WASHINGTON—Using videos that claim to teach toddlers, or flash cards for tots, may not be the best idea. Simply talking to babies is key to building crucial language and vocabulary skills—but sooner is better, and long sentences are good.
So says research that aims to explain, and help solve, the troubling “word gap”: Children from more affluent, professional families hear millions more words before they start school than poor kids, leaving the lower-income students at an academic disadvantage that’s difficult to overcome.
That gap starts to appear at a younger age than scientists once thought, around 18 months, said Stanford University psychology professor Anne Fernald.
And research being presented this week at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science suggests that it’s not just hearing lists of words that matters as much as rich, varied language with good grammar that trains babies’ brains to learn through context.
Instead of just saying, “Here’s an orange,” it would be better to say: “Let’s put the orange in this bowl with the banana and the apple and the grapes.”
“It’s making nets of meaning that then will help the child learn new words,” Fernald explained.
“The advice I give mothers is to have conversations with your babies,” added Erika Hoff, a psychology professor at Florida Atlantic University. “Children can hear lots of talk that goes over their head in terms of the meaning, and they still benefit from it.”
Income Word Gap
The research comes amid a growing push for universal preschool, to help disadvantaged youngsters catch up. But it also raises the question of whether children from low-income, less educated families need earlier intervention, such as preschool that starts at age 3 instead of 4, or higher quality day care or even some sort of “Let’s talk” campaign aimed at new parents to stress talking, singing, and reading with tots even before they can respond. That can be difficult for parents working multiple jobs, or who may not read well or who simply don’t know why it’s important.
Scientists have long known that before they start kindergarten, children from middle-class or affluent families have heard millions more words than youngsters from low-income families, leaving the poorer children with smaller vocabularies and less ready to succeed academically. Fernald said by some measures, 5-year-olds from low-income families can lag two years behind their peers in tests of language development.
Brain scans support the link, said Dr. Kimberly Noble of Columbia University Medical Center. Early experiences shape the connections that children’s brains form, and kids from higher socio-economic backgrounds devote more “neural real estate” to brain regions involved in language development, she found.
Language Quality Matters
How early does the word gap appear? Around age 18 months, Stanford’s Fernald discovered when she compared how children mentally process the language they hear. Lower-income kids in her study achieved at age 2 the level of proficiency that more affluent kids had reached six months earlier.
To understand why language processing is so important, consider this sentence: “The kitty’s on the bench.” If the youngster knows the word “kitty,” and his brain recognizes it quickly enough, then he can figure out what “bench” means by the context. But if he’s slow to recognize “kitty,” then “bench” flies by before he has a chance to learn it.
Next, Fernald tucked recorders into T-shirts of low-income toddlers in Spanish-speaking households to determine what they heard all day—and found remarkable differences in what’s called child-directed speech. That’s when children are spoken to directly, in contrast to television or conversations they overhear.
One child heard more than 12,000 words of child-directed speech in a day, while another heard a mere 670 words, she found. The youngsters who received more child-directed speech processed language more efficiently and learned words more quickly, she reported.
But it’s not just quantity of speech that matters—it’s quality, Hoff cautioned. She studied bilingual families and found that whatever the language, children fare better when they learn it from a native speaker. In other words, if mom and dad speak Spanish but aren’t fluent in English, it’s better for the child to have a solid grounding in Spanish at home and then learn English later in school.
Next, scientists are testing whether programs that teach parents better ways to talk to tots really do any good. Fernald said preliminary results from one of the first—a program called Habla Conmigo, Spanish for Talk With Me, that enrolls low-income, Spanish-speaking mothers in San Jose, Calif.—are promising.
Fernald analyzed the first 32 families of the 120 the program will enroll. Mothers who underwent the eight-week training are talking more with their toddlers, using higher-quality language, than a control group of parents—and by their second birthday, the children have bigger vocabularies and process language faster, she said Thursday.
By Tara MacIsaac
We are engulfed by electromagnetic fields all day everyday, and the fields are only getting stronger as technology progresses and spreads. The health effects are of increasing concern, as it has been shown they not only affect individuals, but also harm DNA passed along to offspring.
