January 20, 2016
It took Jackie Goordial over 1000 Petri dishes before she was ready to accept what she was seeing. Or not seeing. Goordial, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences at McGill University has spent the past four years looking for signs of active microbial life in permafrost soil taken from one of the coldest, oldest and driest places on Earth: in University Valley, located in the high elevation McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica, where extremely cold and dry conditions have persisted for over 150,000 years. The reason that scientists are looking for life in this area is that it is thought to be the place on Earth that most closely resembles the permafrost found in the northern polar region of Mars at the Phoenix landing site. Read more
August 11, 2015
The world’s population will increase from today’s 7.3 billion people to 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion at century’s end, John R. Wilmoth, the director of the United Nations (UN) Population Division, told a session focused on demographic forecasting at the 2015 Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM 2015) today in Seattle.
The UN projection suggests there will not be an end to world population growth this century unless there are unprecedented fertility declines in those parts of sub-Saharan Africa that are still experiencing rapid population growth. The UN estimated the probability that world population growth will end within this century to be 23%.
Wilmoth’s presentation–”Populations Projections by the United Nations“–was made as part of an invited session titled “Better Demographic Forecasts, Better Policy Decisions” held here today.
Wilmoth told the audience that according to models of demographic change derived from historical experience, it is estimated the global population will be between 9.5 and 13.3 billion people in 2100. In the United States, the population is projected to add 1.5 million people per year on average until the end of the century, pushing the current count of 322 million people to 450 million, he said.
The primary driver of global population growth is a projected increase in the population of Africa. The continent’s current population of 1.2 billion people is expected to rise to between 3.4 billion and 5.6 billion people by the end of this century. The continent’s population growth is due to persistent high levels of fertility and the recent slowdown in the rate of fertility decline. The total fertility rate (TFR) has been declining in Africa over the past decade, but has been doing so at roughly one-quarter of the rate at which it declined in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean in the 1970s.
In some African countries, the TFR decline appears to have stalled. For instance, in Nigeria–the continent’s most-populous country–the high fertility rate would result in a more than fourfold projected increase in total population by 2100–from 182 million to 752 million people. Wilmoth said although there is considerable uncertainty about these future trends, there is a 90% chance Nigeria’s population will exceed 439 million people in 2100, which is nearly 2.5 times its current size.
Looking more closely at the global projections, Wilmoth said Asia, with a current population of 4.4 billion, is likely to remain the most populous continent, with its population expected to peak around the middle of the century at 5.3 billion, and then to decline to around 4.9 billion people by the end of the century.
The UN report also examines the level of population aging in different countries, noted Wilmoth. One such measure is the potential support ratio (PSR), which is equal to the number of people aged 20 to 64 divided by the number of people aged 65 or over and is frequently considered the number of workers per retiree. Japan currently has the lowest PSR at 2.1, followed by Italy at 2.6.
In the United States, where the median age of the population is expected to increase from today’s 38.0 years to 44.7 years in 2100, the PSR is projected to decline from 4.0 to 1.9. Other countries that will experience sharp declines in their PSR by the end of the century are the following:
- Germany, current 2.9 to projected 1.4
- China, current 7.1 to projected 1.4
- Mexico, current 8.7 to projected 1.4
- Bangladesh, current 11.2 to 1.6
Only five countries are projected to have a PSR above 5.0 in 2100: Niger, Somalia, Nigeria, Gambia and Angola. Niger is expected to have the highest PSR by the end of the century at 6.5.
These results have important policy implications for national governments. Rapid population growth in high-fertility countries can exacerbate a range of existing problems–environmental (resource scarcity and pollution), health (maternal and child mortality), economic (unemployment, low wages and poverty), governmental (lagging investments in health, education and infrastructure), and social (political unrest and crime), explained Wilmoth.
