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    People Prefer Strangers Who Share Their Political Views To Friends Who Don’t

    By Emily Reynolds

    Friendship tends to be based on some kind of shared experience: growing up with someone, working with them, or having the same interests. Politics is an important factor too, with research suggesting that we can be pretty intolerant of those with different political positions — not an ideal starting point for friendship.

    This can have a significant and tangible impact. One Reuters/Ipsos poll, for example, found 16.4% of people had stopped talking to a family member or friend after Trump was elected, while 17.4% had blocked someone they care about on social media.

    So what happens when you find out a trusted friend has different politics to you? They don’t fare well, according to a new study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships authored by Elena Buliga and Cara MacInnis from the University of Calgary, Canada.

    Participants were recruited from across the political spectrum: 70 identified as Republicans, whilst 142 described themselves as Democrats. As well as reporting their political identity, participants rated their opinions on social and economic policy, on a scale from very liberal (0) to very conservative (10). They also rated how important their political orientation is to their identity and completed a “feeling thermometer”, which measured  how favourably or unfavourably they felt towards members of other political parties.

    After the pre-test measures were complete, participants were presented with four vignettes in a random order. In the first, participants were asked to imagine meeting someone at a party with the same political views as them; another vignette detailed the same experience, only this time the potential friend had different political views.

    In the final two vignettes, participants were instructed to think about a real or hypothetical close friend whose views they were not already aware of and asked to imagine a conversation in which their friend outlined their political beliefs. In the first, participants imagined their friend espousing a shared political belief, while in the second they turned out to be a member of a political out-group instead.

    After reading each of the four vignettes, participants rated how excited, happy, pleased, satisfied, surprised, upset, anxious and worried they would feel in the situation and answered questions on how willing they would be to maintain that friendship (e.g. “would you make an effort to spend time with this person?”). They also rated their trust and satisfaction in, and hope for, the ongoing friendship.

    Finally, participants indicated how much they would expect their feelings to change towards the person in each vignette, as well as rating attitudes towards them from “extremely unfavourable” to “extremely favourable”.

    Overall, people were more positive towards in-group members than out-group members: participants had more trust in and hope for the longevity of relationships with both friends and strangers of the same political leanings as them than they did even for established friends with different politics. Positive emotions were highest when discovering a friend had shared beliefs, followed by the stranger with shared beliefs. Out-group friends and out-group strangers tailed behind.

    Negative affect was also highest for the friend with different political views, followed by the out-group stranger. This makes sense — you’re likely to be much more invested (and therefore much more disappointed) in a friend than someone you don’t know.

    It wasn’t clear, however, who exactly participants were imagining when asked to think of a friend, meaning there may have been significant variation in closeness and therefore in emotional response; some participants may also have been thinking of a hypothetical friend, which could also have had an impact on the results. The measures also only looked at immediate reactions — it’s very possible that after discovering a friend is of a different political persuasion,  participants could calm down or mellow out over a longer period of time.

    It’s probably also important to note that the results aren’t necessarily going to represent every relationship — lots of people have cherished friends with very different politics to their own. How those relationships are successfully managed and navigated may be one focus for future research.

    “How do you like them now?” Expected reactions upon discovering that a friend is a political out-group member

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on August 11, 2020 12:01 PM.

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    A new Galileo biography draws parallels to today’s science denialism

    Cover of Galileo and the Science Deniers

    Galileo and the Science Deniers
    Mario Livio
    Simon & Schuster, $28

    In basketball, legends are often known by first name alone: LeBron, Kobe, Michael. Same with entertainers: Madonna, Cher, Beyoncé.

    But lists of scientific legends almost always include surnames, never just Isaac or Albert or Charles. Among the titans of modern scientific lore, only one is generally referred to exclusively by a first name: Galileo.

    The man had a last name: Galilei. But fewer people know his surname than know he was one of the primary founders of modern science. Galileo merged mathematics with natural philosophy and quantitative experimental methodology to provide a foundation for understanding nature on nature’s terms, rather than Aristotle’s.

    Galileo’s life has been well-documented. Dozens of biographies have been written about him since the first by Vincenzo Viviani, published in 1717 (but composed before Thomas Salusbury’s English language Galileo biography of 1664). As recently as 2010, two major scholarly biographies (by David Wootton and John Heilbron) analyzed Galileo’s life and science in great depth.

    But with the lives of legends, there is always a license to produce yet another interpretation. In Galileo and the Science Deniers, astrophysicist Mario Livio has invoked that license to tell Galileo’s story once more, this time with a particular concern for Galileo’s relevance to science today (and the impediments to its acceptance). “In a world of governmental antiscience attitudes with science deniers at key positions,” Livio writes, “Galileo’s tale serves … as a potent reminder of the importance of freedom of thought.”

    Livio also set out to produce a biography more accessible to a general reader than the typical scholarly tomes. And he succeeded. His commentaries comparing Galileo’s time to today’s are weaved into an engagingly composed and pleasantly readable account.

    In Livio’s view, today’s deniers of climate change science or the validity of evolutionary theory are comparable to the religious opponents of Galileo’s scientific views, particularly his insistence on the motion of the Earth around the sun. Serving that end, the book is not an in-depth biography as much as a summary of Galileo’s life and science, plus a thorough recounting of the events leading up to his famous trial. Livio plays the role of a highly capable legal commentator in analyzing the issues raised during the trial, including discussion of the questionable tactics by the prosecution and Galileo’s not always effective defense.

    Galileo’s trial centered on his book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, in which three characters discuss the pros and cons of the Aristotelian cosmos, with Earth at the center, and the sun-centered solar system advocated by Copernicus. Galileo thought his book had been approved by the proper censors. But his enemies orchestrated heresy charges. Galileo’s book, the prosecution alleged, defied a Catholic Church order in 1616 forbidding him from advocating Copernicanism. Galileo’s argument that his book merely described the opposing views without affirming either side was rejected; he was convicted and sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life.

    Livio’s account of this well-known story is enhanced by insights drawn from more recent scholarship, including the discovery in 1998 of a letter written during the trial suggesting that a plea bargain might have been considered. Of particular interest is Livio’s account of a Galileo biography written by Pio Paschini, commissioned in the 1940s by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, supposedly to explain how the Catholic Church had not really persecuted Galileo, but helped him. Instead, Paschini’s manuscript told the truth, so the church refused to publish it. In the 1960s, after Paschini’s death, the church relented, authorizing publication — but only after revisions that bowdlerized the original version to portray the church in a more favorable light.

    Today, of course, science and religion still encounter tensions. But most recently, opposition to science has emerged as a more general public attitude, driven most prominently by climate science deniers and antivaccine propagandists. At times, Livio’s comparisons of such movements to opposition to Galileo seem a bit of a stretch. But in its essence, his point is on target. In particular, he assails a common misinterpretation of the Galileo lesson: that the minority view should be considered correct. Some climate change deniers, Livio notes, argue that the majority opposed Galileo, even though he turned out to be right; therefore minority views on climate change, though mocked by the majority, will also turn out to be right. But such reasoning is deeply flawed. “Galileo was right not because he had been mocked and criticized but because the scientific evidence was on his side,” Livio rightly declares.

    As Paschini had written in his censored manuscript, Galileo presented a fair account of the scientific evidence for the Aristotelian and Copernican views of the universe. Paschini argued, as Livio notes, that “it wasn’t Galileo’s fault … that Copernicanism appeared much stronger.” Then as now, some scientific cases are stronger than others. Sadly, now as then, the stronger scientific case does not always sway the policy of the authorities — as the U.S. government’s response to the current pandemic illustrates. In the end, Galileo’s case was strong enough to survive. So his story is worth retelling.

    Buy Galileo and the Science Deniers 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 August 11, 2020 12:00 PM.

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    How two coronavirus drugs for cats might help humans fight COVID-19

    In the rush to find drugs against COVID-19, researchers are exploring myriad possibilities, even drugs used to save feline lives.

    Cats can contract an almost always fatal disease that’s caused by a coronavirus that infects only felines. Now preliminary research suggests that two experimental drugs that can cure that disease in cats, called feline infectious peritonitis, might help treat people infected with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus behind the pandemic.

    In lab experiments, one of the drugs, called GC376, disables a key enzyme that some coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, use to replicate. The other, called GS-441524, is an antiviral cousin of remdesivir, the first drug found to speed people’s recovery from SARS-CoV-2 in clinical trials (SN: 4/29/20).

    “Both drugs have been highly effective in curing cats with feline infectious peritonitis, and usually without any other form of treatment,” says Niels Pedersen, a veterinarian who studies the feline coronavirus at the University of California, Davis. Neither drug, however, has yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in cats, much less humans.

    While most animals with feline infectious peritonitis don’t show symptoms, some cats can develop severe illness if the virus mutates to infect a specific type of immune cell. When that happens, the coronavirus spreads throughout the cat’s body, sparking a deadly inflammatory reaction that can cause paralysis or fluid to accumulate in the lungs.

    In that way, the cat coronavirus is similar to SARS-CoV-2. Both severe COVID-19 in people and feline infectious peritonitis cases are driven by a dysfunctional inflammatory immune response, says Julie Levy, a veterinarian at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

    GC376 works by preventing a key enzyme called M protease, which is found in a number of different coronaviruses, from chopping up long strings of viral proteins. RNA viruses like SARS-CoV-2 often make such protein strings that protease enzymes snip into smaller pieces that then help the virus make more of itself in a cell (SN: 3/10/20). Hindering the protease’s ability to cut can halt viral replication.

    In a 2016 study, six of eight cats recovered from an infection with the deadly form of the feline coronavirus after treatment with the drug, Pedersen and colleagues reported in PLOS Pathogens. The two cats that died were among four that had developed severe symptoms, such as jaundice and high fever. But those cats may have suffered from complications of a separate drug they were given to alleviate the disease, the team wrote.

    The study also reported that in a test tube, GC376 can stop other coronaviruses besides the feline one. The drug, for example, inhibits proteases from two other viruses that have caused severe outbreaks in people: the SARS coronavirus that sickened people in 2002 and 2003 and the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, coronavirus (SN: 4/23/03; SN: 2/27/13).

    Researchers including Jun Wang, a chemist who studies antiviral drug development at the University of Arizona in Tucson, have found that GC376 can stop the SARS-CoV-2 protease from working in a test tube. Wang, who reported those results June 15 in Cell Research, says his team is now testing the compound in mice. And in results presented August 4 at the virtual American Crystallographic Association meeting, biochemist Joanne Lemieux and colleagues revealed that GC376 not only inhibits the SARS-CoV-2 enzyme in a test tube, but can also hinder viral replication in lab-grown monkey cells. Those results were also posted May 5 at bioRxiv.org.

    Based on those findings — and the fact that the drug is safe and effective in cats — the company that makes GC376, Anivive Lifesciences, based in Long Beach, Calif., is now working to move forward with clinical trials in people, says Lemieux, of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

    “The fact that this drug has already been developed and shown to be successful in treating feline infectious peritonitis, it really bodes well,” Lemieux says.

    The other cat drug, GS-441524, that has been effective against the feline coronavirus is similar to remdesivir. The compounds have a similar chemical structure, though remdesivir has an additional part that better helps it get into cells.

    Both remdesivir and GS-441524, drugs developed by the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, based in Foster City, Calif., mimic a building block of the genetic molecule RNA, which makes up the coronavirus’s genetic material. As the virus replicates, it incorporates the copycat building block into its RNA, which prevents viral enzymes from adding more building blocks, stopping replication (SN: 7/13/20).

    Pedersen and his colleagues reported that GS-441524 is an effective treatment for feline infectious peritonitis in June 2018 in Veterinary Microbiology. The drug not only inhibited viral replication in lab-grown cells, but also successfully treated 10 out of 10 coronavirus-infected cats that developed severe disease. In a separate February 2019 study in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 25 of 26 cats treated with the drug for at least 12 weeks survived.

    There is also some evidence hinting that GS-441524 could help people with COVID-19, too. A July 21 study in Cell Reports found that the drug can inhibit SARS-CoV-2 replication in lab-grown monkey and human cells. Remdesivir, however, was more potent in human lung cells, while GS-441524 was more potent in the monkey cells.

    Despite such promising results in cats, the drug isn’t legally available for use in those animals. And by focusing instead on remdesivir, which is a complex molecule that is more difficult to make, critics say the company is focusing on a potentially more lucrative drug and so putting its profits ahead of public health. Gilead didn’t respond to questions from Science News about licensing GS-441524. But the company has noted that it was in a position to move quickly with remdesivir because the drug had already cleared human safety trials.

    That drug was tested in people with Ebola during the 2014–2016 outbreak in West Africa and the 2018–2020 outbreak in the Congo. While it wasn’t effective against Ebola, knowing it wouldn’t harm patients allowed Gilead to leapfrog the process and begin testing it against SARS-CoV-2. It’s now in COVID-19 clinical trials, some of which have shown that the drug can speed patient recovery. Gilead applied for FDA approval for remdesivir on August 10.

    GS-441524, on the other hand, has never been injected into people. And while scientists can make assumptions about safety from animal studies, having human data for GS-441524 is, of course, still important, cautions E. Susan Amirian, a molecular epidemiologist at Rice University in Houston.

    Gilead has begun preclinical studies to compare both drugs, according to company spokesperson Chris Ridley.

    While it remains to be seen if either GS-441524 or GC376 will work against SARS-CoV-2 in people, the drugs are an example of how understanding the connections between animal and human health can help tackle new viruses. “Partly because of feline infectious peritonitis research, a lot of veterinarians seemed to realize early in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic that remdesivir could be a promising candidate,” Amirian says. “Parallels between human and veterinary medicine are fascinating.”

    in Science News on August 11, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    Study rating attractiveness of women with endometriosis is not yet retracted

    Despite media reports announcing the retraction of a much-criticized study of whether women with endometriosis were more attractive than other women, the study has yet to be retracted by the journal. Last week, several news outlets, picking up on a story in The Guardian, said the study, first published in 2012 in Fertility and Sterility, … Continue reading Study rating attractiveness of women with endometriosis is not yet retracted

    in Retraction watch on August 10, 2020 08:16 PM.

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    Scientists can’t agree on how clumpy the universe is

    The universe is surprisingly smooth.

    A new measurement reveals that the universe is less clumpy than predicted, physicists report in a series of papers posted July 30 at arXiv.org. The discrepancy could hint at something amiss with scientists’ understanding of the cosmos.

    To pin down the cosmic clumpiness, researchers studied the orientation of 21 million galaxies with the Kilo-Degree Survey at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. As light from those galaxies streams through the universe, its trajectory is bent by massive objects, a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. This lensing causes the elongated shapes of galaxies to appear slightly aligned, rather than oriented randomly.

    When combined with additional data from other sky surveys, that alignment quantifies how much the matter in the universe is clumped together. The researchers found that the universe is about 10 percent more homogenous, or smoother, than predicted based on light released just after the Big Bang, the cosmic microwave background. Previous results had hinted at the discrepancy, but the new measurement strengthens the case that the disagreement is not a fluke (SN: 7/30/19).

    If the measurement is correct, the mismatch could hint at a hole in the standard model of cosmology, the theory that describes how the universe has changed over time. When combined with a similar puzzle over how fast the universe is expanding (SN: 7/15/20), physicists are beginning to suspect that the universe is putting them­­­­­ on notice.

    “It’s a bit of a riddle,” says cosmologist Hendrik Hildebrandt of Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany, a coauthor of the studies. “Is [the universe] just telling us ‘You’re stupid and you didn’t do your measurement right,’ or … ‘Hey, I’m more complicated than you thought’?”

    in Science News on August 10, 2020 02:00 PM.

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    People May Only Notice They’ve Become More Active After More Frequent Vigorous — But Not Moderate — Physical Activity

    By Emily Reynolds

    Starting a new habit isn’t always easy — we probably only have to look at our own history of failed New Year’s Resolutions to know that. One common frustration is that things don’t happen fast enough — we start doing something that’s supposedly good for us but don’t see a significant behaviour change as quickly as we’d hoped.

    That certainly seems to be the case with exercise, at least according to a new study in Frontiers in Psychology. It found that people only feel they’ve become more active when they increase the amount of vigorous activity they do —  if it’s moderate, they don’t feel like they’ve changed at all.

    In the first study, Hermann Szymczak from the University of Konstanz and colleagues collected data from 605 participants taking part in a longitudinal study looking at health behaviour. First, participants were asked to report their physical activity for each of the last 7 days: vigorous physical activity, moderate physical activity and walking. Six months later, participants also reported their perceived change in physical activity since the first time point, choosing one statement they felt best summed up their behaviour: “yes, I became more physically active”, “no, but I tried to become more physically active”, “no and I have not tried” and “no, because I was already physically active before”. At both time points, objective fitness was measured via a bicycle test.

    In a second study, the same data was gathered from 382 participants from two more time points in the longitudinal study.

    The results showed that those who said their behaviour had changed (“changers”) showed an increase in vigorous activity of about 52 and 86 minutes per week in the first and second studies respectively. Changers did not exhibit any changes in moderate activity, however. This suggests that an increase in intense physical activity is much more influential in making people feel that their behaviour has changed. (Changers also showed increased fitness in the bicycle test, at least in the first study).

    There are obvious ramifications to these findings. If people only see vigorous activity as a worthwhile endeavour, it could lead to some pushing themselves too hard — and it could put others off completely, meaning they lose the many benefits of even light exercise. Previous research has also suggested this might be the case, so developing public service messaging that makes clear the health benefits of non-intense exercise might have a serious impact.

    Future research could look at fitness norms — what narratives exist about moderate and intensive exercise, and how are they disseminated? This could go some way towards understanding why people don’t feel a difference with moderate exercise, as well as informing any changes in messaging to boost motivation and encourage even small behaviour changes.

    As the team also notes, perceived behaviour change is a key part of actual behaviour change: if people see positive developments in themselves or their skills, they’re both more likely to believe the changes will last and more able to commit. Thinking about and implementing small changes in behaviour, therefore, may be particularly useful if you’re looking to maintain a habit in the long term. And if you’re feeling bad about a day or week off exercise? Don’t worry — vegging out is just as necessary sometimes.

    An Increase in Vigorous but Not Moderate Physical Activity Makes People Feel They Have Changed Their Behavior

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest




    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on August 10, 2020 01:57 PM.

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    How the healthcare system is failing people with eating disorders

    One death every 52 minutes occurs in the United States as a direct result of an eating disorder, according to a report by the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders, the Academy for Eating Disorders, and Deloitte Access Economics. I have studied eating disorders for over 30 years, and I was shocked by this finding. From 2018-2019, roughly 6,910 females and 3,290 males between the ages of 15 and 64 years lost their lives due to an eating disorder. The personal tragedy for each family member and friend is beyond the scope of even the most comprehensive study of social and economic costs of eating disorders. But the economic cost of these deaths came to $8.8 billion dollars ($8,800,000,000.00), dwarfing the $4.6 billion dollar investment our nation makes to understand and treat eating disorders. If I were an economist, I might try to explain how the difference between investment and costs represents a margin, but I’m not. Instead, I want to focus on how these deaths occur in the margins of our health care system and the steps needed to prevent these fatalities.

    The report includes a case study of Hannah and demonstrates the need for better health care coverage for eating disorders. When Hannah was 13-years old, she developed anorexia, lost a third of her body weight and developed a serious heart problem that required hospitalization. After approximately six months of inpatient treatment, she was discharged and experienced a relapse that required intensive outpatient care. This was not covered by her parents’ insurance. Her mother estimated spending $10,000 in a single month to keep her daughter alive. Hannah is now recovered and advocates for better insurance coverage for eating disorder treatment, particularly for military families, like her own.

    This story does not represent an isolated case. Two weeks after the report was released, the following crossed my Twitter feed: “Friend diagnosed with AN (female in midlife). Kaiser wrongfully denying her authorization to a higher LOC [level of care]. Although she’s suffered for many years, she is not treatment resistant, as Kaiser claims. Resting heart rate is 35.”

    A resting heart rate of 35 beats per minute meets criteria for hospitalization. Low heart rate signifies that the body is shutting down. Denying medical care to an eating disorder patient in medical crisis is wrong. But it happens too often in a health care system that interprets parity for mental health as only applying to brain-based disorders. The myth that people choose to have an eating disorder is as misguided as the idea that someone would choose to have cancer.

    Researchers and advocates have made huge efforts to increase recognition that eating disorders are biologically-based disorders, with genetic make-up contributing as much to their development as it does to the development of schizophrenia or asthma. If this stops a single person from being denied treatment to save their lives, good. But I’m still waiting for any explanation for why the cause of an eating disorder has anything to do with whether or not we should try to save a person’s life. In one study, we found that the leading cause of death in anorexia nervosa was suicide. If treatment prevents a person from taking her life, that saved life is easily worth the investment. It makes no difference whether the prevented death would have been caused by self-poisoning, self-starvation, or self-induced vomiting.

    We need more money in research funding to find better treatments, preventions, and cures for eating disorders. In 2019, the single largest funder of research, the National Institutes of Health, invested roughly $8/person with an eating disorder compared to $60,831/person with tuberculosis. The gap between funding for mental health and almost any other domain of health is well-known. But beyond that gap, eating disorders are marginalized within the field of mental health, receiving $8/person compared to $33/person for depression and $69/person for schizophrenia research in 2019. This funding gap contributes to the gaping difference between 28 FDA-approved medications for depression versus 0 for anorexia. Without greater funding to produce better treatments, we won’t see better outcomes. And the best time intervene is at the first sign of a problem. Catching any disease in its earliest stages produces the best outcomes.

    We need universal screening to promote early identification and intervention before the eating disorder progresses to a critical stage. While eating disorders lurk in the margins of awareness, we won’t see who is affected, we won’t see how they are affected, and we won’t know the full cost we pay for our ignorance. In the absence of universal screening, we will never know the true number of people killed by their eating disorder. No pathologist will ever “see” the eating disorder in a post-mortem exam, no matter how obvious the signs may be. In that same study where we found that suicide was the leading cause of death, we found that an eating disorder was never listed as the cause of death on the death certificate. Instead, we saw causes such as heart and liver failure in a 39-year-old woman who weighed less than half what a woman her age and height should weigh – less than half. In the absence of universal screening, we lose our best opportunity to prevent those deaths.

    We need to recognize eating disorders as serious mental illnesses that pose a threat to the health of our nation.

    We need better health care coverage.

    We need more funding for research.

    We need universal screening.

    Featured Image Credit: by Daan Stevens via Unsplash

    The post How the healthcare system is failing people with eating disorders appeared first on OUPblog.

    in OUPblog - Psychology and Neuroscience on August 10, 2020 12:30 PM.

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    New guidance on brain death could ease debate over when life ends

    When your brain stops working — completely and irreversibly — you’re dead. But drawing the line between life and brain death isn’t always easy. A new report attempts to clarify that distinction, perhaps helping to ease the anguish of family members with a loved one whose brain has died but whose heart still beats.  

    Brain death has been a recognized concept in medicine for decades. But there’s a lot of variation in how people define it, says Gene Sung, a neurocritical care physician at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “Showing that there is some worldwide consensus, understanding and agreement at this time will hopefully help minimize misunderstanding of what brain death is,” Sung says.

    As part of the World Brain Death Project, Sung and his colleagues convened doctors from professional societies around the world to forge a consensus on how to identify brain death. This group, including experts in critical care, neurology and neurosurgery, reviewed the existing research on brain death (which was slim) and used their clinical expertise to write the recommendations, published August 3 in JAMA. In addition to the main guidelines, the final product included 17 supplements that address legal and religious aspects, provide checklists and flowcharts, and even trace the history of relevant medical advances. “Basically, we wrote a book,” Sung says.

    The minimum requirement for determining brain death is “a good, thorough clinical examination,” Sung says. Before the exam even occurs, doctors ought to verify that a person has experienced a neurological injury or condition that could cause brain death. Next, clinicians should look for other explanations, conditions that could mimic brain death but are actually reversible. Cooling the body, a procedure for treating heart attacks, can cause brain function to temporarily disappear, the report points out. So can certain drugs, alcohol and other toxins.

    A brain death assessment ought to include a series of tests for physical responses that require a functional brain: eye movement, pain responses and gag responses, among others. Physicians also ought to see whether a person attempts to breathe independently, a life-sustaining process that relies on the brain stem. If none of these signs are present, a person could be considered brain-dead. Extra tests, such as those that look for blood flow or electrical activity in the brain, may provide useful information, but their interpretation isn’t always straightforward, the authors caution.

    Identifying brain death in adults should include a single neurological exam; children should receive two, the guidelines suggest. “Children can recover from a lot of different things differently from adults,” Sung says. “We want to really make sure they have had a devastating injury.”

    Clarity from medical professionals on brain death is long overdue, says pediatric neurologist Paul Graham Fisher of Stanford University. But that’s only a first step, he says. “The snag is that the nonmedical part of the world has to buy in, too.”

    Complex cultural, religious and even legal forces thwart a simple and universally accepted definition of brain death, Fisher says. “You’re still going to have people, on an individual level or a societal level, who may not buy in,” Fisher says. He points to the case of Jahi McMath, an Oakland, Calif., teenager whose parents refused to accept that she was brain-dead after complications from a 2013 tonsillectomy. She remained on  a ventilator and tube feedings for nearly five years. Her liver failed in 2018, according to a statement from her family’s lawyer.

    Different regions, and even different hospitals, have their own rules about determining brain death. New Jersey, for instance, allows family members to object to a brain death determination based on religious or moral beliefs. A person can be brain-dead in Pennsylvania, Fisher points out, “but as soon as you cross the Delaware River, you can say, ‘I object to it.’”

    Other countries do things differently, too. Some incorporate brain scans into the process of determining whether someone is brain-dead, for instance. As research evolves, the guidelines may change. “We can always learn more,” Sung says. “And if we learn more, we may have to change our recommendations.” But for now, “this is the best that we know.”

    in Science News on August 10, 2020 12:00 PM.

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    Paper earns expression of concern after author blames COVID-19 restrictions for not being able to find raw data

    The pandemic ate our data.  A group of researchers in India whose findings in a 2015 paper evidently looked too good to be true have received an expression of concern because they claim Covid-19 restrictions have made it impossible to recover their raw data. The article, “Possible role of P-glycoprotein in the neuroprotective mechanism of … Continue reading Paper earns expression of concern after author blames COVID-19 restrictions for not being able to find raw data

    in Retraction watch on August 10, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    Species may swim thousands of kilometers to escape ocean heat waves

    When an intense heat wave strikes a patch of ocean, overheated marine animals may have to swim thousands of kilometers to find cooler waters, researchers report August 5 in Nature.

    Such displacement, whether among fish, whales or turtles, can hinder both conservation efforts and fishery operations. “To properly manage those species, we need to understand where they are,” says Michael Jacox, a physical oceanographer with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration based in Monterey, Calif.

    Marine heat waves —  defined as at least five consecutive days of unusually hot water for a given patch of ocean — have become increasingly common over the past century (SN: 4/10/18). Climate change has amped up the intensity of some of the most famous marine heat waves of recent years, such as the Pacific Ocean Blob from 2015 to 2016 and scorching waters in the Tasman Sea in 2017 (SN: 12/14/17; SN: 12/11/18).

    “We know that these marine heat waves are having lots of effects on the ecosystem,” Jacox says. For example, researchers have documented how the sweltering waters can bleach corals and wreak havoc on kelp forests. But the impacts on mobile species such as fish are only beginning to be studied (SN: 1/15/20).

    “We have seen species appearing far north of where we expect them,” Jacox says. For example, in 2015, the Blob drove hammerhead sharks — which normally stay close to the tropics, near Baja California in Mexico — to shift their range at least hundreds of kilometers north, where they were observed off the coast of Southern California.

    To see how far a mobile ocean dweller would need to flee to escape the heat, Jacox and colleagues compared ocean temperatures around the globe. First, they examined surface ocean temperatures from 1982 to 2019 compiled by NOAA from satellites, buoys and shipboard measurements. Then, for the same period, they identified marine heat waves occurring around the world, where water temperatures for a region lingered in the highest 10 percent ever recorded for that place and that time of year. Finally, they calculated how far a swimmer in an area with a heat wave has had to go to reach cooler waters, a distance the team dubs “thermal displacement.”

    In higher-latitude regions, such as the Tasman Sea, relief tended to be much closer, within a few tens of kilometers of the overheated patch, the researchers found. So while ocean heat waves in that region might spell doom for firmly rooted corals and kelp, mobile species might fare better. “We were surprised that the displacements were so small,” Jacox says.

    But in the tropics, where ocean temperatures are more uniform, species may have had to travel thousands of kilometers to escape the heat.  

    Projecting how species might move around in the future due to marine heat waves gets increasingly complicated, the researchers found. That’s because over the next few decades, climate change is anticipated to cause not just an increase in frequency and intensity of marine heat waves, but also warming of all of Earth’s ocean waters (SN: 9/25/19). Furthermore, that rate of warming will vary from place to place. As a result, future thermal displacement could increase in some parts of the ocean relative to today, and decrease in others, writes marine ecologist Mark Payne of the Technical University of Denmark in Copenhagen, in a commentary in the same issue of Nature.

    That complexity highlights the task ahead for researchers trying to anticipate changes across ocean ecosystems as the waters warm, says Lewis Barnett, a Seattle-based NOAA fish biologist, who was not involved in the study. The new work provides important context for data being collected on fish stocks. For example, surveys of the Gulf of Alaska in 2017 noted a large decline in the abundance of valuable Pacific cod, now known to be linked to the Blob heatwave that had ended the year before.

    But there’s a lot more work to be done, Barnett says.

    The study focuses on surface ocean temperatures, but ocean conditions and dynamics are different in the deep ocean, he notes. Some species, too, move more easily between water depths than others. And heat tolerance also varies from species to species. Biologists are racing to understand these differences, and how hot waters can affect the life cycles and distributions of many different animals.

    The effects of marine heat waves might be ephemeral compared with the impacts of long-term climate change. But these extreme events offer a peek into the future, says Malin Pinsky, a marine ecologist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., who was not involved in the study. “We can use these heat waves as lessons for how we’ll need to adapt.”

    in Science News on August 10, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    Better playground design could help kids get more exercise

    The playground at Lake County Intermediate School in Leadville, Colo., was in desperate need of a makeover. The schoolyard didn’t offer much — just a few swings, some rusty climbing equipment, a cracked basketball court and a play area of dirt and gravel.

    In the spring of 2014, the community replaced the run-down equipment, installing a spider web–like climbing net, twisting slides and colorful swings. A new basketball court went in, along with a grassy play area and walking paths. Kids got access to balls, Hula-Hoops and other loose equipment.

    The overhaul did more than improve how the playground looked; it turbocharged the kids’ recess activity. When researchers observed the playground that November, they found that the share of children participating in vigorous physical activity had tripled. And the changes appeared to last — a year after the overhaul, the students were still more active than they’d been before, the researchers reported in 2018 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

    “A lot of things, when they’re new and shiny, lead to increased physical activity, but it’s not always sustained,” says Elena Kuo, a senior evaluation and learning consultant at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle, who coauthored the study. “That’s why it’s a pretty exciting finding.”

    Being physically active has many benefits for kids: It reduces obesity risk and improves overall physical and mental health, fosters social and emotional development and boosts academic performance. The World Health Organization recommends that schoolchildren get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day. Most kids fall far short of that goal. Globally, 81 percent of 11- to 17-year-olds fail to hit that threshold, according to an analysis reported in January in the Lancet.

    Playgrounds offer a chance to encourage kids to be more active in their everyday lives. “You’ve got a captive audience and a lot of kids,” says Kuo, calling outdoor play areas “an opportunity to have a high impact.” Overhauling playgrounds to encourage active play is gaining momentum, she says.

    Scientists across the globe are studying how to maximize the opportunity that playgrounds provide. Research teams are using accelerometers, GPS tags and other wearable technology to probe how kids behave on playgrounds and are conducting randomized controlled trials to assess whether certain playground features, programs and designs can encourage kids to move more.

    Colorado playgroundThe Lake County Intermediate School in Leadville, Colo., transformed its mostly barren schoolyard into a colorful, active playground and saw lasting activity changes among users.Great Outdoors Colorado

    The results so far suggest that there are ways to subtly nudge children into being more active on playgrounds. And scientists say that there’s now enough evidence to begin making some specific recommendations to cities and schools that want to create playgrounds that foster movement. “When they come to us, we are now able to give them some pointers,” says Jasper Schipperijn, a sports scientist at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense.

    While “evidence-based” playgrounds and playground-based programs won’t be a cure-all, they could make a real difference for some kids. “You’ll have children that will be active regardless of how their school or playground looks,” Schipperijn says. “But then there’s another group of kids that needs a bit more help.”

    Sparking play

    By the time Leadville embarked on its playground renovation, scientists had already identified several strategies for boosting playground activity. One of the first interventions to amass considerable research support used nothing more than some cans of colorful paint.

    In the late 1990s, Gareth Stratton, a sports and exercise scientist then at Liverpool John Moores University in England, launched a pilot study at a local primary school. Stratton worked with the young students to develop a set of fun, brightly colored designs — including a castle, pirate ship, dragon, clockface, hopscotch board and maze — to paint on the playground surface.

    The markings seemed to spark active, imaginative play and changed how students used the space, reducing the dominance of soccer and creating new play areas and opportunities for kids who might otherwise just opt out, says Stratton, now at Swansea University in Wales. “There’s no sitting on the sidelines anymore because there aren’t sidelines as such.”

    When Stratton attached heart monitors to 36 of the schoolchildren, he discovered another benefit of the markings. During the month before markings were added, kids spent an average of 27 minutes of their daily recess time — which totaled about an hour a day, divided into three play sessions — engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity, he reported in 2000 in Ergonomics. In the month after the designs were painted, that number jumped to 45 minutes a day. The children’s playtime heart rates also increased by an average of seven beats per minute. (The activity of children at a nearby school without the markings increased more modestly over the study period, from 29 minutes to 36, and there was almost no change in their heart rates.)

    Chutes and ladders designStudies dating back two decades reveal that painting colorful markings on playgrounds, like this chutes and ladders design at a school in Liverpool, England, can boost recess activity.N. Ridgers

    In the years since, Stratton and other researchers have confirmed and expanded upon these findings — and schools have put the lessons into practice. “This is something that’s actually had traction and is actually really useful in a real-world setting,” Stratton says.

    In addition to playground markings, loose play equipment, like the balls and Hula-Hoops added at Leadville, can encourage kids to move more. Two studies published in 2019 in the Journal of School Health used a popular observational tool known as the System for Observing Play and Leisure Activity in Youth, or SOPLAY, to demonstrate the power of these supplies. To use SOPLAY, researchers systematically scan the play area, counting the number of children who are sitting, walking or engaged in higher-intensity pursuits.

    In the first study, the proportion of students engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity at 19 schools in Los Angeles County was roughly 10 to 20 percentage points higher in play areas with loose equipment.  

    The second study, based in two school districts in Colorado, demonstrated that the more play equipment schools provided, the bigger the activity gains.

    “If there’s something fun to do, kids will do it,” Kuo says. “Even something as simple as having a bunch of balls available and having Frisbees around — it’s just more fun than a random open field.”

    Unconventional equipment

    And the options go beyond traditional sports equipment. For Australia’s Sydney Playground Project, which began in 2009, researchers enrolled 12 inner-city primary schools and randomly assigned half to receive a two-part intervention.

    The playgrounds at the intervention schools were stocked with an assortment of recycled “loose parts” — hay bales, tires, crates and foam pool noodles. “We just put them on the playground with no instruction to the children about what you should do with them, and we asked the adults to try to step back from the children and let them do whatever they wanted,” says Anita Bundy, a play researcher who led the Sydney Playground Project at the University of Sydney. (She has since moved to Colorado State University in Fort Collins.)

    To encourage adults to keep their distance, Bundy and colleagues put parents, teachers and school staff through “risk reframing” workshops designed to reinforce the idea that active, independent free play — even seemingly dangerous kinds of play, such as climbing trees or running down hills — has myriad benefits for kids.

    Crates at Sydney playgroundUnconventional play materials, like these crates at a primary school in Sydney, can prompt creative, active play among children.Sydney Playground Project

    The intervention was a hit. Many teachers and parents reported that the workshops gave them a new perspective on potentially perilous play, and the kids embraced the strange playground supplies. The children combined and recombined those materials “in zillions of different ways, and they loved that,” Bundy says. At one school, some kids created an imaginary amusement park with the loose parts. At another, students invented new sports. “They’d have a whole team full of people playing pool noodle hockey,” Bundy says.

    Indeed, an in-depth analysis of one Sydney primary school revealed that the loose parts prompted kids to play more than they had before and to engage in more creative play and a wider variety of activities, the researchers reported in 2018 in the Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning.

    In a separate analysis, Bundy and colleagues tracked students’ activity levels using accelerometers fastened to the kids’ clothes. After the intervention, students at the experimental schools spent 12 percent more recess time participating in moderate to vigorous physical activity than children at the control schools, the researchers reported in 2013 in Preventive Medicine.

    However, the absolute increases were modest. The amount of time that kids at the intervention schools spent engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity increased by just two minutes, on average. It’s possible that the data from the accelerometers — which are better at picking up on when children start running than on the lifting, pushing, pulling, climbing and building that many of the kids were engaged in — underestimated the benefits of the loose materials.

    But the results also highlight the limitations of relying on playgrounds as the singular secret to better child health. Recess tends to be short, and even “successful” interventions often add just a few extra minutes of activity to kids’ days.

    So some experts caution that while creating more active, appealing playgrounds may be a step in the right direction, getting kids to move more requires a multipronged approach. “I wouldn’t put all my eggs in that basket,” says Mark Tremblay, who directs the Healthy Active Living and Obesity research group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Ottawa. Playgrounds, he says, are “one option, and I think there needs to be many, many options.”

    Playground researchers argue that even small increases in activity matter, that a few extra minutes a day add up. “Is it enough? No it’s not, but it’s definitely a good step along the way,” says Schipperijn, in Denmark.

    And studies, which tend to report averages, might miss positive effects. A playground overhaul may prompt some kids to be much more active while having no effect whatsoever on others. “The chances that it will work for all children is very small,” Schipperijn says. “Simply because different children need different things.”

    Though individual kids vary enormously, in general, boys tend to be more active than girls. Schipperijn’s research suggests that at least some of the gender difference results from a social hierarchy in which boys tend to claim the most desirable amenities. Providing more play spaces could boost girls’ participation.

    Varied landscapes

    Different kids are also attracted to different activities, so it’s important to provide not just plenty of play spaces, but also varied ones.

    In a study published in November 2019 in Landscape and Urban Planning, Schipperijn tracked students at three Danish schools before and after major playground renovations. Though each renovation was unique, in all three cases, the paved, mostly featureless schoolyards were converted into rich and varied playscapes. Each had some combination of sports courts, swings, four square and hopscotch markings, climbing structures, balance bars, trampolines, an obstacle trail, a climbing wall, hills, tree stumps and dedicated dancing areas with mirrors, loudspeakers and video screens. After the redesigns, there were more physical activity “hot spots” — for both boys and girls — than before, the researchers found.

