More on bias in the lab

Federal health officials are taking steps to correct a longstanding gender imbalance in laboratory research on potential drug treatments.An Editorial in the New York times states that “For the past two decades, federal law has required that women be included in clinical studies funded by the National Institutes of Health in recognition of the fact that drugs often have vastly different effects in men and women. As a result, more than half of the participants in N.I.H.-imgresfunded clinical research are women. But there has been no similar requirement to eliminate the sex bias from more basic laboratory research that can lead up to a clinical trial or doom a drug to the discard pile if it seems not to work.

“That is about to change. Top N.I.H. officials announced in the journal Nature this month that the agency would soon require researchers applying for grants to balance male and female cells and laboratory animals unless there is good reason to include only one sex “based on rigorously defined exceptions.” A laboratory study of ovarian cancer or of prostate cancer could presumably include only animals or cells of the relevant sex, for example. The new rules could have a significant effect on how laboratory research is conducted because the N.I.H. is a major funder of biomedical research around the world.

“The gender imbalance results in part from resistance to any change in ingrained practices, fears that costs may rise, and obsolete views that fluctuations in female hormones would complicate results in female laboratory animals. Yet for some traits and behaviors there is far more variability among males than females. Continue reading “More on bias in the lab”

Asking the right gender questions

Last week the well-respected Urban Institute published a study on technology, teen dating violence and cyberbullying, writes Dana Beyer in today’s Huffington Post Gay Voices in a piece about the study’s approach (and those used elsewhere) to asking questions about gender identity .

“The numbers were pretty horrifying, and they were worse for LGBTQ youth, both as victims and perpetrators. As I was looking through the documentation to study how the research was structured, I noticed something very interesting about the intake forms. The first question was, “What is your gender? Male. Female. Transgender/gender-queer.” The fourth question was, “Of the following, which do you primarily identify as? Heterosexual/straight. Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Questioning. Queer. Other.”

“This is a very rational, modern presentation, following on what we’ve learned about the independence of the two human attributes — gender identity and sexual orientation — and the primacy of gender identity over sexual orientation as a biological and social phenomenon. Putting aside polyamory, you need to know who you and you partner are before you can categorize the dyad in relationship terms.

“This is also, in its way, a classical presentation, because most official forms ask for your sex after they ask for your name. The only difference here is that “sex” is replaced by “gender,” which means the same for legal purposes. But looking a little more closely, there has been, as a result of the deliberate attempt to include trans persons, the resulting creation of a third gender. This would not be out of place in many global cultures, including early Native American/Canadian “two-spirit” (“berdache”) traditions, the Fa’afafine of Polynesia, and the hijras of the Indian subcontinent. Today Australia, New Zealand, Nepal and Germany are four nations that allow a category of indeterminate sex for birth certificates. The globalization of our understanding of trans culture has influenced our actions here in the U.S. Often we are asked how we can make medical intake documents more welcoming, to indicate a culturally competent office that would attract LGBT folks. So over the years we’ve encouraged a number of changes, including replacing “husband/wife” with “spouse,” “mother” and “father” with “parent 1” and “parent 2,” and adding a line or box to be filled in next to the two basic sexes should someone want to choose another option or explicate a bit on the choice made. Continue reading “Asking the right gender questions”

The insomniac’s mind

Brain scans of people who say they have insomnia have shown differences in brain function compared with people who get a full night’s sleep.images

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, said the poor sleepers struggled to focus part of their brain in memory tests, reports the BBC

“Other experts said that the brain’s wiring may actually be affecting perceptions of sleep quality. The findings were published in the journal Sleep. People with insomnia struggle to sleep at night, but it also has consequences during the day such as delayed reaction times and memory. The study compared 25 people who said they had insomnia with 25 who described themselves as good sleepers. MRI brain scans were carried out while they performed increasingly challenging memory tests. One of the researchers, Prof Sean Drummond, said: “We found that insomnia subjects did not properly turn on brain regions critical to a working memory task and did not turn off ‘mind-wandering’ brain regions irrelevant to the task.

