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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The kitty that roared

Book Review: Learning to Love Your Cat’s Inner Lion

By Hope Reese

If you think your pet cat has a wild side, you’re not wrong. 

According to evolutionary biologist Jonathan B. Losos, “housecats aren’t that different from mountain lions.” 

In his latest book, “The Cat’s Meow: How Cats Evolved from the Savanna to Your Sofa,” Losos guides readers through the evolutionary history of felines, uncovering the ancestral roots of the modern housecat. 

Not to worry: This isn’t another cute cat book. Instead, Losos, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis whose specialty is studying a large family of tree-living lizards known as anoles, taps deeply into a wide range of feline research, from digital tracking of nighttime activity to DNA testing, to show how much we’ve learned so far about cats — and how much is still left to discover.

The earliest cats lived about 30 million years ago — the species we now call Proailurus lemanensis — but about 10 million years later, evolution “kicked into gear,” Losos writes, when felines diverged into two groups: the saber-toothed cats, which eventually became extinct, and the conical-toothed group, which evolved into today’s Felis catus. 

Genetically linked to the North African wildcat Felis silvestris lybica, the first domestic cats appeared about 10,000 years ago. Most researchers believe that living near humans in early agrarian communities, where cats presumably shared food and helped control rodents — a mutually beneficial arrangement — probably led to the domestication of today’s housecats.

While there is a substantial fossil record for the saber-tooth line, the conical-toothed group is much harder to trace back. Today, there are up to 42 species of wild felines derived from the conical branch – including ocelots, bobcats, lions, and cheetahs. 

For some, it seems to INDUCE dementia

Internet: The New Dementia Deterrent?

By Wiley

"What this about lizard people running the government?
Can internet usage help protect against dementia?

Consistent internet use may halve the risk of dementia, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The correlation remains irrespective of factors like education, race, sex, and generation.

New research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found a link between regular use of the internet and a lower risk of dementia.

For the study, investigators followed 18,154 dementia-free adults aged 50 to 64.9 years for a median of 7.9 years and a maximum of 17.1 years. During follow-up, 4.68% of participants were diagnosed with dementia.

Regular internet usage was associated with approximately half the risk of dementia compared with non-regular usage. This link was found regardless of educational attainment, race-ethnicity, sex, and generation.

Science Breakthrough for Long-Lasting Vaccines

Eternal Shield 



In a paper published in the journal 
Immunity, researchers from Monash University’s Central Clinical School have made a significant discovery that could revolutionize the longevity of vaccine efficacy. 

The team discovered that the key to long-lasting immunity after vaccination might lie in the generation of a unique subtype of immune cell that produces antibodies indefinitely. 

The research also revealed that there’s a maximum number of these long-lasting cells the body can maintain at any one time, typically residing in special sites like the bone marrow.

The COVID-19 pandemic illustrates how variable vaccines can be in their length of efficacy, with regular boosters needed to keep people protected. In comparison, the immunity generated by a single vaccination against the measles virus can last decades.

It has always remained a scientific mystery as to why only some vaccines lead to life-long protection. 

Now a paper published in the journal, Immunity, led by Prof. David Tarlinton and Dr. Marcus Robinson, both from Monash University’s Central Clinical School in Melbourne, Australia, has found that the clue likely lies in the body producing a unique subtype of an immune cell in response to some but not other vaccinations. 

The finding could revolutionize how all vaccines could be made to be longer lasting.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Latest scam by rich parents to get their kid into prestigious colleges

Pay to Make Your Teen a “Peer-Reviewed” Author

By Daniel Golden, ProPublica, and Kunal Purohit

So then I got published in a medical journal. Easy peezy,
On a family trip to the Jersey Shore in the summer of 2021, Sophia’s go-to meal was the Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich. The buns were toasty, the chicken was crispy and the fries didn’t spill from the bag.

Sophia was entering her sophomore year in prep school, but her parents were already thinking ahead to college. 

They paid to enroll her in an online service called Scholar Launch, whose programs start at $3,500. Scholar Launch, which started in 2019, connects high school students with mentors who work with them on research papers that can be published and enhance their college applications.

Publication “is the objective,” Scholar Launch says on its website. “We have numerous publication partners, all are peer-reviewed journals.”

The prospect appealed to Sophia. “Nowadays, having a publication is kind of a given” for college applicants, she said. “If you don’t have one, you’re going to have to make it up in some other aspect of your application.”

Sophia said she chose marketing as her field because it “sounded interesting.” She attended weekly group sessions with a Scholar Launch mentor, a marketing executive who also taught at an Ivy League business school, before working one-on-one with a teaching assistant. Assigned to analyze a company’s marketing strategy, she selected Chick-fil-A.

Sophia’s paper offered a glowing assessment. She credited Chick-fil-A as “responsible for the popularity of the chicken sandwich,” praised its fare as healthier than fast-food burgers, saluted its “humorous yet honest” slogan (a cow saying, “Eat mor chikin”) and admired its “family-friendly” attitude and “traditional beliefs,” exemplified by closing its restaurants on Sundays. 

Parts of her paper sounded like a customer endorsement (and she acknowledged to ProPublica that her marketing analysis could’ve been stronger). Neither too dry nor too juicy, the company’s signature sandwich “is the perfect blend to have me wanting more after every bite,” she wrote. “Just from the taste,” Chick-fil-A “is destined for success.”