    Danish playgroundDifferent children have different desires and needs. This Danish school created a wide variety of play spaces to engage more kids.Leif Tuxen

    More structured play programs could also help pull the most sedentary kids into the action. That’s what researchers have found in studies of Playworks, a nonprofit that sends full-time coaches into low-income American schools to organize group games and activities during recess.

    Researchers studied the effects of the program in various demographic groups in a randomized controlled trial that enrolled 29 schools spread across six American cities. Seventeen of the schools were randomly assigned to receive Playworks, while the other 12 schools served as controls. In the control group, black students spent an average of 14.1 percent of their recess time engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity, while white students spent 19.2 percent of recess being similarly active.

    Playworks appeared to close this gap, prompting black students to spend 20.4 percent of recess in moderate to vigorous physical activity, while the activity levels of white students remained essentially steady, at 19.7 percent, scientists reported in 2016 in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. In a separate study, researchers also discovered that Playworks prompted girls, but not boys, to move substantially more.

    The program may have leveled the proverbial playing field, making it easier for less active kids to participate in schoolyard games. “The Playworks coaches … were equally getting everyone involved and teaching kids games at the same time,” says Martha Bleeker, a senior researcher involved in both studies at the policy research firm Mathematica. “It’s not like one group had ownership over that activity.”

    It’s also possible that any effort to remake playgrounds yields the biggest dividends for the kids who are the least active, and who thus have the most room for improvement.  

    Danish girls on climbing equipmentGirls, who tend to be less active during recess than boys on average, play on climbing equipment in a Danish schoolyard.Leif Tuxen

    To get the most out of playground redesigns and programs, schools may also need to rethink certain practices and policies. In many schools in Australia, for instance, kids aren’t allowed to play at recess if they don’t have a hat to protect them from the blazing sun, says Anne-Maree Parrish, a childhood physical activity researcher at Australia’s University of Wollongong.

    In a randomized controlled trial published in 2016 in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, Parrish found that providing loose play equipment alongside policy changes, including one that allowed hatless kids to play in the shade, boosted the share of break time that students spent in moderate to vigorous physical activity by 9 to 13 percentage points.

    And even the best-designed playgrounds won’t make much difference if kids don’t get time to play on them. Although the share of U.S. school districts that mandate regular recess for elementary school students is up from 46 percent in 2000 to 65 percent in 2016, the average amount of daily recess time has actually ticked down slightly, from 30 minutes in 2000 to 27 in 2014.

    “The biggest challenge at the moment is that time allocated to recess and lunchtime is decreasing in schools,” says Nicola Ridgers, a researcher at the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Deakin University in Australia. “So it’s really [about] trying to protect that time and make sure that kids have the opportunity to play.”

    While playgrounds won’t single-handedly remedy the problem of childhood inactivity, they can be part of the solution — instilling a love of movement and setting the stage for a lifetime of healthy habits. As Parrish notes, “Any opportunity to try and increase their physical activity somewhere is always a bonus.”

    in Science News on August 09, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    How to prepare students for jobs in the 21st century

    A common goal for educators is to identify, and then teach, cognitive skills that are needed for the workplace. In 2017 a group of investigators at the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey, investigated which skills are needed as a result of the rapid changes occurring as the United States shifted from an industrial to an information-based economy. The organization analyzed 142,000 online job advertisements that were posted between February and April of that year. The most highly requested skills were oral communication (28%), written communication (23%), collaboration (22%), and problem solving (19%). The Educational Testing Service decided to label them “21st-century skills.” These skills are a combination of cognitive (nonroutine problem solving, critical thinking, metacognition), interpersonal (social), and intrapersonal (emotional, self-regulation) talents.

    The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2018 took a different approach by asking executives of some of the world’s largest employers to report on the latest employment, skills, and human investment trends across their industries. The survey revealed an accelerating demand for new specialist roles related to understanding and using the latest emerging technologies – AI and machine learning specialists, big data specialists, process automation experts, information security analysts, human-machine interaction designers, and robotics engineers. Skills such as creativity, originality, critical thinking, negotiation, and complex problem solving will, according to the report, become more valuable. The World Economic Forum predicted that there will also be more demand for leadership, emotional intelligence, and social influence skills.

    These cognitive skills should be incorporated within courses taught at high schools, community colleges, and universities. An introduction to technological skills can begin in high school. In 2016, the College Board’s Advanced Placement Program oversaw the largest course launch in the program’s 60-year history with the release of AP Computer Science Principles. The course introduces students to the foundational concepts of the field and challenges them to explore how computing and technology can impact the world. In the 2018-19 school year more than 5,000 schools were offering the course. A second course, AP Computer Science A, focuses on computing skills related to programming in Java. The course teaches the foundational concepts of computer science to encourage broader participation. Its big ideas are creativity, abstraction, data and information, algorithms, programming, the internet, and global impact.

    The College Board announced that nearly 100,000 students took the AP Computer Science Principles Exam in 2019, more than double the participation since the course launched during 2016-17 school year. During that period the number of female students, the number of Black/African American students, and the number of Hispanic/Latino students more than doubled.

    A challenge for community colleges and universities is to design instruction for the increasing number of students who enter higher education without a declared major. A 2019 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education discussed how some institutions are preventing these students from wandering among courses. One solution is to ask incoming students to select an academic focus area or meta-major to help them explore topics that should appeal to them. In the fall of 2019, the entire University System of Georgia asked incoming freshmen to declare an academic focus area if unable to select a major. The University of Houston has a similar program based on the same concept.  These programs have been influenced by studies that find college students have trouble succeeding because they are faced with an overwhelming number of options.

    Community colleges are evaluating a related project. The Association of American Colleges and Universities announced that it had selected 20 colleges to participate in a two-year evaluation project. The goals of the project are to map students’ goals to pathways, help students choose and enter a program pathway, keep students on the path, and ensure that students are learning.

    A guided approach can also be helpful for reducing changes in majors. Within three years of their initial enrollment approximately 30% of undergraduates in associate and bachelor’s degree programs change their major at least once. But Georgia State University reduced changes in a major by 30 percent since it began its meta-majors program seven years ago. Those students who did change majors were more likely to have crossover credits.

    Although clustering courses around a meta-major may be helpful for students with undeclared majors, the courses do not necessarily teach skills that are important for the future workplace. These skills include oral communication, written communication, collaboration, and problem solving. They also include creativity, originality, critical thinking, negotiation, and complex problem solving. These cognitive skills should be incorporated within cluster courses to prepare freshmen for skills that are likely to be in demand when they graduate. The creation of generic courses for all majors should also focus on these skills because they are relevant to all college graduates. Such generic courses have the advantage that they do not require students to select a major or even a cluster area.

    Featured Image credit: Image by Gerd Altmann via Pixabay.

    The post How to prepare students for jobs in the 21st century appeared first on OUPblog.

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

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    BethAnn McLaughlin affair: now also research fraud?

    BethAnn McLaughlin is a liar, a racist, an embezzler, and a dangerous manipulative bully. But surely she is at least a great neuroscientist?

    in For Better Science on August 09, 2020 05:37 AM.

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    CARLsim5 Released!


    CARLsim5 is an efficient, easy-to-use, GPU-accelerated library for simulating large-scale spiking neural network (SNN) models with a high degree of biological detail. It allows execution of networks of Izhikevich spiking neurons with realistic synaptic dynamics using multiple off-the-shelf GPUs and x86 CPUs. The simulator provides a PyNN-like programming interface in C/C++, which allows for details and parameters to be specified at the synapse, neuron, and network level.

    The present release, CARLsim 5, builds on the efficiency and scalability of earlier releases (Nageswaran et al., 2009; Richert et al., 2011, and Beyeler et al., 2015; Chou et al., 2018). The functionality of the simulator has been greatly expanded by the addition of a number of features that enable and simplify the creation, tuning, and simulation of complex networks with spatial structure.

    New Features

    1. PyNN Compatibility

    pyCARL is a interface between the simulator-independent language PyNN and a CARLsim5 based back-end. In other words, you can write the code for a SNN model once, using the PyNN API and the Python programming language, and then run it without modification on the CARLsim5 simulator that PyNN supports.

    Principal APIs supported:

    • Neuron Models: pyCARL currently supports Izhikevich spiking neurons with either current-based or conductance-based synapses. Support for LIF neurons is planned for the future. Different groups of neurons can be created from a one-dimensional array to a three-dimensional grid.
    • Synapse: pyCARL supports the following synapse models
      • Static Synapse - A fixed weight and delay synapse.
      • Spike-timing-dependent plasticity - STDP mechanisms can be constructed using weight-dependence and timing-dependent models.
    • Connector Types: The pyCARL interface currently supports the following connectors:
      • AllToAllConnector - Each neuron in the pre-synaptic population is connected to every neuron in the post-synaptic population.
      • OneToOneConnector - The neuron with index i in the pre-synaptic population is then connected to the neuron with index i in the post-synaptic population.
      • FixedProbabilityConnector - Each possible connection between all pre-synaptic neurons and all post-synaptic neurons is created with probability p.
    • Spike sources: pyCARL currently supports a poisson source (SpikeSourcePoisson) and array-based spike source (SpikeSourceArray).
    • Monitoring: Currently, pyCARL support spike and connection monitoring. CARLsim SpikeMonitors and ConnectionMonitors are internally defined for every group (Population) and connection (projection) in an application.
    • Homeostasis: Homeostatic synaptic scaling has been observed experimentally and may serve to stabilize plasticity mechanisms that can otherwise undergo run-away behaviors. CARLsim implements a version of homeostatic synaptic scaling that helps stabilize STDP.

    pyCARL is a work in progress and newer APIs and features will continue to be supported via the interface. Its sources and installation instructions are now available as a part of CARLsim5’s software release. Please refer to the CARLsim5 documentation https://uci-carl.github.io/CARLsim5/ch14_pyCARL.html for the pyCARL installation instructions.

    2. Neuron monitor

    Neuron monitor now supports observing the voltage and current traces of individual neurons. This provides a useful tool for users to analyze the network dynamics during the simulation. 

    3. Docker images for Windows users and computer cluster users

    It was not convenient for windows users to use CARLsim for the requirement of installing of Microsoft Visual Studio 2015 and the update of Visual Studio. As a result, we release docker images in which CARLsim5 has been installed in an ubuntu system and ready for use immediately.

    4. Saving and Loading

    CARLsim5 now supports saving the network during the run time. The saved network could be loaded again via reading the saved file when setting up the network in a new simulation. All information regarding to the connections including weights, delays, source and target neurons will be saved. For more information, see https://uci-carl.github.io/CARLsim5/ch8_saving_loading.html

    5. Improved ECJ Interface (Coming soon)

    CARLsim5 supports ECJ-23 for evolutionary parameter tuning for now. The new ECJ-28 will released and integrated into CARLsim5 soon.

    in Neural Ensemble News on August 08, 2020 07:29 PM.

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    Weekend reads: Unprofessional behavior in peer reviews; what to do when you’re wrong; an update on the ‘Space Dentist’

    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. We turned 10 years old on Monday. Here’s a brief history, and 10 takeaways from 10 … Continue reading Weekend reads: Unprofessional behavior in peer reviews; what to do when you’re wrong; an update on the ‘Space Dentist’

    in Retraction watch on August 08, 2020 01:56 PM.

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    Predictions for the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season just got worse

    Chalk up one more way 2020 could be an especially stressful year: The Atlantic hurricane season now threatens to be even more severe than preseason forecasts predicted, and may be one of the busiest on record.

    With as many as 25 named storms now expected — twice the average number — 2020 is shaping up to be an “extremely active” season with more frequent, longer and stronger storms, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns. Wind patterns and warmer-than-normal seawater have conspired to prime the Atlantic Ocean for a particularly fitful year — although it is not yet clear whether climate change had a hand in creating such hurricane-friendly conditions. “Once the season ends, we’ll study it within the context of the overall climate record,” Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said during an Aug. 6 news teleconference.

    The 2020 hurricane season is already off to a rapid start, with a record-high nine named storms by early August, including two hurricanes. The average season, which runs June through November, sees two named storms by this time of year.

    “We are now entering the peak months of the Atlantic hurricane season, August through October,” National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini said in the news teleconference. “Given the activity we have seen so far this season, coupled with the ongoing challenges that communities face in light of COVID-19, now is the time to organize your family plan and make necessary preparations.”

    Storms get names once they have sustained wind speeds of at least 63 kilometers per hour. In April, forecasters predicted there would be 18 named storms, with half reaching hurricane status (SN: 4/16/20). Now, NOAA anticipates that 2020 could deliver a total of 19 to 25 named storms. That would put this year in league with 2005, which boasted over two dozen named storms including Hurricane Katrina (SN: 8/23/15).

    Seven to 11 of this year’s named storms could become hurricanes, including three to six major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher, NOAA predicts. By contrast, the average season brings 12 named storms and six hurricanes, including three major ones.

    Given that heightened activity, NOAA projects that 2020 will have an Accumulated Cyclone Energy, or ACE, value between 140 to 230 percent the norm. That value accounts for both the duration and intensity of all a season’s named storms, and seasons that exceed 165 percent the average ACE value qualify as “extremely active.”

    Researchers at Colorado State University released a similar prediction on August 5. They foresee  24 named storms in total, 12 of which could be hurricanes, including five major ones. The probability of at least one major hurricane making landfall in the continental United States before the season is up is 74 percent — compared with the average seasonal likelihood of 52 percent, the Colorado State researchers say.

    It’s hard to know how many storms in total will make landfall. But “when we do have more activity, there is a [trend] of more storms coming towards major landmasses — coming towards the U.S., coming towards Central America, and the Caribbean, and even sometimes up towards Canada,” says meteorologist Matthew Rosencrans of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Md.

    Two main climate patterns are setting the stage for an extremely intense hurricane season, says Jhordanne Jones, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State in Fort Collins. Warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic are poised to fuel stronger storms. What’s more, there are hints that La Niña may develop around the height of Atlantic hurricane season. La Niña, the flip side of El Niño, is a naturally occurring climate cycle that brings cooler waters to the tropical Pacific, changing wind patterns over that ocean (SN: 1/26/15). The effects of that disturbance in air circulation can be felt across the globe, suppressing winds over the Atlantic that might otherwise pull tropical storms apart.

    in Science News on August 07, 2020 07:12 PM.

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    A new experiment hints at how hot water can freeze faster than cold

    In physics, chilling out isn’t as simple as it seems.

    A hot object can cool more quickly than a warm one, a new study finds. When chilled, a warmer system cooled off in less time than it took a cooler system to reach the same low temperature. And in some cases, the speedup was even exponential, physicists report in the Aug. 6 Nature.

    The experiment was inspired by reports of the Mpemba effect, the counterintuitive observation that hot water sometimes freezes faster than cold. But experiments studying this phenomenon have been muddled by the complexities of water and the freezing process, making results difficult to reproduce and leaving scientists disagreeing over what causes the effect, how to define it and if it is even real (SN: 1/6/17).

    To sidestep those complexities, Avinash Kumar and John Bechhoefer, both of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada, used tiny glass beads, 1.5 micrometers in diameter, in lieu of water. And the researchers defined the Mpemba effect based on cooling instead of the more complicated process of freezing.

    The result: “This is the first time that an experiment can be claimed as a clean, perfectly controlled experiment that demonstrates this effect,” says theoretical chemist Zhiyue Lu of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    In the experiment, a bead represented the equivalent of a single molecule of water, and measurements were performed 1,000 times under a given set of conditions to produce a collection of “molecules.” A laser exerted forces on each bead, producing an energy landscape, or potential. Meanwhile, the bead was cooled in a bath of water. The effective “temperature” of the beads from the combined trials could be derived from how they traversed the energy landscape, moving in response to the forces imparted by the laser.

    To study how the system cooled, the researchers tracked the beads’ motions over time. The beads began at either a high or a moderate temperature, and the researchers measured how long it took for the beads to cool to the temperature of the water. Under certain conditions, the beads that started out hotter cooled faster, and sometimes exponentially faster, than the cooler beads. In one case, the hotter beads cooled in about two milliseconds, while the cooler beads took 10 times as long.

    Laser experiment set upIn a new experiment (shown, with researcher Avinash Kumar), a laser exerted forces on tiny glass beads to demonstrate that a hot system of beads could cool down faster than a cold one.Prithviraj Basak

    It might seem sensible to assume that a lower starting temperature would provide an insurmountable head start. In a straightforward race down the thermometer, the hot object would first have to reach the original temperature of the warm object, suggesting that a higher temperature could only add to the cooling time.

    But in certain cases, that simple logic is wrong — specifically, for systems that are not in a state of thermal equilibrium, in which all parts have reached an even temperature. For such a system, “its behavior is no longer characterized just by a temperature,” Bechhoefer says. The material’s behavior is too complicated for a single number to describe it. As the beads cooled, they weren’t in thermal equilibrium, meaning their locations in the potential energy landscape weren’t distributed in a manner that would allow a single temperature to describe them.

    For such systems, rather than a direct path from hot to cold, there can be multiple paths to chilliness allowing for potential shortcuts. For the beads, depending on the shape of the landscape, starting at a higher temperature meant they could more easily rearrange themselves into a configuration that matched a lower temperature. It’s like how a hiker might arrive at a destination more quickly by starting farther away, if that starting point allows the hiker to avoid an arduous climb over a mountain.

    Lu and physicist Oren Raz had previously predicted that such cooling shortcuts were possible. “It’s really nice to see that it actually works,” says Raz, of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. But, he notes, “we don’t know whether this is the effect in water or not.”

    Water is more complex, including the quirks of impurities in the water, evaporation and the possibility of supercooling, in which the water is liquid below the normal freezing temperature (SN: 3/23/10).

    But the simplicity of the study is part of its beauty, says theoretical physicist Marija Vucelja of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “It’s one of these very simple setups, and it already is rich enough to show this effect.” That suggests the Mpemba effect could go beyond glass beads or water. “I would imagine that this effect appears quite generically in nature elsewhere, just we haven’t paid attention to it.”

    in Science News on August 07, 2020 04:59 PM.

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    Cancer researcher hit with 10-year ban on federal US funding for nearly 100 faked images

    A former scientist at Wayne State University in Detroit who lost his PhD from the institution has agreed to a 10-year ban on any federally funded research after being found guilty of misconduct.  The U.S. Office of Research Integrity says Zhiwei Wang fabricated data in nine grants funded by the National Institutes of Health, as … Continue reading Cancer researcher hit with 10-year ban on federal US funding for nearly 100 faked images

    in Retraction watch on August 07, 2020 04:33 PM.

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    Journal that published paper linking 5G to COVID-19 blames “substantial manipulation of the peer review”

    The journal that allowed a bizarre article linking Covid-19 to 5G cell phone waves to “slip through the net” now blames rigged peer review for the fishy paper.  The article, which earned raspberries from the likes of Elisabeth Bik (who called it potentially the “worst” paper of the year) and others, was retracted shortly after … Continue reading Journal that published paper linking 5G to COVID-19 blames “substantial manipulation of the peer review”

    in Retraction watch on August 07, 2020 02:57 PM.

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    Abstract Art And Pigeon Personalities: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

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

    The world is designed for —  and by — extraverts, forcing introverts to try and adapt to society, writes Noa Herz at Psyche. But it’s unfair to place the onus on introverts, Herz argues, writing that simple changes could make work and educational settings more welcoming places for a group that makes up around a third of the population.

    Loneliness can manifest differently according to your age group, reports Amy Barrett at BBC Science Focus. Researchers looking at data from thousands of adults in the Netherlands found that factors like living alone and psychological distress were associated with loneliness across all ages. But there were other factors that seemed more related to loneliness at particular times in people’s lives: for instance, younger people showed the greatest association between contact with friends and loneliness, while older adults showed an association between health and loneliness. The work suggests interventions need to be tailored to age groups.

    What do children think of adults? A new paper explores the beliefs kids have about their caregivers’ own thoughts, behaviours, and failings. The project was unique, in that it was led and designed by the kids themselves. At The Conversation, (adult) co-authors Emma Maynard and Sarah Barton explain the work.

    Viewing abstract art actually makes us think with a more abstract mindset, reports Emma Betuel at Inverse. Researchers had participants view abstract or realistic paintings, then asked them to act as art critics deciding when and where to display the art. Abstract paintings tended to be displayed further away in both time and physical distance, demonstrating the way abstract art evokes “psychological distance”, making us think more conceptually and less in terms of concrete details.

    Children who have experienced violence or trauma show signs of faster aging, reports Nicola Davis at The Guardian. An analysis of dozens of studies found that these experiences tended to be related to earlier puberty in girls, as well as greater cellular aging and thinning of certain brain areas. However, the effects were small and more work is needed to understand the nature of the relationship, researchers say.

    Finally, some pigeon psychology: scientists have found that attaching weights to the smaller birds results in them becoming more aggressive and rising up the social pecking order. The researchers are not entirely sure why, report Ari Shapiro and Stacey Vanek Smith at NPR: the weights may have helped the pigeons feel in “better shape”, or the birds may have ended up hunting food more aggressively, as they needed to consume more calories. Either way, it matters because scientists routinely attach tracking devices to birds which give them extra weight.

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on August 07, 2020 02:35 PM.

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    Raising a teenager with an eating disorder in a pandemic

    Many people have already written about the difficulties we’re having in the midst of COVID-19 – they are numerous and far-reaching, some as insidious as the disease itself. As researchers and clinicians in the field of eating disorders, we are now challenged to consider how we can best help those who are quarantined with a loved one experiencing symptoms of an eating problem. But for the family of a young person with an eating disorder, there are some specific concerns worth addressing.

    First, families need to make sure underweight teens are eating enough. Family meals, in which support is provided by the household, are a mainstay of Family Based Therapy, the treatment approach of choice for many teens in need of weight restoration. In this therapy, parents take charge of meal planning, preparation, and supervision, until they can hand responsibility back to the teen. While this typically represents a big change from normal for teens, during these unusual pandemic times, families are eating more meals together than ever before. This may help make the process just a little easier. Because intake needs tend to be high to achieve renourishment, it is important for parents to have a stock of calorically dense foods in the pantry or fridge. To counteract the rigidity and stereotyped eating behavior characteristic of restrictive-type disorders, it’s critical to frequently include challenging foods. Parents can talk with their children about what is most helpful during mealtimes – maybe it’s cheerleading with encouragement or reminding them how important to their goals in sports or in school eating well and getting better is.

    Families should also minimize the risk of binge eating. Parents may wonder, “if we are in the house so much now, should we get rid of foods that will tempt my teen to overdo it?” The truth is that binge eating is less about the food being eaten during the loss-of-control moment than it is a reflection of someone’s overall eating pattern, or a reaction to stressors (like feeling sad or anxious, or fighting with a friend or sibling) or circumstance (such as eating while watching Netflix or having constant, easy access to the kitchen). For these reasons, it’s more helpful to promote sticking with a pattern of eating regular meals and snacks, with a balance of nutritious, tasty foods. Parents can model non-eating-related coping strategies when feeling stressed, such as taking a walk, listening to upbeat music, or talking about it with someone. Parents can also initiate an activity and encourage a teen to join if it’s clear that he or she is having a hard time. Portioning food from large bags or serving containers in advance, having snack-size items on hand, and encouraging eating to happen at a table (rather than on the sofa) can also help minimize the chance of mindless overeating.

    Additionally, it is important to be aware of body image concerns. The pandemic lifestyle may  lead to people feeling worse about how they look, exacerbating a negative body image. For example, it’s more tempting to dress down when socially distancing, and there may be fewer opportunities to get out and be active depending on the summer heat and humidity.

    Research has shown that the amount of time spent on social media, especially in curating an online persona or posting selfies, is negatively associated with body image, and disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. In addition, some people with eating disorders describe difficulty inhibiting self-scrutiny as they are repeatedly confronted with their image while on Zoom or FaceTime. Parents should talk with their teenagers to determine if they’d like to work treating the experiences on social media or video chat platforms like exposures, leaning into the discomfort, or if they’d prefer to adjust video settings to minimize their image until they are ready to take on an exposure mindset. It’s also important to look for occasions for all family members to dress up to encourage variety in clothing choices. Unconditional body positivity need not be the goal – for most of us, body neutral is the place to aim. 

    Just how much to talk about the eating disorder is a common problem for parents supporting children through recovery. And given the restrictions placed on us currently, parents might be noticing a lot and feel tempted to point out every concern. It is important to flag troublesome, observable behaviors, and to clearly communicate expectations around particular goals – be it completing a meal, varying exercise routines, or trying a new food. However, these conversations are sometimes best had at a calm moment outside of mealtime. And it is equally important to continue to talk to teens about other topics – for example, popular shows, the latest goings on in a friend group, or reactions to current events in the world. Part of moving beyond an eating problem is developing and investing in other aspects of identity; this can be cultivated in conversation that reminds a teen subtly that a parent knows that the teenage is not their eating disorder. He or she is so much more.

    Coping with the COVID pandemic is challenging for all of us on many levels. This is equally or more true for parents of a youngster with an eating disorder. Although the basic strategies for helping do not change, there may be new opportunities to implement them and new situations to grapple with. And it is possible that increased time together as a family may yield some surprising benefits.

    Featured Image Credit: Image by prostooleh via Freepik.

    The post Raising a teenager with an eating disorder in a pandemic appeared first on OUPblog.

    in OUPblog - Psychology and Neuroscience on August 07, 2020 09:30 AM.

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    Seventh BMC Ecology Image Competition: the winning images

    The seventh BMC Ecology Image Competition received a number of stunning collections of photographs from ecologists around the world,  demonstrating their talents in presenting their research, using photography to highlight their work. Anyone affiliated with a research institute was able to enter and we were amazed by both the quality and variety of submissions.

    As always, our BMC Ecology Section Editors lent their expertise to judge the many entrants to the competition, selecting the best images from their area of research as well as the overall winner. Our accompanying editorial gives more information about the winning images, the stories behind them and why they were picked. This also includes a selection of 7 highly commended images; there are some really great photos so please do take a look!

    Here are our winning images:

    Overall winner:

    Attribution: David Costantini

    Our overall winning image was taken by David Costantini from the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. Viruses are a significant ecological concern because they are responsible for a variety of pathological effects in wildlife. This photograph is of a magnificent frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) chick, suffering from a viral infection from which, unfortunately,  it isn’t likely to recover.

    Runner up:

    Attribution: S S Suresh.

    Our runner up, in sharp contrast to our overall winner, is an image showcasing the vibrant colors of a forest green lizard (Calotes calotes). Dr S S Suresh from the Ibri Regional Referral Hospital in Oman captured this stunning photograph after spotting a pair of the iguanian lizards in their breeding plumage.

    Behavioral and Physiological Ecology

    Attribution: Damien Esquerré

    Our winner in this category, taken by Damien Esquerré from the Australian National University, is entitled “Zombie fungus” and with good reason. The unfortunate weevil shown has been infected by Cordyceps, a fungus that infects insects, controls their behavior and then kills them.

    Community, population and macro-ecology

    Attribution: HaoYun Zhuang

    This delightful winning image was captured  by HaoYun Zhuang from Fuzhou University. This is a ghost crab, hiding in a human footprint on a beach in China. These animals are usually pale in color, blending into the sand, and can move very quickly to escape from predators.

    Conservation Ecology and Biodiversity Research

    Attribution: Zu-Chang Xu

    Our winner in this category was an entry by Zu-Chang Xu from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.  It demonstrates a phenomenon called “crown shyness”, whereby the crowns of fully stocked trees do not touch each other, resulting in a canopy with channel-like gaps.

    Landscape Ecology and Ecosystems


    Attribution: Kang Xu

    Kang Xu, who is  from the College of Life Sciences, Zhejiang University  is our winner in this category, submitting a stunning image of a wind farm in China’s Gobi Desert.

    Editors pick

    Attribution: Nayden Chakarov

    My choice as the Editor is entitled “The Kings Bath” and it was captured by Nayden Chakarov from Bielefeld University, Germany. It’s a cheerful photo of a duck having a wash.

    Congratulations to all of our winners! Their images, along with our highly commended entries, have been released under a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY), so everyone is welcome and encouraged to share them freely, as long as you clearly attribute the image author.


    The post Seventh BMC Ecology Image Competition: the winning images appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on August 07, 2020 09:05 AM.

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    Emissions dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic. The climate impact won’t last

    To curb the spread of COVID-19, much of the globe hunkered down. That inactivity helped slow the spread of the virus and, as a side effect, kept some climate-warming gases out of the air.

    New estimates based on people’s movements suggest that global greenhouse gas emissions fell roughly 10 to 30 percent, on average, during April 2020 as people and businesses reduced activity. But those massive drops, even in a scenario in which the pandemic lasts through 2021, won’t have much of a lasting effect on climate change, unless countries incorporate “green” policy measures in their economic recovery packages, researchers report August 7 in Nature Climate Change.

    “The fall in emissions we experienced during COVID-19 is temporary, and therefore it will do nothing to slow down climate change,” says Corinne Le Quéré, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. But how governments respond could be “a turning point if they focus on a green recovery, helping to avoid severe impacts from climate change.” 

    Carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for a long time, making month-to-month changes in CO2 levels difficult to measure as they happen. Instead, the researchers looked at what drives some of those emissions — people’s movements. Using anonymized cell phone mobility data released by Google and Apple, Le Quéré and colleagues tracked changes in energy-consuming activities, like driving or shopping, to estimate changes in 10 greenhouse gases and air pollutants. 

    “Mobility data have big advantages” for estimating short-term changes in emissions, says Jenny Stavrakou, a climate scientist at the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy in Brussels who wasn’t involved in the study. Since those data are continuously updated, they can reveal daily changes in transportation emissions caused by lockdowns, she says. “It’s an innovative approach.”

    Google’s mobility data revealed that 4 billion people reduced their travel by more than 50 percent in April alone. By adding more traditional emissions estimates to fill in gaps (SN: 5/19/20), the researchers analyzed emissions trends across 123 countries from February to June. The researchers found that the peak drop occurred in April, when globally averaged CO2 emissions and nitrogen oxides fell by roughly 30 percent from baseline, mostly due to reduced driving.

    Fewer greenhouse gases should result in some cooling of the atmosphere, but the researchers found that effect will be largely offset by the roughly 20 percent fall in sulfur dioxide emissions in April. These industrial emissions turn into sulfur aerosol particles in the atmosphere that reflect sunlight and thus have a cooling effect. With fewer shading aerosols, more of the sun’s energy can heat the atmosphere, causing warming. On the whole, the stark drop in emissions in April alone will cool the globe a mere 0.01 degrees Celsius over the next five years, the study finds.

    In the long-term, the massive, but temporary, shifts in behavior caused by COVID-19 won’t change our current warming trajectory. But large-scale economic recovery plans offer an opportunity to enact climate-friendly policies, such as invest in low-carbon technologies, that could avert the worst warming (SN: 11/26/19). That could help reach a goal of cutting total global greenhouse gas emissions by 52 percent by 2050, limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels through 2050, the researchers say.

    in Science News on August 07, 2020 09:00 AM.

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    When your research goals clash with your career goals

    Does the reward system in academia steer researchers away from investigating issues important to their community? These ECRs say yes.

    in Elsevier Connect on August 07, 2020 08:47 AM.

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    A retraction and a retraction request as Twitter users call out sexism, fat-shaming, and racism

    Overweight people are more dishonest, women with endometriosis are more attractive, and affirmative action needs to stop: Papers with these three conclusions have come under intense scrutiny on social media in recent days, with at least one retracted.  First up, a study — widely criticized for being sexist — which claimed to find that Women … Continue reading A retraction and a retraction request as Twitter users call out sexism, fat-shaming, and racism

    in Retraction watch on August 06, 2020 11:08 PM.

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    Rogue immune system reactions hint at an early treatment for COVID-19

    In severe cases of COVID-19, a person’s immune system throws everything it has at the coronavirus, but some of the weapons it lobs end up hurting the patient instead of fighting the virus.  

    Now researchers have new clues for getting the immune system back on target, before the disease becomes severe. One of the most comprehensive looks to date at the immune system of COVID-19 patients pinpoints where things go awry. The findings suggest that bolstering the body’s first line of defense against the virus using drugs known as interferons may help prevent severe illness.

    In a study of 113 patients admitted to Yale New Haven Hospital from May 18 to May 27, researchers monitored immune system chemicals and cells in two groups: severely ill COVID-19 patients who needed intensive care and moderately ill patients who were hospitalized but didn’t end up in the ICU. For comparison, the team also looked at healthy health-care workers.

    This study characterized the nuances of the immune response and “characterizes the inflammation at its nittiest, grittiest level,” says Michal Tal, an immunologist at Stanford University who was not involved in the study.

    Moderately ill patients had an initial spurt of immune chemicals that fight viruses and fungi, then those levels gradually went back to normal, Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University, and colleagues found.But in the severely ill patients, levels of those chemicals remained high, the researchers report July 27 in Nature. In addition, allergy-producing antibodies and immune chemicals and cells usually dedicated to expelling parasitic worms got enlisted against the virus. As in other studies, the severely ill patients also had low levels of T cells, immune cells involved in recognizing and killing viruses.

    That catalog of all the different ways the immune system misfires is striking, Tal says. “The immune system is just throwing the whole kitchen sink at this [virus],” she says. That desperation may end up hurting patients with tissue-damaging inflammation.

    One of those weapons is interferon alpha, normally one of the body’s first defenses against viruses. Those chemicals are usually produced in the first couple of days of an infection, then wane as other parts of the immune system take over the fight. But in people with severe disease, levels of interferon either don’t dip as they should, or become part of the kitchen sink of immune chemicals that can end up being harmful, the researchers discovered.

    If a patient comes into the hospital after 10 days of being sick, Iwasaki says, “and their blood levels of interferon alpha are sky high, that’s probably an indication that that person needs more attention and [will] potentially need mechanical ventilators.” People in the study with high levels of interferon alpha had a 4.5 times greater risk of being admitted to the ICU or dying than people with normal levels. 

    Interferon alpha itself may not be making the illness worse, says Eleanor Fish, an immunologist at the University of Toronto. Instead, it may be an issue of timing. In severely ill COVID-19 patients, elevated levels of interferon may be a consequence of extreme inflammation, rather than the cause, she says. These interferons come “too little, too late, but whether it’s exacerbating disease needs to be teased out,” she says. “What we know is that absence of interferon early on in disease is not a good thing.”

    Normally, interferons are produced when cells’ virus alarms are tripped. Interferons flood into the infected area, signal uninfected cells to raise their defenses, and help kill infected cells. “It both removes the viral factory and prevents new infections,” Iwasaki says. With most viruses, “if you generate a robust interferon response within a few minutes of exposure to the virus, you’re likely going to be fine.”

    But, says Iwasaki, “in the case of COVID, this well-orchestrated line of events isn’t happening.” The virus shuts down the interferon response early on. That allows the virus to invade the lungs and do damage without setting off early intruder alarms. Other immune chemicals, called cytokines and chemokines, flood the damaged area attempting to expel invaders and heal the tissue, but can set off a “cytokine storm” that further batters tissues. The high levels of interferon alpha seen in severely ill patients may be produced by cells that don’t normally make those chemicals in a last-ditch effort to combat the virus, Iwasaki says.

    “The earlier you can control the virus, the less damage you’re going to get,” Iwasaki says. And one promising way of potentially controlling the virus early is by giving people interferons.

    Fish and others have already compiled data suggesting that two forms of the drug, interferon alpha and interferon beta, may help fight the coronavirus. In a small study of 77 people with COVID-19, Fish and colleagues found that interferon alpha helped clear viral infections almost seven days sooner on average than people given arbidol hydrochloride, a drug thought to block viral entry to cells.

    What’s more, ramping up interferon didn’t lead to an overzealous immune response, as feared. In fact, people taking interferon had lower levels of an inflammatory protein called IL-6 in their blood than those taking the other drug, the researchers reported May 15 in Frontiers in Immunology. Another study of interferon beta, given in combination with anti-HIV drugs, suggested that interferon speeds recovery from COVID-19 (SN: 5/8/20). And the U.K.-based drug company Synairgen reported July 20 in a news release that inhaled interferon beta reduced the risk of developing severe disease among patients enrolled in a small trial compared with those taking a placebo.

    More trials of interferon alpha, beta and of interferon lambda are in the works. The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced August 5 that it has begun a clinical trial of about 1,000 hospitalized people with COVID-19 that will test interferon beta 1a in combination with the antiviral drug remdesivir (SN: 7/13/20). But Iwasaki’s study hints that it may be too late to give interferons once a person is already sick enough to be hospitalized.

    Giving interferons as soon as possible after detecting a coronavirus infection may prevent severe illness and speed recovery, Fish and other scientists say. Interferons might also be given as a preventative for people at high risk of contracting coronavirus. Some trials of the early use of interferons are also under way or in the planning stage.

    in Science News on August 06, 2020 03:49 PM.

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    How STEM Fields Can Foster A Sense Of Belonging For Minority And First-Gen Students

    By Emily Reynolds

    Fostering a positive identification with science is an important part of many programmes trying to make STEM more diverse. This is vital, as underrepresented groups may be faced with cultural stereotypes about science: that scientists are mainly White men, for example. These kinds of experiences can reinforce inequalities: governmental research from 2019, for example, found that girls were far less likely to see themselves as good at science-related subjects, and enjoyed them less — despite outperforming their male peers at exams. .

    Identifying as a ‘”science person” might also help other groups currently underrepresented in STEM. A new study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests that a strong scientific identity can foster belonging and help first-generation and Black and minority ethnic university students feel more at home in the classroom.

    Susie Chen from the University of Pittsburgh and colleagues first looked at whether science identification was predictive of academic performance. On the night before an exam, 368 students enrolled in an Introductory Biology course were emailed a survey asking how much they agreed with statements including “I am a science person”. The team also looked at participants’ course grade and general academic history.

    Results confirmed that those who identified more as a science person achieved higher grades. But the impact of science identification was greater for minority (Black and minority ethic and first generation) students: the grade difference between students with a low and high science identification was larger in that group than among White, continuing-generation students.

    A second study looked at whether science identification was related to better grades because it fostered students’ sense of belonging. At the start of the term, a teacher asked students in the Introductory Biology course to form groups of three to five people based on some similarity, such as living in the same halls.

    Those in the belonging condition then wrote for ten minutes about difficulties they were experiencing in the transition from school to university, and were given three quotes from other students addressing the same concerns and reminding participants that initial difficulties tend to be temporary and not an obstacle to belonging at university. Teams then discussed similarities and differences between their experiences.

    In the control condition, students took part in regular ice-breaking activities including drawing a mascot and choosing a biology-themed team name. Finally, science identification and belonging were both measured again.

    Again, science identification was more predictive of course outcomes for minority students than majority students. But the belonging manipulation had an effect too. Course outcomes for minority students in the social belonging condition were no longer dependent on science identification. This suggests that science ID does in fact invoke a sense of belonging that helps students perform well in class, and that other ways of fostering that sense of belonging can buffer against the negative effects of having a low science identification.

    Why does the intervention work? The authors suggest it’s because minority students may suffer from a lack of belonging due to stereotypes about what a scientist looks like: they might feel they don’t fit that profile. For example, previous research has found that minority groups are more likely to experience imposter syndrome — and that that can have a negative impact on levels of achievement, engagement, attendance and performance.

