Posts made in October 2018

Don’t sit still for ‘dead butt syndrome’

November 1, 2018

Use it or lose it: Those of us with desk jobs have been warned that sitting too long can raise our chances of developing some dread diseases, from heart disease to cancer to diabetes—and can even take years off our lives. But there’s one side effect that you may not have realized is linked to parking your tush in a desk chair all day long, according to an October 29 report by the Huffington Post.

Compressing those gluteals for too long can literally lead to a butt that doesn’t want to “get up and go.” And there’s even a name for it: “Dead butt syndrome,” or “gluteal amnesia” is a condition that occurs when your gluteus medius gets inflamed and forgets to function normally.

“Sitting too long can restrict the blood flow, causing gluteal amnesia, which can lead to hip pain, lower backache and problems with your ankles. The glutes will fail to fire properly even when performing exercises targeting the glutes,” celebrity fitness trainer Donovan Green told the news outlet.

 What’s more, Kelly Starrett, a physical therapist and founder of Stand Up Kids, told the HuffPost that our glutes are not built to bear weight for long periods. “If you imagine making a panini sandwich where you take high pressure and high temperature and make a grilled cheese, sitting on your glutes all day is a little like this,” he said.

“The sustained flexed position of the hip and the compression of the tissues sets us up for the perfect storm of shut[ting] down glute function, or in the vernacular of the people, ‘dead butt,’” he added.

People experiencing dead butt syndrome may feel the familiar sensation of a body part “falling asleep.” The sensation can range from mild to severe—and can be brief or long-lasting.

“Sitting for extended periods of time has been shown in multiple studies to have a major impact on how well we can contract and use our glutes effectively,” Green said.

He noted that when your glutes shut down due to lack of activity and stimulus, it causes strain on other muscles and joints and produces an effect where weaker muscles have to do the job of the stronger gluteus maximus.

Left untreated, this can lead to something called “synergistic dominance,” where the smaller helper muscles of the hip and leg are now taking over movement and controlling the forces loaded on the hips, spine, and low back. Muscle tightness in the hips is also a major culprit of dead butt syndrome

So what’s to be done? Jeff Bell, co-founder and master trainer at Belleon Body NYC, told the Huffington Post, “The gluteus maximus was built for power and speed and needs to be fed a regular diet of climbing, squatting, running, lunging, and walking, if it is to be kept in peak condition, or at least appear in top shape.”

“A good rule to remember is, for every hour of sitting, you need to take ten minutes of standing and moving around to reactivate and keep those butt muscles from falling asleep,” he said. Also, clenching your butt muscles occasionally throughout the day might help. “This will fire up those glutes and get them back to moving again,” he said.

Research contact: @NicolePajer

High ‘spirits,’ high costs on Halloween: Americans spent nearly $200 this year

November 1, 2018

It’s Halloween and–whether you are offering treats or asking for them—chances are that you are spending a scary amount on the holiday. In fact, the average American footed the bill for about $185.50 worth of costumes, candy, and decorations this year—up from $169.81 in 2017, according to a study by the online financial marketplace, LendEDU.

After polling about 1,000 celebrants nationwide, the site found that we spend the most on candy for the first holiday of the season. Indeed, candy accounts for 41%—or $76.05—of total Halloween expenses.

The second largest expenditure is on costumes—which accounted for 36% of the total budget, or $66.78. Even masks can be expensive. While a Hooded Scary Jack-o’-Lantern Mask is just $9.99 at Party City, an Adult Oversized Comb-Over Presidential Mask is $99.99.

Finally, decorations account for 23%— or $42.67—of the money we ante up. They are big at parties and some folks truly transform their dwellings into haunted houses straight out of Transylvania. An Animated Snapping Zombie Hand is just $25 on Amazon; a set of Bloody Footprints is $9.99. 

The study was conducted by Pollfish. Respondents were screened to ensure that they were planning on celebrating Halloween.

Research contact: brown@lendedu.com

FBI investigates what seems to be a smear against Robert Mueller

November 1, 2018

Special Counsel Robert Mueller last week asked the FBI to investigate a possible scam in which a woman threatened to allege he was guilty of sexual misconduct and harassment, according to an October 30 NBC News report.

