Is Elon Musk getting cold feet? Why the entrepreneur may be trying to pull out of buying Twitter

Has Elon Musk developed cold feet? Is he experiencing buyer’s remorse? Or is he trying to create drama for the markets, true to his public persona? Or could Musk be negotiating for a better price?

Musk started buying Twitter stock in January. On March 14, he announced a 9.2 per cent stake in the company. On April 5, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal announced that Musk would join Twitter’s board of directors, and called it a “welcome” move that would make Twitter “stronger in the long-term.” On April 10, Agrawal announced that Musk decided against joining the board.

On April 14, Musk announced an offer to pay US$54.20 per share to buy the entire stock of the company. In response, on April 15, Twitter announced a Shareholder Rights Plan, a poison pill to deter Musk from acquiring the company.

On April 21, Musk presented a detailed plan to finance the US$44 billion deal. Importantly, Musk would pay US$21 billion of his own funds that would largely come from the sale of his Tesla stock holdings, and he would further borrow US$13 billion against his Tesla holdings. Having seen a concrete financing plan, Twitter’s board accepted Musk’s offer on April 25.

On May 19, Bloomberg reported that the Twitter deal would be going ahead without any re-negotiations.

Happily ever after?

It should have been happily ever after for Twitter and Musk, but on May 17, Musk expressed concerns that 20 per cent of Twitter accounts are fake, that his offer was based on Twitter’s subscriber count being accurate, and that he would not proceed with deal unless there was proof that fewer than five per cent of accounts are fake.

Musk’s threat made no sense, because his offer was never about the number of subscribers or about the economics of the deal. After all, Twitter’s revenues, cash flows, dividends or profits cannot justify a US$44 billion valuation.

Besides, Musk never made his calculations based on price per subscriber multiplied by Twitter’s subscriber count. His move was primarily about what he wanted to make of Twitter. Or it may have been a vanity purchase: acquiring a modern-day newspaper, like many rich people do (Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post and Rupert Murdoch owns the Wall Street Journal).

If Musk really believed that many Twitter accounts are fake, why did he tweet so often? Musk made so many important announcements on Twitter, including his notorious tweet about taking Tesla private.

Ripple effects

So, what happened since his earlier announcements? In my opinion, two factors changed Musk’s mind. First, a meltdown in technology stocks, particularly media stocks, meant that Twitter as a standalone company was no longer as valuable as it was in early January.

Second, Tesla’s shareholders were shaken by Musk’s moves. They became worried that Musk would spend his time changing Twitter, instead of paying undivided attention to championing electric vehicles. They must also be worried about their highly indebted CEO, who now plans to sell or pledge Tesla’s shares to indulge his personal whims. Tesla’s stock fell from US$1,091 on April 5, when Twitter announced Musk’s joining the board of directors, to US$728 on May 17, just before Musk questioned Twitter’s subscriber count.

This price drop amounts to a US$380 billion loss. Musk owns about 175 million shares in Tesla, which means that he personally suffered a US$64 billion loss, far exceeding the US$44 billion he planned to pay for Twitter.

Musk is a shrewd businessman and a smart negotiator — one doesn’t become the world’s richest person by just smoking weed. He now likely realizes that going after Twitter is not worth it and he has more to lose than gain from this deal.

Cutting losses

In my opinion, he has now started laying the groundwork to pull out from the deal.

It is not easy to simply walk away from a signed deal. While the preliminary merger agreement provides for the possibility of a breakup, it can happen only under specified circumstances. In this situation, Musk must pay US$1 billion as a termination fee.

In addition, Twitter may “specifically enforce the obligations under the merger agreement,” meaning that Twitter can enforce the agreement. Indeed, the Twitter board of directors recently indicated that it intends to pursue this option, including with court action.

Where do we go from here? Twitter stock is trading at a 30 per cent discount to Musk’s offer price, which means that investors seriously doubt the deal would go through. A protracted legal battle is on the cards. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission would become even more cautious in future deals with Musk.

Musk has already suffered financial losses, and his reputation has taken a hit. He mocked executives at Twitter with a wave of abusive tweets.

This is a huge fall from grace for Musk, who in 2021 was named TIME Magazine’s person of the year.

As far as Twitter is concerned, my advice would be to collect the US$1 billion termination fee from Musk and move on. By pursuing a protracted legal battle, Twitter would lose employees and subscribers.

Let Musk focus on what he does best, that is, to innovate with new technologies. And let Twitter focus on what it does best, to create a digital town square for global news and public opinion.The Conversation

By Anup Srivastava, Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor, Business, University of Calgary

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial has exposed the danger of parasocial obsessions and 'stan' culture

It’s difficult to scroll through social media right now without seeing at least one post mentioning Johnny Depp, Amber Heard and the defamation trial that began on April 11, 2022.

Depp is suing ex-wife Heard for defamation over an op-ed she penned for the Washington Post in 2018. Depp says that by presenting herself as a victim of domestic violence, Heard has tarnished his name, despite not naming him in the piece. He is seeking US$50 million in damages.

Many have been eager to take sides, declare guilt, assign blame and condemn cancel culture on social media and in coverage of the trial. #JusticeForJohnnyDepp and #AmberHeardIsAPsychopath, among other hashtags, have been trending over the past several weeks.

Fans of Depp claim that his life and career have been “ruined” by false allegations of violence and that he is the “real” victim. Others have written about how disturbing the public treatment of Heard has been throughout the trial, particularly as it relates to claims that she is a “liar,” a “psychopath” and a “monster.”

As a social worker and researcher who has spent the past six years working with people who have survived or been criminalized for domestic and sexual violence, I’m interested in the ways in which this case demonstrates the significant dangers of parasocial relationships (one-sided relationships with public figures) and their ability to reinforce carceral logics (the ways we have been shaped by the idea and practices of imprisonment).

Depp and Heard represent the risks related to the emotional ties fans develop with celebrities and how these relationships can have material implications for how we understand violence and how it should be dealt with.

What are parasocial relationships and carceral logics?

Parasocial relationships are one-sided intimate, emotional bonds that people develop with public figures.

The Depp-Heard trial has exposed the dangers of these bonds as fans of Depp are compelled to passionately defend him, despite not knowing him personally.

Johnny Depp is greeted by cheering fans and supporters as he arrives to court house.

Carceral logics are “the variety of ways our bodies, minds, and actions have been shaped by the idea and practices of imprisonment.” And they produce specific images about who perpetrates violence, why and how those people should be dealt with.

When this happens, the carceral state (police, courts, laws and prisons) is framed as a necessary intervention that effectively addresses violence through arrest, prosecution and punishment of people who commit violence. For example, people who have deemed Heard a liar and the aggressor have called for her arrest, imprisonment and removal from her role in the Aquaman franchise.

Carceral logics cling to assumptions that the system is effective, and ignore the reality that most perpetrators of violence never see a courtroom, let alone a cell, the systemic issues of racism within a broken system, and that domestic and sexual violence continue to be some of the most underreported crimes.

Violence is a spectrum

When people develop parasocial bonds with public figures, sharp lines are drawn between those who are considered good or innocent and those who are considered bad or guilty. When this happens, grand assumptions are often made about someone’s character based only on what is represented in the media.

People don’t know Depp or Heard, and don’t know the full history of their relationship. They only know them as beloved characters.

These bonds are influencing conversations about what does or doesn’t count as violence. Right now, online abuse of Heard is being seen as acceptable because she has been declared a liar by the social media majority.

TikTok trends have openly mocked Heard’s emotional reactions during testimony, as people re-enact skits of the trial with their pets. Social media users have also made #AmberTurd trend across platforms.

But violence is a spectrum and it is deeply nuanced in relationship with power, identity and context. When people assign the label of “abuser/offender” to some and not others, they are deciding which violence is unacceptable and which is excusable.

The impacts

How could these conversations impact survivors when it comes to disclosure? What does it say about who we consider “real” victims and perpetrators? What happens to people whose stories are complex?

While commentary on social media appears as a product of “stan” culture — a portmanteau of “stalker” and “fan” — it has tangible implications for socio-legal responses to the issue.

This all plays out in real time. When people decide that those who lie about violence should be punished, we see “frivolous claims” sections in institutional sexual violence policies and on police portals for reporting sexual violence.