    Of course, there are many reasons minority students might not feel like they belong, including institutional racism or other discrimination, so looking more closely at why students don’t feel they fit in or identify with their chosen topic could be helpful in developing more robust solutions. Future research could also look at intersectionality — how different backgrounds or identities work together to influence sense of belonging, science identification or other factors.

    Am I a Science Person? A Strong Science Identity Bolsters Minority Students’ Sense of Belonging and Performance in College

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on August 06, 2020 03:08 PM.

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    Study of China’s ethnic minorities retracted as dozens of papers come under scrutiny for ethical violations

    A legal journal has retracted a 2019 article on the facial genetics of ethnic minorities in China for ethics violations, and the publisher, Springer Nature, is investigating more than two dozen other articles for similar concerns.  The article, “Y Chromosomal STR haplotypes in Chinese Uyghur, Kazakh and Hui ethnic groups and genetic features of DYS448 … Continue reading Study of China’s ethnic minorities retracted as dozens of papers come under scrutiny for ethical violations

    in Retraction watch on August 06, 2020 02:52 PM.

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    Jupiter’s moons could keep each other warm by raising tidal waves

    It takes a certain amount of heat to keep an ocean wet. For Jupiter’s largest moons, a new analysis suggests a surprising source for some of that heat: each other.

    Three of the gas giant’s four largest moons, Ganymede, Callisto and Europa, are thought to harbor oceans of liquid water beneath their icy shells (SN: 5/14/18). The fourth, the volcanic moon Io, may contain an inner magma ocean (SN: 8/6/14).

    One of the primary explanations for how these small worlds stay warm enough to harbor liquid water or magma is gravitational kneading, or tidal forces, from their giant planetary host. Jupiter’s huge mass stretches and squishes the moons as they orbit, which creates friction and generates heat.

    But no studies had seriously considered how much heat the moons could get from gravitationally squishing each other.

    “Because [the moons are] so much smaller than Jupiter, you’d think basically the tides raised by Io on Europa are just so small that they’re not even worth thinking about,” says planetary scientist Hamish Hay of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

    Together with planetary scientists Antony Trinh and Isamu Matsuyama, both of the University of Arizona in Tucson, Hay calculated the size of the tides that Jupiter’s moons would raise on each other’s oceans. The team reported the results July 19 in Geophysical Research Letters.

    The researchers found that the significance of the tides depends on how thick the ocean is. But with the right-sized ocean, neighboring moons could push and pull tidal waves on each other at the right frequency to build resonance. It’s a similar effect to pumping your legs on a swing, or synchronized footfalls making a bridge wobble, Hay says.

    “When you get into one of these resonances, those tidal waves start to get bigger,” he says. Those waves would then rush around the moon’s interior and generate heat through friction, the researchers calculated. If the conditions are right, heat from the gushing tidal waves could exceed heat from Jupiter.

    The effect was biggest between Io and Europa, the team found.

    “Basically everyone neglected these moon-moon effects,” says planetary scientist Cynthia Phillips of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who was not involved in the new work. “I was just astonished … at the amount of heating” that the moons may give each other, she says.

    The extra infusion of energy into Europa’s ocean could be good news for the possibility of alien life. Europa’s subsurface ocean is thought to be one of the best places in the solar system to look for extraterrestrial life (SN: 4/8/20). But anything living needs fuel, and the sun is too far away to be useful, Phillips says.

    “You have to find other sources of energy,” she says. “Any kind of frictional or heating energy is really exciting for life.”

    in Science News on August 06, 2020 01:00 PM.

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    Cancer surgery group in China may lose second paper

    After whistleblowers in China prompted the retraction of a 2018 paper that overstated the number of patients treated in a study, another journal says it’s investigating a second article by the same group. Last month, as we reported, the Journal of Surgical Oncology retracted “Long‐term outcomes of 530 esophageal squamous cell carcinoma patients with minimally … Continue reading Cancer surgery group in China may lose second paper

    in Retraction watch on August 06, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    How understanding nature made the atomic bomb inevitable

    Atomic bombs hastened the end of World War II. But they launched another kind of war, a cold one, that threatened the entire planet with nuclear annihilation. So it’s understandable that on the 75th anniversary of the atomic bomb explosion that devastated Hiroshima (August 6, 1945), reflections tend to emphasize the geopolitical dramas during the decades that followed.

    But it’s also worth reflecting on the scientific story of how the bombs came to be.

    It’s not easy to pinpoint that story’s beginning. Nuclear fission — the source of the bomb’s energy — was discovered in 1938, less than seven years before Hiroshima. But the science behind nuclear energy originated decades earlier. You could say 1905, when Einstein revealed to the world that E = mc2. Or perhaps it’s better to begin with Henri Becquerel’s discovery of radioactivity in 1896. Radioactivity revealed a new sort of energy, of vast quantity, hidden within the most minuscule components of matter — the parts that made up atoms.

    In any case, once science began to comprehend the subatomic world, no force could stop the eventual revelation of the atom’s power.

    But the path from basic science to the bomb was not straightforward. There was no clear clue to how subatomic energy could be tapped for any significant use, military or otherwise. Writing in Science News Bulletin (the original Science News precursor) in 1921, physicist Robert Millikan noted that a gram of radium, in the process of disintegrating into lead, emits 300,000 times as much energy as burning a gram of coal. That wasn’t scary, Millikan said, because there wasn’t even enough radium in the world to make very much popcorn. But, he warned, “it is almost a foregone conclusion that similar stores of energy are also possessed by the atoms which … are not radioactive.”

    In 1923 editor Edwin Slosson of Science News-Letter (the immediate precursor to Science News) also remarked that “all the elements have similar stores of energy if we only know how to release it.” But so far, he acknowledged, “scientists have not been able to unlock the atomic energy except by the employment of greater energy from another source.”

    By then, physicists realized that the atom’s wealth of energy was stored in a nucleus — discovered by Ernest Rutherford in 1911. But accessing nuclear energy for practical use seemed unfeasible — at least to Rutherford, who in 1933 said that anyone planning to exploit nuclear energy was “talking moonshine.” But just the year before, the tool for releasing nuclear power had been discovered by James Chadwick, in the form of the subatomic particle known as the neutron.

    Having no electric charge, the neutron was the ideal bullet to shoot into an atom, able to penetrate the nucleus and destabilize it. Such experiments in Italy by Enrico Fermi in the 1930s did actually induce fission in uranium. But Fermi thought he had created new, heavier chemical elements. He had no idea that the uranium nucleus had split. He concluded that he had produced a new element, number 93, heavier than uranium (element 92).

    Not everyone agreed. Ida Noddack, a German chemist-physicist, argued that the evidence was inconclusive, and Fermi might have produced lighter elements, fragments of the uranium nucleus. But she was defying the prevailing wisdom. As the German chemist Otto Hahn wrote years later, the idea of breaking a uranium nucleus into smaller pieces was “wholly incompatible with the laws of atomic physics. To split heavy atomic nuclei into lighter ones was then considered impossible.”

    Nevertheless Hahn and Lise Meitner, an Austrian physicist, continued bombarding uranium with neutrons, producing what they too believed to be new elements. Soon Meitner had to flee Germany for Sweden to avoid Nazi persecution of Jews. Hahn continued the work with chemist Fritz Strassmann; in December 1938 they found that an element they thought was radium could not be chemically distinguished from barium — apparently because it was barium. Hahn and Strassmann couldn’t explain how that could be.

    Hahn wrote of this result to Meitner, who discussed it with her nephew Otto Frisch, a physicist studying at Niels Bohr’s institute in Copenhagen. Meitner and Frisch figured out what happened — the neutron had induced the uranium nucleus to split. Barium was one of the leftover chunks. Frisch told Bohr, about to board a ship to America, who realized instantly that fission confirmed his belief that an atomic nucleus behaved analogously to a drop of liquid. Upon arrival in the United States, Bohr began collaborating with John Archibald Wheeler at Princeton to explain the fission process. They quickly found that fission occurred much more readily in uranium-235, the rare form, than in the more common uranium-238. And their analysis revealed that an as yet undiscovered element, number 94, would also be especially efficient at fissioning. Their paper appeared on September 1, 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland to begin World War II.

    Bohr and WheelerNiels Bohr (left) and John Archibald Wheeler (right) collaborated to explain fission, the source of the atomic bomb’s energy.From left: Photograph by Paul Ehrenfest Jr., courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Weisskopf Collection; AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

    Between Bohr’s arrival in Amer­ica in January 1939 and the publication of his paper with Wheeler, news of fission’s reality spread, stunning physicists and chemists around the world. At the end of January, for instance, word of fission reached Berkeley, where the leading physicist was J. Robert Oppenheimer, who eventually became the scientist that led the Manhattan Project to build the bomb.

    Among the attendees at the Berkeley seminar introducing fission was Glenn Seaborg, a young chemistry in­structor (who in 1941 discovered the unknown element 94 predicted by Bohr and Wheeler, naming it plutonium). Seaborg recalled that at first Oppenheimer didn’t believe fission happened. But, “after a few minutes he decided it was possible,” Seaborg said in a 1997 interview. “It just caught every­body by surprise.”

    After the initial surprise, physicists quickly established that fission was the key to unlocking the atom’s energy storehouse. “Lots of people verified that indeed when ura­nium is bombarded by neutrons, slow neutrons in particular, a process occurs which releases tremen­dous amounts of energy,” physicist Hans Bethe said in a 1997 interview. Soon the implications for warfare occupied everybody’s attention.

    “The threat of war was getting closer and closer,” Wheeler said in an interview in 1985. “It was impossible not to think about what this business (fission) could mean in the event of war.” In early 1939, physicists meeting to discuss fission concurred that a fission bomb was thinkable. “Everybody agreed that it was perfectly pos­sible to make a nuclear explosive,” Bethe remembered.

    Concerns that Germany might develop a nuclear bomb prompted Albert Einstein’s famous letter to President Franklin Roosevelt, sent in August 1939, that eventually led to the Manhattan Project. It became clear that building a fission bomb would require generating a “chain reaction” — the fission process itself would need to release neutrons capable of inducing further fission. In December 1942, Fermi led the team at the University of Chicago that demonstrated a sustained chain reaction, after which work on the bomb proceeded in Los Alamos, N.M., under Oppenheimer’s direction.

    At first some physicists thought a bomb could not be developed rapidly enough to be relevant to the war. Bethe, for instance, preferred to work on radar.

    “I had considered the whole enterprise a boon­doggle,” he said. “I thought this had nothing to do with the war.” But by April 1943 Oppenheimer succeeded in recruiting Bethe to Los Alamos. By that time the science was in place, and the path to designing and building a bomb was straightforward. “All we had to do was to find out that there were no unforeseen difficulties,” Bethe said.

    Ultimately the prototype was exploded at Alamogordo in July 1945, about three weeks before the bomb’s use against Japan.

    Trinity test siteThe prototype atomic bomb was exploded at the Trinity test site, in Alamogordo, N.M., in July 1945.United States Department of Energy

    It was a weapon more horrifying than anything humankind had ever encountered or imagined. And science was responsible. But only because science succeeded in understanding nature more deeply than before. Nobody knew at first where that understanding would lead.

    There was absolutely no way to foresee that the discovery of radioactivity, or the atomic nucleus, or even the neutron would eventually enable the construction of a weapon of mass destruction. Yet once it was known that a bomb was possible, it was inevitable.

    After Germany’s surrender in World War II, the Allies detained several top German scientists, including Werner Heisenberg, leader of the Nazi bomb project, and eavesdropped on their conversations. It was clear that the Germans failed to build a bomb because they did not think it was practically possible. But after hearing of the bombing of Hiroshima, Heisenberg was quickly able to figure out how the bomb had, in fact, been feasible. Once scientists know for sure something is possible, it’s a lot easier to do it.

    In the case of the atomic bomb, basic research seeking nature’s secrets initiated a chain reaction of new knowledge, impossible to control. So the mushroom cloud that resulted symbolizes one of science’s most disturbing successes.

    in Science News on August 06, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    Factors associated with perceived loneliness across the adult life span

    Loneliness across life phases

    During adulthood, roughly from 18 to 65 years, we pass through several life phases, with every life phase having specific behaviors and goals that are normative for that phase. Being in your twenties or early thirties, for instance, means that you might have to have an active, blossoming social life and be preparing for your dream job. Moreover, during your mid-thirties and your forties, you might be trying hard to balance your career, the upbringing of your children and the care for aging parents. After reaching the age of 50, the importance of and focus on your career might decrease, while the time with your loved ones will become more important.

    In general, if a person cannot meet his or her age-normative behaviors and goals, they may perceive loneliness.

    In general, if a person cannot meet his or her age-normative behaviors and goals, they may perceive loneliness. One could expect that if the behaviors and goals differ per life phase, the factors associated with loneliness might follow the same pattern.

    To explore whether the factors associated with loneliness change as people age, we used data from a large regional health survey, the Adult Health Monitor. Participants of this survey were asked about their subjective feelings of loneliness, demographic factors, social and health-related factors. Differences between three groups, young adults (19-34), early middle-aged adults (35-49) and late middle-aged adults (50-65), were analyzed.

    The study

    In line with what we expected, we found that some of the factors associated with loneliness differ for the various life phases. Firstly, for young adults a stronger association between frequency of contact with friends and lower levels of loneliness was observed, compared to early and late middle-aged adults. This is exactly what was expected as, in your twenties, friends are some of the most important people in your life. Secondly, having a job was associated with lower levels of loneliness only for early middle-aged adults, which links to the career ambitions people might have at this age. For late middle-aged adults, those who were married experienced lower levels of loneliness. Again, we expected to find this, considering that emotional closeness increases with age.

    Some factors associated with loneliness were not influenced by age, such as social exclusion and perceiving psychological distress.

    In addition, our study has demonstrated that some factors associated with loneliness were not influenced by age, such as social exclusion and perceiving psychological distress. Remarkably, most of these factors are indicators for psychological health. This seems to demonstrate that psychological problems are associated with loneliness, no matter what age you are.

    Particularly during the current COVID-19 pandemic, psychological health may be threatened. And on top of that, COVID-19 impacts adults differently according to the important factors of their life phase as well. For example, young adults are not able to interact with their friends or classmates face to face anymore. Early middle-aged adults have to work from home, while supervising their children and worrying about their aging parents, whereas for late middle-aged adults visiting their loved ones has become impossible.

    So, whatever age you are, the risk of loneliness is always there, lurking in the background. And maybe now more than ever.

    The best way to deal with loneliness

    There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to prevent or combat loneliness

    If the factors associated with loneliness change when people age, then what are the implications for combatting loneliness? Currently, most interventions have limited effects and are largely universal and focused on all adults, without making distinctions between young adults and late middle-aged adults. The results of our study suggest that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to prevent or combat loneliness, but that approaches tailored to age and life phase might be advisable.

    The post Factors associated with perceived loneliness across the adult life span appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on August 06, 2020 06:43 AM.

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    How tuatara live so long and can withstand cool weather

    A tuatara may look like your average lizard, but it’s not. The reptiles are the last survivors of an ancient group of reptiles that flourished when dinosaurs roamed the world. Native to New Zealand, tuatara possess a range of remarkable abilities, including a century-long life span, relative imperviousness to many infectious diseases and peak physical activity at shockingly low temperatures for a reptile. Now, scientists are figuring out how, thanks to the first-ever deciphering, or sequencing, of the tuatara’s genetic instruction book.

    The research reveals insights into not only the creature’s evolutionary relationship with other living reptiles but also into tuatara longevity and their ability to withstand cool weather, researchers report August 5 in Nature

    Technically, the tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) are rhynchocephalians, an order of reptiles that were once widespread during the Mesozoic Era, 66 million to 252 million years ago. But their diversity waned over millions of years, leaving the tuatara as the last of their line (SN: 10/13/03). The reptiles have long been of scientific interest because of their unclear evolutionary relationship with other reptiles, as they share traits with lizards and turtles as well as birds. 

    Tuatara were once found throughout New Zealand, but now survive in the wild mainly on offshore islands and are considered a vulnerable species. The reptiles have suffered from habitat loss and invasive species such as rats, and are especially imperiled by a warming climate (SN: 7/3/08). 

    This peril — combined with the tuatara’s cherished status as a taonga, or special treasure, to the Indigenous Maori people — led researchers to prioritize compiling the reptile’s genome, or genetic instruction book.

    In 2012, Neil Gemmell, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, and an international team of researchers began to assemble the tuatara genome, in close partnership with the Indigenous Ngātiwai people. The Ngātiwai are considered kaitiaki, or guardians, of the tuatara and were intimately involved in decisions regarding the use of genetic data from the project. 

    The tuatara’s genome is huge, about 5 gigabases, or some 5 billion DNA base pairs in length, the researchers found. That’s about two-thirds bigger than humans’ and is “unusually large” for a reptile, says Giulia Pasquesi, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Colorado Boulder who was not involved with the research. Lizard and snake genomes are usually around 2 gigabases, she says. Bird genomes may be half that size.

    Based on the genetic analyses, the researchers confirmed that the tuatara is more closely related to snakes and lizards than to crocodilians, birds or turtles. The researchers estimate that the tuatara and their ancestors diverged from snakes and lizards about 250 million years ago, meaning the group predates even the oldest dinosaurs.

    The team identified genes possibly involved in the tuatara’s biological quirks including their long lives, which are the longest of any other reptiles besides tortoises. Tuatara have many genes involved in producing selenoproteins, which help protect against aging and cellular deterioration, and have more of these genes than humans do. Such insights may eventually have useful applications for human biology, says coauthor Matthieu Muffato, a comparative genomicist at the European Bioinformatics Institute in Hinxton, England.

    Tuatara also appear to have an unusually high number of TRP genes, which are involved in making proteins tied to temperature sensitivity and regulation of body temperature. Those genes may be behind the reptiles’ tolerance of cool temperatures, the researchers say. Tuatara have the lowest known optimal body temperature of any reptile, from 16° to 21° Celsius.

    Although the new research goes a long way to dispelling some of the mystery surrounding the tuatara, there is much to learn about these scaly enigmas. “Publishing the tuatara genome is like uncovering an ancient book,” Muffato says. “We have started analyzing it, and started decoding some of the genetic information, but we are still a long way off from understanding the complete genome.”

    in Science News on August 05, 2020 03:00 PM.

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    ‘Exotic’ lightning crackles across Jupiter’s cloud tops

    Small, frequent lightning storms zip across Jupiter’s cloud tops. NASA’s Juno spacecraft spotted the flashes for the first time, scientists report August 5 in Nature.

    “It’s a very exotic thing that doesn’t exist on Earth,” says physicist Heidi Becker of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

    Previous spacecraft have revealed high-energy “superbolts” on Jupiter. That lightning originates 50 to 65 kilometers below Jupiter’s cloud tops, where liquid water droplets form. Scientists think superbolts form like lightning on Earth does: Colliding ice crystals and water droplets charge each other up, then stretch the charge between them when they separate (SN: 6/25/20).

    Juno, which arrived at Jupiter in 2016, got much closer to the giant planet’s cloud tops than previous missions. Becker and her team turned the spacecraft’s navigation camera — which normally observes stars to track Juno’s position — on Jupiter’s nightside in February 2018. To the team’s surprise, the clouds crackled with electricity.

    Lightning on JupiterNewly observed lightning showed up as bright dots (indicated with arrows) on Jupiter’s nightside, seen in this composite image from one of Juno’s cameras. The insets are pixelated representations of the events’ brightness (yellow is more bright; blue is less bright).H.N. Becker et al/Nature 2020

    Superbolts are up to 100,000 times as strong as these small flashes. But the cloud-top lightning is 10 times as frequent. Strangely, the smaller bolts appeared to come from just 18 kilometers below the cloud tops, where it’s too cold for liquid water to exist alone.

    Shallow lightning must have a different origin than the deeper lightning, Becker says. Perhaps ammonia in the upper cloud decks acts as antifreeze, creating droplets of ammonia and water combined. Juno has also seen evidence that violent storms in deeper cloud layers sometimes toss ice crystals high above where they’re normally found. When those crystals collide with the ammonia-water droplets, they may charge up and create lightning, Becker and her colleagues reason.

    Similar small lightning storms may happen on other planets, including exoplanets, Becker says (SN: 5/13/16). “Every time you have a new realization, it feeds into new theories that will be developed not only for our solar system but for other solar systems.”

    in Science News on August 05, 2020 03:00 PM.

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    Finally, One Area Where We Don’t Think We’re Better Than Others: Remembering Names

    By Matthew Warren

    We tend to see ourselves as better than our peers across a whole range of traits and skills. We think we’re more environmentally friendlymorally superior, and more observant than those around us. The bias can even spill over to our perceptions of our loved ones: we overestimate the intelligence of our romantic partners, for instance.

    But according to a new study in Psychology and Aging there’s one domain where we don’t see ourselves as “better than average”: remembering other people’s names.

    Past work has shown that the better-than-average effect is less likely to occur for tasks that are particularly challenging. Given that older adults experience more memory difficulties, perhaps they would be less likely to believe that their memory abilities are better-than-average than younger people, reasoned the researchers, led by Mary Hargis at Texas Christian University

    To see whether this was the case, the team asked 84 participants aged 20-25 and 69 participants aged 60-84 to rate their own abilities and traits compared to others of the same age. Participants were asked about their ability to remember names, scientific terms, historical figures, and locations, as well as their perceptions of their own honesty, leadership ability, ability to get along with others, and capacity for hard work. For each of these skills and traits, participants rated themselves on a scale from 1 (much worse than others of the same age) to 9 (much better than others of the same age); a score of 5 indicated they thought they were average for their age.

    Participants also rated how they believed someone would feel if they were to forget that person’s name — and how they would feel if someone else forgot their name.

    The team found that the older adults rated themselves as significantly above average on all of the memory skills and traits — except for their ability to remember names. Younger participants also tended to rate themselves as above average, except for name memory, and memory for history and locations.

    The fact that both younger and older adults failed to show a better-than-average effect suggests that the pattern of results can’t simply be attributed to memory difficulties that come with age.  Instead, we may come to believe that our name memory is no better than that of our peers because errors involving forgetting people’s names are particularly salient and embarrassing: most of us can probably recall an awkward exchange where we forgot someone’s name.

    Highlighting just how excruciating that experience can be, participants generally indicated that forgetting someone else’s name would be a more negative experience than someone forgetting their name.  In fact, for older adults at least, those who showed greater embarrassment at forgetting someone else’s name, compared to having their own name forgotten, tended to rate their name memory as worse.

    It’s not clear why younger adults also failed to show a better-than-average effect for history and location memory, though the authors speculate that a similar process could be at work: perhaps failures of these kinds of memory are more prominent for younger people (if they did poorly in a history exam, for instance).

    Of course, the usual caveats apply here: the sample size was pretty small and in this case limited to just younger and older adults, so the study can’t say much about how other age groups might view their memory abilities. Plus, statistically speaking, failing to find a significant effect is not quite the same as proving that there is no effect. So it will be interesting to see whether these effects (or lack thereof) are replicated in further work.

    Still, the study raises the intriguing possibility that we may have a more realistic view of our skills when our failures have negative social consequences. “Perhaps if we perceive our memory errors to occur while others are paying attention … we create a more accurate representation of our memory’s fallibility and are less likely to be overconfident in our abilities,” the authors conclude.

    Remembering proper names as a potential exception to the better-than-average effect in younger and older adults.

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on August 05, 2020 02:52 PM.

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    Harnessing the “science of where” to unlock the value of geoscience data

    Elsevier is using Geofacets to integrate BHP data with Elsevier data, enabling a global natural resources leader to rapidly respond to new opportunities

    in Elsevier Connect on August 05, 2020 02:49 PM.

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    Journal editor breaks protocol to thank an anonymous whistleblower

    As Retraction Watch readers may recall, we’ve been highlighting — and championing — the work of anonymous whistleblowers throughout the 10-year history of the blog. Our support for such anonymity, however, is not universally shared.  In 2011, for example, in our column at Lab Times (unfortunately no longer online), we wrote: [W]e’re baffled as to … Continue reading Journal editor breaks protocol to thank an anonymous whistleblower

    in Retraction watch on August 05, 2020 02:26 PM.

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    Leveraging Machine Learning to Fuel New Discoveries with the arXiv Dataset

    For nearly 30 years, arXiv has served the public and research communities by providing open access to scholarly articles, from the vast branches of physics to the many subdisciplines of computer science to everything in between, including math, statistics, electrical engineering, quantitative biology, and economics.

    The sheer number of arXiv research papers is both beneficial and challenging. Whether it’s a graduate student ramping up in her respective field, an established professor delving into adjacent ones, or researchers searching for big picture insights for the public good, this rich corpus of information offers significant, but sometimes overwhelming, depth.

    To help make the arXiv more accessible, we present a free, open pipeline on Kaggle to the machine-readable arXiv dataset: a repository of 1.7 million articles, with relevant features such as article titles, authors, categories, abstracts, full text PDFs, and more.

    “Having the entire arXiv corpus on Kaggle grows the potential of arXiv articles immensely,” said Eleonora Presani, arXiv Executive Director. “By offering the dataset on Kaggle we go beyond what humans can learn by reading all these articles and we make the data and information behind arXiv available to the public in a machine-readable format.”

    Kaggle is a destination for data scientists and machine learning engineers seeking interesting datasets, public notebooks, and competitions. Researchers can utilize Kaggle’s extensive data exploration tools and easily share their relevant scripts and output with others.

    “arXiv is more than a repository of articles, it’s a platform for knowledge sharing,” said Presani. “This requires constant innovation on how we present and interpret the knowledge we make available. Kaggle users can help push the limits of this innovation and it can be a new outlet for our community to collaborate.”

    “With large data sets, there is generally an expectation that there are likely to be overlooked discoveries, connections, innovative tools or perspectives, which may lead to additional insights, not just in the original subject, but across other fields of study, enabling yet more discovery and innovation,” said Steinn Sigurdsson, arXiv Scientific Director.

    Call to Action

    Our hope is to empower new use cases that can lead to the exploration of richer machine learning techniques that combine multi-modal features towards applications like trend analysis, paper recommender engines, category prediction, co-citation networks, knowledge graph construction, and semantic search interfaces.

    An example of such a semantic search application built on top of a specific corpus would be Google’s COVID-19 Research Explorer, a tool that helps researchers pore through the CORD-19 dataset – a repository of 190,000+ science articles on COVID-19. Interfaces built on datasets such as this leverage advanced NLU techniques to understand a user’s intent behind a query. Ultimately, this can enable more efficient research by surfacing relevant data and evidence to complex, scientific questions. We hope the release of the machine-readable arXiv dataset will inspire the creation of similar NLU tools over this new corpus.

    Alex Alemi, Senior Research Scientist at Google, has also pursued more exciting applications of ML using the arXiv. As described in the paper, On the Use of arXiv as a Dataset , Alex and his colleagues sought to propel the arXiv as a benchmark for large scale, multi-relational tasks, such as with graph neural networks.  “I’m excited to see the research community rise to the challenge of a rich, multifaceted dataset with so much real-world practicality, and the new questions this will raise,” says Alex.


    The dataset is now available on Kaggle and will be updated weekly. Please send us your feedback and stay tuned for additional updates!



    Special thanks to Paul Ginsparg, the noted physicist and visionary behind the arXiv, and Jack Hidary of X, The Moonshot Factory, who helped work to bring this collaboration to fruition.

    This dataset would not be possible without the helpful input of many people. Much appreciation to (in alphabetical order of last name): Alex Alemi, Timo Bozsolik, Alison Fromme, Peijen Lin, Brian Maltzan, Eleonora Presani, Steinn Sigurdsson and Joe Tricot.


    This post also appears here.

    in arXiv.org blog on August 05, 2020 01:30 PM.

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    50 years ago, Mauna Kea opened for astronomy. Controversy continues

    Science News August 1, 1970 cover

    Mauna Kea opened, Science News, August 1, 1970 —

    The new Mauna Kea Observatory of the University of Hawaii has been completed and dedication ceremonies have been held. Standing at an altitude of 13,780 feet on the island of Hawaii, the new observatory is the highest in the world. Its major instrument is an 88-inch reflecting telescope that cost $3 million to build.


    More than a dozen large telescopes now dot Mauna Kea, operated by a variety of organizations. Those telescopes have revolutionized astronomy, helping to reveal the accelerating expansion of the universe and evidence for the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. But the telescopes have long sparked controversy, as the dormant volcano is sacred to Native Hawaiians. Since 2014, protests have flared in response to the attempted construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Opponents have kept progress stalled by blocking the only access road to the site. Some scientists have spoken out against the telescope’s location. The Thirty Meter Telescope collaboration is considering the Canary Islands as a backup site.

    in Science News on August 05, 2020 12:19 PM.

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    A bitter aftertaste: Legal threats, alleged poisoning muddy the waters for a trial of a tea to treat malaria

    Xavier Argemi first heard the claim that tea made from artemisia herbs could be useful in the treatment of malaria from a TV documentary in 2017. The documentary, featuring Lucile Cornet-Vernet, the director of the La Maison de l’Artemisia, a non-profit organization that grows artemisia and promotes its use in centers across Africa, focused on … Continue reading A bitter aftertaste: Legal threats, alleged poisoning muddy the waters for a trial of a tea to treat malaria

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

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    Nine titles on the frontiers of psychology research [reading list]

    What is the responsibility of psychologists to their clients and their communities during times of crisis? Annually, the American Psychological Association meets to present the research and best practices to meet the needs of the profession and the broader world.  These nine new titles present the latest, most advanced research to create a bridge between the academy and practitioners as we work to address racism and hate, face the psychological toll of COVID-19, and strive for sustainable leadership.

    1. The Tough Standard: The Hard Truths About Masculinity and Violence by Ronald F. Levant and Shana Pryor Written by past president of American Psychological Association, this book synthesizes over four decades of research in the psychology of men and the role of masculine norms in the present moment in American including the Me Too movement, March for Our Lives, and Black Lives Matter.
    2. The Legacy of Racism for Children: Psychology, Law, and Public Policy edited by Margaret C. Stevenson, Bette L. Bottoms, and Kelly C. Burke This volume is the first book to examine issues that arise when minority children’s lives are influenced by laws and policies that are rooted in historical racism. It addresses intersections of race/ethnicity within the context of child maltreatment, custody and interracial adoption, familial incarceration, school punishment and the school-to-prison pipeline, juvenile justice, police/youth interactions, jurors’ perceptions of child and adolescent victims and defendants, and immigration law and policy.
    3. The Science of Diversity by Mona Sue Weissmark  This book uses a multidisciplinary approach to excavate the
      theories, principles, and paradigms that illuminate our understanding of the issues surrounding human diversity, social equality, and justice. Showing why diversity programs fail, the book provides tools to understand how biases develop and influence our relationships and interactions with others.
    4. Don’t Wait and See!: A Neuropsychologist’s Guide to Helping Children Who are Developing Differently by Emily Papazoglou  Written by an expert in child development, this first of its kind book will help families take quick action to identify and address areas of concern during early childhood, a time of critical brain development. Full of practical advice on how to address developmental issues, this book aims to lower stress and build hope as families learn how to maximize their child’s potential.
    5. PTSD: What Everyone Needs to Know by Barbara O. Rotbaum and Sheila A.M. Rauch  Using a reader-friendly question and answer format, the book demystifies and defines posttraumatic stress disorder, describes its effects, reveals how treatment works, and explains why everyone should know more about the role traumatic experiences play in our lives and in culture and society.
    6. The Blind Storyteller: How We Reason About Human Nature by Iris Berent An intellectual journey that draws on philosophy, anthropology, linguistics, cognitive science, and the author’s own research, this book examines the gulf that exists between our intuitive understanding of human nature and the reality evidenced by science. The book grapples with a host of provocative questions, from why we are so afraid of zombies, to whether dyslexia is just in our heads, from what happens to us when we die, to why we are so infatuated with our brains.
    7. Innumeracy in the Wild: Misunderstanding and Misusing Numbers by Ellen Peters This book presents the logic, rules, and habits that highly numerate people use in decision making. This text offers a state-of-the-art review of the now sizeable body of psychological and applied findings that demonstrate the critical importance of numeracy in our world. With more than two decades of experience in the decision sciences, Ellen Peters demonstrates how intervention can foster adult numeric capacity, propel people to use numeric facts in decision making, and empower people with lower numeracy to reason better.
    8. Leading with Feeling: Nine Strategies of Emotionally Intelligent Leadership by Cary Cherniss This book describes how 25 outstanding leaders used emotional intelligence to deal with critical challenges and opportunities. Featuring commentary from the leaders themselves, the book distills their experiences into nine strategies that can help anyone be more effective at work. Each chapter features activities designed to help readers apply the strategies to their own working lives.
    9. Reset: An Introduction to Behavior Centered Design by Robert Aunger  This book presents Behavior Centered Design, a new framework for how to change behavior and implement processes for developing change programs. Drawing on cutting-edge research in evolutionary biology, ecological psychology, and neuroscience, this  approach encourages practitioners to think differently about behavior – both in understanding how and why it is produced, and in how to design programs to change it.


    These books—from leaders in academia and in the practice field—continue the critical dialog of how the field of psychology can respond proactively and adaptively to the challenges ahead.

    Featured Image Credit: by Sylvia Yang on Unsplash

    The post Nine titles on the frontiers of psychology research [reading list] appeared first on OUPblog.

    in OUPblog - Psychology and Neuroscience on August 05, 2020 09:30 AM.

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    The Truth Is Paywalled But The Lies Are Free ❧ Current Affairs

    "But let us also notice something: the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, the New Republic, New York, Harper’s, the New York Review of Books, the Financial Times, and the London Times all have paywalls. Breitbart, Fox News, the Daily Wire, the Federalist, the Washington Examiner, InfoWars: free! ..."

    in Open Access Tracking Project: news on August 05, 2020 09:17 AM.

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    Whom to sacrifice for Human Challenge Trials?

    Science elites are demanding human challenge trials NOW. Science journalists cheer them on. Should healthy volunteers be infected with the Coronavirus? And if yes, who exactly will it be?

    in For Better Science on August 05, 2020 05:15 AM.

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    Penguin poop spotted from space ups the tally of emperor penguin colonies

    Patches of penguin poop spotted in new high-resolution satellite images of Antarctica reveal a handful of small, previously overlooked emperor penguin colonies.

    Eight new colonies, plus three newly confirmed, brings the total to 61 — about 20 percent more colonies than thought, researchers report August 5 in Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation. That’s the good news, says Peter Fretwell, a geographer at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, England.

    The bad news, he says, is that the new colonies tend to be in regions highly vulnerable to climate change, including a few out on the sea ice. One newly discovered group lives about 180 kilometers from shore, on sea ice ringing a shoaled iceberg. The study is the first to describe such offshore breeding sites for the penguins.

    Penguin guano shows up as a reddish-brown stain against white snow and ice (SN: 3/2/18). Before 2016, Fretwell and BAS penguin biologist Phil Trathan hunted for the telltale stains in images from NASA’s Landsat satellites, which have a resolution of 30 meters by 30 meters.

    satellite image of Ninnis Bank colonyEmperor penguins turned a ring of sea ice around an iceberg into a breeding site. The previously unknown colony was found near Ninnis Bank, a spot 180 kilometers offshore, thanks to a brown smudge (arrow) left by penguin poop.P.T. Fretwell and P.N. Trathan/Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation 2020

    The launch of the European Space Agency’s Sentinel satellites, with a much finer resolution of 10 meters by 10 meters, “makes us able to see things in much greater detail, and pick out much smaller things,” such as tinier patches of guano representing smaller colonies, Fretwell says. The new colony tally therefore ups the estimated emperor penguin population by only about 10 percent at most, or 55,000 birds.

    Unlike other penguins, emperors (Aptenodytes forsteri) live their entire lives at sea, foraging and breeding on the sea ice. That increases their vulnerability to future warming: Even moderate greenhouse gas emissions scenarios are projected to melt much of the fringing ice around Antarctica (SN: 4/30/20). Previous work has suggested this ice loss could decrease emperor penguin populations by about 31 percent over the next 60 years, an assessment that is shifting the birds’ conservation status from near threatened to vulnerable.

    in Science News on August 04, 2020 11:01 PM.

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    Five big questions about when and how to open schools amid COVID-19

    It’s back-to-school time in the United States, but for the world’s leader in coronavirus infections and deaths, what “back to school” means is anything but clear.

    Many countries have gotten ahead of the pandemic with extensive testing, tracing and quarantining. That tight control means that children in Denmark, Singapore and China have returned to school, with extra safety measures.

    The situation is fundamentally different in the United States. No other country has attempted to send children to school with coronavirus infection levels as high as they are in some parts of the country. Many large school districts, including those in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Houston, will begin the school year with all kids learning from home. Other districts have yet to announce their plans, which may include models that mix in-person learning with remote classwork.

    School districts have been struggling to make the call, given a lack of data on how to reduce risk. Two major scientific societies have provided some guidance. On June 25, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommended that policy decisions be made with the goal of having children in school, in person. The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine agreed, urging in a July 15 report that to the extent possible, in-person education should be prioritized, particularly for young children and those with special needs.

    Doing so in a way that minimizes risk will come at a hefty price. The National Academies’ report estimated a price tag of $1.8 million for an average U.S. school district with around 3,300 students. That would pay for personal protective gear such as masks, hand-washing stations, cleaning supplies and extra staff so that students could be spread out. Of course, even if a district spends the funds, there are no guarantees that students, teachers and staff won’t get sick.

    The price of keeping students home is harder to quantify, and could be even greater. In addition to missing out on academic and social growth, some kids in lockdown face greater risks of abuse, neglect and hunger. And to go smoothly, remote learning requires reliable internet service, a safe place to work and adults standing by to help. That kind of support is impossible for many families, particularly those with parents or caregivers who can’t work from home.

    Here, experts weigh in on five of the biggest questions on when and how to reopen schools, if not safely, then as safely as possible.

    Is there a “safe” level of COVID-19 for reopening schools?

    Unfortunately, there is no threshold level of COVID-19 spread in a community that guarantees the safety of sending kids back to school. But if SARS-CoV-2 is under control, that reduces the risk that there will be outbreaks when schools reopen.

    Schools “are a microcosm of the community,” says Wendy Armstrong, an infectious disease physician at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. “What happens in there reflects what’s going on elsewhere.”

    Communities can use three basic metrics for assessing the virus’s spread: COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and how many tests for SARS-CoV-2 are coming back positive. There are no magic numbers for these metrics, Armstrong says; instead of looking at one day or one value, it’s important to look at trends over the course of two weeks. “If your trends are not coming down, then there’s a problem,” she says.

    The World Health Organization has an extensive list of public health criteria to consider before reopening a community at large. Among them is a rate of positive SARS-CoV-2 test results of less than 5 percent in the previous two weeks.

    This number, called the positivity rate, is one way to tell whether a state or county is doing enough testing. On August 4, only 16 states plus the District of Columbia were equal to or below 5 percent positivity on average over the previous week, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

    Some states, including Delaware and Oregon, have announced conditions they expect to see before schools can reopen. Oregon Governor Kate Brown said on July 28 that among other requirements, counties must meet two criteria three weeks in a row: a positivity rate of 5 percent or less and 10 or fewer cases per 100,000 residents in the preceding seven days.

