AI can predict whether your relationship will last based on how you speak to your partner


File 20170829 10424 1u8w6jm.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
I’m TALKING.
Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock

Ian McLoughlin, University of Kent

Any child (or spouse) who has been scolded for their tone of voice – such as shouting or being sarcastic – knows that the way you speak to someone can be just as important as the words that you use. Voice artists and actors make great use of this – they are skilled at imparting meaning in the way that they speak, sometimes much more than the words alone would merit.

But just how much information is carried in our tone of voice and conversation patterns and how does that impact our relationships with others? Computational systems can already establish who people are from their voices, so could they also tell us anything about our love life? Amazingly, it seems like it.

New research, just published in the journal PLOS-ONE, has analysed the vocal characteristics of 134 couples undergoing therapy. Researchers from the University of Southern California used computers to extract standard speech analysis features from recordings of therapy session participants over two years. The features – including pitch, variation in pitch and intonation – all relate to voice aspects like tone and intensity.

A machine-learning algorithm was then trained to learn a relationship between those vocal features and the eventual outcome of therapy. This wasn’t as simple as detecting shouting or raised voices – it included the interplay of conversation, who spoke when and for how long as well as the sound of the voices. It turned out that ignoring what was being said and considering only these patterns of speaking was sufficient to predict whether or not couples would stay together. This was purely data driven, so it didn’t relate outcomes to specific voice attributes.

How a tone of voice can change the meaning of a few words.

Interestingly, the full video recordings of the therapy session were then given to experts to classify. Unlike the AI, they made their predictions using psychological assessment based on the vocal (and other) attributes – including the words spoken and body language. Surprisingly, their prediction of the eventual outcome (they were correct in 75.6% of the cases) was inferior to predictions made by the AI based only on vocal characteristics (79.3%). Clearly there are elements encoded in the way we speak that not even experts are aware of. But the best results came from combining the automated assessment with the experts’ assessment (79.6% correct).

The significance of this is not so much about involving AI in marriage counselling or getting couples to speak more nicely to each other (however meritorious that would be). The significance is revealing how much information about our underlying feelings is encoded in the way we speak – some of it completely unknown to us.

Words written on a page or a screen have lexical meanings derived from their dictionary definitions. These are modified by the context of surrounding words. There can be great complexity in writing. But when words are read aloud, it is true that they take on additional meanings that are conveyed by word stress, volume, speaking rate and tone of voice. In a typical conversation there is also meaning in how long each speaker talks for, and how quickly one or other might interject.

Consider the simple question “Who are you?”. Try speaking this with stress on different words; “Who are you?”, “Who are you?” and “Who are you?”. Listen to these – the semantic meaning can change with how we read even when the words stay the same.

Computers reading ‘leaking senses’?

It is unsurprising that words convey different meanings depending on how they are spoken. It is also unsurprising that computers can interpret some of the meaning behind how we choose to speak (maybe one day they will even be able to understand irony).

But this research takes matters further than just looking at the meaning conveyed by a sentence. It seems to reveal underlying attitudes and thoughts that lie behind the sentences. This is a much deeper level of understanding.

The therapy participants were not reading words like actors. They were just talking naturally – or as naturally as they could in a therapist’s office. And yet the analysis revealed information about their mutual feelings that they were “leaking” inadvertently into their speech. This may be one of the first steps in using computers to determine what we are really thinking or feeling. Imagine for a moment conversing with future smartphones – will we “leak” information that they can pick up? How will they respond?

Congratulations. Changes in your voice, pulse and pupil size all indicate you’ve found a romantic match.
Astarot/Shutterstock

Could they advise us about potential partners by listening to us talking together? Could they detect a propensity towards antisocial behaviour, violence, depression or other conditions? It would not be a leap of imagination to imagine the devices themselves as future therapists – interacting with us in various ways to track the effectiveness of interventions that they are delivering.

Don’t worry just yet because we are years away from such a future, but it does raise privacy issues, especially as we interact more deeply with computers at the same time as they are becoming more powerful at analysing the world around them.

The ConversationWhen we pause also to consider the other human senses apart from sound (speech); perhaps we also leak information through sight (such as body language, blushing), touch (temperature and movement) or even smell (pheromones). If smart devices can learn so much by listening to how we speak, one wonders how much more could they glean from the other senses.

Ian McLoughlin, Professor of Computing, Head of School (Medway), University of Kent

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why (ex)Hurricane Ophelia took a wrong turn towards Ireland and Britain – and carried all that dust

File 20171017 30390 5euzt5.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Met Office

Alexander Roberts, University of Leeds

Hurricane Ophelia, by then downgraded to Storm Ophelia, reached Ireland on Monday October 16. At the time of writing there had already been three deaths and countless reports of severe damage to buildings and fallen trees. Unlike other severe storms to reach Ireland and Britain, such as the 1987 Great Storm, Ophelia was in many ways a typical tropical cyclone with a tight spiral of cloud, powerfully strong winds, and a cloud-free eye.

But what set it apart from other Atlantic hurricanes was its direct route to Europe. While hurricanes do sometimes take a circuitous route westward across the ocean and loop back again towards Europe, this one took a short cut.

Ophelia began as a rather innocuous looking group of clouds in the Atlantic Ocean, several hundred miles south-west of the Azores and roughly on the same latitude as Morocco or northern Florida. Yet even at this stage it was unusual. Most named storms in the Atlantic are generated in warmer waters much further south and, as such, they are generally driven across the ocean by the easterly (blowing westwards) trade winds. They eventually dissipate as they curve north into the Atlantic or make landfall in the Caribbean, Mexico or the US.

Tracks of all Atlantic hurricanes from 1851 to 2012.
Nilfanion / US National Hurricane Centre, CC BY-SA

In Ophelia’s case, moderate atmospheric shear (changes in direction and strength of wind with height) and relatively cool sea surface temperatures meant it took several days to develop the well-defined low pressure centre, strong winds and spiral clouds of a hurricane. Then, instead of travelling west, like most Atlantic hurricanes, Ophelia began to head north-east.

This can be explained by the position and strength of the mid-latitude jet stream, an atmospheric feature that plays a major role in determining the weather over Western Europe. When its path loops north over the UK it can produce stable warm conditions in the summer (as in the record-breaking heatwave of July 2015), and bright cold days in the winter. When its path west to east is more direct, it guides low pressure storm systems across the UK and Ireland and can be responsible for the rapid strengthening of storms in a short period of time (described colloquially by forecasters as a “weather bomb”).

https://giphy.com/embed/uDOWJ8J8zD1fy
A northwards loop of the jet stream (far right) guided Ophelia from the Azores to Ireland.

It is this that produced such a rapid change in direction for Ophelia. Such waves on the mid-latitude jet stream are not unusual, however, the combination of both the jet’s and Ophelia’s position produced the conditions to guide the ex-hurricane toward the British Isles.

Adrift in the Azores

Tropical cyclones that form in or travel to the region near the Azores can become trapped. Stronger vertical wind shear to the north and south as well as colder sea surface temperatures in the surroundings can lead to storms that travel very slowly and eventually dissipate due to unfavourable conditions.

If there is no external force that can help to steer the storm, but conditions remain favourable, then tropical cyclones can persist for a long time. An example of this was Hurricane Nadine which circled the same part of the ocean where Ophelia formed for almost a month in 2012, the fourth longest-lived Atlantic hurricane on record.

First part of Ophelia’s journey. Compare to the map above – very few hurricanes take this route.
US National Hurricane Centre

That may have been Ophelia’s fate too, had it not been for the mid-latitude jet stream which instead guided the hurricane directly toward Ireland. It is partly due to this behaviour that the forecasts have been so accurate. Jet streams are generally well represented in numerical weather models, and so their influence on a storm’s path can be well predicted.

Ahead of Ophelia’s arrival the UK had a weekend of unseasonably balmy temperatures thanks to warm tropical air driven northwards. This is partly due to the winds circulating around the Ophelia low pressure centre, but also the positioning of the jet stream helping to draw air up from the tropics.

What about that dust?

On Monday much of the UK looked far less like a hurricane had arrived, and much more like the whole country had been put through a rosy Instagram filter. The sun was particularly red at dawn and throughout much of the day the whole sky glowed a yellowy-orange.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

This effect was partly thanks to the southerly winds on Ophelia’s eastern side, which transported Saharan dust and smoke from Iberian forest fires. In fact several flights over the UK were forced to make emergency landings when smoke could be smelt in the cabin. Increased number of particles in the atmosphere then scattered light preferentially from the blue end of the spectrum, leaving the more orange and red colours to reach our eyes.

The ConversationBut Ophelia also produced a layer of upper level clouds, thick enough to block out much of the sun’s rays directly but thin enough to allow a large amount of diffuse, scattered light to pass through. On a day when the sky was not full of smoke and dust particles, this would have appeared like a run-of-the-mill white skied, overcast day. However, on Monday it led to Facebook feeds being filled with photos of a bright orange sun at midday and yellow clouds.

Alexander Roberts, Researcher, Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science (ICAS), University of Leeds

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

This Too Shall Pass

Eclipsed Words

“And this, too, shall pass.”

This is a proverb indicating that all material conditions, positive or negative, are temporary and time solves all problems.

I once read that the great Abraham Lincoln used to have a grand affinity for this proverb. On September 30, 1859, Abraham Lincoln included a similar story in an address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society in Milwaukee. This is what he said;
“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.”

How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!

When we are in trouble, we feel that we are the only person who is facing these mountains full of doubts…

View original post 397 more words

Deadly explosion in Somali capital Mogadishu brings shock, outrage, and resilience

Laura Hammond, SOAS, University of London

More than 300 people were killed and at least 500 injured on October 14 when a truck bomb exploded in a crowded intersection in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. The attack is being called the worst in the history of the city, a particularly alarming statistic considering that the capital has regularly been the scene of violent conflict since the collapse of the Somali state in 1991.

No one has yet officially claimed responsibility for the attack, although the Guardian reported that a man, detained when he tried to drive a second vehicle loaded with explosives into the capital, told security officials that the rebel group Al-Shabaab was responsible.

Al-Shabaab is a terrorist group that has been fighting against the federal government of Somalia since late 2006. It is an extremist Islamist group with ties to Al-Qaeda, working to include Somalia in an international jihad. Its strength has waxed and waned in the intervening decade. Since 2011, when it staged what it called a “tactical withdrawal” from Mogadishu, its activities in the capital have mainly consisted of suicide bombings, detonations of improvised explosive devices and targeted assassinations of political figures.

Its capabilities in Mogadishu, as in nearly all Somali cities, are held in check by the combined forces of the African Union-backed AMISOM peacekeeping force and the Somali Federal Security Forces. But Somalia’s military is notoriously weak, hampered by the fact that it is made up of a collection of clan militias seconded to the national authorities by their leaders, with often weak allegiance to the national project.

Al-Shabaab continues to control large swathes of the Somali countryside, and retains the ability to carry out large-scale attacks. It is playing a long game. In the short term the group is working to thwart the Somali government’s efforts to consolidate its power, but it does not have enough power to defeat the government or to drive it from the capital. In the longer term, Al-Shabaab professes to be working to expel foreign – Western – influence in Somalia and to establish a state based on an extreme reading of sharia law.

The recent explosion was significant for the scale of its devastation and the size of the arsenal contained in the truck. Details of where the explosives for the attack were obtained are yet to emerge, but it’s clear that the operation must have been planned and carried out by a group with considerable organisational power.

Crisis mode

The attack couldn’t have come at a worse time for the federal government of Somalia. A week before, both Somalia’s minister of defence and military chief resigned for reasons that remain unclear. The suspicions are that the two were rivals, but were also frustrated at a lack of support coming from the months-old administration of President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo.

The government is trying to put in place a new Security Pact, agreed in May 2017 at an international conference held at London’s Lancaster House. That plan, which was to see the first of AMISOM’s troops withdrawing in 2018, is very likely to be stalled as a result of the attack.

The attack is also likely to put a damper on the rhetoric rising out of the city in recent years that Mogadishu was becoming safer. With so many innocent civilians affected, the notion that only high-profile politicians or security personnel are at risk is now seriously challenged. This is likely to deter many Somalis from the diaspora as well as those living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, from returning.

If Al-Shabaab is responsible for the dreadful loss of life, its official silence in the aftermath may be due to the very high number of civilian casualties. One theory is that the truck had been intended to explode outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but was detonated prematurely by the driver when it was stopped by security officials after getting stuck in traffic. The explosion then ignited a nearby fuel tanker, causing a fireball that destroyed buildings over several hundred metres in the centre of the city. Causing so many civilian casualties is likely to lead to serious and widespread backlash against Al-Shabaab – not the kind of PR they are looking for in their battle to bring down the government.

Resilience and solidarity

Yet amid the horror stories of suffering and loss, small glimmers of hope and resilience have emerged. One of the strongest and most immediate sources of support has been the Somali diaspora. Within hours it mobilised to raise money for Aamin Ambulance, the only free ambulance service in the city, to be able to take the wounded to hospital.

Daallo Airlines, a Somali-owned business, announced that it would transport all relief supplies into the country for free. Other crowdfunded efforts were started to provide support to the families of those affected. These efforts have raised thousands of dollars in just a few days.

International support is coming in many forms too. Djibouti responded by sending its minister of health and 30 doctors to help treat the wounded. Turkey evacuated 35 of the injured to be treated in Ankara, and sent ten tons of medical supplies to Mogadishu. Paris extinguished the lights on the Eiffel Tower on October 16 at midnight, and Toronto’s iconic name sign was illuminated in blue and white to pay respect to those affected.

The ConversationOnce the dust has settled, the fires are extinguished and the loved ones laid to rest, maybe – just maybe – this resilience will be able to grow to ensure that the peace that Somali so desperately needs will come at last.

Laura Hammond, Reader in Development Studies, SOAS, University of London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Ivory is out in the UK, as government moves to shutter legal trade

Why blaming ivory poaching on Boko Haram isn’t helpful


File 20171008 3228 10lazn2.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Talking about ivory-funded terrorism overlooks the real sources of income for terror groups.
Author supplied

Mark Moritz, The Ohio State University; Alice B. Kelly Pennaz, University of California, Berkeley; Mouadjamou Ahmadou, and Paul Scholte, The Ohio State University

In 2016, as part of a ceremony in Cameroon’s capital Yaoundé, 2 000 elephant tusks were burned to demonstrate the country’s commitment to fight poaching and illegal trade in wildlife. US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power gave a speech at the event linking poaching to terrorism.

The idea that terror groups like Boko Haram fund their activities through ivory poaching in Africa is a simple and compelling narrative. It has been adopted by governments, NGOs and media alike. But it is undermining wildlife conservation and human rights.

The problem is that such claims hinge on a single document which uses only one, unnamed source to estimate terrorist profits from ivory. The study hasn’t been backed up elsewhere.

Similarly, there is little evidence that terrorist activities are funded by wildlife poaching in Cameroon. We have studied wildlife conservation and pastoralism in the Far North Region of Cameroon in the last two decades. We have found that it is highly unlikely that Boko Haram is using ivory to survive financially. The elephant populations in the areas where Boko Haram operates are so low that this would be a faulty business plan to say the least. Only 246 elephants were counted in Waza Park in 2007.

Talking about ivory-funded terrorism overlooks the real sources of income for these groups. In Cameroon and Nigeria evidence shows that Boko Haram is using profits from cattle raids to support its activities. Boko Haram’s plunder of the countryside leaves cattle herders destitute.

The dangers of militarisation

The wrong focus has implications for conservation and human rights. Linking poachers and terrorists has led to a further militarisation of conservation areas in Africa. More guns and guards have been sent into parks to stop poachers.

The military approach has also led to serious human rights violations. These take the form of shoot-on-sight policies and other violent tactics carried out against local populations. Law enforcement in protected areas is important for controlling poaching and terrorism alike but it is not a perfect solution.

And wildlife conservation can suffer if well armed but underpaid park guards turn to poaching themselves.

It would be more helpful if properly paid and trained people provided security across the region rather than just in protected areas.

