goal.

     Can’t Buy Me Love (or Friendship): Social Consequences of Financially Contingent Self-Worth

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on May 04, 2020 10:54 AM.

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    PLOS Pathogens & PREreview Live COVID-19 Preprint Journal Club

    On Monday, May 11, 2020, at 9am PST / 12pm EST / 5pm BST / 6pm CEST, PLOS Pathogens is  teaming up with PREreview to bring together scientists from around the world to discuss and review a COVID-19-related preprint — live. #PLOSPREreviewLIVE

    The preprint under review is: Development and Evaluation of A CRISPR-based Diagnostic For 2019-novel Coronavirus. (Full preprint citation at the end of this post).

    Please register here to participate in this important event. (Registration is required.) 

    Monday, May 11, 9am PST / 12pm EST / 5pm BST / 6pm CEST


    We will be using Zoom video conference software, which is free to download. Once registered you will receive the information on how to join the live journal club before the event. Therefore registration is required.

    You will spend one hour with your fellow scientists diving straight into the preprint and resurfacing with constructive feedback for the authors. This is a great opportunity to play a role in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic by sharing your expertise with your peers from all over the world. You will also learn about preprints (and reviewing them), build your network, and get credit for your feedback because reviews are citable as each is assigned a digital object identifier (DOI).

    PLOS is proud to collaborate with PREreview to shine a spotlight on our shared goals: to encourage more scientists to post feedback on preprints, which is never more important than during a time of crisis.

    Preprint citation in full:

    Development and Evaluation of A CRISPR-based Diagnostic For 2019-novel Coronavirus

    Tieying Hou, Weiqi Zeng, Minling Yang, Wenjing Chen, Lili Ren, Jingwen Ai, Ji Wu, Yalong Liao, Xuejing Gou, Yongjun Li, Xiaorui Wang, Hang Su, Bing Gu, Jianwei Wang, Teng Xu

    medRxiv 2020.02.22.20025460; 

    doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.02.22.20025460


    The post PLOS Pathogens & PREreview Live COVID-19 Preprint Journal Club appeared first on The Official PLOS Blog.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on May 04, 2020 12:00 AM.

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    A Selfish Reason To Share Research Data

    This blog was written by Giovanni Colavizza, Isla Staden, Kirstie Whitaker and Barbara McGillivray of the Alan Turing Institute and Iain Hrynaszkiewicz, PLOS and first appeared on their website.

    As many of us adapt to the benefits of remaining connected with our peers and colleagues digitally, new evidence suggests that scholarly papers might get increased citations by staying digitally connected to the research data that support their results.

    To promote open, reproducible research, many journals have started to encourage or even mandate that researchers share their research data and provide statements about the availability of their data in their published papers. These Data Availability Statements (DAS’s) in published papers (see Table for examples) provide a way to study if and how researchers share their data, and if data sharing correlates with citations of research.

    Previous studies have explored researchers’ data-sharing practices and their associations with citation counts in specific journals, or in specific research disciplines only. We analysed more than half a million papers across multiple journals and research disciplines, to explore the following questions: 

    • Are authors taking up the challenge of data sharing? 
    • Is this beneficial for them as well as for the scientific community? 

    We analysed published articles from the PubMed Open Access collection to help answer these questions, and made all our code and data available for replication. 

    Using an automated approach designed for the study, we classified different kinds of data availability statements, according to their main categories (illustrated in Table 1). The outcome is important as statements that contain a link to research data available in a public repository (category 3) are considered to be preferable over all other types of statements. However, depositing data in a repository may be more time-consuming for researchers than other approaches.

    Key findings

    We found that data availability statements are now very common in published papers. We also found that journal mandates to include these statements are effective, with big increases in the number of statements in 2014 and 2015, when PLOS (Public Library of Science) and BMC (BioMed Central), respectively, mandated them. When journals only encourage that authors provide a statement, only a small percentage of papers include them. In 2018 93.7% of 21,793 PLOS articles and 88.2% of 31,956 BMC articles had data availability statements. Yet, data availability statements containing a link to data in a repository are just a fraction of the total. In 2017 and 2018, 20.8% of PLOS publications and 12.2% of BMC publications provided DAS containing a link to data in a repository. Figure 1 gives an overview of data availability trends over time in PLOS journals, while Figure 2 exemplifies distinct approaches to data sharing from two BMC journals.


    Figure 1: Data availability statements over time in PLOS. The histogram shows the number of publications from specific subsets of the dataset and DAS categories: No DAS (0), Category 1 (data available on request), Category 2 (data contained within the article and supplementary materials), and Category 3 (a link to archived data in a public repository). The vertical solid line shows the date when a mandated DAS policy was introduced.

    Figure 2: Data availability statements over time in articles from the BMC Genomics journal (left; selected to illustrate a journal that had high uptake of an encouraged policy) and from the Trials journal (right; published by BMC, selected to illustrate a journal that has a very high percentage of data that can only be made available by request to the authors). The vertical solid line shows the date when a mandated DAS policy was introduced. A dashed line indicates the date an encouraged policy was introduced.

    We also find that papers that link to data in a repository can have up to 25.36% (± 1.07%) higher citation impact on average, using a citation prediction model. While our results show that higher citations to a paper are correlated with linking to data in a repository, we cannot be certain this is the cause for the higher citations. However, this result may be encouraging for researchers, journals, publishers, funders and policymakers who are interested in data sharing and reproducible research. It suggests there might be a further incentive—beyond increasing transparency and reproducibility of resultsto authors to make their data available using a repository.

    There might be a variety of reasons for this effect. More efforts and resources are put into papers sharing data, thus this choice might be made for better quality articles. It is also possible that more successful or visible research groups have also more resources at their disposal for sharing data. Sharing data likely also gives more credibility to an article’s results, as it supports reproducibility. Finally, data sharing encourages re-use, which might further contribute to citation counts.


    Researchers are concerned that there are insufficient resources and incentives to share their research data, and that more effort is required to publish data when publishing papers. However, this extra effort is really an investment rather than a cost. It is an investment in more reliable and reusable research for the scientific community, and this new evidence suggests it could also be a reasonable, “selfish” investment in researchers’ own reputations. 

    Read the authors’ paper in PLOS ONE: The citation advantage of linking publications to research data

    Access the data in the following repository.

    The post A Selfish Reason To Share Research Data appeared first on The Official PLOS Blog.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on May 04, 2020 12:00 AM.

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    A pandemic of boredom

    It was just the two of them: on a raft, lost, floating off the coast of Africa—the lone survivors of a shipwreck. Years before, struck with stupendous boredom, Hymie Basteshaw decided to become boredom’s master. He read what others wrote about boredom, studied its physiology, and discovered its secrets in the wavering folds of human cells. Mid-sea, he now shares with Augie March his first and “obvious” findings. Boredom is “the shriek of unused capacities, the doom of serving no great end or design, of contributing to no master force. The obedience that is not willingly given because nobody knows how to request it. The harmony that is not accomplished.” Basteshaw is but a minor character—a psycho-biologist, a carpenter, a genius, a “maniac”—in Saul Bellow’s long picaresque novel, The Adventures of Augie March. He offers not a minor or obvious feature of boredom, but a discerning appraisal of its intimate nature. Boredom, Basteshaw tells March, although not in these exact words, is hybrid, both personal and social.

    Our current situation is one of crisis, of resources, values, and priorities. It’s also a crisis for the study of boredom. It’s a call to understand boredom both as a psychological and social phenomenon. If our aim is to capture what it means to experience boredom right now—the boredom of social distancing, quarantine, and the pandemic—we can’t rely exclusively on lessons that we’ve drawn from willing participants in on-line or in-person studies. Yes, we are bored with more or less the same things that previously bored us. But we are bored because of our newfound and newly imposed social condition. In social distancing, we find ourselves in an unusual position. Both restrained and acutely aware of the meaninglessness of our everyday actions we are under the threat of a new boredom—a boredom that looks and feels just like our ordinary boredom, but which has grown out of a much different and more fertile ground.

