Category Archives: Academia

Map of the day III: Peak public paychecks


From Deadspin, the top public employee paycheck recipient in each of the 50 states:

BLOG Paychecks

Recording stars shill for unhealthy food sellers


Yep, if you see your favorite singer itching the virtues of something to eat or drink, odds are it ain’t good for you.

That’s the conclusion of Some NYU researchers who actually looked at the stuff being hustled and found it severely wanting in nutritional value and heavy on stuff that’ll make you fat.

Their research follows on earlier work that reached the same conclusion after examining the nutritional value of food and drink shilled by celebrity athletes.

Here are the two researchers describing their study, via Newswise:

More on their research from New York University’s Langone Medical Center:

Recording artists are frequently the face of commercial products—and children and adolescents are frequently their target audience. Now, a new study by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center finds that the vast majority of the food and beverage products marketed by some of the most popular music stars are unhealthy. This type of advertising is contributing to the alarming rise in childhood and teen obesity, the authors warn.

Soda and other sugary drinks, fast food, and sweets, are among the most common food and beverage products endorsed by famous music personalities, according to the descriptive study, published June 6 in Pediatrics [$25 to access — esnl]. Equally alarming, none of the music stars identified in the study endorsed fruits, vegetables, or whole grains. Only one endorsed a natural food deemed healthy—pistachios.

This is believed to be the first study to use a rigorous nutritional analysis to evaluate healthfulness of food and drinks marketed by music stars, reviewing dozens of advertisements that were disseminated over a 14-year period. Lead author Marie Bragg, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone, conducted a study three years ago of celebrity athlete endorsements using similar methods.

“Because of our nation’s childhood and teenage obesity public health crises, it is important to raise awareness about how companies are using celebrities popular with these audiences to market their unhealthy products,” says Dr. Bragg, who is also a faculty member at the NYU College of Global Public Health. “Research has already shown that food advertising leads to overeating, and the food industry spends $1.8 billion per year marketing to youth alone.”

Study Methods: Identifying Pop Stars and their Endorsements

To identify popular music stars, the investigators went through Billboard Magazine’s “Hot 100” song charts from 2013 and 2014. The researchers also verified their popularity and marketing appeal with teens by reviewing Teen Choice Award winners and quantified the number of YouTube video views associated with the celebrities’ food and nonalcoholic beverage brand endorsements.

The investigators then catalogued every endorsement between 2000 and 2014 using AdScope, an advertisement database that contains all forms of ads, including television, magazine, and radio, and also searched for official commercials or endorsements on YouTube and in media sources. Endorsements were defined to include a celebrity’s participation in a concert sponsored by a product.

After sorting the endorsements into different marketing categories, the authors found that 65 of 163 identified pop stars were associated with 57 different food and beverage brands. Food and nonalcoholic beverages were the second-largest endorsement category, comprising 18 percent of endorsements and ranking after consumer goods at 26 percent and ahead of retail at 11 percent.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

May was the second hottest in the sattelite record


May 2016 Was 2nd Warmest May in Satellite Record

May 2016 Was 2nd Warmest May in Satellite Record

And that means were still on course for 2016 to set the all-time record for the hottest average temperature since satellites have been taking constant global reading of those all-important digits.

To put the year in perspective, consider this chart, which is only through April, from the University of Alabama Huntsville’s Global Temperature Report page:

BLOG MAY Temp chart

More from the University of Alabama Huntsville via Newswise:

Global Temperature Report: May 2016

May 2016 was 2nd warmest May in satellite record

Global climate trend since Nov. 16, 1978: +0.12 C per decade

May temperatures (preliminary)

Global composite temp.: +0.55 C (about 0.99 degrees Fahrenheit) above
30-year average for May.

Northern Hemisphere: +0.65 C (about 1.17 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year
average for May.

Southern Hemisphere: +0.44 C (about 0.79 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year
average for May.

Tropics: +.72 C (about 1.30 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for
May.

April temperatures (revised):

Global Composite: +0.72 C above 30-year average

Northern Hemisphere: +0.85 C above 30-year average

Southern Hemisphere: +0.58 C above 30-year average

Tropics: +0.94 C above 30-year average

(All temperature anomalies are based on a 30-year average (1981-2010) for the month reported.)

Notes on data released June 2, 2016:

When is an anomaly just an anomaly and not necessarily part of a larger trend? Perhaps, when the anomaly is a significant outlier that can be linked to a specific cause.

May 2016 was the second warmest May in the satellite temperature record, trailing only May 1998 by 0.11 C, according to Dr. John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. Compared to seasonal norms, May 2016 was the 8th warmest month overall since the satellite temperature dataset began in December 1978.