Wi-Fi routers, cell phones, cordless phones, baby monitors, electric blankets, alarm clocks—all of these devices are damaging, says electrical engineer and environmental consultant Larry Gust. He discussed the dangers and how people can protect themselves in a video presented by Electromagnetic Health this week.
Here’s a look at the health effects, recommended maximum levels of exposure, the levels most people are exposed to, and tips on how to protect yourself.
Health Effects Overview
Dr. Martin Blank, who studies the effects of electromagnetic radiation at Columbia University, pointed out in a 2012 lecture uploaded to YouTube that the damage to DNA disrupts normal cell growth and protein production.
He cited studies that have shown DNA damage causes cancer. Illustrating the impact of the field emanated from a simple daily device, he said it has been shown electric blankets greatly increase a woman’s chance of miscarriage.
Electric field health effects:
-Muscle and nerve pain
-Bed wetting in children
Radio frequency health effects:
-Inability to concentrate
Electric, Magnetic Field Exposure
Recommendations for the maximum exposure in electric fields vary from about 3 volts per foot at the upper end of the spectrum to 1.5 volts or fewer per foot at the lower end. The typical bedroom has 3 to 9 volts per foot.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the maximum level for a magnetic field in a home should be 3 to 4 milliGauss.
In Marin, Calif., a 4-year-old girl had an 80 milliGauss field around her bed and in the play yard she frequented, recalled Gust. She was lethargic, had no appetite, and had rectal bleeding. As soon as the field was cleared, her symptoms vanished.
Maximum Recommended Levels of Radio Frequency Exposure
The BioInitiative Report was produced by a working group of doctors. Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and Environment at the University of Albany co-edited it. The Building Biology Report was released by the International Institute for Building-Biology & Ecology, a non-profit research and advisory institution.
Typical Radio Frequency Exposure Levels
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A visitor to the Coral Castle will see a stone fantasy garden with carved coral stones and blocks weighing several dozen tons each. The mystery of the garden is not in the blocks themselves but in how they were carved and put into place.
This feat of engineering was accomplished entirely by one man—Edward Leedskalnin—who carved, transported, and set all of the stone slabs and blocks by himself with no help or modern machinery. He used only hand tools he bought from a junkyard. Additionally, the blocks are cut and set with intricate precision, locked into place without mortar.
Leedskalnin, born in Latvia on Aug. 10, 1887, was a quiet, private man who was just over 5 feet tall, weighing just over 100 pounds. He somehow managed to carve and sculpt more than 1,100 tons of coral rock, transporting the rocks 10 miles and setting them into place using only a crude wooden tripod, a borrowed tractor, and a truck.
All of his work was done during the night between midnight and 6:00 a.m., according to the documentary Mystery at Coral Castle. Whenever someone would try to catch a peek at his work, he would stand upon his watchtower and announce: “As soon as you leave, I will continue my work.”
People could see the blocks being transported down the highway, but no one ever saw Leedskalnin move, lift, or set any of the blocks. The only witnesses are two children who supposedly saw Leedskalnin “float” the blocks into place like moving balloons. The mysterious man was also known for his extensive theories on magnetism.
The Coral Castle walls themselves weight 125 pounds per cubic foot, and each section is 8 feet tall, 4 feet wide, and 3 feet thick, according to the Coral Castle Museum. Weighing approximately 30 tons, the greatest stone in the castle is twice as massive as any used in the pyramids, according to the documentary In Search of Coral Castle.
Another particular oddity of the castle includes a 9-ton swinging stone door that moves when just a little force is applied; a child could move it with ease. A raised obelisk weighing 28 tons is another curious feature, as well as a carved stone crescents sitting atop 20-foot high walls.
The story regarding the inspiration for the Coral Castle is that of a tragic romance. When Leedskalnin was still a young man, at the age of 26, he was engaged to a woman who left him the day before they were to be wed. Leedskalnin vowed to create the structure as a symbol for his love for her.
The stones were quarried near his original home in Florida City. After a developing subdivision threatened his privacy and the privacy of the Castle, he bought property in Homestead, Fla., just 25 miles from Miami, and moved all of his pieces over the course of three years.