    What is boredom most fundamentally? Boredom is an unpleasant state that signals to us the presence of an unsatisfactory situation and which, at the same time, contains a strong desire to do something else. During boredom, we feel both frustrated and listless. We’re disengaged from and dissatisfied with what we do. Our situation doesn’t hold our attention. It doesn’t interest us and doesn’t strike us as meaningful. In a state of boredom, we’re moved to think of alternative situations and goals, ones that are more interesting, engaging, and meaningful to us than our current ones. We itch to leave boredom behind and are propelled to try to do just that.

    Boredom is a problem—a disruption of agency, a deficit of meaning, or a block in our ability to engage cognitively and satisfactorily with our situation at hand. And yet, it’s also a solution. Or better, it’s the promise of a solution. The unpleasantness of boredom, along with its effects on our psychological processes and behavior, offers us a possible way out. Boredom is that disagreeable reminder that we should be doing something other than what we are currently doing. It’s also a repellent force, a drive that could, under the right conditions, allow us to overcome our discontent.

    What I have just described sounds a lot like a psychological state that exists in a social vacuum, but that isn’t so. Boredom can arise out of a perceived dissatisfaction with our situation, a mismatch between our wishes and reality, or even a lack of sufficient engagement with the task at hand. All of these prompts of boredom can be both personal and social. Any social condition that either begets or supports them would be one that promotes boredom.

    We are currently experiencing a change in social order. Compared to our recent past, the present of the pandemic is one characterized by excessive order. Out of necessity, caution, concern, or fear, we are constrained. There’re real and tangible limits to our opportunities and obstacles to free action. And so, out of this new social order, boredom grows. “Boredom arises when we must not do what we want to do, or must do what we do not want to do,” psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel once observed. In Melancholy and Society, German sociologist Wolf Lepenies warned us of how socially frustrated agency is a fertile ground for boredom. Experimental studies agree that conditions over which individuals have little control can give rise to boredom. And a recent study examining the attitudes of people living in quarantine in Italy appears to confirm it.

    There’s another element of our social condition that contributes to the rise of boredom. Boredom is related not just to the perceived control or autonomy that we have over a situation but also to how meaningful our situation strikes us. Studies report that perceived meaninglessness is both a component of and a likely antecedent to boredom. While social distancing, we often feel that our actions and activities are lacking in meaning. Why? In the face of the pandemic, our everyday activities seem insignificant. For those of us who are not nurses, doctors, first respondents, essential workers, or actively involved in helping others or fighting the spread of the virus, our actions seem to have little effect on the situation.

    When faced with the boredom of the pandemic it helps to bring to mind the function of boredom. It offers us a productive way to think about our boredom, for it underlines its existential import. We are fortunate not for this or that experience of boredom, but for the capacity to experience boredom. Boredom—in its non-chronic form—is a valuable tool and perhaps now, more than ever, a privilege. It’s both an affective reminder that we are stuck with ourselves and a call to become more than what we are right now.

    But boredom can only do so much. Once it has made itself known to us, we are on our own. We have to decide how to act and what to do. We can turn to diversions or reflection, act rashly or prudently, give up or stand up, help others or look after ourselves. The possible outcomes of boredom are many and varied.New habits, opportunities, and careers often start with the thought “I am bored.” But so can unhealthy eating habits, binge drinking, drug use, or even destruction.

    One hopes that in times like these boredom’s call can be put into productive and compassionate use. To borrow Voltaire’s words, one hopes that we can cultivate our garden: the ground out of which our personal and social existence can grow and flourish—not as an act of quietism but as a sign of resilience and as way to realize change.

    It’s worth a try, even if it is done out of boredom.

    Featured Image Credit: by Rhett Noonan on Unsplash 

    The post A pandemic of boredom appeared first on OUPblog.

    in OUPblog - Psychology and Neuroscience on May 02, 2020 09:30 AM.

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    Research 2030 podcast: Bye, bye, blue sky? Part 2: A conversation with NYU President Andrew Hamilton

    Can basic and applied research co-exist? Elsevier’s Dr. Lesley Thompson talks with NYU President Andrew Hamilton on the Research 2030 Podcast, Episode 5

    in Elsevier Connect on May 01, 2020 03:44 AM.

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    Do Peer Reviewers Prefer Significant Results?

    An experiment on peer reviewers at a psychology conference suggests a positive result premium, which could drive publication bias.

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on April 30, 2020 10:27 PM.

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    PhD Studentship in Computational Neuroscience and Rehabilitation Robotics

    Biocomputation Research Group

    Centre for Computer Science and Informatics Research

    University of Hertfordshire, UK

    Application deadline 1 June 2020

    Bursary GBP 15,285 p.a.

    Applications are invited for PhD positions in the Biocomputation Research Group at the University of Hertfordshire. (http://biocomputation.herts.ac.uk/).

    Project description

    Stroke is a major cause of disability in adults. More than 15 million strokes occur every year in the world, and more than 100,000 of these affect patients in the UK. Stroke patients often have an impaired ability to control their upper limbs and need assistance with every-day tasks. Relearning motor skills after stroke is similar to learning new motor skills, for example learning to play tennis, but a problem for stroke survivors is that their impaired movements often restrict the ability to use sensory feedback for re-learning.

    Rehabilitation robotics has shown promise to augment the rehabilitation process and to offer feedback on performance. However, the personalisation of the therapy to individual needs remains a major challenge to date.

    The proposed project will use a computational model of the cerebellum that is being developed by the Biocomputation Research Group (biocomputation.herts.ac.uk) to optimise robotic rehabilitation for individual subjects. The cerebellum has been optimised throughout vertebrate evolution to become an adaptive controller of biological skeletomuscular structures that is unrivalled by any artificial adaptive motor control algorithm. This has led and is still leading to the development of a rapidly increasing number of computational models of cerebellar learning, and to the successful applications of these cerebellar models to controlling simulated and real robots. The PhD project will involve the development and application of personalised cerebellar models in order to optimise rehabilitation robots for individual subjects.

    Applicants should have excellent computational and numerical skills and a very good first degree in computer science, biology, maths, physics, neuroscience, or a related discipline. Successful candidates are eligible for a research studentship award from the University (GBP 15,285 per annum bursary plus payment of the student fees). Applicants from outside the UK or EU are eligible.

    Research in Computer Science at the University of Hertfordshire has been recognised as excellent in the latest Research Excellence Framework Assessment, with 50% of the research submitted rated as internationally excellent or world leading. The Centre for Computer Science and Informatics Research provides a very stimulating environment, offering a large number of specialised and interdisciplinary seminars as well as general training and researcher development opportunities. The University is situated in Hatfield, in the green belt just north of London.

    Please contact Dr Volker Steuber or Prof Farshid Amirabdollahian for informal enquiries. Application forms are available under https://www.herts.ac.uk/study/schools-of-study/engineering-and-computer-science/research-in-engineering-and-computer-science/the-phd-programme-in-computer-science and should be returned to doctoralcollegeadmissions AT herts DOT ac DOT uk.

    The short-listing process will begin on 1 June 2020.

    in UH Biocomputation group on April 30, 2020 03:40 PM.

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    How childhood trauma resurfaces during COVID-19

    Children who are victims of bullying often suffer a sense of helplessness. They don’t know what to do during bullying episodes and they don’t really believe anything will change or anyone can intervene effectively. Children subjected to bullying say it makes them feel sick, afraid, and helpless. It can also lead to feelings of anxiety, anger and depression. We know that as adults former victims can undergo similar feelings in the right circumstances.

    Due to my research in the area of childhood bullying, I am contacted by many people about their own bullying incidents as children. They describe how they coped at the time. Often, they comment on how they’ve managed their lives in the wake of bullying.   The great majority have survived and gone on to live productive lives. However, during this world-wide COVID-19 crisis, adults relate that their mental state is similar to how they felt as children. I have received messages describing the reactivation of childhood memories of being captive to someone while feeling powerless.  In the face of the uncertainty generated by the coronavirus, the same emotions are rekindled: fear, anxiety, anger, and a certain amount of depression. While most are doing what they can in terms of preparedness and health precautions, helplessness is once again a prevailing emotion. Substance abuse held at bay has reemerged as a problem.