    But even if SARS-CoV-2 is well under wraps in a community, that doesn’t mean the work is done. Infection control measures are still necessary. Denmark and Norway, where community spread was low, avoided outbreaks by limiting class size and student interactions, among other steps. But in Israel, where curbs on class size were brief, a high school with crowded classes that let students remove face masks during a heat wave suffered a large outbreak, researchers report online July 23 in Eurosurveillance.

    What is known about kids transmitting the virus at school?

    Children can certainly transmit the coronavirus, says Aubree Gordon, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “But it seems fairly clear that, at least for young children, they probably transmit less” than other age groups. The details of how or why, however, are a moving target.

    Some of the latest studies emerging from other countries tell conflicting stories. A study tracing nearly 60,000 contacts of 5,706 COVID-19 patients in South Korea, for instance, revealed that 10- to 19-year-olds may transmit the virus more like adults, researchers from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported online July 16 in Emerging Infectious Diseases. But kids younger than 10 appeared less likely to pass the virus on to others — infecting only 5.3 percent of contacts living in the same home.  But kids are more likely to have mild disease or be asymptomatic, so they can easily be overlooked as transmitters, Gordon says. A preliminary study from Italy, posted online July 29 at medRxiv.org found that children younger than 15 were more likely to transmit the virus than older age groups.

    When children do get sick, they appear to carry plenty of virus. A preliminary study of symptomatic people, posted July 19 at medRxiv.org, found that children have the same amount of virus in their bodies as adults do during an infection. Another small study found that children younger than 5 have even higher amounts of the coronavirus’ genetic material in their upper respiratory tract than older kids or adults do, researchers report July 30 in JAMA Pediatrics

    But because kids most often have mild COVID-19 symptoms or are asymptomatic, perhaps they don’t cough as much and therefore release less virus into the air around them. The reason kids don’t often get sick is also still unclear, although younger children may have lower amounts of the protein that the viruses hijacks to break into cells, called ACE2, in their upper respiratory tracts than older kids or adults, researchers report May 20 in JAMA. That could mean children younger than 10 might have fewer susceptible cells for the coronavirus to infect.

    Despite all this, the number of COVID-19 cases in children is going up across the United States. As of July 23, state-level data compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association showed that children represented 8.4 percent of all U.S. COVID-19 cases — up from 3.7 percent in mid-May. That increase could be because more kids are now getting exposed (SN: 6/3/20), or because they are only now being widely tested.  

    Any school that opens will want to know when the virus is spreading within the student body. One solution is to test all kids at regular intervals, with those testing positive quickly notified and kept home. But schools largely lack the infrastructure for that much testing, and in many places, getting results back  can take over a week.

    “It’s just not going to be feasible in most areas of the country,” says Tina Tan, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Northwestern University in Chicago. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend universal testing of all students in its latest guidelines for schools. Instead, the agency suggeststesting only students with COVID-19 symptoms and those who have been in contact with a confirmed case.  

    “The onus is going to be on families to keep kids at home if they have symptoms of any kind,” says Sandra Albrecht, a social epidemiologist at Columbia University. Schools must also keep an eye on the community, says Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore. If cases spike, schools may have to close again.

    Should schools open all at once?

    Some countries have adopted a staged, gradual approach, allowing elementary schools to reopen for in-person education sooner than middle or high schools, for instance.

    Denmark allowed children up to age 12 to go back to school first. Similarly, Norway began with day cares and preschools, and then progressed to first through fourth grades before allowing older kids to return to school. Those strategies make sense, some researchers say, since young children seem to be less likely to get sick or to spread COVID-19. Also tipping the scales in favor of school for the elementary school set: Young children aren’t able to participate in remote learning as well as older children. 

    Communities can also link their reopening stages to infection rates and kids’ needs. For instance, Uruguay allowed children in less-populated areas to return to school first, before adding in disadvantaged kids and then high-school seniors.

    Then there’s the hybrid model — some days in school, some learning from home. “On its face, it seems like maybe that’s a good idea,” says exposure and risk scientist Joseph Allen at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, because it could help space out kids and reduce their time with others. “But when you start to dig down into it, you realize that it’s a flawed strategy that’s not based on any empirical evidence or data.”

    Child learning at home with momSome experts suggest that older children stay home and attend classes online so that younger children, who don’t do as well with remote learning, can be spread out within empty high schools.Gary S Chapman/Photographer’s Choice RF/Getty Images

    Many children would be mingling with other people on their off-school days, then bringing those exposures back into classrooms. In some cases, younger kids would have relatively fewer contacts if they were in school five days a week in stable groups, Linda Darling-Hammond, an education researcher and president of the Learning Policy Institute in Palo Alto, Calif. From a virus-spreading standpoint, she says, various mixtures of settings “would be much more dangerous, frankly.”

    Would it help to group kids in bubbles or pods?

    In March, people were asked to stay home to flatten the upward curve of coronavirus infections. By shrinking our social spheres, we could block the virus’ spread. That led some people to form small groups with little outside interaction. The same strategy can be used in schools.

    “If you have kids in one classroom or one pod that do get sick, it doesn’t spread like wildfire through the school,” Allen says. A bubble or pod also makes it easier for contact tracers to track exposure. If a child or teacher tests positive, the bubble can be quarantined instead of the whole school.

    Bubbles are easiest to form in elementary schools, where classes usually include a stable group of kids and a teacher, Darling-Hammond says. Large high schools pose more challenges, but “the same principle would hold even in a high school of 2,000,” she says, with 100 students sharing four teachers and a counselor, for instance.

    Denmark and Norway have adopted the pod strategy for elementary school students, in addition to reopening schools in stages. And in Canada’s hard-hit Quebec province, some students will return to school bubbled into groups of six.

    “The smaller the bubble, the better,” says computational epidemiologist Daniel Klein of the Institute for Disease Modeling in Seattle. An unpublished simulation of school children in Washington State, created by Klein and colleagues, found that bubble sizes of about 20 students and one teacher created a “significant benefit,” he says. The researchers haven’t yet been able to model the effects of other bubble sizes.  

    But to be effective, kids have to stay in their bubbles. Situations like after-school care and bus rides could foil the bubble benefits. “The bubble bursts very quickly, as soon as you start bumping into other people,” Darling-Hammond says.

    Children exiting a school busKeeping children in small “bubbles” at school might help curb the spread of COVID-19, but events outside of class, such as bus rides, may pop the bubbles.Adam Robison/The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal/Associated Press

    What physical changes can schools make to reduce risk?

    Schools can reduce risk that infections will spread by focusing on three major categories: airflow, reconfiguring the building interior to enable social distancing and hygiene.

    Encourage airflow. There’s mounting evidence that coronavirus can linger in the air in aerosols — small respiratory droplets people generate when they talk or breathe (SN: 7/7/20). Students and teachers in schools will be doing plenty of talking and breathing (SN: 4/2/2020), so dilution of classroom air with fresh air from outside is critical, explains L. James Lo, who studies building ventilation at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

    Unfortunately, many school ventilation systems aren’t up to the task of bringing in enough fresh air, Lo says. Most systems already operate near capacity, and would be expensive to upgrade. So one option might just be to purchase smaller air cleaning units with good filtration and a high air flow rate. “For a very large room … it’s not feasible … but if you have a small office you could purchase a portable air cleaner that has good filtration and flow rate,” Lo says.

    Another place with a lot of fresh air? Outside. Outdoor classes “could be ideal; there’s precious little evidence of transmission outside,” says Ed Nardell, a pulmonologist at Harvard Medical School.

    Keep the distance. Public health experts recommend that people stay at least six feet apart, which can be hard to do in schools. Some schools are trying to spread people out, by limiting class sizes and setting up one-way hallways so that people walk “next to each other, not facing each other,” Lo says. The less people can breathe in each other’s faces, the better.

    Some experts suggest keeping high schoolers working remotely at home and using the high school buildings to spread out the elementary students.

    Then there’s the bus, another social distancing challenge. More than half of schoolchildren take the bus to school. And many parents don’t have the means to chauffeur kids to and fro. So bus riders need to wear masks and socially distance, which calls for a drastic increase in the number of buses and routes.

    When it comes to physical barriers, masking is a must, but also a challenge for children. “Because [masks are] so uncomfortable, there has to be consideration of length of day,” says Rainu Kaushal, a health services researcher at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. “If you can get four hours every day with a mask on but can’t get six hours, schools need to think about that.” That might mean young children would go to school only for half a day, if that’s how long they can tolerate a mask. Kaushal also advised building in mask breaks, times when kids could run around outside — where transmission is less likely — with their masks off.

    The CDC also recommends partitions and sneeze guards. “You definitely impede the transmission between people” with partitions, Lo says, “but you need to devise a very strong … cleaning strategy” because particles will deposit on those surfaces.

    children at a Thai school with partitionsYoung children at school in Bangkok, Thailand, in June wear masks and work separated by clear partitions in the time of COVID-19. When it doubt, experts say, the more defenses the better.ROMEO GACAD/AFP via Getty Images

    Clean everything. Hand hygiene is very important, and soap, sinks and alcohol-based sanitizers need to be in good supply. The entire classroom should be cleaned daily — desks, chairs, everything. “I would err on the side of multiple cleanings a day,” Kaushal says. Every effort will help. “It’s a layering of our defenses.”

    One last layer: Children should be up to date on their vaccines — all vaccines. “You don’t want to have an influenza outbreak on top of a COVID outbreak,” Tan says.

    All of this is daunting, but Americans can take some lessons from other nations. “Something like 20 countries have successfully reopened,” Kaushal says. In a June 30 JAMA Health Forum article, she and her colleagues drew lessons from those successful school opening. “I think it can be done,” she says.

    There is no federal plan to track the spread of the virus in U.S. schools. Reopening schools during a pandemic will be a massive collection of experiments, carried out by thousands of school districts making decisions independently. Only time will tell whether some of these efforts will work.

    in Science News on August 04, 2020 07:37 PM.

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    Step-by-step procedure for choosing a learning rate (and other optimization hyperparameters)

    I’ve been using deep neural networks (DNNs) in my research. DNNs, as is often preached, are powerful models, capable of mapping almost any function. However, after the sermon is over, someone starting to train a DNN in the wild can … Continue reading

    in Pillow Lab on August 04, 2020 06:35 PM.

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    ‘The End of Everything’ explores the ways the universe could perish

    cover of The End of Everything

    The End of Everything
    Katie Mack
    Scribner, $26

    Eventually, the universe will end. And it won’t be pretty.

    The universe is expanding at an accelerating clip, and that evolution, physicists expect, will lead the cosmos to a conclusion. Scientists don’t know quite what that end will look like, but they have plenty of ideas. In The End of Everything, theoretical astrophysicist Katie Mack provides a tour of the admittedly bleak possibilities. But far from being depressing, Mack’s account mixes a sense of reverence for the wonders of physics with an irreverent sense of humor and a disarming dose of candor.

    Some potential finales are violent: If the universe’s expansion were to reverse, the cosmos collapsing inward in a Big Crunch, extremely energetic swells of radiation would ignite the surfaces of stars, exploding them. Another version of the end is quieter but no less terrifying: The universe’s expansion could continue forever. That end, Mack writes, “like immortality, only sounds good until you really think about it.” Endless expansion would beget a state known as “heat death” — a barren universe that has reached a uniform temperature throughout (SN: 10/2/09). Stars will have burned out, and black holes will have evaporated until no organized structures exist. Nothing meaningful will happen anymore because energy can no longer flow from one place to another. In such a universe, time ceases to have meaning.

    Perhaps more merciful than the purgatory of heat death is the possibility of a Big Rip, in which the universe’s expansion accelerates faster and faster, until stars and planets are torn apart, molecules are shredded and the very fabric of space is ripped apart.

    These potential endings are all many billions of years into the future — or perhaps much further off. But there’s also the possibility that the universe could end abruptly at any moment. That demise would not be a result of expansion or contraction, but due to a phenomenon called vacuum decay. If the universe turns out to be fundamentally unstable, a tiny bubble of the cosmos could convert to a more stable state. Then, the edge of that bubble would expand across the cosmos at the speed of light, obliterating anything in its path with no warning. In a passage a bit reminiscent of a Kurt Vonnegut story, Mack writes, “Maybe it’s for the best that you don’t see it coming.”

    Already known for her engaging Twitter personality, public lectures and popular science writing, Mack has well-honed scientific communication chops. Her evocative writing about some of the most violent processes in the universe, mixed with her obvious glee at the unfathomable grandness of it all, should both satisfy longtime physics fans and inspire younger generations of physicists.

    Reading Mack’s prose feels like learning physics from a brilliant, quirky friend. The book is sprinkled with plenty of informal quips: “I’m not going to sugarcoat this. The universe is frickin’ weird.” Readers will find themselves good-naturedly rolling their eyes at some of the goofy footnotes and nerdy pop-culture references. At the same time, the book delves deep into gritty physics details, thoroughly explaining important concepts like the cosmic microwave background — the oldest light in the universe — and tackling esoteric topics in theoretical physics. Throughout, Mack does an excellent job of recognizing where points of confusion might trip up a reader and offers clarity instead.

    Mack continues a long-standing tradition of playfulness among physicists. That’s how we got stuck with somewhat cheesy names for certain fundamental particles, such as “charm” and “strange” quarks, for example. But she also brings an emotional openness that is uncommon among scientists. Sometimes this is conveyed by declarations in all caps about how amazing the universe is. But other times, it comes when Mack makes herself vulnerable by leveling with the reader about how unnerving this topic is: “I’m trying not to get hung up on it … the end of this great experiment of existence. It’s the journey, I repeat to myself. It’s the journey.”

    Yes, this is a dark subject. Yes, the universe will end, and everything that has ever happened, from the tiniest of human kindnesses to the grandest of cosmic explosions, will one day be erased from the record. Mack struggles with what the inevitable demise of everything means for humankind. By contemplating the end times, we can refine our understanding of the universe, but we can’t change its fate.

    Buy The End of Everything 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 August 04, 2020 01:47 PM.

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    Teacher Trainees Are More Likely To Misread Black Children As Angry Than White Children

    By guest blogger Ellie Broughton

    Research has shown that Black people are particularly like to be victims of “anger bias”, in which others incorrectly interpret their facial expressions as angry. Past studies have focused on adult faces — but now evidence shows that even young kids face such prejudice. A new study published in Emotion has found that teacher trainees more often misperceive primary-school-age Black children as being angry.

    The team, led by Amy Halberstadt at North Carolina State University, asked 178 prospective teachers from training programmes in the southeastern United States to complete an emotion recognition task. The participants saw video clips of 72 children, aged 9 to 13, making facial expressions depicting six emotions (happy, sad, angry, afraid, surprised, or disgusted). The kids were divided equally by race (Black, White) and gender.

    The trainees were asked to supply their best judgment about the emotion depicted in each face. In the first set of trials they just saw the very beginning of an emotional expression, but later saw a more fully created expression.

    The team then assessed trainees’ implicit bias via the child race Implicit Association Test (IAT), and explicit bias via a questionnaire (REACT) which asked participants to rate their agreement with prejudiced statements about how race affects student behaviour, such as “Black students don’t study very much”. (Although the IAT has previously been criticised as a measure of “implicit” attitudes, the main findings of the new study don’t rely on this measure).

    Teachers had fair accuracy at detecting emotions, but in both White and Black children, boys were more often misread as looking angry when showing other facial expressions. (The sample of teachers, which reflects typical trends in the profession, was 89% female).

    As predicted, Black boys were misperceived as angry more often than White boys, and Black girls were more often misperceived as angry than White girls. Surprisingly, higher levels of bias (implicit or explicit) did not actually increase the likelihood that Black children would face anger bias, but instead decreased the likelihood that teachers would misperceive White children to be angry.

    The authors hypothesise that for the trainees, understanding children’s emotions “may intersect with the racial biases teachers have acquired through living in a culture in which racial stereotypes are well-embedded”, leading them to mistake Black children as angry when they’re not.

    This could have two significant consequences, they write. Misperceived anger that leads to a teacher punishing a child can disrupt their education, while anger is also “emotionally contagious” so could lead to a teacher becoming angry themselves.

    The research adds to some other studies which have also found evidence of racial biases in teachers. A previous US study, for example, found that in an early years classroom teachers gazed longer at Black children, especially Black boys, while looking for “challenging behaviors”.

    Halberstadt says she hopes this research will ultimately help to develop better interventions to combat racialised biases. “Racialised bias is known to every Black family in the United States. When I talk with colleagues and friends, groups and families, people nod their heads: ‘Yes, we know this. What’s new?’” This study was designed to demonstrate the existence of this bias to White people and other researchers, she explains.

    She’s also keen to expose other racial prejudices besides the anger bias: “We want to keep our eyes and ears open to what other phenomena are being imposed by … culture and by White people on others because of stereotypes. So the next question is, ‘ What are other biases that we have that we haven’t become aware of?’”

    In the UK, researchers from the Centre For Education and Youth (CFEY) have found that teachers in London show biases against Black Caribbean boys and White boys from poorer backgrounds. This affected not just disciplinary measures at school (for example, they were more likely to be expelled), but also assessment, such as which academic ability stream students were put in.

    Ellie Mulcahy, head of research at CFEY, says the findings of Halberstadt’s study are very concerning: “While this is a US study, and more research is sorely needed in the UK context, we know that racial bias is a problem in the UK.” Currently, we have no idea how early in their education Black children in UK nurseries and schools encounter bias from teachers. Isn’t it time to find out?

    Racialized Emotion Recognition Accuracy And Anger Bias Of Children’s Faces

    Post written for BPS Research Digest by Ellie Broughton (@___ellie). Ellie is a freelance features writer with work published in The Guardian, The Independent and Vice.

    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 August 04, 2020 01:15 PM.

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    Wild bees add about $1.5 billion to yields for just six U.S. crops

    U.S. cherries, watermelons and some other summertime favorites may depend on wild bees more than previously thought.

    Many farms in the United States use managed honeybees to pollinate crops and increase yields, sometimes trucking beehives from farm to farm. Now an analysis of seven crops across North America shows that wild bees can play a role in crop pollination too, even on conventional farms abuzz with managed honeybees. Wild volunteers add at least $1.5 billion in total to yields for six of the crops, a new study estimates.

    “To me, the big surprise was that we found so many wild bees even in intense production areas where much of the produce in the USA is grown,” says coauthor Rachael Winfree, a pollination ecologist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

    That means threats to wild bees could shave profits even when farms stock honeybees, the researchers report July 29 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Both honeybees (Apis mellifera), which aren’t native to the United States, and wild pollinators such as bumblebees (Bombus spp.) face dangers including pesticides and pathogens (SN: 1/22/20).

    To see what, if anything, wild native bee species contribute, researchers spot-checked bee visits to flowers at 131 commercial farm fields across the United States and part of Canada. In a novel twist, the researchers also calculated to what extent the number of bee visits limited yields.

    These intensive farms with plenty of fertilizer, water and other resources often showed signs of reaching a pollinator limit, meaning fields didn’t have enough honeybees to get the maximum yield, and volunteer wild bees were adding to the total. Then the team estimated what percentage of the yield native bees were adding — versus just doing what honeybees would have done anyway.

    Wild bees don’t seem to help California’s almond orchards. But based on orchards in Michigan and Pennsylvania, some $1.06 billion of apples depends on native pollinators, the researchers say. Watermelons, particularly in Florida, get an estimated $146 million benefit, and sweet cherries $145 million. Native bees also boost tart cherries and blueberries and dominate pumpkins.

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

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    Fallout over Fukushima fallout papers continues as two are retracted

    A radiology journal has retracted two papers about the fallout from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan over concerns that the researchers used “ethically inappropriate data” from the people they studied.  The articles, which appeared in the Journal of Radiological Protection in 2017, were written by  Makoto Miyazaki, of the Department of Radiation Health … Continue reading Fallout over Fukushima fallout papers continues as two are retracted

    in Retraction watch on August 04, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    Applying “gender lens” can help us achieve better health and disaster responses: Gender Summit founder

    The 19th Gender Summit – with free virtual participation – will bring together experts from around the world to accelerate implementation of the UN SDGs

    in Elsevier Connect on August 04, 2020 07:34 AM.

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    Sexual minority middle-aged and older adults are at high risk for having multiple chronic diseases

    Aging is a major risk factor for the majority of chronic diseases, which include diseases like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and arthritis. More than half of older adults in the US have three or more chronic diseases. Having multiple chronic diseases can increase the chances for disability, hospitalization, and death.

    Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) adults are an under-served population that experience health disparities often related to a lifetime of stressors such as stigma, discrimination, and oppression. As such, this is a population with many barriers to receiving patient-centered health care. With aging, middle-aged and older LGB adults are therefore likely to be at risk not only for medical diseases, but also other chronic conditions.

    We found that gay men and bisexual women in particular, were at high risk for having two or more conditions.

    To examine chronic diseases in this population, we used data from the US National Survey of Drug Use and Health to determine the extent of three chronic conditions: mental illness, unhealthy substance use, and having two or more medical diseases. We then looked at the presence of having more than one of these conditions among LGB adults age 50 and older. We found that gay men and bisexual women in particular, were at high risk for having two or more conditions.

    These results highlight the complex health needs of this population. It is important to recognize that while medical and public health interventions usually focus on one condition, this is often not appropriate for older adults with multiple chronic diseases. A patient-centered coordinated approach is needed that considers how each condition is interrelated with other coexisting diseases. Unhealthy substance use and mental illness for example can complicate the management of chronic medical diseases and lead to poorer health outcomes.

    The care of older adults, especially for communities that are under-served, such as sexual minority populations, needs to involve patient-centered care that considers all chronic diseases and how they may be related. For older LGB adults we also need a greater awareness of all possible forms of stigma related to people such as older individuals and those of sexual minority status, and we must understand how this may impact health.

    The goal of our research is to not further stigmatize but to draw attention to the needs of older adults from communities who have been neglected and under-served so that they can receive better care through improved awareness of the multiple factors that affect health and well-being.


    The post Sexual minority middle-aged and older adults are at high risk for having multiple chronic diseases appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on August 04, 2020 06:38 AM.

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    A submerged Inca offering hints at Lake Titicaca’s sacred role

    A stone box fished out of Lake Titicaca contains tiny items that add an intriguing twist to what’s known about the Inca empire’s religious practices and supernatural beliefs about the massive lake.

    Divers exploring an underwater portion of the lake’s K’akaya reef found a ritual offering deposited by the Inca, say archaeologists Christophe Delaere of the University of Oxford and José Capriles of Penn State. The carved stone container holds a miniature llama or alpaca carved from a spiny oyster shell and a gold sheet rolled into a cylinder about the length of a paperclip, the scientists report in the August Antiquity. The meaning of these objects to the Inca are unclear.

    Inca offering boxResearchers suspect the Inca placed these two items in this stone box and then used ropes to lower it into the water during a religious ceremony of some kind.T. Seguin/Univ. libre de Bruxelles

    The location of the K’akaya offering indicates that Inca people regarded all of Lake Titicaca, which straddles the border between Bolivia and Peru, as sacred, not just its fabled Island of the Sun, the researchers say.

    Spanish documents described the Inca, who had no writing system (SN: 6/11/19), as believing that their ancestors had originated on the Island of the Sun, about 30 kilometers south of K’akaya Island. Inca rulers, whose empire lasted from 1400 to 1532, built a ceremonial center there. And until now, it’s the only place on Lake Titicaca where similar submerged stone boxes bearing figurines and gold sheets have been found. Of at least 28 stone boxes found there since 1977, many had been looted; only four had partially preserved or intact contents.

    Stone boxes containing figurines and gold items have also been uncovered at sites of Inca child sacrifices in the Andes. A connection may have existed between human sacrificial ceremonies that were intended to appease Inca deities and events held at Lake Titicaca, including the submerging of ritual offerings, the researchers suggest.

    in Science News on August 03, 2020 11:01 PM.

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    Overconfidence Can Be Transmitted From Person To Person

    By Emma Young

    There will always be some people within a group who are more confident than others. But some groups as a whole tend towards modesty — as with the !Kung hunters of the Kalahari Desert, for example, who deliberately downplay their own achievements and efforts. However, the opposite can also occur — and widespread overconfidence can of course become a problem, as with the US energy company Enron, whose “culture of arrogance” ultimately led to its downfall.

    These two examples are highlighted in a new paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, which reveals a route by which a bias towards overconfidence can develop. In their paper, Joey T Cheng at York University and colleagues first propose and then provide evidence for the idea that if we’re exposed to people who are overconfident, this rubs off on us. In other words, we calibrate our self-assessments based on the confidence level of those around us. Overconfidence can, then, be transmitted socially — and this could help to explain how groups, teams and organisations form their own, sometimes drastically different, confidence norms.

    The team ran a series of six studies to explore all this. In the first study, involving 104 participants, pairs of previously unacquainted students were put to work, first individually and then together, on a lab task. The task involved guessing the personality traits of 10 people from photographs. After completing the task both times, each participant ranked themselves according to how well they’d thought they’d done, relative to everyone else in the group. The team found that working with someone who’d over-ranked their own performance rubbed off on the other member of the pair — after the joint task, they became more confident in their own ability. (This happened though neither member knew what the other’s self-ranking had been.)

    As the researchers write, “after working together, initially non-similar strangers became more similar to each other in terms of over-placement, suggesting the convergence of over-confidence.”

    The subsequent five studies explored this effect further experimentally. A study that involved asking participants to guess the weights of people from photographs revealed that overconfidence (or in this study, at least, reduced under-confidence) can be transmitted indirectly, from person to person to person, “highlighting the extensive reach of confident peers”. (In this study, participants were indirectly influenced by a fictitious former partner of their own partner in the weight-guessing task.)

    Further work revealed that these confidence effects can persist, still being evident several days later. Importantly, two of the studies produced evidence that the influence of overconfident peers on a participant’s own self-estimations happened largely outside their conscious awareness. As the team writes, if you’re unaware of such a “stealthy” transmission of bias, this could make it harder to resist.

    The work also reveals one important qualifier to all these effects: overconfidence transmission occurs only within in-groups. In this case, student participants were influenced by the responses of “partners” who were identified as attending the same university, but not by responses from people identified as coming from a rival university sports team, for example. “That is, individuals do not copy indiscriminately”, the team writes. “Instead they are sensitive to whose mental representations are on display and selectively acquire the over-placement of in-group but not out-group members.” This is consistent with theories about cultural learning.

    However, as the researchers themselves point out, these studies focused on over-placement as one form of overconfidence. More work will be needed to investigate whether this kind of social transmission occurs for other forms, such as over-estimation, which relates strictly to your stand-alone performance — the belief that you did better than you actually did in a test, for example. Similarly, it’s not yet clear whether it applies to over-precision (being convinced that you scored at least 80 per cent, for example, when you didn’t.)

    Still, the work does contribute to our understanding of how an atmosphere of overconfidence (in the form of over-placement, at least) develops.

    The theory doesn’t negate the possibility that there are also cultural effects relevant to overestimation. For example, the researchers write, in the US, the most individualistic society in the world, unusually high levels of overconfidence might be triggered by cultural cues that emphasise success and self-sufficiency — and as those cultural values spread between people, so too can over-confidence.

    However, the work still suggests that overconfident beliefs among a few may lead to a cascade-like spread of biased beliefs through a social group, team, or society. A recognition that this happens, will surely be important for all kinds of organisations.

    The social transmission of overconfidence.

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on August 03, 2020 12:54 PM.

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    Antibiotic prescribing in England, and how this relates to the local area

    Promoting the appropriate use of antibiotics

    Since the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in the 1920s, there have been over 150 antibacterial drugs developed and marketed for human or veterinary use. The effect these drugs have had on infectious diseases and population health is remarkable. A once considered serious bacterial infection can now be successfully managed using antibiotics prescribed from the doctor. This was not always the case, as our grandparents may testify: bacterial infections were often fatal and the choices available to manage such infections were limited.

    Doctors have been urged to reduce the amount of antibiotics they prescribe when it is safe and appropriate to do so.

    This “golden age” of discovery may, however, soon come to an end, as more and more bacteria are becoming resistant to the antibiotics available to us. It is for this reason that healthcare organizations across the world have been focusing on developing stewardship policies to promote the appropriate use of antibiotics. In England, the situation is no different, and the Department of Health and Social Care have developed an antimicrobial resistance strategy. As part of the plan, doctors have been urged to reduce the amount of antibiotics they prescribe when it is safe and appropriate to do so. As the majority of antibiotic prescribing occurs in primary care, healthcare providers working in this setting are set specific prescribing targets.

    It is important to establish if the polices are working from an antibiotic stewardship perspective, but also that these polices are fair, and do not penalize communities in the most need of care. Our work aimed to address these questions. To do this, we used antibiotic prescribing data from the NHS, as well as working out the characteristics of the local areas in England using nationally available data sources.

    Our study

    In England, the plan to reduce antibiotic prescribing appears to be working

    Overall, we found that, in England, the plan to reduce antibiotic prescribing appears to be working: since 2014, antibiotic prescribing has reduced by around 14 per cent.  We also found that prescribing of certain classes of antibiotics, namely those considered broad spectrum, have also reduced.

    When we considered local factors in our analysis, we showed that the most deprived areas of England had the highest levels of antibiotic prescribing.  When we adjusted for two long-term conditions – diabetes and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – both of which are associated with increased antibiotic use, we still found higher levels of antibiotic prescribing in the most deprived areas of England.  We also showed that geography was an important factor too: compared to London, all other areas of England had higher levels of antibiotic prescribing – with the East of England, and the North East of England having the highest levels.

    Considering local needs

    You might ask why this is important? Well, that’s a good question.  Our work shows that in addition to a national strategy to reduce antibiotic prescribing, it is important to consider local needs too. People living in more deprived areas might, for example, might have greater health need for antibiotics compared to people living in more affluent areas.  National one-sized-fits all targets might not necessarily account for this. If there is greater antibiotic need in deprived areas, doctors working in these areas might be unfairly penalized for prescribing them.  This is not fair on the doctors working in primary care, but may also impact on patients too.

    The antibiotic stewardship polices appear to be reducing overall antibiotic prescribing, which is a positive thing, although there is still significant variation in prescribing across England.  It would be appropriate for future prescribing targets to account for local factors to ensure the most deprived communities are not inappropriately penalized.

    The bottom line is if someone is in medical need of an antibiotic, they should be prescribed it, regardless of the characteristics of their local area or where they live.

    The post Antibiotic prescribing in England, and how this relates to the local area appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on August 03, 2020 10:51 AM.

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    Ten takeaways from ten years at Retraction Watch

    As we celebrate our tenth birthday and look forward to our second decade, we thought it would be a good time to take stock and reflect on some lessons we — and others — have learned. Retractions are more common than we — or anyone else — thought they were. Two decades ago, journals were … Continue reading Ten takeaways from ten years at Retraction Watch

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

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    Niyaz Ahmad’s technician did it

    "it makes more sense when you have consumed twice the recommended dose of San Pedro cactus and spent four hours staring at paisley wallpaper, or so I hear from a friend." - Smut Clyde.

    in For Better Science on August 03, 2020 06:00 AM.

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    The Correlation-Causation Taboo

    Should psychologists be more comfortable discussing causality?

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on July 31, 2020 08:40 PM.

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    Sex Differences And Happy Relationships: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

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

    Researchers have reported on the unusual case study of a man, known as RFS, who could read letters but not numbers. When RFS saw numbers, they appeared as a jumbled up mess, writes Sam Kean at Science. Yet he could see the shape of an “8” once it was turned on its side, suggesting that the problem wasn’t a visual deficit, but something specific to number processing.

    A study has found sex differences in the volume of grey matter in certain areas of the brain — differences which may be related to the expression of genes on sex chromosomes. But the work brings up age-old questions about sex difference research, explains Grace Huckins at Wired. Do these kinds of differences have any actual real-world consequences?  And how do you prevent results from being misinterpreted or used to justify sexism?

    A new theory suggests that we dream so that our visual cortex continues to receive input and doesn’t suffer from a lack of stimulation. However, Neuroskeptic isn’t convinced over at Discover Magazine.

    A massive study on more than 11,000 couples has found that the key to a happy relationship may be the characteristics of the relationship itself, rather than of each individual partner. “Relationship-based variables” — things like conflict, feelings of appreciation and sexual satisfaction — accounted for a larger chunk of participants’ relationship satisfaction than their own personalities or traits, writes Emma Betuel at Inverse.

    Communication strategies during the coronavirus crisis haven’t always considered people’s cognitive biases. There are lessons to be learned from these failures that could help to improve messaging on climate change, argue Geoff Beattie and Laura McGuire at The Conversation.

    The crisis has been hard for all of us, but health workers have been placed in a particularly stressful situation. And preliminary evidence suggests that these workers may be at risk of developing mental health problems like PTSD and anxiety, writes Sabrina Weiss at Wired.

    Could lockdown also produce a lasting change to our personalities? It’s not implausible, writes Christian Jarrett at BBC Future: we know that personality traits are not set in stone, but can change throughout our lives. However, it’s too early to say exactly how our personalities might have changed — and any effects will likely be different for everyone.

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 31, 2020 02:50 PM.

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    $ How to profit from COVID-19 testing $

    Rapid testing has been a powerful tool to control COVID-19 outbreaks around the world (see Iceland, Germany, …). While many countries support testing through government sponsored healthcare infrastructure, in the United States COVID-19 testing has largely been organized and provided by for-profit businesses. While financial incentives coupled with social commitment have motivated many scientists and engineers at companies and universities to work hard around the clock to facilitate testing, there are also many individuals who have succumbed to greed. Opportunism has bubbled to the surface and scams, swindles, rackets, misdirection and fraud abound. This is happening at a time when workplaces are in desperate need of testing, and demands for testing are likely to increase as schools, colleges and universities start opening up in the next month. Here are some examples of what is going on:

    • First and foremost there is your basic fraud. In July, a company called “Fillakit”, which had been awarded a $10.5 million federal contract to make COVID-19 test kits, was shipping unusable, contaminated, soda bottles. This “business”, started by some law and real estate guy called Paul Wexler, who has been repeatedly accused of fraud, went under two months after it launched amidst a slew of investigations and complaints from former workers. Oh, BTW, Michigan ordered 322,000 Fillakit tubes which went straight to the trash (as a result they could not do a week worth of tests).
    • Not all fraud is large scale. Some former VP at now defunct “Cure Cannabis Solutions” ordered 100 COVID-19 test kits that do who-knows-what at a price of 50c a kit. The Feds seized it. These kits, which were not FDA approved, were sourced from “Anhui DeepBlue Medical” in Hefei, China.
    • To be fair, the Cannabis guy was small fry. In Laredo Texas, some guy called Robert Castañeda received assistance from a congressman to purchase $500,000 of kits from the same place! Anhui DeepBlue Medical sent Castańeda 20,000 kits ($25 a test). Apparently the tests had 20% accuracy. To his credit, the Cannabis guy paid 1/50th the price for this junk.
    • Let’s not forget who is really raking in the bucks though. Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp are the primary testing outfits in the US right now; each is processing around 150,000 tests a day. These are for-profit companies and indeed they are making a profit. The economics is simple: insurance companies reimburse LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics for the tests. The rates are basically determined by the amount that Medicare will pay, i.e. the government price point. Intiially, the reimbursement was set at $51, and well… at that price LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics just weren’t that interested. I mean, people have to put food on the table, right? (Adam Schechter, CEO of LabCorp makes $4.9 million a year; Steve Rusckowski, CEO of Quest Diagnostics, makes $9.9 million a year). So the Medicare reimbursement rate was raised to $100. The thing is, LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics get paid regardless of how long it takes to return test results. Some people are currently waiting 15 days to get results (narrator: such tests results are useless).
    • Perhaps a silver lining lies in the stock price of these companies. The title of this post is “$ How to Profit From COVID-19 Testing $”. I guess being able to take a week or two to return a test result and still get paid $100 for something that cost $30 lifts the stock price… and you can profit!Screen Shot 2020-07-31 at 2.03.23 AM
    • Let’s not forget the tech bros! A bunch of dudes in Utah from companies like Nomi, Domo and Qualtrics signed a two-month contract with the state of Utah to provide 3,000 tests a day. One of the tech executives pushing the initiative, called TestUtah, was a 37-year old founder (of Nomi Health) by the name of Mark Newman. He admitted that “none of us knew anything about lab testing at the start of the effort”. Didn’t stop Newman et al. from signing more than $50 million in agreements with several states to provide testing. tl;dr: the tests had a poor limit of detection, samples were mishandled, throughput was much lower than promised etc. etc. and as a result they weren’t finding positive cases at rates similar to other testing facilities. The significance is summarized poignantly in a New Yorker piece about the debacle:

      “I might be sick, but I want to go see my grandma, who’s ninety-five. So I go to a TestUtah site, and I get tested. TestUtah tells me I’m negative. I go see grandma, and she gets sick from me because my result was wrong, because TestUtah ran an unvalidated test.”

      P.S. There has been a disturbing TestUtah hydroxycholorquine story going on behind the scenes. I include this fact because no post on fraud and COVID-19 would be complete without a mention of hydroxycholoroquine.

    • Maybe though, the tech bros will save the day. The recently launched $5 million COVID-19 X-prize is supposed to incentivize the development of “Frequent. Fast. Cheap. Easy.” COVID-19 testing. The goal is nothing less than to “radically change the world.” I’m hopeful, but I just hope they don’t cancel it like they did the genome prize. After all, their goal of “500 tests per week with 12 hour turnaround from sample to result” is likely to be outpaced by innovation just like what happened with genome sequencing. So in terms of making money from COVID-19 testing don’t hold your breath with this prize.
    • As is evident from the examples above, one of the obstacles to quick riches with COVID-19 testing in the USA is the FDA. The thing about COVID-19 testing is that lying to the FDA on applications, or providing unauthorized tests, can lead to unpleasantries, e.g. jail. So some play it straight and narrow. Consider, for example, SeqOnce, which has developed the Azureseq SARS-CoV-2 RT-qPCR kit. These guys have an “EUA-FDA validated test”: Screen Shot 2020-07-31 at 2.14.45 AM
      This is exactly what you want! You can click on “Order Now” and pay $3,000 for a kit that can be used to test several hundred samples (great price!) and the site has all the necessary information: IFUs (these are “instructions for use” that come with FDA authorized tests), validation results etc. If you look carefully you’ll see that administration of the test requires FDA approval. The company is upfront about this. Except the test is not FDA authorized; this is easy to confirm by examining the FDA Coronavirus EUA site. One can infer from a press release that they have submitted an EUA (Emergency Use Authorization) but while they claim it has been validated, nowhere does it say it has been authorized.Clever eh? Authorized, validated, authorized, validated, authorized, .. and here I was just about to spend $3,000 for a bunch of tests that cannot be currently legally administered. Whew!At least this is not fraud. Maybe it’s better called… I don’t know… a game? Other companies are playing similar games. Gingko Bioworks is advertising “testing at scale, supporting schools and businesses” with an “Easy to use FDA-authorized test” but again this seems to be a product that has “launched“, not one that, you know, actually exists; I could find no Gingko Bioworks test that works at scale that is authorized on the FDA Coronavirus EUA website, and it turns out that what they mean by FDA authorized is an RT-PCR test that they have outsourced to others.  Fingers crossed though- maybe the marketing helped CEO Jason Kelly raise the $70 million his company has received for the effort; I certainly hope it works (soon)!
    • By the way, I mentioned that the SeqOnce operation is a bunch of “guys”. I meant this literally; this is their “team”:
      Screen Shot 2020-07-31 at 2.18.45 AM
      Just one sec… what is up with biotech startups and 100% men leadership teams? See Epinomics, Insight Genetics, Ocean Genomics, Kailos Genetics, Circulogene, etc. etc.)… And what’s up with the black and white thing? Is that to try to hide that there are no people of color?
      I mention the 100% male team because if you look at all the people mentioned in this post, all of them are guys (except the person in the next sentence), and I didn’t plan that, it just how it worked out. Look, I’m not casting shade on the former CEO of Theranos. I’m just saying that there is a strong correlation here.