Consequences of the wrong connection

Ignoring the fact that cattle, not ivory, may be fuelling terrorism in places like Cameroon does a disservice to pastoralists. While livestock may compete with wildlife when pastoralists take refuge inside better-protected areas like parks, they do so only because their livelihoods are at risk.

Mistaking the true source of income for terrorist groups also means that their violent activities continue.

Finally, it diverts attention from corrupt conservation and government officials who may be complicit in poaching.

Of course, this is not to say that poaching is not happening. The dramatic declines in elephant populations in Cameroon and elsewhere in Africa indicate otherwise. The question is who is doing the poaching and why.

We challenge governments and organisations interested in wildlife, security and human rights to take a closer look at the evidence. Instead of sharing simple claims about terrorism and poaching, they should consider all the forms of economic support to terrorist organisations.

The ConversationIn Cameroon, this would mean offering better security for pastoralists and their cattle. Protecting cattle does not have the same appeal for Western audiences as protecting elephants. But it could be a way to conserve wildlife, protect human rights and stop funding for terrorism.

Mark Moritz, Associate Professor of Anthropology, The Ohio State University; Alice B. Kelly Pennaz, Researcher, University of California, Berkeley; Mouadjamou Ahmadou, Lecturer in Visual Anthropology, and Paul Scholte, Ecologist leading programs and organizations in conservation, The Ohio State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Funny people are more intelligent than their po-faced peers


File 20171013 11684 1g34s7o.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Marco Saroldi/Shutterstock

Lowri Dowthwaite, University of Central Lancashire

Albert Einstein attributed his brilliant mind to having a child-like sense of humour. Indeed, a number of studies have found an association between humour and intelligence.

Researchers in Austria recently discovered that funny people, particularly those who enjoy dark humour, have higher IQs than their less funny peers. They argue that it takes both cognitive and emotional ability to process and produce humour. Their analysis shows that funny people have higher verbal and non-verbal intelligence, and they score lower in mood disturbance and aggressiveness.

Not only are funny people smart, they’re nice to be around. Evidence suggests that having a good sense of humour is linked to high emotional intelligence and is a highly desirable quality in a partner. Evolutionary psychologists describe humour as a “heritable trait” that signals mental fitness and intellectual agility to prospective mates. In studies of attractiveness, both men and women rate funny people as more attractive, and cite having a good sense of humour as being one of the most important traits in a long-term partner.

Negative humour style.
Everett Collection/Shutterstock

In psychology we use the term “positive humour style” to refer to people who use humour to enhance relationships and reduce conflict. This type of humour is associated with relationship satisfaction, extroversion and high self-esteem Having a humorous outlook on life is also a good coping strategy. It helps people better manage stress and adversity.

More negative humour styles, such as sarcasm, ridicule and self-defeating humour, do not offer the same benefits. Instead, they tend to alienate people and are more often associated with depressed mood and aggression.

Not only do funny people make other people laugh, they also laugh more themselves. And neurobiology shows that laughter leads to brain changes, which may explain the link between humour and intelligence.

Neuropsychological studies have found that experiencing positive emotional states, such as joy, fun and happiness, increases the production of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine not only make us feel great, it also opens up the learning centres of the brain, which enables and sustains more neural connections. As a result, we become more flexible and creative in our thinking, and better at solving problems. It also boosts our working memory.

Humour for success

Evidence suggests that humour actually boosts perceptions of confidence, competence and status, making funny people very influential. Humour gets people to listen, helps communicate messages and aids learning. It is a powerful tool that many successful leaders use to enhance group cohesiveness and organisational culture. Studies of positive organisations suggest the more fun we have at work the more productive we are, and the less likely we are to suffer burn-out.

The “broaden and build” theory also supports the idea that experiencing positive emotions through humour actually alters our thoughts, actions and physiological responses. It creates a virtuous circle effect that enhances well-being.

Research on the use of humour in education also supports the notion that humour is an effective aid to learning. Several studies have demonstrated that lessons that are delivered with humour are more enjoyable for students, and also enhance students comprehension and recall of the topic.

Given the host of benefits that being funny brings, perhaps we could all benefit from joining a stand-up comedy workshop. It seems like the smart thing to do.

The Conversation

Lowri Dowthwaite, Lecturer in Psychological Interventions, University of Central Lancashire

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

To fight inequality, Indonesia should learn from China and India in combating digital illiteracy

Primatia Romana Wulandari, University of Melbourne

To mark the CAUSINDY (Conference of Australian and Indonesian Youth) held in Melbourne this week, The Conversation presents analysis from academics at the conference.


Indonesia shares similar characteristics with China and India as Asian countries that have more people between the ages of 15 and 64 than young children and the elderly.

Analysts call this surplus of people of productive working age a “demographic bonus”, which can contribute to the rise of China, India and Indonesia as leading economies.

The young populations of these countries are entering a shifting jobs landscape propelled by innovation in digital technology. China and India are moving to prepare their populations to take advantage of the digital era.


Read more: The robots are coming for your job! Why digital literacy is so important for the jobs of the future


But Indonesia has a lot of catching up to do to provide its people with skills including digital literacy, to be able to find employment in a world where the ability to use the internet via digital mediums, such as personal computers, smartphones, tablets and others, will be a necessary skill.

Changing jobs landscape

Before there was the internet, around 30 years ago, more than half of Indonesia’s population (54.7% in 1985) worked the land as farmers.

By 2016 only 34% were still working in the agriculture industry. Some 44.8% work in the services sector and 19.7% in manufacturing.

Data from Indonesia’s Statistics Agency show more than half of Indonesian workers (51.5%) are underqualified or lack the right skills to do the job. This occupational mismatch is often associated with low levels of education. Some 40% of workers’ skills and employment are well matched. And 8.5% are overqualified for their occupations.

The data show Indonesia is facing a skills shortage. One of the skills Indonesians lack is digital literacy.

What China and India are doing

China provides us with a good example of how to take advantage of an internet-enabled digital economy. It accounted for 30.6% of China’s GDP in 2016.

Even though China restricted its citizens’ internet access, by blocking certain websites and applications since 1997 (“the great firewall of China”), it has, on the other hand, driven the development of its native platforms such as WeChat, Weibo, QQ, Renren, Alibaba, JD.com and many others.

With its restrictions, China has reoriented internet adoption and online behaviours by maximising its market potential within the country.

For example, WeChat has grown rapidly since 2011 to rival Facebook and become the nation’s most-used social media app. It has radically changed the Chinese lifestyle and way of doing business. WeChat will potentially overtake Facebook in the future.

WeChat.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

It offers features such as instant messaging, commerce and mobile payment services. It makes a virtual workplace possible by offering components that enable and improve important business functions such as task co-ordination. It provides a convenient virtual wallet that can be used for almost every transaction, from paying utility bills to a coffee.

The Chinese diaspora has spread the use of WeChat worldwide. This is an example of China using its demographic bonus to create opportunities and a competitive environment that allow its citizens to redefine the global economic balance of power.

Meanwhile, India made a serious move to combat digital illiteracy by establishing the National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM) in August 2014.

With the objective of “making one person in every family digitally literate by 2020”, India has pledged to provide 147 million people in rural India with the necessary skill to use the technology.

This can be seen as a positive move towards a more digital-savvy India that recognises the need of digital literacy for development.

What about Indonesia?

Indonesia currently focuses on traditional infrastructure development, such as roads, ports and a subway system, to improve physical connectivity and mobility. But the government should not lose sight of the importance of providing the population with the infrastructure to access information and technology.

A survey by the Association of Indonesian Internet Providers (APJII) pointed out that people living in the urban areas in Java, Sumatra and Bali enjoy internet access, whereas the rest of Indonesia is still struggling to connect.

According to Akamai, as of March 2017, the internet penetration rate in Indonesia is 50.4%. This is lower than neighbouring countries such as Australia (85.9%), Singapore (81.2%), Malaysia (67.7%), Philippines (52%), Vietnam (52.1%), and Thailand (60%).

The average speed of internet connection in Indonesia (7.2 Mbps) is also slower compared to Singapore (20.3 Mbps), Thailand (16.0 Mbps), Vietnam (9.5 Mbps) and Malaysia (8.9 Mbps).

Despite high smartphone sales (55.4 million users in 2015 with 4.5 million smartphones sold annually), Indonesia remains “a marketplace” rather than a rising power in the global competition. Indonesia is the third-largest smartphone market in the Asia-Pacific rgion, after India and China.

Indonesians can use social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp, but they do not have fast and reliable internet access to browse and research online, let alone create business opportunities.

Research by Edwin Jurriens and Ross Tapsell recommends that the Indonesian government start paying attention to the digital divide if Indonesia is serious about its objective to combat inequality.

Start with simple but necessary steps

Indonesia needs to develop policies with clear objectives to spur internet adoption and digital literacy.

If President Jokowi is serious about creating “1000 technopreneurs by 2020”, the government should start by:

  • working with the private sector to provide internet access and telecommunication services for rural areas

  • training citizens to use digital technology via formal and informal education programs nationwide

  • promoting and providing incentives to develop native online platforms.

This could involve, for example, holding hackathons to solve the real issues that Indonesians face daily, such as traffic jams, floods, finding markets for local products, access to health services and referral, options for different service providers, a channel to provide feedback to improve services, etc.

Instead of leaping towards the objective of creating “technopreneurs”, Indonesia could begin with a simple objective to start a nationwide movement to combat digital illiteracy, a hidden inequality that persists in Indonesia.


Read more: Researchers find Indonesia needs more digital literacy education


Indonesia should also provide an environment where tech startups can thrive, through tax rebates and investments, to really benefit the Indonesian economy.

For example, Gojek, one of the most successful local startups, was founded and is led by Nadine Makarim, an Indonesian. However, it could only succeed after receiving backing and investment from Warburg Pincus, KKR and Farallon Capital – all American-based equity firms.

The ConversationWe may celebrate Gojek as a successful Indonesian example of a startup that has helped to solve local issues by allowing access to convenient services. But, if we fail to understand who are “the real owners” of the business, Indonesia will only be “a marketplace”, not an emerging economy.

Primatia Romana Wulandari, PhD Candidate School of Social and Political Science, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Indonesia for Sale: in-depth series on corruption, palm oil and rainforests launches

How to combat racial bias: Start in childhood


File 20171011 9815 7g60uo.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Computer training can decrease children’s biases.
Jeff Inglis, CC BY-ND

Gail Heyman, University of California, San Diego

Racial bias can seem like an intractable problem. Psychologists and other social scientists have had difficulty finding effective ways to counter it – even among people who say they support a fairer, more egalitarian society. One likely reason for the difficulty is that most efforts have been directed toward adults, whose biases and prejudices are often firmly entrenched.

My colleagues and I are starting to take a new look at the problem of racial bias by investigating its origins in early childhood. As we learn more about how biases take hold, will we eventually be able to intervene before any biases become permanent?

Measuring racial bias

When psychology researchers first began studying racial biases, they simply asked individuals to describe their thoughts and feelings about particular groups of people. A well-known problem with these measures of explicit bias is that people often try to respond to researchers in ways they think are socially appropriate.

The kind of sorting task the Implicit Association Test presents to get at biases participants may not even be aware of.
Project Implicit

Starting in the 1990s, researchers began to develop methods to assess implicit bias, which is less conscious and less controllable than explicit bias. The most widely used test is the Implicit Association Test, which lets researchers measure whether individuals have more positive associations with some racial groups than others. However, an important limitation of this test is that it only works well with individuals who are at least six years old – the instructions are too complex for younger children to remember.

Recently, my colleagues and I developed a new way to measure bias, which we call the Implicit Racial Bias Test. This test can be used with children as young as age three, as well as with older children and adults. This test assesses bias in a manner similar to the IAT but with different instructions.

Here’s how a version of the test to detect an implicit bias that favors white people over black people would work: We show participants a series of black and white faces on a touchscreen device. Each photo is accompanied by a cartoon smile on one side of the screen and a cartoon frown on the other.

Example of a screen a child would see.
Gail Heyman, CC BY-ND

In one part of the test, we ask participants to touch the cartoon smile as quickly as possible whenever a black face appears, and the cartoon frown as quickly as possible whenever a white face appears. In another part of the test, the instructions are reversed.

The difference in the amount of time it takes to follow one set of instructions versus the other is used to compute the individual’s level of implicit bias. The reasoning is that it takes more time and effort to respond in ways that go against our intuitions.

Do young children even have racial biases?

Explicit racial biases have been documented in young children for many years. Researchers know that young children can also show implicit bias at the earliest ages that it has been measured, and often at rates that are comparable to those seen among adults.

Some studies suggest that precursors of racial bias can be detected in infancy. In one such study, researchers measured how long infants looked at faces of their own race or another race that were paired with happy or sad music. They found that 9-month-olds looked longer when the faces of their own race were paired with the happy music, which was different from the pattern of looking times for the other-race faces. This result suggests that the tendency to prefer faces that match one’s own race begins in infancy.

These early patterns of response arise from a basic psychological tendency to like and approach things that seem familiar, and dislike and avoid things that seem unfamiliar. Some researchers think that these tendencies have roots in our evolutionary history because they help people to build alliances within their social groups.

However, these biases can change over time. For example, young black children in Cameroon show an implicit bias in favor of black people versus white people as part of a general tendency to prefer in-group members, who are people who share characteristics with you. But this pattern reverses in adulthood, as individuals are repeatedly exposed to cultural messages indicating that white people have higher social status than black people.

A new approach to tackling bias

Researchers have long recognized that racial bias is associated with dehumanization. When people are biased against individuals of other races, they tend to view them as part of an undifferentiated group rather than as specific individuals. Giving adults practice at distinguishing among individuals of other races leads to a reduction in implicit bias, but these effects tend to be quite short-lived.

Children used an app that assessed their implicit racial bias.
Li Zhao, CC BY-ND

In our new research, we adapted this individuation approach for use with young children. Using a custom-built training app, young children learn to identify five individuals of another race during a 20-minute session. We found that 5-year-olds who participated showed no implicit racial bias immediately after the training.

Although the effects of a single session were short-lived, an additional 20-minute booster session one week later allowed children to maintain about half of their initial bias reduction for two months. We are currently working on a game-like version of the app for further testing.

Just one step along the way to a more egalitarian society.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Only a starting point

Although our approach suggests a promising new direction for reducing racial bias, it is important to note that this is not a magic bullet. Other aspects of the tendency to dehumanize individuals of different races also need to be investigated, such as people’s diminished level of interest in the mental life of individuals who are outside of their social group. Because well-intended efforts to reduce racial bias can sometimes be ineffective or produce unintended consequences, any new approaches that are developed will need to be rigorously evaluated.

The ConversationAnd of course the problem of racial bias is not one that can be solved by addressing the beliefs of individuals alone. Tackling the problem also requires addressing the broader social and economic factors that promote and maintain biased beliefs and behaviors.

Gail Heyman, Professor of Psychology, University of California, San Diego

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The IQ test wars: why screening for intelligence is still so controversial

<figure>
<img src=”https://images.theconversation.com/files/187082/original/file-20170921-21016-ld7zty.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&q=45&auto=format&w=754&fit=clip&#8221; alt=”File 20170921 21016 ld7zty.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1″ />
<figcaption>
For over a century, IQ tests have been used to measure intelligence. But can it really be measured?
<span class=”attribution”><span class=”source”>via shutterstock.com</span></span>
</figcaption>
</figure>

<span><a href=”https://theconversation.com/profiles/daphne-martschenko-238687″>Daphne Martschenko</a>, <em><a href=”http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-cambridge-1283″>University of Cambridge</a></em></span>

<blockquote>
<p>John, 12-years-old, is three times as old as his brother. <a href=”https://www.stanfordbinet.net/stanfordbinettest”>How old</a> will John be when he is twice as old as his brother?</p>

<p>Two families go bowling. While they are bowling, they order a pizza for £12, six sodas for £1.25 each, and two large buckets of popcorn for £10.86. If they are going to split the bill between the families, <a href=”http://www.tests.com/practice/WISC-Practice-Test”>how much</a> does each family owe?</p>

<p>4, 9, 16, 25, 36, ?, 64. <a href=”http://uk.businessinsider.com/mensa-iq-test-questions-2016-2″>What number is missing</a> from the sequence?</p>
</blockquote>

<p>These are questions from online Intelligence Quotient or IQ tests. Tests that purport to measure your intelligence can be <a href=”http://wechslertest.com/”>verbal</a&gt;, meaning written, or <a href=”https://www.psychologytoday.com/tests/iq/culture-fair-iq-test”>non-verbal</a&gt;, focusing on abstract reasoning independent of reading and writing skills. First created more than a century ago, the tests are still widely used today to measure an individual’s mental agility and ability. </p>

<p><a href=”http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb03/intelligent.aspx”>Education</a&gt; systems use IQ tests to help identify children for special education and gifted education programmes and to offer extra support. Researchers across the social and hard sciences study IQ test results also looking at everything from their relation to <a href=”http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v49/n7/full/ng.3869.html”>genetics</a&gt;, <a href=”http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J134v08n03_05″>socio-economic status</a>, <a href=”http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0160289606000171″>academic achievement</a>, and <a href=”http://doi.apa.org/getdoi.cfm?doi=10.1037/1076-8971.11.2.235″>race</a&gt;.</p>

<p>Online IQ “quizzes” <a href=”https://geniustests.com/”>purport</a&gt; to be able to tell you whether or not “you have what it takes to be a member of the world’s most prestigious high IQ society”.