“This data helps us understand that people with insomnia not only have trouble sleeping at night, but their brains are not functioning as efficiently during the day.” A sleep researcher in the UK, Dr Neil Stanley, said that the quality of the sleep each group was having was very similar, even though one set was reporting insomnia. He said: “What’s the chicken and what’s the egg? Is the brain different and causing them to report worse sleep? “Maybe they’re perceiving what happened in the night differently; maybe what is affecting their working memory and ability to focus on the task at hand is also causing insomnia.”

 

More at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-23897665

Video games help the brain

Playing certain types of video games can boost a person’s flexible thinking skills, according to a new study.images-2

The findings could lead to new treatments for people with brain injuries or conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the researchers suggest, as reported today in WebMD.

“Previous research has demonstrated that action video games . . . can speed up decision making, but the current work finds that real-time strategy games can promote our ability to think on the fly and learn from past mistakes,” said Dr. Brian Glass, of the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary University of London.

“For the study, researchers looked at 72 women who typically played video games for less than two hours a week. The study authors couldn’t find any male gamers who spent so little time playing video games. Two-thirds of the participants played either basic or more complex versions of a real-time strategy game called “StarCraft,” a fast-paced game where players have to create and organize armies to battle an enemy. One-third of the participants played a life simulation game called “The Sims,” which does not rely on using memory or tactical skills.

“The volunteers played the games for 40 hours over six to eight weeks and underwent tests of their “cognitive flexibility.” This refers to a person’s ability to adapt and switch between tasks, and think about multiple ideas at a given time to solve problems, the British researchers explained. Continue reading “Video games help the brain”

Migraines and stigma

Migraine patients face the same overall degree of stigma that is attached to epilepsy, although they may experience less discrimination, according to two studies reported in Medpage, as excerpted below:

“An Internet-based survey of 705 individuals quizzed on their attitudes toward patients with epilepsy, migraine, and other conditions indicated that levels of stigma — such as beliefs that such people would make poor work colleagues or dinner party guests — were similar between epilepsy and migraine, said Robert Shapiro, MD, PhD, of the University of Vermont in Burlington.imgres-1

“Separately, questionnaires distributed to 123 patients with episodic migraine, 123 with chronic migraine, and 62 with epilepsy indicated similar self-perceived levels of stigma associated with episodic migraine and epilepsy, according to William Young, MD, of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, and colleagues. Both studies were reported at the International Headache Congress.

“Chronic migraine patients scored substantially higher on the Stigma Scale for Chronic Illness (SSCI) than either of the other two groups — mean 54.0 (SD 20.2) versus 41.7 (SD 14.8) for episodic migraine and 44.6 (SD 16.3) for epilepsy — but that appeared to be driven by the chronic migraine patients’ genuinely reduced ability to work, the researchers indicated. Continue reading “Migraines and stigma”

Wealthy humanities & arts students

Ok, so the humanities and art draw from wealthier student cohorts. How will this shape what knowledge matters in the future?imgres

Money has always given people better options, but for humanities and arts graduate students, money’s now necessary just to get acceptable ones, reports Inside Higher Ed. “Just now becoming noticeable, this “re-gilded ivory tower” looms over a landscape that everyone should consider.

“As one fellow graduate student recently observed, “You have to have a spouse nowadays; that’s how more and more people seem to be doing it.” As is well-known, the economic crash hastened the decline of tenure-track jobs and increased competition for them. Once standard, these stable jobs with adequate salary and benefits have become rarer, displaced by short-term, one- to two-year positions at best, and by piecemeal adjuncting at worst. In turn, entry-level qualifications also rose at some institutions to include a secondary research specialization, at least one article, and attention to pedagogy resulting in the creation of one or more substantive classes, ideally taught at outside institutions. Continue reading “Wealthy humanities & arts students”

The myth of the tenured academic job

Who wouldn’t want a job where you only have to work five hours a week, you get summers off, your whole job is reading and talking about books, and you can never be fired? As Rebeca Schulman writes in this week’s Slate.com, “Such is the enviable life of the tenured college literature professor, and all you have to do to get it is earn a Ph.D. So perhaps you, literature lover, are considering pursuing this path.images

