Sunday, July 31, 2022

Surveillance is pervasive: Yes, you are being watched, even if no one is looking for you

  The U.S. has the largest number of surveillance cameras per person in the world. Cameras are omnipresent on city streets and in hotels, restaurants, malls, and offices. They’re also used to screen passengers for the Transportation Security Administration. And then there are smart doorbells and other home security cameras.

  Most Americans are aware of video surveillance of public spaces. Likewise, most people know about online tracking – and want Congress to do something about it. But as a researcher who studies digital culture and secret communications, I believe that to understand how pervasive surveillance is, it’s important to recognize how physical and digital tracking work together.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Food expiration dates don’t have much science behind them – a food safety researcher explains another way to know what’s too old to eat

  Florida’s outbreak of listeria has so far led to at least one death, 22 hospitalizations, and an ice cream recall since January. Humans get sick with listeria infections, or listeriosis, from eating soil-contaminated food, undercooked meat or dairy products that are raw, or unpasteurized. Listeria can cause convulsions, coma, miscarriage, and birth defects. And it’s the third leading cause of food poisoning deaths in the U.S.

  Avoiding unseen food hazards is the reason people often check the dates on food packaging. And printed with the month and year is often one of a dizzying array of phrases: “best by,” “use by,” “best if used before,” “best if used by,” “guaranteed fresh until,” “freeze by” and even a “born on” label applied to some beer.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Understanding why people reject science could lead to solutions for rebuilding trust

  Rejection of science is a huge problem, with many people refusing to get vaccines and denying the existence of climate change.

  Why are so many people anti-science? As experts on attitudes, persuasion, and how humans are impacted by scientific innovations, our recent research showed that there are four key reasons people reject scientific information.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

What the Bible actually says about abortion may surprise you

  In the days since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which had established the constitutional right to an abortion, some Christians have cited the Bible to argue why this decision should either be celebrated or lamented. But here’s the problem: This 2,000-year-old text says nothing about abortion.

  As a university professor of biblical studies, I am familiar with faith-based arguments Christians use to back up views of abortion, whether for or against. Many people seem to assume the Bible discusses the topic head-on, which is not the case.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Religious liberty has a long and messy history – and there is a reason Americans feel strongly about it

  At the close of its recent term the Supreme Court ruled on the cases of Carson v. Makin and Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, rekindling controversy over one of the most enduring issues in American history: religious liberty. Another of this term’s blockbuster decisions, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, underlines the fact that religious beliefs and actions in the public realm matter. Whether the issue concerns religion and education, prayer, or reproduction, Americans feel strongly about their religious liberties.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

5 ways to deal with burnout at work

  Work has become an around-the-clock activity, courtesy of the pandemic and technology that makes us reachable anytime, anywhere. Throw in expectations to deliver fast and create faster and it becomes hard to take a step back.

  Not surprisingly, many of us are feeling burned out. Burnout — which often affects women more than men — happens everywhere. Particularly challenged during the pandemic, however, are teachers and healthcare workers.

  So we know burnout happens and that a lot of us are experiencing it, but how can we get out of it?

Monday, July 25, 2022

What really drives anti-abortion beliefs? Research suggests it’s a matter of sexual strategies

  Many people have strong opinions about abortion – especially in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, revoking a constitutional right previously held by more than 165 million Americans.

  But what really drives people’s abortion attitudes?

  It’s common to hear religious, political, and other ideologically driven explanations – for example, about the sanctity of life. If such beliefs were really driving anti-abortion attitudes, though, then people who oppose abortion might not support the death penalty (many do), and they would support social safety net measures that could save newborns’ lives (many don’t).

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Swelling grocery bills are pummeling the poorest – who spend over a quarter of their incomes on food

  The cost of eggs and bread is soaring – a trend that’s particularly punishing for the poorest Americans.

  Average food prices climbed an annualized rate of 10.4% in June, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on July 13, 2022. The gains were driven primarily by the cost of groceries, which jumped the most since the 1970s, by 12.2%. Overall inflation was up 9.1% from a year earlier.