      Sorry, back to the regular programming…

    • Speaking of swindlers and scammers, this post would not be complete without a mention of the COVID-19 testing czar, Jared Kushner. His secret testing plan for the United States went “poof into thin air“! I felt that the 1 million contaminated and unusable Chinese test kits that he ordered for $52 million deserved the final mention in this post. Sadly, these failed kits appear to be the main thrust of the federal response to COVID-19 testing needs so far, and consistent with Trump’s recent call to, “slow the testing down” (he wasn’t kidding). Let’s see what turns up today at the hearings of the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on Coronavirus, whose agenda is “The Urgent Need for a National Plan to Contain the Coronavirus”.



    in Bits of DNA on July 31, 2020 10:09 AM.

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    Unbundling the Big Deal: An interview with SUNY’s Shannon Pritting

    The Big Deal has been a topic of heated discussion among librarians for some twenty or more years now. When first introduced, the attraction of the Big Deal was immediately obvious, since it allows a library to buy its faculty access to most, if not all, of a publisher’s journals at a much lower “cost per article” (discounted) rate. From the start, however, there were doubters.

    Shannon Pritting

    In 2001, the Director of Libraries at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Kenneth Frazier, warned the library community of the dangers of signing big deals, or any comprehensive licensing agreement, with commercial publishers.

    “The current generation of library directors is engaged in a dangerous ‘game’ in which short-term institutional benefits are achieved at the long-term expense of the academic community,” he warned, adding that big deals would weaken libraries’ ability to manage their journal collections, foist on them journals they “neither need nor want” and increase their dependence on publishers “who have already shown their determination to monopolize the information marketplace.”

    Nevertheless, many libraries did sign big deals. And many later regretted it, not least because, having done so, they felt they had no choice but to keep renewing the contract, even as the cost kept going up and devoured more and more of their budget. 

    Libraries felt trapped, conscious that if they did not renew they would have to go back to subscribing to individual journals at list price, which would mean being able to afford access to fewer journals, and fearful that when they discovered that journals they wanted were no longer available, faculty would revolt.

    Over time, however, a greater willingness to think the unthinkable emerged, and some libraries began to cancel their big deals. And when they did so the sky did not fall in – which allowed other libraries to take heart.

    The list maintained here suggests that libraries began cancelling their big deals as long ago as 2008, but the number doing so has been accelerating in the last few years. What has really focussed minds are the recent decisions by both the University of California and MIT to walk away from their negotiations with Elsevier rather than renew their big deals.

    But it is not necessary to walk away completely in the way UC and MIT have done. Instead, libraries can “unbundle” their Big Deal by replacing the large package of several thousand journals they are subscribed to with a small à la carte bundle of a few hundred journals, and in the process save themselves a great deal of money.

    What is helping libraries to make the decision to unbundle is the knowledge that more and more research is becoming available on an open access basis. In addition, new tools like Unsub are available to advise them on which journals they can cancel without too great an impact, and which journals are essential and so should be retained. 

    Given the big savings that can be realised, and the pressure library budgets are under, unbundling is expected to grow, particularly in light of the straitened circumstances that libraries will find themselves in after the pandemic.

    This year a number of US universities have unbundled in favour of smaller packages of journals, including UNC Chapel Hill, Iowa State University and the State University of New York (SUNY) -- a system of 64 institutions. Coming in the wake of UC’s decision to walk away from Elsevier these little deals have attracted a lot of attention. 

    In Europe, by contrast, there is a greater focus right no on signing transformative agreements. In addition to providing reading rights, these new-style big deals include prepaid publishing rights to allow faculty to publish their articles on an open access basis. Amongst other things, these deals help assuage concerns about double dipping (where a university may end up paying both article-processing charges and subscriptions for the same journals). 

    So how is a decision to unbundle made, and what are the issues and implications of making the decision? To get a clearer picture I spoke recently by email with Shannon Pritting, Shared Library Services Platform Project Director at SUNY. In April, SUNY replaced its Big Deal of 2,200 journals with Elsevier with a “little deal” of just 248 journals. By doing so, it says, it has saved about $7 million.

    Unbundling raises a lot of questions, and I suspect we may not have answers to all of the questions for some time.

    For instance, as more and more universities unbundle, how accurate will the calculations informing the decisions about which journals to give up and which to keep prove to be over time? This could have implications for, amongst other things, how much of the money that has been saved will need to be spent on obtaining paywalled articles through Interlibrary Loan (ILL) and document delivery services.

    Moreover, since unbundling appears currently to be mainly a US thing (with Europe favouring transformative agreements) might we see a geographical divide emerge? If we do, what might the implications of this be, especially for the open access movement?

    In addition, might unbundling encourage more researchers to use illegal services like Sci-Hub, and might unbundling see university libraries marginalised to some extent, especially if they do not play an active role in funding open access?

    Please read on for the interview. 


    The interview begins …

    RP: SUNY consists of 64 campuses I believe. Do they all publish research papers, or is it primarily the 4 main campuses?

    SP: SUNY consists of 60 campuses. The additional 4 are Cornell Statutory colleges, which don’t rely on SUNY for services such as library access. The majority of publishing comes from the 4 University Centers, but there are many other faculty who publish research.

    SUNY has doctoral granting colleges with scholars who produce research in specialized areas, and it has 13 University Colleges with graduate programs and faculty who have publishing and research expectations for promotion and tenure. 

    RP: How many papers a year in total does SUNY publish?

    SP: According to data gathered through Dimensions, over the past five years (2015-2019), SUNY faculty and staff have published on average 9,960 papers.

    Over this term, publishing is split virtually evenly between Open Access and Subscription Based publishing.

    RP: You referred to 4 University Centers. I am thinking that these are Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, and Stony Brook. You also referred to 4 Cornell Statutory colleges and said they do not rely on SUNY for services like library access. So the number of published papers you cite does not include all of the campuses?

    SP: The 4 University Centers (Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, and Stony Brook) are included in the numbers of papers affiliated with SUNY authors. These 4 university centers participate fully with SUNY.

    But, there are 4 Cornell Statutory colleges that rely on Cornell for library and other support. These are NYS College of Agriculture & Life Sciences at Cornell University, NYS College of Human Ecology at Cornell University, NYS School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, and NYS College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University.

    These statutory colleges are not included in the number of papers published.

    RP: How many of the open access papers you refer to are published as gold OA and how many as hybrid OA? And how do you expect these figures to change in the next few years? Also, how much do SUNY libraries pay each year in gold OA fees?

    SP: For 2019, there were 1,035 SUNY papers published as gold OA, with 461 being published as hybrid. Over the five-year period from 2015-2019, SUNY authors published on average 1,361 gold open access articles and 565 hybrid open access articles per year.

    No SUNY libraries currently pay for OA fees. These costs are paid directly by the author or the department, and payment data is not centrally managed.

    We expect that OA fees paid by SUNY authors will remain relatively stable, as most agencies who provide grant funding have already implemented OA requirements.

    RP: SUNY does not therefore know how much is spent on APCs each year by SUNY faculty?

    SP: No, SUNY does not have a reliable estimate of how much is spent on APCs by SUNY faculty.

    RP: Is there a SUNY-wide OA policy, or does each campus have its own separate policy?

    SP: There is a system wide open access policy, approved by the SUNY Board of Trustees in March 2018. This policy requires that the Universities (but not community colleges) should develop and adopt open access policies for each institution.

    The community colleges are encouraged, but not required, to adopt open access policies. Of the 30 universities, 21 currently have open access policies, with all 30 expected to have policies by December 2020.

    Three community colleges have open access policies, with the expectation that only a few more will develop open access policies. We have collected institutional open access policies into a repository that you can view here.

    For the most part, SUNY institutional OA policies leave the decision of whether to publish open access or deposit works into repositories with the faculty.

    A major focus of SUNY in open access has been through Open Educational Resources (OER), which has led to major improvements in college affordability, and improvements in teaching and learning.

    The investment in OER came from NY State Government, with $12 million invested in OER over three years, that has resulted in nearly $50 million in savings, and improved teaching and learning outcomes.


    RP: SUNY recently unbundled its Big Deal with Elsevier, reducing the number of journals it subscribes to from 2,200 to 248. As I understand it from a recent Sciencearticle, SUNY used Unsub to help it decide which journals to give up, and this estimated that a modest number of subscriptions would be enough to supplement the large numbers of Elsevier papers already available outside of paywalls. Of the papers SUNY researchers can access under the new arrangement, the calculation was that 30% of the papers that faculty are likely to need access to are available open access and, thanks to a post-termination agreement (PTA) with Elsevier, 25% will remain freely available to faculty from Elsevier. This does not imply that 45% will need to be ordered via document delivery services right?

    SP: SUNY partnered with Unsub (at the time Unpaywall Journals) to model costs and access options if we decided to cancel or unbundle our Elsevier Big Deal. The percentage you mention of 45% of content not being immediately accessible isn’t something that the Unsub data generally provided as a data point. Although the Unsub data varied by journal, the percentage that wouldn’t be immediately accessible was typically below 20%.

    Although there was a lot of scepticism about the reliability of Unsub data and modelling in predicting costs post-cancellation, the tool and services helped us to think critically about all other data we were using to determine value. In the end, most SUNYs found that Unsub data was useful, and as reliable as other sources that we were using to determine the value of a big deal.

    Certainly, Post-Termination Access helps with providing immediate access. However, I don’t think that any campus expects that either 45% or 20% of the usage would translate into document delivery purchases. Everyone understands that journal usage data is inflated, flawed, and doesn’t reflect true usage and value. Yet, most forecasts of costs after cancellation or unbundling are based on vendor provided usage data.

    Once you provide any barrier such as requesting a purchase, ILL, or anything but directly downloading a PDF or HTML document, the percentage of users who will actually try to request is very small.

    So we expect minimal increase in document delivery costs as a result of changing the Big Deal to a smaller, focused package. And, if libraries find that users are requesting via ILL or document delivery a high amount of articles from any specific journal, they can always subscribe to a single journal if it’s cost effective.

    Overall, the strategy was that the big deal provides access to a lot of content, but our big deal wasn’t an effective use of our money; it was worth it to see what actually happens after we changed our subscription.

    And, I expect that we’ll see the same trends and results that other consortia and libraries have seen: a cancellation of a big deal doesn’t lead to resulting increased costs for article purchasing or ILL that is anywhere near what a subscription to that large set of journals costs. Most users will find alternative sources as the user usually doesn’t need a specific article, but just needs an article that is relevant to the topic.

    In the end, SUNY’s decision was based on the simple equation of whether 2,200 journals was worth the amount we were paying for the Big Deal, and not the fear of what the costs would be for guaranteeing the same type of access to the 2,200 journals as we had when we subscribed to the bundle.  Just as important as determining whether we could provide access to papers we would lose from the bundled titles was determining how many of these 2,200 journals we needed.

    This work took just as much time or more than cost modelling. It involved outreach by many librarians with faculty and administration across SUNY. SUNY also hosted several coordinated open forums with faculty about the Elsevier deal, and engaged with Faculty governance and administration at the system and campus levels. Certainly usage data informed the journals we targeted for the 248, but equally important was input from our user community that was led by librarians.

    We certainly had to walk through various data-driven scenarios of costs after cancellation, value of the package based on usage (and what journals were most important) to ensure we were gathering input and managing the change that comes from moving away from a Big Deal. But, the decision for SUNY was based on whether we valued the journals enough to pay the amount the vendor required us to pay to maintain that access.

    In the end, it wasn’t in the best interests of SUNY to continue with the Big Deal. 

    Individual title subscriptions

    RP: As you indicate, the Elsevier unbundled deal assumes that any campus or department that needs access to journals not in the smaller bundle can subscribe separately. Do you have any sense of how many such subscriptions might be taken out/have been taken out? Presumably, they would need to be funded with money outside the library budget.

    SP: The expectation is that campuses who want to subscribe to journals outside of the 248 titles that most of SUNY gets is that the library subscribes to the journal separately at list price. This funding would be coming from the individual library budget, and would be funded with savings from the difference between what the library would have contributed to the previous big deal and the smaller 248 title deal.

    There have been very few individual title subscriptions for Elsevier titles that were lost in the change to the smaller unbundled deal. The global pandemic began to impact the US just after the new unbundled deal was finalized, which resulted in libraries immediately beginning to limit spending, and then begin to cut budgets.

    The savings from the change from the Big Deal to an unbundled deal provided campuses with the ability to weather drastic cuts, and many used the savings to help meet the need to quickly cut spending and budgets.

    RP: Presumably the figure of 25% of articles that will be freely available as a result of the PTA with Elsevier will grow over time, in line with the number of new papers published in Elsevier journals that are not covered by the PTA?

    SP: There will be some growth in the percentage of content that our users may want, but don’t have immediate access to as our Post Termination access grows less current. However, the percent increase and the costs of access will not be enough of a percentage to come close to the difference in what our previous deal cost our institutions, and what our current subscription will cost.

    SUNY would prefer to look at the aggregate savings built by the years it will take for our PTA to age as a major advantage to unbundling. In essence, as the industry shifts and more consortia and large libraries break subscriptions, the market for journal access will only be more advantageous to the subscriber in the future.

    Thinking of growth over time in the amount of content that our users can’t access via PTA, or a subscription, assumes that the value of a subscription or journal package will only grow. It’s clear that the value of big deals is declining, so future deals should only be more advantageous.

    If SUNY does find it more cost effective to enter into another big deal or “re-bundle” what it recently unbundled, future deals should be better than the deal we had, which was based on historical metrics.

    RP: Of those papers that will be available open access how many do you estimate will be the Version of Record (VoR) and how many are likely to be self-archived versions – e.g. preprint, Authors Accepted Manuscript (AAM), or some other version that is not the VoR? Does the version matter?

    SP: This is a tough question to answer, but based on experience searching for content and assisting users, I’d say that about half of the access would be content that is other than the Version of Record. In most cases, the Version of Record is not needed. But, when it is needed, this is where document delivery purchasing would be used. 

    ILL and document delivery services

    RP: So, SUNY uses both ILL and document delivery services for obtaining articles in journals it does not subscribe to. Can you say which services are used and how many documents on average are ordered each year via a) ILL and b) document delivery services? How do you expect those figures to change going forward?

    SP:Our primary vendor for document delivery is Reprints Desk. A few institutions also use Copyright Clearance Center’s “Get it Now” service, but this is only for a small percentage of the document delivery volume. SUNY Libraries use the lowest cost vendor for document delivery, and for all but a few percent of articles, Reprints Desk is the lowest cost option.

    Based on 5 years of ILL data (2015-19) SUNY has 300,000 total ILL requests per year (both lending and borrowing) for books and articles. Considering that half of ILL requests are for articles, and half of the requests are lending, about 100,000 requests are for ILL articles per year.

    Over this five-year span, total ILL volume has decreased a few percent per year. I expect that the total volume of ILL will continue to decrease, especially for articles. Every consortium that has cancelled big deals has found that there has been little impact on overall ILL volume.

    Of the 100,000 articles requested in SUNY each year, about 25% are for content published within the last five years, which has the potential to incur costs for access. ILL departments are already doing a fine job providing access to current content as a supplement or alternative to subscriptions, and will be a reliable source to provide access for any content that is needed but not available via subscription.

    SUNY libraries have regularly found that providing access to journals via ILL and document delivery is more cost effective than subscribing to journals that have high subscription costs.

    SUNY doesn’t currently have data on how many document delivery purchases are made per year, but we are working with our primary document delivery provider to gather this data to use as another point of consideration when we consider access options.

    RP: Do you have any sense of how much SUNY libraries generally pay for document delivery and ILL services each year?

    SP: The amount that SUNY pays for document delivery and ILL services each year varies between institutions. Typically, smaller institutions don’t pay for document delivery, with our largest few institutions paying from $50,000 to $100,000. But we don’t currently have reliable detailed data on this document delivery spending in aggregate across our 60 institutions as each campus pays separately.

    Although our campuses will continue to decrease the amount of content such as journals that they license, we expect to see only a slight increase in document delivery costs. Users typically find alternative paths to journal articles if libraries don’t subscribe, whether it’s open access or alternative versions of a paper.

    Document delivery is used only in limited circumstances, and we expect the percentage of articles that are available without a subscription to continue to increase. Most of the SUNYs also have enabled Unpaywall integration in their link resolvers, so open access is provided as an option whenever possible.

    RP: I understand it costs between $35 and $40 per article to order via Reprints Desk. In addition, there will be costs for ILL. An article from 2015 estimates the cost of ILL at between $8-$10 per item. Does that sound about right?

    SP: We have reasonably reliable data about the number of transactions where campuses have paid copyright (which in this case includes purchasing the article from a document delivery provider) and the number is 16,250 per year. Your estimate of $35-$40 per article is fair, so our document delivery and copyright spending would be roughly $568,750 dollars per year. However, some of the heaviest requested publications such as Nature, and even Elsevier publications, cost less than $25 per article.

    We think that there is a fair amount of open access that gets purchased or requested via ILL, especially in hybrid journals. This is why we’re excited that Reprints Desk has an open access filter that some libraries are using. As you’re likely aware, finding open access in hybrid publications is often not easy.

    Using your estimate of $8-10 per article for ILL, which I find reasonable, you’re correct that the spending on ILL for articles ordered from other libraries via resource sharing would be around $670,000 per year.  SUNY continues to try to minimize this cost by assessing costs of resource sharing systems and networks to ensure that we’re getting our best value for the resource sharing we need to serve our users.

    When we were using the Unsub post-cancellation cost modelling tool, they defaulted to $17 per request based on older estimates from ILL literature. Even with this higher ILL estimate, the model still indicated that most of our campuses should subscribe to only a small group of journals.

    RP: Ok, so as a rough estimate we can say that SUNY Libraries are receiving about 100,000 article requests a year from faculty. Of these about 16,250 will be supplied via document delivery services (at a cost of around $568,750) and some 83,750 will be supplied via ILL (at a cost of about $670,000). So the total cost of fulfilling individual article requests will be around $1.238 million a year. Does SUNY operate a mediated document delivery service, or can faculty go online and order documents without the library needing to be involved?

    SP: Some SUNY institutions provide an unmediated document delivery service, typically facilitated through an ILL workflow. However, most document delivery purchasing comes as a supplement to Interlibrary Loan requests, where libraries are purchasing articles rather than pay copyright royalties, lending fees, or to prevent slow service.  About half of the SUNY institutions are using a locally developed software middleware system called Article Gateway to facilitate unmediated document delivery through ILL.

    Unmediated document delivery is always provided for a limited number of titles that are most cost effective to use via document delivery article access rather than subscriptions for the entire campus.

    Many of our campuses are small, but offer advanced degrees in specialized areas. As many STEM publishers use metrics that utilize types and level of programs for subscription rates, document delivery is an attractive option to provide access to resources as subscription costs are often beyond the ability of these small campuses to afford. 

    Illegal services and big deals

    RP: You say you expect minimal increase in document delivery costs as a result of changing from a big deal to a smaller deal because “Once you provide any barrier such as requesting a purchase, ILL, or anything but directly downloading a PDF or HTML document, the percentage of users who will actually try to request is very small.” Is there any concern that by unbundling the library could encourage users to access illegal services like Sci-Hub?

    SP: Certainly, SUNY values the work that publishers do, including Elsevier. SUNY wishes to continue its relationship with Elsevier moving forward, as we’ll continue for multiple years to have at least a group of 248 titles.

    However, I think what unbundling does is focus the review not purely on cost per use, which inflates the value of a subscription. This point has been on Instead, the focus becomes more on the value of the usage you’re getting for the amount you’re paying, not purely letting usage drive the value discussion.

    By looking at link resolver data you can find that users often land on records of articles to which they have access, load the pdf into a browser, but never engage with the article. So, with content they do not have access to they may come to a record but never take the next step of ordering the article via ILL.

    We realize that the best case scenario for everyone would be that bundles of the highest quality content were available at prices that were slowly decreasing to acknowledge that the cost of IT infrastructure is going down, so journal hosting prices should go down. But, that’s not the offers that are typically coming from publishers. Library budgets, at least in SUNY, are declining, so increasing costs lead us to make tough decisions about which of the subscriptions to cut.

    The proposition that unbundling will lead to more use of illegal access and that this is a problem that the library or libraries should solve isn’t one that is fair to libraries. It’s not that libraries are seeking to offer less content to their users; they just can’t afford increasing prices.

    We hope that, instead of illegal services becoming more common open access and open science becomes more prevalent and shifts the readership models to open access rather than Sci-Hub or models that aren’t connected to legitimate organizations. 

    RP: How many big deals does SUNY currently have and with whom?

    SP: SUNY is not a consortium that has historically collaborated on big deals for content. This is partially due to the diversity of types of institutions, and partially due to capacity at the central office. The Elsevier Big Deal was the only major full-text deal SUNY had.

    SUNY has historically had a large package of aggregator content labelled SUNYConnect that all campuses subscribe to. However, beyond the Elsevier deal and SUNYConnect, there is currently very little content that the 60 institutions or large groups within the system coordinate purchasing on.

    SUNY is working to do more coordinated collection activity, and will consider big deals if the offer is appropriate.

    However, with most big deals, there is such a wide variety of content that we don’t anticipate finding many deals that will benefit enough of SUNY to pursue. The overall management overhead for big deals is also something we thought about in depth as we moved from the Elsevier big deal to an unbundled group.

    With smaller unbundled coordinated collecting, the opportunity to change strategies or to cancel is less overwhelming, and outweighs the benefit of access to journals in bulk. 

    Transformative agreements

    RP: Has SUNY signed any transformative agreements? If so, with whom? If not does it plan to?

    SP: SUNY as a system, or as individual institutions, has not signed any transformative agreements. At this point, it seems unlikely that SUNY would enter into any large-scale transformative agreements in the near future.

    The culture and organizational structure of SUNY is such that individual authors have been paying open access fees. Although SUNY libraries are largely supportive of movements towards open such as open access and open educational resources, the financial implications of transformative agreements would be difficult for most SUNY libraries to justify.

    SUNY library budgets will continue to be negatively impacted, so the focus will likely be on getting the most relevant access over the next 3-5 years. However, SUNY will continue to ask for terms and discounts for publishing open access as much as possible.

    When a commitment to dedicate funds away from current access to supporting open access comes into play with negotiations, SUNY will likely continue to prioritize current access. An overlooked portion of the SUNY-Elsevier unbundled deal was a 10% discount on Elsevier APCs for SUNY Authors, which is typical of the approach we’ll likely be taking with other deals.

    If we can include terms that are advantageous to authors moving towards open access, we’ll do so, but won’t sacrifice access or incur more costs to move from a read to read and publish strategy.

    RP: You say that SUNY libraries are not responsible for paying any gold OA fees and that payment data is not centrally managed. Do you think there is a danger that by not being involved in the management of APCs, and by unbundling, SUNY libraries might be risking marginalising themselves to some extent? I note in this paper the authors say, “Studies have shown that interlibrary loan often does not increase following journal cancellations, but rather than being good news, this may represent a decrease in perceived library value by researchers. Open Access will also play a critical and increasing role in this environment, and understanding its relation to the content at hand will be important in building a robust and sustainable research support system.”

    The paper also suggests that unbundling could, over the longer term, have a negative impact on smaller institutions that rely on their larger peers to supply ILL requests. I wonder also if, as we see more institutions breaking their Big Deals, the ILL system could start to come under pressure.

    Do you have any thoughts on these matters?

    SP: As a direct response to the quote about ILL volume not increasing after big deal cancellations representing a decrease in “perceived library value,” this statement indicates something that I’ve never fully understood.

    Libraries see it as their responsibility to figure ways to keep providing the same content, even if the deals get worse and cripple the organization further. Why wouldn’t libraries see this not as a referendum on the value of the library, but as an indicator of how much the exact content they were subscribing to mattered. I realize things are always complex in these situations, but libraries shouldn’t tie up their value with keeping specific subscriptions. Libraries offer so much more than just access to articles.

    Regarding risking being marginalized if SUNY doesn’t focus on transformative agreements or continuing to find ways to subscribe to large journal packages: I agree that unbundling should signal a shift in how libraries focus on access. And, SUNY certainly isn’t against transformative agreements or subscribing to bundles of journals that make sense financially.

    However, focusing on licensing agreements with publishers as the main vehicle will likely lead to further issues in the future where libraries again cannot sustain the costs of the endeavours they’re focusing on.

    SUNY will be focusing on ways we can help our system’s faculty and staff participate more in open access publishing to make their intellectual property and research more accessible to all.  We can be sure that publishers and vendors will be partners with us as we begin to move more into open access strategies. But, APCs and transformative agreements should be analysed in our overall context regarding increasing access for SUNY faculty, staff, and students and making the output of SUNY faculty, staff, and students more accessible to the larger community.

    Certainly, ILL and availability of articles is something to be aware of, especially if more large subscription reductions and unbundling continue. ILL departments have seen staffing reductions, which has led to a focus on streamlining workflows, and has brought about a decade’s worth of focus in ILL (at least in the US) that has seen most of the innovation going towards automation.

    What ILL has lacked is a large-scale investment in focusing on the larger ecosystem, which includes better terms in licensing and the ability to offer new services rather than just offering the same services more efficiently. But, I think there’s going to be a real shift in libraries moving more towards collections services, which includes ILL.

    For example, Princeton has adopted this model, which focuses on both access and collections. There needs to be better structural support for ILL, so that consortial coordination of collection and access for things like journals can happen. SUNY discussed all of this when we were considering unbundling, and although we focused for the past six months on showing libraries how to arrange and configure alternative access, we’re at a point now where we can focus on more structural issues that use multiple data points when making collection decisions or setting strategic directions.

    This spirit has been strong in SUNY with coordinated collection development via resource sharing and demand driven acquisitions for books for some time, with many libraries seeking to diversify SUNY’s collection if a title isn’t available in SUNY.

    We’re hoping that we can coordinate journal access in a similar way, where we have programs where SUNYs cooperate on what journals they subscribe to in order to provide the best access to e-journals for all of SUNY.

    Additionally, vendors will likely be offering more in the way of access options that allows consortia to blend ILL-like access and subscriptions. The SILLVR project for streaming video at the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries is one such pilot where the larger consortium is looking to secure both subscriptions and access in a single license.

    With ILL and collections access departments blending, libraries should be prepared to look at licensing and subscriptions differently, and find the best blend of subscriptions and bundled access that will get the best value for their institutions.

    RP: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me.








    in Open and Shut? on July 31, 2020 06:13 AM.

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    What Color is Your Mental Parachute?

    Aphantasia and Occupational Choice

    NOTE: This isn't a real test of visual imagery. Click HERE for the Simple Aphantasia Test, which assesses whether (and how well) you can imagine pictures in your mind's eye.

    Do you prefer to learn by studying material that is visual, auditory, verbal (reading/writing), or kinesthetic (“by doing”) in nature? A massive educational industry has promoted the idea of distinct “learning styles” based on preference for one of these four modalities (take the VARK!). This neuromyth has been thoroughly debunked (see this FAQ).

    But we humans clearly vary in our cognitive strengths, and this in turn influences our choice of career. This should come as no surprise.

    A recent study queried the occupational choices of self-selected populations of people at the extremes of visual imagery abilities: those with Aphantasia (n=993 male/981 female) or Hyperphantasia (n=65 male/132 female). This was assessed by their scores on the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ). There was also a control group with average scores on the VVIQ, but they were poorly matched on age and education.

    Fig. 4 (Zeman et al., 2020). Percentage of participants with aphantasia and hyperphantasia reporting their occupation as being:
    1 = Management, 2 = Business and financial; 3 = Computer and mathematical/Life, physical, social science; 4 = Education, training, and library; 5 = Arts, design, entertainment, sports and media; 6 = Healthcare, practitioners and technical.

    As expected, people with fantastic visual imagery were more likely to be in arts, design, entertainment, and media, as well as sports (an excellent ability to imagine a pole vault or swing a bat would be very helpful). People with poor to no visual imagery were more likely to choose a scientific or mathematical occupation. These categories are rather broad, however. For instance, “media” includes print media. And artists and photographers with Aphantasia certainly do exist.

    The study had a number of limitations, e.g. washing out individual differences and relying on introspection for rating visual imagery ability (as noted by the authors). There are more objective ways to test for imagery, but these involve in-person visits. Although the authors were circumspect in the Discussion, they were a bit splashy in the title of their paper (Phantasia–The Psychological Significance Of Lifelong Visual Imagery Vivdness Extremes). And the condition of “Aphantasia” existed long before it was named and popularized. But these researchers have caught the imagination of the general public, so to speak:
    The delineation of these forms of extreme imagery also clarifies a vital distinction between imagery and imagination: people with aphantasia–who include the geneticist Craig Venter, the neurologist Oliver Sacks and the creator of Firefox, Blake Ross–can be richly imaginative, as visualisation is only one element of this more complex capacity to represent, reshape and reconceive things in their absence.


    Zeman A, Milton F, Della Sala S, Dewar M, Frayling T, Gaddum J, Hattersley A, Heuerman-Williamson B, Jones K, MacKisack M, Winlove C. (2020). Phantasia–The Psychological Significance Of Lifelong Visual Imagery Vivdness Extremes. Cortex. 2020 May 4; S0010-9452(20)30140-4.

    in The Neurocritic on July 30, 2020 11:09 PM.

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    How To Get The Most Out Of Virtual Learning

    By Emily Reynolds 

    When the coronavirus hit, many of us had to quickly adapt to remote working — and even post-pandemic, many of us are likely to continue at least some of these tasks online.

    Demands for more flexible working practices continue to grow, and for good reason — it can make life easier for employees with parenting or caring responsibilities, health problems or disabilities, and some argue it can also increase productivity. Online webinars and conferences also allow continued professional development without workers ever having to leave their home office.

    Things are no different in the world of education: many undergraduate courses now provide lecture recordings for students to watch in their own time, and online masters programmes are offered by some of the UK’s top universities. Freshers’ Week this year is also likely to be very different, with many students experiencing a wholly virtual first year of university.

    But learning online is not always easy. How do you concentrate when staring at a screen for hours at a time? How do you manage your workload? And what is the best strategy for note-taking? Here’s our digest of the findings that could help to make online learning stick.

    Learn how to make notes effectively

    Writing down what’s said during lectures may seem fairly straightforward. But there is evidence that some strategies are better than others — and knowing what those are could help you take notes more efficiently.

    In 2019, a team from Kent State University looked at how often students were following best practice on note-taking. Writing with pen and paper is encouraged, for example, because laptops can distract both the note-taker and those sitting near them, and notebook notes tend to be more varied, not simply copied from the lecturer verbatim. Both organising information and using it to test your knowledge, rather than just passively writing and rereading notes, is also likely to boost your memory.

    The researchers found that students weren’t always using these techniques — and when it came to those taking online courses, only half of participants were even taking notes. This is concerning, the team notes, because to really learn properly, you can’t just rewatch recordings. So brush up on the research if you want to avoid these students’ mistakes.

    Ask yourself a “prequestion”

    Working out what you want to get out of a lecture before it happens might help, as research from Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition suggests. Students were shown an informational video before answering questions about what they’d seen. Those who had been given two “prequestions” related to the information before watching outperformed those who had not.

    Researchers believed that this technique was especially effective for learning from videos: it’s not easy to skip through video content to find answers to those prequestions, so viewers likely end up paying more attention.

    Thinking about what you want to get out of a video lecture or webinar before you watch it might therefore help you retain more information.

    Set your goals early

    Prequestions can work on a small scale — and asking yourself questions about wider goals can also help in the grander scheme of things.

    One piece of research suggested that students were generally unprepared for the levels of self-directed learning that online courses necessitate — there is far less direction and routine, after all, than in a traditional learning setting.

    The team suggests that students consider a number of factors before they start online courses. First, think about what your learning needs are and what resources are available to help you with them. Then, consider what specific strategies you think might be helpful for you personally.

    Finally, try to set yourself learning outcomes and evaluate how successfully you achieved them at the end of the course — this may help you hone your study technique for future classes, courses or modules.

    Work on your concentration

    Looking at a screen all day can be tiring — after several hours of Zoom, it can be hard to keep focused. So working out how best to boost your concentration might help you out, and there’s lots of different research that might inspire you. One study claimed that treadmill desks helped memory and concentration; another suggests that doodling can do the same.

    If you’re reaching for your fidget spinner, however, you might be disappointed: one 2019 study suggested that they can impede learning.

    Get socialising

    Unlike traditional methods, online learning can be solitary: you’re at home on your own, with minimal time to socialise with your coursemates. But as well as boosting your social life, encouraging discussions between peers can help learning stay on track too.

    One study suggested that discussing course material with other students in online forums may improve outcomes: the students who were most active in the learning forums were more likely to achieve a higher final grade. Some of this will obviously be to do with motivation and effort — students who put in a lot of effort studying and working on papers are also more likely to put effort into engaging with classmates. But active learning can’t hurt, either.

    Start later if you need to

    For the night owls out there, online learning is somewhat perfect: there’s no need to do much more than roll out of bed and switch on a computer to make that pesky 9am lecture, and if you miss it you can always watch later.

    And according to one 2017 study, later start times may benefit many undergraduates:  students who started and finished later, working between 11am and 9.30pm, had the best learning outcomes. The team suggested that asynchronous online classes might help provide for people with all kinds of sleep schedules — so whenever you get out of bed, online learning may work for you.

    Manage boundaries

    Smartphones have made work easier in lots of ways, but they can also come with an added helping of stress, pinging with notifications even outside of working hours. This is such a problem that the French government has taken action, giving workers the “right to disconnect” from out of hours correspondence from colleagues or bosses — and it can be even more difficult when your home is also where you work or learn.

    A study from the University of Illinois published this year also highlighted the stress of this always-on approach. Looking at a group of teachers, the team found that those with better boundary tactics — keeping work email alerts turned off on smartphones, for example — experienced less work intrusion. Setting such boundaries may help you concentrate when you’re online for work or university.

    Get enough sleep

    Getting enough sleep has many cognitive benefits. Periods of sleep between studying can help you learn faster and retain those memories for longer, for instance — so you might want to stock up on herbal teas before term starts.

    Even thinking you’ve got a good night’s sleep may act as an effective placebo, regardless of how much sleep you’ve actually had or how high quality it was. And if you can’t sleep? Don’t stress. Some research suggests insomnia doesn’t have to ruin your life, and how we think about sleep is nearly as important as how much we get.

    Find your own strategies

    Following advice is all well and good — but you might be better off finding your own strategies when it comes to productive work. A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at behavioural interventions in online learning, finding that general strategies were not that helpful for students.

    Instead, the team suggests, students and teachers alike should understand their specific needs and the context in which they’re working; if a student has ongoing issues with their internet connection, they’re not going to need advice about self-regulation, while those who find it hard to wake up in the morning might. Working on personalised strategies, therefore, might benefit you the most in the long run.

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 30, 2020 01:57 PM.

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    Exploring hypothetical thinking

    What is hypothetical thinking? We do it continually. Consider making a decision, from choosing what to eat to choosing what to do about a dangerous disease. In deciding between options, you have to consider each of them, working out what’s likely to happen if  you take it, then compare the results. A natural human way to do that is by imagining taking the given option, and following through that scenario, still “offline” in imagination, but constrained by your background sense of reality. That sense includes innate or learned patterns of expectation about what will happen next, of how things and people in general tend to behave; it also includes your knowledge of your local environment and its particular inhabitants. It may be informed by modern science. Unfortunately, it may also be distorted by various sorts of prejudice and error. Still, we often have to rely on our ability to preview options hypothetically, because we cannot try them all before deciding. Choosing the right option first time can be a matter of life or death.

    Hypothetical thinking is used for theoretical purposes as well as practical ones. For example, when a mathematician wants to prove that every number with a property P also has a property Q, the most straightforward way to do it is by supposing that an unspecified number x has P, then proving from that hypothesis that x also has Q. For that shows that if x has P, then x has Q. Since x could be any number with P, the argument establishes that every number with P also has Q.

    We can get more precise about what such cases have in common. They all involve a procedure for assessing conditional statements of the form “If X, then Y.” For instance, “X” could be “It rains” and “Y” “The match will be cancelled”, or “X” could be “I try to swim across the river” and “Y” “I’ll reach the other side.” The procedure is this. First, suppose X. Then, on that hypothesis, assess Y, using whatever background information is appropriate. Finally, whatever attitude you take to Y on the hypothesis X, take the same attitude unconditionally to “If X, then Y.” Thus, if you accept the conclusion “I’ll reach the other side” on the hypothesis “I try to swim across the river” (the current is slow, you are a strong swimmer), you unconditionally accept the conditional statement “If I try to swim the river, I’ll reach the other side.” But if you reject the conclusion “I’ll reach the other side” on the hypothesis “I try to swim across the river” (the current is fast, you are a weak swimmer), you unconditionally reject the conditional statement. We may call that procedure the Suppositional Rule. Although its explicit articulation in words is quite abstract, we implicitly use it in practice all the time. It comes so naturally to us that it may seem almost trivial.

    What we fail to realize, in unreflectively applying the Suppositional Rule, is that it contains a hidden logical inconsistency. That can be proved in several different ways; Suppose and Tell has the details. Thus it cannot be 100% reliable. But that does not mean that it is completely useless. It works well enough for practical purposes in most ordinary applications. When restricted to acceptance on the basis of mathematical proof, it works perfectly. But the unrestricted rule, which we use in everyday life, subtly generates contradictions in some cases.

    The Suppositional Rule is what psychologists call a heuristic, a way of answering questions of some kind which is quick and easy to use, but only imperfectly reliable. For example, when we are asked which personal names in a list are the most common, with no access to statistics, we may use their psychological accessibility as a heuristic, a guide to their frequency. In vision, we may use discontinuities in colour as a guide to the edges of solid objects; camouflage exploits the limitations of that heuristic.

    The inconsistency of our heuristic for conditionals helps explain why logicians have had so much trouble understanding the meaning of conditional statements in natural languages. It was already a matter of controversy amongst the ancient Greeks, more than two thousand years ago. The poet Callimachus wrote: “Even the crows on the rooftops are cawing about the question ‘Which conditionals are true?’” It is just as hotly contested today amongst philosophers and linguists. The trouble was that we didn’t realize just what rule we were applying, so its inconsistency was unclear. This affected even the data on which discussion relied, which largely consisted of sample sentences classified as “correct” or “incorrect”—using the inconsistent heuristic!

    How can such a logically flawed heuristic serve us so well in practice? As with other paradoxes uncovered by philosophers, in practice we can get a long way by backing off whenever we bump into a paradox, without trying to understand what it is we have stumbled across.