The request came after several political reporters were contacted about doing a story on Mueller’s purported bad behavior.

Multiple reporters were contacted over the past few weeks by a woman, who said she had been offered money to claim she had been harassed by Mueller, who is heading up a  probe into possible conspiracy between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia in 2016.

After investigating, the Hill Reporter said, the journalists each independently determined that the allegations of misconduct and harassment were likely a hoax and that it was unclear if the woman had been offered money to make the claim. The reporters then contacted the special counsel’s office to divulge that they had been approached about the scheme, the network news outlet reported.

“When we learned last week of allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the special counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation,” said Peter Carr, spokesperson for the special counsel. 

While investigating the possibility of a hoax, the Hill Reporter’s Ed Krassenstein, who was one of the journalists contacted, revealed on October 30 that he had received threats, including a text message reading, “You’re in over your head…. Drop this” which included his and another editor’s home addresses.

Around the same time reporters began to be contacted about the misconduct allegations, Jack Burkman, a Republican lobbyist and radio host, began promoting, via his Facebook page, that he is investigating sexual misconduct and alcohol-related allegations against Mueller. On October 30, he tweeted that he would hold a press conference two days later to “reveal the first of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sex assault victims.”

Over the past two years, NBC News reported, Burkman has peddled a separate, evolving conspiracy theory that has blamed several different wild plots forthe death of Democratic staffer Seth Rich, who was shot on a Washington street in 2016 during an apparent botched robbery.

Krassenstein told NBC News he reached out to the special counsel’s office on Tuesday telling them what he knew about the scheme.  He also gave NBC News the phone numbers used by the woman alleging she was offered money to make the allegations, which were both disconnected.

Since then, Burkman has posted several more tweets, including one at 9:14 a.m. on October 31:” The woman to whom we allegedly offered payment—Lorraine Parsons—does not exist. The allegations are an outright joke. This entire backstory is a hoax designed to distract the nation from my press conference on Thursday, which is where all eyes need to be.”

Research contact: @brandyzadrozny

Reach for the sky: Help scientists craft a message to aliens

October 31, 2018

Who’s out there? Humans aren’t just searching for extraterrestrials using radiotelescopes and exoplanet research. We also are actively attempting to help aliens find us. And, according to an October 30 report by Futurism, we all can be part of that effort.

About 44 years ago, Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory—a  facility of the National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by the University of Central Florida—sent a message to a star cluster roughly 21,000 light years away.

The so-called Arecibo Message—transmitted via radio signal—marked humanity’s first deliberate attempt to draw the attention of extraterrestrials, and now the observatory is asking the world to help it write an updated message to aliens.

American astronomer Frank Drake wrote the first Arecibo Message with the help of colleague Carl Sagan and others, and there’s no word yet on how the observatory thinks we might be able to improve upon a message crafted by some of the most brilliant minds in science.

The original message comprised 1,679 binary digits that conveyed a wealth of information about life on Earth—including the elements that comprise DNA, the location of our planet within the solar system, and the basic dimensions of the average human. When converted into graphics, the message looks something like the world’s weirdest game of Tetris, Futurism said.

Now, the observatory has sent out a press release to kick off a weeklong celebration —from October 28 through November 3—of its 55th year in operation; and, at some point during the week, it will reveal more details on what it’s calling “the #NewAreciboMessage global challenge.”

If you have ever wanted to communicate with aliens, this is your chance. But there is one major caveat, according to the Futurism story: Should we even be reaching out at all?  There’s no telling who our message might reach, and the reaction to our epistle  could be less-than-friendly. With that in mind, optimists only should apply.

Research contact: info@areciboobservatory.org

The Harvard degree as a ‘golden ticket’: Why admissions policies are crucial

October 31, 2018

Harvard‘s admission process is on trial in a Boston-area courtroom, with the Ivy League college defending itself from allegations it discriminates against Asian Americans, based on “personal qualities.”

If the charges are proven, the university—which continues to be ranked number one in the nation—would be guilty not only of affecting the college experience of Asian-American applicants; but of downgrading their financial futures, based on the underlying fact that a Harvard degree remains one of the most valuable in the country, CBS News reports.