We see renewed commitments to the criminal justice system, regardless of the violence it perpetrates within prisons and in the mass incarceration of marginalized communities.

What appears to be normal social media activity exposes a much darker reality: that parasocial relationships help entrench deeply harmful conversations shaping how people address and redress domestic and sexual violence.The Conversation

By Maddie Brockbank, PhD Student & Vanier Scholar, Social Work, McMaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Baby formula industry was primed for disaster long before key factory closed down

The conditions that led to a shortage of baby formula were set in motion long before the February 2022 closure of the Similac factory tipped the U.S. into a crisis.

Retailers nationwide reported supplies of baby formula were out of stock at a rate of 43% during the week ended May 8, 2022, compared with less than 5% in the first half of 2021. In some states, such as Texas and Tennessee, shortages were over 50%, which has prompted parents to travel long distances and pay exorbitant sums of money to grab dwindling supplies of formula for their babies.

News that the Food and Drug Administration and Similac-maker Abbott have reached a deal to reopen the formula factory in Sturgis, Michigan, is welcome news for desperate parents, but it will do little to alleviate the shortage anytime soon. This is in no small part because of the very nature of America’s baby formula industry.

I research and teach supply chain management, with a special focus on the health care industry. The closure of the Similac factory may have lit the fuse for the nationwide shortage, but a combination of government policy, industry market concentration and supply chain issues supplied the powder.

What prompted the baby formula shortage

On Feb. 17, Abbott initiated a voluntary recall after four infants were hospitalized with infections from the bacteria Cronobacter sakazakii – two of them died – after consuming baby formula manufactured in their Sturgis facility. The factory was also shut down.

The FDA has identified no new cases but has not yet approved reopening the Sturgis facility, which is responsible for about half of Abbott’s U.S. supply. Abbott said it entered into a consent decree with the FDA that paves the way to reopening the facility once certain conditions are met.

Shortages of baby formula have led major U.S. retailers including Target, CVS, Walgreens and Kroger to restrict the amount of formula a consumer may purchase. These shortages are disproportionately hurting low-income families and those who do not have the resources to travel long distances to find alternative sources of baby formula.

Government-created monopolies

The root of the problem begins with a concentration of production.

Two companies – Abbott and Reckitt Benckiser, which makes Enfamil – dominate the industry with about 80% of the U.S. market. Nestlé, which sells baby formula in the U.S. under its Gerber brand, controls another 10%.

Part of the reason these companies are so entrenched in their position is that Abbott, Reckitt and Nestlé are the only makers approved by the U.S. government to provide baby formula through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, which provides supplemental food to low-income families.

WIC, which reimburses companies at 15% of the wholesale cost, is responsible for 92% of supermarket sales of milk-based powder formula in 12-to 16-ounce containers and 51% of all sales in other sizes.

The federal government provides WIC grants to each state, which then contracts with one of the three companies. While WIC is a critical program to feed the most vulnerable, government support of this program has the unintended consequence of creating a de facto monopoly in each state.

The amount of WIC funding to these three established companies makes it difficult for any startup to make significant inroads in the baby formula industry. There is little chance they can capture the market share necessary to justify a significant investment. Since only a handful of manufacturing facilities are approved for production of baby formula in the U.S., startups don’t have the volume required to produce in these facilities.

Import restrictions

Another reason for the intense concentration is import controls.

About 98% of the formula consumed in the U.S. is produced domestically, whether by a U.S. or international company. While facilities abroad such as those in Mexico, Chile, Ireland and the Netherlands meet the FDA’s nutrition standards, a failure to meet its labeling guidelines prevents them from exporting to the U.S. As a result, some consumers order unapproved formula over the internet from Europe and elsewhere, which may then be confiscated at the border.

International manufactures also face high tariffs, which can be as high as 17.5% depending on volume. That’s one reason Canadian producers, which are subsidized by their government, have mostly steered clear of the U.S. market. And the United States Mexico Canada Agreement, which came into force in 2020, included a provision that made it even harder for Canada to ship baby formula south in an effort to protect domestic producers.

‘Lean’ supply chains

The pandemic-related problems that have beleaguered global supply chains have also played a role.

Like in other industries, baby formula makers have long tried to make their supply chains as “lean” and efficient as possible. That means they aimed to minimize the amount of time baby formula spent sitting – unprofitably – on warehouse shelves and send the goods from factory to retailer as quickly as possible. The problem is that when there’s a surge in demand or a drop in supply, shortages can result. The leaner the supply chain, the larger the potential disruption.

The WIC program also encourages a lean supply chain because it reimburses just 15% of the wholesale price. The huge volume means the companies can still be profitable, but the lower margins per sale encourage them to keep a very efficient supply chain.

In March 2020, formula sales surged as people stockpiled pretty much everything. But that led sales to drop as parents worked through all that extra formula. That prompted makers to reduce production. And now in 2022, demand jumped again, especially after reports spread of the Similac recall. And with demand soaring and supply down significantly because of the Sturgis plant’s closure, shortages were inevitable.

Shortage is far from over

Both the Biden administration and companies have announced a variety of measures to end the shortage.

Some companies, such as Reckitt, say they have stepped up production and are running factories seven days a week to get more formula to stores.

The FDA is expected to soon announce the loosening of import rules for baby formula, and some states are allowing WIC recipients to use their rebates to buy formula from companies other than the one on the contract. Abbott has already agreed to honor rebates for competitor products in states where they have WIC contracts.

Abbott and Nestlé are also speeding up shipments from their FDA-approved facilities overseas.

The best way to end the shortage – getting the Sturgis plant online and its formula on retail shelves – will take two months.

Ultimately, preventing this kind of situation from happening again will require changes to government policy and business practices. I believe the government’s de facto monopolies should be opened up to more competition. And formula makers may just have to accept a little less profit from supply chain efficiencies as a cost of doing business – and as a way to ensure families won’t again be faced with the loss of a product so vital to their babies’ survival.The Conversation

Kevin Ketels, Assistant Professor, Teaching, Global Supply Chain Management, Wayne State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Appealing to Trump (and his base) might have worked in Pennsylvania primaries – but it won’t play so well in the midterms

The Pennsylvania primaries of May 17, 2022, proved a good night for Donald Trump, a better one for “Trumpism” and a problem for moderates hoping for a candidate primed to capture the center in the upcoming midterms.

Trump’s officially endorsed Senate candidate, Mehmet Oz, is currently in a tight race with main GOP rival David McCormick – with the balloting set for a recount.

Both ran their primary campaign as Trumpist candidates and vied for the former president’s nod. Meanwhile, third place in the GOP race went to Kathy Barnette, a Fox News commentator who touts herself as more MAGA than Trump.

The fact that all three leading GOP candidates had the DNA of Trumpism in them suggests a couple of things. First, it indicates that echoing the policies, rhetorical style and personality of the former president can be an effective tool for Republican candidates seeking to appeal to the party base. And this is especially important in a closed-primary state such as Pennsylvania, in which only party members have a say in who gets to run for Senate.

And second, it raises a question about the tried-and-tested plan of candidates’ appealing to the party base in the primary before pivoting closer to the center in the general election: Will that post-primary transformation be possible for Republicans in Pennsylvania – and elsewhere – in 2022?

All local politics is national

The Pennsylvania primary proved that the adage that “all politics is local” has to some degree been inverted: Local and state elections are now run on national issues and are influenced by national figures.

But whereas a Trump endorsement in the recent Ohio primary resulted in an immediate surge for his anointed candidate, J.D. Vance, Pennsylvania didn’t quite play out the same way.

Oz’s chance of winning was certainly not harmed by getting Trump’s stamp of approval. But he didn’t seem to take many votes off McCormick or Barnette in the process. In fact, some see Barnette faring better than expected because Trump supporters decided to vote for her as “the more Trump” candidate, over Oz as the “official” Trump candidate.

Meanwhile, Trump’s endorsement actually meant very little for Doug Mastriano, who won the state’s GOP primary for governor. Mastriano – an avidly Trumpian candidate who repeats the former president’s election conspiracy theories – was already pulling ahead by the time Trump made a late nod of approval in his favor.

The point is, whether these Republican candidates are seen as being faithful to Trump’s signature MAGA cause is what matters when it comes to winning in these primaries.