Her heartfelt tribute to the chicken chain appeared on the website of a new online journal for high school research, the Scholarly Review. The publication touts its “thorough process of review” by “highly accomplished professors and academics,” but it also displays what are known as preprints. 

They aren’t publications “in the traditional sense” and aren’t vetted by Scholarly Review’s editorial board, according to Roger Worthington, its chair.

That preprint platform is where Sophia’s paper appeared. Now a 17-year-old high school junior, she said she wasn’t aware of the difference between the journal and the preprint platform, and she didn’t think the less prestigious placement would hurt her college chances: “It’s just important that there’s a link out there.”

Sophia is preparing to apply to college at a time when the criteria for gaining entry are in flux. The Supreme Court appears poised to curtail race-conscious affirmative action. Grade inflation makes it harder to pick students based on GPA, since so many have A averages. And the SAT and ACT tests, long criticized for favoring white and wealthy students, have fallen out of fashion at many universities, which have made them optional or dropped them entirely.

As these differentiators recede and the number of applications soars, colleges are grappling with the latest pay-to-play maneuver that gives the rich an edge: published research papers. A new industry is extracting fees from well-heeled families to enable their teenage children to conduct and publish research that colleges may regard as a credential.

At least 20 online research programs for high schoolers have sprung up in the U.S. and abroad in recent years, along with a bevy of journals that publish the work. This growth was aided by the pandemic, which normalized online education and stymied opportunities for in-person research.

The consequence has been a profusion of published research papers by high school students. According to four months of reporting by ProPublica, online student journals now present work that ranges from serious inquiry by young scholars to dubious papers whose main qualification seems to be that the authors’ parents are willing to pay, directly or indirectly, to have them published. 

Usually, the projects are closely directed by graduate students or professors who are paid to be mentors. College admissions staff, besieged by applicants proffering links to their studies, verify that a paper was published but are often at a loss to evaluate its quality.

Moreover, ProPublica’s reporting shows that purveyors of online research sometimes engage in questionable practices. Some services portray affiliated publications as independent journals. Others have inflated their academic mentors’ credentials or offered freebies to college admissions consultants who could provide referrals. When asked about these practices by ProPublica, several services responded by reversing course on them.

The business of churning out high school research is a “fast-growing epidemic,” said one longtime Ivy League admissions officer, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak for his university. “The number of outfits doing that has trebled or quadrupled in the past few years.

“There are very few actual prodigies. There are a lot of precocious kids who are working hard and doing advanced things. A sophomore in high school is not going to be doing high-level neuroscience. And yet, a very high number of kids are including this” in their applications.

The programs serve at least 12,000 students a year worldwide. Most families are paying between $2,500 and $10,000 to improve their odds of getting into U.S. universities that accept as few as 1 in every 25 applicants. Some of the biggest services are located in China, and international students abound even in several U.S.-based programs.

The services pair high schoolers with academic mentors for 10-15 weeks to produce research papers. Online services typically shape the topic, direction and duration of the project, and urge students to complete and publish a paper regardless of how fruitful the exploration has been. “Publication specialists” then help steer the papers into a dizzying array of online journals and preprint platforms. 

Almost any high school paper can find an outlet. Alongside hardcore science papers are ones with titles like “The Willingness of Humans to Settle on Mars, and the Factors that Affect it,” “Social Media; Blessing Or Curse” and “Is Bitcoin A Blessing Or A Curse?

“You’re teaching students to be cynical about research,” said Kent Anderson, past president of the Society for Scholarly Publishing and former publishing director of the New England Journal of Medicine. “That’s the really corrosive part. ‘I can hire someone to do it. We can get it done, we can get it published, what’s the big deal?’”

The research services brag about how many of their alumni get into premier U.S. universities. Lumiere Education, for example, has served 1,500 students, half of them international, since its inception in the summer of 2020. In a survey of its alumni, it found that 9.8% who applied to an Ivy League university or to Stanford last year were accepted. That’s considerably higher than the overall acceptance rates at those schools.

Such statistics don’t prove that the students were admitted because of their research. Still, research can influence admissions decisions. At Harvard, “evidence of substantial scholarship” can elevate an applicant, according to a university filing in a lawsuit challenging its use of affirmative action in admissions. 

The University of Pennsylvania’s admissions dean, Whitney Soule, boasted last year that nearly one-third of accepted students “engaged in academic research” in high school, including some who “co-authored publications included in leading journals.” A Penn spokesperson declined to identify the journals. Yale, Columbia and Brown, among others, encourage applicants to send research.

One admissions dean acknowledged that conferring an advantage on those who submit published papers benefits affluent applicants. “Research is one of these activities that we’re very aware they’re not offered equitably,” Stuart Schmill of MIT said. Nevertheless, MIT invites applicants to submit research and inquires whether and where it was published.

Admissions officers often lack the time and expertise to evaluate this research. The first reader of each application typically takes 10 minutes or less to go through it, which means noting the existence of the published paper without actually reading it. If the applicant is on the cusp, a second staffer more versed in the subject area may read their file. 

The first reader “is very young and in almost all cases majored in humanities or social sciences,” said Jon Reider, a former admissions officer at Stanford. “They can’t tell if a paper in the sciences means anything or is new at all.”

As a result, admissions staff may rely on outside opinions. Schmill said that MIT pays more attention to the mentor’s recommendation than the actual research. Academic mentors, even when paid, “do a pretty good job being honest and objective,” he said. The longtime Ivy League admissions officer was more skeptical, likening the mentors to expert witnesses in a trial.

