. Scientific Frontline: Social Science
Showing posts with label Social Science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Social Science. Show all posts

Friday, March 29, 2024

True trans visibility requires better data

The influential book Invisible Women articulates some of the countless ways in which women are missing from the data we use to understand the world, including the testing of many drugs, consideration of how best to support refugees, and others. The book is powerful, because it shines a light into how, by missing women out, we (unintentionally) do harm.

This trans visibility day, we’ve been thinking about whether a similar book could be written for trans people, and have had to conclude that it could not. Trans people and their experiences are so missing from the datasets that shape social science that we cannot even begin to fully understand the extent of their absence, and how this affects their lives.

Trans identities are missing from our datasets, meaning that their experiences in a number of domains cannot be studied quantitatively. The way in which many of our datasets are constructed reinforces a cis-normative understanding of the world, where people are pushed into the false binary of describing themselves as either male or female. Even less desirably, their gender is often assumed by the person administering the dataset, or worse, lumped into the amorphous category of “other” – literally othering survey respondents with a trans or non-binary identity.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Greenhouse gas emissions in Global South countries linked with IMF lending policies

New research by sociology professor Matthew Soener links loans from the International Monetary Fund to increased greenhouse gas emissions in Global South countries within several years. 
Photo Credit: Fred Zwicky

Greenhouse gas emissions significantly increase in countries in the Global South within a few years after initially borrowing from the International Monetary Fund using structural loans, but not when more flexible lending conditions are involved. 

However, with countries’ second or subsequent IMF loans, their emissions spike almost immediately, regardless of the lending conditions involved, a recent study suggests.

Structural loans, one of IMF’s two primary lending instruments, specify the precise changes borrowers are required to make to obtain the funds. By contrast, quantitative loans require that borrowers achieve quantifiable benchmarks – such as reducing their deficit by 5%, for example – but give them autonomy in deciding how they accomplish it, said study author Matthew Soener, a professor of sociology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Structural conditions impose coercive market constraints, reforms that pressure borrowers to increase their exports, indirectly raising countries’ greenhouse gas emissions through greater agricultural or manufacturing activities, Soener said.

“As a way to maintain growth and repay that loan, countries might decide, ‘Well, we can export more bananas, forest products or other agricultural products’ – or whatever specialty they might have,” he said. “In doing that, the country might be solving one problem, but they are causing another by increasing their greenhouse gas emissions.” 

Monday, March 4, 2024

Study shows social factors of low U.S. Breast cancer screening

Photo Credit: Marco Jean deOliveira Teixeira

To identify major social factors hindering breast cancer screening in women aged 40 and older in the U.S., researchers focused on race/ethnicity, employment, education, food security, insurance status, housing and access to quality health care.

There is a pressing need to explore and understand which social determinants of health (SDOH) and health inequities act as significant influential factors that contribute to low breast cancer screening behaviors in the United States.

Health disparities have been consistently associated with delayed screening, which then contributes to higher mortality rates among both Hispanic and Black populations. Moreover, poverty, lack of education, neighborhood disadvantage, residential segregation, racial discrimination, lack of social support and social isolation also play a role in the breast cancer stage at diagnosis.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt College of Medicine conducted a scoping review of 72 peer-reviewed observational studies published between 2013 and 2023 to identify the major SDOH that hinder breast cancer screening in women aged 40 and older in the U.S. They focused on race/ethnicity, employment, education, food security, insurance status, housing and access to quality health care.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Sexism and poorer parenting: Auckland study suggests a link

Professor Nickola Overall (top left) with researchers Dr Annette Henderson, Dr Rachel Low, Dr Valerie Chang, Dr Caitlin McRae and Dr Nina Waddell.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of University of Auckland

Fathers and mothers who believe men should hold the power and authority in society and the family were less responsive to their children during family interactions, according to University of Auckland research.

The study was the first of its type.

“For decades, sexism has been known to predict negative behaviors toward women, from discrimination to violence,” says lead author Professor Nickola Overall, of Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland. “Our study suggests the effects flow through to poorer parenting.”

Video-recording family groups in the laboratory, researchers assessed parents’ responsiveness, including warmth, involvement, engagement, and sensitivity toward their children.