 

<p>If you want to boast about your high IQ, you should have been able to work out the answers to the questions. When John is 16 he’ll be twice as old as his brother. The two families who went bowling each owe £20.61. And 49 is the missing number in the sequence. </p>

<p>Despite the hype, the relevance, usefulness, and legitimacy of the IQ test is still <a href=”http://www.jstor.org/stable/1466807″>hotly debated</a> among educators, social scientists, and hard scientists. To understand why, it’s important to understand the history underpinning the birth, development, and expansion of the IQ test – a <a href=”http://www.jstor.org/stable/799646″>history</a&gt; that includes the use of IQ tests to further marginalise ethnic minorities and poor communities. </p>

<h2>Testing times</h2>

<p>In the early 1900s, dozens of intelligence tests were developed in Europe and America claiming to offer unbiased ways to measure a person’s cognitive ability. The first of these tests was developed by French psychologist Alfred Binet, who was commissioned by the French government to identify students who would face the most difficulty in school. The resulting 1905 Binet-Simon Scale became the basis for modern IQ testing. Ironically, Binet actually thought that IQ tests were inadequate measures for intelligence, pointing to the test’s inability to properly measure creativity or emotional intelligence.

 

<p>At its conception, the IQ test provided a relatively quick and simple way to identify and sort individuals based on intelligence – which was and still is highly valued by society. In the US and elsewhere, institutions such as the military and police used IQ tests to screen potential applicants. They also implemented admission requirements based on the results.

 

<p>The <a href=”http://www.jstor.org/stable/367145?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents”>US Army Alpha and Beta Tests</a> screened approximately 1.75m draftees in World War I in an attempt to evaluate the intellectual and emotional temperament of soldiers. Results were used to determine how capable a solider was of serving in the armed forces and identify which job classification or leadership position one was most suitable for. Starting in the early 1900s, the US education system also began using IQ tests to identify “gifted and talented” students, as well as those with special needs who required additional educational interventions and different academic environments.

 

<p>Ironically, some districts in the US have recently employed a <a href=”http://abcnews.go.com/US/court-oks-barring-high-iqs-cops/story?id=95836″>maximum IQ score</a> for admission into the police force. The fear was that those who scored too highly would eventually find the work boring and leave – after significant time and resources had been put towards their training. </p>

<p>Alongside the widespread use of IQ tests in the 20th century was the argument that the level of a person’s intelligence was influenced by their biology. Ethnocentrics and eugenicists, who viewed intelligence and other social behaviours as being determined by biology and race, latched onto IQ tests. They held up the apparent gaps these tests illuminated between ethnic minorities and whites or between low- and high-income groups.

 

<p>Some maintained that these test results provided further evidence that socioeconomic and racial groups were <a href=”http://www.jstor.org/stable/20373194″>genetically different</a> from each other and that systemic inequalities were partly a byproduct of evolutionary processes. </p>

<h2>Going to extremes</h2>

<p>The US Army Alpha and Beta test results garnered widespread publicity and were analysed by Carl Brigham, a Princeton University psychologist and early founder of psychometrics, in a 1922 book A Study of American Intelligence. Brigham applied meticulous statistical analyses to demonstrate that American intelligence was declining, claiming that increased immigration and racial integration were to blame. To address the issue, he called for social policies to restrict immigration and prohibit racial mixing.

 

<p>A few years before, American psychologist and education researcher <a href=”https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lewis-Terman”>Lewis Terman</a> had <a href=”https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/history-of-education-quarterly/article/div-classtitlegateways-to-the-west-part-ii-education-and-the-making-of-race-place-and-culture-in-the-westdiv/8A08635C3AE273CE221B14C201481248″>drawn connections</a> between intellectual ability and race. In 1916, he wrote: </p>

<blockquote>
<p>High-grade or border-line deficiency … is very, very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican families of the Southwest and also among Negroes. Their dullness seems to be racial, or at least inherent in the family stocks from which they come … Children of this group should be segregated into separate classes … They cannot master abstractions but they can often be made into efficient workers … from a eugenic point of view they constitute a grave problem because of their unusually prolific breeding.

 

</blockquote>

<p>There has been considerable work from both hard and social scientists refuting arguments such as Brigham’s and Terman’s that racial differences in IQ scores are influenced by biology.

 

<p>Critiques of such “hereditarian” hypotheses – arguments that genetics can powerfully explain human character traits and even human social and political problems – cite a <a href=”https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10539-014-9428-0″>lack of evidence </a> and <a href=”https://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&amp;lr=&amp;id=1RXSBwAAQBAJ&amp;oi=fnd&amp;pg=PA1&amp;dq=race+and+iq&amp;ots=GKR-p7pbM4&amp;sig=YEdxkcFzVjZCYQlBcs_qM69XV3U#v=onepage&amp;q=race%20and%20iq&amp;f=false”>weak statistical analyses</a>. This critique continues <a href=”https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/6/15/15797120/race-black-white-iq-response-critics”>today</a&gt;, with many researchers resistant to and alarmed by research that is still being conducted on race and IQ. </p>

<p>But in their <a href=”http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pn5jp”>darkest moments</a>, IQ tests became a powerful way to exclude and control marginalised communities using empirical and scientific language. Supporters of eugenic ideologies in the 1900s used IQ tests to identify “idiots”, “imbeciles”, and the “feebleminded”. These were people, eugenicists argued, who threatened to dilute the White Anglo-Saxon genetic stock of America.

 

<figure class=”align-right “>
<img alt=”” src=”https://images.theconversation.com/files/187086/original/file-20170921-21005-1qrdj6l.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&q=45&auto=format&w=237&fit=clip”&gt;
<figcaption>
<span class=”caption”>A plaque in Virginia in memory to Carrie Buck, the first person to be sterilised under eugenics laws in the state.</span>
<span class=”attribution”><a class=”source” href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/juliarowe/3582737724/sizes/l”>Jukie Bot/flickr.com</a>, <a class=”license” href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/”>CC BY-NC</a></span>
</figcaption>
</figure>

<p>As a result of such eugenic arguments, many American citizens were later <a href=”https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3299450″>sterilised</a&gt;. In 1927, an infamous ruling by the US Supreme Court legalised forced sterilisation of citizens with developmental disabilities and the “feebleminded,” who were frequently identified by their low IQ scores. The ruling, known as Buck v Bell, resulted in over 65,000 coerced sterilisations of individuals thought to have low IQs. Those in the US who were forcibly sterilised in the aftermath of Buck v Bell were disproportionately poor or of colour.

 

<p>Compulsory sterilisation in the US on the basis of IQ, criminality, or sexual deviance continued formally until the mid 1970s when organisations like the Southern Poverty Law Center began filing <a href=”https://www.splcenter.org/seeking-justice/case-docket/relf-v-weinberger”>lawsuits</a&gt; on behalf of people who had been sterilised. In 2015, the US Senate voted <a href=”http://time.com/4534982/thom-tillis-eugenics/”>to compensate</a> living victims of government-sponsored sterilisation programmes.</p>

<h2>IQ tests today</h2>

<p>Debate over what it means to be “intelligent” and whether or not the IQ test is a robust tool of measurement continues to elicit strong and often opposing reactions today. Some researchers say that intelligence is a concept specific to a particular culture. They maintain that it appears differently depending on the context – in the same way that many cultural behaviours would. For example, burping may be seen as an indicator of enjoyment of a meal or a sign of praise for the host in some cultures and impolite in others.

 

<p>What may be considered intelligent in one environment, therefore, might not in others. For example, knowledge about medicinal herbs is seen as a form of intelligence in certain communities within Africa, but does not correlate with high performance on traditional Western academic intelligence tests.

 

<p>According to some researchers, the “cultural specificity” of intelligence makes IQ tests biased towards the environments in which they were developed – namely white, Western society. This makes them <a href=”http://nrcgt.uconn.edu/newsletters/winter052/”>potentially problematic</a> in culturally diverse settings. The application of the same test among different communities would fail to recognise the different cultural values that shape what each community values as intelligent behaviour. </p>

<p>Going even further, given the <a href=”http://tap.sagepub.com/content/12/3/283″>IQ test’s history</a> of being used to further questionable and sometimes racially-motivated beliefs about what different groups of people are capable of, some researchers say such tests cannot objectively and equally measure an individual’s intelligence at all. </p>

<h2>Used for good</h2>

<p>At the same time, there are ongoing efforts to demonstrate how the IQ test can be used to help those very communities who have been most harmed by them in the past. In 2002, the execution across the US of criminally convicted individuals with intellectual disabilities, who are often assessed using IQ tests, was ruled unconstitutional. This has meant IQ tests have actually prevented individuals from facing “cruel and unusual punishment” in the US court of law.

 

<p>In education, IQ tests may be a more objective way to identify children who could benefit from special education services. This includes programmes known as “gifted education” for students who have been identified as exceptionally or highly cognitively able. Ethnic minority children and those whose parents have a low income, are under-represented in gifted education.

 

<figure class=”align-center “>
<img alt=”” src=”https://images.theconversation.com/files/187089/original/file-20170921-9750-17ykeck.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&q=45&auto=format&w=754&fit=clip”&gt;
<figcaption>
<span class=”caption”>There is ongoing debate about the use of IQ tests in schools.</span>
<span class=”attribution”><span class=”source”>via shutterstock.com</span></span>
</figcaption>
</figure>

<p>The way children are chosen for these programmes means that Black and Hispanic students are often overlooked. Some US school districts employ admissions procedures for gifted education programmes that rely on teacher observations and referrals or require a family to sign their child up for an IQ test. But research suggests that teacher perceptions and expectations of a student, which can be preconceived, have an impact upon a child’s IQ scores, academic achievement, and attitudes and behaviour. This means that teacher’s perceptions can also have an impact on the likelihood of a child being referred for gifted or special education.

 

<p>The <a href=”http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2372732215621310″>universal screening</a> of students for gifted education using IQ tests could help to identify children who otherwise would have gone unnoticed by parents and teachers. Research has found that those school districts which have implemented screening measures for all children using IQ tests have been able to identify more children from historically underrepresented groups to go into gifted education.

 

<p>IQ tests could also help <a href=”http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&amp;lr=&amp;id=mF_me7HYyHcC&amp;oi=fnd&amp;pg=PA91&amp;dq=%22achievement+gap+is+large+when+children+enter+kindergarten+and+does+not+appear+to+grow%22+%22Finally,+the+growing+income+achievement+gap+does+not+appear+to+be+a+result+of%22+&ots=wt9a5RH4pe&sig=JPRjS2uLIZAbFLluD6Wx6Av5anU”>identify structural inequalities that have affected a child’s development. These could include the impacts of environmental exposure to harmful substances such as lead and arsenic or the effects of malnutrition on brain health. All these have been shown to have an negative impact on an individual’s mental ability and to disproportionately affect low-income and ethnic minority communities.

 

<p>Identifying these issues could then <a href=”http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0277953696000287″>help</a&gt; those in charge of education and social policy to seek solutions. Specific interventions could be designed to help children who have been affected by these structural inequalities or exposed to harmful substances. In the long run, the effectiveness of these interventions could be monitored by comparing IQ tests administered to the same children before and after an intervention. </p>

<p>Some researchers have tried doing this. One US <a href=”https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF01712768?LI=true”>study in 1995 used IQ tests</a> to look at the effectiveness of a particular type of training for managing Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), called neurofeedback training. This is a therapeutic process aimed at trying to help a person to self-regulate their brain function. Most commonly used with those who have some sort of identified brain imbalance, it has also been used to treat drug addiction, depression and ADHD. The researchers used IQ tests to find out whether the training was effective in improving the concentration and executive functioning of children with ADHD – and found that it was.

 

<p>Since its invention, the IQ test has generated strong arguments in support of and against its use. Both sides are focused on the communities that have been negatively impacted in the past by the use of intelligence tests for eugenic purposes.

 

<p><img src=”https://counter.theconversation.com/content/81428/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic&#8221; alt=”The Conversation” width=”1″ height=”1″ />The use of IQ tests in a range of settings, and the continued disagreement over their validity and even morality, highlights not only the immense value society places on intelligence – but also our desire to understand and measure it.

 

<p><span><a href=”https://theconversation.com/profiles/daphne-martschenko-238687″>Daphne Martschenko</a>, PhD Candidate, <em><a href=”http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-cambridge-1283″>University of Cambridge</a></em></span></p>

<p>This article was originally published on <a href=”http://theconversation.com”>The Conversation</a>. Read the <a href=”https://theconversation.com/the-iq-test-wars-why-screening-for-intelligence-is-still-so-controversial-81428″>original article</a>.</p>

Five ways the meat on your plate is killing the planet


File 20170424 12658 ccjxef.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

shutterstock

Francis Vergunst, Université de Montréal and Julian Savulescu, University of Oxford

When we hear about the horrors of industrial livestock farming – the pollution, the waste, the miserable lives of billions of animals – it is hard not to feel a twinge of guilt and conclude that we should eat less meat.

Yet most of us probably won’t. Instead, we will mumble something about meat being tasty, that “everyone” eats it, and that we only buy “grass fed” beef.

Over the next year, more than 50 billion land animals will be raised and slaughtered for food around the world. Most of them will be reared in conditions that cause them to suffer unnecessarily while also harming people and the environment in significant ways.

This raises serious ethical problems. We’ve compiled a list of arguments against eating meat to help you decide for yourself what to put on your plate.

1. The environmental impact is huge

Livestock farming has a vast environmental footprint. It contributes to land and water degradation, biodiversity loss, acid rain, coral reef degeneration and deforestation.

Nowhere is this impact more apparent than climate change – livestock farming contributes 18% of human produced greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. This is more than all emissions from ships, planes, trucks, cars and all other transport put together.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FConversationUK%2Fvideos%2F751720768329599%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Climate change alone poses multiple risks to health and well-being through increased risk of extreme weather events – such as floods, droughts and heatwaves – and has been described as the greatest threat to human health in the 21st century.

Reducing consumption of animal products is essential if we are to meet global greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets – which are necessary to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

2. It requires masses of grain, water and land

Meat production is highly inefficient – this is particularly true when it comes to red meat. To produce one kilogram of beef requires 25 kilograms of grain – to feed the animal – and roughly 15,000 litres of water. Pork is a little less intensive and chicken less still.

The scale of the problem can also be seen in land use: around 30% of the earth’s land surface is currently used for livestock farming. Since food, water and land are scarce in many parts of the world, this represents an inefficient use of resources.

Inside the milk machine.
Shutterstock

3. It hurts the global poor

Feeding grain to livestock increases global demand and drives up grain prices, making it harder for the world’s poor to feed themselves. Grain could instead be used to feed people, and water used to irrigate crops.

If all grain were fed to humans instead of animals, we could feed an extra 3.5 billion people. In short, industrial livestock farming is not only inefficient but also not equitable.