A decade after graduation, Harvard grads earn median annual pay of $129,000, or 58% more than the $81,600 in median annual pay earned by non-Ivy League college graduates, according to data provided to CBS MoneyWatch by PayScale, the network news outlet said.

Even among Ivy League schools, Harvard edges out the competition: graduates of all Ivy League colleges earn $124,600 after a decade in the workforce, PayScale found.

On top of higher pay, Harvard graduates receive access to a network of famous and successful alumni including Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, actress Natalie Portman and drop-outs such as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

It’s no wonder that a Harvard degree is considered a “golden ticket” to a better future by many students and their parents. At the same time, CBS said, it’s harder than ever to gain entry to an Ivy League school, with admissions rates for Harvard and its competitors dropping to all-time lows.

Last year, almost 43,000 students applied to Harvard—but only 5% received an acceptance letter, one of the lowest admittance rates in the country.

And, as competition for acceptance by Harvard has grown stiffer, its admissions practices have come under scrutiny. In 2014, an anti-affirmative action group called Students for Fair Admissions sued Harvard, alleging the college’s admissions policies discriminate against Asian-American students.

On its website, the group says, “There is a line between ‘competitive’ admissions and just flat out ‘unconstitutional’ ones. Help us draw that line!”

Asian-Americans had an average acceptance rate to the school of 8.1% from 1995 to 2013according to an October 19 story by the Harvard Crimson, which cites data presented at the Harvard admissions trial now underway in a Boston courtroom.

That’s the smallest rate of any racial group, with Hispanic-Americans and African-Americans experiencing an acceptance rate of 10.6% and 13.2%, respectively. Whites have an 11.1% acceptance rate.

Asian-Americans are allegedly held to “a far higher standard than other students,” the Students for Fair Admissions claim in their lawsuit, CBS News said. The complaint cites a Harvard Crimson survey of 2017 freshman, which asked them their SAT scores. The results found East Asians and Indians scored above the survey’s median SAT result of 2237, while other minorities scored below the survey’s median.

“Harvard requires much more of its Asian-American applicants than it requires of other races and ethnicities,” the complaint alleges.

However, the network news outlet reports, there are two group of students that appear to have a remarkably easier acceptance rate: children of Harvard graduates and children of large donors. In evidence presented during the trial, internal Harvard emails appear to signal the college’s preference for applicants with well-heeled parents—contributing to the notion of “the rich getting richer,” by which many of the Ivy League schools and future employers abide.

Research contact: studentsforfairadmissions@gmail.com

In a gift to his base, Trump says he will nullify ‘birthright citizenship’

October 31, 2018

In a direct gift to his political base just a week before the midterm elections, President Donald Trump says he is preparing an executive order to end birthright citizenship in the United States, according to an October 30 report by The New York Times.

According to a same-day story by Axios, “This would be the most dramatic move yet in Trump’s hardline immigration campaign, this time targetinganchor babies’ and ‘chain migration.’ And it will set off another stand-off with the courts, as Trump’s power to do this through executive action is debatable to say the least.”

Playing fast and loose with the truth, the president told Axios, “We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years, with all of those benefits. It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. And it has to end.”

In fact, dozens of other countries, including Canada, Mexico, and many others in the Western Hemisphere, grant automatic birthright citizenship, according to a report by the Center for Immigration Studies, an organization that supports restricting immigration.

Doing away with birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants was an idea that Trump pitched as a presidential candidate, the Times reported—but there is no clear indication that he would be able to do so unilaterally, and attempting to would be certain to prompt legal challenges.

Indeed, to outlaw birthright citizenship, the POTUS would have to find a way around the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

Amendments to the Constitution cannot be overridden by presidential action, the Times noted— and can be changed or undone only by overwhelming majorities in Congress or the states, with a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress or through a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of state legislatures.

But some conservatives argue that the 14th Amendment was meant to apply only to citizens and legal permanent residents—not immigrants who are present in the country without authorization.

Whether or not the idea is legal or actionable the president is accomplishing what he thinks needs to be done in the next seven days—appealing to a base of voters who are key to Republican domination in the U.S. Congress.