    Featured Image Credit: by Thanos Pal via Unsplash

    The post Exploring hypothetical thinking appeared first on OUPblog.

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

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    Researchers Assume White Americans Are More Representative Of Humankind Than Other Groups, According To Analysis Of Psychology Paper Titles

    By Matthew Warren

    It’s well-known that psychology has a problem with generalisability. Studies overwhelmingly involve “WEIRD” participants: those who are western and educated, from industrialised, rich and democratic societies. And while there is increasing recognition that other populations need better representation in research, many psychologists still often draw sweeping conclusions about humanity based on results from a narrow portion of the world’s population.

    A new study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that this problem may have had another, more insidious effect. The authors argue that because of psychology’s traditionally narrow focus, we’ve ended up implicitly assuming that results of studies on WEIRD groups — particularly white Americans — are somehow more universally generalisable than those from other populations.

    The study, led by Bobby Cheon at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, looked at the way in which participant samples were described in the titles of psychology papers. Their logic was simple: article titles are written to get across the most important bits of information about a study, which includes highlighting key features of the sample that might constrain how applicable the results are. For instance, if a study is conducted on children, this will probably be mentioned in the title, so that the reader immediately knows that the results may not apply to adults.

    Similarly, some study titles include information about participants’ ethnicity or country of origin. Again, the implication is that the results might not apply to people outside of that group. So if I’m a US-based researcher looking at how access to parks influences our mental health, I might call my study either “The role of green space in the mental wellbeing of adults”, or “The role of green space in the mental wellbeing of American adults”. The latter suggests that the results might not apply in, say, the United Kingdom or India.

    The team looked at the titles of 2,088 articles published in 49 prominent psychology journals between 2004 and 2017, all of which were picked out because the title specifically mentioned the ethnicity, nationality, culture or race of participants. Just 14.7% of these titles mentioned that participants were of American origin, and 34.8% mentioned a sample from a WEIRD region outside of the US (e.g. “Exercise improves healthy diet: Evidence from an Australian sample”). These figures were both significantly lower than the 50.5% that mentioned a sample from a non-WEIRD region (e.g. “Bidirectional engagement among Indian students and teachers”).

    The fact that research on non-WEIRD groups so often mentions participants’ origins in the title implies a belief that these studies might not generalise but rather only apply to that specific culture. By comparison, the fewer instances of titles mentioning participants’ origin for research conducted on WEIRD groups, and on Americans in particular, suggests these groups are considered more representative of humanity as a whole.

    It’s important to note that the vast majority of psychology research is conducted on WEIRD participants and North American samples in particular; according to some analyses, participants from Asia, Africa and Latin America are included in just a small percentage of papers in leading psychology journals. So it’s not the case that the small number of titles specifying American samples is due to there being fewer papers on Americans in general.

    Of course, there may often be the best of intentions behind calling out under-represented groups in the title of papers, particularly when we are used to psychologists studying white, Western participants by default. But as the authors point out, “the bias in the tendency to qualify sample characteristics in titles may reflect and/or reinforce a subtle form of infrahumanization … in which the nature, experiences, and behaviors of some populations are assumed to be a better reflection of humanity than others.” And, unfortunately, the team found that this bias has actually got worse in recent years.

    In a second analysis, the researchers looked at the titles of a further 945 articles from around the world which specified that the research had been conducted on a minority group from that country. The vast majority of these (85.4%) were from the United States (e.g. “Developmental trajectories of African American youths”). In contrast, the team only found 32 titles which specified that a sample consisted of white Americans. This suggests that within the United States, results from white Americans are considered more generalisable than those from minority groups.

    So what’s the solution? The researchers say there should be standardised practices for reporting the population being studied. Editors also have a responsibility, they add:  journals should avoid framing research conducted outside of the United States as “cultural”.

    I’d add that outlets reporting on psychology research — including Research Digest! — also need to be more aware of the way they frame research.  It’s important to acknowledge the limitations of research, and that often involves explaining who the participants in a study were. But it becomes a problem if you consistently highlight the limitations of generalising from studies on participants from China or Brazil, for instance, while describing American or UK-based research in generic terms.

    How USA-Centric Is Psychology? An Archival Study of Implicit Assumptions of Generalizability of Findings to Human Nature Based on Origins of Study Samples

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 29, 2020 02:20 PM.

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    Having Realistic Expectations Could Make You Happier Than Being Over-Optimistic

    By Emily Reynolds

    There are fairly good arguments for optimism and pessimism both. Optimists, who see the best in everything, are likely to have a sunnier disposition; pessimists, on the other hand, would argue that their negative expectations never leave them disappointed when the worst actually happens.

    But in the end, it might be realists who win out. According to a study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, being realistic about your life outcomes is likely to make you happier than overestimating them.

    David de Meza from the London School of Economics and Chris Dawson from the University of Bath examined data from 1,601 individuals who took part in the British Household Panel Survey between 1991 and 2009. This longitudinal survey covers a range of topics including health, finances, household composition and more.

    The team looked first at unrealistic optimism. Unlike optimism, this isn’t simply a belief that something good might happen, but an “excessive belief in the probability of good realisations” that is so strong you are likely to make mistakes in your predictions. To measure levels of unrealistic optimism, two questions were pulled out of the survey: “how do you think you will be financially a year from now?” and “would you say that you are better off, worse off or the same financially than you were a year ago?”. Comparing these expectations year on year with participants’ actual financial situation was the basis for measuring optimism.

    The researchers looked at how this unrealistic optimism was related to participants’  psychological wellbeing and life satisfaction. (They also took into account demographic information which has been linked to wellbeing, including marital status, children, monthly income, education attainment, location and consumption of tobacco.)

    As expected, those with realistic beliefs had higher psychological wellbeing than those with both low and high expectations. The most pessimistic participants had a 37.2% higher level of psychological distress than realists, with optimists not faring much better: they had an 11.8% higher level of distress. Life satisfaction also suffered for both parties: for those holding the most pessimistic expectations there was a 21.8% reduction and for the most optimistic a 13.5% reduction in general wellbeing compared to realists.

    Why this was the case, however, is unclear. It could be that optimists end up perpetually disappointed as their expectations fail to materialise, and although pessimists may avoid that disappointment, they may be more likely to experience dread or anxiety before anything even happens. The team also points out that any plan made based on an inaccurate belief is likely to deliver a worse outcome than one based on rationality. Both over- and under-estimating financial outcomes, for example, is unlikely to yield good results: optimists may fail to adequately save, whilst pessimists could avoid profitable opportunities.

    Whether unrealistic optimism would also have the same effect in a non-financial domain is yet to be seen. Finances are particularly susceptible to unrealistic optimism, which research has shown tends to be greatest in areas perceived to be under an individual’s control. It would be interesting to know whether similar results are found for an outcome that is completely out of someone’s control — their genetic susceptibility to a particular medical condition, for example.

    None of this is to say that optimism in general is a bad thing, and some research has suggested it has benefits of its own. But being overly or unrealistically optimistic may not provide those same effects.

    For those who consider themselves more realistic than optimistic, however, the study’s results could come as a relief. Culturally, positive thinking is fairly influential, with self-help gurus and wellness influencers often promoting it as a way to achieve life goals; it’s also been the basis of many bestselling books. But, as this study shows, rejecting positive thinking doesn’t have to make you miserable.

    Neither an Optimist Nor a Pessimist Be: Mistaken Expectations Lower Well-Being

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 28, 2020 01:26 PM.

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    Vets Show “Weight Bias” Against Obese Dogs And Their Owners

    By guest blogger Ananya Ak

    The concept of weight bias or “fatphobia”, the social stigma around obesity, has been around for quite a while. Studies have shown that such stigma is present even among medical professionals, which negatively impacts quality of care for patients with obesity. Over the years, there have been several instances of doctors attributing medical symptoms to obesity when the symptoms were actually caused by something more serious, like a tumour.

    But what about social stigma towards obese pets? Over 50% of cats and dogs in the USA are obese and, like humans, pets with obesity have a higher risk of metabolic, respiratory and other diseases. A new paper in the International Journal of Obesity examines whether the same weight bias that affects the delivery of healthcare in humans is prevalent among pet doctors as well.

    The investigation, conducted by a team led by Rebecca Pearl at the University of Pennsylvania, involved two online studies exploring the attitudes of the participants towards obese and lean dogs, and the treatment recommendations they gave the dogs for hypothetical symptoms. One of the studies was conducted on 205 veterinarians and the other on 103 veterinary students, with the methodology remaining identical for both the studies.

    The studies were done in two parts. In the first part, the participants were each randomly shown one of four images featuring either a lean dog and lean owners, an obese dog and lean owners, a lean dog and obese owners, or an obese dog and obese owners. The dogs and owners in each of the vignettes were identical except for their weight status. The participants were then asked questions to determine their emotional response towards the dogs and owners, and perceived causes of the dogs’ weight (e.g. biology/genetics, environmental factors, the owners’ feelings of responsibility, and their behaviours). They were also asked whether they had ever recommended weight loss treatment to the overweight owners.

    In both the studies, the participants reported stronger feelings of blame, contempt, disgust and frustration towards the overweight dogs and their owners (irrespective of the owners’ weight) compared to the lean dogs and their owners. They also felt that the owners of the obese dogs were less likely to comply with weight-related treatment recommendations.

    Moreover, the participants also seemed biased against the heavier owners. They saw the obese owners as more responsible for their dog’s weight if it was obese than if it was lean. Similarly, the lean owners got the “credit” if their dog was lean, but weren’t seen as so responsible if their dog was obese. So, the veterinarians appeared to make the stereotypical assumption that the overweight owners had poorer health behaviours than the lean owners and were transferring their own bad behaviours to their dogs, making them obese as well. Across both studies, 7-10% of participants also reported that they had previously recommended that pet owners seek weight loss treatment. This might seem like a small number, but, as the authors say, “It is surprising that any participants reported counseling owners about weight, considering that veterinarians are not trained to give health advice to humans.”

    In the second part of the study, the participants were told that the dog they had seen was presenting at their clinic with respiratory problems. They were first asked to recommend diagnostic procedures. Then, after being told that the dog was diagnosed with a collapsed trachea, they were asked how they would treat it. The participants gave similar diagnostic recommendations for the dogs irrespective of their weight. But when asked for treatment recommendations, the participants were more likely to recommend weight treatment for the obese dog than the lean dog. This is an acceptable treatment, of course, since weight is one of the causes of poor respiratory health. But focusing on weight may lead veterinarians to miss other potential causes of illness.

    This investigation had its limitations, including that all participants were either students or alumni of the same veterinary school. The sample size was thus quite limited. The focus was also solely on dogs vs. other pets like cats. A larger study with a wider selection of participants and more variety in pets is required to be able to truly generalise the results.

    But even with the limitations, this study provides empirical evidence of weight bias among veterinarians. This is significant considering that unlike humans, pets cannot voice their concerns and a wrong diagnosis or treatment recommendation could prove dangerous to our beloved animal friends. Thus, just as interventions are put in place to reduce bias among doctors, steps may need to be taken to ensure that veterinarians remain mindful of their biases while diagnosing and treating pets.

    Who’s a good boy? Effects of dog and owner body weight on veterinarian perceptions and treatment recommendations

    Post written for BPS Research Digest by Ananya Ak. Ananya is a long-time reader of the Research Digest, studying to be a clinical psychologist. As a freelance copywriter, she’s also interested in the psychology of bias, persuasion and communication. You can find her on LinkedIn and read about her personal life and the books she reads on her blog.

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 27, 2020 10:58 AM.

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    A New Theory of Dreaming

    Do dreams exist to protect the brain's visual cortex?

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on July 26, 2020 01:44 PM.

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    Pensioner Jan van Deursen and postdoc engage Hoecker Lawyers to sue me in court

    Jan van Deursen, together with his postdoc Bennett Childs, engaged a notorious German law firm against me. The former Mayo Clinic professor denies accusations of bullying and discrimination and obviously seeks to prevent his lab members from talking to the press. Hoecker Lawyers claim van Deursen resigned as pensioner on 24 July 2020, voluntarily.

    in For Better Science on July 26, 2020 06:35 AM.

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    Author retracts Nature commentary over concerns about section’s sponsorship

    Nature has retracted a recent commentary after the author complained that he had been misled by the relationship of the publication to a financial sponsor and told to avoid critiquing work from the institution. The journal says it is revisiting its “editorial guidelines and processes” in the wake of the case.  Kenneth Witwer, an RNA … Continue reading Author retracts Nature commentary over concerns about section’s sponsorship

    in Retraction watch on July 23, 2020 07:25 PM.

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    The Ethics of Dangerous Code

    Who should get to decide which software is safe to share?

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on July 23, 2020 06:00 PM.

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    Receiving Money-Saving Gifts Can Make People Feel Ashamed And Embarrassed

    By Emily Reynolds

    Looking for the perfect gift can be a pleasure and a curse: the joy of picking exactly the right thing vs. the anxiety that you’ve completely missed the mark. Whether to get somebody something luxurious but impractical or something with utility is another common dilemma.

    It’s also one that may have unintended consequences: while some practical gifts — those that save someone time, for example — can be appealing and well-received, others may fall short. If you were thinking of getting that special someone a gift with the intention of saving them money, for example, think again — you might end up making them feel ashamed, according to research recently published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research.

    If someone is short on money, it’s possible that a gift designed to help them save more could be well received. But, Alice Lee-Yoon from UCLA and colleagues hypothesise, the opposite is actually more likely to happen: people are likely to feel ashamed of such a gift and see it as an indication of either a lower status overall or a greater differential in status between themselves and the gift-giver.

    In the first study, 405 participants were asked to write about a gift they had recently been given: either a gift that they felt was intended to save them time, or one intended to save them money. They then rated how much the gift made them feel guilty, embarrassed, ashamed, proud, brave and good, and ranked their status in society and where they felt the gift-giver would rank their own status.

    As expected, recipients experienced greater feelings of shame, embarrassment and other negative emotions when they felt a gift had been given to save them money — gift cards, coupons or memberships, for example — and also believed that the gift-giver saw themselves as higher in status compared to the participant.

    A second study looked at real-life gift-giving. Two hundred students were given a $5 Starbucks gift card and instructed to give it to another person within the week. Half of the cards displayed a message indicating the gift was designed to save the recipient time, while the other messages explained the card was designed to save money.

    The card included a survey similar to that in the first study for the recipient to fill in. And again, those receiving a gift intending to save money experienced more negative emotions, and believed that the gift-giver saw a greater status differential between the giver and receiver, than those receiving a gift to save time. However, three months later, cards with time saving messages were equally likely to have been redeemed as those with money saving messages.

    In a third study participants were asked to imagine coming home after a long day to a friend bringing them dinner from Chipotle, either to save them time or money. They then answered the same questions about negative emotions from the previous study, as well as indicating their experience of resource scarcity — how often had they been short of time or money? Not only did participants again feel more negative emotions when a gift was given to save them money, these were intensified when they had more experience of being short of money. Gifts intended to save the recipient time, however, were not particularly influenced by experience of time scarcity.

    A final study looked at whether the intended purpose of a gift could influence decisions about what to buy. The team asked 303 participants to imagine a friend had given them a gift card, this time $30 to spend on Amazon. In the control condition, participants were told their friend was giving them the card with no explanation; in the money stress condition their friend said “I know you’ve been stressed for money”; and in the inadequate money condition said “I know you’ve felt you have had an inadequate amount of money lately”. Participants were also asked how they would use the card — either on a Boston University hoodie or a Harvard University hoodie.

    Status, again, seemed to play a large part. Those in the control condition were less likely to buy the Harvard sweater (which was perceived to be higher status) than those in the money stress or inadequate money conditions, and there was a higher power differential in the latter conditions too. How choosing hoodies in the lab would translate to real world decisions, however, is unclear.

    Why do gifts fall flat when picked out to save the recipient money? The team suggests that gift-givers may be focusing too heavily on their own perspective, failing to predict the emotional responses that a recipient low on money might experience. This may be particularly true if the giver has never experienced money scarcity themselves.

    The team also notes that the effect seen in this study might change over time: someone who felt ashamed in the moment might later appreciate having received a money-saving gift from a friend, particularly if their financial situation changes in some way. But for the time being, you’re probably best off avoiding any mention of money when you next hand over that carefully-selected gift.

    Overcoming Resource Scarcity: Consumers’ Response to Gifts Intending to Save Time and Money

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 23, 2020 02:58 PM.

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    Working toward racial and social equality: research and commentary

    Free access to curated research related to systemic racism, healthcare bias, racial violence, law enforcement reform and social justice movements

    in Elsevier Connect on July 23, 2020 01:22 PM.

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    Co-author of controversial hydroxychloroquine study has 2018 paper corrected for “unintentional mistake”

    Didier Raoult, whose claims that hydroxychloroquine can treat COVID-19 have been widely disputed, has had a 2018 paper corrected for what his team says was unintentional duplication of a figure. Here’s the correction for “Identification of rickettsial immunoreactive proteins using a proximity ligation assay Western blotting and the traditional immunoproteomic approach,” which came four months … Continue reading Co-author of controversial hydroxychloroquine study has 2018 paper corrected for “unintentional mistake”

    in Retraction watch on July 23, 2020 12:36 PM.

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    CRL and East View Release Third Open Access Collection | CRL

    "CRL and East View Information Services have released the Independent and Revolutionary Mexican Newspapers (link is external), the third Open Access collection of titles digitized under the Global Press Archive (GPA) CRL Charter Alliance. This collection adds to the growing collection of Open Access material(link is external) available through East View's Global Press Archive program. The Independent and Revolutionary Mexican Newspapers collection, with a preliminary release of 135,000 pages from 477 titles, will ultimately include approximately 1,000 titles from Mexico’s pre-independence, independence and revolutionary periods (1807-1929). The collection traces the evolution of Mexico during this pivotal period and provides rare documentation of the dramatic events of this era, including coverage of Mexican partisan politics, yellow press, political and social satire, as well as local, regional, national and international news...."

    in Open Access Tracking Project: news on July 23, 2020 12:11 PM.

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    Why did a journal suddenly retract a 45-year-old paper over lack of informed consent?

    A journal has retracted a 45-year-old case study over concerns that the authors had failed to obtain proper informed consent from the family they’d described.  The article, “Stickler syndrome report of a second Australian family,” appeared in Pediatric Radiology, a Springer Nature title, in 1975. The first author was Kazimierz Kozlowski, a prominent radiologist who … Continue reading Why did a journal suddenly retract a 45-year-old paper over lack of informed consent?

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

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    A big Nature study on a tiny dinosaur is being retracted

    A paper on a pocket-sized winged “dinosaur” is being retracted after new unpublished findings cast doubt on the authors’ characterizations of their discovery. The study, “Hummingbird-sized dinosaur from the Cretaceous period of Myanmar,” was published in Nature on March 11, 2020. Many news outlets, including the New York Times, Newsweek and National Geographic, picked up … Continue reading A big Nature study on a tiny dinosaur is being retracted

    in Retraction watch on July 22, 2020 03:00 PM.

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    Plant “Cognition” Deserves Greater Attention In Comparative Psychology, Paper Argues

    By Emma Young

    Comparative psychology is the study of animal behaviour, and its psychological underpinnings. But the term wasn’t always this restrictive. Until about 1935, plant behaviour also featured in texts in the field. Now Umberto Castiello at the University of Padua argues that it’s high time that plants regained their rightful place in the study of the psychology of non-human organisms.

    In a paper published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, Castiello gathers together a selection of recent evidence that plants can communicate, remember, recognise kin, decide and even count — “all abilities that one would normally call cognitive if they were observed in animals”. Far from being hard-wired, inflexible respondents to a changing world, they can adapt to change, benefit from classical conditioning, and even come to make predictions about the future.

    There’s more than an improved understanding of plants at stake, writes Castiello: “As plants should be considered cognitive agents, as such, they offer us a unique opportunity for a comparative approach, which can potentially lead us to the ‘roots’ of cognition.”

    Plants are clearly capable of all kinds of sensing — they can detect everything from changing levels of daylight to levels of the vital nutrient phosphorus in the soil, to signals from each other.

    And when it comes to communication, plants have various methods at their disposal. Their sophisticated use of a suite of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) could be considered a language, as varying groups of VOCs can be used flexibly in new interactions and new contexts, Castiello argues. A combination of different VOCs allows the plant to transmit information about attack by a herbivore, or a more general wound, for example. There’s even evidence for dialects among different species, and that plants that are more closely related understand each other better. This could mean that predator-attack signals would work to protect relatives more than unrelated plants.

    Evidence for plant learning is also growing. For example, after being repeatedly dropped on the floor, Mimosa pudica (often known as “sensitive plant” or “touch-me-not”) stops responding with its normal leaf-folding response to a shock — it comes to “realise” that being dropped on the floor is “normal” — but remains sensitive to other types of assault. Even more remarkably, a lab study found that garden pea seedlings can learn that a sudden increase in airflow, caused by a fan, is followed by the occurrence of (desirable) blue light, and will then grow towards the fan, even in the absence of light. This work demonstrates training by classical conditioning.

    In other research, pea plants have been found to make “decisions” that resemble those that a human would make. In this study, each plant’s roots were split between two different pots, one of which received a constant level of nutrients, the other a variable level. The overall level of nutrients in these pairs of pots was also varied, so that some pairs had high levels, and some low.

    In overall low-nutrient situations, the plants went for the safe option of the pot with the stable (if unsatisfying) level of nutrients, focusing root growth in this pot. But in higher nutrient conditions, they took a punt on the variable-level pot. As Castiello writes: “The experiment showed that plants are able to respond to risk and to switch to risk-prone or risk-averse behaviour depending on resource availability.”

    Castiello also outlines evidence that though plants will compete for resources, they can also support each other, exchanging nutrients via the mycorrhizal network of funghi, which connects tree root systems. As he reports, one study even found that Paper birch and Douglas fir trees growing together in a forest in British Columbia were aware when one was in need of help to dispose of excess carbon, and readily gave it. This kind of reciprocal generosity, based on need, to benefit all, looks very like the need-based giving observed in human societies.

    In his paper, Castiello also considers research demonstrating that plants can learn the shape of a structure on which they’re growing and adapt to match, choose where to live (by directing their growth), cooperate with ants, and so much more.

    “The question should no longer be if plants are cognitive organisms but how plants make use of their cognitive capacities,” Castiello writes. And as the work suggests that a complex, centralised brain  is not necessary for cognitive behaviour, it has implications for how we understand cognition.

    Over the past century or so, research on plants has focused on their physiology. Castiello, for one, would like that to change. As he says, psychologists have a suite of tools and techniques available to study plant behaviour — and they are also in an ideal position to theorise about the mechanisms that underlie them.

    (Re)claiming Plants in Comparative Psychology

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 22, 2020 02:00 PM.

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    Retraction of paper on romantic crushes marks second for psychology researcher

    A psychology researcher who left her tenure track position at Northwestern University in 2018 amid concerns about the integrity of her data has lost a second paper. Here’s the abstract of the 2018 paper, titled “Romantic crushes increase consumers’ preferences for strong sensory stimuli:”  What influences consumers’ preferences for strong versus weak sensory stimuli? In … Continue reading Retraction of paper on romantic crushes marks second for psychology researcher

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

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    What robots can teach about inclusive education

    A technology course for underserved youth in Amsterdam shows them they can achieve what they set their minds to

    in Elsevier Connect on July 22, 2020 08:56 AM.

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    Infectious disease researcher “recklessly” faked data in grants worth millions, says federal watchdog

    A pediatric infectious disease specialist in California “recklessly” fabricated his data in a 2009 published study and four grant submissions, worth millions of dollars, to the National Institutes of Health, according to the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI). The federal watchdog said in a settlement agreement published today that Prasadarao Nemani, of Children’s Hospital … Continue reading Infectious disease researcher “recklessly” faked data in grants worth millions, says federal watchdog

    in Retraction watch on July 21, 2020 05:25 PM.

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    Calling exercise data “atypical, improbable, and to put it bluntly, pretty weird,” sleuths call for seven retractions

    A group of data sleuths is calling for the retraction of seven articles by an exercise physiologist in Brazil whose data they believe to be “highly unlikely” to have occurred experimentally. In a preprint posted to the server SportRxiv, the group — led by Andrew Vigotsky, a biomedical engineer at Northeastern University — details their … Continue reading Calling exercise data “atypical, improbable, and to put it bluntly, pretty weird,” sleuths call for seven retractions

    in Retraction watch on July 21, 2020 02:00 PM.

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    Religious People In The US — But Not Elsewhere In The World — Have More Negative Attitudes Towards Science

    By Matthew Warren

    It’s a common view among the public — and certain intellectuals — that science and religion are in fundamental opposition to each other, despite claims to the contrary. As Richard Dawkins put it in his essay The Great Convergence, “To an honest judge, the alleged convergence between religion and science is a shallow, empty, hollow, spin-doctored sham.”

    Part of this conviction that science and religion cannot be reconciled comes down to a belief that the two doctrines are psychologically incompatible. How can someone put their faith in a divine being while also trying to make sense of the world through careful observation and hypothesis testing?

    But a new study in Social Psychological and Personality Science casts doubt on the idea that religious people tend to be less scientifically-minded. Jonathon McPhetres from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and colleagues find that while the link between religiosity and negative attitudes towards science is pretty robust in the United States, in other countries that relationship is very different.

    The team first explored Americans’ religiosity and attitudes towards science across a series of nine studies comprising more than 2,300 participants. Each study used the same measure of religiosity: participants rated themselves on six statements like “I believe in God” or “I consider myself religious”. But the studies varied in their approach to measuring participants’ stance on science. For instance, in some studies participants rated their own interest in scientific topics (e.g. robotics) vs neutral topics (e.g. music), while in others they responded to statements about their attitudes towards science (e.g. “The world is better because of science”).

    In pretty much all of the studies, scores on the religiosity scale were negatively associated with scores on the science scales. That is, people who were more religious tended to have less interest in science, or more negative attitudes towards it.

    (Interestingly, these studies also included an experimental manipulation: some participants were first “primed” to think of religion, by listing reasons that religion is good, for instance, or by copying a snippet of text about religion. But this had no impact on the results, adding to other recent findings which have cast doubt on many priming effects).

    So far, so unsurprising. But would the same relationship hold up outside of the United States? To test this, the team conducted a couple of further studies. Firstly, they looked at data that had already been collected from a large, global survey. As part of that assessment, participants had rated their agreement with three items concerning science (e.g. “Science and technology are making our lives healthier, easier, and more comfortable”), and had answered three questions about religiosity (e.g. “How important is religion in your life?”).

    The team looked at data from more than 66,000 participants across 60 countries. And, overall, they found a small negative correlation between religiosity and science attitudes. But this was far from consistent between the different countries: some nations showed positive correlations, while others showed no relationship between the two at all.

    To delve further into differences between countries, the team asked people from Brazil, the Czech Republic, the Philippines, South Africa, and Sweden to complete the same measures of interest in science and attitudes towards science as in the first set of studies.  This time — and in stark contrast to the American results — there were small positive correlations in each country: those who were more religious tended to be a little more interested in science and had more positive attitudes.

    Overall, the results suggest that, for much of the world, rejection of science is not necessarily a feature of religion. Instead, the authors write, “apparent conflicts may be the product of other sociocultural and historical features of specific countries.” For instance, American Christianity has certain aspects of religious fundamentalism, such as a literal interpretation of the bible, and many political conservatives in the US have strong ties to the Christian right. These sorts of factors may help to explain why the country seems to have developed a unique conflict between science and religion.

    There are other interpretations, of course: perhaps scientifically-minded Americans tend to reject religion, rather than the other way around. I also expect that some people would label the simultaneous holding of both scientific and religious views as “irrational”, and argue that the research says little about reconciling the two ideologies.

    Fine — those kinds of philosophical arguments are unlikely to end any time soon. More interestingly to me, the study neatly illustrates the problem of relying solely on data from American participants (or participants from other Western, industrialised societies) in psychological research. Whatever your take on the results, it’s clear that making sweeping generalisations based on such a narrow group can lead to stories about how we think and behave that are just not true for vast swathes of humanity.

    Religious Americans Have Less Positive Attitudes Toward Science, but This Does Not Extend to Other Cultures

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 21, 2020 01:51 PM.

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    Teeth Marks from Anna Dumitriu on Vimeo.“Teeth...

    Teeth Marks from Anna Dumitriu on Vimeo.

    “Teeth Marks” is a body of work and exhibition by artist Anna Dumitriu explores the strange histories and emerging futures of dentistry from teeth worms, false teeth and the development of anaesthetics to 3D printing and the DNA of dental microbes. It looks at the societal and psychological impacts of this defining field of medicine through a deep investigation of the Birmingham Dental Hospital Historic Collection and collaboration with present day researchers who work at the cutting edge of medical science. annadumitriu.co.uk/portfolio/teeth-marks/

    in Anna Dumitriu: Bioart and Bacteria on July 21, 2020 01:46 PM.

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    “[H]ow gullible reviewers and editors…can be”: An excerpt from Science Fictions

    We’re pleased to present an excerpt from Stuart Ritchie’s new book, Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth. One of the best-known, and most absurd, scientific fraud cases of the twentieth century also concerned transplants – in this case, skin grafts. While working at the prestigious Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute … Continue reading “[H]ow gullible reviewers and editors…can be”: An excerpt from Science Fictions

    in Retraction watch on July 21, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    People Who Crave Structure Are More Likely To Declare That Errors In Media Reports Are “Fake News”

    By Emily Reynolds

    There’s been much interest in what drives fake news over the last few years: who exactly shares it, and why? But beyond actual fake news — that is, purposefully misleading information spread online to further a particular agenda — recent years have also seen many people labelling genuine journalism as untrustworthy or downright false.

    There are obvious ideological drivers to this, with some keen to undermine political opponents by any means necessary. But there might be another reason people are drawn to declaring “fake news!”: a need for order.

    Viewing publications as susceptible to honest mistakes or human error implies a world in which information can be distorted for unpredictable reasons; viewing them as deliberately and methodically deceiving readers for sinister reasons, on the other hand, implies some sort of order. It therefore follows that those who crave structure may also be more likely to deem articles false, suggest Jordan R. Axt from McGill University and colleagues in a study in Psychological Science.

    To test this theory, the team asked participants how much they agreed with statements measuring their personal need for structure (e.g. “I enjoy having a clear and structured mode of life” and “It upsets me to go into a situation without knowing what I can expect from it”). Participants also reported their political affiliation, from very conservative to very liberal, before receiving information about errors in news reporting.

    One piece of writing stated conservative news media was more likely to publish news stories that were later retracted; the other claimed the opposite, citing the liberal media as making more retractions. Participants were randomly assigned to either condition, meaning some saw material consistent with their own ideology (e.g. a Democrat reading that the conservative media makes more retractions) while others saw ideologically inconsistent material.

    Those who read ideologically consistent material were more likely, as you’d expect, to indicate that media outlets were intentionally deceiving readers rather than making honest mistakes. More interestingly, those who had a higher personal need for structure were also more likely to believe something was intentionally faked (for Democrats, this was even true when they read about retractions by the liberal media). Conservatives also had a higher need for structure and a higher level of belief in deception than liberals.

    In a further study, participants completed the same measures before being shown a scenario which didn’t mention retractions, but rather stated that researchers had found an “alarming number of potentially misleading or inaccurate stories”. Democratic participants read that these stories had been published by Fox News, while Republicans read that they originated on CNN. A second version of the study used specific examples: Democrats read about a debunked Fox News report on Hunter Biden, while Republicans read about a heavily criticised Washington Post article about Trump’s relationship with the Ukrainian president.

    In this case, participants’ need for structure was not, overall, significantly associated with their perceptions that the media had intentionally deceived readers. However, when the team looked at Republican and Democratic participants separately, they found that this association did exist among Republicans.

    In a final study, participants wrote either about a recent event in their life that was uncontrollable, or about something that had happened that they could control. They were then shown the ideologically consistent scenario suggesting high rates of retractions among news outlets with opposing political views to their own.

    Results showed, again, a correlation between need for structure and perception of intentional deception in Republican (but not Democratic) participants. Interestingly, participants who had written about feeling out of control were also more likely to believe the media was purposefully misleading people than those who had written about a controllable event.

    This is a particularly important point. If making people feel out of control can drive them to declare news as fake, then perhaps interventions could be developed to improve feelings of control among populations thought to be particularly likely to feel less in control: older people, for instance, or those occupying “low status” positions.

    Overall, the study suggests that a need for structure has a significant impact on someone’s likelihood to call something fake news — an effect that was particularly strong for Republicans.  To mitigate this, the team suggests a goal of “guiding people towards trusting all news sources” — an idea they do admit is somewhat unrealistic.

    It does seem unlikely. There will never be consensus around certain political issues, and those occupying different positions on the political spectrum are likely to continue ascribing “truth” and “lies” to fundamentally different viewpoints. Increasing media literacy, as the team suggests, might help: ensuring people know the difference between reporting and opinion, for example. But there’s one more unfortunate truth that the team doesn’t acknowledge — some news sources simply aren’t trustworthy.

    The Psychological Appeal of Fake-News Attributions

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 20, 2020 03:06 PM.

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    Our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion

    The Black Lives Matter movement in the US and elsewhere has rightly brought about a much-needed reexamination of deeply rooted issues around diversity and equity for minorities and marginalized populations. Structural racism and other inequities, for example around gender or status, continue to affect academia world-wide. At PLOS we recognize that we can do better — our journals can and must play a role in addressing concerns around diversity, equity and inclusion. 

    These are not new concerns, and we have been working to make our journals a home for diverse voices. However, we recognize that we need to step up our efforts in a number of areas and commit to doing so. For our journals, this means:

    • We will assess and survey the diversity of our contributors, from the thousands of Academic Editors handling submissions at our journals to our authors and reviewers. This will establish a baseline and allow us to hold ourselves accountable for making measurable positive changes. 
    • We need to improve the diversity of our journals and their leadership. This includes our internal staff but also our Academic Editors appointed to senior roles. We need to ensure that our journals are representative of broader society as well as the academic community, and that the voices of different communities or groups of researchers are heard and play an integral role in our journals. We commit to proactively seeking out underrepresented communities to redress the balance.
    • We will continue our efforts to ensure that all manuscript handling processes are set up to recognize and minimize bias. We are reflecting internally on how we can improve our understanding of these issues and minimise any of our own biases, and will work with our Academic Editors and peer reviewers to address any form of bias against authors or their origin in the handling of submitted manuscripts. 
    • Within the scope of each of our journals we aim to be a publishing platform for research that studies inequalities, racism, and inequities facing minority and/or marginalized populations. In doing so, we need to ensure that the study of these populations recognizes the problem of racism and inequalities, and that the topic is covered appropriately in published papers. We need to be mindful of inappropriate discussions of race in relationship with genetics traits for example. Inequalities and racism do affect the well-being of minority populations, and this needs to be considered in public health research settings as well.
    • We have the obligation to continue to uphold the highest standards of ethics. Research about minorities or other affected populations needs to be conducted to the highest editorial standards and ethics guidelines, and should award credit to contributors from these communities as appropriate.  We will not publish research intended to directly support oppression or persecution. 

    Some of these commitments are items that we will be able to address swiftly, whereas others will take more time to achieve. This topic will therefore be a regular feature on PLOS Blogs, so watch this space. We are committed to pursue these activities in the short as well as long term, and to facilitate change not just at PLOS’ journals, but also in the broader academic community where possible. We count on your support in this endeavor and will appreciate any feedback, help or suggestions for specific actions to take. Thank you!

    The post Our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion appeared first on The Official PLOS Blog.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on July 20, 2020 02:39 PM.

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    Early Sharing: Should You Take the Plunge?

    What does early sharing accomplish?

    Scientific discovery is a process of continuous vetting and refinement. While immediate access to the latest findings allows for accelerated discoveries, sharing early and transparently also results in more checkpoints throughout the research process for communities to provide feedback. The need for effective and time-sensitive global collaboration has been further emphasized by the COVID-19 pandemic. Adopting early sharing practices helps ensure your research is available as soon as it’s needed, regardless of your field. 

    Early sharing allows for the latest research to be connected without waiting for the final publication. Whether it’s through a preprint, open data set, or accessible protocol, researchers are empowered to cite the latest discoveries in their current research. Learning how and when researchers have adopted early sharing is the first step to contributing to this global movement. 

    Sharing Before the Study Takes Place

    The research question being pursued and the resulting study design create the foundation of a research project. These core elements are often internally reviewed to ensure the resulting study is as sound and focused as possible, but the greater research community typically doesn’t see the methodology of a study until the results and conclusions are published. By preregistering your study protocol early, you enable broader research assessment to begin at the foundation of a study. The study design itself goes through peer review so that potential improvements or flaws are detected before the study actually takes place. When the final research article is ready to be assessed, editors can consider the study’s rigor and adherence to the study design.   

    To help ensure a study follows the highest standards and has long-term reproducibility, PLOS ONE and PLOS Biology both offer preregistration options. Preregistration can help reduce confirmation bias of editors and reviewers by confirming the underlying validity of your research. Additionally, having your protocol published allows others to pursue your study, or to tweak your design to fit their available resources. 

    Sharing Initial Findings

    Earlier this year, PLOS Biology announced two new linked articles types: Discovery Reports and Update Articles. To alleviate the pressure of having to wait for a fully formed story to develop, Discovery Articles give researchers the flexibility to publish novel initial findings and as a first step. Once the Discovery Report is published, both the original authors and other research groups can augment the initial report by submitting Update Articles for review. 

    As multiple Update Articles can be linked to a single Discovery Report, your initial finding can spring into a series of interconnected advancements. 

    Sharing Before Publication

    Preprints provide a platform for open, public review that is independent from a journal and doesn’t depend on an invitation from the editor. While the original preprint can be viewed and cited prior to publication, the preprint can be updated as the manuscript is revised to ensure the most recent version of your paper is always available. 

    PLOS makes the interaction between preprint servers and our journals as simple as possible. You can directly submit your preprint to our journals from medRxiv and bioRxiv, or you can include the DOI of your preprint on the submission form if you used a different server. For those in other subjects, there is an ever-growing collection of active preprint servers. Alternatively, authors of life science articles can opt-in to have the paper uploaded to bioRxiv during submission, without any additional work. Our editors are encouraged to consider comments left on a preprint, allowing for the open review platform that preprints provide to potentially accelerate and deepen the review process. 

    That said, open and accessible data sets are another opportunity to collaborate among far-spanning researchers. Recent research has shown that publications that link to data in a repository are cited more frequently on average. As many researchers around the world don’t have access to the infrastructure required to generate their own data sets, making your data available without restrictions is an easy way to ensure your research is maximizing its contribution and usefulness. 

    Early sharing opens up opportunities throughout the research process to share study designs, initial findings, and data at a global scale. Involve your communities with early sharing practices so that vetting happens throughout the research process, ultimately improving the credibility of your final research output.

    The post Early Sharing: Should You Take the Plunge? appeared first on The Official PLOS Blog.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on July 20, 2020 02:19 PM.

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    COVID-19: The Health Inequity Magnifier

    The COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to mitigate its spread have affected people across the entire world—but not equally. Many of the same groups of individuals known to suffer a disproportionate burden of poor health outcomes are faring especially poorly during this pandemic. In many ways, the disparate outcomes being documented in COVID-19 are simply offering a magnified view of longstanding health inequities.