Livestock production may have a bigger impact on the planet than anything else.
Shutterstock

4. It causes unnecessary animal suffering

If we accept, as many people do, that animals are sentient creatures whose needs and interests matter, then we should ensure these needs and interests are at least minimally met and that we do not cause them to suffer unnecessarily.

Industrial livestock farming falls well short of this minimal standard. Most meat, dairy and eggs are produced in ways that largely or completely ignore animal welfare – failing to provide sufficient space to move around, contact with other animals, and access to the outdoors.

In short, industrial farming causes animals to suffer without good justification.

5. It is making us ill

At the production level, industrial livestock farming relies heavily on antibiotic use to accelerate weight gain and control infection – in the US, 80% of all antibiotics are consumed by the livestock industry.

This contributes to the growing public health problem of antibiotic resistance. Already, more than 23,000 people are estimated to die every year in the US alone from resistant bacteria. As this figure continues to rise, it becomes hard to overstate the threat of this emerging crisis.

The meat industry also poses a threat to global food security.
Shutterstock

High meat consumption – especially of red and processed meat – typical of most rich industrialised countries is linked with poor health outcomes, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and various cancers.

These diseases represent a major portion of the global disease burden so reducing consumption could offer substantial public health benefits.

Currently, the average meat intake for someone living in a high-income country is 200-250g a day, far higher than the 80-90g recommended by the United Nations. Switching to a more plant-based diet could save up to 8m lives a year worldwide by 2050 and lead to healthcare related savings and avoided climate change damages of up to $1.5 trillion.

Ultimately, it’s unethical

Most people agree that as a basic rule an action that promotes the overall happiness of others is morally good, while an action that causes harm or suffering without good justification is morally wrong.

Meat eating is wrong not because there is something special about pigs or chickens or dogs or cats, but because of the harm it causes, whether that harm is caused to animals, humans, or the wider environment.

Love animals, don’t eat them.
Shutterstock

Most people living in industrialised countries have historically unprecedented dietary choice. And if our nutritional needs can now be met by consuming foods that are less harmful, then we ought to choose these over foods that are known to cause more harm.

The ConversationEating less meat and animal products is one of the easiest things we can do to live more ethically.

Francis Vergunst, Postdoctoral researcher, Université de Montréal and Julian Savulescu, Sir Louis Matheson Distinguishing Visiting Professor at Monash University, Uehiro Professor of Practical Ethics, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tackling climate change could bring North and South Korea closer and help stabilise the region

File 20170915 16277 ci9szo.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
North Korea is no doubt watching closely as the region moves forward on energy cooperation.
House Committee on Foreign Affairs/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Hun Park, Yonsei University

The Paris Agreement, signed in 2015 requires every country to make pledges to tackle climate change. North Korea is no exception.

Given that air pollution doesn’t recognise borders, there are already several emissions-reduction projects underway that will require cooperation between Asian nations.

To meet its obligations, South Korea has pledged to buy emissions credits on the international market, offsetting 11.3% of its business-as-usual emissions in 2030. That is 96.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions – already more than North Korea’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2013 (78 million tonnes).

Because North Korea has its own obligations now, foreign countries including South Korea can no longer earn carbon credits from their carbon-offsetting projects in the country.

But if South Korea provides technical assistance such as satellite monitoring of North Korea’s reforestation progression and then can obtain the country’s “informed consent”, a mutual effort to generate carbon credits could be discussed.

Air pollution

Addressing transboundary air pollution is the latest development in regional cooperation. North Korea has been an inaugural member (since 1993) of the North-East Asian Subregional Programme for Environmental Cooperation (NEASPEC), one goal of which is to mitigate transboundary air pollution.

A recent study by the Seoul Metropolitan Government (written in Korean) revealed that 38% of pollution particles in the city’s ambient air come from China, and another 7% from North Korea.

A Japanese air-transport model estimated that more than 45% of ambient PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) concentration in Nonodake (350km north of Tokyo) is from China. Although reducing this pollution in a coordinated way will be a difficult task, real-time data exchange (as proposed by NEASPEC) might be relatively easier.

If the Northeast Asian countries share real-time emissions data as well as the currently available meteorological data, they could generate more reliable pollution forecasts and help people prepare for high-pollution events. The harder task of particle pollution mitigation will be better addressed when the level of negotiating partners is upgraded from the current ministerial level to head of state level.

Developing neighbour-friendly energies

If Northeast Asia is to have a sustainable energy future, more regional cooperation will be required.

The trilateral Russia-China-Korea natural gas pipeline is bringing Russian natural gas to South Korea. Natural gas is not a sustainable energy source, but it can be a “bridging fuel” to help countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by replacing coal until their renewable energy technology and systems evolve. Then, a natural gas pipeline is an attractive option for South Korea, the world’s second-biggest LNG importer after Japan.

Currently, South Korea’s natural gas imports consist entirely of more expensive LNG. In the early 2000s, the Trans-Korean natural gas pipeline proposal was planned to supply Russian natural gas to South Korea using a shortcut pipeline passing through North Korea.

Reportedly, South Korean President Moon has shown interest in the project too. However, the project is not possible until the nuclear crisis in the Korean Peninsula is resolved.

Instead, there is an alternative for South Korea to seek a regional détente with a natural gas pipeline. Russia’s “Power of Siberia” pipeline is planned to connect into the capital region of China. If this happens, extending the supply chain to South Korea via an undersea pipeline between China’s Shandong peninsula and Korea’s Incheon will be simpler. The pipeline would enhance the three countries’ economic ties and political cooperation.

Asia clean grid connections

The other energy option, the Asia international grid connection, is a project promoted by South Korea, Japan, and Mongolia. The basic idea is that vast solar and wind energy potential of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert can be utilised by South Korea and Japan. A super grid would connect the countries in Northeast Asia.

This option’s most prominent supporter is Masayoshi Son, chief executive of SoftBank, Japan’s third-largest public company. Several research institutions and the Korea Electric Power Corporation, South Korea’s only operator of the national grid, have been studying its feasibility.

The Asian Development Bank is conducting a technical feasibility assessment, at Mongolia’s request. In April, the Renewable Energy Institute, an organisation founded by Mr Son in Tokyo, found the project will benefit all participating countries, citing many successfully operating international grid connections. But it lacks China’s active participation.

If further research can find evidence that the project will significantly improve China’s air quality by reducing coal consumption, national governments of the region might help make it happen.

The ConversationOf course, true green détente in Northeast Asia cannot happen without North Korea’s support and participation. However, if any of the reviewed four options become reality, it will give North Korea a strong incentive to cooperate.

Hun Park, Research Professor, Sustainability, Yonsei University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Here’s why your sustainable tuna is also unsustainable

File 20171012 31408 v1oycx.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1.0&rect=616.0%2c1039.0%2c3084.0%2c1439
Not all tuna are caught using sustainable methods.
(Pixabay)

Megan Bailey, Dalhousie University

Tuna is one of the most ubiquitous seafoods. It can be eaten from a can or as high-end sashimi and in many forms in between. But some species are over-fished and some fishing methods are unsustainable. How do you know which type of tuna you’re eating?

Some tuna is certified as sustainably caught by groups such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) that set standards for sustainable fishing. But these certifications are only good if they are credible.

In late August, several media outlets published stories about On the Hook, a new campaign by a consortium of retailers and academics who have taken issue with some fishing practices allowed by the MSC. As a university professor whose research focuses on private seafood governance, including certifications and traceability, and fisheries policy, I am deeply familiar with the issues at hand. I support the campaign, but don’t stand to gain from the outcome.

The Western and Central Pacific skipjack tuna fishery is one of the world’s biggest. Some of the tuna caught here carries the MSC’s blue label, identifying it as the best environmental choice for consumers. But the same boats making that sustainable catch may also use unsustainable methods to catch unsustainable fish on the same day.

The On the Hook coalition sees this as at odds with the MSC certification, as do I. Yes, sustainable and unsustainable fish can be separated; there are people on board whose sole job is to do this. But rewarding fishermen for their sustainable catch, while allowing them to fish unsustainably, dupes consumers into supporting companies that take part in bad behaviour.

Does sorting work?

The On the Hook campaign singles out one fishery in particular: the “purse seine” fishery in the tropical western Pacific Ocean. This fishery covers the waters of eight island nations, including Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Under the Nauru Agreement, these nations, usually referred to as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), collectively control access to about one quarter of the world’s tuna supply.

Fishermen can use nets to catch free-swimming adult tuna and earn MSC certification for their catch. But these same fishermen can also use fish aggregating devices (FADs) — instruments that attract all kinds of marine life, including adult tuna, juvenile tuna and hundreds of species of sharks, turtles and other fish — to net their catch. Fishing on FADs is faster and less costly, but these devices are associated with high levels of bycatch, one of the main sustainability concerns in many fisheries. Fishing on FDAs does not earn MSC certification.

Fish aggregating devices attract ocean-going fish such as tuna.
(Shutterstock)

Under normal operations, the fishermen use both methods. “Compartmentalization” is a technique that allows the unsustainable portion of the fish to be separated on board the vessel from the sustainable portion. This is supposed to provide assurance to consumers that they are making a sustainable choice. Yet the negative environmental impacts connected to FAD fishing operations should surely also be considered in an MSC assessment. Currently, this does not happen.

Compartmentalization remains necessary because there isn’t enough of an economic advantage for companies to make only sustainable catches. It costs fishermen more to fish sustainably because they have to find the tuna, instead of waiting for it to come to the FAD.

A fleet using both methods can be part of a higher value premium market and earn financial security from the high volume, yet unsustainable, fishery. If purse-seining tuna vessels need to subsidize their sustainable fishing with unsustainable practices, then MSC certification has not provided the incentive it set out to.

A holistic fishery

Millions of tonnes of tuna have been fished from the waters of the Western and Central Pacific fishery. But the countries controlling these waters have not benefited to a large extent, mostly due to a lack of cooperation in bargaining for benefits, which allowed distant nations to exploit the fishery.

In the past decade, these Pacific Island states have increased their bargaining power in regional negotiations by implementing a scheme that controls the number of boats that can enter their waters. Under the program, called the vessel day scheme (VDS), these countries can now charge higher fees to boats that want access.

For example, PNA countries used to extract between three per cent and six per cent of the value of tuna fishery in their waters. Since their bargaining power has increased, they can now extract more than 14 per cent of the value, and this number is likely to continue to rise.

This is no small accomplishment for these Pacific Island nations, and other coastal state collectives are now trying to emulate their success. But this does not mean that all of the practices they allow are commendable, including those that are not representative of the “best environmental choice” in seafood.

On my Facebook feed, a colleague recently commented: “A Pacific Islander owned sustainably certified fishery is the wrong target.”

Let me clear up this misconception. The On the Hook campaign is not targeting the PNA, but the MSC. It would like the MSC to delay the recertification — authorized by the accreditation body in September — of the PNA fishery until the compartmentalization practice has been addressed. The fishery needs to be considered holistically.

A school of tuna.
(United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization/Danilo Cedrone), CC BY

For example, the MSC could specify that to earn a certification, a boat cannot fish sustainably and unsustainably on the same fishing trip. Consumer dollars should not be supporting the very practices the MSC condemns.

Another colleague remarked that because the PNA is challenging big industry, the On the Hook campaign might benefit big industry and hurt the PNA. In fact, it is the same boats, the same fleet, the same companies that are fishing MSC-certified tuna and on FADs.

Muddy waters

My colleagues also worry that the campaign calls into question the credibility of the MSC label. But this has actually become commonplace, with many groups pointing at examples of certified fisheries that are not sustainable. For example, the WWF has recommended that seafood buyers should stay away from MSC-certified Mexican tuna.

I would argue that the MSC is tarnishing itself by normalizing the practice of compartmentalization. It is no longer clear that fish carrying the MSC label offer the best environmental choice. Many Canadian fisheries, like lobster, herring, and Atlantic redfish, are MSC-certified. The faltering credibility of the MSC is a major risk for Canadian fish harvesters who rely on the MSC label to communicate their good fishing practices.

Additionally, Canadian consumers who are used to searching for the blue MSC check mark when they shop for seafood can no longer do so thinking that the logo conveys accurate information. Consumers need to know that the waters are muddy, that seafood sustainability is a moving target, and that it is not easy to make the right choice when standing in the aisle at the supermarket.

Governments and businesses need to make that choice easier for consumers. And they could start by dealing with compartmentalization in the PNA fishery — and elsewhere.

The PNA countries could also make demands. They could allow access rights only to vessels that agree to drop the practice of compartmentalization and that are transparent about their fishing practices.

The ConversationMore than anything, the MSC needs to take a good look at itself and remember what it is supposed to represent — the best environmental choice — not consumer confusion.

Megan Bailey, Assistant Professor, Canada Research Chair, Integrated Ocean and Coastal Governance, Dalhousie University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Dental tourism industry exploits workers in Mexico


File 20171011 28032 1slt2cr.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Research calls for global regulation of dental tourism – to prevent poor working conditions for local populations serving a wealth North American elite.
(Shutterstock)

Krystyna Adams, Simon Fraser University

The town of Los Algodones in Mexico is nicknamed “Molar City”. It has a population of just 6,000 people and, shockingly, it has more than 500 practising dentists. This has produced an intense clustering of dental clinics within a four block radius.

Many of these dentists chose to work in this town because of the tourist traffic, given its proximity to the Mexico-United States border. Thousands of Canadian and American tourists park their cars and walk across the border into Los Algodones to spend the day souvenir shopping, eating and drinking in the local restaurants, and purchasing alcohol, prescription drugs and dental care at lower costs than available back home.

In 2015 and 2016, I spent four months living in Los Algodones conducting interviews and participating in local events for a doctoral research project in health sciences at Simon Fraser University. My work investigates dental travel as part of the wider phenomenon of “medical tourism” — an industry that is growing rapidly as more and more patients seek access to new or more affordable medical treatments outside of their countries of residence.

My research raises concerns about exploitative industry practices in Los Algodones, Mexico. These include poor working conditions and discriminatory practices for employees in dental clinics, harassment of Indigenous street vendors and lack of access to dental care for local residents.

Inside ‘Molar City’

Most of the residents and employees I met during my research in Los Algdones were grateful for the much-needed economic benefits of the dental tourism industry. But I also heard concerns and frustrations from members of the local population. They felt that many of the industry activities were unfair and difficult to change.

One interviewee explained how dental tourists often come with prejudiced assumptions about Mexico, stating: “We see a lot of racism […] people trying to come here and saying, okay it is Mexico, I can ask for anything and pay you less.”

There are more than 500 dentists practising in dental clinics like this one in Los Algodones.
(Krystyna Adams), Author provided

Local residents and industry employees felt that dental tourists’ perceptions of Mexico as unsafe and underdeveloped are driving poor working conditions and discriminatory practices.

For example, employees work long hours to promote Los Algodones’ reputation for their employers as an ideal site to purchase dental care. Some also said they had experienced harassment from dental tourists negotiating lower prices and faster care.

Harassment of Indigenous vendors

Clinic employees and local residents also experience stressful interactions in the industry to meet the expectations of clinic owners. Some owners encourage employees to minimize their Mexican accents. This is done to distance Los Algodones from prejudiced perceptions of Mexico as an underdeveloped place with inferior medical care.

One participant described how a dental clinic owner offered to pay him to dump buckets of water on the heads of Indigenous souvenir vendors working near his clinic. Along with harassment, clinic owners also encourage Indigenous vendors to “stay cool, sell stuff cheap, and smile to people.” Many owners worry that the presence of Indigenous vendors might deter tourists by representing the underdeveloped Mexico of tourists’ imaginations.

Tourists enjoying a promotional party in support of Los Algodones’ dental tourism industry.
(Krystyna Adams), Author provided

Local residents struggle to access dental care

My research also revealed that dental clinic owners’ concerns about reputation can decrease access to dental care for local residents. Clinic owners suggested they’re too busy marketing their services and treating foreign patients to treat many locals. Some owners are using free X-rays to entice tourists, who shop around for their ideal care.

Most of the dental services in Los Algodones are also focused on the provision of major restorative treatment rather than preventative care, given the needs of dental tourists. Most local residents cannot afford this type of care. This is concerning as there are limited publicly funded dental care options available in this region of Mexico.