Research contact: @juliehirschfelddavis

Here’s looking at you: The uncomfortable truth about staring

October 30, 2018

If you drop something in public, or raise your voice, or rush to the aid of a person in need, you are not surprised when all eyes in the vicinity turn in your direction. But, what if you are sitting on the bus and can’t help but feel that the passenger sitting across the aisle is watching—or even judging—you? It’s just a sensation you cannot explain, but you are convinced that you have become the target of another person’s visual fixation.

Conversely, perhaps you are the one doing the staring—and you are not sure what attracted your attention, but you cannot drag your eyes away.

Study results published on October 27 by Psychology Today—and posited by the University of London’s Hannah Scott and colleagues—have determined that people stare because “faces, and in particular, the eyes, provide lots of useful non-verbal information about a person’s mental state.”

The eyes betray “socially relevant information,” they go on to explain, because when you see what people are looking at, you have some idea about what they might be thinking.

Indeed, the authors suggest that people read your body language in order to extract as much information as possible, and they will direct their gaze toward the part of your body providing that information. In fact, it’s not just the eyes that people stare. The British researchers observe that people also stare at other people’s lips to gain additional contextual cues about what they mean while they’re talking. If you feel someone’s eyes focused on your mouth while you’re speaking, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they want a kiss—but it could be because they actually can’t hear you all that well.

Your hands also might be the focus of attention, if you are using gestures to emphasize what you are saying—or perhaps they’re trying to figure out how to do what you’re doing. That person watching you on the bus might be observing you playing a video game on your mobile device or crocheting a scarf. Maybe there’s a skill you have that this person wants to learn. If that person is watching your feet, it might be to help figure out when to get up to make it off the bus for an upcoming stop.

The 72 undergraduates who participated in the University of London study watched three videos (each, about two minutes long) that varied according to the activities of the male actors. The researchers recorded the eye movements of the students while they watched the actor either looking directly at the viewer while giving a monologue (without many hand gestures), talking while making a cup of tea, or performing a magic routine in which both speech and hand motions actively misdirected attention from the trick. The researchers also varied the presence or absence of sound during the actor’s performance.

During the monologue condition, whether or not there was audio present, participants spent most of the time looking at the actor’s face but not his hands. The opposite pattern appeared for the tea-making task, as was also true for the magic routine.

Additionally, looking just at the period when the actor looked directly into screen (about 48% of the video), participants looked more at the eyes than the mouth, if there was audio playing at the same time. With no audio, in the monologue condition, viewers seemed to try to decipher what the actor was saying by watching his mouth move. There were no systematic eye-mouth differences in the viewers when the actors performed either the manual or the music task.  However, if the actor looked directly into the screen while performing the manual task, then viewers were drawn to fixating on his face.

The authors concluded that there is not general bias toward looking at someone else’s face when given the opportunity. The only time people will try to read a face is if the person is speaking. If the person is doing something else, it’s the body part that’s moving which attracts the viewer’s gaze.

As the authors conclude, “Our hands seem to play just as important a role in orienting people’s attention as our eyes do.”  However, if the person looks directly at the viewer while performing a manual task, then the viewer will respond in kind and look at the individual’s face (which is why magicians talk so much).

When someone’s gaze is directed at you, then your tendency will be to stare back, in a “non-verbal acknowledgment.” Looking at someone who looks at you, therefore, becomes a key aspect of nonverbal communication.

It’s natural, then, to stare at someone—especially if the person is speaking softly or doing something interesting that you can watch. What makes the person stared at uncomfortable, then, would seem to be a mismatch between the appropriateness of the situation and whether it presents a logical basis for staring. It feels odd to be the target of someone’s undiluted attention if you’re not initiating eye contact or if you’re not doing anything special with your hands or feet that merits an out-and-out stare.

A staring contest can be fun if it’s a game both of you are playing, but off-putting in the extreme if you’re an unwilling participant.

Research contact: @swhitbo

Is Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘Goop’ duping readers by giving them the wrong ‘poop’ on products?