Brown admissions dean Logan Powell described faculty as “invaluable partners” in reviewing research. But many professors would rather not be bothered. “Our faculty don’t want to spend all their time reading research projects from 17- and 18-year-olds,” the veteran Ivy League admissions officer said.

Also complicating the admissions office’s ability to assess the papers is staffers’ unfamiliarity with the byzantine world of online publications favored by the research services. 

Several have confusingly similar names: the Journal of Student Research, the Journal of Research High School, the International Journal of High School Research. Selective outlets like the Journal of Student Research and the Scholarly Review also post preprints, making it hard to determine what, if any, standards a manuscript was held to.

Some also hide ties to research services. Scholarly Review doesn’t tell readers that it’s founded and funded by Scholar Launch. The lack of transparency was “not a conscious decision,” Scholar Launch co-founder Joel Butterly said. “Our intent is to keep it as separate as possible from Scholar Launch.”

The companies are intertwined in at least two respects. Worthington, who chairs the Scholarly Review’s editorial board, also works as a mentor for Scholar Launch and InGenius Prep, a college admissions counseling service co-founded by Butterly. Three of the seven articles in the Scholarly Review’s inaugural issue were written by students who Worthington advised, possibly enhancing their college prospects.

“Editors selecting papers they were involved in is a no-no,” said Anderson, the former New England Journal of Medicine publishing director.

Worthington told ProPublica that he had recused himself from discussing those manuscripts. Then Scholar Launch changed its policy. “For future issues,” Worthington said in a subsequent email, “the company will disclose mentoring arrangements in advance to make doubly sure that nobody will be reviewing work by a former student.” 

Worthington also said, after ProPublica raised questions, that Scholarly Review would make it “more obvious” that the editorial board is “not responsible” for articles on its preprint platform. (During ProPublica’s reporting process, Sophia’s Chick-fil-A paper was removed from the site.) The platform, which is managed by Scholar Launch and InGenius Prep, has been given a separate section on the Scholarly Review website, and further changes are likely, he said.

Online research services are an offshoot of the booming college-admissions-advising industry. They draw many of their students from the same affluent population that hires private counselors. Many families that are already paying thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for advice on essay writing and extracurricular activities pay thousands more for research help. Scholar Launch charges $3,500 for “junior” research programs and between $4,500 and $8,800 for advanced research, according to its website.

Polygence, one of the largest online high school research programs in the U.S., cultivates college counselors. The service, which was founded in 2019 and worked with more than 2,000 students last year, has developed relationships with counselors whose clients receive a discount for using Polygence.

Polygence proclaimed April to be Independent Educational Consultants Appreciation Month. It planned to raffle off prizes including “an all-expenses paid roundtrip to a college campus tour of your choice” — it suggested the University of Hawaii — and “2 free pro bono Polygence research projects.”

Such perks appear to brush up against ethics codes of two college counseling associations, which prohibit members from accepting substantial compensation for student referrals. Asked about these rules, Polygence co-founder Jin Chow said the event celebrates all counselors, “regardless of whether or not they have partnered with us or sent us students.” Polygence then dropped the tour prize and added two more free research projects.

Then there’s the question of credentials. Lumiere Education’s website has routinely identified mentors as Ph.D.s even when they don’t have a doctorate and described itself as “founded by Oxford and Harvard PhDs,” even though its founders, Dhruva Bhat and Stephen Turban, are pursuing doctorates. 

It’s “shorthand,” Turban said. “We’re not trying to deceive anyone.” After ProPublica questioned the practice, Lumiere changed mentors’ credentials on its website from “PhD” to “PhD student.”

Paid “mentors,” who are frequently doctoral students, play key roles in the process of generating papers by high schoolers. The job is “one of the most lucrative side hustles for graduate students,” as one Columbia Ph.D. candidate in political science put it. 

Another Ph.D. candidate, who mentored for two services, said that one paid her $200 an hour, and the other paid $150 — far more than the $25 an hour she earned as a teaching assistant in an Ivy League graduate course.

In some instances, the mentors seem to function as something more than advisers. Since high schoolers generally don’t arrive with a research topic, the mentor helps them choose it, and then may pitch in with writing, editing and scientific analysis.

A former consultant at Athena Education, a service in India, recalled that a client thanked her for his admission to a world-famous university. Admissions interviewers had praised his paper, which she had heavily revised. The university “was tricked,” the consultant said, adding that other students who were academically stronger went to second-tier universities.

The Cornell Undergraduate Economic Review, which accepts about 10% of submissions, published its first-ever paper by a high school student in 2021. Its editor-in-chief was impressed that the author, a Lumiere client in the Boston area, had used advanced econometrics to demonstrate that a reduced federal income tax subsidy for electric vehicles had caused sales to plummet.

But another editor, Andres Aradillas Fernandez, said he wondered whether the high-level work “was not at least partially” attributable to the mentor, a Ph.D. candidate in economics at an Ivy League university. He also felt uneasy that access to services like Lumiere is largely based on wealth. After Aradillas Fernandez became editor-in-chief last year and Lumiere clients submitted weaker papers, he notified Lumiere that the journal would no longer publish high school research.