But here’s the rub for Republicans. That may work well enough in firing up the base during primary season, but it complicates the pivot to running against Democrats – and appealing to more moderate voters – in the midterm election. A candidate like Mastriano will have to defend positions like a total ban on abortion, reversal of support for mail-in voting and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.

Pennsylvania is seen as a toss-up state when it comes to the Senate vote. In such circumstances, appealing to the center becomes more important – party faithful tend to be locked in; swing voters are up for grabs.

Any GOP candidate who hitches his or her wagon to Trumpian policies and rhetoric may find it harder to appeal to centrists – and may actually alienate some moderate Republicans.

Circling back to the center

A similar dynamic played out in Pennsylvania in the Democratic primary race for Senate, but with success found by positioning policies to the left of the center. One of the more progressive candidates, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, prevailed against the moderate Rep. Conor Lamb.

But even so, Fetterman has, I believe, more room to maneuver come the general election. Fetterman has experience running for – and winning – a statewide office before. Moreover, he has carefully cultivated an “everyman” image, which could play well against either Oz or hedge fund CEO McCormick. Even so, he will have to defend more progressive positions that could also turn off moderate Republicans.

Success in the Pennsylvania primaries came to those candidates able to position themselves away from the center and more in line with the party’s ideological extreme. But it is the Republican candidate, in vying against others for Trump’s blessing as well as his base, who might find it more difficult to circle back to the center during the midterms.The Conversation

Daniel J. Mallinson, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Administration, School of Public Affairs, Penn State

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Bad news for the 2022 hurricane season: The Loop Current, a fueler of monster storms, is looking a lot like it did in 2005, the year of Katrina

The Atlantic hurricane season starts on June 1, and the Gulf of Mexico is already warmer than average. Even more worrying is a current of warm tropical water that is looping unusually far into the Gulf for this time of year, with the power to turn tropical storms into monster hurricanes.

It’s called the Loop Current, and it’s the 800-pound gorilla of Gulf hurricane risks.

When the Loop Current reaches this far north this early in the hurricane season – especially during what’s forecast to be a busy season – it can spell disaster for folks along the Northern Gulf Coast, from Texas to Florida.

If you look at temperature maps of the Gulf of Mexico, you can easily spot the Loop Current. It curls up through the Yucatan Channel between Mexico and Cuba, into the Gulf of Mexico, and then swings back out through the Florida Strait south of Florida as the Florida Current, where it becomes the main contributor to the Gulf Stream.

An image of the Gulf of Mexico showing how deep heat reaches.

The Loop Current was about as far north as Tampa, Florida, in mid May 2022. The scale, in meters, shows the maximum depth at which temperatures were 78 F (26 C) or greater.

Nick Shay/University of Miami, CC BY-ND

When a tropical storm passes over the Loop Current or one of its giant eddies – large rotating pools of warm water that spin off from the current – the storm can explode in strength as it draws energy from the warm water.

This year, the Loop Current looks remarkably similar to the way it did in 2005, the year Hurricane Katrina crossed the Loop Current before devastating New Orleans. Of the 27 named storms that year, seven became major hurricanes. Wilma and Rita also crossed the Loop Current that year and became two of the most intense Atlantic hurricanes on record.

An image of the Gulf of Mexico showing how deep heat reaches in 2005, with a clear loop from west of Cuba up toward Louisiana.

The Loop Current in May 2005 looked strikingly similar to May 2022.

Nick Shay/University of Miami, CC BY-ND

I have been monitoring ocean heat content for more than 30 years as a marine scientist. The conditions I’m seeing in the Gulf in May 2022 are cause for concern. One prominent forecast anticipates 19 tropical storms – 32% more than average – and nine hurricanes. The Loop Current has the potential to supercharge some of those storms.

Why the Loop Current worries forecasters

Warm ocean water doesn’t necessarily mean more tropical storms. But once tropical storms reach waters that are around 78 F (26 C) or warmer, they can strengthen into hurricanes.

Hurricanes draw most of their strength from the top 100 feet (30 meters) of the ocean. Normally, these upper ocean waters mix, allowing warm spots to cool quickly. But the Loop Current’s subtropical water is deeper and warmer, and also saltier, than Gulf common water. These effects inhibit ocean mixing and sea surface cooling, allowing the warm current and its eddies to retain heat to great depths.

In mid-May 2022, satellite data showed the Loop Current had water temperatures 78 F or warmer down to about 330 feet (100 meters). By summer, that heat could extend down to around 500 feet (about 150 meters).

The eddy that fueled Hurricane Ida in 2021 was over 86 F (30 C) at the surface and had heat down to about 590 feet (180 meters). With favorable atmospheric conditions, this deep reservoir of heat helped the storm explode almost overnight into a very powerful and dangerous Category 4 hurricane.

Map of path of Hurricane Ida showing its central pressure and hurricane strength at each point and the depth of ocean heat capable of fueling a hurricane.

Hurricane Ida’s pressure dropped quickly as it crossed a warm, deep eddy boundary on Aug. 29, 2021.

Nick Shay/University of Miami, CC BY-ND

Within a storm, warm ocean water can create towering plumes of rising warm, moist air, providing high-octane fuel for hurricanes. Think about what happens when you boil a large pot of spaghetti on the stove and how the steam rises as the water gets hotter. As more moisture and heat rise within a hurricane, the pressure drops. The horizontal pressure difference from the center of the storm to its periphery subsequently causes the wind to speed up and the hurricane to become increasingly dangerous.

Since the Loop Current and its eddies have so much heat, they don’t significantly cool, and the pressure will continue to fall. In 2005, Hurricane Wilma had the lowest central pressure on record in the Atlantic, and Rita and Katrina weren’t far behind.

How hurricanes draw fuel from water water.

La Niña, wind shear and other drivers of a busy season

Forecasters have other clues to how the hurricane season might shape up. One is La Niña, the climate opposite of El Niño.

During La Niña, stronger trade winds in the Pacific Ocean bring colder water to the surface, creating conditions that help push the jet stream farther north. That tends to exacerbate drought in the southern U.S. and also weaken wind shear there. Wind shear involves the change in wind speeds and wind directions with height. Too much wind shear can tear tropical storms apart. But less wind shear, courtesy of La Niña, and more moisture in the atmosphere can mean more hurricanes.

How La Niña affects U.S.

La Niña has been unusually strong in spring 2022, though it’s possible that it could weaken later in the year, allowing more wind shear toward the end of the season. For now, the upper atmosphere is doing little that would stop a hurricane from intensifying.

It’s too soon to tell what will happen with the steering winds that guide tropical storms and affect where they go. Even before then, the conditions over West Africa are crucial to whether tropical storms form at all in the Atlantic. Dust from the Sahara and low humidity can both reduce the likelihood storms will form.

Climate change has a role

As global temperatures rise, the ocean’s temperature is increasing. Much of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases that are released by human activities is stored in the oceans, where it can provide additional fuel for hurricanes.

Studies suggest that the Atlantic is likely to see more storms intensify into major hurricanes as those temperatures rise, though there won’t necessarily be more storms overall. A study examined the 2020 hurricane season – which had a record 30 named storms, 12 of them hitting the U.S. – and found the storms produced more rain than they would have in a world without the effects of human-caused climate change.

Another trend we have been noticing is that the Loop Current’s warm eddies have more heat than we saw 10 to 15 years ago. Whether that’s related to global warming isn’t clear yet, but the impact of a warming trend could be devastating.The Conversation

Nick Shay, Professor of Oceanography, University of Miami

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The darkness of Boris Johnson: a psychologist on the prime minister’s unpalatable personality traits

In all the chaos that characterises the administration of Boris Johnson, it’s sometimes difficult to understand why the prime minister behaves the way he does. Why does he never really apologise or admit mistakes?

Most recently, Johnson continues to insist that he did not know he was breaking any rules by having parties during pandemic lockdowns. It’s just the latest example of behaviour that, I would argue, can only be understood in terms of psychological factors.

First, let me be clear: I am not attempting to diagnose the prime minister with a personality disorder. Like many psychologists nowadays, I believe it’s too simplistic to think in terms of specific conditions like narcissistic personality disorder or sociopathy. I prefer to use the concept of a “dark triad” of three personality traits that belong together – psychopathy, narcissism and machiavellianism. This makes sense because these traits almost always overlap and are difficult to distinguish from one another. The traits exist on a continuum and are more pronounced in some people than others.