Developing countries with young populations but lower fertility–such as China, Brazil and India–face the prospect of substantial population aging before the end of the century. The new projection suggests these countries need to invest some of the benefits of their demographic dividend in the coming decades toward provisions for the older population of the future such as social security, pensions and health care.
July 29, 2015
Five years ago, the cost of rare-earth materials that are critical for today’s electronics went through the roof. An export quota set by China, which mines most of the world’s rare earths, caused the price run-up. Though short-lived, the occurrence spurred calls for developing mines outside China, but whether others can challenge the country’s dominance remains to be seen, reports Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society. Read more
July 24, 2015
EU’s grid connected cumulative capacity in 2014 reached 129 GW, meeting 8% of European electricity demand, equivalent to the combined annual consumption of Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece and Ireland. According to a JRC report, the impressive growth of the industry will allow at least 12% electricity share by 2020, a significant contribution to the goal of the European energy and climate package of 20% share of energy from renewable sources.
The 2014 JRC wind status report presents the technology, market and economics of the wind energy sector with a focus on the EU. Wind power is the renewable energy which has seen the widest and most successful deployment over the last two decades, increasing the global cumulative capacity from 3 GW to 370 GW. Last year represented an annual record with 52.8 GW of wind turbines capacity installed worldwide, a 48% increase compared to 2013 and 17% over the 2012 record of 45.2GW.
With 23.2 GW of new installations and a market share of 44%, China is well ahead of EU’s member states which together installed 13.05 GW. The EU however still leads in cumulative capacity and its 129 GW onshore and offshore wind installations, allowed six countries – Denmark, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Romania and Germany – to generate between 10 and 40 % of their electricity from wind.
European turbine manufacturers accounted for 78% of the non-China world market in 2014. In a context of high competition and diminishing turbine prices, manufacturers managed to improve their balance sheet thanks to better cost management and reduced raw materials costs. The cost of generating wind energy continues its downward trend, highly favoured by a reduction in the cost of project financing
The 20% share of EU energy consumption from renewables is part of the so-called “20-20-20″ climate and energy targets for 2020, which also foresee 20% reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, and 20% improvement in the EU’s energy efficiency. In October 2014 the EU leaders agreed on new targets for 2030: domestic greenhouse gas reduction of at least 40% compared to 1990, and at least 27% for renewable energy and energy savings by 2030.
Research on the status and deployment of renewable energies supports the European Commission’s strategy for secure, affordable and climate-friendly energy – the Energy Union. The strategy, launched in February 2015, is based on solidarity among member states when confronted with energy supply disruptions, better connected energy market with free flow of energy across borders, improved energy efficiency that can be counted as energy source and lasting transition to low-carbon society. Wiser energy use while fighting climate change is both a spur for new jobs and growth and an investment in Europe’s future.
June 17, 2015
Two new studies led by UC Irvine using data from NASA Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites show that civilization is rapidly draining some of its largest groundwater basins, yet there is little to no accurate data about how much water remains in them.
The result is that significant segments of Earth’s population are consuming groundwater quickly without knowing when it might run out, the researchers conclude. The findings appear today inWater Resources Research.
“Available physical and chemical measurements are simply insufficient,” said UCI professor and principal investigator Jay Famiglietti, who is also the senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Given how quickly we are consuming the world’s groundwater reserves, we need a coordinated global effort to determine how much is left.”
The studies are the first to characterize groundwater losses via data from space, using readings generated by NASA’s twin GRACE satellites that measure dips and bumps in Earth’s gravity, which is affected by the weight of water.
For the first paper, researchers examined the planet’s 37 largest aquifers between 2003 and 2013. The eight worst off were classified as overstressed, with nearly no natural replenishment to offset usage. Another five aquifers were found, in descending order, to be extremely or highly stressed, depending upon the level of replenishment in each – still in trouble but with some water flowing back into them.
The most overburdened are in the world’s driest areas, which draw heavily on underground water. Climate change and population growth are expected to intensify the problem.