Overall, the “dental Shangri-la of the Mexican desert” is only an oasis for those able and willing to travel and pay for dental care. For many, the industry provides much-needed employment. But this might be stressful, unfair work for individuals unable to use the dental oasis for their own health needs.

The need for global regulation

Participation in the global medical tourism industry is increasing and research shows that this growth raises serious ethical challenges, at least in the industry’s current form. Researchers have raised concerns about the negative impacts on the health of local people who live and work in these medical tourism destinations.

My in-depth investigation of industry practices in the town of Los Algodones provides more evidence to support these concerns. It suggests the need for better global regulation of dental tourism and medical tourism more widely.

This regulation is needed to avoid competition between industry sites driving down labour standards in the global industry and diverting health resources away from populations in need. This regulation could enforce acceptable work conditions to avoid a race-to-the-bottom effect as industry sites try to attract customers to lower-cost, desirable medical care.

The ConversationMore information about these concerns could also help individuals participating in the industry to avoid harmful practices. It could remind medical tourists that cost savings for care might come at a cost to fair labour standards — and that they should allow sufficient time for treatment and be prepared to pay fair prices.

Krystyna Adams, Doctoral student in Health Sciences and SFU Medical Tourism Research Group, Simon Fraser University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Eat less meat, save species and ecosystems, says WWF UK

 

Indonesian folklore of vengeful female ghosts hold symbols of violence against women


File 20171010 19989 177n3t4.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The female ghost in Indonesia’s most recent horror movie is scary. But the data on maternal mortality rates and sexual violence against women are scary too.
Rapi Films

Gita Putri Damayana, Indonesian Center for Law and Policy Studies (PSHK)

Indonesian moviegoers have had something to talk about these past two weeks. A top box-office movie by director Joko Anwar, Satan’s Slave, has a hair-raising ghost, called “Ibu” or “Mother”, haunting almost 2 million viewers. The millions were scared of “Ibu”, but I have scary data haunting Indonesian women and these ghosts are real.

In the annals of Indonesian folklore, female ghosts take centre stage. The country has kuntilanak, sundel bolong and Si Manis Jembatan Ancol. Most female ghosts in Indonesia were loving mothers or ordinary women before they started haunting the world with dark agendas.

Among the most popular ghosts are kuntilanak and sundel bolong; their narratives are reproduced in pop culture products, most notably movies.

Kuntilanak was a woman who died at childbirth (or died delivering a stillborn, according to another version). Sundel bolong was a woman who was raped and became pregnant, then died at childbirth.

Kuntilanak is said to have a penchant for haunting women during delivery and stealing newborns, while sundel bolong terrorises men walking alone in the dark of night.

The third one is Si Manis Jembatan Ancol, loosely translated into The Pretty One Haunting Ancol Bridge, referring to Ancol, an area in North Jakarta. Men were said to have raped and killed Si Manis in North Jakarta when she escaped her husband.

A different kind of female ghost, an outlier, is Nyai Roro Kidul, believed to be the ruler of the southern sea of Java, who becomes the mystical wife of each Mataram king.

To know more about the issue of women in Indonesia’s ghost folklore, read Indonesian fictions, Sihir Perempuan (Black Magic Woman) and Kumpulan Budak Setan (Devil’s Slaves Club), by author, scholar and feminist Intan Paramaditha.

‘Kuntilanak’: victim of poor access to healthcare

There’s a thread connecting the female ghosts beyond their gender: most of them are victims.

Of course, no scientific evidence supports the existence of these ghosts. But the background story of each ghost shares similar themes. These women were victims of gender inequality and sexual violence. They also had poor access to healthcare.

Indonesian Health Ministry data show the maternal mortality rate in 2015 reached 305 per 100,000 live births. The average rate in the Asia-Pacific region in 2015 was 127, while the average in developed countries is 12 per 100,000 live births.

The ministry data showed the top two causes of deaths in 2013 were post-partum bleeding (30.3%) and preeclampsia (27.1%). These deaths could have been avoided had the women had access to proper care.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s data on sexual violence, experienced by both Si Manis and sundel bolong, are also harrowing. The Central Statistics Bureau surveyed 9,000 women respondents in 2016 and reported that one in three Indonesian women aged 15-64 has experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.

In another report, the bureau recorded 1,739 reported rape cases in 2015, higher than robbery using sharp weapons or firearms, which reached 1,097 in the same year.

But “Ibu”, the woman in the movie set in 1981, would probably have a better fate today compared with her fate then. She was lying helpless for three years without a proper diagnosis. In 2017, at least, she would probably have received a better diagnosis thanks to Indonesia’s universal healthcare, BPJS Kesehatan, implemented since 2014.

Don’t let there be another ‘sundel bolong’

Of course juxtaposing the stories of Indonesian female ghosts with real data is only a way for me to highlight an important issue using folklore and a popular culture product.

But the popular ghosts’ stories reveal the close connections between violence against women and access to healthcare for women in the distant past. As the maternal death rate shows, the state of healthcare for Indonesian women today remains grim.

Perhaps, we would not have the story of kuntilanak haunting young mothers and their newborns had more real live Indonesian women survived child labour and deliver healthy babies.

Si Manis‘s violent rape and murder story is said to have originated from a true story in Dutch colonial time. Today, the streets of 21st-century Jakarta are not yet safe for women.

Sundel bolong’s unwanted pregnancy, a result of rape, could have been avoided if she received adequate reproductive healthcare. Indonesia has issued a regulation legalising abortion for rape victims, but its implementation remains elusive.

Harsh punishment for rapists would have also spared sundel bolong from having to haunt those villains on her own. An online survey by women NGOs last year revealed 93% of rapes were not reported. Data from a 2013 masculinity survey by women’s crisis centre Rifka Annisa showed only 21.5% of respondents who admitted to committing sexual violence suffered legal consequences.

High maternal mortality rate, sexual violence: the real ghosts

The plights of these women ghosts, as told by the older generations, serve as a warning about the state of Indonesian women today. The numbers and data should be scary stories for Indonesian women.

Policymakers should pursue systematic changes, or we will forever see more women sharing the plights of sundel bolong, kuntilanak and Si Manis Jembatan Ancol.

The ConversationIf we don’t improve reproductive health services for women and let impunity reign among sexual violence perpetrators, we will continue the legacy of the female ghosts to our next generation. Not only in movies, but in real life as well.

Gita Putri Damayana, Researcher at PSHK and lecturer at Jentera Law School, Indonesian Center for Law and Policy Studies (PSHK)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Irony of Susceptibility to Manipulations: Grooming Neurotypicals for Social Ineptitude

Henny Kupferstein

Printer-Friendly PDF

The stereotypes of autistic people perpetuate a myth that they are socially inept. Yet non-autistics, also known as neurotypicals, portray ineptitudes on the basis of their susceptibility to body language, communication, and perceptual manipulations. How we learn these signals opens the debate for nature versus nurture, and the acquisition of social skill aptitude. Who is more socially equipped? The one who is capable of surrounding himself with pretentious body language, or the one who is mindful of her full spectrum of awareness? A neurotypical who communicates with learned body gestures is currently considered evolved, while the acquisition of those skills are a direct result of the inability to survive otherwise. The autistic who remains authentic in order to adapt to the current environment is potentially most equipped to function in society.

The cycle of life requires attracting a mate, reproduction, and adaptations for exploitation to those who threaten…

View original post 1,590 more words

In Mexico, undocumented migrants risk deportation to aid earthquake victims


File 20171011 28059 j3z0e0.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Undocumented migrants are among those helping to rebuild the hardest-hit areas of Oaxaca state, where federal aid has been slow to trickle down.
Presidencia de la República Mexicana CC-by-2.0, CC BY-SA

Luis Gómez Romero, University of Wollongong

After two earthquakes that left more than 450 dead and 150,000 houses damaged, my home country of Mexico faces huge challenges in recovery.

According to official estimates, the country will need more than 30 billion pesos (around US$2 billion) to rebuild. The resources required for Mexico’s recovery are almost double the country’s annual gross domestic product, according to World Bank figures.

Manpower, at least, has not been an issue. Search-and-rescue teams from several countries – including Chile, Colombia, Israel, Japan, Panama, the United States and Spain – arrived in the days after the earthquakes to dig survivors out of the rubble. Dozens of foreigners who reside in Mexico also joined the Mexican volunteers in their rescue efforts.

Among these international brigades was a group of undocumented Central American migrants who, interrupting their travel northward to the U.S., stayed in Mexico to help clean up debris and assist the victims.

Their efforts have been largely focused in two of the cities most impacted by the historic Sept. 7 quake, Juchitán and Asunción Ixtaltepec, in Oaxaca. But after the Sept. 19 Mexico City earthquake, some members also volunteered to help dig out survivors from the rubble of the nation’s capital.

With anti-immigrant sentiment on the rise in both the United States and Mexico, which is now deporting Central American migrants in record numbers, these undocumented good Samaritans are changing the Mexican narrative on migrants – brick by brick, rescue by rescue.

Layover on La Bestia

The nearly 50 Central American migrants assisting in Oaxaca’s earthquake recovery effort are staying at Hermanos en el Camino (Brothers of the Road), a Catholic-run shelter in hard-hit Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

Felipe González, a volunteer at the shelter, told me via telephone that after the urgent rescue efforts ended, they have continued their work, distributing aid among those who lost their homes.

The migrants who organized this aid brigade are from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, and they have diverse backgrounds, but what they have in common – both with each other and with Mexican earthquake victims – is a history of hardship.

According to a May report from Doctors Without Borders, almost 40 percent of the roughly 500,000 Central American immigrants the organization surveyed in Mexico fled their countries after experiencing physical attacks, threats against themselves or their families, extortion or forced gang recruitment.

The Brothers of the Road shelter is located in Ciudad Ixtepec, one of the stops on the main route that Central American immigrants heading north used to follow through Mexico. Normally, the facility serves to provide relief to immigrants who ride atop “La Bestia” – that is, the Beast, the Mexican network of freight trains – to travel to the U.S.

Normally, any savvy immigrant passing through Mexico hopes to avoid detection. At the behest of the U.S., Mexico has been cracking down on undocumented Central American migrants, policing train tops with drones and increasing travel speeds from 18 to 37 mph. As a result, a new maritime route through the Pacific is now opening up.

Mexico has also stepped up deportations. In 2014, for example, Mexico “returned” 107,814 migrants, the majority of them from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In 2015, deportations rose to 181,163. In 2016, it was 159,872.

The Trump administration has kept up the pressure. In a letter sent to Congress and Senate leaders on Oct. 8, the U.S. president requested that the Department of Homeland Security be granted broad powers to assist “partner nations” in “removing aliens from third countries whose ultimate intent is entering the United States.”

Tough border enforcement isn’t the only reason that Central American migrants normally aim to hurry through Mexico under the radar. Nearly one-third of women surveyed by Doctors Without Borders in 2014 had been sexually abused during their journey, and 68 percent of all migrants were victims of violence.

Migrants are among the many victims of Mexico’s drug war. In 2010 and 2011, 265 migrants from Central and South America were murdered by the Zetas cartel in the northern Mexican town of San Fernando, Tamaulipas, just 55 miles from Texas.

The North American dream

Even knowing the dangers presented by both the state and the drug lords, the guests at the Brothers of the Road shelter risked everything to pitch into the rescue effort after the quake that hit Oaxaca and Chiapas, two of the poorest states in Mexico, in September.

“We’re immigrants in search of the American dream,” Denio Okele, an Honduran migrant, explained to NBC News. But, he continued, “we arrived in Oaxaca, and an earthquake occurred. We are thus helping the people who need assistance.”

Their reasons for helping range from solidarity and compassion to gratitude. “We have received a lot support from people, so we want to help them,” Wilson Alonso, also from Honduras, told the Spanish newspaper El País.

The sacrifice of this migrant humanitarian aid team has earned them hero status in Mexico. Like other volunteers who dug their neighbors free from the rubble with their bare hands, they have been lauded on social media and interviewed by reporters. And for once, the legal status of a group of Central Americans was not the story.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

As José Filiberto Velásquez, a Catholic priest at the Brothers of the Road shelter, told one Mexican reporter, these migrants have shown Mexicans through their actions that, quite simply, “immigrants are good people.”

Pact of the defeated

The Central American migrants’ story is just one example of the spirit of national solidarity that carried Mexico through the days after the two killer September quakes.

After Mexico City’s Sept. 19 temblor, lines of citizens formed next to collapsed buildings to clear broken pieces of buildings covering victims. Brigades of volunteers offered food, clothing, water and other aid. Restaurants became relief centers.

Social media activists quickly organized, tweeting information on exactly what assistance or supplies were needed, and where, under the hashtag #Verificado19S.

After a frightful year in which citizens also lived through half a dozen high-profile government corruption scandals, one of the world’s highest murder rates and nonstop insults from the president of the United States, Mexico has emerged from its two natural disasters with a renewed sense of national pride.

Even though construction began on eight prototypes of Trump’s proposed border wall in San Diego, Calif., just six days after the second earthquake, the mood in Mexico today is almost optimistic.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The solidarity on display recalls what Argentinian writer Ernesto Sábato calls “the pact of the defeated.” In a world full of “horror, treason and envy,” Sábato writes in his memoir, “Antes del Fin,” it’s often “the most unprivileged part of humanity” that shows everyone else the path to salvation.

The ConversationRight now in Mexico, earthquake-impacted locals and undocumented migrants alike are working together to rebuild their futures. In facing the years of hard recovery and U.S. antagonism ahead of it, a “pact of the defeated” may be as good a starting point as any.

Luis Gómez Romero, Senior Lecturer in Human Rights, Constitutional Law and Legal Theory, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

In Latin America, is there a link between abortion rights and democracy?

Larissa Arroyo Navarrete, University of Costa Rica

Three-quarters of all abortions in Latin America are performed illegally, putting the woman’s life at risk. Together with Africa and Asia, the region accounts for many of the 17.1 million unsafe abortions performed globally each year, according to a new report in The Lancet, published jointly with the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy group.

Though worrying, this fact is unsurprising in a region where six countries ban abortion under all circumstances: the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Suriname. Such complete criminalization, even when fetal termination is necessary to save a woman’s life, exists in only two other places in the world: Malta and the Vatican.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/t73Yb/1/

Numerous studies confirm that restrictive laws do not in any way prevent women from seeking or getting abortions. And in the vast majority of Latin American countries – including Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and, since August 2017, Chile – this medical procedure is legal, though it generally requires specific justification, such as maternal health or rape.

Not so in Central America, home to three of the eight countries in the world with total abortion bans. As I am a Costa Rican lawyer and feminist, to me, it’s no small matter that women in many neighboring countries lack access to this basic health service.

Why does this region so studiously avoid recognizing women as full individuals entitled to their own human rights? In my view, there’s a clear link in Latin America between the state of a country’s democracy and the reproductive rights of its female citizens.

Neighbors Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador are among the few countries in the world with total abortion bans.
Cacahuate/Wikimedia, CC BY

Honduras: Land of inequality

In Honduras, for example, it was only after the 2009 coup d’état that ousted President Manuel Zelaya – a huge democratic setback that ushered in an era of violence – that the country passed a total ban on abortion.

Today, women must carry to term even a pregnancy that endangers their life, and emergency contraception is heavily penalized. These restrictions were reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in 2012.

Despite efforts by human rights defenders and official statements by the United Nations, independent experts and NGOs like Amnesty International, there has been no material progress in advancing the reproductive rights of Honduran women.

In some ways, this is not surprising. In post-coup Honduras, human rights violations – ranging from violence and poverty to impunity – are routine fare for the entire population. Rampant gender inequality is just another symptom of this dismal situation.

Nicaragua and El Salvador: Dangerous setbacks

The situation in Nicaragua, just to the south, is similar. There, “therapeautic abortion” – the common parlance for ending a pregnancy for health-related reasons – was acceptable from 1837 until relatively recently. But starting in 2007, President Daniel Ortega, who has modified the Constitution to end term limits, began passing legal amendments to ban abortions completely, without any exceptions.

