Featured

Is American democracy in crisis?

courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Federal shutdown may be the most striking evidence to support claims that America’s political system is broken, but it is far from the only example. Writing in Governance, acclaimed political scientists Norman Ornstein and Jared Diamond explore if tribalism is at the heart of the problem, or if the U.S. is facing a far greater political crisis.

“The state of our overall political process as the most dysfunctional I have seen in over 44 years of watching Washington and American politics up close,” writes Norman Ornstein, from the American Enterprise Institute. “If we are not in the most dysfunctional period in our history, we are certainly in the top five.”

American political history has recorded many inept and ineffectual congresses, from the scandals of the 1970′s to the divided house of the 1860′s, so what makes the 112th and 113th congresses any different? Ornstein argues that the rise in political extremism, manifested in open tribalism, is to blame.

From acts seeking to tighten the rules over gun ownership, to commissions established to tackle America’s debt problem, the list of legislation that has been sunk by tribalism continues to grow into President Obama’s second term.

“Political dysfunction has serious consequences for the health, well-being, and future prospects for the country that go well beyond gridlock or political gamesmanship,” concluded Ornstein. “American history suggests that these problems are cyclical, that eventually we will come out of it and restore a modicum of problem-solving rationality. But ‘eventually’ does not mean anytime soon.”

In contrast, Jared Diamond, writing from the University of California, proposes that the United States is facing four existential threats to its democratic system.

“Our form of government is a big part of the explanation why the United States has become the richest and most powerful country in the world,” said Diamond. “Hence, an undermining of democratic processes in the United States means throwing away one of our biggest advantages.”

Diamond argues that political compromise has been deteriorating in recent decades, that restrictions on voting are reversing the positive historical trend of political enfranchisement, that the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, and that public spending by the government In areas such as education is declining.

“Large segments of the American populace deride government investment as ‘socialism,’ but it is not socialism. On the contrary, it is one of the longest established functions of government,” said Diamond.

Sciencenewsroom@wiley.com
44-012-437-70375
Wiley

World

New conversation based airport security screening method more than 20 times as successful at detecting deception

Airport security agents using a new conversation-based screening method caught mock airline passengers with deceptive cover stories more than 20 times as often as agents who used the traditional method of examining body language for suspicious signs, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

In experiments spanning eight months, security agents at eight international airports in Europe detected dishonesty in 66 percent of the deceptive mock passengers using the new screening method, compared to just 3 percent for agents who observed signs thought to be associated with deception, including lack of eye contact, fidgeting and nervousness. The suspicious-signs screening method is widely used in airports in the United States, United Kingdom and many other countries, even though it has not been proven to be effective in laboratory or real-life settings, said researcher Thomas Ormerod, PhD, head of the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex in England.

“The suspicious-signs method almost completely fails in detecting deception,” Ormerod said. “In addition, it costs a lot of money, absorbs a lot of time and gives people a false sense of security.”

The new Controlled Cognitive Engagement method (CCE), which is based on previous laboratory studies, had the highest rate of deception detection in the first large-scale study of screening methods conducted in a real-life airport setting. This could have important implications for thwarting terrorist attacks and catching other criminals, according to the research. The study, which was funded in part by the British government, was published in APA’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Ormerod previously worked with the British government to improve security at athletic venues during the 2012 London Olympics.

“The U.K. government gave us a challenge that if we didn’t think the current airport screening method worked well, then we should come up with a better one,” said Ormerod, who conducted the research with Coral Dando, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Wolverhampton and former London police officer.

In the CCE method, security agents engage in friendly, informal conversation by asking passengers seemingly unrelated and unpredictable questions about knowledge the passenger should possess. The agent then gauges whether a passenger’s responses become more evasive or erratic. “If you’re a regular passenger, you’re just chatting about the thing you know the best — yourself,” Ormerod said. “It shouldn’t feel like an interrogation.”

In one example, an agent might ask a passenger the name of his high school principal and the travel time to his destination. It didn’t matter if the agents knew the truthful answers to the questions because they were examining verbal cues from the passenger, such as shorter and more evasive responses to straightforward questions, Ormerod said.