Another, more wide-ranging model is called the “dark factor”. This suggests that the essence of “bad character” is a desire to ruthlessly put your own interests before other people’s, and to pursue them even when they cause harm to others. Besides psychopathy, narcissism and machiavellianism, the dark factor model includes traits of spitefulness, moral disengagement (behaving immorally without feeling bad), entitlement (believing you deserve more and are better than others), and egoism.

The actions of a ‘dark’ personality

There are many aspects of Johnson’s behaviour that make sense in terms of these models. “Dark” personalities are marked by psychopathic traits of a lack of empathy, conscience and guilt, and a failure to take responsibility. They can’t accept that they are ever at fault, so they instinctively blame other people – or other external factors – for negative events. We’ve seen Johnson deflect blame for the Downing Street parties ever since allegations about them first emerged. Now he refuses to take responsibility by offering his resignation.

We also know that Johnson has a tendency to break rules and ignore normal codes of behaviour (a signal of moral disengagement). Even before partygate, he unlawfully prorogued parliament to further his own agenda and refused to sack the home secretary even when she was found to have broken the ministerial code.

An essential feature of “dark” personalities is that they are disconnected. They are trapped inside themselves in narcissistic isolation and find it difficult to take other people’s perspectives. As a result, they lack a clear sense of how their actions will be perceived, or of what type of behaviour is acceptable.

This could help explain some of Johnson’s miscalculations. Take, for example, his attempt to change parliamentary rules rather than sanctioning former MP Owen Paterson for breaking lobbying rules. Johnson assumed this would be acceptable and failed to anticipate the subsequent furore. He obviously also believed that it was acceptable to smear Keir Starmer with conspiracy theories in parliament. This type of response is typical of the spitefulness of dark personalities when they feel under threat.

Machiavellianism, the third part of the dark triad, means the ruthless pursuit of power for its own sake, with the willingness to abandon integrity and morality along the way. Johnson has shown a consistent trait of prioritising his own personal interests over other factors. Why else would he make such reckless promises on the campaign trail, such as his £350 million per week for the NHS after Brexit?

A good case could clearly be made for the trait of entitlement (believing you deserve more and are better than others) in Johnson’s case, too. A consistent complaint against the prime minister is that he behaves as if rules don’t apply to him. During strict lockdown, he apparently believed it was acceptable to sidestep restrictions. He also believed that he was entitled to solicit donations from Tory donors for renovations to his Downing Street flat.

What is ‘truth’?

Johnson is often accused of dishonesty. However, it may not be so much that he intentionally lies, but that he doesn’t have a fixed notion of truth.

Since dark triad personalities are self-absorbed, they are disconnected from objective criteria of behaviour and have a strong tendency towards self-deception. They select information which supports their positive image of themselves and ignore negative information. They believe whatever suits their view of reality.

When he claims not to have broken lockdown rules or not to have misled parliament, Johnson may simply be selecting information to support his preferred version of reality. It’s likely that he has convinced himself that the events he attended really were work events, and that his attendance of them was purely inadvertent. This also relates to Johnson’s apparent inability to apologise, which would mean admitting to an imperfect image of himself.

Dark personalities are also unable to tolerate criticism, which brings a tendency to try to avoid dissenting voices. Whereas sensible prime ministers select ministers on the basis of ability, Johnson has packed senior government roles with loyalists, which has led to a lack of expertise and creativity.

Inevitable decay

Unfortunately, it’s common for dark triad personalities to become leaders. Motivated by a deep unconscious sense of lack, they have a strong desire for power and dominance. And their ruthlessness and ability to manipulate means they attain positions of power quite easily.

When a “dark” leader attains power, conscientious, moral people rapidly fall away. A government operating under these conditions soon becomes what the Polish psychologist Andrzej Lobaczewski called a “pathocracy” – an administration made up of ruthless individuals devoid of integrity and morality. This happened with Donald Trump’s presidency, as the “adults in the room” gradually headed for the exit, leaving no one but staffers defined by their personal allegiance to Trump. A similar decay in standards has occurred in the UK.

In an ideal society, there would be measures to restrict such people’s access to power, and we would be more likely to have the kind of leaders that we deserve.The Conversation

Steve Taylor, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Leeds Beckett University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cluttercore: Gen Z’s revolt against millennial minimalism is grounded in Victorian excess

Have you heard maximalism is in and minimalism is out? Rooms bursting at the seams with clashing florals, colourful furniture and innumerable knick-knacks, this is what defines the new interiors trend cluttercore (or bricabracomania).

Some say it’s a war between generation Z (born 1997-2012) and minimal millennials (born 1981-1996), symptomatic of bigger differences. Others say it’s a pandemic response, where our domestic prisons became cuddly cocoons, stimulating our senses, connecting us with other people and places. But what really lays behind the choice to clutter or cull?

Why do some people revel in collections of novelty eggcups? Or have so many framed pictures you can barely see the (ferociously busy) wallpaper? And why do those at the other end of the spectrum refuse to have even the essential stuff visible in the home, hiding it behind thousands of pounds’ of incognito cupboards?

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Online data could be used against people seeking abortions if Roe v. Wade falls

When the draft of a Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked to the press, many of us who have been studying privacy for vulnerable individuals came to a troubling realization: The marginalized and vulnerable populations whose online risks have been the subject of our attention are likely to grow exponentially. These groups are poised to encompass all women of child-bearing age, regardless of how secure and how privileged they may have imagined themselves to be.

In overturning Roe, the anticipated decision would not merely deprive women of reproductive control and physical agency as a matter of constitutional law, but it would also change their relationship with the online world. Anyone in a state where abortion becomes illegal who relies on the internet for information, products and services related to reproductive health would be subject to online policing.

As a researcher who studies online privacy, I’ve known for some time how Google, social media and internet data generally can be used for surveillance by law enforcement to cast digital dragnets. Women would be at risk not just from what they reveal about their reproductive status on social media, but also by data from their health applications, which could incriminate them if it were subpoenaed.

Who is tracked and how

People who are most vulnerable to online privacy encroachment and to the use or abuse of their data have traditionally been those society deems less worthy of protection: people without means, power or social standing. Surveillance directed at marginalized people reflects not only a lack of interest in protecting them, but also a presumption that, by virtue of their social identity, they are more likely to commit crimes or to transgress in ways that might justify preemptive policing.

Many marginalized people happen to be women, including low-income mothers, for whom the mere act of applying for public assistance can subject them to presumptions of criminal intent. These presumptions are often used to justify invasions of their privacy. Now, with anti-abortion legislation sweeping Republican-controlled states and poised to go into effect if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, all women of reproductive age in those states are likely to be subject to those same presumptions.

Before, women had to worry only that Target or Amazon might learn of their pregnancies. Based on what’s already known about privacy incursions by law enforcement against marginalized people, it’s likely that in a post-Roe world women will be more squarely in the crosshairs of digital forensics. For example, law enforcement agencies routinely use forensic tools to search people’s cellphones when investigating a wide range of crimes, sometimes without a search warrant.

a smart phone screen showing a dialog box offering three options for location settings

Many apps track your location, and some of the companies behind those apps sell that data.

AP Photo/Brian Melley

Imagine a scenario in which a co-worker or neighbor reports someone to the authorities, which gives law enforcement officials grounds to pursue digital evidence. That evidence could include, for example, internet searches about abortion providers and period app data showing missed periods.

The risk is especially acute in places that foster bounty-hunting. In a state like Texas where there is a potential for citizens to have standing to sue people who help others access abortion services, everything you say or do in any context becomes relevant because there’s no probable cause hurdle to accessing your data.

Outside of that case, it’s difficult to do full justice to all the risks because context matters, and different combinations of circumstances can conspire to elevate harms. Here are risks to keep in mind:

  • Sharing information about your pregnancy on social media.
  • Internet search behavior related directly or indirectly to your pregnancy or reproductive health, regardless of the search engine you use.
  • Location tracking via your phone, for example showing that you visited a place that could be linked to your reproductive health.
  • Using apps that reveal relevant sensitive data, like your menstrual cycle.
  • Being overconfident in using encryption or anonymous tools.