The 16 warmest months (and 21 of the warmest 25) on the record, however, all happened during one of three El Niño Pacific Ocean warming events (1997-98, 2009-10 and 2015-16). The effect is especially noticeable when comparing temperatures from a specific month. In the May data, three El Niño Mays are warmer than the other 35 by an amount that is statistically significant.

May anomalies
(compared to 30-year May norm)

1998 +0.65 C
2016 +0.55 C
2010 +0.41 C
2015 +0.27 C
2002 +0.25 C
2014 +0.25 C
2003 +0.21 C
2001 +0.20 C
2007 +0.14 C
2005 +0.13 C

That effect is more pronounced when looking at May temperatures in the tropics:

May anomalies, tropics
(compared to 30-year May norm)

1998 +0.98 C
2010 +0.80 C
2016 +0.72 C
1983 +0.28 C
2002 +0.27 C
2015 +0.26 C
2003 +0.19 C
2014 +0.18 C
1988 +0.18 C
1991 +0.17 C

The upshot, said Christy, is that while there is a clear warming signal in the satellite temperature data, caution should be used when trying to extrapolate long-term conclusions about climate change based on months and years whose temperatures are obvious outliers driven by El Niño warming events.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Facebook ‘Likes’ are like cocaine to a teen’s brain


Nucleus accumbens in the brain: Two views of the brain with the nucleus accumbens, a hub of the brain's reward circuitry, highlighted in green. This region was more active when teenagers saw that their own photographs, and those of others, had been “liked” by more peers. Past research suggests that this region is particularly sensitive in adolescence. Lauren Sherman/UCLA

Nucleus accumbens in the brain: Two views of the brain with the nucleus accumbens, a hub of the brain’s reward circuitry, highlighted in green. This region was more active when teenagers saw that their own photographs, and those of others, had been “liked” by more peers. Past research suggests that this region is particularly sensitive in adolescence. Lauren Sherman/UCLA

There’s a reason Facebook is so popular.

In simplest terms, it really is addictive.

Yep, Facebook works just like cocaine, triggering the same brain center that gives the drug its euphoric effects.

From The UCLA Newsroom:

The same brain circuits that are activated by eating chocolate and winning money are activated when teenagers see large numbers of “likes” on their own photos or the photos of peers in a social network, according to a first-of-its-kind UCLA study that scanned teens’ brains while using social media.

The 32 teenagers, ages 13-18, were told they were participating in a small social network similar to the popular photo-sharing app, Instagram. In an experiment at UCLA’s Ahmanson–Lovelace Brain Mapping Center, the researchers showed them 148 photographs on a computer screen for 12 minutes, including 40 photos that each teenager submitted, and analyzed their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. Each photo also displayed the number of likes it had supposedly received from other teenage participants — in reality, the number of likes was assigned by the researchers. (At the end of the procedure, the participants were told that the researchers decided on the number of likes a photo received.)

“When the teens saw their own photos with a large number of likes, we saw activity across a wide variety of regions in the brain,” said lead author Lauren Sherman, a researcher in the brain mapping center and the UCLA branch of the Children’s Digital Media Center, Los Angeles.

A region that was especially active is a part of the striatum called the nucleus accumbens, which is part of the brain’s reward circuitry, she said. This reward circuitry is thought to be particularly sensitive during adolescence. When the teenagers saw their photos with a large number of likes, the researchers also observed activation in regions that are known as the social brain and regions linked to visual attention.

In deciding whether to click that they liked a photo, the teenagers were highly influenced by the number of likes the photo had.

“We showed the exact same photo with a lot of likes to half of the teens and to the other half with just a few likes,” Sherman said. “When they saw a photo with more likes, they were significantly more likely to like it themselves. Teens react differently to information when they believe it has been endorsed by many or few of their peers, even if these peers are strangers.”

The study is published Tuesday [$36 to access — esnl] in the journal Psychological Science.

In the teenagers’ real lives, the influence of their friends is likely to be even more dramatic, said Mirella Dapretto, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA’s Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

“In the study, this was a group of virtual strangers to them, and yet they were still responding to peer influence; their willingness to conform manifested itself both at the brain level and in what they chose to like,” said Dapretto, a senior author of the study. “We should expect the effect would be magnified in real life, when teens are looking at likes by people who are important to them.”

There’s lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Consumer ethnic identity tests may foster racism


A screencap of thre webpage for one of the most popular consumer DNA testing companies, a firm that also sells consumer genealogical record programs..