In the study, 79 security agents received one week of classroom training in the CCE method, followed by a week of on-the-job training. A control group of 83 agents received no additional training. The lessons covered myths about deception detection and ways to build rapport and gather information from passengers. The bulk of the research occurred at Heathrow Airport outside London, with other screening experiments conducted at two other British airports (Gatwick and Manchester) and airports in Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Zurich and Milan.

Researchers recruited 204 mock passengers (113 male, 91 female), including college acting students and undercover police detectives. Participants were paid 60 pounds (approximately $97) to participate, along with an additional 60 pounds if they avoided detection by security agents. Each mock passenger had a week to research a different deceptive cover story so he or she would be more convincing when questioned. For example, one recruit was instructed to say he was a telecommunications engineer traveling from England to Chicago for an international amateur fencing competition.

The mock passengers had realistic tickets and joined genuine passengers in security lines, where their screenings were recorded. If a mock passenger was caught, he or she was flagged in a computer system for further questioning at the gate, but all mock passengers turned around after passing through security and left the airport. A control group included 204 genuine passengers (113 male, 91 female) who were asked after their screenings if the recordings could be used in the research.

The CCE technique requires greater focus by security agents, who must think of different questions in each interview, rather than repeating scripted questions about luggage or travel plans in the suspicious-signs method that could be rehearsed by criminals seeking to avoid detection, the study noted. The risk of racial profiling also is reduced with the CCE method because it is applied in the same way to all passengers, unlike the suspicious-signs method, which is based on observation of physical characteristics, Ormerod said.

The average screening time was the same for agents using CCE or the suspicious-signs method, but agents using the CCE method asked fewer questions, with both genuine and mock passengers speaking at greater length to them. But mock passengers gradually spoke less and revealed less information as they were asked more questions that might reveal their deception.

Screening agents trained in the CCE method improved in their ability to catch deceptive mock passengers during the study, increasing from 60 percent during the first month to 72 percent in the sixth month. The agents in the suspicious-signs group, however, performed worse over time, dropping from 6 percent in the first month to zero in the sixth month.

Even though it isn’t effective, the suspicious-signs method is frequently used because it is cheap to train, and it “accords with people’s folk beliefs about detecting deception,” Ormerod said.

“When we can tell when our kids or spouses are lying, we think that those sorts of signs are going to work with everyone, but people lie differently,” he said. “You can’t assign one particular behavioral sign as a sign of lying. It’s how someone’s behavior changes during questioning that reveals deception.”

The CCE method also could be used by detectives, court officials and other “professional lie catchers,” the study noted. Ormerod and Dando are working with British police departments on adapting the screening method to monitor sex offenders on probation or parole. The method also may be used to uncover insurance and tax fraud and to catch job applicants who lie about their qualifications or employment history, he said.

 

###

 

Article: “Finding a Needle in a Haystack: Towards a Psychologically Informed Method for Aviation Security Screening,” Thomas C. Ormerod, PhD, University of Sussex, and Coral J. Dando, PhD, University of Wolverhampton; Journal of Experimental Psychology: General; online Nov. 4, 2014.

public.affairs@apa.org
202-336-5700
American Psychological Association
@apa

Health

What was the ‘Paleo diet’? There was far more than one, study suggests

The Paleolithic diet, or caveman diet, a weight-loss craze in which people emulate the diet of plants and animals eaten by early humans during the Stone Age, gives modern calorie-counters great freedom because those ancestral diets likely differed substantially over time and space, according to researchers at Georgia State University and Kent State University.

Their findings are published in The Quarterly Review of Biology.

“Based on evidence that’s been gathered over many decades, there’s very little evidence that any early hominids had very specialized diets or there were specific food categories that seemed particularly important, with only a few possible exceptions,” said Dr. Ken Sayers, a postdoctoral researcher at the Language Research Center of Georgia State. “Some earlier workers had suggested that the diets of bears and pigs–which have an omnivorous, eclectic feeding strategy that varies greatly based on local conditions–share much in common with those of our early ancestors. The data tend to support this view.”