Heeding alarms

Scholars, including my colleagues and me, have been raising alarms for years, arguing that surveillance activities and lack of privacy threatening those most vulnerable are ultimately a threat to all. That’s because the number of people at risk can rise when political forces identify a broader population as posing threats justifying surveillance.

The lack of action on privacy vulnerability is due in part to a failure of imagination, which frequently blinkers people who see their own position as largely safe in a social and political system.

There is, however, another reason for inattention. When considering mainstream privacy obligations and requirements, the privacy and security community has, for decades, been caught up in a debate about whether people really care about their privacy in practice, even if they value it in principle.

I’d argue that the privacy paradox – the belief that people are less motivated to protect their privacy than they claim to be – remains conventional wisdom today. This view diverts attention from taking action, including giving people tools to fully evaluate their risks. The privacy paradox is arguably more a commentary on how little people understand the implications of what’s been called surveillance capitalism or feel empowered to defend against it.

With the general public cast as indifferent, it is easy to assume that people generally don’t want or need protection, and that all groups are at equal risk. Neither is true.

All in it together?

It’s hard to talk about silver linings, but as these online risks spread to a broader population, the importance of online safety will become a mainstream concern. Online safety includes being careful about digital footprints and using anonymous browsers.

Maybe the general population, at least in states that are poised to trigger or validate abortion bans, will come to recognize that Google data can be incriminating.The Conversation

Nora McDonald, Assistant Professor of Information Technology, University of Cincinnati

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

More mass shootings are happening at grocery stores – 13% of shooters are motivated by racial hatred, criminologists find

An apparently racially motivated attack at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, resulted in 10 deaths on May 14, 2022, with the teenage suspect allegedly targeting Black shoppers in a prominently African American neighborhood.

Mass public shootings in which four or more people are killed have become more frequent, and deadly, in the last decade. And the tragedy in Buffalo is the latest in a recent trend of mass public shootings taking place in retail establishments.

We are criminologists who study the life histories of public mass shooters in the United States. Since 2017, we have conducted dozens of interviews with incarcerated perpetrators and people who knew them. We also built a comprehensive database of mass public shootings using public data, with the shooters coded on over 200 different variables, including location and racial profile.

What do we know about supermarket mass shootings?

Only one shooting in our database prior to 2019 took place at a supermarket. In 1999, a 23-year-old white male with a history of criminal violence killed four people at a supermarket in Las Vegas. However, there has been a raft of mass shootings at American supermarkets since.

The Buffalo shooting on May 14, 2022, is similar to an August 2019 shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. On that occasion, the 21-year-old white suspect posted a racist rant on social media before allegedly driving some distance to intentionally target racial and ethnic minority shoppers. He has been charged with killing 23 people.

Another shooting in 2019 took place at a Kosher grocery store in Jersey City, New Jersey. Two perpetrators, a man and woman, both Black and around the age of 50 with a criminal and violent history, murdered four people before being killed in a shootout with police. Social media posts and a note left behind indicated an antisemitic motive.

Then in March 2021, a 21-year-old man of Middle Eastern descent with a history of paranoid and anti-social behavior entered a King Soopers in Boulder, Colorado, and shot dead 10 people. Six months later, in September 2021, a 29-year-old Asian man killed one person and injured 13 others at a Kroger supermarket in Tennessee. The perpetrator, who worked at the store, was asked to leave his job that morning. He died by suicide before the police arrived on the scene.

No one profile of a retail shooter

Mass shootings are socially contagious. Perpetrators study other perpetrators and learn from each other, which may explain the rise in supermarket shootings in the past few years. However, the data shows there is no one profile of a supermarket mass shooter.

Racial hatred is a feature of about 10% of all mass public shootings in our database. Our analysis suggests that when it comes to retail shooters, around 13% are driven by racism – so slightly above the average for all mass shooting events.

Some grocery stores by their nature may be frequented predominantly by one racial group – for example, Asian markets that cater to local Asian communities.

But racial hatred appears to be just one of many motivations cited by retail shooters. Our data points to a range of factors, including the suspect’s own economic issues (16%), confrontation with employees or shoppers (22%), or psychosis (31%). But the most common motivation among retail shooters is unknown (34%).

Like the Buffalo shooter, 22% of perpetrators of retail mass shootings left behind something to be found, a “manifesto” or video to share their grievances with the world. And nearly half of them leaked their plans ahead of time, typically on social media.

The lack of a consistent profile doesn’t leave us helpless. Our research suggests many strategies to prevent mass shootings – from behavioral threat assessment to restricting access to firearms for high-risk people. And the way to stop the social contagion of mass shootings is to stop providing perpetrators with the fame and notoriety they seek.The Conversation

Jillian Peterson, Professor of Criminal Justice, Hamline University and James Densley, Professor of Criminal Justice, Metropolitan State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Laboratory mice are usually distressed and overweight, calling into question research findings

Over 120 million laboratory rats and mice are used worldwide each year. Many are used to study distressing conditions like cancer, arthritis and chronic pain, and nearly all spend their lives in small, empty box-like cages: a kind of permanent lockdown.

Our new analysis shows that this restrictive, artificial housing causes rats and mice to be chronically stressed, changing their biology. This raises worrying questions about their welfare — and about how well they represent typical human patients.

We identified this impact of housing by extracting data from over 200 studies that investigated the effects of cage design on health outcomes known to be stress-sensitive in humans, such as mortality rates and the severity of illnesses like cardiovascular disease, cancer and stroke.

The importance of housing

The studies we synthesized all compared conventional “shoeboxes” — the small, barren cages typical in labs — with better-resourced housing containing running wheels, nest boxes, additional space or other items that allow natural behaviours like digging, climbing, exploring and hiding. Across the board, the animals in conventional cages became sicker than ones in better-resourced housing. For example, if given cancer, they developed larger tumours.

Conventionally housed animals were also at greater risk of dying, their average lifespans reduced by about nine per cent. Scientists have known for decades that rats and mice want more comfort, exercise and stimulation than is normally provided, and that conventional cages therefore induce abnormal behaviour and anxiety.

But this is the first evidence that they also cause chronic distress severe enough to compromise animals’ health.

three mice in a clear shoebox-sized container

When mice are contained in stimulating environments, they are healthier.

(Aileen MacLellan), Author provided

Stressed-out findings

Our study – like many others before us — also found evidence of methodological problems and poor reporting of experimental details. For example, the rodents used were male-biased, with few studies using female animals.

Furthermore, despite investigating housing effects, two-thirds of the studies in our analysis did not fully describe animals’ living conditions. Our findings support many previous suggestions that rats and mice living in barren cages that lack stimulation may not be suitable models, for several reasons. Research animals are typically male, as well as often overweight, sometimes chronically cold and cognitively impaired.

We suspect that the reliance on “CRAMPED” animals — cold, rotund, abnormal, male-biased, enclosed and distressed — could help explain the current low success rates of biomedical research. There are already examples of research studies generating quite different conclusions depending on how their animals are held, and we now aim to assess the extent to which this occurs.

That housing is critical for rodent biology, yet often poorly described in papers, could also help explain the “replicability crisis”: that at least 50 per cent of preclinical research results cannot be replicated when other scientists re-run a study.

a researcher standing in front of a shelf

Housing is critical for the well-being of laboratory mice.

(Understanding Animal Research/Wikimedia Commons)

Canadian policies

Only one to two per cent of the world’s research animals live in Canada, so why should Canadians care? For one, because this still means 1.5 million to two million animals are being unintentionally stressed: something that anyone who cares about animals will find concerning. But if animal housing does indeed change research conclusions, then that has financial implications too. Canada spends about $4 billion a year on health research. Following U.S. estimates, if half of that is animal-based, of which only 50 per cent is reproducible, then Canada may be spending around $1 billion a year on non-replicable animal studies.

And even when studies are replicable, well under five per cent of them yield usable medical benefits for humans. This is a huge contrast with the Canadian public’s expectation that approximately 60 per cent of animal work leads to new human drugs.

Canadian standards require that mice be provided with nesting materials that can keep them warm, but is it time to improve them further?