“Well, what if I told you that by “five hours” I mean “80 hours,” and by “summers off” I mean “two months of unpaid research sequestration and curriculum planning”? What if you’ll never have time to read books, and when you talk about them, you’ll mostly be using made-up words like “deterritorialization” and “Othering”—because, as Ron Rosenbaum pointed out recently, the “dusty seminar rooms” of academia have the chief aim of theorizing every great book to death? And I can’t even tell you what kind of ass you have to kiss these days to get tenure—largely because, like most professors, I’m not on the tenure track, so I don’t know. Continue reading “The myth of the tenured academic job”

Europe sees research gender gap

Addressing whether research has a “gender dimension” is to become a greater priority under new plans for European funding, reports the Times of London

“The term refers to the fact that research does not always account for differences between men and women and this needs to be woven into the fabric of research projects.images-3

“Katrien Maes, chief policy officer at the League of European Research Universities, said a failure to consider gender in research has led to medicines being less evidence-based for women and has also resulted in products and services being ill-designed for, or untested on, women.

“The issue was discussed at the Leru round-table event on “Women, research and universities: excellence without gender bias” on 22 March in Brussels, and may gain greater prominence under the next research funding framework, Horizon 2020. Dr Maes said the European Commission was considering whether to strengthen its requirements for applicants to take into account the gender dimension of research in funding applications from 2014 to 2020.

“If somebody puts in a proposal for a research project, they could ask, have you taken into account whether there is a need to have a gender dimension? Are there any gender or sex analyses that are necessary?” said Dr Maes. The Commission may also introduce specific funding for gender- related research in areas such as the environment, transport and nutrition. Continue reading “Europe sees research gender gap”

Majority want pot legalized

For the first time in more than four decades of polling on the issue, a majority of Americans favor legalizing the use of marijuana. A national survey finds that 52% say that the use of marijuana should be made legal while 45% say it should not, reports the Pew organization

“Support for legalizing marijuana has risen 11 points since 2010. The change is even more dramatic since the late 1960s. A 1969 Gallup survey found that just 12% favored legalizing marijuana use, while 84% were opposed.Unknown-1

“The survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted March 13-17 among 1,501 adults, finds that young people are the most supportive of marijuana legalization. Fully 65% of Millennials –born since 1980 and now between 18 and 32 – favor legalizing the use of marijuana, up from just 36% in 2008. Yet there also has been a striking change in long-term attitudes among older generations, particularly Baby Boomers. Continue reading “Majority want pot legalized”

Counting liberals at Trader Joe’s

The cliché that liberals shop at Trader Joe’s, while conservatives prefer Walmart, is no doubt overstated. But where would the perception come from?

Newly published research provides a compelling answer: brand-name products. Conservatives gravitate toward them, and Walmart, unlike Trader Joe’s, is packed with them, reports Salon.com.images

“That provocative conclusion can be drawn from a study in the journal Psychological Science. A research team led by Vishal Singh of New York University’s Stern School of Business has discovered a relationship between voting behavior, high levels of religiosity, and “seemingly inconsequential product choices.”

“They argue that your decision to vote for a certain candidate, and purchase a particular brand of detergent, springs from the same basic impulse:“Our empirical results, based on extensive field data, provide strong evidence that more conservative ideology is associated with higher reliance on established national brands (as opposed to generics) and a slower uptake of new products.”

“These tendencies are consistent with traits typically associated with conservatism, such as aversion to risk, skepticism about new experiences, and a general preference for tradition, convention, and the status quo.”The researchers used a comprehensive database that tracks weekly store sales of thousands of products. Focusing on 416 counties which collectively represent 47 percent of the U.S. population, they calculated the market share of generics in 26 categories, including coffee, deodorant, and peanut butter. Continue reading “Counting liberals at Trader Joe’s”

Brain scans that predict criminality?