The co-author on the paper, Dr. C. Owen Lovejoy, is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at Kent State University, well known for his reconstructions of the socioecology and locomotor behavior of early hominids such as “Ardi” (Ardipithecus ramidus, 4.4 million years old) and “Lucy” (Australopithecus afarensis, 3.2 million years old).

The study examines anatomical, paleoenvironmental and chemical evidence, as well as the feeding behavior of living animals. While early hominids were not great hunters, and their dentition was not great for exploiting many specific categories of plant food, they were most likely dietary “jacks-of-all-trades.”

The review paper covers earliest hominid evolution, from about 6 to 1.6 million years ago. This touches on the beginning of the Paleolithic era, which spans from 2.6 million to roughly 10,000 years ago, but Sayers suggests that the conclusions hold in force for later human evolution as well.

The researchers offer several points that need to be considered by people wishing to emulate the diets of our ancestors:

1. It’s very difficult to characterize the Paleo diet. Advocates suggest certain types of foods and a percentage of energy that should come from protein, fats and carbohydrates. These recommendations are based largely on estimations from a limited number of modern human hunter-gatherers, but the diet of early humans was almost certainly much broader.

“I think that you would certainly have lots of variation way beyond what those recommendations are,” Sayers said. “When you’re trying to reconstruct the diet of human ancestors, you want to look at a number of things, including the habitats they lived in, the potential foods that were available, how valuable those various food items would have been in relation to their energy content and how long it takes to handle a food item.”

There’s more to dietary reconstruction than looking at teeth from a chemical perspective or under a microscope. It involves characterizing the environment and taking into consideration factors as disparate as locomotion, digestion and cognitive abilities, Sayers said.

2. Our ancestors lived in a wide range of environments, which affected the types of food available. The variables important to feeding decisions would have differed greatly from place to place and over time, and thus greatly differing “optimal diets” would have been predicted, as suggested by modern evolutionary ecology. This is clearly observed today. Hunter-gatherers in a northern climate may have an almost exclusively animal-based diet, while hunter-gatherers near the equator might rely heavily on plant-based resources.

3. Even the “same food” isn’t the same today as it was in the olden days. For example, in an earlier study, Sayers investigated the diet of langur monkeys living high in the Nepal Himalaya. At one point in the year, there were wild strawberries on the ground, which seemed to be an attractive food choice. However, the monkeys wouldn’t eat them. Sayers tasted the wild strawberries and found they were incredibly bitter.

“The strawberries that we’re eating in the market have been selected for certain properties, such as being large and sweet,” Sayers said. “The foods that we’re eating today, even in the case of fruits and vegetables, have been selected for desirable properties and would differ from what our ancestors were eating.”

4. Early humans had shorter life spans, so it’s difficult to say if their diet was “healthier.”

“Individuals throughout the vast majority of the Stone Age were not living that long. Life expectancies are so high today, at least in many regions of the globe,” Sayers said. “A lot of the diseases that do come about today or have been linked with high-fat diets or things like that have been referred to by some researchers as ‘diseases of affluence.’ They’re diseases that come about simply because we’re living long enough that they can show their effects.”

In recent years, controlled studies have compared the Paleo diet with alternative approaches, and with respect to particular health issues, nutritionists are largely taking a “wait-and-see” attitude towards them.

5. Our ancestors were focused on survival, not necessarily eating a balanced diet. “Throughout the vast majority of our evolutionary history, balancing the diet was not a big issue,” Sayers said. “They were simply acquiring enough calories to survive and reproduce. Everyone would agree that ancestral diets didn’t include Twinkies, but I’m sure our ancestors would have eaten them if they grew on trees.”

lemerson1@gsu.edu
404-413-1353
Georgia State University
@GSU_News

US News

New Poll on What americans fear most

Chapman University has initiated the first comprehensive nationwide study on what strikes fear in Americans in the first of what is a planned annual study. According to the Chapman poll, the number one fear in America today is walking alone at night.