The “shoeboxes” that rats and mice currently live in should stop being ignored as if a neutral backdrop, and instead be seen as a determinant of health: one we can modify, improve and study. Doing so would allow us to better model the diverse social determinants of human health, and improve animal well-being at the same time.The Conversation

Georgia Mason, Professor, Integrative Biology, University of Guelph and Jessica Cait, Doctoral student, Integrative Biology, University of Guelph

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How to grow plants on the moon – new study

What do you need to make your garden grow? As well as plenty of sunshine alternating with gentle showers of rain – and busy bees and butterflies to pollinate the plants – you need good, rich soil to provide essential minerals. But imagine you had no rich soil, or showers of rain, or bees and butterflies. And the sunshine was either too harsh and direct or absent – causing freezing temperatures.

Could plants grow in such an environment – and, if so, which ones? This is the question that colonists on the Moon (and Mars) would have to tackle if (or when) human exploration of our planetary neighbours goes ahead. Now a new study, published in Communications Biology, has started to provide answers.

Image of Arabidopsis thaliana.

Arabidopsis thaliana on Earth.

wikipedia, CC BY-SA

The researchers behind the study cultivated the fast-growing plant Arabidopsis thaliana in samples of lunar regolith (soil) brought back from three different places on the Moon by the Apollo astronauts.

Dry and barren soil

This is not the first time that attempts have been made to grow plants in lunar regolith though, but it is the first to demonstrate why they don’t thrive.

The lunar regolith is very different from terrestrial soils. For a start, it doesn’t contain organic matter (worms, bacteria, decaying plant matter) that is characteristic of soil on Earth. Neither does it have an inherent water content.

But it is composed of the same minerals as terrestrial soils, so assuming that the lack of water, sunlight and air is ameliorated by cultivating plants inside a lunar habitat, then the regolith could have the potential to grow plants.

The research showed that this is indeed the case. Seeds of A. thaliana germinated at the same rate in Apollo material as they did in the terrestrial soil. But while the plants in the terrestrial soil went on to develop root stocks and put out leaves, the Apollo seedlings were stunted and had poor root growth.

The main thrust of the research was to examine plants at the genetic level. This allowed the scientists to recognise which specific environmental factors evoked the strongest genetic responses to stress. They found that most of the stress reaction in all the Apollo seedlings came from salts, metal and oxygen that is highly reactive (the last two of which are not common in terrestrial soil) in the lunar samples.

Image of the plants grown in the experiment.

Experimental results, with different wells for each soil.

Paul et al., CC BY-SA

The three Apollo samples were affected to different extents, with the Apollo 11 samples being the slowest to grow. Given that the chemical and mineralogical composition of the three Apollo soils were fairly similar to each other, and to the terrestrial sample, the researchers suspected that nutrients weren’t the only force at play.

The terrestrial soil, called JSC-1A, was not a regular soil. It was a mixture of minerals prepared specifically to simulate the lunar surface, and contained no organic matter.

The starting material was basalt, just as in lunar regolith. The terrestrial version also contained natural volcanic glass as an analogue for the “glassy agglutinates” – small mineral fragments mixed with melted glass – that are abundant in lunar regolith.

The scientists recognised the agglutinates as one of the potential reasons for lack of growth by the seedlings in the Apollo soil compared to the terrestrial soil, and also for the difference in growth patterns between the three lunar samples.

Agglutinates are a common feature of the lunar surface. Ironically, they are formed by a process referred to as “lunar gardening”. This is the way that the regolith changes, through bombardment of the Moon’s surface by cosmic radiation, solar wind and minuscule meteorites, also known as space weathering.

Because there is no atmosphere to slow down the tiny meteorites hitting the surface, they impact at high velocity, causing melting and then quenching (rapid cooling) at the impact site.

Gradually, small aggregates of minerals build up, held together by glass. They also contain tiny particles of iron metal (nanophase iron) formed by the space weathering process.

It is this iron that is the biggest difference between the glassy agglutinates in the Apollo samples and the natural volcanic glass in the terrestrial sample. This was also the most probable cause of the metal-associated stress recognised in the plant’s genetic profiles.

So the presence of agglutinates in the lunar substrates caused the Apollo seedlings to struggle compared with the seedlings grown in JSC-1A, particularly the Apollo-11 ones. The abundance of agglutinates in a lunar regolith sample depends on the length of time that the material has been exposed on the surface, which is referred to as the “maturity” of a lunar soil.

Very mature soils have been on the surface for a long time. They are found in places where regolith has not been disturbed by more recent impact events that created craters, whereas immature soils (from below the surface) occur around fresh craters and on steep crater slopes.

The three Apollo samples had different maturities, with the Apollo 11 material being the most mature. It contained the most nanophase iron and exhibited the highest metal-associated stress markers in its genetic profile.

The importance of young soil

The study concludes that the more mature regolith was a less effective substrate for growing seedlings than the less mature soil. This is an important conclusion, because it demonstrates that plants could be grown in lunar habitats using the regolith as a resource. But that the location of the habitat should be guided by the maturity of the soil.

And a last thought: it struck me that the findings could also apply to some of the impoverished regions of our world. I don’t want to rehearse the old argument of “Why spend all this money on space research when it could be better spent on schools and hospitals?”. That would be the subject of a different article.

But are there technology developments that arise from this research that could be applicable on Earth? Could what has been learned about stress-related genetic changes be used to develop more drought-resistant crops? Or plants that could tolerate higher levels of metals?

It would be a great achievement if making plants grow on the Moon was instrumental in helping gardens to grow greener on Earth.The Conversation

Monica Grady, Professor of Planetary and Space Sciences, The Open University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why a US task force is recommending anxiety screening in kids 8 and older

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued a draft statement in April 2022 recommending screening for anxiety in children and adolescents between the ages of 8 and 18. This recommendation – which is still open for public comment – is timely, given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s mental health. The Conversation asked Elana Bernstein, a school psychologist who researches child and adolescent anxiety, to explain the task force’s new draft recommendations and what they might mean for kids, parents and providers.

1. Why is the task force recommending young kids be screened?

Nearly 80% of chronic mental health conditions emerge in childhood, and when help is eventually sought, it is often years after the problem’s onset. In general, recommendations to screen for mental health disorders are based on research demonstrating that youths do not typically seek help independently, and that parents and teachers are not always skilled at correctly identifying problems or knowing how to respond.

Anxiety is the most common mental health problem affecting children and adolescents. Epidemiological studies indicate that 7.1% of children are diagnosed with anxiety disorders. However, studies also estimate that upwards of 10% to 21% of children and adolescents struggle with an anxiety disorder and as many as 30% of children experience moderate anxiety that interferes with their daily functioning at some time in their life.

This tells us that many kids experience anxiety at a level that interferes with their daily functioning, even if they are never formally diagnosed. Additionally, there is an established evidence base for treating childhood anxiety.

The opportunity to prevent potentially chronic lifelong mental health conditions through a combination of early identification and evidence-based treatment certainly informed the task force’s recommendation. Untreated anxiety disorders in children result in added burdens to the public health system. So from a cost-benefit perspective, the cost-effectiveness of screening for anxiety and providing preventive treatment is favorable, while, as the task force pointed out, the harms are negligible.

The task force recommendation to screen kids as young as age 8 is driven by the research literature. Anxiety disorders are most likely to first show up during the elementary school years. And the typical age of onset for anxiety is among the earliest of all childhood mental health diagnoses.

Anxiety disorders can persist into adulthood, particularly those disorders with early onsets and those that are left untreated. Individuals who experience anxiety in childhood are more likely to deal with it in adulthood, too, along with other mental health disorders like depression and an overall diminished quality of life.

A discussion of the differences between normal worry and anxiety.

2. How can care providers identify anxiety in young kids?

Fortunately, in the past three decades, considerable advances have been made in mental health screening tools, including for anxiety. The evidence-based strategies for identifying anxiety in children and adolescents are centered on collecting observations from multiple perspectives, including child, parent and teacher, to provide a complete picture of the child’s functioning in school, at home and in the community.

Anxiety is what’s called an internalizing trait, meaning that the symptoms may not be observable to those around the person. This makes accurate identification more challenging, though certainly possible. Therefore, psychologists recommend including the child in the screening process to the degree possible based on age and development.

In general, it is easier to accurately identify anxiety when the child’s symptoms are behavioral in nature, such as refusing to go to school or avoiding social situations. While the task force recommended that screening take place in primary care settings, the research literature also supports in-school screening for mental health problems, including anxiety.

Among the youths who are actually treated for mental health problems, nearly two-thirds receive those services at school, making school-based screening a logical practice.