    By this point, perhaps the majority of people are aware of a sense of helplessness while trying to outwait and outwit COVID-19 by using every best effort. It is a helpless feeling to see the numbers of deaths and to witness the struggles in the healthcare system. While everyone may feel some amount of anxiety related to the virus, survivors of bullying experience a heightened degree of fear, anxiety, and depression based on triggered childhood feelings. Helplessness is a familiar but unwelcome manifestation impacting their daily mood. Sheltering-in-place is difficult emotionally in general. But for victims of childhood bullying it is reminiscent of and activates the loneliness that was an everyday burden.

    Trauma is an aspect of this health crisis. The loss of family and friends, and the fear of their loss, is overwhelming. Trauma results when such overwhelming stress exceeds one’s ability to cope. There are three distinct types of trauma: acute, chronic, and complex. Acute trauma describes what people are living through now, meaning the trauma is the result of a single event- the corona virus. Trauma can become chronic depending on the duration of an event; in this case how long people are required to shelter-in-place with all the problems attendant to that (loss of income, lack of childcare, family violence, etc.). Chronic bullying is traumatizing for children and it leads to changes in the brains’ ability to think clearly. At the very least, bullied children worry and their worries influence their actions. They try to hide and they learn to avoid their bullies. They often become worried, anxious adults. For those who endured bullying victimization as children, the trauma is complex. Those adults deal with childhood trauma and its effects in an ongoing way. Now they are dealing with the very personal nature of the fear of the virus as well.

    Children can do very little when they are helpless. They don’t have the tools, the wisdom, the resources, or the maturity needed to ameliorate adverse childhood conditions. Adults by virtue of greater years, greater resources, and greater mental capacity are able, much of the time, to deal with difficult circumstances. But COVID-19 extracts its toll despite wisdom, years, or great resources. The virus is an equalizer in this respect. It exerts power over its victims. It is relentless in pursuing a host to control. It searches for any weakness to exploit. COVID-19 acts exactly like a bully. For those who have already been a victim in childhood, this new terror is another bully forcing people to stay inside hiding from its power. In this way, victims of childhood bullying, even with their adult resources, are revisited by an age-old sense of helplessness unique to them.

    For adults intimidated and threatened throughout childhood, helplessness is not new. It has come back again in the shape of something even more powerful and intimidating.

    Photo by Natalia Y on Unsplash 

    The post How childhood trauma resurfaces during COVID-19 appeared first on OUPblog.

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

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    The Digital Migration: Lessons About Open Science Arising from the COVID19 Crisis

    This blog post was written Dylan Roskams-Edris, Open Science Alliance Officer, Tanenbaum Open Science Institute, The Neuro. This piece resulted from an ongoing discussion with members of the Canadian open science community, in particular Estrid Jakobsen, Elizabeth DuPre, Zoha Deldar, Nikola Stikov, Stephanie Dyke, Rachel Harding, Jean-Baptiste Poline, and Christine Tardif.

    Open Science Easing the Transition from Lab to e-Lab

    In the wake of COVID19, the world is scrambling to figure out how to continue the functions of normal life while confined to a much smaller world of couches and home offices. Work, family and friend relationships, exercise, entertainment, and all the other elements of normalcy have been upended. The effort to maintain productivity (and, to be frank, sanity) has initiated a mass digital migration; a movement from life to e-life.

    If you are a researcher you are likely dealing with your own unique micro-version of the predicament: how to continue working when you and your lab are self-isolated? In other words, how to replicate as many of the normal functions of a lab as possible in a digital environment; a movement from lab to e-lab.

    Lab meetings have migrated to video-conferencing with relatively little friction; conferences have gone virtual astoundingly quickly; manuscripts are being drafted and figures created – perhaps a tad earlier than originally planned; grants and proposals are being written. These are, however, only a small portion of what researchers do, and leave a huge swath of scientific work untouched and in stasis.

    Those most able to continue useful work are those who, for whatever reason, have access to as much of their work as possible from home. Pictures of researchers lugging multiple work computers home in order to continue data analysis were common in the early days of the crisis.

    There is a subgroup of researchers, however, who can continue work without having to cram several computer towers into the trunk of a car: those who created an up-to-date digital, online representation of their research activities right up to the moment they had to be abandoned. These lucky few, who put in the time and effort to create a comprehensive e-lab prior to the crisis, are for the most part those who already commited to open science. This is, of course, no accident.

    Open Science and e-Labs

    Open science is, at its most practical base, the effort to (1) create an accurate and well organized digital representation of research activities and (2) share that representation with as few barriers as possible so others can effectively check, replicate, rework, reuse, and remix findings. Even the concentration within open science on sharing physical materials – like cell lines, biospecimens, and model organisms – is to enable replication and follow-on research when sharing the information about those materials does not to allow others to generate them themselves due to the unique nature of the material or an inability to make materials locally.

    Researchers who have incorporated open, online sharing of research resources throughout their work – sharing experimental designs and protocols, lab notebooks, data, software, etc – have, in effect, created a digital representation of a significant portion of their activities that can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection.

    Not to oversell things, open sharing of research resources does not mean that researchers and labs can continue functioning without a hitch in their experimental stride. Much of the actual physical work has necessarily halted. It does mean, however, that many of the inputs to and outputs of their research are available in a digital form; accessible from a couch, desk, or apartment window-sill. While the emphasis from open science advocates in the past has been on ensuring that these digital representations exist so they can be shared, an added advantage has now jumped to the fore: the ability to share your e-lab with your quarantined-self.

    Sharing Your e-Lab with Yourself

    Labs that have, for example, stored experimental data immediately upon collection on open science platforms such as the Open Science Framework, Zenodo, Figshare, Synapse, OpenNeuro, and Dryad now have seamless access to the last bit collected before retreating into quarantine. Analyzing this data may be impossible if the requisite software only exists on a work computer, or you don’t have a license to use it at home; if, however, research software has been openly shared via a platform like Github then it can be accessed from a park bench (assuming a decent wifi signal).

    If the collected data needs to be put into the context of how it was collected, perhaps to elicit input from other lab members about the best way to analyze it, there is no easier way than accessing the relevant protocols through protocols.io or an Open Lab Notebook. Need to know exactly what reagents or model organisms were used in an experiment? If one cannot go check the freezer, cage, or delivery invoice, then checking the relevant Research Resource Identifier (RRID) listed in your shared protocol or notebook is the next best (if not better) thing.

    The list of unanticipated advantages continues. Perhaps you need to get input from a normally-down-the-hall colleague about how to improve your protocol for the future, or eliminate an artifact from some data, or iron out a persnickety bug in analysis software. In the lab you could invite them to pull up a chair as you took them through the issue. Now that is, obviously, impossible. If the protocol, data, or software were shared, however, you could email them the link (or, better yet, persistent identifier), open a videochat window, and collaborate from a distance.

    Sharing Your e-Lab with Your Research Community

    One of the most heartening things I have seen while scrolling through my twitter-feed-turned-emotional-roller-coaster is that self-isolated researchers are engaging with openly shared research resources.

    This is of course the case with COVID19 research, where openly shared software, data, manuscripts, and protocols relevant to the virus are being shared, collected, curated and adapted with blinding speed; but it goes farther than that. Every day I see someone in the neuroscience research community tweet something along the lines of “thank goodness for X piece of openly shared software/data that I can learn about and use from home!”

    When people are cut off from their physical labs and don’t have an e-lab of their own, it is wonderful to see them being able to pick up the tools and resources shared by others. The lessons we are being forced to learn about the fluidity, dynamism, and capacity for collective creativity enabled by sharing research resources will serve us well in the future.

    My sincere hope is that those working with these new found tools and resources take the open ethos to heart and openly reshare any modifications, derived data, and new insights with the research community. Doing so closes the loop, creating a community-based feedback mechanism that encourages further sharing in the future and, more importantly, uses the expertise of the world-wide research community to create ever better science.