A screencap of the webpage for one of the most popular consumer DNA testing companies, a firm that also sells consumer genealogical record programs..

That’s the conclusion of some fascinating new research published in this month’s Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin [$36 to access the article].

Conducted by social scientists in the U.S., Norway, Denmark, and Israel, the study has implications for those DNA tests advertised regularly on television promising to reveal all the components of your ethnic background.

The TV ads show folks who discover that they DNA proves they weren’t Scottish, German, of whatever, and how that discover changed their lives and their self-perceptions.

Here’s the abstract from the paper:

Information about the degree of one’s genetic overlap with ethnic outgroups has been emphasized in genocides, is frequently learned about through media reporting, and is increasingly being accessed via personal genetic testing services. However, the consequence of learning about whether your own ethnic group is either genetically related to or genetically distinct from a disliked ethnic group remains unknown. Across four experiments, using diverse samples, measures and contexts, we demonstrate that altering perceptions of genetic overlap between groups in conflict—in this case Arabs and Jews—impacts factors that are directly related to interethnic hostility (e.g., aggressive behaviors, support of conflict-related policies). Our findings indicate that learning about the genetic difference between oneself and an ethnic outgroup may contribute to the promotion of violence, whereas learning about the similarities may be a vital step toward fostering peace in some contexts. Possible interventions and implications are discussed.

In a post written for Scientific American’s blog, two of the authors, Sasha Kimel of Harvard and Jonas Kunst, who holds appointments at Harvard and the universities of Oslo in Norway and Aarhus in Denmark,describe their experiments and some of their implications.

From their post:

[W]e led Jewish participants to believe that they were playing a simple computerized game with an Arab opponent sitting in another room. If the Jewish participant won, they could give their opponent a loud blast of noise – up to the intensity of a fire alarm. Strikingly, Jewish participants who had first learned about the genetic differences “punished” their alleged Arab opponent with more intense noise blasts than those who had learned about the genetic similarities.

But can learning about genetic similarities or differences also alter peoples’ support for war?  To test this, in a third experiment—run outside the laboratory—we randomly assigned Jewish participants to read one of our various news articles and then rate their support for peacemaking with Palestinians. Here, our results suggested that learning about genetic similarities might be an effective intervention for reducing conflict.

However, when we finally took the study to Israel—a context of ongoing violence and deeply entrenched negative views—we found something quite different. Here, learning about the genetic differences was what was really impactful. In this field experiment conducted on Israeli commuter trains, Jewish Israeli’s supported violence and war-like policies towards Palestinians much more after reading about their genetic differences with Arabs.

We’ve posted extensively about the deadly role of eugenics in fostering hatred, sterilizations, and mass murder, not only in Nazi but in the United States throughout the first half of the 20th Century.

Let us quote from one of our many posts on the subject:

“Their idea of utopia was that no one would exist who didn’t look like themselves,” explains Edwin R. Black, author of War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race [2003].

While most folks probably assume that the Nazi plan to create a blond, blue-eyed “Aryan” master race was a uniquely German phenomenon, the reality is that Hitler simply embraced a program developed in the United States, and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Institution, and other grant-making institution.

Most of the German researchers who would go on to implement first the Nazi sterilization programs and later, the gassing first of mental patients and then Jews and Gypsies, were first sponsored by the American grant-givers.

Soon after his rise to the chancellorship, Hitler expressed regrets that he couldn’t implement programs already in place in the United States and set changing Germany’s laws.

Indeed, California would set the world record for forced sterilizations until Hitler unleashed his own doctors — many of whom had received American institutional grants — who would spearhead his war against the weak, modeling his own statutes on those already in operation in the U.S.

The dread of those dubbed “mental defectives” even led some mainstream American scientists to propose a “final solution” in the form of gas chambers, an idea subsequently adopted in Germany.

The implementation of eugenics programs here followed a rise of anti-immigrant hysteria focused on Southern Italians, Eastern European Jews, and Latinos, an ominous fact in light of the rising anti-immigrant hysteria now impacting our country.

But the eugenicists weren’t out simply to purge the globe of “mental defectives” and “inferior races.” They also targeted the deaf, the blind, the disabled, the alcoholic, the depressed, and the poor. As Black notes, eugenicists “believed you weren’t born into poverty; poverty was born into you.”

Headline of the day: Crying foul at UC Berkeley


From the Guardian:

‘Honey bear’: Berkeley student details alleged sexual advances by professor

Exclusive: Nicole Hemenway describes how repeated harassment by her thesis adviser derailed her studies – and how the school system failed to protect her

Zika worries lead docs to ask Brazil Olympics halt


First, from United Press International:

A group of 150 health experts released a letter calling for the summer Olympic games to be postponed or moved from Rio de Janeiro over fears of Zika virus exposure.