Ortega supported abortion rights during his first presidency, in the 1980s. But he has since embraced the Catholic Church’s position of strong opposition, with deadly consequences for Nicaraguan women.

In 2010, for example, a pregnant woman who went by the pseudonym of “Amelia” was refused treatment for metastatic cancer because the state ruled that the regime of chemotherapy and radiotherapy – which her doctor had urgently recommended – might trigger a miscarriage.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ultimately issued injunctions for Amelia, but the damage was already done. She died in 2011.

Impossible though it may seem, women fare worse in El Salvador, a civil war-torn country rife with violence, unpunished crimes and criminal infiltration of the police. In 1999, El Salvador constitutionally mandated that human life starts at the moment of conception.

This legal argument is now used to uphold a full criminalization of abortion, even under the most extenuating circumstances, such as when a woman’s life is at risk, the pregnancy is the result of rape or the fetus is severely malformed.

Anti-abortion sentiment is so virulent in El Salvador today that even miscarriages may be investigated on suspicion that they were self-induced. This persecution has had lethal consequences: Women who’ve spontaneously lost a pregnancy have been accused of murder, sometimes by even their own law-abiding relatives.

In 2016, Sweden offered political asylum to a Salvadoran woman who was sentenced to 40 years of prison for the aggravated homicide of a fetus miscarried before she even knew she was pregnant.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women has requested that El Salvador decriminalize abortion, saying that the fact that most women prosecuted and sentenced for this crime are among the country’s most vulnerable citizens – young, uneducated, jobless and single – represents a powerful social injustice.

Women’s citizenship

Though there are great economic, cultural and political differences between these three countries, across Central America the connection between the lack of rule of law and women’s restricted reproductive rights is noteworthy.

That’s because denying women the ability to make decisions about their own bodies means that a woman’s life matters only to the extent that she is the custodian of a potential future life, rather than as a life worthy of protection.

The Constitutional Court of Colombia agrees. In 2006, it stated in its legal justification for decriminalizing abortion, “The dignity of women does not permit that they be considered mere receptacles.”

In Chile, which recently legalized abortion after nearly a half-century of its total prohibition, history shows a similar relationship between democracy and women’s rights. In 1931, the Chilean Congress approved the voluntary interruption of pregnancy for medical purposes if the woman’s life was endangered or the fetus was not viable.

This exception remained in place until, in 1973, under the dictatorship of Augustin Pinochet, abortion became illegal. In 1980, the Chilean Constitution established that the law protected the life “of the unborn,” indicating that the life of a woman was worth less than that of an embryo.

Feminists in Chile celebrated three new exceptions to the abortion ban – mother’s health, fetal health, rape – but also wondered what took so long.
Corporación Miles Chile

Even after democracy was restored to Chile, in 1991, this ban remained in place. It was not until August 2017, some 26 years later, that the country adopted a more sensible approach, focused on protecting women’s lives and health. The Chilean case demonstrates that once women lose their value as individuals in the eyes of the state, it is difficult to win back.

What’s at risk in the Latin American regimes where abortion is still forbidden, then, are not only women’s lives but also the political systems of Central American society itself. Can democracy exist in places that don’t recognize women as people?

The ConversationLee en español.

Larissa Arroyo Navarrete, Professor of Human Rights, University of Costa Rica

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Men get most of the research funding – it’s a serious problem for women and science


File 20171010 17697 rprsk4.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Shutterstock

Michael Head, University of Southampton

In UK universities there are far fewer women in senior posts than men – particularly at professor level. Putting aside teaching, to reach this status, an academic typically needs to have completed a considerable amount of research. Research takes time, and if people want to succeed in academia, they have to apply for funding. This is where one key difference lies.

Women receive less funding than men, and they also apply for smaller grants than their male counterparts. Our study investigated the amount of research funding awarded to male and female study leads across over 6,000 studies related to infectious disease research in UK institutions. Around 75-80% of the funding was awarded to male principal investigators – a huge difference. In addition to the differences in total sums of money, there are also clear differences in the size of the grants secured.

It’s a Catch-22

So what’s the barrier to women getting funding? It’s unlikely to be widespread gender bias from the funders themselves. One of the most famous papers that did highlight clear biases in this area was a 1997 article published in Nature which pulled no punches in highlighting the problem in the peer review process of the Swedish Medical Research Council.

Girls should feel that science class is a natural environment.
PA, CC BY-SA

But this analysis is now 20 years old and does seem to be an outlier in an increasing pool of evidence. Most other analyses suggest there is no observable gender bias on the part of the research funders. For example, evidence reported by the Foundation for Science and Technology suggested there is no significant difference in the proportions of successful grant applications led by male and female researchers from the major UK funders, such as the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council.

So why are women getting less by way of grant amounts? With seniority comes big bucks. The more senior the person applying, the bigger the grant they are likely to be requesting. But with fewer senior women out there to apply for something big, it’s a Catch-22.

There are initiatives within, and involving, universities that may help. The Athena Swan programme encourages institutions to consider inequalities and disadvantaged groups, and often focuses on the issues surrounding women in science. There is some evidence to suggest it is having a positive effect. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), one of the major UK funders, now insists that university departments and faculties must have at least a silver award from Athena Swan to be eligible to apply for their funding streams. Recipients of an Athena award have demonstrated through work practices and workplace philosophy their commitment to gender equality and supporting women in STEM careers.

There is also an interesting clause in the guidance of the NIHR autumn 2017 call for research professorships (a prestigious and significant award in the career of any aspiring health researcher). Institutions can put forward a maximum of two candidates, and at least one of the two candidates must be female.

Science needs to be promoted equally to girls and boys so that women are well represented in academia and business later in life.
PA, CC BY-SA

I am not aware of other major research funders yet taking a similar approach (though they may do). It would be interesting to hear their views. As universities are increasingly strapped for cash, research income is important, so no doubt many faculties would be happy to jump through hoops to be eligible for all funding streams from the big players.

Still a man’s world?

Funding applications aside, there are good reasons for female academics to be disheartened about their chances of competing on a level playing field. A 2012 US-based study revealed how identical CVs with a male name at the top were favoured over those with a female name. Then there is the evidence that female lecturers are rated lower than their male counterparts by students, without there being any obvious difference in the standard of their teaching. It takes an extra level of tenacity and determination for a woman to make it to the top in a world that is naturally skewed towards men.

There are many additional factors that come into play as to why there are clear differences between the careers of men and women in an academic environment. Digital Science’s new report, Championing The Success of Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths, and Medicine (STEM), explores many of these issues from a range of perspectives, as well as considering other areas where inequality is a problem. It also examines potential ways forward, including the use of mentors, feedback from the academic community and cultural changes that ensure there are more women into senior roles.

But what is very evident is that higher education institutions can prioritise the promotion of equality and still be successful in keeping their heads above water during the ongoing storm of funding cuts, Brexit and general political disdain towards experts.

The ConversationThis laughable 2012 video by the European Commission to encourage teenage girls to take an interest in science underscores the kind of problems that exist in the way women are perceived in terms of science. There was some furious backpedalling by its creators soon after its release, but it is shocking to think it got approved in the first place. But at least its desperately hackneyed approach lays bare some of the sexist, outdated and demeaning attitudes that women have to endure in male-dominated environments.

Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow, University of Southampton

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How the coffee industry is about to get roasted by climate change


File 20171004 31295 1afl463.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Climate change could severely impact the world’s coffee-producing nations and turn a cup of decent java into a luxury in the years to come.
(Shutterstock)

Sylvain Charlebois, Dalhousie University

Fall is always a good time to create new habits, and coffee chains know it.

These days, they are desperately trying to find any excuse to get you to drink their java.

Many chains used National or International Coffee Day, just passed, as a reason to offer their coffee at a discount, or even for free — with some conditions, of course.

For restaurant operators, there’s no better hook than coffee to get repeat business. It’s a great scheme that seems to be working for some. Given what’s looming on the horizon, however, offering free coffee may no longer be an option for businesses.

Coffee demand around the world is shifting. Europe still accounts for almost one third of the coffee consumed worldwide, but China has doubled its consumption in just the last five years.

As for Canada, numbers remain robust as more than 90 per cent of adult Canadians drink coffee. Several recent studies suggest coffee is a healthy choice, possibly one factor in the rise in coffee drinkers.

Either way, demand is strong in most Western countries, which puts more pressure on coffee-producing countries. However, as climate change looms, there’s a real threat to coffee’s global success story.

Coffee grown in more than 60 countries

Coffee is the most traded commodity in the world after oil.

Coffee beans are grown in more than 60 countries and allow 25 million families worldwide to make a living. Brazil is by far the largest producer, followed by Vietnam and Colombia.

Globally, 2017 could be a record year, as the world will likely produce well over 153 million 60-kilogram bags of coffee. Coffee futures are down as a result, but we are far from seeing a bumper crop.

Production has been modestly shifting over the past few years. With good rainfalls in Brazil and favourable weather patterns in other regions of the world, Mother Nature has so far spared coffee growers, but their luck may be running out.

Despite not being a staple in any diet, coffee is big business. At the farm gate, coffee is worth over US$100 billion. In the retail sector, the coffee industry is worth US$10 billion.

But there is growing consensus among experts that climate change will severely affect coffee crops over the next 80 years. By 2100, more than 50 per cent of the land used to grow coffee will no longer be arable.

Ethiopia could be profoundly affected

A combination of effects, resulting from higher temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns, will make the land where coffee is currently grown unsuitable for its production.

According to the National Academy of Science, in Latin America alone, more than 90 per cent of the land used for coffee production could suffer this fate. It’s estimated that Ethiopia, the sixth largest producer in the world, could lose over 60 per cent of its production by 2050. That’s only a generation from now.

As climate conditions become critical, the livelihoods of millions of farmers are at risk and production capacity is jeopardized. Other potential contributors to this predicted downfall are pests and diseases.

A Ugandan coffee farmer inspects his plants in 2015. Coffee is the lifeblood of many families in Uganda but their success is threatened by climate change.
(AP Photo/Stephen Wandera)

With climate change, pest management and disease control are serious issues for farmers who cannot afford to protect their crops. More than 80 per cent of coffee growers are peasant farmers.

Pests and diseases will migrate to regions where temperatures are adequate for survival, and most farmers won’t be ready. Many will simply choose to grow other crops less vulnerable to climate change. Others may attempt to increase their coffee production, but the quality will almost certainly be compromised.

Coffee quality will suffer

Higher temperatures will affect the quality of coffee. Higher-quality coffee is grown in specific regions of the world where the climate allows the beans to ripen at just the right time. Arabica coffee, for example, which represents 75 per cent of world coffee production, is always just a few degrees away from becoming a sub-par product.

This will undoubtedly affect coffee prices and quality for us all. Thanks to the so-called Starbucks Effect, the quality of the coffee we now enjoy is far superior to that of just a decade ago. Good beans may become more difficult to procure in the future.

Right now, coffee futures are valued at US$1.28 per pound and are being exposed to downward pressures. At this rate, the record price of US$3.39 per pound, set in 1977, could return in just a few years.

The coffee wars we are seeing are not just about gaining market shares and getting consumers hooked on java. They are also about how we connect with a crop that is under siege by climate change.

Short of fighting climate change, we could be forced to alter our relationship with coffee. As current coffee-producing countries attempt to develop eco-friendly methods and embrace sustainable practices, Canada could be the next country where coffee is actually grown, not just roasted.

Within the next decade, with climate change and new technologies, perhaps producing coffee beans will be feasible in Canada. After all, if Elon Musk thinks we can start colonizing Mars by 2022, why can’t we grow coffee in Canada?

The ConversationSo if a coffee chain is offering free coffee, take it. It won’t be long before coffee could become a luxury.

Sylvain Charlebois, Professor in Food Distribution and Policy, Dalhousie University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Investing in warmer housing could save the NHS billions

File 20171004 32388 1np1bld
Bitterly cold.
Ruslan Guzov/Shutterstock

Dr Nathan Bray, Bangor University; Eira Winrow, Bangor University, and Rhiannon Tudor Edwards, Bangor University

British weather isn’t much to write home about. The temperate maritime climate makes for summers which are relatively warm and winters which are relatively cold. But despite rarely experiencing extremely cold weather, the UK has a problem with significantly more people dying during the winter compared to the rest of the year. In fact, 2.6m excess winter deaths have occurred since records began in 1950 – that’s equivalent to the entire population of Manchester.

Although the government has been collecting data on excess winter deaths – that is, the difference between the number of deaths that occur from December to March compared to the rest of the year – for almost 70 years, the annual statistics are still shocking. In the winter of 2014/15, there were a staggering 43,900 excess deaths, the highest recorded figure since 1999/2000. In the last 10 years, there has only been one winter where less than 20,000 excess deaths occurred: 2013/14. Although excess winter deaths have been steadily declining since records began, in the winter of 2015/16 there were still 24,300.

According to official statistics, respiratory disease is the underlying cause for over a third of excess winter deaths, predominantly due to pneumonia and influenza. About three-quarters of these excess respiratory deaths occur in people aged 75 or over. Unsurprisingly, cold homes (particularly those below 16°C) cause a substantially increased risk of respiratory disease and older people are significantly more likely to have difficulty heating their homes.

Health and homes

The UK is currently in the midst of a housing crisis – and not just due to a lack of homes. According to a 2017 government report, a fifth of all homes in England fail to meet the Decent Homes Standard – which is aimed at bringing all council and housing association homes up to a minimum level. Despite the explicit guidelines, an astonishing 16% of private rented homes and 12% of housing association homes still have no form of central heating.

Even when people have adequate housing, the cost of energy and fuel can be a major issue. Government schemes, such as the affordable warmth grant, have been implemented to help low income households increase indoor warmth and energy efficiency. However, approximately 2.5m households in England (about one in nine) are still in fuel poverty – struggling to keep their homes adequately warm due to the cost of energy and fuel – and this figure is rising.

Poor housing costs the NHS a whopping £1.4 billion every year. Reports indicate that the health impact of poor housing is almost on a par with that of smoking and alcohol. Clearly, significant public health gains could be made through high quality, cost-effective home improvements, particulalrly for social housing. Take insulation, for example: evidence shows that properly fitted and safe insulation can increase indoor warmth, reduce damp, and improve respiratory health, which in turn reduces work and school absenteeism, and use of health services.

Warmth on prescription

In our recent research, we examined whether warmer social housing could improve population health and reduce use of NHS services in the northeast of England. To do this, we analysed the costs and outcomes associated with retrofitting social housing with new combi-boilers and double glazed windows.

After the housing improvements had been installed, NHS service use costs reduced by 16% per household – equating to an estimated NHS cost reduction of over £20,000 in just six months for the full cohort of 228 households. This reduction was offset by the initial expense of the housing improvements (around £3,725 per household), but if these results could be replicated and sustained, the NHS could eventually save millions of pounds over the lifetime of the new boilers and windows.

The benefits were not confined to NHS savings. We also found that the overall health status and financial satisfaction of main tenants significantly improved. Furthermore, over a third of households were no longer exhibiting signs of fuel poverty – households were subsequently able to heat all rooms in the home, where previously most had left one room unheated due to energy costs.

Perhaps it is time to think beyond medicines and surgery when we consider the remit of the NHS for improving health, and start looking into more projects like this. NHS-provided “boilers on prescription” have already been trialled in Sunderland with positive results. This sort of cross-government thinking promotes a nuanced approach to health and social care.

The ConversationWe don’t need to assume that the NHS should foot the bill entirely for ill health related to housing, for instance the Treasury could establish a cross-government approach by investing in housing to simultaneously save NHS money. A £10 billion investment into better housing could pay for itself in just seven years through NHS cost savings. With a growing need to prevent ill health and avoidable death, maybe it’s time for the government to think creatively right across the public sector, and adopt a new slogan: improving health by any means necessary.

Dr Nathan Bray, Research Officer in Health Economics, Bangor University; Eira Winrow, PhD Research Candidate and Research Project Support Officer, Bangor University, and Rhiannon Tudor Edwards, Professor of Health Economics, Bangor University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Should Uncle Sam ‘send in the Marines’ after hurricanes?