    Benefiting the Public and Less Well-off Researchers with an Open e-Lab

    Some of the people involved in shaping (see: arguing about) what open science is quail at the idea that open science has anything to do with equity and equality. They say that it is merely about replicability and transparency and that is it, harumph. What I hope this situation brings to light – as you swear at your institutional VPN for once again dropping you, or find yourself unable to download important papers because of paywalls your institutional account would normally breeze through – is that you are receiving a taste of what it is like outside the gilded ivory tower.

    Such restrictions on access and use are what interested members of the public, or those at research institutes that cannot afford staggering subscription prices, or those in labs not well funded enough to pay for the licenses to fancy analysis software, face every day. The act of openly sharing a paper, a piece of software, a dataset, an equipment design, or whatever else is not just about replicability. Doing so is an act that expands the borders of science, allowing the participation of the previously excluded. It is an act of inclusion not in some abstract post-modern sense, but in the very real sense of choosing where and why to put the fences.

    Sharing Your Open e-Lab with the World

    Beyond the fact that open sharing is useful to the isolated-sharer and their research community, shared research resources have taken on an unprecedented importance in the COVID19 crisis. Stories abound of how sharing genetic sequences and protein structures have led to the discovery of novel treatment targets, diagnostic testing protocols, and the initiation of clinical trials on a timescale that, in the pre-COVID19 era, would be unbelievable. Moreover, the rapid release of results via preprints has allowed the creation of competitions to apply machine learning to generate yet more insights. Though similar mass sharing has occurred during previous outbreaks (e.g. Zika and Ebola), the fact that COVID19’s impact has been global (and, not to put too fine a point on it, has impacted the global north) holds the hope that this time it will stick.

    There is no reason that the same strategies cannot be applied to the ongoing crises in neurological disorders, antibiotic development, and the treatment of rare diseases, to name only a few. Indeed, the kind of massive online collaboration to solve issues around testing, creating ventilators and personal protective equipment, solving protein structures, and identifying novel treatment targets in the context of COVID19 is exactly what open science advocates have been dreaming of for years.

    Barriers to e-Labs and Global Collaboration

    Open science has laid the groundwork for the creation of e-labs and for them to be linked up to enable global collaboration. The COVID19 crisis has, on so many levels, highlighted the importance and promise sharable, digital representations of research activity hold for the future of research. More people than ever are glimpsing the potential that e-labs interlinked into a global digital research ecosystem represents.

    This bright future does not, however, come free of complications. Just as open science reveals the potential of sharing, it also reveals difficulties of coordination and consensus. If research is going to be conducted collaboratively on a global scale we need to make sure that shared resources are findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable (e.g. FAIR). Doing so can be made easier through technology and sharing platforms, but what it requires most are education, communities collaboratively setting norms around standards and sharing practices, and a commitment to embed open science practices throughout the research lifecycle. The necessary changes in behaviour will require social and cultural innovation on the part of research communities at least as important as any technical advance.

    Another big coordination problem has to do with eliminating research redundancies. Individual researchers within the global community need to coordinate so as to pursue different but complementary efforts. Doing so requires researchers to move past the stage of sharing resources in the hopes that those in their community will find it to engagement with that community. In the old, closed model such coordination was handled (albeit inefficiently) through journals and conferences where community members would be apprised of the work being done by others. The same task now must be undertaken in the digital world. Those of us interested in advancing open science are busily documenting how this is being done for COVID19 research in the hope that we can, after this is over, present an iron-clad case for how research communities can be rebuilt with digitally-mediated coordination planted deep in their hearts.

    Making an Open Future to Benefit Everyone

    I would ask you to deeply consider how you can begin adopting open, collaborative, community based approaches in the future of your research, once the world is rightside-up again. Doing so isn’t just about some abstract idea of openness; it has real benefits for you, your lab, your research community, and the world. COVID is, it is true, producing never before seen destruction of research efforts from which many projects may never recover. Within this destruction, however, lay clues to how research can be remade better, more collaborative, more coordinated and, of course, more open.


    The post The Digital Migration: Lessons About Open Science Arising from the COVID19 Crisis appeared first on The Official PLOS Blog.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on April 30, 2020 12:00 AM.

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    l’Amoura pour la cigarette Changeux tout COVID-19

    Have you been hoarding COVID-19 survival necessities? Soap, disinfectant, toilet paper? Stockpile cigarettes, as many as you can get, if you want to survive the coronavirus. Science has Spoken.

    in For Better Science on April 29, 2020 06:00 AM.

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    PLOS and Iowa State University Library announce APC-free Open Access publishing agreement

    The following press release was issued on Wednesday, April 29, at 9am Pacific

    SAN FRANCISCO — Iowa State University Library and the Public Library of Science (PLOS) today announced a three-year Open Access agreement that allows researchers to publish in PLOS’ suite of journals without incurring Article Processing Charges (APCs). 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 grant funds.

    “We are thrilled to continue our support for Open Access publishing with PLOS under this new agreement,” said Curtis Brundy, Associate University Librarian for Scholarly Communications and Collections at Iowa State University. “Preserving and growing the diversity of scholarly publishers has never been more important, and this agreement reaffirms our commitment to seeing that pure Open Access publishers like PLOS thrive.”

    Under the agreement, which will be implemented in July, Iowa State University Library will be charged an annual fixed flat rate over the three-year term, which will be based on prior years’ publication levels. Iowa State researchers will have unlimited opportunity to publish in PLOS journals over these three years and will not be charged any APCs. This agreement 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 Iowa State University Library 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 agreement with the University of California,” 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 Iowa State University Library announce APC-free Open Access publishing agreement appeared first on The Official PLOS Blog.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on April 29, 2020 12:00 AM.

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    The Noble Prize for a Life Well-Lived

    In honor of a beautiful and affectionate cat.

    RIP, beloved Max
    April 19, 2003 April 24, 2020

    So much acrimony and confusion and death...

    In the true meaning of the word, Max lived a noble life.

    “But he was just a cat,” you say. Yes, that's true. But he was loving and kind and selfless until the very end. He was a wonderful companion, and a great source of comfort to me (especially after my partner died in October 2018).

    Max and Sandra
    Feb. 2, 2017

    He was cherished by previous caretakers and human friends, who showered him with gifts.

    Christmas Eve, 2017

    Christmas Day, 2018

    But now he's gone and life continues, filled with acrimony and confusion and death.

    The Very Real Threat of Trump’s Deepfake by David Frum

    While reading this article in The Atlantic, I was immediately struck by how a cat could hold human values and respect human life to a greater extent than the President of the United States. Sounds absurd, doesn't it? But not really. Not any more. Here's David Frum:
    April 26, 2020, was an especially manic day in the presidency of Donald Trump.  ...  something was gnawing at him. Perhaps his business troubles were weighing on him.  ...  Or perhaps Trump was still seething at the widespread ridicule of his press conference of April 23, when he suggested using disinfectant “by injection.” Or perhaps something else had shifted his mood from its usual setting of seething aggrievement to frothing fury.

    Whatever the cause, between early afternoon and near 9 o’clock eastern time, Trump fired off a sequence of crazy-even-for-him tweets and retweets. He demanded that reporters be stripped of the “Noble prizes” they had supposedly been awarded for their reporting on Trump scandals, apparently conflating them with the Pulitzers—and then pretended that his misspelling of Nobel had been intentional.  ...  He retweeted an increasingly wild and weird range of supporters’ Twitter accounts.

    Trump shows no compassion for the suffering around him, no sympathy for the families devastated by the loss of their loved ones, and only hollow praise for the health care workers, the bus drivers, the home delivery drivers, the grocery store clerks, and the sanitation workers who put their lives on the line every day.

    Eternal optimists say “we're all in this together” while sitting at home on Zoom meetings, placing endless orders on Amazon, and fretting about their sourdough starter. I'm only marginally better, but I realize I'm privileged. {I've tried to help financially contributing to homeless organizations, a fund for unemployed hourly workers, bookstores, museums, etc.}

    And obviously I'm way more pessimistic.

    How does this rant honor my cat??

