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Students: Need Help with Science Class?

Any college science class will be challenging regardless of your skill and knowledge level.  Even the smartest students are obviously going to have questions. Just in case your instructor cannot answer all of them in lectures and office hours, and if you cannot afford a private tutor, there are plenty of sources online that can help you wrap your head around these concepts.  

A study in the journal entitled Computers & Education in April 2016 looked at what possible influence a YouTube channel for a specific marketing course could have on cross-curricular competencies. The researchers concluded that:

“The use of YouTube as a teaching vehicle has a positive impact on students’ learning outcomes and satisfaction.”

As good as that sounds, there is reason to be cautious. A publication in Anatomical Sciences Education in April 2013 reviewed a total of 55,525 videos by analyzing the quality and overall detail of the data presented in the content. Of which, Only 294 of them made the cut for further analysis. The results indicated that there was an overall poorly conveyed anatomical criteria, and the general quality of the videos were deemed “borderline.” The researchers encouraged anatomists and educational institutes to prepare and endorse good quality material, as well as for students to be selective when using public video databases to aid in learning.

So what are some of the trustworthy sources on the internet to aid learning? There are quite a few of them out there. I’ll share some of the main ones who are credible and have helped me personally.

Brothers, Hank and John Green, created Crash Course in 2006; which is a YouTube channel now boasting more than five million subscribers and more than 520 million total views. A quick glance at the playlists reveals entire courses in core topics such as Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, Anatomy & Physiology, Astronomy, Intellectual Property, Physics, and many others. They have developed partnerships with organizations such as PBS Digital Studios and Khan Academy; and they have plenty of sister channels such as Scishow, Scishow Space, Healthcare Triage, and sexplanations which touch on specific educational topics as well.

AsapSCIENCE is a website and YouTube channel that prides itself on giving you a “weekly dose” of science education. Topics vary from dieting to the science behind motivation to filtering through the political noise and discussing what actually happens during the abortion process. The creators of the channel, Mitchell Moffit and Greg Brown, even published a book entitled AsapSCIENCE: Answers to the Weirdest Questions, Most Persistent Rumors, and Unexplained Phenomena. Bill Nye, CEO of the Planetary Society and author of Undeniable, said in this review of the book that:

“Science is big fun. The ASAP guys get that, and they’ll show you—they’ll even draw you a diagram.”

Aron Ra is an author, science educator, Texas State Senate candidate for 2020, public speaker, host of the Ra-men podcast, and blogger among many other things. However, he is best known for his YouTube channel. The topics he is most notably passionate about are science education and debunking pseudoscience. Aron produces high quality videos about biology for both high school and college level about topics such as heredity patterns and abiogenesis, as well as plenty explaining and debunking the many misconceptions about evolution. He also has a special Phylogeny Explorer Project currently in the development stages.

Bozeman Science was created by Paul Anderson, science educator with a Masters of Science in Science Education, has been teaching the subject for more than twenty years. He has produced multiple videos about various topics such as Biology, Statistics, Physics, and Environmental science. Anderson won the 2011 Montana Teacher of the Year award and was one of the finalists for the 2011 National Teacher of the Year.

There are tons of more content creators on the internet when it comes to science education and breaking down specific subjects. However, these are among the best you will find for science education. These sources could possibly be of use to students currently enrolled in science classes.  They certainly have been for me. 

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Chronic Illness Report: The Global Economic and Public Health Impacts of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is a global phenomenon which affects hundreds of millions of people and can be caused by risk factors such as injury, trauma, disease, surgery, and surgical complications. There are notable problems when it comes to the treatment methodology and the overall economic impact on society. Just how big of a problem is this, though, and how is our current approach to it panning out?

The issue of chronic pain has long been regarded as just a medical problem, rather than being viewed through the lens of public health. The difference between the two, as the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University explains, is simple: medicine focuses primarily on the individual, while public health focuses on entire populations at large.

Why is it important to look at the big picture here? Because viewing pain as a public health problem allows us to recognize that it is multifaceted and requires interdisciplinary action. It also happens to be “growing both in absolute numbers and in its inequitable distribution across the globe.” It is the leading cause of disability and is a major contributor to healthcare costs. According to the peer-reviewed journal, BMC Public Health, one out of every ten adults around the globe are diagnosed with some form of chronic pain every year. Pain affects more people in America than cancer, diabetes, and heart disease combined.

The American Pain Society explains:

“Based on data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), the study estimates that within a previous three-month period, 25 million U.S. adults had daily chronic pain, and 23 million more reported severe pain. Those with serious pain need and use more health care services and suffer greater disability than persons with less severe pain.”

According to a publication in Oxford University’s British Journal of Anaesthesia, some degree of chronic pain affects around twenty percent of the entire European population. Clinical, biological, psychological, and socio-demographic components have each been concluded to be risk factors. Not only does chronic pain affect the patient, but there is an enormous economic impact on society as a whole. The same publication states that the cost is “currently estimated at more than €200 billion per annum in Europe and $150 billion per annum in the USA.”