Brain scans of convicted felons can predict which ones are most likely to get arrested after they get out of prison, scientists have found in a study of 96 male offenders, reports Wired Science today

“It’s the first time brain scans have been used to predict recidivism,” said neuroscientist Kent Kiehl of the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who led the new study. Even so, Kiehl and others caution that the method is nowhere near ready to be used in real-life decisions about sentencing or parole.imgres-3

“Generally speaking, brain scans or other neuromarkers could be useful in the criminal justice system if the benefits in terms of better accuracy outweigh the likely higher costs of the technology compared to conventional pencil-and-paper risk assessments, says Stephen Morse, a legal scholar specializing in criminal law and neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania. The key questions to ask, Morse says, are: “How much predictive accuracy does the marker add beyond usually less expensive behavioral measures? How subject is it to counter-measures if a subject wishes to ‘defeat’ a scan?” Continue reading “Brain scans that predict criminality?”

Local news going the way of print

With shorter stories and scarce coverage of politics and government, local television newscasts in the United States, like local newspapers before them, are suffering from “shrinking pains,” according to the Pew Research Center.imgres-2

The diagnosis comes in the center’s 10th annual State of the News Media report, which will be published on Monday. The New York Times reports that “the report, covering 2012, describes cutbacks in the reporting ranks of newspapers and television networks and a surge in efforts by politicians, corporations and others to tell their own stories.

“This adds up to a news industry that is more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands,” the report’s main author, Amy Mitchell, wrote in an introduction. Continue reading “Local news going the way of print”

Media non-violence trumps violence

Young children who are encouraged to watch TV programs that depict kindness, respect, and cooperation are more likely to express those traits than kids who watch everyday TV fare that includes fictional violence.

Setting the media violence debate upside  down, researchers have found that low-income boys, who tend to watch the most television, benefited the most in displaying empathy after watching nonviolent shows, reports the Christian Science Monitor.imgres-2

“And many of the parents who were guided on what kind of pro-social content to watch and how to avoid violent shows asked that such advice continue even after the study. Continue reading “Media non-violence trumps violence”

Raising drinking costs saves lives

imgres-3Research published in Canada has linked the introduction of minimum pricing with a significant drop in alcohol-related deaths.

The findings, in the journal Addiction, were welcomed by health campaigners but they have been criticised as “misleading and inaccurate” by the drinks industry, which has questioned the statistical basis of the research, reports the BBC today

“The Scottish government’s plans to introduce a minimum unit price are on hold pending a court challenge. The researchers said a rise in alcohol prices of 10% had led to a 32% reduction in alcohol-related deaths. The Canadian study was carried out between 2002 and 2009 in British Columbia, where alcohol could only be sold directly to the public in government-owned stores. It suggests that, when drink prices rose, there were “immediate, substantial and significant reductions” in deaths wholly attributable to alcohol abuse. The authors suggest increasing the price of cheaper drinks reduces the consumption of heavier drinkers who prefer them.

“Dr Tim Stockwell, director of the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia, said: ‘This study adds to the scientific evidence that, despite popular opinion to the contrary, even the heaviest drinkers reduce their consumption when minimum alcohol prices increase. “It is hard otherwise to explain the significant changes in alcohol-related deaths observed in British Columbia.’ During the period under study, the law changed in Canada, permitting private liquor stores to open. A 10% growth in the number of such outlets was associated with an increase (2%) in all alcohol-related deaths. This is the first study to highlight the effects on mortality of alcohol minimum pricing, although the Scottish government has used previous research from the University of Sheffield to claim consumption of alcohol would be reduced if prices rose.”

 

Full story at BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-21358995

 

 

Speech style and gender performance

A researcher at the University of Colorado has presented new evidence

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on how word pronunciation affects gender recognition among listeners.

While this may not be a great revelation to those who provide or receive speech training for gender reassignment, the story has significance in further documenting the social construction of gender identity.

The story appears on a noteworthy site called RedOrbit (see link below) on science and health. According to the study, “the style of a person’s speech may help listeners guess their gender just as much as the high or low pitch of their voice.” The researcher examined transgendered people during transition to figure out how humans associate gender categories with different characteristics of speech. Continue reading “Speech style and gender performance”

Monogamy is overrated, research shows

imgresThis may sound like an old Henny Youngman joke, but long-term couples are not the world’s happiest people. Nor are they the least happy. In fact, a new study appearing in

Personality and Social Psychology Review says that monogamy doesn’t really matter very much at all. As Salon reports,

“Researchers looked at consensual non-monogamy — relationships in which both adults agree to have multiple sexual or romantic partners — among gay couples and found nearly identical levels of satisfaction as those in monogamous partnerships.