    Case History

    Max was diagnosed with intestinal lymphoma in August 2019 at the age of 16. He also had a murky ailment that made it difficult for him to eat (“his tongue is inflamed” or later, “he has a mass at the base of his tongue”), but the true cause was never confirmed. He was prescribed oral chemotherapy pills three times a week and an oral steroid (prednisolone syrup) twice daily. I declined the chemo pills, opting for quality of life for both of us. Max's oral steroid became unworkable after four doses.

    This was not fair, especially after my wife suffered through Stage 4 cancer for a year.

    Another vet started bimonthly / monthly injections of Depo-Medrol (methyl prednisolone) to reduce the inflammation in his mouth, and as a partial treatment for his lymphoma. It worked wonders (for a while). He ran up and down stairs, played with his toys, and jumped over the red chair!

    He started getting worse in January. His weight was down to 9.5 lbs (4.3 kg), a 2 lb loss in two months. He was prescribed buprenorphine as needed for pain and transdermal mirtazapine as an appetite stimulant. My quest for palatable foods became more and more challenging. I spent hours walking the aisles of pet superstores.

    ADDENDUM (April 28, 2020): How could I forget his stint on an all-chicken diet (KFC no skin of course or grocery store roasted chicken), which he enjoyed for a few weeks until he could no longer eat chicken...

    His last regular appointment was March 9. And then the shelter-in-place orders were issued.

    Pet Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic

    Max's condition was getting worse. Depo-Medrol was less and less effective, and he needed injections every two weeks. The veterinary practice enacted stringent measures to protect its essential workers. In-person appointments were reserved for animals showing signs of extreme pain and suffering. Virtual Vet was used for consults and for recommending treatment plans. We had an appointment on March 27. Max was prescribed his usual meds. I picked them up curbside (calling upon arrival) and paid via contactless transaction. I watched a helpful YouTube video and then administered his subcutaneous injection of Depo-Medrol.

    By April 16, I had grown desperate. The poor fellow was having a severe bout of diarrhea that lasted for days. I tried scheduling a Virtual Vet appointment and called for a refill of buprenorphine. Finally I got through and picked up more meds the next day. These included oral metronidazole, a hideously bitter and distressing medication that made his mouth foam.

    He improved slightly. I was up for hours in the middle of the night, trying to coax him to eat. Some "meaty morsels" and "flaked' varieties were palatable for their gravy. I got out the food processor and whirled them into a very soft format, which he mostly rejected. “But you were just licking the gravy off these meaty morsels!” I told him. Finally I came up with a winning concoction. But this was only a palliative interlude before the inevitable.

    Then I realized I'd established a Palliative Care Unit for my cat.

    On April 23, I could no longer care for him myself. I brought him to the ER for severe dehydration. He had blood work and an "incidental" ultrasound, neither of which he'd had since his initial diagnosis. The results were devastating. Anemia due to suspected blood loss from his GI tract. Elevated white blood cell count (no surprise). Emerging diabetes mellitus (e.g., glucose in his urine), a known side-effect of steroid treatment. He weighed only 3.8 kg (8.4 lbs).

    Most concerning was “free fluid in the abdomen and what looks like masses, possibly lymph nodes and fluid distended bowel loops.”  /  “If he does not improve in the next few days to a week, humane euthanasia should be considered given what we know.”

    I picked him up and brought him home. He hated car rides much more than actual visits to the vet or treatments of any sort. Veterinary staff all loved him. The report from his ER doc even said, “Max is a very good cat.”

    He was withdrawn for several hours. Then he got over it and sat on my lap in the red chair, purring. Here he is, as beautiful as ever.

    The change in Max from that day to the next was astounding. He couldn't hold his head up any more. He tried to drink some water but couldn't manage to do it. I don't think any additional intervention would have improved his condition. I didn't want to wait any longer and had to act quickly.

    I was fortunate to find a caring and compassionate vet who made house calls, and wasn't ridiculously overboard on COVID-19 restrictions. Some said they wouldn't enter the main living area — it had to take place outside or in the garage or in their mobile van. But Max was in a comfortable and familiar environment, at least. And then he didn't have to suffer any longer.

    Max was such a sweet, loving, affectionate cat. He sought me out until the end, until his very last day when he was too weak to do so.

    This is another story of love, and of loss. How we care for the most helpless among us is an enduring sign of our humanity.

    MORE CAT PHOTOS below.

    Max loved to bask in the sun.

    He was very well-read.

    And excellent at camouflage.

    On rare occasions, he pretended to be fierce.

    And in his youth, he was a proud hunter.

    But mostly, he was a non-dominant scaredy cat...

    ...who loved to play with catnip toys...

    ...and snuggle up in the laps of his companions.

    Max and Sandra
    June 27, 2015

    Tragically, I'm forced to go on without them, during an unprecedented time of anxiety and social isolation.

    I love you and miss you both.
    💔 😭 🐈

    in The Neurocritic on April 28, 2020 06:30 PM.

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    Fedora 32 Computational Neuroscience ready-to-install ISO image is now available!

    Download the Fedora 32 Computational Neuroscience image from labs.fedoraproject.org

    Fedora 32 was released today after a full six months of development. There are a lot of improvements and new changes included in this release. You can read the announcement here and the complete release notes here.

    This release is particularly exciting for the NeuroFedora team. It also marks the first release of our first deliverable: the CompNeuro Lab ISO image! The aim of developing such ready to install ISO images that are packed with the necessary tools is to enable users to quickly set up their computers and get down to work, instead of wasting precious time and effort on installing tools individually by hand. While we hope that this will enable researchers by providing them easy access to Free/Open Source research tools, we also hope that the platform will serve as a teaching aid in Computational Neuroscience courses.

    Applications featured in the CompNeuro ISO image.

    This CompNeuro release includes a number of modelling related tools that we were able to package over the release:

    All of these tools have been built with the current best practices in Software Development in mind---this is mandated by the Fedora community's software packaging guidelines. In addition to modelling tools, the ISO image also includes multiple tools used in analysis of data:

    This is not all, though! There's even more Neuroscience software that can be installed from the repositories. Also, since this edition is derived from Fedora, users have access to the complete set of packages that are included in Fedora: all the desktop environments, productivity tools, development tools, and libraries that you can choose from.

    The CompNeuro ISO image is based on the Fedora Workstation product that uses the modern GNOME desktop environment. It provides a clean interface integrated with a plethora of daily use productivity and development tools:

    Screenshot of the GNOME desktop environment.

    Screenshot of the GNOME desktop environment with applications.

    If GNOME isn't to your liking, though, there are other options. You can install any Fedora "spin" and install the software you need there also. Whatever you choose, you'll be ready to work in no time:

    • download a Fedora image,
    • install the tools you need,
    • get to work!

    Feedback is welcome

    This is the team's first deliverable. There is a lot of Free/Open Source software out there that still needs to be included in NeuroFedora. If you use a tool that's not on our list, please let us know. If you experience any issues or have ideas for improvement, please do let us know. You can contact the team using any of our communication channels.

    Developing NeuroFedora is also a great learning experience, especially for students. As a volunteer based community project, we learn skills and tools together and share knowledge freely with each other. No skills or experience are necessary to join the community. You can find what you want to do, and gather the required knowledge as you go at your own pace. We strongly encourage students to join the team, contribute their bit, and learn more about the tools use in Neuroscience while they do it.

    We'd love to hear from you. Please get in touch.

    in NeuroFedora blog on April 28, 2020 02:05 PM.

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    5 tips for publishing in a high impact journal

    Dos and don’ts for getting your research paper accepted by a high impact scholarly journal

    in Elsevier Connect on April 27, 2020 01:59 PM.

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    “Supposing you brought the light inside the body”

    Another instalment of grifting quackery in COVID-19 pandemic. Cedars-Sinai scientists and their biotech partners Aytu Biosciences want to light you up from inside, just as President Trump suggested.

    in For Better Science on April 27, 2020 01:20 PM.