3. How would the screening be carried out?

Universal screening for all children is a preventive approach to identifying youths who are at risk. This includes those who may need further diagnostic evaluation or those would benefit from early intervention.

In both cases, the aim is to reduce symptoms and to prevent lifelong chronic mental health problems. But it is important to note that a screening does not equal a diagnosis. Diagnostic assessment is more in-depth and costs more, while screening is intended to be brief, efficient and cost-effective. Screening for anxiety in a primary care setting may involve completion of short questionnaires by the child and/or parent, similar to how pediatricians frequently screen kids for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

The task force did not recommend a single method or tool, nor a particular time interval, for screening. Instead, it pointed to multiple tools such as The Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional Disorders and the Pediatric Symptom Checklist. These assess general emotional and behavioral health, including questions specific to anxiety. Both are available at no cost.

A youth anxiety psychologist who experienced severe anxiety as a child talks about how to raise kids who can overcome anxiety.

4. What are care providers looking for when screening for anxiety?

A child’s symptoms can vary depending on the type of anxiety they have. For instance, social anxiety disorder involves fear and anxiety in social situations, while specific phobias involve fear of a particular stimulus, such as vomiting or thunderstorms. However, many anxiety disorders share symptoms, and children typically do not fit neatly into one category.

But psychologists typically observe some common patterns when it comes to anxiety. These include negative self-talk such as “I’m going to fail my math test” or “Everyone will laugh at me,” and emotion regulation difficulties, like increased tantrums, anger or sensitivity to criticism. Other typical patterns include behavioral avoidance, such as reluctance or refusal to participate in activities or interact with others.

Anxiety can also show up as physical symptoms that lack a root physiological cause. For example, a child may complain of stomachaches or headaches or general malaise. In fact, studies suggest that spotting youths with anxiety in pediatric settings may simply occur through identification of children with medically unexplained physical symptoms.

The distinction we are aiming for in screening is identifying the magnitude of symptoms and their impact. In other words, how much do they interfere with the child’s daily functioning? Some anxiety is normal and, in fact, necessary and helpful.

5. What are the recommendations for supporting kids with anxiety?

The key to an effective screening process is that it be connected to evidence-based care. One strategy that is clearly supported by research is for schools to establish a continuum of care that involves universal screening, schoolwide prevention programming and evidence-based treatment options.

The good news is that we have decades of high-quality research demonstrating how to effectively intervene to reduce symptoms and to help anxious youth cope and function better. These include both medical and nonmedical interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy, which studies show to be safe and effective.The Conversation

Elana Bernstein, Assistant Professor of School Psychology, University of Dayton

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

US schools are not racially integrated, despite decades of effort

Nearly seven decades after the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, the court’s declared goal of integrated education is still not yet achieved.

American society continues to grow more racially and ethnically diverse. But many of the nation’s public K-12 schools are not well integrated and are instead predominantly attended by students of one race or another.

As an educational sociologist, I fear that the nation has effectively decided that it’s simply not worth continuing to pursue the goals of Brown. I also fear that accepting failure could portend a return to the days of the case that Brown overturned, the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision. That case set “separate but equal” facilities for different races, including schools and universities, as the national priority.

The Brown decision was based upon a repudiation of that idea and the recognition that “separate but equal” was never achieved. I remain convinced it never will be.

A historic push

In many ways, it would be startling to declare the ideal of integrated schooling a lost cause. Integration was so important in 1957 that Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to ensure that nine Black students were safe when they enrolled in the city’s Central High School.

Despite the federal government’s intervention, in the 1960s and 1970s, many communities across the U.S. experienced considerable conflict and even bloodshed. Many white citizens actively and violently opposed school integration, which often came in the form of court-mandated busing of Black students to schools in predominantly white neighborhoods.

Despite the opposition, many Americans worked incredibly hard to make integration happen, and its benefits are clear: Many American children have experienced enhanced educational opportunities and improved academic success as a result of these efforts.

Separated, if not segregated

However, in 2018-2019, the most recent school year for which data is available, 42% of Black students attended majority-Black schools, and 56% of Hispanic students attended majority-Hispanic schools. Even more striking, 79% of white students in America went to majority-white schools during the same period.

Those statistics signal the existence of what is, in fact, a racially separate educational system. But these statistics about race don’t show how common separation by socioeconomic status is in most urban schools throughout the U.S. Low-income Black and Hispanic students are most likely to attend schools where the majority of children are poor and the resources available to serve them are inadequate.

Since 2001, education policymakers have made bold promises to close what has been called the “racial achievement gap.” Yet they have largely ignored the fact that throughout the nation, poor children of color are most likely to attend schools where they are not only separated by race and class, but where the quality of the education they receive is below that of their white peers.

A young Black girl in a white dress walks through a crowd of white people

In 1962, Carolyn Roberson, at center in a white dress, was one of the first Black students to attend Pensacola High School in Pensacola, Fla.

AP Photo/Jim Bourdier

Housing and school choices

Several factors help to explain the degree of race and class separation and educational inequality that is now pervasive in America. To begin with, many communities throughout the United States continue to be characterized by a high degree of racial and socioeconomic separation. However, while residential patterns pose an obstacle, a 2018 study by the Urban Institute found that neighborhood segregation does not in itself explain current patterns of school segregation. The study identified several cities and suburban communities where schools are significantly more segregated than the neighborhoods in which they are located.

Policies that allow parents to choose which of their district’s public schools their children attend have done little to alter these trends and, in fact, may contribute to the problem. Several studies have shown that public charter schools are more likely to be intensely racially divided than traditional public schools.

Furthermore, in most major American cities, affluent residents are more likely to enroll their children in private schools than public schools. This includes many affluent parents of color, who often choose to enroll their children in predominantly white independent schools in search of a better education, even when their children experience race-related microaggressions and alienation.

In the past 20 years, cities such as Boston, New York, Denver, Washington, D.C., and Seattle have seen affluent white populations increase – but the overwhelming majority of students in those cities’ public schools are from low-income Black and Hispanic households. Those sorts of racial imbalances have increasingly become the norm.

A group of young Black people sit around tables in a classroom

High school medical students at the King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles await a visit from U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy in 2021.

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

Integration can succeed

When the poorest and most vulnerable children are concentrated into particular schools, it is even more difficult to achieve racial equality in educational opportunity, either through integration as called for by Brown or by pursuing “separate but equal” as called for by Plessy.

There is good reason to be concerned. For decades there has been consistent evidence that when schools serve a disproportionate number of children in poverty, they are less likely to improve students’ academic success.

The evidence also shows that when Black and Hispanic children attend racially integrated schools, they tend to outperform their peers who do not. For example, students who have participated in the Metco program, a voluntary desegregation effort that makes it possible for children of color from Boston to be bused to affluent schools in the suburbs, have fared better academically than their counterparts who remained in Boston’s racially isolated schools. The research doesn’t show whether that is because of the superior resources available in predominantly white suburban schools or the fact that they have parents who are active enough to get them into suburban schools. It may be that both factors play a role.

A 2018 study from UCLA found that all the schools that produce significant numbers of Black students who are eligible for admission to the University of California are racially integrated. Unfortunately, the study also found that most Black students in Los Angeles don’t attend integrated schools.

However, the study also found one notable exception: the King/Drew Health Sciences Magnet High School of Medicine and Science in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. That school, which serves almost exclusively Black and Hispanic students, sends more Black students to the University of California than any other high school in the state of California.

At King/Drew, students have a rigorous, enriched education that includes many honors and Advanced Placement courses. Those opportunities are the norm at many affluent suburban schools, but they are rare at public schools in urban areas.

The scarcity of schools like King/Drew – well-resourced and serving a low-income or majority-minority student body – should serve as a reminder that racially separate schools are rarely equal. When Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP took the Brown case, they knew that funding for education generally followed white students.

That was true in 1954, and it is largely true today. A recent study found that nonwhite school districts in the U.S. receive US$23 billion less in funding than predominantly white schools, though they serve the same number of students.