The scientists, doctors and medical ethicists said, in a letter directed to World Health Organization Director Dr. Margaret Chan, the new findings about Zika’s link to birth defects and Guillain-Barre syndrome should be the catalyst to move or postpone the games to safeguard everyone involved. The group said it is not asking for the games, scheduled to begin in August, to be canceled.
Signatories include leading health specialists from around the globe.

Rather than describe the contents, here’s the letter itself, posted at Rio Olympics Later [where you’ll also find the complete list of signatories]:

Open Letter to Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organization [WHO]

We are writing to express our concern about the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. WHO’s declaration of Zika as a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” coupled with new scientific findings that underscore the seriousness of that problem, call for the Rio 2016 Games to be postponed and/or moved to another location—but not cancelled—in the name of public health.

We make this call despite the widespread fatalism that the Rio 2016 Games are inevitable or “too big to fail”. History teaches this is wrong: the 1916, 1940, and 1944 Olympic Games were not just postponed, but cancelled, and other sporting events were moved because of disease, as Major League Baseball did for Zika, and the Africa Cup of Nations did for Ebola.

Currently, many athletes, delegations, and journalists are struggling with the decision of whether to participate in the Rio 2016 Games. We agree with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommendation that workers should “Consider delaying travel to areas with active Zika virus transmission”. If that advice were followed uniformly, no athlete would have to choose between risking disease and participating in a competition that many have trained for their whole lives.

Our greater concern is for global health. The Brazilian strain of Zika virus harms health in ways that science has not observed before. An unnecessary risk is posed when 500,000 foreign tourists from all countries attend the Games, potentially acquire that strain, and return home to places where it can become endemic. Should that happen to poor, as-yet unaffected places (e.g., most of South Asia and Africa) the suffering can be great. It is unethical to run the risk, just for Games that could proceed anyway, if postponed and/or moved.

In our view, several new scientific findings require WHO to reconsider its advice on the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. For example:

  • That the Brazilian viral strain causes microcephaly and probably Guillain-Barré syndrome. Further, because human, animal and in vitro studies demonstrate that the virus is neurotrophic and causes cell death, it is biologically plausible that there are other as yet undiscovered neurological injuries, as exist for similar viruses (e.g. dengue).
  • That while Zika’s risk to any single individual is low, the risk to a population is undeniably high. Currently, Brazil’s government reports 120,000 probable Zika cases, 8 and 1,300 confirmed cases of microcephaly (with another 3,300 under investigation), which is above the historical level of microcephaly.
  • That Rio de Janeiro is highly affected by Zika. Brazil’s government reports Rio de Janeiro state has the second-highest number of probable Zika cases in the country (32,000) and the fourth-highest incidence rate (195 per 100,000), demonstrating active transmission.
  • That despite Rio’s new mosquito-killing program, the transmission of mosquito-borne disease has gone up rather than down. While Zika is a new epidemic and lacks historical data, using dengue fever as a proxy, cases in Rio from January thru April 2016 are up 320% and 1150% over the same periods in 2015 and 2014, respectively. In the specific neighborhood of the Olympic Park (Barra da Tijuca) there have been more dengue cases in just the first quarter of 2016 than in all of 2015.
  • That Rio’s health system is so severely weakened as to make a last-minute push against Zika impossible. Recently Rio’s state government declared a health sector emergency, and Rio’s city government cut funding against mosquito-borne disease by 20%.13 While the virus is the infectious agent of Zika, its real cause is Rio’s poor social conditions and sanitation—factors that lack a quick fix, and that are not helped when shrinking health resources are diverted to the Games.
  • That it is possible to eradicate the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits Zika, from Rio. Actually that mosquito was totally eradicated from Brazil in the 1950s, but came back after control efforts lapsed. Thus holding the Games, in the presence of Zika-carrying mosquitoes, is a choice and not necessary.
  • That one cannot count on nature for defence. While lower mosquito activity during Rio’s winter months reduces the individual risk to travelers of infection, that is partly offset when travelers who became infected return home during the northern hemisphere’s summer months and peak mosquito activity, which increases the public health risk that local mosquitos acquire and spread the virus—meaning that both seasons are relevant to the epidemic’s course. Also, infection can spread through blood donations and transfusions, particularly in poor countries that lack screening for Zika.

The rest, after the jump. . . Continue reading