“Men reported that their open relationships accommodated their intimacy needs as well as their desires for sexual diversity. Continue reading “Monogamy is overrated, research shows”

What made the news

It’s no big secret that what people think has a lot to do with what they watch and read. While ideologies and other belief systems also underlie public opinion, there is no denying the role of “news” in shaping contemporary worldviews – sometimes in direct opposition to empirical data.

For example, while many parents now fear sending junior off to school each morning, the odds of a child being shot in Sandy Hook fashion stand at less than one in a million, as it has for decades. If anything, schools recently have been getting safer.

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After reaching a high of 63 deaths in the 2006-2007 school year, the number of people killed in “school-associated” incidents dropped to 33 in 2009-2010 – the lowest in two decades, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Continue reading “What made the news”

Why women are driven from academic research

“The number of women studying science and engineering at undergraduate and postgraduate levels has increased markedly in recent decades.” says the webiste Oikos. ” However females have lower retention rates than males in these fields, and perform worse on average than men in terms of promotion and common research metrics. Two key differences between men and women are the larger role that women play in childcare and house work in most families, and the narrower window for female fertility. Here we explore how these two factors affect research output by applying a common ecological model to research performance, incorporating part-time work and the duration of career prior to the onset of part-time work. The model parameterizes the positive feedback between historical research Continue reading “Why women are driven from academic research”

Domestic violence study shows more awareness

New research reveal that attitudes in California about domestic violence have evolved significantly in recent years. Now the vast majority of respondents believe that the abuse can happen to anyone, and 66 percent said that they have a friend or family member who has been a victim, according to a story in today’s Huffington Post titled “Domestic Violence Survey Shows Shift in Attitudes, Awareness.” The story draws from research done by the San Francisco polling firm Tulchin Research and was funded by the Blue Shield of California Foundation.

As reported in Huffington Post, “Victim advocates said that the results of the survey illustrate a marked shift in public opinion and awareness of the topic in recent decades.

“Thirty years ago, domestic violence ‘was not an issue that people would talk about or that people felt was a serious problem,’ said Esta Soler, president of Futures Without Violence, a national anti-violence organization that receives funding from the Blue Shield of California Foundation. “For most people, they thought that if it happened at all, it happened someplace else.”

“Futures Without Violence, formerly known as the Family Violence Prevention Fund, has previously conducted surveys on attitudes related to domestic violence. According to its 1994 survey of Californians, 32 percent reported knowing women who were physically abused. The organization’s 2000 poll of American men found that 51 percent of the respondents said that they believed a friend or family member was in a physically abusive relationship; that number ticked up to 56 percent in a 2007 poll.

‘The new survey of California adults also explored opinions on prevention programs for adolescents and teens, and respondents largely supported teaching high school and middle school students about dating abuse as a way of preventing domestic abuse. Eighty-nine percent of the survey respondents said that they think it is appropriate to teach high school students about the topic, and 82 percent said it was also appropriate to discuss the issue with middle school students.”

A different kind of poll

Ok, so we are all fed up with polls about the election. Check this out from Slate: “Poll Finds Majority of Americans Are Racist.”  As Daniel Politi summarizes, “In the four years since the United States elected the country’s first black president, a majority of Americans express outright prejudice toward blacks. Perhaps even more surprising though is that the numbers have slightly increased since 2008. A full 51 percent of Americans explicitly express anti-black prejudice, up from 48 percent in 2008, according to the Associated Press. When an implicit racial attitudes test is used the number increases to 56 percent, compared to 49 percent four years ago. The AP surveys, which were carried out by university researchers, ultimately found that President Obama could lose a net 2 percentage points of the popular vote due to anti-black attitudes. Continue reading “A different kind of poll”