Julia Brooks, Harvard University and David Polatty, US Naval War College

When humanitarian emergencies flare up, what should prompt the U.S. government to “send in the Marines”?

Disasters like Hurricane Harvey’s floods in Houston and Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico’s roads and power grid can quickly overwhelm civilian authorities and emergency responders. Military support can make a life-or-death difference in those emergencies.

As scholars at the U.S. Naval War College and Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, we have seen that the military can have a profound and positive impact on the immediate response to large-scale disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria or the Haiti earthquake in 2010.

But soldiers, sailors, marines and aviators are primarily trained to fight, not feed disaster victims. When they report for humanitarian duties, it typically costs far more than when civilians handle them. Does their muscle actually go to good use?

Why deploy the military

Nonprofits like the Red Cross and government agencies like FEMA simply don’t have the equipment required following disasters like the one unfolding in Puerto Rico – where millions of people may lack power and clean drinking water for months.

Only the military can promptly dispatch the ships and planes required to move people, supplies and fuel. It has the electrical generators, water purifiers, bulldozers and lift equipment for search and rescue operations, debris removal and reconstruction.

At the same time, many military personnel also report that aid missions are good for morale, as countless service members take pride in doing disaster relief.

Having soldiers or sailors airlift people from their flooded homes or distribute hot meals is also great public relations at a time when the U.S. military is engaged in several unpopular and protracted conflicts abroad.

Domestic limits

While military missions can fill critical gaps in response to large-scale natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, there are also significant limits to the military’s ability to jump in.

For one, there are laws restricting U.S. military operations on U.S. soil. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 prohibits active duty military personnel from engaging in civilian law enforcement, although the National Guard may be deployed in some circumstances.

Also, under a law known as the Stafford Act of 1988, the Department of Homeland Security may request military assistance as a last resort in major disasters and emergencies.

These restrictions have loosened up a little since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, granting the military and National Guard more leeway to support domestic counterterrorism operations. These changes made it easier for the military and National Guard to respond to the recent hurricanes.

But there are no such legal restrictions on how the U.S. military may respond to foreign disasters, as long as host governments request help or consent to it.

A common call

According to the Center for Naval Analyses, a federally funded defense research center, the U.S. military diverted units from “routine” operations to conduct humanitarian assistance operations 366 times from 1970 to 2000, compared with 22 times for combat missions.

Since 2000, the U.S. armed forces have conducted many massive humanitarian operations around the globe, such as responding to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami and the 2015 Nepal earthquake, as well as Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina at home.

Given how frequently the military undertakes these missions, preparing for them should be a high priority. But that is not the case. With few notable exceptions, soldiers, sailors, marines and aviators spend little if any time training for disaster-response strategies, tactics, policies and procedures.

Concerns

When the same people fight wars and distribute food to people in distress, it can quickly blur the lines, exposing aid workers to attack.

That is why aid workers for nonprofit organizations like Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam have expressed concerns about what they see as a growing “militarization” of humanitarian relief that endangers their own safety and hinders their effectiveness.

There is also the high cost of having boots on the ground doing civilian work.

Consider what happened when the U.S. military responded rapidly after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that left 220,000 people dead, 300,000 injured and 1,500,000 people displaced. More than a third of the total of US$1.12 billion in U.S. aid – $453.5 million – covered the costs of military transport, personnel and supplies.

According to estimates by Aruna Apte at the Naval Postgraduate School and Keenan Yoho at Rollins College, the U.S. spent more than $17 million just to operate a single aircraft carrier nearby for 17 days – not counting personnel costs.

Aircraft carriers are essentially floating airfields that make it easier to access otherwise impossible-to-reach areas, facilitating evacuations. Although they can dispatch critical food, water and medicine, there are usually better ways to deliver aid after disasters.

For context, that $17 million could have covered the cost of all of the humanitarian organization Save the Children’s health programs in Haiti between 2010 and 2012.

Finding the balance

Despite the big price tag, military involvement in disaster relief is bound to grow. That’s because global humanitarian organizations are already stretched thin by competing needs.
Conflict-driven migration is growing, and severe storms are becoming more common as a result of climate change – along with the higher sea levels scientists say it is causing.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration wants to cut civilian government spending while boosting the Pentagon’s budget.

But we believe it would be a huge mistake for the government to rely primarily on the armed forces in the aftermath of disasters.

The military’s unique capacity can be incredibly useful in the short term. Yet even when its help is most needed, these deployments should be brief and tailored.

The ConversationOther than in the immediate aftermath of the biggest emergencies, the government should activate civilian emergency responders and humanitarian aid groups instead of sending the Marines.

Julia Brooks, Researcher in international law and humanitarian response, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), Harvard University and David Polatty, Director, Civilian-Military Humanitarian Response Program, US Naval War College

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The murky issue of whether the public supports assisted dying

Katherine Sleeman, King’s College London

The High Court has rejected a judicial review challenging the current law which prohibits assisted dying in the UK. Noel Conway, a 67-year-old retired lecturer who was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2014, was fighting for the right to have medical assistance to bring about his death. Commenting after the judgement on October 5, his solicitor indicated that permission will now be sought to take the case to the appeal courts.

Campaigners are often quick to highlight the strength of public support in favour of assisted dying, arguing that the current law is undemocratic. But there are reasons to question the results of polls on this sensitive and emotional issue.

There have been numerous surveys and opinion polls on public attitudes towards assisted dying in recent years. The British Social Attitudes (BSA) Survey, which has asked this question sequentially since the 1980s, has shown slowly increasing public support. Asked: “Suppose a person has a painful incurable disease. Do you think that doctors should be allowed by law to end the patient’s life, if the patient requests it?” in 1984, 75% of people surveyed agreed. By 1989, 79% of people agreed with the statement, and in 1994 it had gone up to 82%.

Detail of the question matters

But not surprisingly, the acceptability of assisted dying varies according to the precise context. The 2005 BSA survey asked in more depth about attitudes towards assisted dying and end of life care. While 80% of respondents agreed with the original question, support fell to 45% for assisted dying for illnesses that were incurable and painful but not terminal.

A 2010 ComRes-BBC survey also found that the incurable nature of illness was critical. In this survey, while 74% of respondents supported assisted suicide if an illness was terminal, this fell to 45% if it was not.

Wording counts.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

It may not be surprising that support varies considerably according to the nature of the condition described, but it is important. First, because the neat tick boxes on polls belie the messy reality of determining prognosis for an individual patient. Second, because of the potential for drift in who might be eligible once assisted dying is legalised. This has happened in countries such as Belgium which became the first country to authorise euthanasia for children in 2014, and more recently in Canada where within months of the 2016 legalisation of medical assistance in dying, the possibility of extending the law to those with purely psychological suffering was announced.

It’s not just diagnosis or even prognosis that influences opinion. In the US, Gallup surveys carried out since the 1990s have shown that support for assisted dying hinges on the precise terminology used to describe it. In its 2013 poll, 70% of respondents supported “end the patient’s life by some painless means” whereas only 51% supported “assisting the patient to commit suicide”. This gap shrank considerably in 2015 – possibly as a result of the Brittany Maynard case. Maynard, a high-profile advocate of assisted dying who had terminal cancer, moved from California to Oregon to take advantage of the Oregon Death with Dignity law in 2014.

Even so, campaigning organisations for assisted dying tend to avoid the word “suicide”. Language is emotive, but if we want to truly gauge public opinion, we need to understand this issue, not gloss over it.

Information changes minds

Support for assisted dying is crucially known to drop-off simply when key information is provided. Back in the UK, a ComRes/CARE poll in 2014 showed 73% of people surveyed agreed with legalisation of a bill which enables: “Mentally competent adults in the UK who are terminally ill, and who have declared a clear and settled intention to end their own life, to be provided with assistance to commit suicide by self-administering lethal drugs.” But 42% of these same people subsequently changed their mind when some of the empirical arguments against assisted dying were highlighted to them – such as the risk of people feeling pressured to end their lives so as not to be a burden on loved ones.

This is not just a theoretical phenomenon. In 2012, a question over legalising assisted dying was put on the ballot paper in Massachusetts, one of the most liberal US states. Support for legalisation fell in the weeks prior to vote, as arguments against legalisation were aired, and complexities became apparent. In the end, the Massachusetts proposition was defeated by 51% to 49%. Public opinion polls, in the absence of public debate, may gather responses that are reflexive rather than informed.

The ConversationPolls are powerful tools for democratic change. While opinion polls do show the majority of people support legalisation of assisted dying, the same polls also show that the issue is far from clear. It is murky, and depends on the responder’s awareness of the complexities of assisted dying, the context of the question asked, and its precise language. If we can conclude anything from these polls, it is not the proportion of people who do or don’t support legislation, but how easily people can change their views.

Katherine Sleeman, NIHR Clinician Scientist and Honorary Consultant in Palliative Medicine, King’s College London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Too few women in science: why academies are part of the problem


File 20170921 8224 1ut7yi
National science academies must do more to draw women in.
Mitchell Maher/International Food Policy Research Institute/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Dorothy Ngila, Stellenbosch University and Nelius Boshoff, Stellenbosch University

Women’s role in science has been hotly debated and discussed in recent decades. Policy-oriented and scholarly studies have explored a range of topics on the issue. From girls’ participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); to how women are represented and perform in STEM occupations and women’s access to technologies – it’s all been studied.

But only one study has examined women’s representation and participation in national science academies. This silence is ironic. These academies honour scientific excellence and synthesise scientific findings to support evidence-based policymaking. This means they are well placed to contribute towards strengthening their countries’ national innovation systems. They can advocate to get more girls and women participating in STEM, and advise on system-wide application of the gender lens in research and innovation.

So one of the first steps, surely, would be for academies to address their own gender gaps. But there’s a data problem. Academies simply don’t know how they’re doing when it comes to the representation of women compared to their counterparts within the science-policy environment. So they’re unable to monitor their progress.

That’s why the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and the InterAmerican Network of Academies of Sciences embarked on a study to collect baseline data about women’s representation in the membership and governance structures of national science academies. We chose academies affiliated with the academy international umbrella body, the InterAcademy Partnership. It represents more than 110 national academies of science in both the global North and South.

A common message emerged from our research: with one or two notable exceptions, women are massively underrepresented in national science academies compared to their male peers.

Women in the minority

The information was gathered through two separate but related online surveys during 2014 and 2015.

The InterAmerican Network of Academies of Sciences surveyed the partnership’s 19 national science academies in North America, Latin America and the Caribbean. The South African academy surveyed 84 academies in the other world regions: Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, South Asia, South East Asia and the Pacific, Western and Northern Europe, South Eastern Europe and Central and Eastern Europe.

There was a response rate of 63%: 65 of the InterAcademy Partnership’s 103 national academics provided us with data. A full table of the data is available in this article published in the South African Journal of Science.

The Cuban Academy of Sciences (27%) and the Caribbean Academy of Sciences (26%) had the highest representation of women in their membership. A “member” was taken to mean any person elected into the academy. The national science academies of Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Uruguay, Honduras and Canada also featured on the list of the top 10 academies with the largest shares of women members – between 16% and 23%.

In Africa, meanwhile, women comprise on average 10% of academy members. Academy of Science of South Africa is the only academy on the continent that ranks among the top five organisations for women membership (24%). The Uganda National Academy of Sciences was second in Africa (13%), followed by the academies of Ghana and Cameroon (both 11%).

The average share of women members, across all 63 national science academies that responded, is 12%.

More women in governance

Interestingly, women fared better when it came to national science academies’ governing bodies. Here the average was 20%. In Africa, the Academy of Science of South Africa recorded the largest share of women in academy governance (31%).

It’s not clear why and at this stage we can only speculate about possible reasons. For instance, there could be a general recognition among academies that women need greater representation. A logical first step would be to include those already elected into the academy in the governing body. An equally plausible hypothesis is that women volunteer their time more readily.

The Academy of Science of South Africa arm of the survey also asked whether academies had either a committee to address gender or diversity issues, or at least someone to advise on them. The answer was “no” from 61% of academies. A third – typically academies with a larger share of women in their membership, specifically in North and Latin America – had a dedicated committee. The remaining 6% of academies relied on individuals’ input and guidance.

We would have liked to obtain more data. But we believe the number and spread of participating academies provide a good base for future surveys. Based on the data, we propose several recommendations for the InterAcademy Partnership and its affiliated academies.

Recommendations and unanswered questions

First, member academies should annually collect, analyse and report gender-disaggregated data. This should then be published in the partnership’s annual report. The document can then be used to discuss the gender dimensions of its membership activities. It’s also important for member academies to establish permanent organisational structures related to gender. These can provide strategic direction and implement the academy’s gender mainstreaming activities.

Several aspects of women’s representation in science weren’t explored in this study. How much of a role does unconscious bias play in academies’ election or selection as members? Are the criteria for membership limiting women’s chances? What about socio-cultural aspects? Many cultures have male and female work spheres, confine girls to less valued “women’s work” and underestimate women’s intellectual and technological capacities.

This bias can be replicated in the processes of nomination, evaluation and selection of women and men, for example, for research grants, fellowships, prizes, key aspects that contribute to building the scientific excellence that is associated with honorific recognition of an individual by an academy of science.

These are important questions and issues. Further qualitative research will help to engage the unsettling narrative which emerged from the data in our study.

The Conversation*Authors’ note: We would like to acknowledge the work of the Organisation for Women in Science for the Developing World, one of our partners on this project._

Dorothy Ngila, PhD Student, Stellenbosch University and Nelius Boshoff, Senior Lecturer in Science Studies, Stellenbosch University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Dissociative identity disorder exists and is the result of childhood trauma

 

File 20171004 6713 od2fk2
Dissociative identity disorder is a serious and valid mental illness.
Irudayam/Flickr, CC BY

Michael Salter, Western Sydney University; Adjunct Professor Warwick Middleton, The University of Queensland, and Martin Dorahy

Once known as multiple personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder remains one of the most intriguing but poorly understood mental illnesses. Research and clinical experience indicate people diagnosed with the condition have been victims of sexual abuse or other forms of criminal mistreatment.

But a vocal group of academics and health professionals have claimed dissociative identity disorder, and reports of trauma associated with it, are created by therapists and the media. They say these don’t reflect genuine symptoms or accurate memories.

Media references to dissociative identity disorder are also often highly stigmatising. The recent movie Split depicted a person with the condition as a psychopathic murderer. Even supposedly factual reporting can present people with dissociative identity disorder as untrustworthy and prone to wild fantasies and false memories.

But research hasn’t found people with the disorder are more prone to “false memories” than others. And brain imaging studies show significant differences in brain activity between people with dissociative identity disorder and other groups, including those who have been trained to mimic the disorder.

What is it?

Dissociative identity disorder has been studied by doctors and scientists for well over 100 years. In 1980, it was called multiple personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which outlines the symptoms of psychiatric conditions. Its name was changed in the 1994 edition of the DSM.


Read more: What is the DSM and how are mental disorders diagnosed?


Dissociative identity disorder comes about when a child’s psychological development is disrupted by early repetitive trauma that prevents the normal processes of consolidating a core sense of identity. Reports of childhood trauma in people with dissociative identity disorder (that have been substantiated) include burning, mutilation and exploitation. Sexual abuse is also routinely reported, alongside emotional abuse and neglect.

In response to overwhelming trauma, the child develops multiple, often conflicting, states or identities. These mirror the radical contradictions in their early attachments and social and family environments – for instance, a parent who swings unpredictably between aggression and care.

According to the DSM-5, the major characteristic of dissociative identity disorder is a disruption of identity, in which a person experiences two or more distinct personality states (or, in other cultures, experiences of so-called possession).

These states display marked differences in a person’s behaviour, recollections and opinions, and ways of engaging with the world and other people. The person frequently experiences gaps in memory or difficulties recalling events that occurred while they were in other personality states.

The manifestations of these symptoms are subtle and well concealed for most patients. However, overt symptoms tend to surface during times of stress, re-traumatisation or loss.

Media references to dissociative identity disorder, like the lead character in the movie Split, are often highly stigmatising.
Blinding Edge Pictures Blumhouse Productions Dentsu (in association with) Fuji Eight Company Ltd/IMDb

People with the condition typically have a number of other problems. These include depression, self-harm, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and increased susceptibility to physical illness. They frequently have difficulties engaging in daily life, including employment and interactions with family.