As pointed out in a joint discussion forum by Harvard University and The Huffington Post, when you factor in both costs of treatment and lost productivity, that number checks out at around $635 billion. A lot of this money is wasted due to many patients having to see up to four or five different doctors before finding one who addresses their needs. This should come as no surprise, given the fact that students in veterinary school spend five times as many hours on studying pain management as do primary care physicians. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Pain concludes that “pain education for North American medical students is limited, variable, and often fragmentary. There is a need for innovative approaches and better integration of pain topics into medical school curricula.”

This phenomenon is not unique to adults, either. A publication in the Journal of Pain from September 2014 estimates that the total annual cost to the United States for treatment-seeking adolescents (ages 10-17) pans out to around $19.5 billion. Much like the case in Europe, one in five Canadians suffer from chronic pain. A number that is about the same for children as adults. Based on a systematic review of 38 different pain prevalence studies from several different countries, somewhere between 11-38% of children and young people will experience chronic pain and 5-8% percent of them are considered “severely disabled.”

The pediatric Journal, Nursing Children and Young People, points to some specific figures to show just how many young people are suffering with this:

“For example, in 2013, the population of people aged 19 years and younger living in Canada was 7.85 million (Statistics Canada 2014). Based on this statistic, between 863,500 and 2.9 million will experience chronic pain and about 392,000-628,000 of them will experience disability because of their pain.”

As Dr. Jennifer Stinson, Scientist and Nurse Practitioner at the Hospital for Sick Children, mentioned in a panel discussion on The Agenda with Steve Paikin back in January 2016: chronic pain can significantly impact these kids at school, as well as in their social life, and it will require extensive rehabilitation and care from multiple disciplines to help them get their lives back. Later in the program, Dr. Stinson also points out that, despite the fact that the doubled suicide rate among sufferers is mainly an adult statistic, there have been a number of cases of kids who are transitioning from childhood to adult care and “get lost in the system” who have taken their own lives. Much like the Harvard discussion forum, this program is very informative and worth watching if you care to learn more about the issue.

Speaking of this doubled risk of death by suicide, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “It is estimated that 45% of people who ultimately die from suicide were seen by their primary care provider within one month of their suicide.” Is it starting to seem like we have a serious problem on our hands? How are we, as a society, addressing these issues? BMC Public Health briefly summarizes what we should set our sights on:

“The prevalence, incidence, and vast social and health consequences of global pain requires that the public health community give due attention to this issue. Doing so will mean that health care providers and public health professionals will have a more comprehensive understanding of pain and the appropriate public health and social policy responses to this problem.”

It begins with a better understanding of this complex issue by both the medical and public health communities of professionals at large. It is necessary to explore how we should approach refining treatment methods. However, to do this will take an entirely separate article of its own. The purpose of this one is simply to examine the extent of both the economic and public health impacts at large.  

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What Do the 2015 PISA Results Show About Science and Math Education Around the World?

The 2015 results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exams, an international survey taken every three years to evaluate education systems around the world by testing the knowledge and practical skills of 15-year olds, have arrived. Just over half a million students, representing 28 million total 15-year old students in 72 different countries and economies, took this two-hour exam. The focus in 2015 was specifically science education, but also included mathematics, reading, collaborative problem solving, and financial literacy. The latest results were released on December 6th, 2016. Some countries made significant improvements since the last time (2006) the PISA focused on science. However, that is not the case with most participating countries.

What does the data say about the quality of education across the globe? According to the summary page, they assessed students performance in science, as well as their attitudes towards the subject. Why?

“An understanding of science, and of science‑based technology, is necessary not only for those whose careers depend on it directly, but also for any citizen who wishes to make informed decisions related to the many controversial issues under debate today.”

These issues include, but are not limited to, touchy topics such as diet, waste management, and genetically modified crops.

Just 8% of students in countries who participate in this Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) program are considered “top performers” in science. A shining exception, Singapore, turned out to be number one in science education; with 24% of their students considered “top performers”. The “key factor” was a high standard of teaching. The country recruits it’s teachers from the top 5% of graduates, seeing it as a prestigious position. The overall highest performing OECD member nations are Japan, Estonia, Finland, and Canada.

What does it take to be on the top? For science, it means they’re “sufficiently skilled in and knowledgeable about science to creatively and autonomously apply their knowledge and skills to a wide variety of situations, including unfamiliar ones.” In mathematics, it means they’re at least performing at levels 5 or 6. Level 5 is a score between 607 and 669, and means that students have to “work with models for complex situations”, as well as identifying constraints and specifying assumptions. Level 6 is a score above 669, where the students display a strong ability to “conceptualize, generalize, and utilize information” on the basis of their investigations and modeling of complex problems. The students have to apply insight and display mastery of formal mathematical operations and relations in order to develop innovative approaches and strategies in unique situations.