  These sharp increases have startled consumers, in large part because food costs had been rising moderately for decades.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Is monkeypox a pandemic? An epidemiologist explains why it isn’t likely to become as widespread as COVID-19, but is worth watching

  Monkeypox is the latest global public health threat to make headlines. Most people who contract the monkeypox virus experience flu-like symptoms and a blistery rash that lasts two to four weeks, but a small percentage of infected people develop sepsis or other severe and potentially fatal complications.

  It is not uncommon for there to be small outbreaks of monkeypox in Central and West Africa, but in the last few weeks, dozens of countries from other world regions have reported thousands of cases of monkeypox.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Perspectives: Court sets new rules for funding religious schools

  The Supreme Court, in striking down a unique tuition assistance program in Maine, could foreshadow the future of religious freedom under the First Amendment.

The Case

  The very rural state of Maine is not able to provide a local public secondary school in every school district. To fill the gaps, it allows parents to designate a secondary school for their children to attend and, if a private school is chosen, the school district will pay the cost of the student’s tuition.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

More young voters could come out to vote in November, sparked by abortion and other hot political issues

  The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion has far-reaching personal and political implications and may help decide the midterm elections in November 2022.

  That influence extends to young people’s election participation. People ages 18 to 29 have historically been less likely to vote than older adults. But in recent years, they have been spurred to organize and vote by major national controversies, like school shootings and police violence against Black people.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

To search for alien life, astronomers will look for clues in the atmospheres of distant planets – and the James Webb Space Telescope just proved it’s possible to do so

  The ingredients for life are spread throughout the universe. While Earth is the only known place in the universe with life, detecting life beyond Earth is a major goal of modern astronomy and planetary science.

  We are two scientists who study exoplanets and astrobiology. Thanks in large part to next-generation telescopes like James Webb, researchers like us will soon be able to measure the chemical makeup of atmospheres of planets around other stars. The hope is that one or more of these planets will have a chemical signature of life.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

US abortion restrictions are unlikely to influence international trends, which are largely becoming more liberal

  The Supreme Court’s June 24, 2022 ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade is already having profound effects across the United States from Florida to Wisconsin. And the ruling also bucks a clear worldwide trend. In countries from Iceland to Zambia, abortion restrictions have been lifted over the last two decades, not tightened.

  Today, only 24 countries out of 195 prohibit abortion, representing just 5% of women of reproductive age globally. Twice that many countries have made it easier to legally get an abortion in the past 20 years.

Monday, July 18, 2022

How hot is too hot for the human body? Our lab found heat + humidity gets dangerous faster than many people realize

  Heat waves are becoming supercharged as the climate changes – lasting longer, becoming more frequent, and getting just plain hotter. One question a lot of people are asking is: “When will it get too hot for normal daily activity as we know it, even for young, healthy adults?”

  The answer goes beyond the temperature you see on the thermometer. It’s also about humidity. Our research shows the combination of the two can get dangerous faster than scientists previously believed.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Militant white identity politics on full display in GOP political ads featuring high-powered weapons

  Republican Eric Greitens, a candidate for Missouri’s open U.S. Senate seat, shocked viewers with a new online political ad in June 2022 that encouraged his supporters to go “RINO hunting.”

  Appearing with a shotgun and a smirk, Greitens leads the hunt for RINOs, shorthand for the derisive “Republicans In Name Only.” Along with armed soldiers, Greitens is storming a house under the cover of a smoke grenade.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Climate change is putting food safety at risk more often, and not just at picnics and parties

  Every year, almost 1 in 6 Americans gets a foodborne illness, and about 3,000 people die from it, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates. Picnics and parties where food sits out for hours are a common source, but heat waves and power outages are another silently growing threat.

  As global temperatures rise, the risk of foods going bad during blackouts in homes or stores or during transit in hot weather rises with them. Elena Naumova, an epidemiologist and data scientist at Tufts University, explains the risk and what you need to know to stay safe.

Friday, July 15, 2022

It's not easy

  Let’s be honest. Ethics is not for wimps.

  It’s not easy being a good person.