“What happens when a highly stressed aquifer is located in a region with socioeconomic or political tensions that can’t supplement declining water supplies fast enough?” asked the lead author on both studies, Alexandra Richey, who conducted the research as a UCI doctoral student. “We’re trying to raise red flags now to pinpoint where active management today could protect future lives and livelihoods.”
The research team – which included co-authors from NASA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, National Taiwan University and UC Santa Barbara – found that the Arabian Aquifer System, an important water source for more than 60 million people, is the most overstressed in the world.
The Indus Basin aquifer of northwestern India and Pakistan is the second-most overstressed, and the Murzuk-Djado Basin in northern Africa is third. California’s Central Valley, utilized heavily for agriculture and suffering rapid depletion, was slightly better off but still labeled highly stressed in the first study.
“As we’re seeing in California right now, we rely much more heavily on groundwater during drought,” Famiglietti said. “When examining the sustainability of a region’s water resources, we absolutely must account for that dependence.”
In a companion paper published today in the same journal, the scientists conclude that the total remaining volume of the world’s usable groundwater is poorly known, with often widely varying estimates, but is likely far less than rudimentary estimates made decades ago.
By comparing their satellite-derived groundwater loss rates to what little data exists on groundwater availability, they found major discrepancies in projected “time to depletion.” In the overstressed Northwest Sahara Aquifer System, for example, this fluctuated between 10 and 21,000 years.
“We don’t actually know how much is stored in each of these aquifers. Estimates of remaining storage might vary from decades to millennia,” Richey said. “In a water-scarce society, we can no longer tolerate this level of uncertainty, especially since groundwater is disappearing so rapidly.”
The study notes that the dearth of groundwater is already leading to significant ecological damage, including depleted rivers, declining water quality and subsiding land.
Groundwater aquifers are typically located in soil or deeper rock layers beneath Earth’s surface. The depth and thickness of many make it tough and costly to drill to or otherwise reach bedrock and learn where the moisture bottoms out. But it has to be done, according to the authors.
“I believe we need to explore the world’s aquifers as if they had the same value as oil reserves,” Famiglietti said. “We need to drill for water the same way that we drill for other resources.”
January 12, 2015
In 1961, with memories of Holocaust atrocities and the prosecution of Nazi officials at Nuremburg still fresh, psychologist Stanley Milgram undertook a series of now infamous experiments on obedience and reprehensible behavior.
About two-thirds of Milgram’s nearly 800 study subjects, pressed by an authoritative experimenter, were willing to administer increasingly powerful electric shocks to an unseen stranger despite cries of agony and pleas to stop.
“Milgram claimed to have found sort of a dark side to human nature that people were not quite as attuned to,” says Matthew Hollander, a graduate student in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “His study participants were much more likely to obey than he expected, and that was an understandably uncomfortable result.”
But Milgram divided his subjects into just two categories: obedient or disobedient. After examining the experiences of more than 100 of Milgram’s participants, Hollander sees a great deal more nuance in their performances — and maybe a way to prevent real-world occurrences of authority overriding ethical judgment.
“The majority did cave, and follow the experimenter’s orders,” says Hollander, whose findings were published online today by the British Journal of Social Psychology. “But a good number of people resisted, and I’ve found particular ways they did that, including ways of resisting that they share with the people who ultimately complied.”
Hollander’s unprecedentedly deep conversational analysis of audio recordings of the experiments yielded six practices employed against the repeated insistence of Milgram’s authority figure.
Some are less insistent. Hollander found study subjects resorting to silence and hesitation, groaning and sighing to display the effort it took to comply, and (typically uncomfortable) laughter.
They also found more explicit ways to express their discomfort and disagreement. Subjects stalled by talking to the recipient of the shocks and by addressing their concerns to the experimenter. Most assertively, they resorted to what Hollander calls the “stop try.”
