Posts made in April 2019

Amazon’s Ring to distribute local true-crime news

May 1, 2019

if you work outside the home, until recently you had very few ways to keep track of the workmen, friends, and family who beat a path to your front door—no less, those with criminal intent.

However, Amazon’s March 2018 acquisition of the Ring security system—which comprises outdoor motion-based cameras and a video doorbell that connects to your smartphone—has changed all that. Now, users can view whoever and whatever turns up at their doorway (the good, the bad, and the ugly) in real time.

And now, Fast Company reports, the company is hiring—and not for a tech job or a member of the logistics team, as would be expected. The position (Job ID: 836421) posted on the Amazon website is described as Managing Editor, News.

According to the posting, the Managing Editor, News, “will work on an exciting new opportunity within Ring to manage a team of news editors who deliver breaking [true] crime news alerts to our neighbors.

Obviously, your closest neighbors would want to know if there are folks with criminal intent in the neighborhood—and Amazon is snatching that lucrative beat away from local news provider Patch.

Based on the job description, Fast Company notes, the right candidate will have “deep and nuanced knowledge of American crime trends,” “strong news judgment that allows for quick decisions in a breaking news environment,” and at least three years in management. Hopefully, they aren’t looking for a candidate with three years of management in Internet doorbell news management, because we’re going to guess that person does not exist.

Ring’s Neighbors App would be the perfect distribution network for such news. According to the Ring website, it already provides “real-time crime and safety alerts from your neighbors, law enforcement, and the Ring team.”

As Nieman Lab notes, Americans perceive that crime is rising even when it’s not. A 2016 Pew survey found that only 15% of Americans believed (correctly) that crime was lower in 2016 than it had been in 2008; versus 57% who thought it had gotten worse. True crime stories and apps that turn every person on the street into a potential threat undoubtedly add to the problem.

That said, the more petrified the world is, the more likely you are to buy a crime-fighting doorbell, right?

Research contact: @ring

Comfort zone: The average lifespan of the American couch

May 1, 2019

Whether you rate yourself as a “couch potato” or not, few pieces of furniture in your home will ever get more use from family, friends, and pets than the living room sofa, based on a survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Rove Concepts, a furniture design and production firm based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

The average American couch is six years old, holds $1.55 in change, and has been cried on 17 times—based on results of the research, SWNS Digital reported on April 29.

What’s more, America’s typical couch has been napped on 36 times, played host to 32 conversations with family and friends, and supported us through 21 sick days so far, according to results.

While 70% of Americans rate their couch as comfortable enough overall, more than 20% said their couch is faded; and 34% said it’s on their replacement wish list. Indeed, 11% of respondents said their couch was the oldest piece of furniture in the household—outlived only by the bedroom dresser (12%).

Most admitted that they had not replaced any furniture in nearly three years. Sadly, fewer than half (44%) of respondents were “house proud,”  with 10%  going so far as to say they are embarrassed by the appearance of their home.

A spokesperson for Rove said: “The furniture you select [is] a reflection of how you want to feel in your living space. These pieces become a part of the everyday moments that truly make a living space your home.”

Research contact: @RoveConcepts

Female activists launch Supermajority

May 1, 2019

Three powerful leaders have launched a new national organization—Supermajority— that they hope will drive the political activism, training, and mobilization of the women from all walks of life who comprise 51% of the U.S. population.

The founders of the multiracial, intergenerational movement are Cecile Richards, the architect of Planned Parenthood Action Fund; Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Global Network and principal of Black Futures Lab; and Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

According to a press release from the new group dated April 29, “Supermajority … will build women’s power across the country and drive change around the issues that matter to women, and Supermajority Education Fund, which will invest in research and education to understand and amplify the civic engagement and the role of women in communities across the country.”

They intend to fight for gender equality on a slate of issues, from unequal pay, to staggering child care costs, rising maternal mortality, lack of family leave, and a government that continues to fail women.