The Boston-area Lumiere client declined comment. Turban, Lumiere’s co-founder, said the paper was “100 percent” the student’s work. The mentor said he showed the high schooler which mathematical formulas to use, but the student was “very motivated” and did the calculations himself. “I have to spoon feed him a bit on what to read and sometimes how to do it,” the mentor said.

The oldest online research mentorship program for high schoolers, Pioneer Academics, founded in 2012, has maintained relatively rigorous standards. It accepted 37% of its 4,765 applicants last year, and 13% of its students received full scholarships based on need. Pioneer “never promises academic journal publication,” according to its website.

“The push for publication leads young scholars astray,” Pioneer co-founder Matthew Jaskol said. “The message is that looking like a champion is more important than training to be a great athlete.”

Oberlin College gives credits to students for passing Pioneer courses. The college’s annual reviews have found that research done for Pioneer “far exceeded” what would be expected to earn credit, said Michael Parkin, an associate dean of arts and sciences at Oberlin and a former Pioneer mentor, who oversees the collaboration. Pioneer pays Oberlin a small fee for each nonscholarship student given credit.

At Pioneer and other services, the most fulfilling projects are often impelled by the student’s curiosity, and gaining an edge in college admissions is a byproduct rather than the raison d’etre. 

Alaa Aboelkhair, the daughter of a government worker in Egypt, was fascinated as a child by how the stars constantly change their position in the sky. Googling in 2021, before her senior year of high school, she came across Lumiere, which gave her a scholarship. “The fact that we only know 5% of the universe drove me to study more,” she said. “That is my passion.”

At the suggestion of her Lumiere mentor, Christian Ferko, Alaa examined whether hypothetical particles known as axions could be detected by converting them into light. Lumiere was paying Ferko for weekly sessions, but he talked with Alaa several times a week. He emailed some textbooks to her and she found other sources on her own, working late into the night to finish her paper.

Since she chose not to submit her ACT score, the paper and Ferko’s recommendation were vital to her college applications. In March 2022, a Princeton admissions officer called Ferko to ask about Alaa. Ferko compared her to a first-year graduate student and said she showed the potential to make new discoveries. 

“My impression is this is something colleges do when they’re right on the fence of whether to admit the student,” Ferko said. “I did my best to advocate for her, without overstating.”

Princeton admitted only 3.3% of international applicants to the class of 2026, including Alaa. She said she received a full scholarship. (“Optional submissions are one factor among many in our holistic review process,” Princeton spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss said.)

A short walk from India’s first Trump Tower, in an upscale neighborhood known for luxury homes and gourmet restaurants, is the Mumbai office of Athena Education, a startup that promises to help students “join the ranks of Ivy League admits.” 

An attendant in a white uniform waits at a standing desk to greet visitors in a lounge lined with paintings and featuring a coffee bar and a glass facade with a stunning view of the downtown skyline. “We all strive to get things done while sipping Italian coffee brewed in-house,” a recent Athena ad read.

Co-founded in 2014 by two Princeton graduates, Athena has served more than 2,000 students. At least 80 clients have been admitted to elite universities, and 87% have gotten into top-50 U.S. colleges, according to its website. One client said that Athena charges more than a million rupees, or $12,200 a year, six times India’s annual per capita income. Athena declined comment for this story.

Around 2020, Athena expanded its research program and started emphasizing publication. Athena and similar services in South Korea and China cater to international students whose odds of getting accepted at a U.S. college are even longer than those American students face. MIT, for instance, accepted 1.4% of international applicants last year, compared with 5% of domestic applicants.

A former consultant said Athena told her that its students were the “creme de la creme.” Instead, she estimated, 7 out of 10 needed “hand-holding.”

For publication, Athena students have a readily available option: Questioz, an online outlet founded by an Athena client and run by high schoolers. Former Editor-in-Chief Eesha Garimella said that a mentor at Athena “guides us on the paper editing and publication process.” Garimella said Questioz publishes 75%-80% of submissions.

Athena students also place their work in the Houston-based Journal of Student Research. Founded in 2012 to publish undergraduate and graduate work, in 2017 the journal began running high school papers, which now make up 85% of its articles, co-founders Mir Alikhan and Daharsh Rana wrote in an email.

Last June, a special edition of the journal presented research by 19 Athena students. They tested noise-reduction algorithms and used computer vision to compare the stances of professional and amateur golfers. A survey of Hong Kong residents concluded that people who grew up near the ocean are more likely to value its conservation. Athena’s then-head of research was listed as a co-author on 10 of the projects.

Publication in JSR was “pretty simple,” said former Athena student Anjani Nanda, who surveyed 103 people about their awareness of female genital mutilation and found that they were poorly informed. “I never got any edits or suggested changes from their side.”

As Nanda’s experience suggests, virtual journals dedicated to high school research tend to be less choosy than traditional publications. They reflect a larger shift in academic publishing. Print journals typically accept a small percentage of submissions and depend on subscription revenue. Online publications tend to be free for the reader but charge a fee to the author — incentivizing the publications to boost revenue by accepting many articles.

The Journal of Student Research exemplifies this turnabout. It describes itself as peer-reviewed, the gold standard of traditional academic publishing. It relies on more than 90 reviewers at colleges across the U.S., and the typical review takes 12-24 weeks, according to its website.

In reality, it may not be so stringent. Four of eight reviewers whom ProPublica contacted said the journal has never asked them to evaluate a manuscript. (Some academics agreed to review for JSR but forgot over time, Alikhan and Rana said; others specialize in fields where the journal has received few submissions.)