“Before examining these recordings, I was imagining some really aggressive ways of stopping the experiment — trying to open the door where the ‘learner’ is locked in, yelling at the experimenter, trying to leave,” Hollander says. “What I found was there are many ways to try to stop the experiment, but they’re less aggressive.”
Most often, stop tries involved some variation on, “I can’t do this anymore,” or “I won’t do this anymore,” and were employed by 98 percent of the disobedient Milgram subjects studied by Hollander. That’s compared to fewer than 20 percent of the obedient subjects.
Interestingly, all six of the resistive actions were put to use by obedient and disobedient participants.
“There are differences between those two groups in how and how often they use those six practices,” says Hollander, whose work is supported by the National Science Foundation. “It appears that the disobedient participants resist earlier, and resist in a more diverse way. They make use of more of the six practices than the obedient participants.”
Therein lies a possible application of Hollander’s new take on Milgram’s results.
“What this shows is that even those who were ultimately compliant or obedient had practices for resisting the invocation of the experimenter’s authority,” says Douglas Maynard, a UW-Madison sociology professor who leads the Garfinkel Laboratory for Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis. “It wasn’t like they automatically caved in. They really worked to counter what was coming at them. It wasn’t a blind kind of obedience.”
If people could be trained to tap practices for resistance like those outlined in Hollander’s analysis, they may be better equipped to stand up to an illegal, unethical or inappropriate order from a superior. And not just in extreme situations, according to Maynard.
“It doesn’t have to be the Nazis or torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq or in the CIA interrogations described in the recent U.S. Senate report,” he says. “Think of the pilot and copilot in a plane experiencing an emergency or a school principal telling a teacher to discipline a student, and the difference it could make if the subordinate could be respectfully, effectively resistive and even disobedient when ethically necessary or for purposes of social justice.”
New conversation based airport security screening method more than 20 times as successful at detecting deception
November 6, 2014
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.
August 5, 2014
As production of shale gas soars, the industry’s effects on nature and wildlife remain largely unexplored, according to a study by a group of conservation biologists published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment on August 1.
The report emphasizes the need to determine the environmental impact of chemical contamination from spills, well-casing failure, and other accidents.
“We know very little about how shale gas production is affecting plants and wildlife,” says author Sara Souther, a conservation fellow in the Department of Botany at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “And in particular, there is a lack of accessible and reliable information on spills, wastewater disposal and the chemistry of fracturing fluids. Of the 24 U.S. states with active shale gas reservoirs, only five maintain public records of spills and accidents.”
The 800 percent increase in U.S. shale gas production between 2007 and 2012 is largely due to the use of hydraulic fracturing. Also called fracking, the process uses high-pressure injection of water, laden with sand and a variety of chemicals, to open cracks in the gas reservoir so natural gas can flow to the well. A similar technique is used for extracting oil from “tight” geologic formations.
The chemical makeup of fracturing fluid and wastewater, which can include carcinogens and radioactive substances, is often unknown. The authors reviewed chemical disclosure statements for 150 wells in three top gas-producing states and found that, on average, two out of three wells were fractured with at least one undisclosed chemical.
Pressured by growing concern about pollution to groundwater and surface water, government and the industry have made some steps toward openness, Souther acknowledges, but she says more progress is needed.
“The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s website is one of the nation’s best sources of publicly available information on spills of fracking fluid, wastewater, and other contaminants. Even so, gas companies failed to report over one third of spills in the last year,” she says. “How many more unreported spills occurred, but were not detected during well inspections? We need accurate data on the release of fracturing chemicals into the environment before we can understand impacts to plants and animals.”
One of the greatest threats to animal and plant life identified in the study is the cumulative impact of rapid, widespread shale development, with each individual well contributing collectively to air, water, noise and light pollution.
“The past has taught us that environmental impacts of large-scale development and resource extraction, whether coal plants, large dams or biofuel monocultures, are more than the sum of their parts,” notes Morgan Tingley, a researcher from University of Connecticut. “We can’t let shale development outpace our understanding of its environmental impacts.”