More women today are taking action than ever before, and Supermajority intends to consolidate their strength. Indeed, according to findings of  a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation Survey Project, 20% of Americans have marched or protested since 2016 and the biggest issue driving these actions is support for women’s rights.

In 2018, women made up 54% of the electorate, creating a historic 23-point gender gap and propelling a record number of women into office. 

“We’ve seen an avalanche of women’s activism over the last two years in every part of the country. But women want to do more than resist. They want to drive change around the issues that impact their lives,” said Cecile Richards, former president of Planned Parenthood. “Now is the time to come together and organize around a ‘new deal’ for women, elevating our issues to the forefront of the national debate in 2019, 2020, and beyond. It’s time we demand equity.”

“Women have always done the work, the invisible work that makes everything else possible. As organizers, we’ve all been working to unite women and make progress on the issues women care about – from low wages to sexual violence. We are tired of those issues being sidelined,” said Ai-jen Poo.”We believe that, if we connect women and aggregate our power, we can change the direction of this country.”

Over the last year, Supermajority Education Fund leaders traveled the country listening to women and learning about why they have become activated in their communities and how to sustain this energy.  Among their findings are the following:

  • Staying home isn’t an option. Women are doing a lot to drive change, and they want to do even more but aren’t always sure how.
  • Civic participation is intimidating. Without institutional support or guidance, getting and staying involved as a citizen, voter, or advocate is daunting—particularly for newly activated women.
  • Women want to do more than resist. They want to use their activism to solve real problems.
  • Women want to be in community with one another. They want to come together across race, generations, income, geography, and more to learn from and support one another and build their collective engagement.

“The future will be decided by women,” said Alicia Garza. “Supermajority will be a community that aggregates the power of women across movements, bringing us together and taking action with shared purpose. When we reach for each other and move forward together, we can move millions.”

Supermajority plans to educate, train, and mobilize 2 million women nationwide, who will then help activate millions more women in their communities to make sure women’s voices are heard and a women’s agenda is represented in the policy debates, in legislative fights, and at the ballot box in 2020 and beyond.

Research contact: info@supermajority.com

Are teenagers who watch ’13 Reasons Why’ more likely to contemplate suicide?

April 30, 2019

During its first week of release in late March 2017, the Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why,” racked up over 3.5 million tweets, according to the research firm Fizziology—most of them, from teenagers obsessed with the suicide-themed show. Now, as the show and its audience gird for a third season, educators, physicians, and parents are worried that it will spur dangerous copycat behavior among the all-too-impressionable members of its fanbase.

Indeed, the viewer reaction to the first season, alone, is enough to give professionals and families pause. Among the worrying trends: Google searches about suicide spiked after the release of Season 1, physicians said that several children created lists of “13 reasons why” they wanted to kill themselves, and one hospital saw an increase in admissions of children who exhibited suicidal behavior.

But the news is not all bad, based on findings of a survey conducted by researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania and three other institutions.

The researchers polled 729 young adults nationwide, ages 18 to 29, before and after the May 2018 release of the show’s second season. Among their findings, published April 25 in the journal, Social Science & Medicine, are the following:

  • Viewers who stopped watching the second season partway through reported greater risk for future suicide and less optimism about the future than those who watched the entire season or didn’t watch it at all.
  • Students—who represented nearly 60% of the sample—were at an overall higher risk for suicide. Of the viewers who dropped out of watching the series midway, students were at a significantly higher suicide risk than non-students;
  • The show appeared to have a beneficial effect on students who saw the full second season. They were less likely to report recent self-harm and thoughts of ending their lives than comparable students who didn’t watch the series at all. And viewers, in general, were more likely to express interest in helping a suicidal person, especially compared with those who stopped watching;
  • Netflix’s warning about the show’s potentially disturbing content preceding Season 2 mainly appeared to increase viewing—but did not seem to prevent vulnerable viewers from watching the season.