Leedskalnin started the endeavor in approximately 1923 and finished around 1951. Through the ‘40s up until his death in December of 1951, he would charge 10 cents admission for visitors to his castle and garden.
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Romantic love tends to light up the same reward areas of the brain that are activated by cocaine. But new research shows that selfless love—a deep and genuine wish for the happiness of others—actually turns off the brain’s reward centers.
“When we truly, selflessly wish for the well-being of others, we’re not getting that same rush of excitement that comes with, say, a tweet from our romantic love interest, because it’s not about us at all,” says Judson Brewer, adjunct professor of psychiatry at Yale University now at the University of Massachusetts.
As reported in the journal Brain and Behavior, the neurological boundaries between these two types of love become clear in fMRI scans of experienced meditators.
The reward centers of the brain that are strongly activated by a lover’s face (or a picture of cocaine) are almost completely turned off when a meditator is instructed to silently repeat sayings such as “May all beings be happy.”
Such mindfulness meditations are a staple of Buddhism and are now commonly practiced in Western stress reduction programs.
The tranquility of this selfless love for others—exemplified in such religious figures such as Mother Teresa or the Dalai Llama—is diametrically opposed to the anxiety caused by a lovers’ quarrel or extended separation. And it carries its own rewards.
“The intent of this practice is to specifically foster selfless love—just putting it out there and not looking for or wanting anything in return,” Brewer says.
“If you’re wondering where the reward is in being selfless, just reflect on how it feels when you see people out there helping others, or even when you hold the door for somebody the next time you are at Starbucks.”
Source: Yale University
Originally published on www.futurity.org
A flock of migrating starlings flies over the southern Israeli village of Tidhar, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. AP Photo/Oded Balilty
‘Emotional reaction’ from peers when a scientist breaks from conventional thinking
By Tara MacIsaac
1. Richard von Sternberg
Richard von Sternberg was an editor at the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. He published an article written by Stephen C. Meyer, which had been reviewed by three other scientists. The article mentioned intelligent design might be possible, Von Sternberg explained in the documentary “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.”
He said he was fired when his superiors “had a physical, emotional reaction.”
Meyer said: “I was viewed as an intellectual terrorist.”
2. Bill Donato, Archaeologist
Donato has been working for many years to prove that Bimini Wall, a structure off the coast of the Bahamas, was built by a prehistoric civilization, one that far out-dates any civilization thought capable of building the structure.
“I do not fear any professional repercussions, because I know what I’m talking about and they [skeptics] have typically done no investigations of any kind,” Donato wrote in an email to Epoch Times. He said his funding comes from like-minded people and he is confident in his findings, confident that truth will prevail.
“Though reductionism is useful, it also has decided limitations; you can’t build an automobile engine from only understanding a bolt,” he said.
Dr. Greg Little, a psychologist who has taken a keen interest in Bimini and has worked closely with Donato, wrote in a 2005 paper: “I have no expectation that any of the skeptics will actually change their views or even consider any alternatives to their beliefs. … All contradictions to their beliefs are probably perceived as a direct threat to them professionally and psychologically.”
“Skeptics invoke emotion-laden, ridiculing terms,” Little wrote. “For obvious reasons, mainstream archaeologists have avoided Bimini as if it was infected with a deadly virus. They have been convinced by reading others’ summaries of the early research—not by digesting the actual facts—that Bimini has to be nothing but natural beachrock and that a harbor cannot be there—therefore it is not there.”
3. Caroline Crocker, George Mason University
Crocker mentioned intelligent design in a couple of slides while lecturing at the university, she said in “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.” She said she was nonetheless disciplined for teaching creationism and fired at the end of the semester. She said she was essentially blacklisted in the academic community for what she called her “science sin.”
4. Michael Egnor, Stony Brook University
Egnor is a neuroscientist at Stony Brook University who completed his medical degree at Columbia University.
He expected criticism for his support of intelligent design theories, but “what has amazed me is the viciousness and the sort of baseness of it,” he said in the documentary. He has, however, retained his position at the university.
Prof. Robert J. Marks II at Baylor University had tenure before expressing a belief in intelligent design. He said “I’m academically safe, but the young people, what has happened to them right now in America because of this scientific gulag is really terrible.”