The less responsive parents – both mothers and fathers – had disclosed higher levels of “hostile sexism,” an academic term for attitudes favoring male authority and antagonism toward women who challenge men’s social power.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Negative attitudes towards breastfeeding in public still an issue

Photo Credit: seeseehundhund

International law supports women’s right to breastfeed in public. However, women report having been subjected to negative responses and judgmental looks when breastfeeding outside the home. This is according to a new study from Lund University in Sweden, based on surveys answered by women living in Sweden, Ireland and Australia.

The researchers behind the study say that societies everywhere need to give clearer, explicit support for breastfeeding in public – and that society needs to welcome breastfeeding, regardless of the setting.

“Women and children lack access to public spaces. This affects opportunities to breastfeed when children need it, which in turn has a negative effect on both women and children,” says Charlotta Dykes, doctoral student and pediatric nurse.

She illustrates that point with one of many similar statements from women in their study: “Just how hungry is my child, will they be okay until I get home? Is there a better spot close by? Can I easily turn to face the other direction?”

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Researchers warn of future ‘fish wars’ as consequence of climate change

Photo Credit: Sabrina Eickhoff

How climate change could give rise to “fish wars” between nations is the subject of a new research project awarded a £1.1m grant by the US Department of Defense.

The project, entitled “Future Fish Wars: Chasing Ocean Ecosystem Wealth”, is one of 11 to receive a total funding of $18m as part of the US Department of Defense's Minerva Research Initiative, which supports research in social and behavioral sciences on topics relevant to US national security.

The researchers aim to develop new economic theory and approaches to measure the economic value of fisheries in the context of climate change and growing geopolitical ocean conflict.

They say illegal fishing, contested claims to fishing rights and future conflicts are likely outcomes as fish swim for the poles as a result of climate change warming the oceans. 

Over three years, the research team will develop new economic theory for valuing multiple stocks of marine resources, which they will use alongside novel data on conflict and cooperative events to achieve a deeper understanding of future fisheries conflict.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Natural flood prevention, higher trust through better communication

2013 flood on the Elbe near Dessau-Rosslau.
Photo Credit: André Künzelmann / UFZ

A UFZ study shows: If the population feels well informed, it has a more positive view towards nature-based flood prevention

In many places today, dikes are being moved back, and floodplains are being revitalized in order to give the river more space during times of flooding. This should make flood protection more effective and reduce the risk of flooding in inhabited areas. Nevertheless, natural flood prevention projects are often met with considerable resistance from the general population. Why is that? Researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the University of Potsdam have investigated this question in a social science study. They found that fear, personal experience of flooding, and a lack of information play a particular role in this. According to the research team, when flood protection measures are planned, the general population should be involved and informed as early as possible. The study was recently published in Risk Analysis.

There have been repeated flood disasters in Germany in recent decades. For example, in 2002 and 2013 along the Elbe and in 2021 in the Eifel region. As climate change progresses, severe floods are expected to occur more frequently. It is therefore important to quickly implement effective protection measures in vulnerable areas. 

Friday, April 14, 2023

Location intelligence shines a light on disinformation

Each dot represents a Twitterer discussing COVID-19 from April 16 to April 22, 2021. The closer the dots are to the center, the greater the influence. The brighter the color, the stronger the intent.
Image Credit: ORNL

Using disinformation to create political instability and battlefield confusion dates back millennia.

However, today’s disinformation actors use social media to amplify disinformation that users knowingly or, more often, unknowingly perpetuate. Such disinformation spreads quickly, threatening public health and safety. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic and recent global elections have given the world a front-row seat to this form of modern warfare.

A group at ORNL now studies such threats thanks to the evolution at the lab of location intelligence, or research that uses open data to understand places and the factors that influence human activity in them. In the past, location intelligence has informed emergency response, urban planning, transportation planning, energy conservation and policy decisions. Now, location intelligence at ORNL also helps identify disinformation, or shared information that is intentionally misleading, and its impacts.