October 30, 2018

Goop, the lifestyle brand—and blog—created by actress Gwyneth Paltrow, has been reported to the U.K.’s trading standards and advertising watchdogs over allegations that it makes misleading claims about its products, CNBC reported on October 29.

The Good Thinking Society, a non-profit charity that campaigns against pseudoscience, confirmed to CNBC that it had submitted the complaint about Goop to the U.K.’s National Trading Standards and Advertising Standards Authority. The news was first reported by The Sunday Times newspaper on October 28.

The complaint, seen by CNBC, alleges that Goop’s “wellness” products are advertised misleadingly and make “potentially harmful” claims. It also holds that Goop’s advertising could encourage customers to “use products which could cause direct harm” and that some of the firm’s health claims about its supplement products are “unauthorized.”

Paltrow’s firm was founded in the United States in 2008, and opened its first pop-up store in the U.K. in September. The charity listed 113 examples of Goop’s advertising that it says are in breach of the law.

One of Goop’s products, called The Mother Load—A $90, 30-day regimen of vitamins for pregnant and post-pregnant women—promises to deliver 110% of the “daily value” of vitamin A for adults and children aged four and above, and 69% of the daily value for pregnant women.

That may seem promising—however, Britain’s National Health Service and the World Health Organization both recommend against taking supplements containing vitamin A during pregnancy. Indeed, the NHS website recommends that pregnant women “avoid taking supplements that contain vitamin A.”

Dr, Susan Beck, SVP of Science and Research at Goop, told The Huffington Post on October 28, “When used as recommended, goop’s the Mother Load supplements are safe during pregnancy. The Mother Load contains a very moderate 450 mcg (micrograms),” or 1500 IU (international units), “of vitamin A (preformed vitamin A as retinyl palmitate), which is less than the recommended daily intake of 600 mcg per day (per NHS).”

Beck added: “The Mother Load package contains a warning that pregnant women should not consume more than 10,000 IU vitamin A daily due to risk of birth defects. To provide you with more context — all pregnant women need vitamin A.”

Laura Thomason, project manager at the Good Thinking Society, said in a statement that she emailed to CNBC: “It is shocking to see the sheer volume of unproven claims made by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop about their products—especially given that some of their health advice is potentially dangerous.”

Thomason added: “Gwyneth Paltrow may well have good intentions, but she and her company sell products with claims that could clearly mislead customers. Just because Gwyneth has an Academy Award, it does not mean that Goop should be given an easy ride compared to other big corporations.”

This is not the first time—even this year—that Paltrow’s Goop has been the target of legal action. The blog settled a $145,000 lawsuit with California prosecutors last month over the advertising of a jade and rose quartz egg which it claimed could balance hormones and regulate menstrual cycles.

Research contact: @Ryane_Browne_

Texas voters say the machines are changing their choices

October 30, 2018

In Texas, voters who want to support a party line—casting their ballots for  every Democrat, or every Republican, for example—need only push one button when they get in the booth. However, according to an October 26 report by The Hill, some early voters already are reporting a major problem with that mechanism: Their voting machines “erroneously” changed their straight-party selections to a blank ballot—or worse yet, to a vote for the candidate from the opposition party—in the state’s U.S. Senate race.

Local news affiliate ABC 13 reports that voters in several districts have said that when they select a button that allows them to vote for all members of one party at once, it has, in some cases, chosen the opposite candidate or no candidate at all specifically in the Senate race.

The problem allegedly exists for both Democratic and Republican voters—but the results give an advantage to Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who currently is locked in a tight battle with well-funded and popular Democrat Beto O’Rourke.,

Specifically, some Democrats report that the machines they used erroneously selected Cruz as their candidate of choice—while Republicans attempting to vote for Cruz have reported the machines dropping their votes and selecting no candidate at all.

“When I got to the end, I just so happened that I glanced at the screen, I saw Ted Cruz was selected as my senator,” a voter in Fort Bend County who attempted to vote straight Democrat told ABC 13.

An election administrator in Fort Bend County told the news station that he had informed the state’s secretary of state about the issue in years past, but that Texas authorities had failed to act.

Sam Taylor, a spokesperson for Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos told ABC 13 that the problem is caused by “user error,” and indicated that the election machine vendor could upgrade systems to fix the problem while stating that Texas has not directed the vendor to do so.