“Although there’s some good news about the effects of “’13 Reasons Why,’ our findings confirm concerns about the show’s potential for adverse effects on vulnerable viewers,” said Dan Romer, APPC’s research director and the study’s senior author. “It would have been helpful had the producers done more to enable vulnerable viewers to watch the entire second season, which is when the show had its more beneficial effects.”

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds. Media portrayals of suicide have been shown to have helpful and harmful effects. Stories of suicide in news and fictional media can elicit suicide—especially when they explicitly show suicide methods— in a phenomenon called the Werther effect, after Goethe’s novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther.” By contrast, news stories about people who have overcome a suicidal crisis have had a positive impact, a more recently documented phenomenon that is known as the Papageno effect, after the character in Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute.”

“13 Reasons Why” seemed to be particularly upsetting for young people who were already at a higher risk of suicide and who empathized with the main character, 17-year-old Hannah, who is bullied and sexually assaulted before deciding to end her life.

The researchers added: “One explanation for the beneficial finding is that those at higher risk who persisted to the end were able to empathize with the challenges faced by the main characters and to take away a life-affirming lesson applied to their own lives.” The second season may have conveyed this message with more effectiveness than the first season, which mainly focused on the harm that the suicide inflicted on the victim’s friends and family.

“Given that we know that the Werther effect is a real phenomenon with detrimental consequences, the public outcry about potential contagious effects as a response to the first season is justified,” said the study’s lead author, Florian Arendt of the University of Vienna, Austria. “However, the second season appeared to have more content that could engender a beneficial effect than the first season, and this may have helped those who watched it in its entirety to walk away with more beneficial outcomes.”

Research contact: @13ReasonsWhy

Nadler pulls rank on Barr on terms of testimony

April 30, 2019

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) has cautioned Attorney General William Barr—who has more than proven himself to be a Trump acolyte during his first six weeks in office—not to try to dictate the terms of his testimony on the Russia investigation on May 2.

“The witness is not going to tell the committee how to conduct its hearing, period,” Nadler told CNN on Sunday.

Barr is scheduled to testify to the committee on Thursday about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 448-page report on the probe—which he had thoroughly redacted before releasing it to a limited number of Congressional leaders earlier this month.

He also is expected to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1, according to a report by Politico.

Nadler wants to allow each committee member a five-minute round of questioning. A key point of contention has arisen over Nadler’s wanting to allow for another round of questioning of 30 minutes for each party’s committee counsels, the political news outlet said. The chairman also proposed that the panel go into closed session to discuss the redacted sections of the report.

Barr has rejected both proposals, according to CNN, which cited an unidentified committee source.

Representative Madeleine Dean (D-Pennsylvania), a member of the Judiciary Committee, told Politico that Nadler’s proposed structure for the hearing was “not unprecedented.”

“It is not up to Attorney General Barr to tell our committee how to operate, and will I be puzzled if he actually decides not to show,” Dean said Sunday on CNN Newsroom With Fredricka Whitfield.

If Barr doesn’t appear on Thursday, Dean said, the committee is ready to “fully use our subpoena power.”

“The chairman has subpoena power, and we’ll have to go to a court of law and either hold him in contempt or have him come in, but I hope that cooler heads prevail,” Dean said.

Nadler has subpoenaed the Justice Department to provide an unredacted version of Mueller’s report, along with its underlying grand jury evidence and testimony, by May 1. He also sent a letter to Mueller asking the special counsel to testify before the Judiciary Committee by May 23.

Research contact: @politico

Cold workouts are cool now

April 29, 2019

Looking for a way to beat the heat this summer—and get in shape at the same time? Sure, you could dive into a pool or run up the stairs at your air-conditioned office. But those are so yesterday. Instead, you might want to think about patronizing a place that claims to be “the world’s first cool-temperature fitness studio.”