5. Klaus Dona, Researcher, Exhibit Curator
Klaus Dona says advanced civilizations existed 100 million years ago. Conventional science holds that civilization only emerged some 6,000 or 7,000 years ago.
Dona has traveled the world to research artifacts that don’t seem to have any proper place in history. He toured with a collection of such artifacts to draw attention to what he says are pieces of evidence that our current understanding of history may be incorrect—pieces usually stuffed away in museum basements.
In an interview with Russell Scott on “West Coast Truth,” Dona spoke about his findings and also about researchers who have held similar views and have been penalized.
“They face real problems in their universities or in their communities.” He gave the example of William Brown, a theoretical biophysicist whose DNA research related to the human consciousness got him fired from his university position. He now works for the Resonance Project Foundation and Hawai’i Institute for Unified Physics.
“Scientists are scared to lose their jobs or … [have] problems if they give out some very, very unbelievable—but real—facts,” he said. “It’s not easy for a scientist to deal with these unbelievable things.”
6. Astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, Iowa State University
When you say “intelligent design” in a room of academics “them is fighting words,” Gonzalez said in “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.”
“People really get emotional about this.”
He feels certain that if he hadn’t spoken of intelligent design, he would have tenure. He says of scientists who hold controversial views: “If they value their careers, they should keep quiet.”
See Epoch Times article “10 Scientific Blunders That Could Shake Your Faith in Science” to read about scientists in history who have been shunned, but whose theories were later vindicated.
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Several influenza viruses, including bird flu and swine flu, that have rapidly spread to eight Chinese provinces, including the two municipalities Beijing and Shanghai, are steadily gaining pace from day to day and causing national panic. At least 181 human cases of influenza viruses with 38 fatalities have been confirmed since January, according to data compiled from reports by local authorities.
As of Feb. 9, 179 cases of H7N9 bird flu have been reported with 37 fatalities, alongside one fatal case of H1N1 swine flu and one case of H10N8 bird flu. The 179 recorded cases in first 40 days of this year has surpassed China’s official total number of 146 cases of H7N9 in 2013, which included 45 fatalities.
The first recognized case of H7N9 human infection emerged in east China last March. The virus re-emerged in October and has rapidly spread since January, primarily in southeast China. According to China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), on average, five to seven cases of H7N9 are reported daily, with numbers increasing.
Zhejiang Province has reported the most cases–77 cases with 12 deaths have been confirmed. Li Lanjuan, professor and chief physician at the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University School of Medicine predicts a large rise in infections this winter.
“The H7N9 flu virus is known to be more active in the winter. There will be an increasing number of cases in the coming months in Zhejiang, even bigger than the cases being reported,” Li was quoted by Zhejiang News Online.
According to the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO), as of Jan. 28, the case fatality rate of all confirmed cases in 13 provinces and municipalities in east China, Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region of China), and Taipei CDC is 22 percent, but many cases are still hospitalized.
As the H7N9 death toll rises, there has been growing panic among the public.
“Everyone is now panicking over the bird flu,” said Shen Jianmin, a resident in Zhejiang. “Worried about a deadly influenza pandemic, people wear masks and don’t eat poultry or meat.”
Among the 37 confirmed fatalities is a 31-year-old surgeon from the Shanghai Pudong New Area People’s Hospital. His death from the bird flu was identified on Jan. 18, with the source of infection unknown.
Shanghai resident Ms. Li told Epoch Times: “Even the doctor as a patient couldn’t be treated successfully, to say nothing of ordinary people.”
Ms. Li was also doubtful about the accuracy of reported fatalities. “The government has definitely not reported the real death toll,” Li said. “Now all the major hospitals in Shanghai are full of patients with flu-like symptoms. We’re really scared of the spread of bird flu, even not daring to go to a hospital for treatment of minor illnesses,” she added.
A female doctor at the hospital where the surgeon died, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Because the H7N9 virus is more transmissible and harder to detect than H5N1 bird flu, we doctors even fear the prospect of human-to-human transmission of this virus.”