    The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation stated that “Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be healthy“. To achieve health equity, obstacles to health must be removed. Socially disadvantaged people, who have been historically marginalized and/or disfavored by social and political institutions, have faced significant obstacles to health equity in the midst of COVID-19.

    To achieve health equity, obstacles to health must be removed.

    Social distancing, a key recommendation for preventing the spread of COVID-19, has proven to be very difficult for socially disadvantaged persons. Housing insecurity and homelessness are established risk factors for chronic health conditions, including kidney disease. In the setting of COVID-19, these challenges have meant that many individuals cannot feasibly maintain the recommended physical distance from others. Further, for people in service professions that require they interact daily with the public, their ability to socially distance has also been quite challenged. Racial and ethnic minorities and low income persons are overrepresented in such professions, which has increased their risk of COVID-19 exposure.

    For people who have sought testing for COVID-19, inequities in health care access and services have been on full display. One report noted that African Americans patients with potential symptoms of COVID-19 (e.g. cough and fever) were less likely to be given a COVID-19 test than were white persons with the same symptoms. This type of biased delivery of health services can lead to socially disadvantaged individuals presenting later (e.g. for hospitalization) with severe symptoms or even death.  As vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 are developed and disseminated, individuals who have directly, or vicariously, experienced bias in the health care setting may be reticent to seek these options, out of fear of inequitable treatment.

    COVID-19 mitigation efforts have led to shortages of food in many communities due to store closures as well as bulk purchases by individuals who can afford to do so. Low-income communities have been particularly affected. A consequence of structural inequities including residential segregation, food access is known to vary by community demographics. In this pandemic, diet-sensitive health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease, may be exacerbated, particularly for persons facing food insecurity.

    Solutions for addressing the inequities magnified by COVID-19 have been offered and include expanding access to testing and health care, and providing social services to keep vulnerable groups safe. People with kidney diseases are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death. Because many are also socially disadvantaged, it will be important to evaluate and expand the services they are provided, including those addressing social needs.

    The post COVID-19: The Health Inequity Magnifier appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on July 20, 2020 01:53 PM.

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    BMC Series highlights: June 2020

    Colorectal cysts: A simple model system for testing the efficacy of CAR-T cells against malignancies

    Optimal CAR T therapy validation requires a 3-D cellular system that mimics the complex tumour cellular architecture. In a study published in BMC Biotechnology Dillard et al. report the development of colorectal cysts from a single colorectal cell line Caco-2 as simple and reliable tools to validate CAR T-mediated therapy.

    Method principle, taken from the original publication.

    CAR T cells are T lymphocytes, genetically engineered to express a Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) on their surface that recognizes CD19 marker on the surface of B lymphocytes and also promotes signalling events that control the activation of lysis. This results in the destruction of the B lymphocyte. Since CD19 is a widespread marker in cancerous B cells, CAR-T cells are being used as an allogenic treatment of B-cell malignancies.  The CAR T-mediated immunotherapy for cancer has revolutionized the treatment of ‘liquid tumors’, i.e, haematological, however, it hasn’t been so effective in the treatment of solid tumors, as CAR-T cells are unable to survive in the complex tumour microenvironment and target successfully all the tumor-generating cells.

    For this reason, using a two-dimensional (2-D) cellular system, in which CAR-T cells are added in a monolayer of cultured target cancer cells, to validate CAR-T cell functionality and specificity, is inadequate, as the 2-D system does not mimic the challenging 3-D morphology and organization of solid tumors. Moreover, it has been demonstrated that cancer cells acquire a different gene expression profile when cultured in 3-D spheroids compared to 2-D, which may affect their recognition by CAR-T cells.

    In order to create a simple 3-D cellular system that could be used for the validation of CAR-T cells, the authors took advantage of a colorectal cancer cell line, Caco-2, that has been shown to form 3-D cyst-like structures by self-organisation, with the apical surface of the epithelial cells facing a central lumen. First, they transduced Caco-2 cells with the CD19 gene, in a way that ensured cell-surface expression of the CD19 antigen on their surface (CD19Caco-2 cells). Next, they showed that CD19CAR-T cells were able to kill CD19Caco-2 cells, as effectively as in a 2-D culture, while Caco-2 cells remained intact. Finally, they demonstrated that the system was compatible with super-resolution microscopy, high-throughput live imaging and bioluminescence assays; hence the ability of the CAR-T cells to kill the cancer cells and destroy the cyst can be monitored with both qualitative and quantitative methods.

    This is a simple and versatile method that can be adapted to the use of a variety of cancer lines that have been shown to form similar simple 3-D structures. It could therefore, constitute a powerful tool for the therapeutic validation of CAR-T cells in different contexts.



    Bipolar disease is prevalent in homeless people

    Numerous studies have shown that bipolar disease (BD) is a common disorder among homeless people. In a study published in BMC Public Health Ayano et al. performed a systematic review and meta-analysis by pulling existing data from the literature, which confirmed and estimated more accurately the high pooled prevalence of BD among homeless people.

    Bipolar disorder (BP) is a mental health condition characterized by lengthy periods of extreme mood swings. BP has a prevalence of about 1-2.4 % in the general population, but has been shown to affect 2.41 to 42.42% of homeless people, depending on the study. BD has a severe negative effect in homeless people and is associated with an increased risk of disability, substance/drug abuse. In order to provide recommendations for future research and clinical practice, the authors performed a systematic review and meta-analysis using the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses) guidelines. From a total of 3236 articles identifies, only 10 articles met the inclusion criteria for the final systematic review and meta-analysis that was conducted. The studies were performed in five countries/continents (Canada, USA, Brazil, Germany, Ireland and France) and were published between 2001 and 2017.

    Based on the random-effects model to account for existing heterogeneity the pooled BD prevalence among homeless people was estimated at 11.4%. Subgroup analysis by country/continent showed the prevalence of BD to be 10% in Europe and 13.2 %  in other countries, while subgroup analysis by the quality of the studies showed a pooled BD prevalence of 9.9% for high-quality studies and 11.8% for both low and moderate-quality studies. These numbers are significantly higher than the ones reported for the general population.

    Likely reasons for this increased between BD and homelessness is the co-occurrence of other medical conditions, such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, which have been associated with an increased risk of bipolar and other mental illnesses. Also, the possible exposure of homeless people to physical and sexual trauma, which is associated with the onset of manic episodes and bipolar disease in risky groups, may also be a factor. Moreover, the higher co-existence of depression, anxiety, psychosis and alcohol-related disorders in homeless people may also constitute a possible reason for the higher prevalence of BD.

    This study demonstrates the importance of further high-quality studies to determine the etiologies of the high prevalence of BD observed in homeless people and of targeted interventions to prevent and diagnose BD in these individuals. The authors recommend the strengthening of the mental health services for homeless people.



    Calculating committed CO2 emissions of the shipping industry

    The shipping industry has one of the highest carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and needs to take action to reduce such emissions as soon as possible. In a study published in BMC Energy Bullock et al. analyses for the first time the committed emissions of the shipping sector taking into consideration individual ship type data from existing and new ships and assesses which measures should be taken to reduce baseline committed emissions to meet the Paris agreement goals for action on climate change.

    The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Paris agreement goal is to keep the increase of global temperature below 2oC above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to keep the temperature rise below 1.5 oC. For this to be achieved global CO2 emissions need to be reduced as soon as possible.

    The shipping sector is the main contributor of CO2 emissions, estimated at around 800 MtCO2 per year, hence it has set a target of at least 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 compared to 2008.  However, until now the committed emissions of shipping, i.e., the CO2 emissions expected based on existing energy infrastructure, are based on assumptions of ship lifetimes extrapolated from other transport systems. The average scrappage age of ships is 28 years, which is much higher than road transport vehicles, therefore, this practice underestimates committed emissions in shipping. As a result, the ‘carbon budget’, which is the amount of CO2 that can be emitted over time while limiting global warming to the accepted levels of the Paris agreement for shipping industry is estimated to be higher for the shipping industry, than it really should.

    In this study the authors analysed committed emissions in 11,000 existing and new ships in the European Union’s new emissions monitoring scheme (EU MRV), taking into account the wide range of ship types, as well as their different sizes and scrappage age, using datasets published for the first time in 2019. It was found that five ship types: container, bulk carriers, ro pax, oil tankers and passenger ships are responsible for 71% of committed emissions, with the highest baseline committed emissions estimated for container ships. In particular, the new containers account for the highest committed emissions, as although they are more efficient, they are much larger than older containers and this has a greater impact. Moreover, passenger ships were found to have disproportionately high emissions, despite their small numbers, due to their long life time. Overall the baseline committed emissions from all existing ships in the EU MRV fleet was found to be 2260 MtCO2, much larger than estimated in previous studies. This is equivalent to 85-212% of the carbon budget to achieve the 1.5 oC target that is available for the EU MRV fleet, therefore, significant mitigation measures are required to reduce these figures.

    Committed emissions for existing ships, from the 10 largest ship types through time, taken from the original article.

    The authors found that the combination of four measures: slow speed, technical and operational improvements, fuel blending and the use of zero-carbon fuel, if implemented between 2020s-2030s has the potential to reduce the baseline committed emissions by 65% to 793 MtCO2 and achieve the target of keeping within the Paris agreement carbon budgets, without the need for premature scrappage. However, any delay in appropriate implementation would result in a reduction of only 13% of committed emissions.

    This study demonstrates that we cannot rely on measures to improve the efficiency of new ships in order to deliver what is decided in the Paris agreement and highlights the need to implement measures on existing ships, as soon as possible.



    Pilot study finds: Modified short-term fasting reduces chemotherapy toxicity in gynaecological cancer patients

    Chemotherapy-induced toxicity results in patients postponing chemotherapy or in the reduction of the drugs dose used, thus compromising therapy. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that short-term fasting prior to the onset of chemotherapy has beneficial effects in tolerating chemotherapy. In study published in BMC Cancer Zorn at al. report a significant reduction of toxicity-related symptoms in patients with gynecological cancer, achieved in a controlled cross-over pilot study that used a modified short-term fasting (mSTF) protocol.

    Toxicity is a common side effect of chemotherapy, a consequence of healthy cells being destroyed together with the cancer cells by the drug cocktail. Fasting is believed to protect normal cells from the detrimental effects of chemotherapy, as they enter a state of reduced cell division and stress resistance, upregulation of DNA repair and induced autophagy. In tumor cells on the other hand, growth pathways remain activated, which renders them more sensitive to chemotherapy.

    In a case series study human patients under various fasting regimens were reported to show significantly fewer toxicity-induced symptoms, such as fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea, while a randomized control trial showed that a 48-h fasting reduced bone marrow toxicity and DNA damage in peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Moreover, a dose-escalation fasting study demonstrated that 72h fasting during chemotherapy was safe and tolerated by the patients, while it resulted in reduced chemotherapy-related toxicity and low-grade fasting-related toxicity.

    In this pilot study the authors evaluated the effect of a 96-h fasting on the chemotherapy-induced toxicity in women with gynecological cancer. For the first time the effect of a 6-day intervention of Ketone diet (KD) prior to mSTF on ameliorating the negative effects of fasting was also assessed. The mSTF itself had a ketogenic composition (75% fat, 15% protein and 10% carbohydrate), as it has been shown that fasting achieves best results in a state of ketosis (elevated levels of ketone bodies in the blood). The patients, who underwent a calorie restriction to 25% of their daily requirement, as a result of mSTF tolerated the fasting well and experienced much less severe symptoms of chemotherapy-induced toxicity: significantly fewer patients suffered from stomatitis, headaches and weakness and patients also showed significantly less haematological parameters of toxicity during mSTF cycles. Although previous studies had reported reduced cases of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea after STF, in this particular study, this was not observed, possibly because the patients had already overcome these conditions due to preventive medication. Importantly, the patients on mSTM postponed much fewer chemotherapy appointments than the ones on normal diet, which reflects their better tolerance of their treatment and physical condition in general. It was also found that the KD neither reduced fasting-related discomfort nor improved compliance of the fasting regimen.

    These results clearly show the potential of mSTF in counteracting chemotherapy-related toxicity and enhancing tolerance of treatment. Further larger randomized controlled trials are needed to confirm the efficacy of mSTF as a supportive approach to chemotherapy, before recommending this treatment to cancer patients.




    The post BMC Series highlights: June 2020 appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on July 20, 2020 01:39 PM.

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    Jan van Deursen’s bullying: lab members speak out

    "There is a clear difference between being a taskmaster and a bully. There just is. Jan was definitely both." - Robin Ricke, former postdoc in van Deursen's Mayo Clinic lab

    in For Better Science on July 17, 2020 02:01 PM.

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    Pregnancy Cravings And Cakes In Disguise: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

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

    More journals have issued expressions of concern for papers authored by the psychologist Hans Eysenck. These are just the latest of many similar statements and retractions related to Eysenck’s work, particularly that which purported to find strong links between personality and cancer risk. But as Cathleen O’Grady reports at Science, it’s taken a long time to reach this stage: some researchers began raising concerns more than 25 years ago. 

    The public has increasingly come to accept the fact that mental health disorders have biological causes. But rather than decreasing stigma towards those with mental health issues, this has actually worsened public attitudes, argues Joseph E Davis at Psyche. Davis suggests that mental health professionals should avoid explanations based on oversimplified biological terms like “chemical imbalances”, and instead “re-engage with the language of persons”.

    Why do pregnant women get cravings? The reasons may be less biological and more psychological and cultural, explains Veronique Greenwood at BBC Future.

    Studies from the United States have suggested that Americans’ loneliness has not dramatically increased during the coronavirus pandemic, writes Joanne Silberner at NPR. Researchers suggest that this may reflect the sense of community and solidarity that has emerged even while people have remained physically distant. However, they also point out that even before the crisis started, there were high levels of loneliness in the country, and their survey methods may have missed certain groups who are particularly vulnerable.

    Of course, loneliness isn’t the only potential negative outcome of lockdown, and many psychologists are studying how social isolation is affecting other aspects of our mental health. And there is also a large body of work from pre-Covid-19 times which has examined the effects of isolation on health and cognition. At The Scientist, Catherine Offord explores what we can learn from these studies.

    Finally, if you’ve been anywhere near social media this week, you’ve probably started to expect that everything you see is actually cake. But if you experience a strange discomfort when you see someone cutting a slice out of what you thought were a pair of shoes, you’re not alone. According to Joseph Lamour at Mic, this experience might be akin to the “uncanny valley” phenomenon, where robots or animated characters that are too humanoid end up looking horrific.

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 17, 2020 01:50 PM.

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    The evolving world of article and journal metrics – what you need to know

    To attract the best authors to your journal or find the best journal for your research, it’s essential to understand the role of metrics and the options available

    in Elsevier Connect on July 17, 2020 08:40 AM.

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    Why do so many women find it challenging to stay in postpartum HIV care?

    Despite availability of free HIV care in many low- and middle-income countries, fewer women living with HIV (WLHIV) remain in care in the first year after childbirth than during pregnancy. WLHIV who do not stay in care do not receive antiretroviral therapy and are at increased risk of passing HIV to their child or partner and may also experience worse HIV-related health outcomes. UNAIDS estimate that about 1 in 5 HIV-exposed children in Ghana become infected with HIV by the time of cessation of breastfeeding. This rate of mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) is the second-highest in West Africa and the fourth-highest among the 21 focus countries UNAIDS tracks.

    The reasons why the drop-out rates of HIV care are higher in the postpartum year than during pregnancy are not well understood. Researchers have offered several theories:  women may fall out of care due to fewer scheduled encounters with the healthcare system, due to a decline in perceived susceptibility of MTCT after childbirth, due to prioritization of their child’s health over their own, or due to challenges with childcare — but there is little evidence to support any one of these theories over the others.

    To contribute toward a better understanding of this issue, we conducted qualitative interviews with thirty postpartum WLHIV in Ghana, recruited in 2016 from two tertiary hospitals in the urban city of Accra. Our new paper in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth presents the barriers women themselves described.

    Multiple barriers

    Women’s accounts suggest that social, economic, and physical health factors, more than a change in individual motivation, may explain why fewer women remain in HIV care in the postpartum year than during pregnancy. Broadly, we found that the social and economic costs of staying in HIV care became higher in the postpartum year and many who dropped out experienced multiple barriers.

    Ghana has the potential to eliminate MTCT of HIV; doing so will require a concerted and deliberate effort to support postpartum WLHIV to stay in HIV care.

    ART-related side-effects and HIV denial were the strongest barriers during pregnancy and the fear of re-experiencing the ART-side effects continued to keep mothers away from HIV care even after childbirth. One participant shared her story:

    During pregnancy, I suffered when I took the drugs due to the side-effects. Thus, anytime I thought of going back for the drugs [after the birth], the thoughts of the side effects came to my mind and troubled me. I became afraid. 

    The challenge of travel and transport

    One unique barrier in the early postpartum months was difficulty traveling to HIV care due to complications from childbirth or prolonged recovery from a cesarean section. For example, one mother remarked:

    Most mothers will tell you that the first six months are very tough. Many women take the time to work on themselves since some undergo an operation [i.e., C-section]. Others, too, had a vaginal tear, so they may need some time to take care of themselves. It takes six months or more for a mother to return to a normal life after childbirth [i.e., to be healthy and to visit the HIV treatment centers for care]. Some, too, are single mothers who have no support at home.

    Relatedly, for a few of the women who had dropped out of care, childbirth was associated with debt, unemployment, or underemployment. This led to a new reliance on others, such as a partner or relative, to give them money before they could make their HIV care visits, even when their motivation to stay in HIV care was high.

    Mode of transportation was the most significant barrier, with increasing costs to mothers facing new sociocultural pressures unique to the postpartum year. Postpartum mothers were motivated to protect their children’s health, and often felt obligated to take a taxi to their clinical appointments instead of the cheaper local bus, called trotro, which they typically took during pregnancy. Taxis could protect their children from the risk of illness and excessive heat common to the hot and crowded trotros, but they were more expensive, costing one participant 70% of her monthly salary.

    HIV stigma also contributed to high transportation costs, as some mothers established their HIV care far from their home to avoid being recognized. Further, those who now needed to rely on financial or childcare support to make it to appointments in their postpartum year would find it difficult to do so without disclosing their HIV status.

    Priority of pediatric care

    As a result of these economic and social challenges, one would expect that mothers who had discontinued from HIV care would also be unable to adhere to their pediatric HIV testing or child well-baby visit schedules. However, we found that all the mothers who had dropped out of HIV care, except one, were engaged with the healthcare system for their child’s health. This behavior suggests that in the context of limited resources, mothers prioritized their children’s health over their own.


    To close the pregnancy-postpartum HIV-care retention gap, our results call for a package of interventions that minimize the economic burden of accessing HIV care, diminish stigma, and enhance the management of ART-related side effects. The women in our study recommended that HIV-care providers in Ghana consider extending their medication refills from three to six months. This option will not only reduce transportation costs, but it will also allow mothers to recover physically from childbirth. Ghana has the potential to eliminate MTCT of HIV; doing so will require a concerted and deliberate effort to support postpartum WLHIV to stay in HIV care.

    The post Why do so many women find it challenging to stay in postpartum HIV care? appeared first on BMC Series blog.

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

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    Engaging With The Arts Is Related To Greater Wellbeing (But It’s Not Entirely Clear Why)

    By Emma Young

    Social isolation and fears for our family and friends, as well as ourselves, have all affected psychological wellbeing during the COVID-19 lockdown. But being unable to visit an art gallery, theatre or live music venues may also have taken its toll. According to new research by Peter Todderdell at the University of Sheffield and Giulia Poerio at the University Essex, such experiences contribute to wellbeing in a way that watching a sporting event, for example, does not. The pair’s new paper, published in Emotion, presents the first longitudinal examination of the effect of engaging with the “artistic imagination” — rather than actively taking part in an artistic endeavour — on wellbeing.

    The pair reasoned that exposure to art can affect us in various ways. We might report the “elevating” experiences of feeling awed or inspired, for example. These “eudaimonic” states can contribute to a feeling that our life has meaning, and to a sense of personal growth. Exposure to art might alternatively (or also) generate simpler feelings of pleasure — a hedonic/emotional type of wellbeing. Perhaps it may also help us to view our lives more positively, contributing to life satisfaction.

    Todderdell and Poerio explored to what extent exposure to various types of art — and the frequency of exposure — might trigger these feelings and influence these aspects of wellbeing. They classified “art” quite broadly, including everything from going to the theatre or a live concert to listening to music and watching a TV drama.

    In the first of three studies, the pair asked 544 participants (mostly female, and mostly students) to report on encounters with art during the previous day, and to complete questionnaires measuring various types of wellbeing (e.g. emotional wellbeing, feelings that life has meaning, and life satisfaction). As a comparison, these participants were also asked whether they had watched, listened to or attended any sports activities on the day before.

    The researchers found that engaging with a variety of different arts (rather than total time spent with them) was associated with greater feelings of satisfaction and meaning in life. However, live arts and visual arts (which included drawings, paintings and photography) were associated with the highest level of elevating experiences, and with all forms of wellbeing — a link that was simply not apparent for sports spectating.

    To delve deeper, the team ran a second study, in which 50 participants used their phones to report twice a day, for ten days (covering two weekends) on any art encounters or sports spectating, and on their current wellbeing. The results showed that unlike sports spectating, engaging with art was positively linked to all aspects of wellbeing. As before, greater “elevating feelings” during their artistic encounters seemed to be important, as higher levels of these feelings were positively associated with all aspects of wellbeing. Live arts again produced the strongest elevating experiences, and had positive associations with wellbeing, as did visual and literary arts. However, listening to music and watching movies or other screen-based dramas did not show any significant association with wellbeing.

    For a third study, the researchers turned to data on almost 28,000 people from an existing UK longitudinal study. This time, they looked at levels of “art engagement” — reports of attendance at a variety of arts events, from a carnival to an art exhibition — “art participation” (dancing, photography, etc), and also participation in moderate intensity sports over a 12 month period. They then compared these with scores on a general wellbeing index.

    The analysis showed that participants who more frequently attended live art events  showed greater wellbeing three years later — even after their wellbeing levels at that first time point were taken into account. However, higher initial levels of wellbeing were also linked to greater subsequent engagement with the arts. So it seems that a certain level of wellbeing may drive us to engage with art, but that engagement then improves wellbeing still further. Interestingly, these links were much stronger for attendance than participation.

    The researchers took all kinds of factors, including age, gender, employment, income, into account when they performed their analysis. And they ultimately conclude that the “frequency of attendance at arts events had a positive association with subsequent mental wellbeing that was equivalent or greater than the effects of employment, marriage and education; stronger than the effect of participative arts; and equivalent to the well-established positive effect of participation in moderate intensity sport.”

    It’s worth noting that when we go to the theatre or a musical concert, it’s often with friends or family. This social contact could be important for explaining why these two types of arts engagement had the most consistent positive relationships with all aspects of wellbeing. However, watching a sporting event is often a social event, too, and the initial studies suggested that this doesn’t have the same effect on wellbeing.

    Overall, then, the work does suggest that engaging with art has a significant effect on wellbeing — and a more powerful effect than more active participation. But, of course, the major caveat with this work is that it is correlational. And the data can’t rule out that some other factor — the personality traits of extraversion and openness, perhaps — drive both greater engagement in the arts, and greater wellbeing. More work is clearly needed to delve further into the role of art in our wellbeing — and the effects on us when we are deprived of it.

    An investigation of the impact of encounters with artistic imagination on well-being.

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 16, 2020 01:47 PM.

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    Six books to help us understand eating disorders

    Some 70 million people worldwide have an eating disorder and, with the prevalence of disordered eating on the rise,  it’s clear that this presents a significant public health issue. Despite this, many myths and misconceptions abound that are significant barriers to both treatment and public understanding of eating disorders. Anyone can develop an eating disorder, regardless of age, gender, or cultural background.

    We’ve put together a list of books that provide practical information to dispel misconceptions, as well as guidance for people affected by eating disorders and their loved ones.

    1. If Your Adolescent Has An Eating Disorder: An Essential Guide for Parents by B. Timothy Walsh and Deborah R. Glasofer
    This is an authoritative guide to understanding and helping a teenager with an eating disorder. It is designed for parents of teens who have recently been diagnosed with an eating disorder, or who are at risk of developing one, and for other adults, such as teachers and guidance counselors, who are regularly in contact with at-risk adolescents. The book combines the latest science–including the newest treatments and most up-to-date research findings on eating disorders–with the practical wisdom of parents who have been raising teens with eating disorders.

    2. Eating Disorders: What Everyone Needs to Know by B. Timothy Walsh, Evelyn Attia, and Deborah R. Glasofer
    Practical yet authoritative, this book defines eating disorders, explains what we know about them based on the latest science, and describes how treatment works. The book dispels common myths about eating disorders, such as the notion that they occur only amongst the affluent, that they affect only girls and women, or that they simply result from environmental factors such as the fashion industry and society’s obsession with thinness. This book is essential reading for those seeking authoritative and current information about these often-misunderstood illnesses.

    3. The Void Inside: Bringing Purging Disorder to Light by Pamela K. Keel
    This book chronicles the growing recognition of purging disorder at the turn of the millennium, reviews what science has taught us about the illness, and explains the medical complications that purging may bring. The author, known for her work identifying and naming purging disorder, presents irrefutable evidence that it can no longer be considered a subset of better-known eating disorders. Keel illuminates how the illness impacts the lives of real people to underscore the severity of this hidden eating disorder and the need for greater awareness.

    4. Exposure Therapy for Eating Disorders  by Carolyn Black Becker, Nicholas R. Farrell, and Glenn Waller
    This book is designed to augment existing eating disorder treatment manuals by providing clinicians with practical advice for maximizing the effectiveness of exposure, regardless of clinical background or evidence-based treatment used. Suitable for use with a range of diagnoses, this easy-to-use guide describes the most up to date empirical research on exposure for eating disorders. The book also provides strategies for overcoming obstacles, including institutional resistance to implementation of exposure therapy.

    5. Handbook of Positive Body Image and Embodiment  by Tracy L. Tylka and Niva Piran
    This book is the first comprehensive, research-based resource to address the breadth of innovative theoretical concepts and related practices concerning positive ways of living in the body. Presenting chapters by world-renowned experts in body image and eating behaviors, the handbook explores how therapeutic interventions and public health and policy initiatives can inform scholarly, clinical, and prevention-based work in the field of eating disorders.

    6. Eating Disorders: The Facts by Suzanne Abraham
    Sympathetically and clearly written, this guide considers why eating disorders occur, and then looks at each in turn, describing the eating behaviours, diagnosis, and treatments available. Case histories and patient perspectives provide insights into the mind of the eating disorder sufferer, making it easier for patients and their families to relate to the topics discussed. The book provides an authoritative resource on eating disorders that will prove valuable for sufferers and their families.

    These titles highlight some of the most pressing issues in the field of eating disorder research. Greater awareness among stakeholders – including healthcare workers, researchers, policymakers, and the general public – can address ongoing challenges and inform future directions.

    Featured Image Credit: Image by jannoon028 via Freepik

    The post Six books to help us understand eating disorders appeared first on OUPblog.

    in OUPblog - Psychology and Neuroscience on July 16, 2020 12:30 PM.

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    A balancing act: gender and welfare regimes in the association between work-life conflict and poor health

    Many of us find it increasingly difficult to separate our work from our personal lives. Modern technologies exacerbate the problem, with our inability to ‘switch off’ and tendency to take calls and check emails outside of working hours. What’s more, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a new challenge for those of us working from home, where the line between our jobs and family lives has become even more blurred, and for those working longer shifts in hospitals, supermarkets or elsewhere.

    It is already known that work-life imbalances can negatively affect both our physical and mental health. However, we know little about the factors that strengthen or weaken this association. New research published in BMC Public Health looks at the influence of gender and level of welfare provision by the state on the link between work-life balance and health.

    In their study, Mensah and Adjei analyze data from over 32,000 workers, aged 16 to 64, from 30 European countries. This data was collected as part of the 6th European Working Conditions Survey, carried out in 2015 by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound).

    The authors perform statistical analysis on the association between work-life balance and self-reported health, which previous studies have found to be a reliable proxy of overall health, and factor in other variables such as gender and welfare regime. Validating earlier studies, the results show that there is a significant association between work-life balance and health.

    Gender differences in the association between work-life conflict and health

    Traditional gender roles permeate our everyday levels such that, in many cultures, women more often take on a caring role within the family unit and men are seen as the so-called ‘breadwinner’. This is changing, with the last 40 years seeing increased participation of women in the labor market and a rise in the number of dual-earning families.

    There is generally a stronger association between poor work-life balance and poor health among women.

    How, then, does gender affect the association between work-life conflict and self-reported health? Mensah and Adjei find that while men more often report a poor work-life balance across different European countries, there is generally a stronger association between poor work-life balance and poor health among women.

    There may be a number of reasons for this. Women still bear the greater burden of childcare responsibilities, for example, creating additional pressures at home as well as in the workplace. Women also face increased discrimination at work and lower rates of pay, both of which may contribute to the impact of work-life conflict on health.

    The role of the welfare state

    The strength of this study’s large cross-European sample is that it enables comparison between groups of countries with different welfare regimes, with countries classified as Nordic (Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway), Conservative (such as Germany and Switzerland), Liberal (UK and Ireland), Southern Europe (such as Greece, Spain and Italy) and Central and Eastern Europe (including Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Croatia and others).

    Mensah and Adjei report that work-life balance is best for both working men and women in the Nordic countries. There is also a weaker association between poor work-life balance and poor self-reported health in these countries, which the authors attribute to their substantial welfare provision including availability of childcare, universal healthcare and long parental leave.

    The association between work-life conflict and poor health is strongest in countries with Liberal and Conservative welfare regimes, with Conservative states also being the only ones where the association is stronger in men than in women.

    Multiple factors may be at play here, including increased emphasis on the male breadwinner role, weaker employment regulation and unions, and more stringent social welfare than the Nordic states. However, it remains to be established why Southern European states, with the least generous welfare policies, fared better. Further work is also needed to determine the specific contribution of individual policies on work-life conflict and health.

    Striking a healthy balance in future

    On a personal level, the findings of this study may help us to reflect on how often we allow commitments at work encroach on our personal lives and negatively impact our health. So how might we guard against the stresses and strains of work-life conflict in future?

    The Mental Health Foundation, a UK charity, recommends a number of measures including better prioritization of tasks at work, taking proper breaks in the working day, dedicating time for exercise or hobbies, and keeping a record of time spent working or thinking about work.

    The differential impact of working practices, employment law and welfare policies on women and men’s health must be considered.

    The study also points to systemic differences to be addressed by governments and policymakers. As we strive towards equality, the differential impact of working practices, employment law and welfare policies on women and men’s health must be considered.

    Of course, countries vary widely in political and economic landscape and so too does the level of social and financial intervention by the state, but strategies to help minimize work-life conflict would surely pay dividends in fostering a healthier population and workforce.

    The post A balancing act: gender and welfare regimes in the association between work-life conflict and poor health appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on July 16, 2020 07:59 AM.

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    Mr ACE2 Josef Penninger, Greatest Scientist of Our Time

    As a young Wunderkind, Josef Penninger discovered the ACE2 receptor. Now he invented the cure for the coronavirus which will work in his hands where Big Pharma failed. He was never found guilty of research misconduct and never retracted a paper. Dr Penninger is a Genius making a COVID-19 vaccine.

    in For Better Science on July 16, 2020 06:00 AM.

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    Towards a new approach to reveal dynamical organization of the brain using topological data analysis

    This week on Journal Club session Emil Dmitruk will talk about the paper "Towards a new approach to reveal dynamical organization of the brain using topological data analysis".

    Little is known about how our brains dynamically adapt for efficient functioning. Most previous work has focused on analyzing changes in co-fluctuations between a set of brain regions over several temporal segments of the data. We argue that by collapsing data in space or time, we stand to lose useful information about the brain’s dynamical organization. Here we use Topological Data Analysis to reveal the overall organization of whole-brain activity maps at a single-participant level—as an interactive representation—without arbitrarily collapsing data in space or time. Using existing multitask fMRI datasets, with the known ground truth about the timing of transitions from one task-block to next, our approach tracks both within- and between-task transitions at a much faster time scale (~4–9 s) than before. The individual differences in the revealed dynamical organization predict task performance. In summary, our approach distills complex brain dynamics into interactive and behaviorally relevant representations.


    Date: 17/07/2020
    Time: 16:00
    Location: online

    in UH Biocomputation group on July 15, 2020 05:35 PM.

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    Spiking Neural Networks Evolved to Perform Multiplicative Operations

    This week on Journal Club session Amir Khan will talk about the paper "Spiking Neural Networks Evolved to Perform Multiplicative Operations".

    Multiplicative or divisive changes in tuning curves of individual neurons to one stimulus ("input") as another stimulus ("modulation") is applied, called gain modulation, play an important role in perception and decision making. Since the presence of modulatory synaptic stimulation results in a multiplicative operation by proportionally changing the neuronal input-output relationship, such a change affects the sensitivity of the neuron but not its selectivity. Multiplicative gain modulation has commonly been studied at the level of single neurons. Much less is known about arithmetic operations at the network level. In this work we have evolved small networks of spiking neurons in which the output neurons respond to input with non-linear tuning curves that exhibit gain modulation—the best network showed an over 3-fold multiplicative response to modulation. Interestingly, we have also obtained a network with only 2 interneurons showing an over 2-fold response.


    Date: 17/07/2020
    Time: 16:00
    Location: online

    in UH Biocomputation group on July 15, 2020 05:35 PM.

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    The new ARRIVE 2.0 guidelines are here

    For BMC Series journals, it is important that the research we consider and publish can be utilised and is trusted.  We have a responsibility to ensure that the welfare of animals has been considered and that the harm involved is justified by the expected benefit of the research. To support us, we utilise tools such as the Animal research: reporting In Vivo Experiments (ARRIVE) guidelines to evaluate the integrity and soundness of submissions that report on animal experiments.

    In 2010, the NC3Rs developed the ARRIVE guidelines; a 20 point checklist covering measures associated with bias (randomization, blinding, sample size calculation, data handling) with the aim to improving the quality of both scientific research design and reporting of animal studies. The guidelines prompt authors to provide sufficient detail in their research paper that would allow the reader to assess the methodological rigour of the experiment, determine the reliability of the findings, and to reproduce and build upon the work. Unfortunately, the argument for the success of ARRIVE has been varied since its launch, and despite being widely endorsed by journals, funding bodies and research institutions, the quality of reporting in animal research publications is still far from roubust.

    Problems encountered using the ARRIVE 2010 guidelines

    As an Editor, I have noticed that authors use the ARRIVE checklist in different ways. Given the inconsistent adoption of ARRIVE by journals, many authors, and editors, are still not aware of these guidelines, or see them as an unnecessary box ticking exercise. This lack of awareness can also affect how authors plan their research where issues related to bias may not have been appropriately considered, and this has a knock-on-effect at the manuscript writing stage. At BMC Veterinary Research, we often receive ARRIVE checklists that are incomplete or don’t correspond to what is reported in the paper. These issues could be related to language barriers or differences in research culture where authors are still not fully aware of the consequences of incomplete reporting. Alternatively, it may be related to the misconception that admitting to non-compliance of an ARRIVE item will disqualify a manuscript from being published. Overall, comparing an ARRIVE 2010 checklist against a manuscript can be an onerous task for editors and reviewers when evaluating the robustness of the methods and results.

    comparing an ARRIVE 2010 checklist against a manuscript can be an onerous task

    Therefore, in an attempt to improve uptake, an international working group was formed to review the original ARRIVE 2010 guidelines and develop a strategy that would make ARRIVE easier for researchers, editors and reviewers to use. We are pleased to announce that the new ARRIVE 2.0 guidelines have been published today in PLOS Biology and re-published by BMC Veterinary Research.

    ARRIVE 2.0 – what has changed? 

    The overall guidelines have been simplified. Items from the original checklist have been updated and reorganised and are now presented in two categories: the ‘ARRIVE Essential 10’ and ‘Recommended Set’.

    The ‘ARRIVE Essential 10’ is a list of key items that authors should address in their manuscript text as a minimum standard and represents best practice. If adhered to, reporting of these items should have the biggest impact on improving the quality and reliability of animal research studies.

    The second list of recommendations is designed to provide greater context and background to the study. This includes items such as conflicts of interest, protocol registration, and animal housing and welfare aspects. While not strictly essential, these points will add value to the review process, enhancing the transparency of the study design and reporting.

    A useful Explanation and Elaboration (E&E) document has also be made available. This helps to describe each of the ARRIVE 2.0 items in greater context and detail, and includes best practice examples from the published literature.

    The ARRIVE 2.0 update joins a host of other ongoing initiatives in an attempt to address factors contributing to poor reproducibility.  There is still much work to be done to engage key stakeholders to create a process whereby these standards can be consistently implemented and enforced at the research planning stage, and then hopefully mandated by all journals.

    Support provided at BMC Veterinary Research

    At BMC Veterinary Research, we encourage all authors to adhere to ARRIVE 2.0 and offer the following services and resources to our authors and readers.

    Plan your research
    The sooner you adhere to ARRIVE standards the better.  We encourage authors to publish their study protocol with us, which is a great opportunity to ensure that your planned study follows ARRIVE 2.0 standards and 3Rs principles. Publishing study protocols help to improve the transparency and reproducibility of animal and veterinary research, in addition to reducing publication bias and post hoc revisions of the study’s objectives and methodologies.

    Make writing easier
    A copy of the BMC Veterinary Research manuscript template is available for authors to download, which follows our formatting guidelines and includes requests relating to Landis criteria and ARRIVE 2.0 items making it easier for authors to ensure that their reporting is complete.

    Available resources
    Further information and resources about standards of reporting can be found via the BMC Veterinary Research Instructions for Authors page and in the BMC editorial policies.

    Our commitment to reproducible science
    We have also recently launched a new section in the journal dedicated to animal ethics, policy and research integrity practices in animal and veterinary science and will publish research and opinion articles on this important topic.

    Author support
    We have a dedicated editorial board that are happy to support our authors with any queries they may have regarding adherence to ARRIVE 2.0 and reproducible research practice. If you would like further information, please contact me at hayley.henderson@biomedcentral.com

    The post The new ARRIVE 2.0 guidelines are here appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on July 15, 2020 03:32 PM.

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    MOOCs help researchers and librarians in developing countries access the latest scientific information

    In new online courses, Research4Life users are finding the information they need to improve life in low-income countries

    in Elsevier Connect on July 15, 2020 12:18 PM.

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    ‘The new system’: How will healthcare organizations navigate COVID-19 and beyond?

    With our healthcare system under pressure, Elsevier’s Patient Safety and Innovation Manager writes about ways to ensure high quality care and safety

    in Elsevier Connect on July 15, 2020 11:37 AM.

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    When Reminded Of Their Mortality, People Are More Likely To Donate Possessions That Allow Their Identity To Live On After Death

    By Emily Reynolds

    Mortality is a weighty, often difficult topic. Some avoid thinking about it altogether, while others try to come to terms with it: research suggests a fear of death can be ameliorated by unexpected tactics including hugging a teddy or listening to death metal.