Opened in May 2018 in Manhattan’s Flatiron Chelsea neighborhood, Brrrn offers core and cardio workouts to a “chill” crowd of enthusiasts. Sessions are held for 50 minutes in a 50 ̊ (F) studio. Thus the “brrr.”

The new, nippy workout is based on the theory of “mild cold stress,” which posits that, when the temperature is low, your body relies on its own metabolism—by “brrrning” calories and fat—to get back up to 98.6 ̊ F.

To test it out, Founders Jimmy Martin and Johnny Adamic  pulled rowing machines into fridges at Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn and set up sessions at an ice factory in Martin’s Pennsylvania hometown. They eventually won investor backing to finance their first location in New York City.

Jason Kelly, a Bloomberg reporter, decided to test the theory out last summer. “I was intrigued by studies saying cold-temperature workouts are less fatiguing,” he commented, adding, “And on a steamy … day, the thought of walking into a chilly room sounded refreshing.”

Still, he commented, “When I arrive, 55 ̊ feels colder than I expect. The door to the actual studio resembles a walk-in freezer.”

The company’s website describes its ethos as its “Coldture” and promises to “give heat the cold shoulder.” The workouts, too, come in three “degrees”: First degree is a low-impact, yoga-inspired class that’s held at 60 ̊. Second degree classes are held at 55 ̊. Third degree, the most intense, drops the temperature to 45 ̊  and uses battle ropes and dumbbells as well as sandbells.

Kelly chose the middle option, which offers “total body conditioning” and still felt himself sweating buckets in the cool air by the end of the session.

Still, he asked himself when it was over, Is a cold studio enough, in a city with more boutique fitness concepts than cupcake stores, to build the kind of loyal mega-success achieved by those brands? Surprisingly, the answer was “yes.”

“One area where Brrrn has an edge,” Kelly said, “is enthusiasm, from both its instructors and founders. And the workout, even without the cold, is different in a good way. My inner quads and lower glutes were sore for days afterward, and the attention to largely unused muscles evoked the best barre workouts.”

And the science? “I want to believe it,” he says, “ If dropping the temperature a few degrees can make a workout more effective and addictive, all the better. But check back with me in winter.”

Each class costs $34.

Research contact: hello@thebrrrn.com

Online education provider Coursera is now worth more than $1 billion

April 29, 2019

Coursera—the Mountain View, California-based online learning platform founded by Stanford professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller in 2012—is now worth well over $1 billion, according to an April 25 report by Forbes.

Indeed, CEO Jeff Maggioncalda told analysts last week that the company had raised an additional $103 million in funding.

“This gives us the resources to more aggressively push on our mission of greater access to quality education and greater opportunity for people who are being left behind in this economy,” he said.

According to its website, Coursera now has 35 million learners more than 150 university partners; and offers over 2,700 courses and more than 250 specializations.

Specifically, at a cost of $49 to $99 per month, Coursera offers 14 online masters degrees, in computer science, business and public health—from schools like the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And it just launched its first online bachelor of science degree with the highly regarded University of London.

In addition, its revenue—which Forbes pegged at $140 million in 2018—is fueled in part by partnerships with 1,800 enterprise customers, who use it to provide continuing education to their staffs. They include Adobe, which paid Coursera an estimated $150,000 last year to provide machine-learning courses to its employees.

What’s more, Coursera sealed its biggest deal ever just there months again, when it contracted with the Abu Dhabi School of Government, an entity set up to train 60,000 government employees in digital skills like data science and artificial intelligence.

What’s its secret? Forbes says, that in comparison to more expensive digital degree providers, Coursera does no course production and takes only 40% of tuition. Its marketing costs are low, says Maggioncalda, because it already reaches a huge number of learners.

One example of a low-cost Coursera degree: its online iMBA from the University of Illinois’ highly ranked Gies College of Business, which costs $22,000. Out-of-state students pay $75,000 in tuition for an on-campus degree.