And while authors pay an “article processing charge” of $50 at submission and $200 at acceptance, for an extra $300 they can expedite “fast-track” review in four to five weeks. One Athena client who fast-tracked his manuscript so that it could be published in time for his college application said JSR accepted it without changes. He was admitted to a top-10 U.S. university. “I think it was important,” said the student. “I didn’t have much leadership in school so [I] needed other ways to get better extracurriculars.”

In “The Ultimate Guide to the Journal of Student Research,” a Lumiere “publication strategy associate” described JSR as a “safety” option that accepts 65% of submissions from Lumiere clients. “In our experience, we have noticed that JSR nearly never gives edits, and students always just advance straight to being accepted,” the Lumiere associate wrote.

Alikhan and Rana defended the journal’s standards. They said that many papers, which are submitted with the guidance of top mentors, hardly need editing: “Honestly, it is not the journal’s fault if their advisors working closely with students produce outstanding manuscripts.”

The journals are deluged with submissions. Founded in 2019, the International Journal of High School Research has expanded from four to six issues a year and may add more, said executive producer Fehmi Damkaci. “There is a greater demand than we envisioned,” he said, adding that the journal has become more selective.

As the pandemic closed labs and restricted fieldwork, forcing students to collect data and conduct interviews online, the Journal of Student Research “received an increased volume of submissions,” Alikhan and Rana said. Polygence complained that several students who wanted to cite publications in their college applications hadn’t heard back from JSR for months. The papers were eventually published.

Preprint platforms don’t even bother with peer review. The usual justification for preprints is that they quickly disseminate vital research, such as new information about vaccines or medical treatments. High school projects are rarely so urgent. 

Still, Polygence started a preprint platform last fall. “The idea is for students to showcase their work and have them be judged by the scientific/peer/college community for their merits,” co-founder Janos Perczel wrote to ProPublica.

The Journal of Student Research hosts preprints by clients of Scholar Launch and two other services. One preprint only listed the author’s first name, Nitya. Leaving out the last name is a small mistake, but one that hints at the frenzy to publish quickly.

Online research programs could end up victimized by their own success. College admissions consultant Jillian Nataupsky estimated that one-third of her clients undertake virtual research. 

“For students trying to find ways to differentiate themselves in this crazy competitive landscape, this has risen as a really great option,” she said. But “it’s becoming a little more commonplace. I can see it becoming completely over-inundated in the next few years.”

Then the search can begin for the next leg up in college admissions.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Donald Trump's inspiring Memorial Day message


Summer season opening at the Charlestown Gallery

CLICK HERE for the Gallery's website

Parkinson’s Warning

UCLA & Harvard Researchers Identify 10 Neurotoxic Pesticides


Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Health and Harvard University have identified 10 pesticides that significantly damaged neurons implicated in the development of Parkinson’s disease, providing new clues about environmental toxins’ role in the disease.

While environmental factors such as pesticide exposure have long been linked to Parkinson’s, it has been harder to pinpoint which pesticides may raise risk for the neurodegenerative disorder. Just in California, the nation’s largest agricultural producer and exporter, there are nearly 14,000 pesticide products with over 1,000 active ingredients registered for use.

Through a novel pairing of epidemiology and toxicity screening that leveraged California’s extensive pesticide use database, UCLA and Harvard researchers were able to identify 10 pesticides that were directly toxic to dopaminergic neurons. The neurons play a key role in voluntary movement, and the death of these neurons is a hallmark of Parkinson’s.

Further, the researchers found that co-exposure of pesticides that are typically used in combinations in cotton farming were more toxic than any single pesticide in that group.

Chain restaurants are overcharging customers, underpaying workers, and bragging about it to investors.

If you think you’re being gouged, you’re right!

By Jim Hightower 

Oftentimes, when you suspect you’re being gouged by corporate price fixers, you’re right.

Take the rat-a-tat-tat of today’s price jumps at supermarkets and chain restaurants. They make you want to race to the cash register before they raise prices again.

No, no cry the CEOs of food giants, it’s not us, it’s “supply chain disruptions.” Then corporate politicians and economists chime in with old platitudes about the invisible hand of “supply and demand” while media know-nothings pile on, blathering about “ne’er-do-wells” causing a labor shortage.

But that’s hogwash — your suspicions are right: It’s plain old price fixing by avaricious food monopolies.

You shed DNA everywhere you go

It's enough to identify who you are, raising ethical questions about privacy

Jenny WhildeUniversity of Florida and Jessica Alice FarrellUniversity of Florida

A casual stroll on the beach can leave enough intact DNA behind
to extract identifiable information. 
Comezora/Moment via Getty Images
Human DNA can be sequenced from small amounts of water, sand and air in the environment to potentially extract identifiable information like genetic lineage, gender, and health risks, according to our new research.

Every cell of the body contains DNA. Because each person has a unique genetic code, DNA can be used to identify individual people

Typically, medical practitioners and researchers obtain human DNA through direct sampling, such as blood tests, swabs or biopsies. However, all living things, including animals, plants and microbes, constantly shed DNA. The water, soil and even the air contain microscopic particles of biological material from living organisms.

