Monday, January 31, 2022

Drop in public trust in military officers portends danger

  Gallup recently released a poll describing how American’s confidence in military officers had declined to its lowest level since it began measuring in 2001. The big news was that between 2017 and 2022, Americans who believe military officers possess “high ethics” declined by a full 10 points, down to 61%.

  An optimist could see this as unfortunate but tolerable since military officers remain one of the most respected professions, falling only behind medical professionals and grade-school teachers. A more candid appraisal, however, would see this for what it is: a vote of declining confidence by America in its oldest and heretofore most trusted institution. The military needs to make the necessary course corrections to address this situation or be prepared to endure the consequences.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

A time for introspection

  With the crisis over Ukraine getting bigger by the day, this would be a good time for the American people to engage in some serious introspection, especially given the recent withdrawal of U.S. forces from their forever deadly and destructive war in Afghanistan. 

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Criminal injustice: States unfairly prosecute children as adults

  Ten years ago, in a historic decision, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized, as it had in earlier cases, that children who commit crimes are fundamentally different from adults – less mature biologically, more vulnerable and susceptible to negative pressures and influences, and therefore less culpable and more likely to change.

  It’s one of the reasons this country has had a separate criminal justice system for children for the past century.

Friday, January 28, 2022

How antisemitic conspiracy theories contributed to the recent hostage-taking at the Texas synagogue

  The man who took a rabbi and three congregants hostage in Colleyville, Texas on Jan. 15, 2022 believed that Jews control the United States of America. He told his hostages, as one revealed in a media interview, that Jews “control the world” and that they could use their perceived power to free Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani convicted in 2010 for trying to kill American soldiers and plotting to blow up the Statue of Liberty. The hostage-taker also demanded to speak to New York’s Central Synagogue rabbi, Angela Buchdahl, so that she would use her “influence” to help get Siddiqui released.

  By invoking Jewish “power,” the gunman, later identified as Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British national, seemed to echo Siddiqui’s antisemitic views that Jews were responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks and had infiltrated American political and nongovernmental organizations. During her 2010 trial in New York, Siddiqui demanded Jews be excluded from serving on her jury.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

What is bioengineered food? An agriculture expert explains

  The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines bioengineered food as food that “contains detectable genetic material that has been modified through certain lab techniques that cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature.”

  If that definition sounds familiar, it is because it is essentially how genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are defined – common vocabulary many people use and understand.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Why getting Congress to fund help for US children in poverty is so hard to do

  The Build Back Better bill, the centerpiece of the Biden administration’s domestic policy, cleared the House of Representatives by a slender margin largely along party lines in November 2021.

  Legislative progress came to a sudden stop a month later when Sen. Joe Manchin announced, in a Fox News interview, that he would not support it. Without the West Virginian’s vote, Senate Democrats lacked the majority they needed to pass the bill.

  Manchin raised concerns about inflation and objected to several of the measure’s energy provisions. He also had qualms about a program that had been temporarily helping, according to one estimate, over 90% of the children in his state: the expansion of the child tax credit.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Fact-checking may be important, but it won’t help Americans learn to disagree better

  Entering the new year, Americans are increasingly divided. They clash not only over differing opinions on COVID-19 risk or abortion but basic facts like election counts and whether vaccines work. Surveying rising political antagonism, journalist George Packer recently wondered in The Atlantic, “Are we doomed?”

  It is common to blame people who are intentionally distributing false information for these divisions. Nobel Prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa says Facebook’s “[bias] against facts” threatens democracy. Others lament losing the “shared sense of reality” and “common baseline of fact” thought to be a prerequisite for democracy.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Yes, it’s easier to get birth control than it was in the 1970s – but women still need abortion care

  A historic ruling on abortion is likely to emerge from the U.S. Supreme Court this year as justices consider whether Mississippi can, in fact, impose a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

  The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, challenges the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that protects women’s right to abortion. Meanwhile, Texas enacted its own restrictive abortion law in September – and other states are working to follow suit.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Will what’s happening “over there” hit home again?

  Americans have a lot to worry about. Soaring inflation. A pandemic that refuses to go away. Locked-down schools that keep the kids at home while you have to work.

  With so much to focus on at home, who has time or energy to pay attention to what’s happening on the other side of the world?

  But there’s great danger in becoming indifferent to world affairs. All too often, they wind up crashing into our lives, turning our homes and nation upside down.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

The metaverse is money and crypto is king – why you’ll be on a blockchain when you’re virtual-world hopping

  You may think the metaverse will be a bunch of interconnected virtual spaces – the world wide web but accessed through virtual reality. This is largely correct, but there is also a fundamental but slightly more cryptic side to the metaverse that will set it apart from today’s internet: the blockchain.