Monday, February 13, 2023

A sense of purpose may have significant impact on teens' emotional well-being

Educational psychology professor Kaylin Ratner found in a study of more than 200 adolescents that feeling a sense of purpose had a significant impact on their emotional well-being. Those who scored high on purposefulness were more satisfied with their lives and experienced more positive emotions in general. 
Photo Credit: Fred Zwicky

Adolescents who feel a greater sense of purpose may be happier and more satisfied with life than peers who feel less purposeful, suggests a recent study of more than 200 teens.

Studies with adults have suggested that a sense of purpose in life is an integral component of well-being that fuels hope and optimism and has a variety of positive effects on individuals’ physical and mental health.

However, less is known about the effects of purposefulness in adolescents, who, while characteristically hopeful, are in the throes of developing their identities, making choices that reflect who they are and aspire to be, according to the study.

Educational psychology professor Kaylin Ratner of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign led the current study, which examined how youths’ feelings of purposefulness related to their daily levels of life satisfaction and subjective well-being.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Study finds much still not known about cognitive decline

Why do some elderly people keep their cognitive ability much longer than others? Scientists still have much to learn.
Photo Credit: Alexandra Lowenthal

The risk factors linked to cognitive decline in older adults explain a surprisingly modest amount about the large variation in mental abilities between older people, according to a new national study.

Researchers found that the factors most commonly associated with cognitive functioning – including socioeconomic status, education and race – explained only 38% of the variation in functioning among Americans at age 54.

Health behaviors such as avoiding obesity and smoking and participating in vigorous exercise had only very small effects on functioning by the time people reached their mid-50s.

In addition, the factors studied explained only 5.6% of the variation in how quickly cognitive functioning declined in people between age 54 and 85.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Children have not recovered learning lost during the COVID-19 pandemic

Learning online: 'We find a substantial overall learning deficit…which arose early in the pandemic and persists over time… The pooled effect…implies that students lost out on about 35% of what they would have learned in a normal school year…This confirms initial concerns the pandemic would cause substantial harm to student learning.'
Photo Credit: Amr

Each year during the pandemic, school children lost one third of what they would have learned – and this has still not been recovered, according to a study published today in Human Nature Behaviour.

According to the paper, A systematic review and meta-analysis of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on learning, ‘We find a substantial overall learning deficit…which arose early in the pandemic and persists over time… The pooled effect…implies that students lost out on about 35% of what they would have learned in a normal school year…This confirms initial concerns the pandemic would cause substantial harm to student learning.’

In particular, the paper finds, Math learning has been affected as well as children from lower income groups, ‘The pandemic has exacerbated educational inequalities between children from different socio-economic backgrounds, which were already large before the pandemic.’

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

COVID-19 conspiracy theories that spread fastest focused on evil, secrecy

Covid 19 Conspiracy Initiated
Image Credit: Dr StClaire

In the early pandemic, conspiracy theories that were shared the most on Twitter highlighted malicious purposes and secretive actions of supposed bad actors behind the crisis, according to an analysis of nearly 400,000 posts. 

In the study, researchers identified commonalities in five of the most popular conspiracy theories: those related to Bill Gates, 5G Networks, vaccinations, QAnon and Agenda 21.

While each theory appears to have a different subject, the social media narratives often overlapped, said Porismita Borah, associate professor in Washington State University’s Murrow College of Communications.

“The conspiracy theories might be using different strategies, but the narratives are often connected,” said Borah, the corresponding author on the study published in the journal New Media and Society. “These theories have a lot in common in that they try to make the stories part of a bigger conspiracy so that if people believe in one conspiracy, then they tend to believe in the other.”

Interfering in big decisions friends and family take could violate a crucial moral right, philosopher argues

Two people speaking, sat at a table 
Photo Credit: Charles Deluvio

If you’ve told an adult friend or family member that they should not take a job, not date someone, not try skydiving or not move abroad, you may have violated a crucial moral right to ‘revelatory autonomy’ and ‘self-authorship’, according to a philosopher at Christ’s College, Cambridge.

Dr Farbod Akhlaghi’s study, published in the journal Analysis, is the first of its kind to suggest that we have a moral right to ‘revelatory autonomy’, that is the right to discover for ourselves who we’ll become as a result of making ‘transformative choices’, choices to have experiences that teach us what that experience will be like for us whilst also changing our core preferences, values and desires.