DNA that an organism has shed into the environment is known as environmental DNA, or eDNA. For the last couple of decades, scientists have been able to collect and sequence eDNA from soil or water samples to monitor biodiversity, wildlife populations and disease-causing pathogens

Tracking rare or elusive endangered species through their eDNA has been a boon to researchers, since traditional monitoring methods such as observation or trapping can be difficult, often unsuccessful and intrusive to the species of interest.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Corporate Child Abuse


Joe did it


Get checked out head to toe


Small acts of kindness are frequent and universal, study finds

Around the world, research reveals, people help each other about every 2 minutes

University of California - Los Angeles

A study by researchers from UCLA, Australia, Ecuador, Germany, the Netherlands and the U.K. found that people around the world signal others for assistance every couple of minutes. 

The research, which examined behaviors in towns and rural areas in several different countries, revealed that people comply with these small requests for help far more often than they decline them. The findings suggest that people from all cultures have more similar cooperative behaviors than prior research has established.

A new study by UCLA sociologist Giovanni Rossi and an international team of collaborators finds that people rely on each other for help constantly.

In the study, published in Scientific Reports, the authors -- who also included researchers at universities in Australia, Ecuador, Germany, the Netherlands and the U.K. -- explore the human capacity for cooperation. They found that people signal a need for assistance, such as asking someone to pass them a utensil, once every couple of minutes.

And the research revealed that those requests for help do not go unanswered: Across cultures, people comply with these small requests far more often than they decline them. On the rare occasions when people do decline, they explain why.

Elevated levels of toxic metals in some mixed-fruit juices and soft drinks

Some of these are unsafe at any level especially for young children

Tulane University

A new study has found that some commonly consumed beverages contained levels of toxic metals that exceed federal drinking water standards.

Five of the 60 beverages tested contained levels of a toxic metal above federal drinking water standards, according to the study from Tulane University. Two mixed juices had levels of arsenic above the 10 microgram/liter standard. A cranberry juice, a mixed carrot and fruit juice and an oat milk each had levels of cadmium exceeding the 3 parts per billion standard.

The sampled beverages, which included those commonly found in grocery stores -- single and mixed fruit juices, plant-based milks, sodas, and teas -- were measured for 25 different toxic metals and trace elements. 

Mixed-fruit juices and plant-based milks (such as oat and almond) contained elevated concentrations of toxic metals more often than other drinks, according to the findings published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis.

Why Some Mass Shootings — And Their Victims — Go Uncounted

The demographics of death

By Rod McCullom

By Rob Rogers
Early in the evening of Feb. 23, seven people were shot outside a grade school in northwest Philadelphia. Three men arrived on the scene in a gray Hyundai, and according to several reports, emerged from the vehicle and opened fire, striking five teenage boys, a 31-year-old woman, and her 2-year-old daughter. The injured were rushed to nearby hospitals.

It was a brazen act in a city that has experienced higher rates of gun violence since the beginning of the pandemic. Philadelphia’s gun violence spiked in 2021, when more than an estimated 2,330 people were shot, according to data from the city’s Office of the Controller. In comparison, nearly 1,500 people were shot in Philadelphia in 2019, before the first Covid-19 cases were confirmed in the United States.

The increase in firearm violence correlates with stay-at-home orders meant to slow viral transmission, said Jessica Beard, a trauma surgeon at Temple University Hospital, which describes itself as the busiest trauma center for knife and gun violence cases in the state.

Gun violence not only spiked during the pandemic, but according to research into firearm violence and the Covid-19 pandemic, mass shootings have increased as well. And while young African American men continue to experience a disproportionate share of firearm-related injuries and fatalities, African American children now make up a larger number of the injured in several cities.

As mass shootings have become more frequent by some measures, the locations, victims, and perpetrators can challenge established media narratives about these types of shootings and the nature of gun violence, some researchers say. African American women and children are often injured in neighborhood mass shootings, for example, although these incidents do not always fit some researchers’ definitions of “mass shooting” — and news outlets don’t always report on them as such.

Even before the pandemic, the U.S. led high-income countries in firearm-related fatalities. Then, in 2021, almost 49,000 people in the U.S. died from gun-related injuries (54 percent of which were suicides) — the highest number on record, and an increase of 23 percent since 2019. The cost of this violence is staggering.

Firearm injuries cost the United States an estimated $557 billion per year, according to research by Zirui Song, an associate professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Rebrand 'Mass Shootings' as 'Second Amendment Celebrations'

That way, we’ll know it’s really not about the victims

MICHAEL COBLENZ for Common Dreams

There is a huge amount of Tchotchke being sold on
the internet using this theme on posters, t-shirts
and other gun nut paraphenalia
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting really bummed out by all of these mass shootings. One after another, day after day, more than one a day since the beginning of the year. Something must change. This is America after all. The United States has a long history of dealing with challenging problems.

So, what’s the solution? Simple, rebranding.

America has a long history of rebranding, of changing the terms we use when dealing with unpleasant issues.

When slaughtering Indigenous people and stealing their land started to sound bad, we rebranded. We called it “Manifest Destiny” and said it was about spreading freedom from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This made it sound noble.

When enslaving and dehumanizing the people stolen from Africa started to get bad press, slave owners knew they had to do something. So they rebranded. They began calling it “The Peculiar Institution.”

Peculiar, sort of like your weird Uncle Phil, with his handlebar mustache and old MG, who affects a British accent. Although, as peculiar as old Phil was, he never whipped anyone to death or bred them like cattle.