    It’s also been posited that a fear of mortality can lead to materialism: trying to accrue as many possessions or as much wealth before death as a way of managing existential terror. But a paper in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that thinking about mortality might have a different impact on behaviour, making people more likely to give away their possessions.

    The team, led by Lea Dunn at the University of Washington, first asked participants to bring along a favourite book that they would be happy to give to a local charity, Books for All!, which helps families in poverty build their home libraries. Half of the participants were asked to imagine their own death and describe the emotions they felt, while the other half wrote about their typical day. Participants were then split into two different conditions: the signing condition, in which they were told to write a brief inscription before being asked to donate their book, and the no signing condition, in which they were asked to donate their book immediately.

    As expected, participants who wrote about their own death were significantly more likely to donate than those who wrote about their day. But this was only true for those who had written an inscription in the book: thinking about death didn’t make it any more likely that people would donate an unsigned book.

    In a second study, participants again either wrote about their death or a typical day. They were then asked to describe a self-connected possession — something that they consider meaningful and close to their sense of self but which they no longer used (e.g. an old piece of clothing) — before being given information about a charity engaging in a goods drive. They were then told they would be donating their meaningful possession to the charity, and could choose to donate it with or without a short signed message on a donation nameplate. Those who had thought about their own mortality were significantly more likely to choose to include an inscription with their donation than those in the “typical day” condition.

    The team suggests that participants who thought about their death in these studies had a greater desire for “transcendence”: the idea that one is part of something greater than the self. An object that has a personalised message, and so has particular personal resonance, allows for this in a small way. It’s the same logic as a gravestone, or a park bench with a plaque on: a tangible way for someone’s legacy to continue beyond the physical self.

    In a further study the team looked specifically at transcendence as a motivator. Participants were asked to imagine joining an organisation they would be a member of for the rest of their lives: in the transcendent condition, they were told the organisation would always have a new generation of members, while in the non-transcendent condition participants were told it would cease to exist when its current members were gone.

    Results suggested that members of the non-transcendent group who wrote about their death were more likely to donate a personal item to charity than those involved in the transcendent one — indicating that, for the latter group, their need for transcendence had already been met (indeed, these people were more likely to believe membership of the organisation would allow part of their identity to live on past their death).

    None of the results held when participants were told their item could be broken up or recycled. The team suggests that a broken up item loses its potential for transcendence, and is therefore not seen as a way of continuing the self after death.

    In the real world, these findings could be useful for charitable organisations: fundraisers or marketers could use transcendence as a way to nudge people into donating. It may also work as a tool for selling consumer goods: positioning a luxury item as an heirloom, for example. However, this does come with some potential issues – being confronted with mortality isn’t always comfortable. Messaging would therefore have to be subtle or sensitive.

    A Little Piece of Me: When Mortality Reminders Lead to Giving to Others

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 15, 2020 09:50 AM.

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    Let’s Take a Look at Your Kidneys

    The number one cause of chronic kidney disease and end-stage kidney disease is diabetes, and the gold standard for diagnosing any kidney disease is through biopsy. Unfortunately, kidney biopsies are not without risks, and although minimal, there is a risk of bleeding and damaging the kidney further by performing this invasive procedure. In addition, some patients cannot have a kidney biopsy when they truly need one because of other comorbidities, anti-coagulant medications, and other factors that make them high risk for complications. Usually for patients with diabetes that present no other concerning findings, the nephrologist might assume its diabetic nephropathy, a complication of diabetes, without performing a kidney biopsy.  Could they be making a mistake?  It might be something else that is treatable.  Is there another test we could do?  What if there was an alternative for diagnosing diabetic nephropathy that is noninvasive and low risk?

    Is there another test we could do?  What if there was an alternative for diagnosing diabetic nephropathy that is noninvasive and low risk?

    In a BMC Neprhology publication, Li et al., examine the potential use of specialized ultrasound – three-dimensional ultrasound and contrast-enhanced ultrasound – to diagnose diabetic nephropathy.  This technology takes a large series of 2-D ultrasound images in rapid succession which are then assembled by a computer to create a 3-dimensional image. For pregnant women, a 3-D ultrasound may have been offered to you to look at your growing baby.  Contrast enhanced ultrasound uses intravenous contrast agents consisting of microbubbles/nanobubbles of gas, which oscillate creating an “echo” when exposed to ultrasound waves. This is a better alternative when a patient cannot get contrast agents for a CT or MRI.

    Li and colleagues used these two technologies to examine 115 patients with diabetes and kidney disease that underwent kidney biopsy to see if they could differentiate between diabetic nephropathy from non-diabetic renal disease (i.e., IgA nephropathy, membranous nephropathy).  Sixty-four had diabetic nephropathy and 51 had non-diabetic renal disease. We know that diabetic nephropathy is more likely with longer history of diabetes and with other microvascular complications (like retinopathy).  Li et al.’s data was consistent with these previous studies. They didn’t find any differences with contrast-enhanced ultrasound.  However, they did find that using a logistic regression model for BMI and right kidney volume was statistically significant.  They concluded that 3-D ultrasound has the potential to be an option in our arsenal for diagnosing diabetic nephropathy.

    Li et al. is one of a many researchers looking at utilizing 3-D ultrasound for diagnosing and managing kidney pathology.  Not surprisingly it’s been looked at for determining kidney volume in autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease.  And Calio et al. examined 3-D contrast-enhanced ultrasound use in surveillance for renal cell carcinoma recurrence after ablation.

    In my clinical practice, I’m not running out to get a 3-D ultrasounds just yet, but I’m keeping it in mind for the future. After further studies, I might be ordering it for that diabetic patient with chronic kidney disease to make sure I’m not missing something.

    The post Let’s Take a Look at Your Kidneys appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on July 14, 2020 03:02 PM.

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    Improving Research Assessment in the Triage Phase of Review

    Authors: Helen Sitar is the community coordinator for DORA and a Science Policy Programme Officer at EMBO and Anna Hatch is DORA’s program director. DORA receives financial support from PLOS via organizational membership, and PLOS is represented on the steering committee of DORA.

    When seeking to fill an open faculty position, it’s common for universities to receive hundreds of applications for a single job. Unsurprisingly, such a high level of competition creates a bottleneck early in the hiring process. The ‘triage’ phase of review therefore becomes a critical point, as it determines which applicants receive further consideration.

    The ability to efficiently yet effectively triage applications has been a long-standing challenge for the academic community. Time constraints make triage prone to the influence of unintended biases and proxy measures of success, such as the journals where the candidate has published or their institutional affiliations.

    Meanwhile, consistency between reviewers presents another challenge.  Even when selecting for the same purpose, processes and standards can vary greatly between individual reviewers or committees, due to differing assumptions about the process or the criteria for making judgments. Reviewers may prefer certain institutions, labs, or journals, or attach different values to funding track records. If reviewers are unaware of their own biases for certain community affiliations, these can influence decision-making. Ultimately, biased hiring processes impede underrepresented and minoritized scholars from making progress in their academic careers, resulting in inequalities in academic leadership and more. Without any intervention, one current model of postdoc to faculty transitions suggests that faculty diversity will not increase significantly until 2080.

    Testing three approaches to triage

    To stimulate discussion of the challenges associated with the triage process, and to identify possible solutions, DORA organized an interactive session for the 2019 ASCB | EMBO Meeting. Through a mock-review exercise, participants worked in small groups to test different approaches to the triage process. The seventeen participantsーrepresenting different groups and career stages, including postdocs, faculty members, administrators, publishers, and staff from other non-profit initiativesーwere given the description of a faculty position to ‘hire,’ general instructions on how to conduct the triage, and a set of anonymized application materials (CVs and cover letters). Because the session was limited to 75 minutes, other application materials, including letters of reference, teaching statements, and diversity statements, were not included in our informal exercise.

    The application materials were anonymized, and the author names from the references listed in the bibliographies were also removed. A note under each reference, however, indicated the applicant’s position in the author list (e.g. “2nd author, 8 authors total”). The CVs and cover letters provided to two of the participant groups were further altered, by removing institutional names and journal titles when they were presented. One of these groups was provided with an assessment matrix to guide the evaluation of different competency areas: research, teaching and mentorship, equity and inclusion, and service to scientific or academic communities.

    By informally experimenting with these triage approaches, our goal was to understand what information people use to make judgments during the triage phase. We were also keen to surface ideas about improving the triage process. Below we summarize the discussion and insights that emerged from our exercise.

    What’s in a name?

    CVs are littered with names, including those of applicants’ advisors, collaborators, coauthors, and references, which may yield strong associations for reviewers. These names can divert the reviewer’s focus from the work presented and onto the context and community in which it has been conducted. One way that names have the potential to mislead reviewers is through ingroup favoritism, wherein reviewers may gravitate towards the individuals that present affiliations most like themselves.

    Surprisingly, some individuals did not notice that names had been omitted from the application materials in our exercise. And others reported that it did not negatively impede the review process. Without names, participants found they became more attentive to the remaining details. For example, one group reported paying greater attention to the institutions where candidates received their training.  But relying on the names of institutions is also problematic, because they do not speak directly to the accomplishments or contributions of an individual, which should be the focus when hiring.

    Institution and journal prestige

    Interestingly, the lack of institutional and journal names in materials did not detract from the participants’ ability to understand an applicant’s profile, as long as sufficient detail on their academic record had been included. Specifically, participants were interested in knowing how an applicant had contributed to the community at large, or to their department or research group, as this is a better indicator of their skills than their institutional affiliation.

    Journal names were deemed generally unnecessary as well, especially when an applicant had provided a brief 2-4 sentence explanation summarizing what an article achieved and their specific contribution. This is not the first time DORA has received this feedback; it was suggested at a previous conference session in 2018.

    The participants who saw journal names in the application materials reported that they realized they were using them as a way of evaluation; these participants proposed that their assessments might have been fairer had the journal titles been removed. However, participants still wanted access to the articles’ DOIs to make papers easier to find, read, and evaluate.

    One group reported that in the absence of journal names, they paid more attention to the author order and used this to determine the importance of the applicants’ contributions to each work. But others argued that knowing the authorship order for a publication did little to indicate an applicant’s role in contributing to a paper or project, and therefore was not particularly useful information. Tools like the Contributor Roles Taxonomy (CRediT) can help parse apart how an individual contributed to an article or project.

    Details instead of names

    The problem with preferring candidates with well-known labs, institutions or awards named on their CVs is that by valuing reputation, departments narrow their search for talent to within known spheres. In doing so, they will miss out on hiring great researchers who have yet to be recognized by a prestigious award or hired into a well-known lab. When personal, institution, and journal names were removed at the same time in our exercise, some participants noticed that many CVs lacked details necessary to understand applicants’ skill areas. Some such details may have been in materials, such as teaching statements or reference letters, not available for the exercise. The reaction of participants to omission of these details from applicants’ CVs and cover letters underscores the importance of communicating one’s own research interests, approach to science, unique skills, and teaching and mentoring abilities. Only with this information can reviewers accurately evaluate candidates and suitability to a particular faculty role.

    There was some disagreement regarding the necessity of including several details common to applicant CVs, including assessing candidates based on their receipt of awards or grants. Some participants paid close attention to mentions of grants, and attributed great value to the fact that an applicant had received an independent grant. Others debated the level of confidence one should have in a person’s abilities based on their receipt of grants, as this can contribute to the “Mathew effect” of people already recognized receiving further recognition because of previous awards.

    Consistency is key

    In the triage process, it is clearly important for reviewers to be able to quickly find relevant information. The necessity of this was a major topic of discussion in our session, particularly when it came to the question of being able to compare candidates with ease. The lack of consistent organization of CVs made it complicated for participants to find the relevant information needed to make judgments of applicant’s strengths in various areas (e.g. research, teaching, leadership, inclusivity, service). Moreover, some applicants’ CVs were much longer than others, which reviewers found cumbersome as the length made finding specific pieces of information even more challenging.

    To address the need for organized CVs, the concept of a structured narrative format was mentioned in our discussions as an option to build consistency into the triage process. The Royal Society in the United Kingdom, the Dutch Research Council, and the Swiss National Science Foundation are each experimenting with standard structured narrative CV formats. So far, the Dutch Research Council has received mostly positive feedback on its new narrative. Reviewers report appreciating the added context the narrative format provides, and the Council has found that it leads to a more diverse selection of researchers. Some participants in our session, however, were skeptical of enforcing a standard template CV, noting that it could restrict creativity and limit applicants in describing work which may not fit neatly into any of the preconceived categories.

    Standardizing judgments

    Every reviewer has their own ‘way’ of sorting through applications, and specific criteria that they look for when deciding who to ‘keep’ or ‘eliminate’ in a triage round of review. In our session, participants using an assessment matrix advocated for a short discussion between reviewers to find a common set of standards before embarking on the triage process, as a way to increase consistent decision making and help minimize the effects of implicit bias. The Germans call this process towards reaching a collective agreement—‘abstimmen’. Directly translated it means “off-voting,” or voting before one begins something. Asking reviewers to calibrate how they interpret the categories in the rubric would ideally result in more consistent assessment of all individuals.

    The overarching framing for the discussion was the tension between the need for efficient, accurate assessment versus the burden of devoting attention to details in every application. While some participants stated firmly that the use of rubrics may slow down the triage process, the group generally agreed that rubrics allow for uniform standards to be applied and that consistency should be valued. Still, a few others were resistant, stating that it was not desirable to ‘over-engineer’ the process.

    Looking ahead

    Universities and research funders are increasingly reconsidering the relevance and importance of researchers’ contributions when assessing them for hiring, promotion or funding. Across the DORA and wider research communities, there are numerous discussions on how to demonstrate the value of different contributions, whether it be via descriptive narratives, article-level metrics, teaching evaluations, or other means. The triage process is the front line to further review and consideration—and is therefore both important and influential in determining the makeup of the research community and its leadership.

    The scholarly community has not yet reached a consensus regarding which methods for evaluation are best suited to different purposes or situations, and many believe that there will never be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to research evaluation. Yet demands for employment and funding continue to grow, resulting in more challenges for applicants and review committees in every selection process. And as the number of PhD graduates continues to exceed the number of available positions in academia, academics can expect the triage process for applications to become ever more challenging.

    Instilling standards and structure into research assessment processes, especially during the triage phase of review for faculty searches, appears to be a particularly robust option for reducing bias. To achieve this, universities can ask applicants to use a structured narrative CV template. Institutions can also develop evaluation assessment matrices and have conversations amongst reviewers to set standards and identify desirable applicant qualities and characteristics. By removing journal titles and replacing them with 2-4 sentence article summaries that articulate key findings and specify the researcher’s contributions, reviewers would be provided with information better suited to judging researchers’ contributions at the triage stage. When researchers and institutions reflect on and carefully choose what types of information are used to judge scholarly contributions, evaluation processes can be brought into alignment with community values.


    We thank the participants at our career enhancement programming session at the 2019 ASCB|EMBO Meeting for a robust and thoughtful discussion about research assessment. Thanks to Stephen Curry, Chris Pickett, and Gary Ward for very helpful comments.

    The post Improving Research Assessment in the Triage Phase of Review appeared first on The Official PLOS Blog.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on July 14, 2020 02:37 PM.

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    Eating Lunch At Your Desk Again? Study Examines Why Workers Don’t Always Take Breaks

    By Emily Reynolds

    If you work for more than six hours a day in the UK, you’re legally entitled to a rest break of at least twenty minutes per shift. Many workers get more; if you work an eight hour day, it’s likely your employer will give you an hour-long lunch break.

    Whether or not you actually take that break, however, is a different matter. Despite the fact that breaks can increase motivation and productivity and decrease potentially damaging inactivity, research has indicated a growing trend of workers eating their lunch at their desks or not taking their rest time. Some figures suggest 82% of workers don’t always take their breaks — a significant proportion of the workforce.

    So why is it that we’re so often eating al desko? A study published in Psychology and Health has some insights.

    Mike Oliver and colleagues from Staffordshire University conducted five focus groups with 27 employees at a local council. These groups were separated by grade: two focus groups consisted of junior staff, two of middle managers and one of senior managers. Sessions lasted one hour, with a semi-structured interview approach which allowed consistency of questions with the freedom to take conversations in different directions based on individual contributions.

    Questions explored workers’ current experience of taking breaks — do or don’t they take them, and why? Participants were also asked how their relationship with their manager affects their likelihood of taking breaks, and what their attitude was towards the workplace as somewhere that affects their mental and physical health.

    The team identified five themes in the participants’ responses. First, participants reported fluidity in their taking a break: while there were some who always took a break and some who never took one, most sat somewhere between the two, seeming to view taking a lunch break as something that needed to be “booked in” like a meeting. Relationships with managers were also important — those who felt under no pressure to skip breaks were less likely to do so, unsurprisingly, than those who did.

    Participants were also well aware of the fact taking breaks benefited their health and well-being — but still saw completing work tasks as more important. Feelings of guilt and anxiety about having taken “too much” time away from the desk were also prevalent. Finally, space was an issue — because participants often had nowhere to go, they ended up eating at their desk out of necessity and were subsequently seen as available for work related requests or tasks.

    Underpinning each of these five themes is the balance between work and health — a toss-up that, more often than not, work wins. The fact that most people don’t simply fall into two binary camps but rather are fluid in their decisions about taking breaks suggests that it’s not set traits or personality types driving those decisions, but context — what an organisation’s culture is like, or how individual line managers talk about breaks and work. Further research could explore these nuances further.

    The layout and design of offices could also be a fruitful avenue to explore — what does a healthy office building look like, and what could it include to ensure workers are taking breaks and staying active?

    There were limitations to the study. Though focus groups were organised by seniority and grade, it’s possible that subtle power dynamics were at play during the meetings, leading participants to answer in socially acceptable or desirable ways rather than being fully honest. The study also took place within a single, public sector organisation, and with a small number of participants — future research could investigate these themes in different groups, sectors and geographic locations.

    It would be difficult to mandate break-taking — sometimes it might be necessary to work through a break, sometimes it’s just nice to not have to go and get lunch in the rain. But workplace well-being programmes should certainly take these sorts of findings into account: after all, insidious cultures in which bosses and colleagues pressure workers to cut short necessary break times are doing nothing but making workers less healthy.

    Understanding the psychological and social influences on office workers taking breaks; a thematic analysis

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 14, 2020 12:07 PM.

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    Dr. Ignarro has suffered stigma, and was denied at least two interviews on television

    "The presence of such articles online have severely affected Dr. Louis J. Ignarro’s public reputation, and his personal life. Dr. Ignarro disputes any accusations of wrongdoing. There was no fabrication of data, although there was a mistaken duplication of data which occurred due to error. None of the data was false." -J.L. Perez, Esq.

    in For Better Science on July 14, 2020 08:06 AM.

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    6 things to consider when transitioning from academia to industry

    Thinking about switching from academia to industry? These skills and mindsets will help you make the most of your new career

    in Elsevier Connect on July 13, 2020 10:32 AM.

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    Extraordinary results of the Olomouc Nano-con

    This is a guest post by two whistleblowers from the Palacky University in Olomouc. In the centre of the growing research misconduct and retaliation scandal: the nanotechnology professor Radek Zboril

    in For Better Science on July 13, 2020 06:00 AM.

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    Going beyond what we know – how we can break down barriers between disciplines

    As a research leader in chemical engineering, Prof. Jarka Glassey talks about venturing beyond traditional educational siloes to address global issues

    in Elsevier Connect on July 10, 2020 09:54 AM.

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    Now Hiring: arXiv Senior Software Architect

    Thanks to generous funding from the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, arXiv will hire an experienced software engineer to serve as the senior software architect for supporting the technological innovation of arXiv.org, the premier open access platform serving scientists in STEM. As a member of the arXiv team, the senior software architect will extend and implement a highly modular, micro-service based architecture that will give arXiv a strong foundation for the future. For nearly 30 years, arXiv has enabled scientists to share research within scientific communities and to publish pre-prints, which are scientific papers shared prior to publication in journals. Around the world, arXiv is recognized as an essential resource for the scientists that it serves.  The new arXiv senior software architect will play a key role building out the next generation system to continue this legacy.

    The arXiv organization is led by the Executive Director based at Cornell Tech, and is composed by staff working from Cornell University in Ithaca and remotely across the country. Cornell Tech serves as the steward organization for arXiv, ensuring that arXiv has reliable technical infrastructure and providing new opportunities for innovative software development. arXiv relies on the advice and collaboration from a Scientific Advisory Board, a Member Advisory Board, and an international community of scientific subject area moderators.  Since arXiv’s inception in August 1991, more than 1.7 million scientific papers have been uploaded and shared. arXiv receives direct support for innovating is services from, among others, the Sloan Foundation and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence with ongoing arXiv support from Cornell Tech, the Simons Foundation, and a global collective of 200 institutional members.

    This is a one year position with the potential for renewal, located at either of the Cornell University campuses in Ithaca, NY or New York, NY. Remote work is also a possibility. Click here for the full job description and application.

    in arXiv.org blog on July 09, 2020 02:00 PM.

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    Update: Submission Agreement and Instructions

    arXiv has updated its submittal agreement terms and conditions and instructions for submissions. These changes will go into effect this week.

    Among other updates, these agreements clarify the submitter’s representations and warranties, the license granted to arXiv, the waiver of rights and indemnification, and management of copyright. Authors who submit their work to arXiv will now be presented with the new agreements during the submission process. Authors who have currently have submissions in progress will be prompted to view and accept the new agreements before finalizing their submissions.

    arXiv encourages authors to review the agreements thoroughly before submitting their work. The full text of the updated agreements can be found here: submittal agreement and instructions for submissions.


    in arXiv.org blog on July 08, 2020 02:00 PM.

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    Il Piccolo Mulino Verduci Frodatore

    "I choose to think of the paper-mills as something like a mediaeval monastic scriptorium, with one table of tonsured monks working on the text, while the limners at another table illuminate the Figures." - Smut Clyde

    in For Better Science on July 08, 2020 07:56 AM.

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    “The amount of data you get to apply to a real-world problem is huge”

    Using machine learning, an NLP Specialist at Elsevier helps institutions see the impact of their research and where to direct their funding

    in Elsevier Connect on July 07, 2020 09:31 AM.

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    “Want a Drink? Go on, you know you want to.” – Peer pressure to drink alcohol among UK adults

    You have probably been in situations where someone offers you an alcoholic drink and you feel like you have to drink it. Or perhaps you offer people a drink and make sure that they join in the fun. Peer pressure to drink alcohol is common in our everyday lives; from parties, your local pub, to nowadays COVID-19 pandemic friendly social distancing beers on Zoom with your mates.

    Based on our systematic review of 13 qualitative research studies here are five key lessons:

    1. Peer pressure is not just experienced by adolescents and young people:

    A common perception is that peer pressure exists mainly in young people. However, peer pressure can affect people of all ages. The review found the adults often saw themselves as ‘older and wiser’ compared to when they were young. But many still experienced pressures to drink and continue drinking. Who hasn’t had the offer of ‘one for the road’?

    2. People can feel threatened by peer pressure:

    Peer pressure experiences varied from friendly banter to aggressive forms of pressure where people felt alcohol was ‘forced on you’. Being encouraged to ‘keep up’ with others’ drinking was a common reason for drinking too much.

    3. Peer pressure can have a negative impact:

    Ironically, to get rid of peer pressure many people gave in and drank more alcohol. They either had a drink when they didn’t want to drink, or drank more than they had intended. Drinking alcohol in response to peer pressure was seen as ‘caving in’. Most people who drank as a result of peer pressure regretted this decision later.

    4. Our wider social context matters to build and keep up peer pressure:

    Drinking provided connections to other people, and those who didn’t drink were often seen as boring or outsiders.

    The social surroundings often influenced peer pressure to drink. Drinking was seen as ‘a sociable thing’ – as normal and helping you to fit in. For men, drinking could also be seen as a way to show their masculinity, which included ‘drinking like a man’ and choosing manly drinks.  Drinking provided connections to other people, and those who didn’t drink were often seen as boring or outsiders.

    5. People develop strategies to deal with peer pressure.

    Many reported using strategies to avoid pressure. Strategies included ‘nursing your drink’, drinking alcohol-free options which mimic alcoholic in flavor and appearance, or driving their car to provide an excuse for not drinking which would usually be accepted. Some people who did not drink much alcohol ‘came out’ out about their drinking preference, but this seemed to be rare. Others selected their group of friends to make sure it included non-drinkers or those who only drank moderate amounts.

    The next time that you’re at a party, in the pub or having social distancing beers on Zoom, will you recognize when you are pressured to drink? Will you cave into the peer pressure, or have a strategy to deal with it? And what can you do to make sure that people don’t feel like they have to drink alcohol if they don’t want to?

    The post “Want a Drink? Go on, you know you want to.” – Peer pressure to drink alcohol among UK adults appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on July 07, 2020 06:35 AM.

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    Science misconduct

    Scholarly publishing is broken, and no repair is possible. At least let's point fingers at the elites and laugh. Can science trust Science?

    in For Better Science on July 07, 2020 06:01 AM.

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

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

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

    © samopauser / stock.adobe.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    NWO announces implementation guidelines for Plan S

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

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

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    Traces of Fear in Aphantasia

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

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

    early warning: picture of snake below

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

    The cat is out of the bag.

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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    The Strange Case of the Homeopathic Sex Enhancer

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

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

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    Five questions about PTSD

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

    1. Is PTSD a veteran disease? 

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

    2. Are people with PTSD violent? 

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

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

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

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

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

    5. Is it all in your head?

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

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

    Feature image: Silhouette by Isai Ramos via Unsplash.

    The post Five questions about PTSD appeared first on OUPblog.

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

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    What does the pandemic mean for research in biodiversity conservation?

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

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

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    LGBTQ2S+ People as a Disadvantaged Group in Healthcare

    Pride parade

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

    How can we remove the barriers in the future?

    Removing Barriers

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

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

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

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

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    Motherisk crook Gideon Koren now at Ariel University

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

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

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    Are There Purposeless Behaviors?

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

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

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

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

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

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    Judy Mikovits’ Plandemic COVID-portunism

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

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

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    Tips for publishing in nursing journals

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

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

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

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

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

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    Changing research evaluation policies in China — insights and impacts

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

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

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    Jan van Deursen left Mayo Clinic, accused of bullying

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

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

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    Fathers’ mental health: why is it important?

    Putting fathers’ mental health into perspective

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

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

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

    My research with fathers’ mental health

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

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

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

    What we found

    Fathers and birth trauma

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

    1.  Fathers’ understanding after the experience

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

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

    2.  Life after birth trauma

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

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

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

    3.  Support fathers received vs. what they wanted

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

    Fathers supporting partner’s poor postnatal mental health

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

    1.  Fathers not getting enough support

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

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

    2.  Fathers not getting enough information

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

    3.  Having someone to talk to

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

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

    4.  Health professionals not taking fathers seriously

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

    Global impact for fathers’ mental health

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

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

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

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

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

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    Academic precarity and the single PI lab model

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Elsevier condemns racism and discrimination

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

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

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

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

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

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    Society journal Bioscience Reports, ravaged

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

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

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    Using knowledge mining to fast-track innovative treatments for disease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

    Welcome to EULAR 2020 e-Congress visual

    Rheumatology at the centre of the COVID-19 pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Other interesting talks

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

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

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

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

    First thoughts on virtual conferences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Anxiety Triggers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Online Support

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

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

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

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

    Isolation and lockdown

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

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

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

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    Graphene Flagship deploys Stripy Stellacci to fight the Coronavirus

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

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

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

    Nerd Food: Computational Finance, Part I: Introduction

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

    Non Goals

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


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

    Legal Disclaimer

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

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

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

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


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



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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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    Highlights of the BMC Series: May 2020

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

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


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

    High renewable power system scenarios coupled with low levels of negative emissions technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, could deliver a net-negative European power system by 2050. Decarbonizing electricity generation is key to achieving the Paris Climate Agreement for limiting average global temperature rise to ‘well below 2°C’ above pre-industrial levels. Gaffney et al. modeled emissions reduction, technical operation, and system costs for the year 2050. The analysis was designed to also include short time windows, to gain insights into the impact of high levels of variable renewable energy sources. It was demonstrated that high renewable power systems, coupled with negative emissions technologies, such as biomass carbon capture and storage, can deliver a net-negative European power system at lower costs, without breaching published sustainable biomass and geological storage potentials in Europe, with the opportunity to contribute to power system inertia. This study offers a first step in the comparison of future decarbonization scenarios and highlights concerns with system operation, economics, and emissions reduction, at a European scale.


    BMC Family Practice – Safety, efficiency and health-related quality of telephone triage conducted by general practitioners, nurses, or physicians in out-of-hours primary care: a quasi-experimental study using the Assessment of Quality in Telephone Triage (AQTT) to assess audio-recorded telephone calls

    Nurses, using computerized decision support systems, performed better on a large number of health-related items than GPs, in telephone triage. Out-of-hours primary care services are increasing in a number of regions around the globe. Telephone triage is instrumental in the management of patient flow and workload. However, ensuring triage services are safe and efficient remains a challenge. Some countries, such as Denmark, use GPs to primarily perform triage services. However, this is hotly debated since many countries report increasing shortages of GPs, and GPs have self-reported high stress and burn-out symptoms. Graverson et al. studied a random sample of audio-recorded telephone triage calls from Danish out-of-hours primary care services triaged by GPs, nurses using computerized decision support systems, or physicians with different medical specialties. Nurses using computerized decision support systems performed better than GPs in telephone triage on a large number of health-related items, had lower levels of undertriage but were perceived less efficient. Nurse-led triage offers a solution for high GP workload seems feasible, but further research is needed since fewer GPs may be required for telephone triage services, but more GPs may be needed to meet out-of-hours service demand.


    BMC Research NotesMultiplex PCR for identification of two butterfly sister species: Eurema mandarina and Eurema hecabe

    A multiplex PCR method has been found to accurately and reliably distinguish between closely related species of butterflies. In insects, closely related species are often difficult or impossible to distinguish solely by morphological traits alone. Existing techniques, such as using mitochondrial DNA markers, are not always available for species with complex genomic histories. Miyata et al. developed a multiplex PCR method to amplify and distinguish the sequences of  the triose phosphate isomerase (Tpi) gene of two species of Japanese grass yellow butterflies (Eurema mandarina and Eurema hecabe). The method designed was found to easily, reliably, and cost-effectively distinguish between two species of butterfly. The Tpi gene sequences were found to be sufficiently variable to differentiate different species but invariable enough to allow designing primers within species. The Tpi gene offers a potential target for marker development of multiplex PCR to distinguish other closely related butterfly species when other approaches are unavailable.


    BMC Veterinary ResearchPharmacokinetics and analgesic effects of intravenous, intramuscular or subcutaneous buprenorphine in dogs undergoing ovariohysterectomy: a randomized, prospective, masked, clinical trial

    Route of administration has been found to influence the analgesic efficiency of buprenorphine in dogs. Buprenorphine is used for postoperative pain management in cats and dogs, for example, in routine spays, known clinically as ovariohysterectomies. Previous studies have described the pharmacokinetics of the drug, however, the pharmacodynamics effect of this drug has not been consistently reported in these studies, which is important for understanding the absorption, distribution, metabolism, and elimination of the drug in companion animals. Steagall et al. randomized dogs in a masked clinical trial to either receive buprenorphine intravenously, intramuscularly or subcutaneously before ovariohysterectomy and pain was scored with the Glasgow composite pain scale for dogs. Pharmacokinetic analysis was carried out on the dog’s blood samples. Subcutaneous administration of buprenorphine failed to provide sufficient analgesia due to erratic drug absorption. Dogs in this group received the highest amount of rescue pain relief compared to dogs that received buprenorphine intravenously or intramuscularly. At the doses administered, intravenous and intramuscular routes of administration are preferred for postoperative buprenorphine analgesia.



    The post Highlights of the BMC Series: May 2020 appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on June 16, 2020 11:30 AM.

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    The “dark matter” of nutrition – just what are you eating?

    Imagine digging into a bowl of strawberries. They are in season and make for a delicious, healthy snack. The deep red color and the aroma of the sliced berries are striking. That’s pelargonidin 3-glucoside (1) and methoxyfuraneol (2) captivating the senses. There’s gamma-decalactone (3) in those berries too. In fact, there are hundreds of other biochemical compounds naturally present in this fruit. The situation is no different for other foods like turmeric, ginger, garlic, romaine lettuce, chocolate, coffee, and even wine.

    Source: www.ars.usda.gov/oc/images/photos/aug08/d1194-1

    Some compounds found in strawberries include pelargonidin 3-glucoside (1, PubChem ID 443648), methoxyfuraneol (2, 53929577) and gamma-decalactone (3, 12813).

    But what health effects can these compounds produce? The answers are many, of course, because the catalog of compounds in any one food is long and diverse, and testing every compound experimentally is prohibitive. However, some answers can arise from putting rigorous computational methods to the task of exploring nutrition’s “dark matter.”

    The dark matter in nutrition

    In metabolomics, this “dark matter” is the massive amount of spectral data that cannot be assigned easily to known molecules. As relating to nutrition, this notion of dark matter recently has been explored in two ways. First, there are efforts to expand the catalogs of compounds present in raw, fermented, processed, stored, and metabolized food. With this foundation, the second exploratory step is naturally to identify the biological functions of each compound. To make progress in step two, we elected to use the well-characterized universe of pharmaceutical compounds as an anchor to predictions about food compounds. Specifically, we asked the question: “Can we predict biological function of a compound by identifying structurally similar pharmacological agents?” And so, the design and coding of PhyteByte began.

    What PhyteByte does

    PhyteByte is software built to predict biological effects of food compounds.

    PhyteByte is software built to predict biological effects of food compounds. The implementation is simple: the end-user inputs a protein target, and PhyteByte identifies food compounds with a relatively high likelihood of interacting with the target, thus predicting biological effects. PhyteByte leverages a random forest classifier to perform much of the heavy lifting. This model is trained to identify pharmaceutical compounds from databases like ChEMBL. Compounds are encoded as “fingerprints” – simple bit vectors that store complex cheminformatics sub-structure information. Our model learns the sub-structures that it is looking for – for a given target – and generalizes this to identify novel food compounds in our test dataset.

    Importantly, PhyteByte is a prediction tool. Its output is a list of molecules and their source foods that are very likely to have specific biological effects, but it is not a tool to devise a meal plan or provide for dietary recommendations.

    The road ahead for computational nutrition

    PhyteByte is just one of numerous examples of new computational methods – like complex systems theory and machine learning – being layered atop genomics, metabolomics, and genetics data in nutrition research. In fact, one can make the point that computational nutrition is merely the natural offspring of the nutrition-omics marriage.

    Computational nutrition likely will develop in several ways. One, given a phenotype or protein of interest, foods are proposed that may affect that phenotype or protein, and done in a targeted, macronutrient-free manner. Two, more detailed epidemiological and food frequency questionnaire data can support tests for connections between certain foods and health outcomes. Here, the foods under study contain compounds that potentially offer narrowly defined health benefits based on similarity to known drugs. Three, such computationally derived pharmacological-food compound links can inform drug development. For example, drug efficacy studies could instruct volunteers to avoid specific foods that contain compounds potentially exhibiting physiological effects like the drug.

    Importantly, while some of the above scientific endeavors have been woven into nutrition research for some time, all of what is described here requires that efforts be put forth at a much grander scale. And, for such approaches to be most effective, there must occur a concerted, broad effort to identify and accurately quantify the roughly 2000 different compounds in each food, a theme central to the emerging foodomics field.


    The post The “dark matter” of nutrition – just what are you eating? appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on June 16, 2020 08:47 AM.

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    Biodiversity research and the impacts of a global pandemic response

    All aspects of my professional work as an associate professor of biology have been altered by the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic. I especially am investing my time in different ways and am working mostly at home. Working from home would have been severely prohibitive for me just a few weeks ago, due to lack of access to adequate internet connectivity in the rural area where I live. However, our local electric cooperative now provides fiber optic internet that my family and I are using to our full advantage, as we engage in professional & school work—and the business of family life—simultaneously.

    Research aspects of my work suddenly became secondary to teaching responsibilities. All of my teaching switched abruptly from quality in-person experiences honed over years, to hastily contrived online substitutes cobbled together in a panic.

    Research aspects of my work suddenly became secondary to teaching responsibilities. All of my teaching switched abruptly from quality in-person experiences honed over years, to hastily contrived online substitutes cobbled together in a panic. The biggest challenge was delivery of emergency substitutes for field and laboratory coursework. Thus, I have been creating, documenting and demonstrating activities from home. This has meant Drosophila breeding experiments on the dining room table, seedlings in a window sill, and turning a corner of the garage into a video production set to capture animal behavior. During my unpaid summer, I will be investing significant time and effort in professional development opportunities that I hope will help me do a better job of continued, emergency, remote instruction that will be necessary in the coming academic year. In some instances, redundant planning for in-person, remote and hybrid instructional modes must be done.

    Due to recent departures of employees and hiring freezes, I do not have the assistance of a laboratory technician or collections manager, who normally would support my teaching and research, which means I am doing that work myself, on top of usual and additional responsibilities.

    My access to campus facilities is limited to once per week, and this is a special privilege so that I may care for the physical laboratory resources. Almost all research work on my campus has been discontinued or put on hold. The vast majority of students are prohibited from entering campus buildings, and their research in my lab has stopped.

    My research activity normally involves field work and use of specimens from institutional collections. These collections are closed, and I cannot visit them. Specimens borrowed from collections are not being used, and they have been boxed up and fill the lab benches normally occupied by students (see figure).

    Due to certain travel restrictions, my field work has been delayed, and I was fortunate to obtain one-year extensions from grant agencies for time-sensitive aspects of these studies. However, an ongoing project at a local wildlife refuge will have at least a one-year gap.

    My research collaborators around the globe are facing similar, if not more extreme, restrictions and challenges, not the least of which is lack of internet access. The majority of my collaborations are on hold or progressing extremely slowly. Professional meetings have been canceled or indefinitely postponed.

    Graduate students have had to halt or delay projects. My undergraduate research students have had a variety of on-the-fly substitute projects to complete from home. In some cases, depth and breadth of study have been sacrificed so students could complete alternatives to fulfill degree requirements on time. Looking ahead, I am concerned about multiple cohorts of developing researchers worldwide who will have critical gaps in their experience and knowledge bases, due to the limitations we face.

    Sabbatical leaves for research, including my own, have been delayed or are in question. Faculty promotion clocks have been altered and complicated. Submission of my own dossier likely will be delayed by at least one year. Our campus anticipates increased faculty teaching loads to help off-set financial impacts. We are not alone, and in fact, we may be among the fortunate.

    We are not alone, and in fact, we may be among the fortunate.

    On a positive note, I’ve been able to make more rapid and substantial progress than expected on biodiversity data transcription, editing and management. Public access to important data from historical collections and literature will be available in greater quantity and sooner than expected. I may also be able to complete and submit some manuscripts that had been delayed due to now moot priorities. As an editor, I am beginning to see others have had the same opportunities. Clearly, Covid-19 will have a lasting impact on research progress and prospects for years to come, in ways we recognize and in ways we have yet to anticipate.

    The post Biodiversity research and the impacts of a global pandemic response appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on June 16, 2020 08:01 AM.