Mr. Ye, a resident from Guangdong, the province with the second most cases–60 with 13 deaths have been recorded since August of last year, told Epoch Times: “Increased cases of the bird flu raise concerns about the potential of more widespread infections and transmission to humans. So live chicken sales are banned here and even restaurants have removed chicken dishes from their menus.”
Beijing resident Mr. Yuan told Epoch Times that people are scared at the mere mention of the bird flu. They don’t even dare to eat chicken and eggs, and try to stay home for fear of getting bird flu, he said.
Multiple cases of family cluster infections have also been reported, indicating human-to-human transmission. If the virus mutates into a form that can directly pass between humans, it could result in the disease spreading rapidly, causing global epidemics, according to Chen Taoan, former director of the Information Division of Shanxi’s CDC.
According to the U.S. CDC, there are three types of influenza viruses, classified A, B and C. Only influenza type A and B viruses that routinely spread in people are responsible for seasonal flu epidemics each year.
Type A influenza viruses are further divided into subtypes on the basis of two proteins on the surface of the virus, the hemaglutinin or “H” protein and the neuraminidase or “N” protein. There are 18 known H subtypes (H1 to H18) and 11 known N subtypes (N1 to N11), possibly generating 198 different combinations of these proteins such as H1N1 and H7N2.
According to the WHO and CDC, wild aquatic birds, in particular certain wild ducks, geese, and swans are the natural hosts for all known influenza A viruses. Type A influenza viruses infect a range of avian species and mammals like pigs and horses, whereas type B and C infections are largely restricted to humans.
They indicate that the majority of the currently identified subtypes of influenza A viruses are maintained in wild avian populations. Humans are generally infected by virus of the subtypes H1, H2 or H3, and N1 or N2. However, humans can also be infected with influenza viruses that are routinely circulating in animals, such as avian influenza virus subtypes H5N1 and H9N2 and swine influenza virus subtypes H1N1 and H3N2.
“Usually these human infections of zoonotic influenza are acquired through direct contact with infected animals or contaminated environments, and do not spread very far among humans. If such a virus acquired the capacity to spread easily among people either through adaptation or acquisition of certain genes from human viruses, it could start an epidemic or a pandemic,” the WHO said.
H7N9 has been identified as one of the most lethal influenza viruses. “When we look at influenza viruses, this is an unusually dangerous virus for humans,” Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director-general for Health Security and Environment, said last April.
One of the biggest problems with H7N9 is that the source of human infections has not been identified yet. In their paper published on May 2013 in The Lancet, Chinese researchers revealed that the H7N9 virus, based on past experience and epidemiological investigation, might be carried by infected poultry, but about 40 percent of the patients have not been in contact with poultry. The finding implies that it’s harder to prevent further spreading of the infection.
Because the H7N9 virus does not appear to cause clinical symptoms in infected poultry, clear links between infections in poultry and human cases have been difficult to establish, according to the WHO.
The absence of illness symptoms in birds carrying the H7N9 virus also makes it impossible to detect whether birds are infected, showing experts few signs as to where the flu might spread, and making the virus extremely difficult to detect, according to a research paper published on January 2014 in Chinese Medical Journal cmj.org.
“It could be that the infected animals might not shed the virus for more than a few days, so it is a matter of chance if you test and find it. It might be that they are not sampling enough animal species, and they may have to take a look at the less common species of birds being sold in Chinese markets,” the paper quoted Ho Pak-leung, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Hong Kong.
Many people have speculated about the official number of H7N9 cases reported by Chinese authorities.
According to the female doctor in Shanghai who spoke to Epoch Times on condition of anonymity, Chinese official data are used for maintaining social stability and to prevent panic among the public. Therefore, authorities will often withhold the true number of infected people from the public.
“The Shanghai Municipal Health Bureau has instructed us to ‘report what you ought, and do not report what you ought not,’ for this is a big thing, creating an international impact,” the doctor added.
Zhu Xinxin, a former editor at Hebei People’s Radio Station, told Epoch Times about the official Chinese media reports of the epidemic situation.
“Sporadic cases are currently being reported by different provinces and municipalities, without the total number of cases published by the state. This is a measure commonly employed by the Chinese communist regime. They tend to see the Chinese New Year as a big sales occasion that helps boost the gross domestic product (GDP).