Readers can expect the economical costs and high quality of the curriculum to keep Coursera on high-growth tear.  After America, Coursera’s greatest growth is anticipated to be in India, China, Mexico, and Brazil, in that order.

Research contact: @coursera

Psychiatrists’ analysis: Trump seems to be suffering from mental decline

April 29, 2019

President Donald Trump’s “reckless” response to the investigation into his campaign—as detailed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his report—shows that he is unable to rationally process risk, making him a danger to the entire nation, according to a new analysis released on April 26 by an elite group of psychiatrists.

In an excerpt from the study posted on dangerouscase.org, the mental health professionals noted that, instead of worrying about an attack on the nation’s electoral process, Trump has revealed that he is “preoccupied with himself to the point where he does not even consider the good of the nation.”.

The report bears an unwieldy title: “Mental Health Analysis of the Special Counsel’s Report on the Investigation Into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election.” The authors’ chosen subtitle, though, goes more to the heart of their thesis: “If One is Too Incompetent to Commit a Crime, Despite Trying Hard, Is One Competent to be President?”

The five authors of the report include:

  • Bandy X. Lee, M.D., MDiv., assistant clinical professor in Law and Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine (Project Group Leader);
  • Edwin B. Fisher, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Health Behavior, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill;
  • Leonard L. Glass, M.D., M.P.H., associate clinical professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School;
  • James R. Merikangas, M.D., clinical professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, George Washington University; and
  • James Gilligan, M.D., clinical professor of Psychiatry and Adjunct Professor of Law, New York University.

According to a story on the study published by The Huffington Post, Yale University’s Bandy Lee, the lead author of the analysis, said that she and her colleagues believe Trump’s behavior shows that his mental condition is deteriorating rapidly. They are requesting that he undergo a full evaluation within the next three weeks by a “non-governmental, independent and non-partisan” panel that would include psychiatrists, neurologists and internists.

“If he believes he is fit, he should agree to submit to one,” Lee said, adding that if he refuses, her group will piece together a “profile” of Trump’s mental condition much the way the CIA prepares psychological profiles of foreign leaders who are deemed to be threats to the United States. “We believe it is equally valuable to do one when an internal leader is a danger to the nation.”

The White House press office did not respond to HuffPost’s queries about the new report—other than to argue generally that doctors should not offer diagnoses without performing clinical evaluations.

Lee has been arguing for some time, the Huffington Post said, that Trump’s public remarks and written statements on Twitter show that he is unfit for the presidency. She said the 448-page Mueller report offers even more evidence, meticulously collected over a period of two years by a team of experienced investigators.

“There couldn’t be higher quality data,” she said, adding that while Mueller was looking at Trump’s words and deeds from a criminal justice standpoint, her team studied his findings from a mental health perspective.

James Merikangas, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University and another author of the report, said it does not make a diagnosis, as the White House is implying.

“We don’t claim to make a psychiatric or neurological diagnosis, although we’d like to,” he said, adding that evidence collected by Mueller shows that Trump seemed unable to anticipate the bad consequences that would have followed had he managed to fire the special counsel.

“Looking one or two steps down the road requires a certain mental capacity,” Merikangas said.

He noted that the president’s father, Fred Trump, had Alzheimer’s in his final years and that the president, who will turn 73 in June, is at the age where the neurological disorder commonly starts to manifest itself. Merikangas pointed out that President Ronald Reagan, who also developed Alzheimer’s, was known to be exhibiting some symptoms in his second term.

“Reagan was at least surrounded by competent, patriotic people,” said Merikangas, adding that Trump has methodically driven off competent advisers with sound judgment in favor of those who cater to his whims.

The professor said that as a Navy officer in 1962, he witnessed the last above-ground nuclear test conducted by the United States and that has shaped his concerns about Trump. “The president still has the authority to start a nuclear war by himself,” Merikangas said. “That’s one possible consequence. … It’s a very, very dangerous situation.”