“If you look down on a heavily fracked landscape,” Souther says, “you see a web of well pads, access roads, and pipelines creating islands out of what was, in some cases, continuous habitat. What are the combined effects of numerous wells and their supporting infrastructure on wide-ranging or sensitive species, like the pronghorn antelope or the hellbender salamander?
“I am from West Virginia, which is underlain by one of the largest shale gas reservoirs in the U.S. However, this industry doesn’t just impact gas-producing states. Here in Wisconsin, shale development is affecting areas that supply sand for use in hydraulic fracturing.”
The study looked broadly at what is known – and what is not – about the conservation impacts of fracking. “Some of the wells in the chemical disclosure registry were fractured with fluid containing 20 or more undisclosed chemicals,” says co-author Kimberly Terrell, a researcher at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. “This is an arbitrary and inconsistent standard of chemical disclosure.”
With shale gas production projected to increase exponentially over the next 30 years, the authors hope the study will guide the application of limited scientific resources to the most important questions, and enhance cooperation among scientists, industry and policymakers to minimize damage to the natural world.
The authors are all David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellows, a project established by the Cedar Tree Foundation and the Society for Conservation Biology. Souther has been a research fellow at UW-Madison for three years. In September, she will begin a professorship at West Virginia Wesleyan College in West Virginia.
March 19, 2014
Globalization has made the world a better and more equal place for many more people than was the case a few decades ago. However, it has also created two well-defined worlds of poor countries and wealthy nations, according to Vanesa Jordá and José María Sarabia of the University of Cantabria in Spain. In an article published in Springer’s journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, they studied the distribution of well-being over the last wave of globalization between 1980 and 2011.
Well-being is generally described as the state of being happy, healthy or prosperous. The researchers used the UN Human Development Index as an indicator of quality of life. It offers a realistic perspective of the national levels of well-being of 130 countries, covering almost 90 percent of the world’s population. The Index also takes into account non-income dimensions such as education and health.
It shows that globalization has brought higher levels of development to more countries than was the case 30 years ago. However, the intensity by which well-being has increased differs across countries. This has created two well-defined clusters: one of least developed countries in especially Sub-Saharan Africa, and another of highly developed countries. At the same time, medium developed nations, such as China and India, have caught up with the advanced economies.
Overall, income inequality across countries has only been reduced by less than ten percent. Because of the so-called “poverty trap,” poorer countries struggle to rise to the top within the competitive common global market. Such efforts are hampered by difficulties in acquiring supplies and public services in least developed countries, which makes accessing global markets difficult. Foreign money is also invested heavily in oil exporting countries rather than in countries that do not export oil. Leader countries in each region of the world are able to overcome such obstacles, and experience higher levels of development compared with the nations around them.
The greatest decrease in disparities was found in education, which presents reductions of up to 64 percent. This is thanks to enhanced efforts towards education in developing countries over the last 40 years, especially in Asia. It is consistent with the belief that globalization promotes investment in education and helps countries to develop.
On the health side, no real catch-up or convergence was seen during the nineties. However, this is changing over the past ten years thanks to the expansion of health technology and medicines. Greater access to HIV/AIDS medications, tuberculosis treatment, and insecticide-treated mosquito nets to reduce cases of malaria are of benefit.
“The benefits of globalization have increased a number of aspects of well-being in most countries. However, these advantages have not reached a group of countries which are not able to overcome the human development barriers in health and income. They are being trapped in a low pole which shows little sign of their catching up or converging to the general trend,” conclude Jordá and Sarabia.