  It’s not easy to be honest when it might be costly, to play fair when others cheat, or to keep inconvenient promises.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Poll reveals white Americans see an increase in discrimination against other white people and less against other racial groups

  Despite largely holding the political, economic, and social levers of power, nearly a third of white Americans say they have seen “a lot more” discrimination against white people in the past five years – and more than half of them say they have not seen a rise in discrimination against Black and Latino Americans.

  A May 2022 University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll further found that a majority of white Americans do not believe that there has been a rise in discrimination against minority groups.

  In stark contrast, the poll found a large majority of Black Americans believe they have been on the receiving end of discrimination.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Climate change is making flooding worse: 3 reasons the world is seeing more record-breaking deluges

  Heavy rain combined with melting snow can be a destructive combination.

  In mid-June 2022, storms dumped up to 5 inches of rain over three days in the mountains in and around Yellowstone National Park, rapidly melting snowpack. As the rain and meltwater poured into creeks and then rivers, it became a flood that damaged roads, cabins, and utilities and forced more than 10,000 people to evacuate.

  The Yellowstone River shattered its previous record and reached its highest water levels recorded since monitoring began almost 100 years ago.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

The Supreme Court has curtailed EPA’s power to regulate carbon pollution – and sent a warning to other regulators

  In a highly anticipated but not unexpected 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled on June 30, 2022 that the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority under the Clean Air Act.

  The ruling doesn’t take away the EPA’s power to regulate carbon emissions from power plants, but it makes federal action harder by requiring the agency to show that Congress has charged it to act – in an area where Congress has consistently failed to act.

Monday, July 11, 2022

How much for an amputation or checkup? It takes a complex formula and a committee of doctors to set the price for every possible health care procedure

  Modern medicine is remarkable.

  Conditions like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C were once virtual death sentences. Both can now be treated easily and effectively.

  But for Americans, the wonders of modern medicine come at a steep cost: Total U.S. health spending exceeded US$4.1 trillion in 2020, or $12,000 per person. How those trillions of dollars are spent can seem like a mystery.

  The biggest portion of that – hospital care, which makes up 31% of total spending – is now subject to transparency rules that are supposed to make it easier for patients to understand what their treatments cost. But so far hospitals’ compliance has been minimal.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Buying into conspiracy theories can be exciting – that’s what makes them dangerous

  Conspiracy theories have been around for centuries, from witch trials and antisemitic campaigns to beliefs that Freemasons were trying to topple European monarchies. In the mid-20th century, historian Richard Hofstadter described a “paranoid style” that he observed in right-wing U.S. politics and culture: a blend of “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.”

  But the “golden age” of conspiracy theories, it seems, is now. On June 24, 2022, the unknown leader of the QAnon conspiracy theory posted online for the first time in over a year. QAnon’s enthusiasts tend to be ardent supporters of Donald Trump, who made conspiracy theories a signature feature of his political brand, from Pizzagate and QAnon to “Stop the Steal” and the racist “birther” movement. Key themes in conspiracy theories – like a sinister network of “pedophiles” and “groomers,” shadowy “bankers” and “globalists” – have moved into the mainstream of right-wing talking points.

Saturday, July 9, 2022

‘For Cruelty’s Sake’: State of Alabama diverts $400 million in COVID funds to build prisons, leaving many in dire straits

  Jenny Eisenberg is an unemployed writer – but not by choice. The market she writes for has “dried up,” and her husband, who holds a doctorate in literature, also cannot find work due to a saturation of academics pursuing few opportunities. Their financial situation is “not the best,” and providing for a family of six has led them to live off food stamps.

  At the same time, states across the country are using their share of the $350 billion in State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to support families and businesses struggling from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, to maintain vital services, and to invest in communities.

  But in Alabama, rather than focusing on poverty, education equity, or affordable housing, the Alabama Legislature directed $400 million of its $2.2 billion in COVID relief to help fund the construction of three new mega-prisons, further embracing a failed system of mass incarceration that for generations has disproportionately harmed communities of color and people living in poverty.