The Chapman Survey on American Fears included1,500 participants from across the nation and all walks of life. Underscoring Chapman’s growth and emergence in the sciences, the research team leading this effort pared the information down into four basic categories: personal fears, crime, natural disasters and fear factors.

The survey shows that the top five things Americans fear the most are:

1) Walking alone at night

2) Becoming the victim of identity theft

3) Safety on the internet

4) Being the victim of a mass/random shooting

5) Public speaking

“What initially lead us into this line of research was our desire to capture this information on a year-over-year basis so we can draw comparisons with what items are increasing in fear as well as decreasing,” said Dr. Christopher Bader, who led the team effort. “We learned through this initial survey that we had to phrase the questions according to fears vs. concerns to capture the information correctly, so that is how we present it,” Bader continued.

The top five things Americans worry or are concerned about are:

1) Having identity stolen on the internet

2) Corporate surveillance of internet activity

3) Running out of money in the future

4) Government surveillance of internet activity

5) Becoming ill/sick

“The sky is falling (and a serial killer is chasing me)”

Turning to the crime section of the Chapman Survey on American Fears, the team discovered findings that not only surprised them, but also those who work in fields pertaining to crime.

“What we found when we asked a series of questions pertaining to fears of various crimes is that a majority of Americans not only fear crimes such as, child abduction, gang violence, sexual assaults and others; but they also believe these crimes (and others) have increased over the past 20 years,” said Dr. Edward Day who led this portion of the research and analysis. “When we looked at statistical data from police and FBI records, it showed crime has actually decreased in America in the past 20 years. Criminologists often get angry responses when we try to tell people the crime rate has gone down.”

Despite evidence to the contrary, Americans do not feel like the United States is becoming a safer place. The Chapman Survey on American Fears asked how they think prevalence of several crimes today compare with 20 years ago. In all cases, the clear majority of respondents were pessimistic; and in all cases Americans believe crime has at least remained steady. Crimes specifically asked about were: child abduction, gang violence, human trafficking, mass riots, pedophilia, school shootings, serial killing and sexual assault.

“Fear of Disaster – Little Action to Prepare”

Chapman’s growth in global climate change research and extreme events led another portion of The Chapman Survey on American Fears into the area of natural disasters and people’s preparedness. The findings showed that despite widespread fear, the vast majority of those surveyed do not have emergency kits—even in regions hardest hit by natural disasters.

The top five most feared natural disasters by Americans are:

1. Tornado/hurricane

2. Earthquakes

3. Floods

4. Pandemic or Major Epidemic

5. Power Outage

Despite these fears, only 25 percent of Americans have a disaster preparedness kit that includes food, water, clothing and medical supplies.

“Our research indicated that Americans are aware, but better communication strategies are needed to encourage the nearly 75 percent who are unprepared for catastrophe,” said Dr. Ann Gordon, who led this portion of the survey. “We are conducting follow-up studies to examine why so many Americans remain unprepared despite lessons learned from recent natural disasters,” Gordon continued. “And, we are also taking a closer look at ‘preppers’—a community that takes preparedness to the extreme.”

Dr. Gordon’s work includes maps of America that breaks down the fears of natural disasters by region, which can be seen at http://www.chapman.edu/fearsurvey

“Fear Factors”

The remainder of The Chapman Survey on American Fears looks at fear factors.

“Through a complex series of analyses, we were able to determine what types of people tend to fear certain things, and what personal characteristics tend to be associated with most types of fear,” said Dr. Christopher Bader, who performed the analysis.

Factors Bader and his team looked at included: age, gender, race, work status, education, income, region of the country, urban vs. rural, political preference, religion, TV viewing, and gun ownership.

Through their analysis two key factors emerged: having a lower level of education and also high frequency of television viewing were the most consistent predictors of fear.

 

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A comprehensive list of the top fears from The Chapman Survey on American Fears can be foundhttp://www.chapman.edu/fearsurvey. The researchers at Chapman University plan to make this an annual endeavor so they may track trends over time. In addition to Bader, Day and Gordon, student involvement was key in helping throughout the process.

sledbett@chapman.edu
714-289-3143
Chapman University
@#!/ChapmanU

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