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    PLOS joins other publishers in an initiative and call to maximize the efficiency of peer review of COVID-19 research

    PLOS is part of a group of publishers supporting a rapid review initiative for COVID-19 research. We are also co-signing an Open Letter of Intent: a call for all of us in the community – publishers, editors, reviewers, and authors – to help make the peer review process as efficient as possible during this time. The Open Letter of Intent is available here https://oaspa.org/covid-19-publishers-open-letter-of-intent-rapid-review/ , but is also reproduced in full below:

    Open Letter of Intent, and related calls to action for the
    research and publishing community

    eLife, F1000 Research, Hindawi, PeerJ, PLOS, Royal Society, 

    FAIRsharing, Outbreak Science Rapid PREreview

    27 April, 2020

    The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new urgency to openly and rapidly share and review COVID-19 research. 

    We, a group of publishers and scholarly communications organizations, are committing to work together on a cross-publisher rapid review and review transfer initiative. With the endorsement of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) we are making the following calls to reviewers, editors, authors, and publishers in the research community, in order to maximize the efficiency and speed of the triage and peer review process of COVID-19 research.

    To reviewers and authors:

    1. We call on volunteer reviewers with suitable expertise relevant to COVID-19 from all career stages and disciplines, including those from industry, to sign up to a “rapid reviewer pool” and commit to rapid reviewing times, along with an upfront agreement  that their reviews and identity can be shared among publishers and journals if submissions get rerouted. Please sign up in this form
    2. We call on volunteer reviewers (whether or not they have signed up for rapid review) to identify and highlight important and crucial COVID-19 preprints (e.g. by using https://outbreaksci.prereview.org/), as early as possible, to optimise the limited time of expert reviewers who are subsequently invited to review the most important and promising research by a journal/platform.
    3. We call on authors to support reviewers and publishers in this endeavour by ensuring the deposition of their submission as a preprint, and by working with publishers to make the peer-reviewed article and associated dataset, software, and model available for reuse as rapidly as possible.

    To publishers and editors:

    1. We call on all publishers to actively facilitate posting of COVID-19 preprints to preprint servers with the agreement of the authors, if authors have not already posted a preprint. This should be after confirming the submission warrants further review. (It is understood preprint servers are also doing their own checks and triage.)  Preprint servers include, but are not limited to bioRxiv, medRxiv, arXiv, OSF Preprints, SciELO Preprints etc, depending on research scope.
    2. We call on all publishers and editors to consider comments on preprints during the journal peer-review process.
    3. We call on all publishers to ensure all COVID-19 submissions include a mandatory data availability statement, if they do not already do this for all submissions. 
      • Publishers should aim to facilitate the stewardship of FAIR data and software code sharing underlying prioritised COVID-19 papers (and associated preprints) during the pandemic by working with FAIRsharing, the Research Data Alliance and Force11 via the joint RDA/Force11  FAIRsharing Working Group (e.g. providing recommendations to appropriate repositories and use of relevant data and metadata standards).

    This call is in addition to supporting these Wellcome Trust-coordinated calls: “Sharing research data and findings relevant to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak” and “Publishers make coronavirus (COVID-19) content freely available and reusable”.


    eLife, F1000 Research, Hindawi, PeerJ, PLOS, Royal Society, FAIRsharing, Outbreak Science Rapid PREreview


    For further information on the group and/or to get involved please contact:



    The post PLOS joins other publishers in an initiative and call to maximize the efficiency of peer review of COVID-19 research appeared first on The Official PLOS Blog.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on April 27, 2020 12:00 AM.

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    Six tips for teachers who see emotional abuse

    The scars of emotional abuse are invisible, deep, and diverse; and unfortunately, emotional abuse likely impacts more students than we think.

    Emotionally abusive behavior broadly consists of criticism, degradation, rejection, or threat. Emotional abuse (also known as psychological maltreatment or verbal assault) can happen anywhere, both within and outside of families, and can refer to a single severe incident or a chronic, ongoing pattern. Educators, caregivers, coaches, school mental health professionals, administrators, and peers are all capable of acting emotionally abusive toward school-age youth. That is part of its insidious invisibility; despite emotional abuse being highly involved in childhood abuse cases, it is often forgotten and overlooked. This type of interpersonal trauma is typically chronic and cuts deeply, as it is associated with mental and physical health issues (e.g., anxiety, depression, stress, sleep problems, self-harm) during the school years and beyond.

    Even with this existing knowledge, emotional abuse remains misunderstood, minimized, unseen, and unreported by many, including school professionals. We outline three things teachers need to know about emotional abuse and three things they can do to meet the needs of students experiencing emotional abuse.

    What to know

    The impact on the student determines the occurrence of emotional abuse more than the behavior that caused it. 

    There is no legal or clinical universal definition of emotional abuse. For example, two students with a parent teasing them about their appearances may react differently, in part based on context and relationship with the parent. Emotional abuse would be determined by the impact on the student, rather than the teasing alone.

    Emotional abuse is detrimental to both a student’s way of thinking and feeling. 

    Children create their sense of self from stories that others construct about them. Students may believe the destructive narratives that are told to them. That is, these harmful words may impact students at their core—shifting how they think about themselves and the world, and how they feel about themselves and others.

    There are numerous ways that emotional abuse may manifest. 

    Emotional abuse is not simply hearing harmful words. The context around the experience of emotional abuse are varied and diverse. A student may internalize or externalize their behaviors, or something in between. If a school-aged youth is repeatedly told that she is worthless, then the student may be meek in class. If a student is threatened repeatedly, then she may act aggressively toward others.

    What to do

    Take care of your emotional needs and your emotional health.

    Educators cannot support students if they cannot support themselves. As some students may constantly hear emotionally destructive words in their home environments, teachers certainly do not want to bring any semblance of that into their schools. Nevertheless, working with students can be tiring and frustrating. If their emotional energy is low, teachers may react rather than respond to difficult situations that unexpectedly arise. Rather than taking a breath, teachers might begin to punitively scold or admonish a student. Teachers need to take care of their emotional needs so that they do not parallel any unhealthy at-home behaviors in the classroom.

    Foster sharing through strong relationships. 

    Try to examine the life contexts behind a student’s behaviors. Rather than focusing on what is wrong with students, be curious about the circumstances in students’ lives that may influence how they act in school. To have a firmer understanding, teachers need to create brave spaces in our schools and classrooms so that students may feel comfortable sharing with adults. Students often regard educators as more effective guardians in violence protection than police or security, which speaks to the importance of continuing to cultivate this trust. When students share feelings, provide positive reinforcement by expressing your gratitude or by giving a thoughtful, affirming response.

    Know the laws around mandated reporting, and communicate with transparency.

    Check state regulations and learn to whom to report and how to report within your district or county. If and when suspicion or reports of abuse arise, reach out to your school mental health professionals. Encourage your administrators to grow emotional abuse awareness, prevention, and intervention initiatives so that others feel willing to report even in instances of suspected abuse. Openly discuss what happens after a report is made, as this transparency allows for students to feel more comfortable with the idea of reporting.

    Words are powerful, and as such, can be weaponized and wounding. Words can also be healing, spoken with gentleness and justice. Teachers should listen wholly to their students and their unstated needs; let teachers use their minds and words wisely and act knowingly.

    Featured Image Credit: Image by Okan AKGÜL on Pixabay

    The post Six tips for teachers who see emotional abuse appeared first on OUPblog.

    in OUPblog - Psychology and Neuroscience on April 25, 2020 09:30 AM.

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    Don't Inject Malaria Into Your Brain

    The strange story of one of the most shocking medical 'treatments' ever invented — cerebral impaludation, or the injection of malaria-infected blood into the brain.

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on April 24, 2020 11:00 PM.

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    The Australian researcher journey through a gender lens

    In Australia, “there's a lot of interest and action in gender issues, but progress is still quite slow,” says ANU gender equity scholar Prof. Fiona Jenkins

    in Elsevier Connect on April 24, 2020 01:38 PM.

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    The control of plastic inhibition over excitatory synaptic plasticity leads to the joint emergence of sensory coding and contrast invariance

    This week on Journal Club session Damien Drix will talk about the paper "The control of plastic inhibition over excitatory synaptic plasticity leads to the joint emergence of sensory coding and contrast invariance".