“If they report the true scale of the epidemic, they fear this will cause widespread public alarm. Consequently, the national industrial production chains would be hard hit and domestic market sales would then slide downward to a large extent, causing weak economies being devastated. Then a major economic panic may sweep the nation with declining GDP.”
A female employee who answered the phone at China CDC said that since the second half of last year, the authorities have adopted a degrading tactic to tackle H7N9 in China; they use a monthly reporting system in line with state guidelines, instead of daily incident reports.
Asked about the actual fatality rate, the woman said: “January data will be released on Feb. 10. The true tally in January is much greater than that in those provinces. I can’t answer that, though.”
According to another employee at China CDC, there have been more human cases of H7N9 in Beijing, but the true number is not clear.
By Tara MacIsaac
The Viking sword Ulfberht was made of metal so pure it baffled archaeologists. It was thought the technology to forge such metal was not invented for another 800 or more years, during the Industrial Revolution.
About 170 Ulfberhts have been found, dating from 800 to 1,000 A.D. A NOVA, National Geographic documentary titled “Secrets of the Viking Sword” first aired in 2012 took a look at the enigmatic sword’s metallurgic composition.
In the process of forging iron, the ore must be heated to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit to liquify, allowing the blacksmith to remove the impurities (called “slag”). Carbon is also mixed in to make the brittle iron stronger. Medieval technology did not allow iron to be heated to such a high temperature, thus the slag was removed by pounding it out, a far less effective method.
The Ulfberht, however, has almost no slag, and it has a carbon content three times that of other metals from the time. It was made of a metal called “crucible steel.”
It was thought that the furnaces invented during the industrial revolution were the first tools for heating iron to this extent.
Modern blacksmith Richard Furrer of Wisconsin spoke to NOVA about the difficulties of making such a sword. Furrer is described in the documentary as one of the few people on the planet who has the skills needed to try to reproduce the Ulfberht.
“To do it right, it is the most complicated thing I know how to make,” he said.
He commented on how the Ulfberht maker would have been regarded as possessing magical powers. “To be able to make a weapon from dirt is a pretty powerful thing,” he said. But, to make a weapon that could bend without breaking, stay so sharp, and weigh so little would be regarded as supernatural.
Furrer spent days of continuous, painstaking work forging a similar sword. He used medieval technology, though he used it in a way never before suspected. The tiniest flaw or mistake could have turned the sword into a piece of scrap metal. He seemed to declare his success at the end with more relief than joy.
It is possible that the material and the know-how came from the Middle East. The Volga trade route between the Viking settlements and the Middle East opened at the same time the first Ulfberhts appeared and closed when the last Ulfberhts were produced.
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I have moved in their footsteps as in a waking dream where the fragrance from a full-blown
peony is no longer a fragrance but a shimmer; where the deep red color of a maple leaf
in autumn is not a color but a privilege; where a country is no longer a place but a
lullaby. And where an outstretched hand is no longer just a gesture, but
a moment of love that continues into sleep,
into awakening, into everyday life.
~ Kim Thuy
(This is my translation, I’ve read her book Ru and these lines are just so beautiful. I guess that if you want the exact translation you have to read her book. And that is not a waste of time…) :-)
MONTREAL—The development of physical aggression in toddlers is strongly associated genetic factors and to a lesser degree with the environment, according to a new study led by Eric Lacourse of the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine Hospital. Lacourse’s worked with the parents of identical and non-identical twins to evaluate and compare their behavior, environment, and genetics.
“The gene-environment analyses revealed that early genetic factors were pervasive in accounting for developmental trends, explaining most of the stability and change in physical aggression, ” Lacourse said. “However, it should be emphasized that these genetic associations do not imply that the early trajectories of physical aggression are set and unchangeable. Genetic factors can always interact with other factors from the environment in the causal chain explaining any behavior.”
Over the past 25 years, research on early development of physical aggression has been highly influenced by social learning theories that suggest the onset and development of physical aggression is mainly determined by accumulated exposure to aggressive role models in the social environment and the media.