After the South lost the Civil War, Southerners knew they needed to change the terms of the debate. They knew that if everyone thought they had simply been fighting to maintain slavery they would lose sympathy. They knew they had to do something to preserve any vestige of their traditions (you know, white supremacy). So they rebranded.

They starting to refer to the war as “The Lost Cause.” This just sounds mundane, non-offensive. It made it sound not much different than the loss of a hard-fought, though honorable, soccer match.

The Republicans' perfectly reasonable demands

For more cartoons by Jen Sorenson, CLICK HERE.

Time to act

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Bird Feeding Boosts Winter Survival of Small Birds by Helping Fight Infections

And they do appreciate it


A Swedish study shows that providing food for small birds during winter results in healthier birds with better immune response. As birds face new pathogens due to climate change and human activity, understanding factors like winter feeding is important for their survival.

A small change in body temperature can be fatal for humans. Small birds, meanwhile, lower their body temperature at night by several degrees during the winter. 

Just like us, the birds attempt to save energy when it is cold. If they are exposed to infection, the body’s first reaction is to raise its temperature, which clashes with the bird’s simultaneous need to save energy by lowering body temperature.

COVID costing the US $14 TRILLION

Why prevention is so important

Jakub Hlávka, University of Southern California and Adam Rose, University of Southern California

Once guests trickled back into hotels, they were urged to
socially distance. 
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
The economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. will reach US$14 trillion by the end of 2023, our team of economists, public policy researchers and other experts have estimated.

Putting a price tag on all the pain, suffering and upheaval Americans and people around the world have experienced because of COVID-19 is, of course, hard to do. 

More than 1.1 million people have died as a result of COVID-19 in the U.S., and many more have been hospitalized or lost loved ones. Based on data from the first 30 months of the pandemic, we forecast the scale of total economic losses over a four-year period, from January 2020 to December 2023.

To come up with our estimates, our team used economic modeling to approximate the revenue lost due to mandatory business closures at the beginning of the pandemic. We also used modeling to assess the economic blows from the many changes in personal behavior that continued long after the lockdown orders were lifted – such as avoiding restaurants, theaters and other crowded places.

Workplace absences, and sales lost due to the cessation of brick-and-mortar retail shopping, air travel and public gatherings, contributed the most. At the height of the pandemic, in the second quarter of 2020, our survey indicates that international and domestic airline travel fell by nearly 60%, indoor dining by 65% and in-store shopping by 43%.

We found that the three sectors that lost the most ground during the first 30 months of the pandemic were air travel, dining, and health and social services, which contracted by 57.5%, 26.5% and 29.16%, respectively.

These losses were offset to a degree by surges in online purchases, a series of large fiscal stimulus and economic relief packages and an unprecedented expansion of the number of Americans working from home – and thus were able to keep doing jobs that might otherwise have been cut.

Heading to a beach this summer?

Here’s how to keep harmful algae blooms from spoiling your trip

Brad ReisfeldColorado State University

Warning sign at Lido Key Beach in Sarasota, Fla.,
March 15, 2023,  during a toxic algae bloom. 
Jesus Olarte/AFP via Getty Images
Plunging into the ocean or a lake is one of the great joys of summer. But arriving at the beach to find water that’s green, red or brown, and possibly foul-smelling, can instantly spoil the party.

As a toxicologist, I study health risks from both synthetic and natural substances. I’ve conducted research into early detection of harmful algal blooms, or HABs, which are an increasing threat to humans, animals and the environment.

Toxins produced during these blooms have been implicated in human and animal illnesses in at least 43 states. Scientists have estimated that in the U.S. alone, freshwater HABs cause more than US$4.6 billion in damage yearly. Here’s what to know about them if you’re bound for the water’s edge this summer.

Friday, May 26, 2023

White power movements in US history have often relied on veterans

They are the storm troopers for racist organizations 

Kathleen BelewNorthwestern University

A member of the Ku Klux Klan shouts at counterprotesters
during a July 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Va., calling
for the protection of Southern Confederate monuments. 
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images
For decades, the white power movement has gained steady momentum in the U.S. Kathleen Belew is an expert on the history of the white power movement and its current impact on American society and politics. Her book “Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America” examines how the aftermath of the Vietnam War led to the birth of the white power movement.

In March 2023, Belew spoke at the Imagine Solutions Conference in Naples, Florida, about how the narrative of the “lone wolf” actor distracts from the broader threat of the white power movement in America. The Conversation asked Belew about her work. Her edited answers are below.


By Barry Deutsch


Trustom Pond Refuge to close in June and August for upgrades

Each closure will run eleven days

Visitor Services Manager Janis Nepshinsky, Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge

Photo by Will Collette
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is planning to rehabilitate the recreational trails and entrance ramp at Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge from June 5 through June 16, and again from August 7 through August 18, 2023. 

Otter Point Trail will be improved to increase accessibility for all visitors, some observation platforms will be renovated or replaced, the trail entrance near the contact station will be renovated, and the lower farm platform will be removed for safety concerns. 

During the first phase of construction, beginning June 5 through June 16, the contact station and all refuge trails will be temporarily closed and unavailable to the public for safety reasons and to allow space for construction vehicles. 

During phase two of the project, beginning August 7 through August 18, the Otter Point Trail will be temporarily closed to the public during the rehabilitation project, however, Osprey Point Trail will remain open. 

For additional information, call my cell at 401.318.0049 if you have any questions.