Reference: Jorda, V. & Sarabia, J.M. (2014). Well-being distribution in the globalization era: 30 years of convergence, Applied Research in Quality of Life, DOI 10.1007/s11482-014-9304-8
March 18, 2014
Germany, Austria and Cuba have at least one thing in common: they have all experienced what it means to be ‘left out in the cold’ and be considered ‘bad company’ by Western powers. However, just as Iran and South Africa, these three countries have handled this form of stigmatization very differently. According to new research, the reason for this is that diplomatic pressure and sanctions by the international community (the ‘shaming method’ ) fail to have the intended effect because isolation and shaming may boost national pride and sense of cohesion and thus support the regime in power. This is the main finding in PhD and Associate Professor Rebecca Adler-Nissen’s new scientific article.
“In the West, we have long believed that we could educate other countries to behave according to our norms, and during the past 20 years we have witnessed an increase in the use of ‘shaming’ in international politics. Western ideals about human rights and democracy are used to justify the use of international pressure to force other nations to adhere to our norms and values. However stigmatization and shaming often fail to work. Sometimes it actually backfires, and ends up affecting the instigator instead,” says Rebecca-Adler Nissen, who goes on to highlight the fact that a country such as Cuba has made a virtue out of being excluded from the Western-dominated international society by claiming that it is a different and better model of society.
Food for thought
Rebecca Adler-Nissen emphasizes that she is not advocating to drop sanctions such as freezing financial assets, imposing travel restrictions, or breaking off diplomatic ties, but she points out that the new insights give food for thought.
“Western politicians should be more careful when using these political instruments, because they do not always work as intended. We need to have a deeper knowledge of the countries in question, and to ask ourselves if the elites aspire to share Western values in the first place. If not, sanctions and pressure may still be used, if so it is more a question of the us needing to send a signal that a global set of values, dominated by the West, still exists, rather than attempting to influence the countries in question,” she says.
New world order – new values
Rebecca Adler-Nissen has identified three strategies used by countries that have been stigmatized through sanctions and pressures: acceptance of the stigma, rejection of the stigma, and counter-stigmatisation. She uses the cases of Germany, Austria and Cuba to illustrate the three strategies. She explains that Germany is a country where sanctions and stigmatisation had the intended effect. After the Second World War, the country accepted its guilt, and Germany now stands proud as a model of a deeply rooted democracy and respect for human rights. By contrast, Austrian political elites rejected suggestions that they had part in the horrors of Nazism, while Cuban politicians, in the wake of the revolution, made a virtue of not giving into Western demands in spite of swingeing sanctions imposed by the United States.
“In the long term, knowledge about shame, pride and stigma may help us understand why diplomatic pressure on a country such as Iran has had limited effect, while it did influence the apartheid regime in South Africa to some extent,” says Rebecca Adler-Nissen, who continues:
“Attempts to generate shared norms for state behaviour will become even more difficult in the future. The values of the Western world – and of the United States in particular – dominated international relations in the past century, and they were the standards by which other countries were measured. But now that countries including China, India and Brazil are beginning to play a more prominent role in the global world order, the West can no longer count on the predominance of our perception of right and wrong.”
Rebecca Adler-Nissen’s findings were recently published in the article “Stigma Management in International Relations: Transgressive Identities, Norms, and Order in International Society” in the scientific journal International Organization.
About the research:
Rebecca Adler-Nissen came up with the idea for her research on the basis of her PhD project, in which she interviewed and observed Danish and British civil servants in Brussels. She discovered that the British EU opt-outs were treated as a stigma, i.e. something abnormal. She therefore decided to examine the roles played by shame and pride in international politics in general.
She started to focus on theories about shame, normality and social rejection, and soon she discovered that there are a great many different ways to deal with ‘being different’. She subsequently developed a new set of theoretical concepts based on the work of sociologists such as Erving Goffman, who has investigated how homosexuals, and people with mental and physical disabilities deal with the views of the majority and feelings of isolation.
Rebecca Adler-Nissen is now working to develop her theory with studies of how Greek and German diplomats are dealing with mutual criticism and shame in connection with the euro crisis.