However, the results of studies on early childhood physical aggression indicate that physical aggression starts during infancy and peaks between the ages of 2 and 4. Although for most children the use of physical aggression initiated by the University of Montreal team peaks during early childhood, these studies also show that there are substantial differences in both frequency at onset and rate of change of physical aggression due to the interplay of genetic and environmental factors over time.
By Michelle Yu
An aging population and growing focus on health in the United States has fueled the growth of a $28 billion vitamin and nutritional supplement market, and it is expected to continue to grow at about 3 percent a year.
Over half of American adults are popping vitamins and supplements. They may not be aware they are eating products made in China, or made using raw materials from China.
China has captured over 90 percent of the Vitamin C market in the United States, according to the Seattle Times. Think about how many labels advertise added Vitamin C. Vitamin C goes into many food and drink products—almost all processed food for humans as well as pets contains Vitamin C.
The consumer has no way of knowing the added vitamin C comes from China, because there is no rule requiring labeling the country of origin for ingredients.
This may raise quite a few eyebrows as Chinese food safety scandals make headlines every day.
Here are five facts any consumer of vitamins should know.
1. Only 2 percent of all imported vitamins and other supplements are inspected. Why? Vitamins and supplements are classified as “food” by law and therefore not subject to the tough regulatory scrutiny of prescription drugs.
2. China’s top vitamin and supplement production areas are among the most polluted in the country (and thus in the world).
Vitamins and nutritional supplements usually use agricultural products as key raw materials. The top vitamin exporting province, Zhejiang, has an alarming level of soil pollution from heavy metal. As matter of fact, one-sixth of China’s farmlands are heavily polluted.
For example, rice planted in several key agricultural provinces was reported to contain excessive Cadmium, a metal commonly found in batteries, coloring, and the industrial waste from making plastic. It may cause serious kidney disease.
Irrigation water is a nightmare: Half of the country’s major water bodies are polluted, as are 86 percent of city water bodies. Pollution is largely caused by the country’s numerous factories, which rarely have equipment for treating pollution. Seventy to 80 percent of the country’s industrial waste is directly emitted into rivers.
3. Even those labeled as “organic” are not safe, since USDA organic standards place no limit on levels of heavy metal contamination for certified organic foods.
4. Approximately 6,300 Americans nationwide complained about adverse reactions to dietary supplements between 2008 and 2012, according to FDA statistics. But the actual number may be more than eight times higher, some experts say, because most people don’t believe health products can make them sick. While not all such problems would be caused by pollution in China, that pollution may have played a role.
5. Worst of all, China-made vitamins are everywhere, and even those who do not consume vitamins and supplements can hardly escape. Many vitamins end up as ingredients in items like soft drinks, food, animal feed, and even cosmetics.
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By Vincent F. Hendricks
University of Copenhagen
Human beings have long been easily influenced by the opinions of others but the social media networks that have come to dominate our lives may be making this “social proof” a problem.
A recent study in the journal Science, describing a randomised experiment on a social news aggregator platform, is testament to this phenomenon. The platform was set up to be similar to crowd-based sites such as Reddit and Digg, where content is displayed according to whether users vote it “up” or “down”. The researchers found that earlier ratings strongly affected future rating behaviour.
The study involved monitoring 101,281 comments made by users over a five-month period. These were viewed more than 10 million times and rated 308,515 times. In collaboration with the service, the researchers had rigged the setup in such a way that whenever a user left a comment it was automatically rendered with either a positive upvote, a negative downvote or no vote at all, for control.
They found that if a comment was given just a single upvote before publication, the likelihood of it receiving another upvote when the first user saw it was 32% higher than for the control group.
Overall, the comments that received an initial upvote came out with an overall rating of 25% higher than the control group, showing popularity really does breed popularity.
The researchers suggest results like these should make us think about the potentially dramatic consequences of the collective judgement phenomenon if it has spread to markets, politics or our health.
Upvoting the vote
It’s hardly news that we are susceptible to social information phenomena like herding, the lemming effect, cascades, bystander-effects and group-thinking. But as technology permeates every aspect of our lives, it has amplified the way in which social information processes distort truth, making us more vulnerable to err than ever and on a much larger scale.