According to the fact-checking website Snopes, rather than being the result of a plot by one side or the other to subvert the U.S. Senate election, these voting anomalies are a known problem that surfaced during the 2016 election with the Hart eSlate voting machines used in about 33% of Texas’ counties.

Snopes reported this week, “[A]ccording to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, the voting machines are not at fault. Rather, the problems reported are the result of “voters hitting a button or using the selection wheel before the screen is finished rendering,” which de-selects the pre-filled candidate selection.

“The issue is occurring primarily with the U.S. Senate race selections, because it is at the top of the ballot,” said Taylor.

Secretary of State Pablos put out an advisory telling voters and county election officials to adhere to the following steps, in order to cast their ballots correctly:

  • When voting a straight-party ballot, wait at least 3-5 seconds for all choices to be rendered on the eSlate voting machines. Counties in which voters have longer ballots may require additional time to allow the screens to load fully.
  • Once all the candidate choices for that particular party have been fully loaded, take your time to slowly review each choice in each race before advancing to the next screen.
  • When advancing to the next screen, be sure the screen is fully loaded before scrolling through to the subsequent pages.
  • Once you have reached the summary page, carefully review each choice listed to ensure the candidate selected is, in fact, the candidate for whom you wish to cast your vote.
  • If you find that one or more of your choices are displayed incorrectly on the summary page, hit the ‘PREV’ button and choose the candidate for whom you wish to cast your vote.
  • If any issues persist, ask for assistance from a poll worker at your polling location, and the poll worker will ensure that the machine is working properly and advise you on the proper steps to take to cast a ballot with only the candidates of your choosing.

In addition, Pablos offered an extra resource:”,In order to ensure that voters are able to operate the machines effectively,” he said, “voters casting their ballots on eSlate voting machines can take a test run of a simulated eSlate voting machine with an interactive online application available by visiting VoteTexas.gov.”

“We’ve heard from voters over a number of elections about this,” Ft. Bend County Election Administrator John Oldham told the ABC-TV affiliate. He said that the “user error” is most likely caused “ by voters simultaneously twisting the selection dial and pushing the enter button. It may not even be purposeful, but done by voters in a rush who don’t realize they are still interacting with both.”

Research contact: staylor@sos.texas.gov

Giving berth: Airbus to offer sleep modules in the cargo hold

October 29, 2018

The Netherlands-based aircraft designer and manufacturer, Airbus, has found a new way for passengers to stretch out and catch a few z’s—as long as they’re willing to sleep in the cargo hold.

The company has partnered with France’s Zodiac Aerospace, which supplies systems and equipment for aircraft, to develop and market lower-deck cargo sleeper berths for Airbus A330 jets. They’ will be available to all air carriers by 2020.

The mini cabins—called passenger modules—are being designed to sit on the cargo floor; and to be easily swapped in and out of planes with regular cargo containers during a typical turnaround, if required, the partners said.

The innovation builds on both Airbus’s and Zodiac’s experience in producing and integrating lower-deck crew-rest facilities.

Designs provided by the companies showed rows of double-decker beds on either side of a corridor. Mock-ups also displayed larger spaces for families, medical care, or meetings.

To obtain such accommodations, passengers would purchase a regular seat on the aircraft, paying extra for a bed at a price to be determined by the airlines. They would then access the cargo hold via a staircase.

“This approach to commercial air travel is a step change towards passenger comfort. We have already received very positive feedback from several airlines on our first mock-ups. We are pleased to partner with Zodiac Aerospace on this project, which will introduce a new passenger experience and add value for airlines,” said Geoff Pinner, head of Airbus’s Cabin & Cargo Programme.

“We are delighted to work with Airbus on this new and innovative project, which reaffirms our expertise in lower-deck solutions. An improved passenger experience is today a key element of differentiation for airlines,” said Christophe Bernardini, CEO of Zodiac’s Aerospace Cabin Branch.

Airlines either will be able to order new A330 jets fitted with the modules, or retrofit planes already in service. Availability of sleeper compartments on the A350 XWB airliner also is being studied.

Research contact: @Iyengarish