The five authors of the new report are among the 37 mental health professionals who contributed to the book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” which came out in 2017 and was updated earlier this year.

Research contact: bandy.lee@yale.edu

Personal encounters with the ‘almighty’ result in better mental health

April 26, 2019

For thousands of years, people have reported experiencing deeply moving encounters with a higher power or an ultimate reality—either spontaneously or while under the influence of psychedelic drugs.

But, how do such encounters affect them—both in the moment and in the long term? Do they undergo changes in their belief systems? Are they still afraid of death?

Following a comprehensive survey of subjects who claim to have crossed paths with the almighty, researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine report that more than two-thirds of self-identified atheists shed that label after their brush with the eternal, regardless of whether it was spontaneous rendezvous or was facilitated by taking magic mushrooms.

Moreover, the researchers say, a majority of respondents attributed lasting positive changes in their psychological health—e.g., life satisfaction, purpose, and meaning—even decades after their initial experience.

The findings, described in a paper published on April 23 in the journal PLOS ONE, add to evidence that such deeply meaningful experiences may have healing properties, the researchers say. And the study’s design, they add, is the first to systematically and rigorously compare reports of spontaneous God encounter experiences with those occasioned, or catalyzed, by psychedelic substances.

“Experiences that people describe as encounters with God or a representative of God have been reported for thousands of years, and they likely form the basis of many of the world’s religions,” says lead researcher Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “And although modern Western medicine doesn’t typically consider ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ experiences as one of the tools in the arsenal against sickness, our findings suggest that these encounters often lead to improvements in mental health.”

The historic and widespread anecdotal evidence for their benefits led to the research team’s latest effort to research the value, and possible downsides, of such encounters, Griffiths says.

For the new study, the scientists used data from 4,285 people worldwide who responded to online advertisements to complete one of two 50-minute online surveys about God-encounter experiences. The surveys asked participants to recall their single most memorable encounter experience with the “God of their understanding,” a “higher power,” “ultimate reality” or “an aspect or representative of God, such as an angel.” They also asked how respondents felt about their experience and whether and how it changed their lives.

About 69% of the participants were men, and 88% were white. Of those who reported using a psychedelic, 1,184 took psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”), 1,251 said they took LSD, 435 said they took ayahuasca (a plant-based brew originating with indigenous cultures in Latin America), and 606 said they took DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine), also a naturally occurring substance found in certain plants and animals.

Of the total participants, 809 were those who responded to the non-drug survey, whereas 3,476 responded to the psychedelics survey. Respondents were an average age of 38 when they took the survey. The people who said they had a God encounter experience when on a psychedelic reported that these experiences happened at age 25 on average, whereas those whose experience was spontaneous reported having it at an average age of 35.

Among other key findings:

  • About 75% of respondents in both the non-drug and psychedelics groups rated their “God encounter” experience as among the most meaningful and spiritually significant in their lifetime, and both groups attributed to it positive changes in life satisfaction, purpose and meaning.
  • Independent of psychedelics use, more than two-thirds of those who said they were atheists before the experience no longer identified as such afterward.
  • Most participants, in both the non-drug and psychedelics groups, reported vivid memories of the encounter experience, which frequently involved communication with some entity having the attributes of consciousness (approximately 70%), benevolence (75%), intelligence (80%), sacredness (75% ), and eternal existence (70%).
  • Although both groups reported a decreased fear of death, 70% of participants in the psychedelics group reported this change, compared with 57% among non-drug respondents.
  • In both groups, about 15% of the respondents said their experience was the most psychologically challenging of their lives.
  • In the non-drug group, participants were most likely to choose “God” or “an emissary of God” (59%) as the best descriptor of their encounter, while the psychedelics group were most likely (55%) to choose “ultimate reality.”

For future studies, Griffiths said his team would like to explore what factors predispose someone to having such a memorable and life-altering perceived encounter, and they would like to see what happens in the brain during the experience.

Research contact: rgriff@jhmi.edu