Dr Akhlaghi says: “The ability to see that the person we’ve become is the product of decisions that we made for ourselves is very important.

“I’m not telling people what to do. I’m just highlighting part of what is morally at stake in these very common interactions and trying to develop a framework for us to understand them. I hope some may find this helpful, as these will always be difficult moments for all of us.”

Friday, January 6, 2023

Lost in Translation: How "Risky" Amino Acids Abort Elongation in Protein Synthesis

Elongation, a crucial step in the translation process of protein synthesis, gets disrupted by amino acid sequences with an abundance of N-terminal aspartic and glutamic acid residues in eukaryotic cells, discovered researchers from Tokyo Tech and University of Hyogo. The team's findings show that these "risky" amino acids can destabilize the ribosomal machinery. As a consequence, most proteomes tend to avoid incorporating them at the N-terminals of peptide sequences, indicating a bias in amino acid distribution.

Life depends on the precise functioning of several proteins synthesized in cells by ribosomes. This diverse set of proteins, known as a proteome, is maintained by the robust translation elongation of amino acid sequences taking place in the ribosomes. The translation mechanisms which ensure that nascent chains of polypeptides—long chains of amino acids—are elongated without getting detached are conserved in all living organisms. However, the rates of elongation are not constant. Elongation is often interrupted by interactions between positively charged nascent polypeptides and negatively charged ribosomal RNA.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Females perform better than males on a ‘theory of mind’ test across 57 countries

Over the decades, many independent research studies have found that females on average score higher than males on theory of mind tests
Photo Credit: Yuri Levin

Researchers found that females, on average, score higher than males on the widely used ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes’ Test, which measures ‘theory of mind’ (also known as ‘cognitive empathy’). This finding was observed across all ages and most countries.

The research, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), is the largest study of theory of mind to date.

A fundamental part of human social interaction and communication involves putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, to imagine another person’s thoughts and feelings. This is known as ‘theory of mind’ or ‘cognitive empathy’.

For decades, researchers have studied the development of theory of mind, from infancy to old age. One of the most widely used tests with which to study theory of mind is the ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes’ Test (or Eyes Test, for short), which asks participants to pick which word best describes what the person in the photo is thinking or feeling, just by viewing photos of the eye region of the face.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Robots are taking over jobs, but not at the rate you might think

The study found that robots aren’t replacing humans at the rate most people think, but people are prone to exaggerate the rate of robot takeover.
Photo Credit: Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo

It’s easy to believe that robots are stealing jobs from human workers and drastically disrupting the labor market; after all, you’ve likely heard that chatbots make more efficient customer service representatives and that computer programs are tracking and moving packages without the use of human hands.

But there’s no need to panic about a pending robot takeover just yet, says a new study from BYU sociology professor Eric Dahlin. Dahlin’s research found that robots aren’t replacing humans at the rate most people think, but people are prone to severely exaggerate the rate of robot takeover.

The study, recently published in Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, found that only 14% of workers say they’ve seen their job replaced by a robot. But those who have experienced job displacement due to a robot overstate the effect of robots taking jobs from humans by about three times.

To understand the relationship between job loss and robots, Dahlin surveyed nearly 2,000 individuals about their perceptions of jobs being replaced by robots. Respondents were first asked to estimate the percentage of employees whose employers have replaced jobs with robots. They were then asked whether their employer had ever replaced their job with a robot.

Monday, November 7, 2022

New international study concludes digital media can fuel polarization and populism

Image Credit: Thomas Ulrich

The question of whether the rise in usage of digital media is contributing to the erosion of democracy is a source of popular debate, with tech companies arguing the findings are inconclusive.

But now a team of international researchers has carried out a comprehensive review of hundreds of studies globally, the biggest of its kind, exploring this claim and found that while social media is not exclusively bad, it can certainly stoke starkly conflicting views, populism, and political mistrust especially in established democracies.

The researchers, from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the Hertie School in Germany, and the University of Bristol in the UK, systematically assessed studies investigating whether and how digital media impacts people’s political behavior. Studies show that although some effects may be beneficial for democracy, for instance digital media can increase political knowledge and diversity of news exposure, they also have detrimental effects, such as fostering polarization and populism.