This is, perhaps, unsurprising, given people with dissociative identity disorder have experienced more trauma than any other group of patients with psychiatric difficulties.

Dissociative identity disorder is a relatively common psychiatric disorder. Research in multiple countries has found it occurs in around 1% of the general population, and in up to one fifth of patients in inpatient and outpatient treatment programs.

Trauma and dissociation

The link between severe early trauma and dissociative identity has been controversial. Some clinicians have proposed dissociative identity disorder is the result of fantasy and suggestibility rather than abuse and trauma. But the causal relationship between trauma and dissociation (alterations of identity and memory) has been repeatedly shown in a range of studies using different methodologies across cultures.

People with dissociative identity disorder are generally unresponsive to (and may deteriorate under) standard treatment. This may include cognitive behavioural treatment, or exposure therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder.


Read more:


Phase-orientated treatment has been shown to improve dissociative identity disorder. This involves stages (or phases) of treatment, from an initial focus on safety and stabilisation, through to containment and processing of trauma memories and feelings, to the final phase of integration and rehabilitation. The goal of treatment is for the person to move towards better engaging in life without debilitating symptoms.

An international study that followed 280 patients with dissociative identity disorder (or a variant of it, which is a dissociative disorder not otherwise specified) and 292 therapists over time, found this approach was associated with improvements across a number of psychological and social functioning areas. Patients and therapists reported reduction in dissociation, general distress, depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

Controversies and debates

Critics have pointed to poor therapeutic practice causing dissociative symptoms as well as false memories and false allegations of abuse. Some are particularly concerned therapists are focused on recovering memories, or encouraging patients to speculate that they have been abused.

However, a contemporary survey of clinical practice among specialists of dissociative identity found those treating the disorder weren’t focused on retrieving memories at any phase of the treatment.

A recent literature analysis concluded that criticisms of dissociative identity disorder treatment are based on inaccurate assumptions about clinical practice, misunderstandings of symptoms, and an over-reliance on anecdotes and unfounded claims.

Dissociative identity disorder treatment is frequently unavailable in the public health system. This means people with the condition remain at high risk of ongoing illness, disability and re-victimisation.

The underlying cause of the disorder, which is severe trauma, has been largely overlooked, with little discussion of the prevention or early identification of extreme abuse. Future research should not only address treatment outcomes, but also focus on public policy around prevention and detection of extreme trauma.


The ConversationIf this article has raised concerns for you or anyone you know, call Lifeline 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 or Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800.

Michael Salter, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Western Sydney University; Adjunct Professor Warwick Middleton, Adjunct Professor, The University of Queensland, and Martin Dorahy, Professor of Clinical Psychology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

World War Three is being waged in cyberspace

 

File 20171003 30864 1kwu0a1

Dr. Mike Sosteric, Athabasca University

My introduction to advanced communication technology (i.e. the Internet and World Wide Web) came in 1999.

Having grown up in the two-channel universe of the 1960s and ‘70s, I was agog at the power it represented. The technology was nascent at that time — not many web pages yet existed — but I could still see the potential for good. Here was a technology that I felt could really save the world.

I am not ashamed to say that when I first saw the Web, I was filled with schoolboy naivete. I wanted to help, so I did. I created the first electronic sociology journal, did a few more things after that, and with a massive anticipatory grin, watched and waited for utopia.

Unfortunately, utopia didn’t emerge. In fact, my naive grin soon melted away.

The melting began when I learned that researchers at Cornell University, working without ethical oversight and possibly in collusion with the U.S. Department of Defense, were learning how to use Facebook, a technology we keep by our beds, to manipulate mass emotion.

The grin melted even further when I saw fellow scientists had learned to use search engines to manipulate political preferences.

Manipulating Trump supporters

The grin turned to an outright frown when I read in that same study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a multidisciplinary scientific journal, that moderate Republicans, moderate libertarians, male Republicans and the “deplorable” poor — President Donald Trump’s base — were the most susceptible to manipulation.

I became a little worried when the scholars who wrote the study suggested that Google, by manipulating its algorithms, might already have decided a foreign election, in India in 2014, in favour of a right-wing candidate.

Then there was the historic 2016 election of Trump. That’s when my smile turned to a grimace. During that election campaign, Trump called out to Russia to hack the election, which they did. Spewing hundreds of thousands of dollars of fake ads into Facebook, Twitter and probably Google, they attacked America full-on. They didn’t do it with bullets and bombs; they did it with bits and with bytes, and with the help of American CEOs and American technology.

It was certainly an attack, and there were definitely explosions, but they were in cyberspace. Desensitized by Hollywood violence, we are not paying attention to the attack on our minds.

You can argue about whether the Russian attacks were effective, or puzzle if Trump and his family are traitors, but the fact remains — we are under attack, and if something isn’t done, it’s going to get worse.

Annual hacking event

You don’t have to be a prophet to see what’s coming. The battle plan is in plain sight. In the midst of Cyber Security Awareness Month, it’s time to open our eyes.

Consider the Russian company Positive Technologies. This firm holds an annual event known as PHDays, or “Positive Hack” days. At this event, which started back in 2011, the world’s best and brightest hackers get together to train.

It doesn’t sound too threatening until you learn about “The Standoff.” The Standoff is a military hacking competition with a blatant military goal: Take out a city’s telecom, heat, power, oil, and rail infrastructures. The city’s citizens are even offered up as a resource for the hackers. They are easy to exploit, says the rule book. They use “smart gadgets every day.” “They are vulnerable to social engineering.” They are “prepared to share [their] secrets.”

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Sitting back in my chair with a thump, I see it clearly.

There’s a global war going on, and a global arms race to go with it. The arms race is not a race for physical weapons, it is a race to develop cyber-weapons of psychological, emotional, financial and infrastructure attack. By now, the arms race is so far advanced that it makes the leaflet campaigns of the Second World War and the U.S. government’s Operation Cornflake look like toddler’s play.

ISIS and the far-right are using Twitter and other online networks to radicalize our youth, bringing the war to our streets. Russian cyber-marines engage in massive cyber-attacks, going so far as to target our voting machines.

Just recently, the sensitive financial data of almost half the U.S. population was stolen by state-sponsored professionals. There is even, as is becoming increasingly clear as the Mueller investigation into Trump’s Russia connections unfolds, a “highly coordinateed disinformation campaign” — a propaganda campaign, aimed at destabilizing American society.

Wake up and realize we’re at war

If the horrific recent gun violence in Las Vegas, exploding racial tensions and political polarization of Western democracies are any indication, destabilization is proceeding apace.

So what do we make of this?

No. 1: Realize that global war has been declared. It’s a little hard to pin down who fired the first shot right now, but the aggressors are active and engaged.

No. 2: Understand we are all under attack, even Republicans, perhaps especially Republicans, and the poor. There may be short-term financial gain for those who benefit from the destabilization, but only a fool would think the enemy is our best friend.

Finally, if you are a private citizen, you need to start taking the cyber threat seriously. Combatants are trained to see you as easy-to-manipulate resources. You are being viciously manipulated through social media.

Your financial data is stolen and could easily be used against you. Cyber-marines are training to take out the life-giving infrastructure of your cities. Are government and corporate leaders blithely unaware, or engaged in traitorous collusion? Only time will time tell.

The ConversationUntil then, wake up, gather your loved ones, lock down your social media, and batten the hatches — the war for your mind has begun.

Dr. Mike Sosteric, Associate Professor, Sociology, Athabasca University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Underpaid, overworked and drowning in debt: you wonder why young people are voting again?

Paul Whiteley, University of Essex

The 2017 general election was highly unusual as far as the youth vote was concerned. The Labour party won 65% – the lion’s share – of the youth vote. The nearest comparisons are with 1964 and 1997. In both those years, Labour took 53% of the youth vote. In the 2015 election, just two years earlier, the party had won just 38% of the youth vote.

How the under-30s vote

Tracking the youth vote between 1964 and 2017.
Paul Whiteley, Author provided

The contrast between the youth vote in the 2010 and 2017 shows how radically youth voting patterns have changed. During this period, their turnout rose by 19%. This change in youth participation, combined with a massive swing to Labour, has unsurprisingly led some to talk of a “youthquake”.

What could have brought this about? Political and cultural drivers are clearly at work. That includes youth support for remaining in the EU and their preference for Jeremy Corbyn over Theresa May. Only a quarter of 18-to-25s voted to leave in the EU referendum compared with two-thirds of those over 65.

But economic drivers also played a crucial role. Young people, put simply, have lost out both in the economy and government policy making. Since 2010 the British government has been preoccupied with shoring up its political support among middle aged and retired voters. It has largely ignored the concerns of the young, very often dismissing them because, in the past, most young people did not vote. That all changed in 2017.

Paying for education

One obvious driver of youth voting is the rapid increase in student debt imposed by a government which sought to privatise higher education during the austerity years. Tuition fees were originally introduced in 1998 and had reached £3,000 per year by 2006-7. At the time, it was widely accepted that the considerable graduate premium which existed in lifetime earnings justified a contribution to the costs of higher education by the beneficiaries.

But things radically changed in 2010 when the coalition government introduced a fees cap of £9,000. Ironically, this increased privatisation of the costs of higher education was accompanied by ever-increasing regulation, so that the less the state supports higher education the more it wants to control it. This trend culminated in a 2016 proposal to scrap maintenance grants and raise fees to £9,250 while at the same time charging interest rates of 6.1% on student loans at a time when the Bank of England base rate was 0.25%.

Such a reckless disregard for the interests of more than 40% of the under-25s is quite hard to understand, particularly in light of the fate of the Liberal Democrats following their u-turn on tuition fees after they joined the coalition in 2010.

The bias against youth was not confined to university students. In April 2016, the minimum wage was raised to £7.50 an hour, but this change only applied to employed workers over the age of 25. The minimum wage for apprentices under the age of 19 was a meagre £3.50 and hour and this did not change. Young people were essentially ignored.

Another aspect of the same issue relates to the self-employed, none of whom receive the minimum wage. Historically, self-employed workers have been older than the workforce average age – but, in recent years, self-employment has grown faster among the under 25s than any other group with the exception of 40-year-olds. Between 2008 and 2015 the number of self-employed people in the UK increased from 3.8 million to 4.6 million people with part-time self-employment, often synonymous with under-employment, increasing by 88%. Thus young people have lost out on the increases in minimum wages, with many of them being underemployed and working part-time for wages that are well below average.

Are you even listening?

It was, therefore, no surprise that when the pollsters YouGov recently asked citizens to rank their priorities for the country, 46% of 18-24 year olds selected increasing the minimum wage to approximately £9 per hour. That compared to a national figure of 28% (and 19% among pensioners).

In our panel survey of the electorate conducted immediately before the 2017 general election, we asked respondents if they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “The government treats people like yourself fairly”. We found that 18% of the under-25s agreed with this statement compared with 28% of the over-65s. In contrast, 49% of the under-25s disagreed with it compared with 32% of the over-65s. Youth have not only been left behind but many of them are aware of this fact and have a sense of grievance arising from it. The stark difference in the responses of youth and pensioners to this statement is related to the differences in the government’s treatment of them.

The so called “triple lock” on pensions was introduced by the coalition government in 2010. It was a guarantee to increase the state pension every year by the rate of inflation, average earnings or by a minimum of 2.5% whichever was the highest. By 2016 it produced a situation in which retired people had average incomes £2,500 higher than in 2007/8, while those who were not retired earned an average of £300 less over this period. The latter reflects the fact that real wages have been flat-lining for more than a decade.

Given all this it is no surprise that the 2017 election was a case of youth striking back.

The ConversationThis article is based on research by Paul Whiteley, Harold Clarke, Matthew Goodwin and Marianne Stewart. Paul Whiteley is speaking at Youthquake 2017! Can young voters transform the UK’s political landscape? a joint event between The Conversation and The British Academy on October 9, 2017.

Paul Whiteley, Professor, Department of Government, University of Essex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bare cupboards and nobody to help buy food: the forgotten welfare gap in older age


File 20171004 6697 1e4gzfi
Poverty and isolation is leading to nutritional problems for older people.
via shutterstock.com

Kingsley Purdam, University of Manchester

Welfare reform and austerity in the UK has led to reductions in public spending on services that support older people. Age UK has highlighted how nearly one million older people have unmet social care needs. This is of particular concern as the winter months approach.

In ongoing research on food insecurity in older age, my colleagues and I have analysed survey data and interviewed older people who use foodbanks. We’re finding that many older people are at risk of under-nutrition because of poverty, or because they don’t get the support they need to shop, cook and eat.

While many older people have been less affected by the recent recession than other age groups, in part because of the triple lock protection for pensions, poverty can persist in old age. Data from 2015 shows that 1.6m pensioners live below the relative poverty line, and 8% of pensioners are in persistent poverty – defined as having spent three years out of any four-year period in a household with below 60% of median income.

Poverty and social isolation

Around 20% of older people have little or no private pension, housing or material wealth and retiring with debt is also a growing problem. There are 3.8m people aged 65 and older living alone in the UK and evidence from Age UK suggests that nearly one million people in this age group always or often feel lonely.

Older people living alone tend to eat less. This can lead to under-nutrition – a major cause of functional decline among older people. It can lead to poorer health outcomes, falls, delays in recovery from illness and longer periods in hospital, including delayed operations.

Evidence from the National Nutrition Screening Survey suggests that an estimated 1.3m people aged over 65 in the UK are not getting adequate protein or energy in their diet. On admission to hospital, 33% of people in this age group are identified as being at risk of under-nutrition.


Read more: Huge cuts have made elder care today look like a relic of the Poor Law


Data we are analysing from the 2014 English Longitudinal Study of Ageing suggests that for around 10% of people aged 50 and over “too little money stops them buying their first choice of food items” and this has increased consistently since 2004. Evidence from the Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey in 2012 found that 12% of people aged over 65 had often or sometimes: “skimped on food so others in the household would have enough to eat”.

Embarrassment and stigma

The Health Survey of England consistently highlights the issue of unmet need among some older people. For example, 6% of people aged over 65 reported that they had not received help from anyone with shopping for food in the last month. In addition, 19% of this age group reported needing help to leave their home.

Evidence suggests that as food insecurity has increased in the UK, many older people have become reliant on food banks. In 2016, the food redistribution charity FareShare said that 13% of its clients were aged over 65.

Our interviews with older people using food banks have highlighted the challenges many older people can face. Some were having food parcels delivered by the food banks as they were unable to go themselves or did not want to be seen going.

Embarrassment and stigma were also a concern for one 69-year-old man who told us how he preferred coming to the food bank than asking family or friends for help. “I don’t believe in asking others, I don’t want to upset people,” he said. Another 65-year-old man told us: “My family would help but I don’t like to ask them, they have their own families to look after.” Others, however are either unable or too embarrassed to visit a food bank.

Food or warmth

One 54-year-old man said: “I can go for a couple of days without food… the gas is cut off and I get hot water from the kettle to wash.” There was also evidence that some older people were not fully recognising their nutritional needs. As one 60-year-old woman said: “When you are on your own… sometimes I don’t cook, depends how I feel.” Another 65-year-old man revealed his poor diet, stating how when he had no food he would: “Just eat cornflakes.”

Counting the pennies.
Kingsley Purdam, Author provided

Other people chose to cut back on food during the winter due to the costs of heating their home – suffering the cold as a result. As one 72-year-old woman stated: “Sometimes I just go without putting the heating on.”

An increasing number of older people are constrained in their spending on food, many are skipping meals and are not getting the social care support they need. Emergency food parcels are an inadequate and unsustainable way of addressing the issue of food insecurity.

There are currently 10m people in the UK aged over 65, but this is expected to increase to 19m by 2050 – that’s one in every four people.

The ConversationAs the size of the older population continues to grow, the reductions in local authority spending on social care raise concerns about their long-term welfare. Given the follow-on costs to the public purse, including in terms of healthcare, the government must do more to combat food insecurity amongst older people.

Kingsley Purdam, Senior Lecturer, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.