The abundance of information driven by the internet has allowed us to increasingly side-step old methods of gathering the information we need, which seem cumbersome and time consuming now we can get what we need at the click of a button. This also means, however, that we are offered tempting avenues for by-passing traditional gate-keepers of correct information. Honestly, how many of us don’t just rely on what the internet says about some government ruling rather than looking at the original document?
Relying more and more on social media, crowd-based opinion generators and other online “democratic” rating, comment or information acquisition systems not only makes such side-tracking possible and more likely to occur; it also increases the numerical reach of the spreading of false beliefs, be that intentional or not. This is known as an infostorm.
In the eye of the infostorm
Infostorms may be generating a new type of politics: the post-factual democracy. Facts are replaced by opportune narratives and the definition of a good story is one that has gone viral. Politics is simply about maximising voter support.
The American presidential election of 2012 presented some striking examples of this new beast rearing its head. On August 29 2012, the Republican candidate for the vice presidency, Paul Ryan, made a speech that was later summed up by Fox News characterised in three words: “dazzling, deceiving, distracting”. According to the news outlet, Ryan’s address was “an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech.”
These included trying to blame the Obama administration for the downgrading of the US credit rating instead of the Republicans, who had played their own part when they threatened not to raise the debt ceiling. He likewise tried to pin the closing of a General Motors factory plant in Janesville, Wisconsin on Obama while the plant was actually shut down under George W Bush.
During the election, the Democrats also tried moves that were perpendicular to the narrow track of truth, when they hit out at Mitt Romney over off-shore accounts.
There are quite a few narratives like this out there and they can be very advantageous for a certain political agenda if they can be made to stick and become robust. The internet, and social media in particular, are excellent mediums for padding stories through “likes”, upvotes, comments, reads, threads and views. Over a relatively short period of time, this padding can turn into social proof and cause the narrative to go viral.
But what is viral is not necessarily true, and what is true is not necessarily viral.
But what is viral is not necessarily true, and what is true is not necessarily viral. Maximising votes does not require facts, but then again voter maximisation does not add up to robust democracy. If democracy doesn’t have access to reliable sources of information and instead relies on narratives and social influence then there is no way of distinguishing between junk evidence and facts. Without the ability to make this distinction we may be welcoming the post-factual democracy. Not a pretty picture.
Vincent F. Hendricks does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
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By Tim Gebhart
The Italian peninsula has long been a land where the fine arts have flourished under a meticulous eye and in an idyllic setting. Wealthy and demanding benefactors connected their prestige and power to art.
Nowhere else has fine art played such an iconic role: it set a precedent to guide humanity toward lofty ideals beyond the purely material, and shaped our view of the world through its images.
Listed here are a few of the most significant artists that pushed the realm of fine art to new heights either in technique or expression.
Fra Angelico (1395–1455)
As his name suggests, Fra Angelico means “angelic friar.” Fra Angelico was said to have stirred the transition from late Gothic paintings, which resembled iconography, to the classic Grecian style. When not working for wealthy patrons, he revealed his devout, humble nature through frescoes painted in the San Marcos friary.
The images he portrayed varied from his counterparts in that he depicted Mary and the saints as people rather than lofty, inaccessible beings. His constrained palette and gentle, relaxed figures give his paintings a surreal quality.
“Annalena Altarpiece.” Tempera on wood, 1437-1440, 70.87 inches by 79.53 inches. Museo di San Marco (Florence, Italy).
Read more: 8 Italian Artists Who Changed the World
Teaching schoolchildren happiness, empathy, altruism and compassion has proven beneficial results for classroom learning as a whole, says Vinciane Rycroft.
As educators, we have a genuine wish to contribute to a happier society. And yet, we sometimes wonder how we can keep this intention alive and make it a reality.
Do you remember this letter written by a Holocaust survivor? It said: “My eyes saw what no person should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot by high school and college graduates. So, I am suspicious of education. My request is: Help your children become human.”
A few of us like-minded educators met in the late-90s during mindfulness retreats that we attended regularly in France and in the UK. We were young and looking to live by values of peace and compassion, in a way that was neither cranky nor hairy fairy. What are the qualities that make the Nelson Mandelas and the Dalai Lamas of this world? Could we cultivate such qualities in ourselves and impact the young people around us?