Furthermore, the way consequences such as increased political mobilization and decreasing trust in institutions play out depends largely on the political context. Such developments were found to be beneficial in emerging democracies but can have destabilizing effects in established democracies.

Summer camps promote altruism in children

After two weeks of camp, the participants’ level of altruism had increased significantly, while that of the other children had decreased.
Photo Credit: Anna Samoylova

Being able to control oneself, cooperate or help others: having socio-emotional abilities is essential for those who wish to interact positively with their peers. These skills are largely acquired during childhood and can be trained in different contexts, such as school, family or leisure. A team from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) has shown that holiday camps Favour their development. They found an increase in altruism among children returning from camps, unlike those who did not participate in this type of stay during their holidays. These results can be found in the journal PLOS ONE.

Knowing how to recognize and manage our own emotions, as well as those of others, and adapting our behavior accordingly: socio-emotional abilities play a key role in our daily lives. They enable us to make decisions that are beneficial to our own well-being and that of our peers, and to establish quality relationships with them. Fostering the development of children, from an early age, is therefore essential.

These skills can be acquired and trained directly or indirectly. They can also be learned in a variety of contexts, such as school, family or leisure. By stimulating prosocial acts such as altruistic behavior, they are a prime target for the prevention of antisocial behavior, i.e. behavior that is confrontational towards others and society. A team from the UNIGE has studied the development of these abilities in a specific context: holiday camps.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Infants are less likely to contract COVID, develop severe symptoms than other household caregivers

Image by Pexels

Infants whose mothers test positive for COVID-19 tend to develop less-severe symptoms than their parents, if they become infected with the virus at all.

In one of the first studies to explore how COVID-19 specifically affects older infants, researchers from the University of Washington and at institutions at four other locations in the Western and Southern U.S. found that the number of infected people in a household was the factor most closely linked with the infant’s likelihood of being infected.

“The focus on infants early in the pandemic was about possible transmission risks during pregnancy, birth or through breastfeeding, but there were other questions about the risks in the household to infants and other children when caregivers are sick,” said Melanie Martin, assistant professor of anthropology at the UW and the first author of the study, which in the journal Frontiers in Immunology. “Infants are in the most contact, and very close contact, with their caregiver than with any other family members. And so, we asked, "How much are infants at risk, and how do you protect children when they are sick?”

The study analyzed surveys and antibody results (taken from pin-prick blood samples) of 46 pairs of COVID-positive mothers and their infants for two months following maternal infection. Infants were at least 1 month old, and COVID-positive mothers were enrolled in the study within days, sometimes hours, of receiving their positive PCR test results. The researchers also recruited a comparative group of 11 COVID-negative mothers, who tested negative after exposure or symptoms, and a control group of 26 mothers with no known COVID exposures or symptoms.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

People with paranormal beliefs spooked by science and the COVID-19 vaccine

The largest supermoon appearance of 2022, identified as the Buck Moon, rises above the mountain line in Morgantown, July 13. New WVU sociological research shows people who believe in witchcraft, telekinesis and other forms of paranormal phenomenon are more likely to mistrust science and vaccines.
Photo Credit:David Malecki | West Virginia University

The number 13, telekinesis and witchcraft play a part in a person’s mistrust of science and vaccines, including the COVID-19 shot, according to research from West Virginia University sociologists.

Previous research has shown that people with conservative religious beliefs are more likely to lack confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine, but most studies have observed only mainstream or institutionalized religious forms. WVU researchers Katie Corcoran, Chris Scheitle and Bernard DiGregorio were curious whether paranormal beliefs — beliefs in astrology and spirits, for instance — would be associated with a similar lack of confidence.

“We were interested in looking at how religion, science and what we call ‘the enchanted worldview’ relate to each other,” said Corcoran, associate professor of sociology in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, explaining that the enchanted worldview incorporates traditional religious beliefs, like beliefs in angels, God, demons and spirits.

“It also incorporates the belief that crystals can heal, belief in astrology and belief that the world is enchanted, that there’s more than the empirical world, beyond just religion. So, this particular project looks at what we call paranormal beliefs, which cut across several different areas.”

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