Friday, July 8, 2022

Your body has an internal clock that dictates when you eat, sleep and might have a heart attack – all based on time of day

  Anyone who has suffered from jet lag or struggled after turning the clock forward or back an hour for daylight saving time knows all about what researchers call your biological clock, or circadian rhythm – the “master pacemaker” that synchronizes how your body responds to the passing of one day to the next.

  This “clock” is made up of about 20,000 neurons in the hypothalamus, the area near the center of the brain that coordinates your body’s unconscious functions, like breathing and blood pressure. Humans aren’t the only beings that have an internal clock system: All vertebrates – or mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish – have biological clocks, as do plants, fungi, and bacteria. Biological clocks are why cats are most active at dawn and dusk, and why flowers bloom at certain times of day.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Bill Baxley

  The 1970 Alabama governor’s race between George Wallace and Albert Brewer overshadowed every other political race in the state that year. However, one of Alabama’s legendary political figures burst onto the scene in 1970 when Bill Baxley was elected Attorney General of Alabama. The attorney general’s race was below the radar screen of the titanic war waged by Brewer and Wallace.

  Bill Baxley’s victory was a major upset. Baxley was a 28-year-old district attorney from the Wiregrass. He beat a veteran attorney general - MacDonald Gallion - in a close race. Baxley became the youngest attorney general in the nation when he was sworn in at the January inauguration. He had just turned 29. His historic rise at such a young age made him fodder for national publications like Time Magazine, which featured him as one of the brightest rising stars in the nation. His brilliance gave new meaning to the word prodigy.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Was there anything real about Elvis Presley?

  In Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis,” there’s a scene based on actual conversations that took place between Elvis Presley and Steve Binder, the director of a 1968 NBC television special that signaled the singer’s return to live performing.

  Binder, an iconoclast unimpressed by Presley’s recent work, had pushed Elvis to reach back into his past to revitalize a career stalled by years of mediocre movies and soundtrack albums. According to the director, their exchanges left the performer engrossed in deep soul-searching.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

American gun culture is based on frontier mythology – but ignores how common gun restrictions were in the Old West

  In the wake of the Buffalo and Uvalde mass shootings, 70% of Republicans said it is more important to protect gun rights than to control gun violence, while 92% of Democrats and 54% of independents expressed the opposite view. Just weeks after those mass shootings, Republicans and gun rights advocates hailed the Supreme Court ruling that invalidated New York state’s gun permit law and declared that the Second Amendment guarantees a right to carry a handgun outside the home for self-defense.

  Mayor Eric Adams, expressing his opposition to the ruling, suggested that the court’s decision would turn New York City into the “Wild West.” Contrary to the imagery of the Wild West, however, many towns in the real Old West had restrictions on the carrying of guns that were, I would suggest, stricter than the one just invalidated by the Supreme Court.

Monday, July 4, 2022

Celebrating moral courage on Independence Day

  We call this patriotic holiday Independence Day, the Birthday of America, or simply the 4th of July. It celebrates a political act by 56 men who literally risked their lives and fortunes and pledged their sacred honor in issuing one of the greatest documents in human history: The Declaration of Independence.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

5 drawbacks to following your passion

  After earning bachelor’s degrees in engineering and sociology, I was determined to do what I love. I headed straight to graduate school to investigate the social problems that frightened and fascinated me.

  For almost a decade, I told everyone I encountered – students, cousins, baristas at the coffee shop I frequented – that they should do the same. “Follow your passion,” I counseled. “You can figure out the employment stuff later.”

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Only about 1 in 5 engineering degrees go to women

  Despite various efforts to encourage more women to study STEM fields in college, the percentage of engineering bachelor’s degrees earned by women in the United States hasn’t increased much in the 21st century. Specifically, it has risen from 18% in 1998 to 22% in 2018.

  Of all the fields in STEM – or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – the engineering workforce has the lowest proportion of women, at 14%.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Ketanji Brown Jackson sworn in as Supreme Court justice

  Shortly after noon on June 30, 2022, Ketanji Brown Jackson took the judicial oath and officially became a Supreme Court Justice of the United States – the first Black woman to sit on the bench.

  The elevation of Jackson to the Supreme Court will not change the ideological setup of the bench – which will continue to be split 6-3 in favor of conservative justices.