    Visual stimuli are represented by a highly efficient code in the primary visual cortex, but the development of this code is still unclear. Two distinct factors control coding efficiency: Representational efficiency, which is determined by neuronal tuning diversity, and metabolic efficiency, which is influenced by neuronal gain. How these determinants of coding efficiency are shaped during development, supported by excitatory and inhibitory plasticity, is only partially understood. We investigate a fully plastic spiking network of the primary visual cortex, building on phenomenological plasticity rules. Our results show that inhibitory plasticity is key to the emergence of tuning diversity and accurate input encoding. Additionally, inhibitory feedback increases the metabolic efficiency by implementing a gain control mechanism. Interestingly, this led to the spontaneous emergence of contrast-invariant tuning curves. Our findings highlight the role of interneuron plasticity during the development of receptive fields and in shaping sensory representations.


    Date: 24/04/2020
    Time: 16:00
    Location: online

    in UH Biocomputation group on April 24, 2020 01:02 PM.

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    BS 171 Matthew Cobb, author of "The Idea of the Brain"

    This episode of Brain Science is an interview with neuroscientist Matthew Cobb author of "The Idea of the Brain: The Past and Future of Neuroscience."

    Cobb approaches the history of neuroscience from a different perspective than previous writers. He writes from the perspective of a working scientist with a deep interest in the history of ideas and the interaction between science and culture. This approach makes for a fascinating discussion.

    Through out history assumptions about the brain have been influenced by both culture and contemporary science. For example, before the discovery of electricity it was impossible to image that the brain uses both chemical and electrical signals to communicate. Similarly, our current understanding is heavily influenced by the computer metaphor, which actually misses much about how real brains function.

    Another aspect of our discussion involves several ongoing debates with neuroscience such as the importance of localization versus network properties. We also touch on the tendency toward neuromythology, which is the tendency to think that understanding the brain is the only tool for understanding what it means to be human. Dr. Cobb reminds of the importance of being aware of the work in a wide varieties of fields include science and the humanities.

    Links and References:

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    in Brain Science with Ginger Campbell, MD: Neuroscience for Everyone on April 24, 2020 09:00 AM.

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    They’ve come a long way – to be confronted with an even longer licensure process in Germany: Syrian doctors in Germany

    Tens of thousands of Syrian war refugees are currently being trapped between Turkey and Greece or interned in deplorable and dramatic conditions on Greek islands [1]. This drama painfully reminds us that the conflict in Syria continues to be the biggest driver of migration. Since 2015, hundreds of thousands of Syrian migrants have crossed into Europe. Syrians are now the third-largest group of people with a foreign nationality in Germany, and among Syrian immigrants, there are comparatively many well-educated and trained health care professionals, e.g. some 3,000-4,000 medical doctors [2]. Not all of them have fled their country as refugees; many have been granted visas, as Germany is principally welcoming Syrian doctors.

    Wire fence
    Tens of thousands of Syrian war refugees are currently being trapped between Turkey and Greece.

    Why Germany needs Syrian doctors

    The reason is simple: In Germany, a relative shortage of physicians has developed over the recent years. A change in working time regulations and a growing demand for part-time jobs, has increased the need for additional doctors. Like many other developed countries, Germany relies on international medical graduates or doctors to supplement its locally trained staff so as to maintain their health care system. Further, as the number of Syrian migrants increases, so does the number of Syrian patients being treated in hospitals and doctors’ offices, resulting in a novel need for Arabic-speaking medical staff. Therefore, Syrian doctors are able to fulfill a double function.

    Given this background, it may seem paramount to make the licensure process for Syrian immigrant doctors as straightforward and as swift as possible, actively supporting and advising applicants through the relevant processes. But in fact, the act of obtaining a permanent license to be allowed to practice medicine in Germany is onerous, lengthy, and can bring about many negative experiences. These can include feelings of humiliation, lack of transparency, arbitrariness, and helplessness. This is what many of the 20 Syrian doctors told us in an interview study we performed from 2016-2017.

    Syrian doctors in Germany and their stories: the basis of our study

    The idea for this study arose when a recently immigrated Syrian dentist, began working with us while waiting for his German dental license to be approved.

    He told our team about his experiences with a “bureaucratic”, slow and confusing application procedure to secure his license. We were intrigued by his experiences and wanted to seek out other Syrian health care professionals’ experiences of the system. A qualitative study was designed and we received an overwhelming response to our call for interviewees on a Facebook page for Syrian Doctors in Germany. Within a few days, twenty Syrian health professionals were prepared to share their stories through face-to-face interviews.

    Being lost in an opaque and arbitrary bureaucratic process: that’s what it feels like being a Syrian doctor applying for a medical license in Germany

    Syrian doctors are highly motivated to apply their skills and expertise in clinical patient care. However, they are confronted with a time-consuming, ever-changing and non-transparent application procedure lasting months, even years.

    We found that upon arrival in Germany, Syrian doctors are highly motivated to apply their skills and expertise in clinical patient care. However, they are confronted with a time-consuming, ever-changing and non-transparent application procedure lasting months, even years.

    One physician explained: “When I started applying for the temporary license … some rules changed and the authorities were now requiring a C1 course in medical German to obtain the temporary license! After I started the C1 language course, they required the exam for medical terms. When we completed one step, they asked for another step…nothing is stable here.

    Interviewees describe a Kafkaesque system where they feel at the mercy of Government employees and reviewers who ask for absurd and impossible accomplishments, refuse to give information and act at random. This is shown in the quote of another interview partner: “There are no clear steps. You can have two [Syrian] doctors who studied at the same university, finished their studies in the same year, – and then one of them can obtain the approbation without any exam, and the other one will need to take another exam. At the end of the day, only one person makes the decision about you. …And of course, we cannot meet this person or talk with them. We don’t even know their name.”

    Admin work
    Interviewees reported feeling depressed, irritated or even in despair with the medical license application process.

    Consequently, the interviewees reported feeling depressed, irritated or even in despair. As informational and practical support from official institutions was scarce, the Syrian doctors relied on personal networks and peers to understand the requirements and find a job.

    Where next?

    To obtain a balanced view of the licensure process and the interactions involved, future research should explore the perspective of the administrative staff in the German Chamber of Physicians or job centers as well. Naturally, these regulative bodies were not prepared for the large number of migrant doctors applying for a license and were surprised by the abrupt rise in the number of licensure procedures. Journalists have reported that ratifying Syrian diplomas may be difficult because in some cases, fraudulent documents have been provided [3,4]. For the medical profession, in particular, credentials and certificates should be checked thoroughly and carefully. Nevertheless, Germany may learn from other countries such as Canada, Australia, or New Zealand, which have harmonized and simplified assessment procedures for overseas-trained doctors, and implemented specific resources guiding and supporting foreign health professionals in different stages of their application process [5,6].

    Welcoming Syrian doctors in Germany is more important than ever – especially as the current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the dire need for skilled medical staff in hospitals. While German authorities claim to be making an effort to find as many helping hands as possible to cope with the impending shortage of health care professionals, there are no signs that the accreditation process of foreign doctors – Syrian doctors among them – may be accelerated, or handled in a more pragmatic way [7].


    [1] Kingsley P. ‘Better to Drown’: A Greek Refugee Camp’s Epidemic of Misery. New York Times, Oct 2nd, 2018.

    [2] Bundesaerztekammer (German Chamber of Physicians). Aerztestatistik zum 31. Dezember 2018, Bundesgebiet gesamt. Bundesaerztekammer, Berlin, Germany 2019. Downloaded from https://www.bundesaerztekammer.de/ueber-uns/aerztestatistik/aerztestatistik-2018/ on April 15th, 2020.

    [3] Hinz L. Innenministerium warnt – Falsche Zeugnisse und Diplome: Flüchtlinge kommen mit gekauften „Antragspaketen“ [Ministry of the Interior warns – False certificates and diplomas: Refugees come with purchased “application packages“]. FOCUS online, Nov 6th, 2011. Downloaded from https://www.focus.de/politik/deutschland/innenministerium-warnt-falsche-zeugnisse-und-diplome-fluechtlinge-koennen-im-libanon-antragspakete-kaufen_id_5066196.html on April 15th, 2020.