Prominent Tribal Elder declares candidacy for Congressional District 1 seat

Bella Noka says she will focus on seniors, healthcare and housing

By Will Collette

With her husband Randy. Photo by Steve Ahlquist

Well-known Narragansett tribal leader Bella Noka joins an already jam-packed field of Democrats competing in the September 5 primary.

The winner moves on to a general election against whatever Republican gets served up as a sacrificial lamb in true blue Congressional District 1. No Republican has yet declared.

The seat is currently held by David Cicilline who has resigned to take over leadership of the Rhode Island Foundation.

Ms. Noka is well-known and admired by many (including me) but faces the same challenge of raising a ton of money and somehow breaking out of the pack. 

Then there's residency. Richmond, where she lives, in not in CD-1. She's probably not the only one in the pack of nearly 20 candidates who doesn't reside in the district. 

Rep. Seth Magaziner didn't live in the Second District when he declared but moved before the 2022 primary.

Roger Williams aims to boost RI shellfish

RWU aquaculture research farm aims to boost bivalve industry

By Nancy Lavin, Rhode Island Current

Oyster aquaculture research will take place in Mount Hope Bay close to shore on the Bristol campus of Roger Williams University. (Photo by Janine L. Weisman/Rhode Island Current)

When Tim Scott started teaching at Roger Williams University in the late 1990s, aquaculture was hardly a part of the vernacular, much less a moneymaker for the state. 

In the intervening years, the biology professor has watched the industry explode, with whopping increases in annual wholesale sales along with spreading appreciation for the science of – and end product from – shellfish farming.

“It’s one of the fastest growing segments of our economy,” Scott said, pointing to a 2021 report that pegged the value of state aquaculture products at $7.5 million. 

But the Ocean State’s bivalve boom could be bigger, especially when compared with other states, Scott said.

Which is why the university wants to launch a research and education-focused aquaculture farm adjacent to its Bristol campus. The 1.78-acre lease in Mount Hope Bay would serve as a breeding ground for experimenting with equipment and species that in turn, could help Rhode Island shellfish farmers grow their own businesses.

PFAS Are Costing Society Over $17 Trillion Per Year Worldwide

Surprisingly, they return low profit margins for manufacturers


The societal cost of PFAS – also known as “forever chemicals” – exceeds $17 trillion across the global economy, according to a forthcoming report from Sweden-based NGO, ChemSec.

The findings also indicate that PFAS chemicals provide extremely low ROI for their manufacturers, at just $4 billion of profit annually – which might sound grand on the surface, but is paltry when you consider that there are 12 manufacturers that account for most of the PFAS produced worldwide. 

“If you compare the profits that they make and the cost to society – it’s ridiculous,” said Peter Pierrou, ChemSec’s communications director, in an interview with The Guardian.

PFAS – which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – are a group of about 15,000 chemicals used in products that are used in the manufacture of endless products, many of which provide convenience and safety. 

These include such things as firefighting foam, medical devices, stain-resistant carpeting, waterproof clothing, non-stick cookware, and the production of semiconductor chips that power technology.

Unfortunately, many of these “forever chemicals” are linked to a number of health issues, including increased incidence of cancer, liver and kidney disease, reproductive issues, immunodeficiencies, and hormonal disruptions. They are often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down. 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

For democracy's sake, students must learn actual history

Children must be taught the truth about the Holocaust, slavery and injustice

Boaz Dvir, Penn State

The Florida Department of Education announced on April 10, 2023, that it had rejected 35% of the social studies books publishers submitted for approval and use in the state’s public schools. 

The move was based on a determination the books contain references to social justice issues “and other information” not aligned with Florida Law.

The decision garnered a great deal of media attention. But it was just the latest in a series of efforts around the country to limit students’ access to books, lessons and courses about certain historical and societal topics, often dealing with race.

At least 36 states have halted or are seeking the legal means to stop teachers from examining racism in their classrooms.

School districts around the country have banned books about issues ranging from racism to the Holocaust to the LGBTQ community. Parent groups have campaigned to restrict the instruction of such difficult topics as slavery.

Moms for Liberty, and other groups and individuals opposing the instruction of some of these topics, say they’re protecting children from divisive, identity-shaming, indoctrinating and pornographic material.

In my view, some segments of American society are turning their backs on history.

That comes at a cost. I’ve seen it firsthand. I direct Penn State programs – the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Initiative and the Hammel Family Human Rights Initiative – that give my colleagues and me a real-time glimpse into the vulnerable state of K-12 instruction about difficult topics.

Many educators have been shying away from sensitive issues. The 2022 American Instructional Resources Survey, a survey about teachers’ views on what they can teach, by Rand Education and Labor, which focuses on school and education issues, shows the new and proposed state laws restricting the instruction of difficult topics made a quarter of the country’s 4 million teachers hesitant or downright scared to teach those subjects. This was true even when the educators taught in a state that had not at the time proposed or enacted such a law.

As a result, research shows, students may be deprived of vital lessons such as the global persistence of crimes against humanity and the the factors that give rise to genocides.

As a documentary filmmaker and assistant professor of journalism, I often discuss difficult topics with students. After a rough-cut university screening of my forthcoming documentary “Cojot,” which tells the story of Holocaust survivor Michel Cojot’s 1970s quest to kill his father’s Nazi executioner, two college students approached me apologetically, saying, “We’ve never heard of this.”