For this reason, on the occasion of the 68th anniversary of the Brown decision, I believe it is important to remember why and how civil rights and educational opportunity remain so deeply intertwined. Despite its flaws and limitations, the effort to racially integrate the nation’s schools has been and continues to be important given the type of pluralistic and diverse nation the U.S. is becoming. It also plays a central role in the ongoing pursuit of racial equality.The Conversation

Pedro A. Noguera, Dean, USC Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What your eyes reveal about your health

Scientists at the University of California, San Diego, have developed a smartphone app that can detect early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions. The app uses the phone’s near-infrared camera to track changes in the size of a person’s pupils at a sub-millimetre level. These measurements can then be used to assess that person’s cognitive condition.

As technology evolves, the eyes will prove more and more useful as a means of diagnosing all kinds of diseases and conditions because, by being transparent, the eye requires far less invasive methods of examination than other body parts.

But even without technology, it is possible to detect a number of health problems simply by looking at the eyes. Here are some of the warning signs.

Pupil size

The pupil responds instantly to light, becoming smaller in bright environments and larger in dimmer conditions. Sluggish or delayed responses in pupil size can point to several diseases that can include serious conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, as well as effects of medications and evidence of drug use. Dilated pupils are common in those who use stimulant drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamine. Very small pupils can be seen in heroin users.

Red or yellow eyes

A change in the colour of the sclera (the “whites of the eyes”) suggests that something is not right. A red, bloodshot eye can be triggered by excess alcohol or drug abuse. It can also be caused by an irritation or infection that, in most cases, passes within days.

If the change in colour is persistent, it can signal a more serious infection, inflammation, or a reaction to contact lenses or their solutions. In extreme cases, a red eye indicates glaucoma, a sinister disease that can lead to blindness.

When the sclera become yellow, this is a most obvious sign of jaundice and a diseased liver. The underlying causes of jaundice vary widely. They include inflammation of the liver (hepatitis), genetic or autoimmune conditions, and certain medications, viruses or tumours.

An eye with yellow sclera.

Yellow sclera is a possible sign of liver disease. sruilk/Shutterstock

Red spot

A blood-red spot on the white of the eye (subconjunctival haemorrhage) can look frightening and is always the result of a small localised blood vessel that has burst. Most times, there is no known cause, and it disappears within days. However, it can also be an indication of high blood pressure, diabetes and blood-clotting disorders that cause excessive bleeding. Blood-thinning drugs such as aspirin can also be the cause, and if the problem is frequent, might suggest that the dosage should be reviewed.

Man with a blood spot on his eye.

A bleed in the eye is rarely as serious as it looks. YewLoon Lam/Shutterstock

Ring around the cornea

A white or grey ring around the cornea is often linked to high cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease. It can also reveal alcoholism and is sometimes seen in the eyes of older people, which is why the medical name given to it is arcus senilis.

An eye with arcus senilis.

Arcus senilis is common in older people. ARZTSAMUI/Shutterstock

Fatty lump

Sometimes the most alarming features that can appear on the eyes are actually the most benign and easy to treat. A yellowish fatty lump that can appear on the white of the eye is a pinguecula (pronounced pin-GWEK-you-la), a small deposit of fat and protein that may be easily remedied by eye drops or removed by a simple operation.

A pterygium (pronounced tur-RIDGE-ium) that appears as a pinkish growth over the white of the eye is not a danger to sight until it starts to grow over the cornea (the coloured part of the eye).

Fortunately, pterygia grow very slowly. As with pinguecula, it can easily be removed. Indeed, it should be removed well before it reaches the cornea. If allowed to keep growing, the pterygium will form an opaque “film” over the cornea that will obstruct vision. One of the major causal factors for both pinguecula and pterygium is believed to be chronic exposure to ultraviolet light from the Sun.

An eye with a pinguecula.

A pinguecula is a yellowish raised growth on the conjunctiva. sruilk/Shutterstock

Bulging eyes

Bulging eyes can be part of a normal facial feature, but when eyes that were not previously bulging start to protrude forward, the most obvious cause is a problem with the thyroid gland and needs medical attention. A single eye that is bulging can be caused by an injury, infection or, more rarely, a tumour behind the eye.

Person with bulging eyes.

Bulging eyes can be a sign of a thyroid problem, such as Graves’ disease.

Jonathan Trobe/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Swollen or twitching eyelids

The eyelids can also indicate many diseases. These are mostly related to minor conditions of the glands in the eyelids. A common condition is the stye or chalazion, which appears as a red lump on the upper and, less often, lower eyelid and is caused by a blocked oil gland. A stye generally disappears on its own or with warm compresses. If it persists, it needs to be removed with a simple procedure.

A twitching eyelid (ocular myokymia) can be an irritation, even an embarrassment, and often feels far worse than it looks. In most cases, it is perfectly harmless and can be linked to stress, nutrient imbalance or consuming too much caffeine.The Conversation

Barbara Pierscionek, Professor and Deputy Dean, Research and Innovation, Anglia Ruskin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How a volcanic bombardment in ancient Australia led to the world’s greatest climate catastrophe

Some 252 million years ago the world was going through a tumultuous period of rapid global warming.

To understand what caused it, scientists have looked to one particular event in which a volcanic eruption in what is now Siberia spewed huge volumes of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

However, there is evidence the climate was already changing before this.

Sea surface temperatures had increased by more than 6–8℃ in the hundreds of thousands of years leading up to the Siberian outpouring. Temperatures increased again after it, so much so that 85–95% of all living species eventually went extinct.

The eruption in Siberia obviously made a mark on the planet, but experts remained puzzled about what caused the initial warming before it.

Our research reveals Australia’s own ancient volcanoes played a big role. Prior to the event in Siberia, catastrophic eruptions in northern New South Wales spewed volcanic ash across the east coast.

These eruptions were so large they initiated the world’s biggest ever climate catastrophe — the evidence for which is now hidden deep in Australia’s thick piles of sediment.

Ancient volcanoes

Our study, published today in Nature, confirms eastern Australia was shaken by repeated “super eruptions” between 256 and 252 million years ago.

Super eruptions are different to the more passive Siberian event. These catastrophic explosions spewed massive amounts of ash and gasses high into the atmosphere.

Today we see evidence of this in light-colored layers of volcanic ash in sedimentary rock. These layers are found across huge areas of NSW and Queensland, all the way from Sydney to near Townsville.

Ash layers in coal measures

Thick pile of coal with multiple light colored ash layers that represent volcanic eruptions sourced from the New England region and now in the Sydney basin. Ian Metcalfe

Our study has identified the source of this ash in the New England region of NSW, where the eroded remnants of volcanoes are preserved.

Though erosion has removed much of the evidence, the now innocuous-looking rocks are our record of terrifying eruptions. The thickness and spread of the ash produced is consistent with some of the largest volcanic eruptions known.

Eroded volcanoe

Eroded remnants of the volcanoes in the New England region of NSW. Tim Chapman

How big were the super eruptions?

At least 150,000 km³ of material erupted from the northern NSW volcanoes over four million years. This makes them similar to the supervolcanoes of Yellowstone in the United States and Taupo in New Zealand.

To put it into perspective, the 79AD eruption of Mt Vesuvius, which obliterated the Italian city of Pompeii, produced just 3–4km³ of rock and ash. And the deadly Mt St Helens eruption in 1980 was about 1km³.

The Australian eruptions would have repeatedly covered the entire east coast in ash — metres thick in some places. And a massive outpouring of greenhouse gases would have triggered global climate change.

Environmental devastation

Ancient sedimentary rocks provide us with a timeline of the environmental damage caused by the eruptions. Ironically, the evidence is preserved in coal measures.

Today’s coal deposits in eastern Australia show ancient forests used to cover much of this land. After the super eruptions, however, these forests were abruptly terminated in a series of bushfires over some 500,000 years, 252.5–253 million years ago.

Typically the plant matter accumulated in swamps and was then buried under sediments. The burial process provided heat and pressure which enabled the conversion of the plant matter into coal.

Without the forests, there was no plant matter to accumulate. The ecosystem collapsed and most animals became extinct.

The subsequent eruptions in Siberia only exaggerated the devastation started by Australia’s supervolcanoes.

And this collapse of ecosystems was not limited to Australia, either. The catastrophic event affected all of the ancient continents. It had a substantial influence on the evolution of life — which eventually led to the rise of the dinosaurs.

Australia’s super eruptions were a key marker of change in the ancient world. As we look to achieving a more habitable climate in the future, who knew the clues to environmental catastrophe lay buried beneath our feet?

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