  In the beginning, Web 1.0 was the information superhighway of connected computers and servers that you could search, explore and inhabit, usually through a centralized company’s platform – for example, AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google. Around the turn of the millennium, Web 2.0 came to be characterized by social networking sites, blogging, and the monetization of user data for advertising by the centralized gatekeepers to “free” social media platforms, including Facebook, SnapChat, Twitter, and TikTok.

Friday, January 21, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired new health habits for these 4 scholars – here’s what they put into practice and why

  For some people, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about change – some welcome and some not so welcome – to their routines or to what they prioritize. We asked four scholars to reflect on a health habit that they have adopted during the tumultuous months and years since COVID-19 turned people’s lives upside down.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Radicalization pipelines: How targeted advertising on social media drives people to extremes

  Have you had the experience of looking at some product online and then seeing ads for it all over your social media feed? Far from coincidence, these instances of eerily accurate advertising provide glimpses into the behind-the-scenes mechanisms that feed an item you search for on Google, “like” on social media, or come across while browsing into custom advertising on social media.

  Those mechanisms are increasingly being used for more nefarious purposes than aggressive advertising. The threat is in how this targeted advertising interacts with today’s extremely divisive political landscape. As a social media researcher, I see how people seeking to radicalize others use targeted advertising to readily move people to extreme views.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

‘Southern hospitality’ doesn’t always apply to Black people, as revealed in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery

  The idea of community and who belongs and who does not was a common theme in the Jan. 7, 2022 sentencing hearing of three white men convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery.

  “They chose to target my son because they didn’t want him in their community,” said Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, during the hearing. “When they couldn’t sufficiently scare him or intimidate him, they killed him.”

  Arbery was the 25-year-old unarmed Black man who was shot to death on Feb. 23, 2020 while jogging through a predominantly white, middle-class neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia. Race went largely unspoken throughout the trial, but the idea of belonging was clearly drawn in black and white.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

What will 2022 bring in the way of misinformation on social media? 3 experts weigh in

  At the end of 2020, it seemed hard to imagine a worse year for misinformation on social media given the intensity of the presidential election and the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic. But 2021 proved up to the task, starting with the Jan. 6 insurrection and continuing with copious amounts of falsehoods and distortions about COVID-19 vaccines.

  To get a sense of what 2022 could hold, we asked three researchers about the evolution of misinformation on social media.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Martin unchained: Radical reformer, nonviolent militant

  It’s that time of year again, the third Monday of January, when we come together as a nation to commemorate the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with church services, elementary school skits, and civic club speeches—much of it seemingly rote tribute.

  Every MLK Day we trot out the same old platitudes, mouth the same old sentiments, and repeat the same old stories. We go through the motions of honoring not so much the man but the myth he has become. We’ve recast King, making him fit into a reshaped American narrative—one that airbrushes an ugly and vicious not-so-distant past into a less than “enlightened” time in history.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

End-of-life conversations can be hard, but your loved ones will thank you

  Death – along with taxes – is one of life’s few certainties. Despite this inevitability, most people dread thinking and talking about when, how, or under what conditions they might die.

  They don’t want to broach the topic with family, either, for fear of upsetting them. Ironically, though, talking about death “early and often” can be the greatest gift to bestow on loved ones.

Friday, January 14, 2022

What is 5G? An electrical engineer explains

  5G stands for fifth-generation cellular network technology.

  It’s the technology that enables wireless communication – for example, from your cellular phone to a cell tower, which channels it to the internet. 5G is a network service provided by telecommunications carriers and is not the same thing as the 5 GHz band on your Wi-Fi router.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Watch for these conflicts over education in 2022

  At school board meetings across the country in 2021, parents engaged in physical altercations, shouted at school board members, and threatened them as well.

  These disagreements entered state politics, too, such as the 2021 Virginia governor’s race, which was largely shaped by conflicts over how issues of race and racism are taught in the K-12 curriculum, and transgender student rights.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Regret can be all-consuming – a neurobehavioral scientist explains how people can overcome it

  A friend of mine – we will call him “Jay” – was working for IBM in New York City in the early ‘90s. He was a computer programmer and made a good salary. Occasionally, competitors and startups approached Jay to join their companies. He had an offer from an interesting but small organization in Seattle, but the salary was paltry and most of the offer package was in company shares. After consulting with friends and his parents, Jay declined the offer and stayed with IBM. He has regretted it ever since. That small company was Microsoft.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

American support for conspiracy theories and armed rebellion isn’t new – we just didn’t believe it before the Capitol insurrection

  Americans had to confront a new reality when an angry mob attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021: Some of their fellow citizens were in the grips of a false reality and had resorted to violence to support it.

  Conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election and the strange alternate universe of QAnon helped drive the attack, which has prompted concerns about further domestic upheaval.

Monday, January 10, 2022

How cybercriminals turn paper checks stolen from mailboxes into bitcoin

  While cybercrime gets a lot of attention from law enforcement and the media these days, I’ve been documenting a less high-tech threat emerging in recent months: a surge in stolen checks.

  Criminals are increasingly targeting U.S. Postal Service and personal mailboxes to pilfer filled-out checks and sell them over the internet using social media platforms. The buyers then alter the payee and amount listed on the checks to rob victims’ bank accounts of thousands of dollars. While the banks themselves typically bear the financial burden and reimburse targeted accounts, criminals can use the checks to steal victims’ identities, which can have severe consequences.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Looking to the stars in 2022

  The heavens were a little more crowded as 2021 drew to a close. There are more players and more systems in orbit … and more threats.

  The People’s Republic of China has significantly expanded its role in space. In the last week of December, Chinese astronauts at the Tiangong space station engaged in a six-hour spacewalk, the longest ever by Chinese astronauts.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - We lost some good ones in 2021

  As has been my custom for 18 years, I like for my yearend column to be a remembrance of Alabama political figures who have passed away during the year.

  We lost some good ones this year. We lost our oldest past governor, John Patterson in June.  Governor Patterson passed away at age 99 at his ancestral home in rural Tallapoosa County surrounded by his family.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Medical technologies have been central to US pandemic response – but social behaviors matter just as much

  Before COVID-19, there was tuberculosis. Twentieth century British physician Thomas McKeown controversially proposed that the sharp declines in infectious disease death rates in the late 1900s were due to improved economic and social conditions – not medical and public health measures like antibiotics and improved sanitation.

  His theory was later partly discredited. But the central question behind it – whether medical interventions or social factors make the biggest impact on infectious diseases – remains relevant in the current pandemic.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

The US doesn’t have enough faculty to train the next generation of nurses

  Despite a national nursing shortage in the United States, over 80,000 qualified applications were not accepted at U.S. nursing schools in 2020 according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

  This was due primarily to a shortage of nursing professors and a limited number of clinical placements where nursing students get practical job training. Additional constraints include a shortage of experienced practitioners to provide supervision during clinical training, insufficient classroom space, and inadequate financial resources.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

State budgets tied to fossil fuels are slowing the energy transition and leaving workers and communities behind

  Achieving America’s net-zero energy future and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change requires a rapid transition away from fossil fuels toward clean energy. But a significant source of state funding for important programs—including schools, public health, and infrastructure—relies on continued oil and natural gas extraction from federal lands. Simply put, direct payments from the federal government to states are higher when more oil and natural gas is extracted from public lands and waters, creating a perverse incentive to drill more. These payments are at odds with public policy objectives: The federal oil and gas program creates political opposition to climate policy and undermines efforts to build a more equitable economy that works for all Americans.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Vast majority of American workers like their jobs – even as a record number quit them

   A record share of American workers is quitting their jobs, thanks in part to a strong economy and a labor shortage.

  Does that mean Americans are unhappy with where they work?

  The answer would seem to be yes, according to many economists and other observers. That’s the narrative driving the Great Resignation, in which workers are simply fed up with their current jobs and demanding something better.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Cellphone bans in the workplace are legal and more common among blue-collar jobs – they also might be a safety risk

  Cellphones in the workplace can be a distraction – but they could also save your life.

  In the aftermath of a devastating tornado ripping through an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, on Dec. 10, 2021 – killing six employees – the online retailer is reportedly reviewing its policy over mobile phone bans during working hours.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Mourning after mass shootings isn’t enough – a sociologist argues that society’s messages about masculinity need to change

  Last month Americans marked the anniversary of the tragic loss of children and teachers at Sandy Hook.

  After any mass shooting, Americans hear politicians make the ritualistic call for “thoughts and prayers.” Yet years after the killing of these 20 elementary students and six staff, school shootings continue to frequently claim young lives, most recently in Oxford, Michigan. There have been more than 30 in the U.S. during 2021 alone – and more than 600 mass shootings of any kind, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The archive defines a mass shooting as an incident with four or more people injured or killed, not including the perpetrator.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Fixing toxic relationships

  Are there people in your life who regularly cause you to feel bad about yourself?

  Most of us care what others think of us, so knowing that someone doesn’t like or approve of the judgments we’ve made or how we look can be hurtful. And when we’re judged by someone whose approval we crave such as a parent, spouse, teacher, or boss, the criticism can cause intense distress and damage self-esteem.