    [4] Eddy MS, Karam. Doctors fleeing Syria for Germany find Refuge, hurdles and delays. In: The New York Times. Sep 8th, 2018.

    [5] McLean R, Bennett J. Nationally consistent assessment of international medical graduates. Med J Aust. 2008 Apr 21;188(8):464-8.

    [6] Covell CL, Neiterman E, Bourgeault IL. Scoping review about the professional integration of internationally educated health professionals. Human Resources for Health. 2016;14(1):38-. doi: 10.1186/s12960-016-0135-6.

    [7] Knight B. Despite coronavirus, foreign doctors struggle to get degrees recognized in Germany. Deutsche Welle March 31 2020. Downloaded from https://www.dw.com/en/despite-coronavirus-foreign-doctors-struggle-to-get-degrees-recognized-in-germany/a-52966674 on April 15th, 2020



    The post They’ve come a long way – to be confronted with an even longer licensure process in Germany: Syrian doctors in Germany appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on April 23, 2020 08:25 AM.

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    Chloroquine witchdoctor Didier Raoult: barking mad and dangerous

    Is the inventor of chloroquine cure for COVID-19, the French microbiologist Didier Raoult, sane? But then again, is anyone these days?

    in For Better Science on April 22, 2020 03:43 PM.

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    Using data analytics to grow your journal and increase its impact

    Adopting a data-driven mindset can make a big difference to your journal and open the door to new voices

    in Elsevier Connect on April 22, 2020 09:12 AM.

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    Household chaos associated with a number of adverse child, parent, and family-level outcomes

    Since the early 2000’s there has been growing interest in the phenomenon of household chaos and how it impacts on the well-being and development of children. Yet despite this interest, no review has been conducted that comprehensively brings the existing literature together. A systematic scoping review we have published in BMC Public Health aims to address this gap.

    What we found

    With remarkable consistency, increased chaos in a child’s home, defined as high levels of background noise (e.g. from TV), constant rushing, and environmental commotion and confusion, negatively impacted on almost every child outcome investigated, from cognitive and academic performance, to stress physiology, and socio-emotional well-being.

    Chaos and parenting

    So how could household chaos have such far-ranging implications for the well-being of children? An important clue lies in the relationship between chaos and parenting behaviors. We found that, yet again with remarkable consistency, greater chaos was associated with increased parent-child conflict, reduced closeness in the parent-child relationship, less supportive parenting practices, and less responsive parenting. And as research has confirmed, the quality of the parent-child relationship is intricately linked to the well-being of the child.

    Slowing down childhood

    Improving child well-being by slowing down the lives of children is not a new concept. Outside academia a number of groups and social movements advocate for the realignment of family time with the ‘pace of childhood’ – a pace that is much slower than the pace of the hurried, modern world children find themselves in. These approaches encourage simplification of a child’s life, through the paring back of unnecessary activities, toys, and digital media, in addition to the promotion of daily rhythms and routines known to support well-being. In short, the focus shifts away from activities that disrupt the flow of family life, and instead focuses on activities that promote parent-child communication and free play (but not computer games!), and support development of warm relationships.

    Research gaps

    Yet despite a push from outside academia to simplify the lives of children, and evidence from longitudinal and cross-sectional studies linking chaos with poor child outcomes, we still don’t know whether reducing household chaos will have a positive impact. We also don’t know how to reduce chaos, as no studies have attempted to do this. And importantly, it still remains to be seen whether we can go too far in the other direction, resulting in a home environment that is overly structured and controlled, to the point that it lacks warmth and the opportunity for supportive and caring parent-child relationships to develop.

    Household chaos in the time of COVID-19

    At the time of undertaking the review, we could not have predicted the situation we currently find ourselves in. Children around the world are spending an unprecedented amount of time at home. While we don’t know whether children living in low-chaos households will fare better, intuitively, we might expect they will. These children will likely have greater opportunities to complete their home-schooling tasks in a less distracting environment. They will also likely have more time dedicated to free, non-screen based play – the kind of play that supports their emotional well-being and development. And perhaps most importantly, there is the chance that they will have greater exposure to supportive and positive parenting practices. As such, lower household chaos in the time of COVID-19 may provide an environment more conducive to the promotion of resilience and child well-being. A unique opportunity has thus presented itself to investigate not only how low levels of chaos protect children from exposure to adversity, but also whether we can effectively reduce household chaos levels to promote better outcomes across the board for our children.

    The post Household chaos associated with a number of adverse child, parent, and family-level outcomes appeared first on BMC Series blog.

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

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    Butterfly effect: Meet the team protecting biodiversity in India

    Student researchers are protecting biodiversity by increasing butterfly pollination in the Western Ghats of India

    in Elsevier Connect on April 21, 2020 02:46 PM.

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    An online summer school for computational neuroscience

    Megan Peters, Konrad Kording and the people behind neuromatch are building an online summer school for computational neuroscience (July 13 – 31st). If you’re reading this blog – chances are you should be a student in this class or a TA. It’s going to be awesome! 3 straight weeks of computational neuro education. Designed for PhD student or postdoc experimentalists in mind, what sets it apart is matching, the same technology behind neuromatch. Become part of small tight-knit group of trainees with similar interests – bond, share, learn. But wait, there’s more:

    • Low TA to student ratio (6-10)
    • Lectures with world-class computational neuroscientists
    • Tutorials in Python, cloud-based in Google Colab: take your theoretical knowledge and apply to your own data
    • Inclusive: 100$ tuition (waivable)

    I loved summer school (CSHL computational neuroscience: vision). I made some life-long friends and have memories to last a lifetime. We want it to be better than a real-life summer school. Better by being more inclusive, matching you with more diverse people, offering multiple levels of support, and being accessible to people at different stages in their career.

    Syllabus is here. Student form is here. TA form is here. YOU HAVE UNTIL APRIL 27 TO SIGN UP, DO IT NOW.

    Teaching at scale

    Most real-life elite education is expensive and exclusive. In online education, it’s possible to scale to huge audiences for a fraction of the cost, and let everybody in – including people of disadvantaged backgrounds. MOOCs can have excellent learning materials – better production values, materials that resist the test of time, scannable lectures. Training educators in the latest methods can be done at scale.

    The biggest disadvantage of MOOCs is high attrition – up to 95% of people that sign up for MOOCs drop out. New models are appearing that have the accessibility of online learning and the critical social component of real-life learning. At Stanford, Chris Piech and Mehran Sahami started Code in Place, an effort to bring CS education to people at home during covid19 times. It’s a massive effort – 8,000 students from all over the world accompanied by 800 section leaders (including me!). Several factors have kept dropout to a minimum (< 20% after 2 weeks):

    • A low TA-to-student ratio
    • matching TAs to students based on learner characteristic (age, location)
    • engaging materials
    • a very high standard for TAs (Top affiliations are Stanford, Google and MIT)
    • a tough preparatory assignment to make sure the students entering class were motivated

    I was very excited when Konrad announced that they were working on a summer school, fresh off my Code in Place experience, so I contacted him and have joined the team to help (in a small way) organize this thing. There are a handful of experiments in teaching computational neuroscience at scale, the most successful in my opinion being the Neuronal Dynamics online book, tutorials, and lectures. Imagine that, plus TAs, your own wolf pack, live Q&A – community. That’s what we’re aiming for.

    in xcorr.net on April 21, 2020 02:15 PM.

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    8 steps to hosting a productive virtual meeting

    Here are some dos and don’ts to help you get the most of your next virtual meeting

    in Elsevier Connect on April 20, 2020 08:23 AM.

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    Losing research ethics and mental health in Daley lab

    A former Harvard postdoc from the lab of George Q Daley tells his story.

    in For Better Science on April 20, 2020 05:43 AM.

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    Civil Disobedience in Science Publishing?

    Fighting the system of scientific authorship, one author list at a time?

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on April 18, 2020 11:00 PM.

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    10 rules to survive in the marvelous but sinuous world of academia

    A professor shares the (unwritten) rules he wants PhD students to know before embarking on their academic careers

    in Elsevier Connect on April 17, 2020 01:11 PM.