For the majority of countries who participated, the performance of science education remains unchanged since 2006, despite all the advances in science and technology during this period. Performance improved between 2006 and 2015 in Qatar, Macao (China), Colombia, Israel, Portugal, and Romania. The number of students Macao, Portugal, and Qatar who performed at above Level 5 increased, and the amount of students performing at level 2, below the “baseline of proficiency,” decreased. Students at this level are expected to understand basic science content, procedures to identify an appropriate explanation, interpret data, and identify the question being addressed in a single experiment. They are expected to be at this level before leaving high school.

More than one in four students in Hong Kong (China), Singapore, Chinese Taipei, and Beijing‑Shanghai‑Jiangsu‑Guangdong are considered top‑performing students in mathematics. Meaning that they can handle tasks that require the ability to formulate complex situations mathematically, using symbolic representations. Andreas Schleicher, Director for the OECD Directorate of Education and Skills, addresses in a video that these Chinese provinces specifically have achieved their success by putting heavy emphasis on good teaching, as well as “high and universal expectations for every student.”

Despite the fact that between 2006 and 2015, no country nor economy improved their performance in science or equity in education simultaneously, the relationship between socioeconomic status and student performance weakened in nine countries where mean science scores remained stable. The United States showed some improvement in equity. However, not quality. The average scores of the PISA for U.S. students is 496 out of 1,000. Massachusetts (529), North Carolina (502), and Puerto Rico (403) participated separate from the rest of the country.

In mathematics, the U.S. sits at an average of 470—with Massachusettes (500), North Carolina (471), and Puerto Rico (378) testing separately on this subject as well. The former two have shown improvement and are sitting above the national average. However, the Puerto Rico is nearly 100 points below the national average.

The 2015 PISA results show that, despite advances in science and technology, the education for those fields hasn’t necessarily kept up in most participating countries. There are a handful of countries who have shown significant improvement in their education. They seem to show the same consistent themes of high expectations for teachers and students alike. However, around the world, there is still much improvement to be made in education to keep up with the rate of scientific and technological advances.

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What Does Donald Trump’s Education Policy Look Like?

United States president-elect, Donald J. Trump, originally announced his 100-day plan at a rally in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania towards the end of October, as the election was coming to a close. In it, he put forth proposals for legislation that has to do with education, childcare, healthcare, federal regulations, federal employees, economic policy, immigration, and a handful of other things. I’m going to shine light specifically on how these policies will affect students enrolled in K-12 and institutes of higher education.

K-12

Under the School Choice and Education Opportunity Act, Mr. Trump has proposed a plan for universal school choice which would “redirect education dollars to give parents the right to send their kid to the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school of their choice.” His plan would end common core education and bring the supervision to the local community level, expands vocational and technical education, and a plan to make two and four-year college degrees more affordable.

This is rather vague, so it is necessary to further investigate to understand what this really means for us and what the process entails. His campaign website provides more details as to what his plan and vision is. He highlights that the US spends more per pupil than most major countries, yet perform “near the bottom of the pack for major large advanced countries.” This is objectively true. As the Pew Research Center explains, only 16% of scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and 29% of the general public would rank U.S. STEM education for K-12 to be above average or at the top of the list. The most recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) data shows that we’re ranked 35th in mathematics and 27th in science out of sixty-four total countries evaluated.

This data also shows that apparently students in the U.S. “have particular weaknesses in performing mathematics tasks with higher cognitive demands, such as taking real-world situations, translating them into mathematical terms, and interpreting mathematical aspects into real-world problems.” Despite the fact that the US spends more per student than most other countries, this doesn’t translate into better performance. Let’s take, for example, the Slovak Republic. When you break it down, they spend about $53,000 (USD) per student, as opposed to the US who spends more than $115,000 per student. However, they perform at the same level. It is also worthy to note that Korea, the highest performing OECD country in mathematics, spends much less than the average per-student expenditure. So the problem certainly doesn’t lie within the funding itself.

The method of organization is also an important factor found by this research. On average, schools with more teacher autonomy over their own curriculum and assessments tend to perform better than schools with less autonomy when they are part of a school system with more arrangements regarding accountability and greater teacher-principal collaboration with school management. This is in-line with some of the basic concepts also advocated by proponents school choice with regards to the decentralization of power and allocating it to the local level.

Trump has made cutting federal regulations a huge part of his platform. However, he has pledged to dedicate $20 billion in federal funds to school choice policies that would “give states the option to allow these funds to follow the student to the public or private school they attend” and use federal carrots to enable states to further expand choice policies. Jason Bedrick, policy analyst for the CATO Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, says that if he’s planning to promote a national voucher program to expand educational opportunity is “admirable, but using the federal government to do so is misguided” because it would very likely lead to an increase in federal regulation of private schools over time, especially if a new administration takes over that is less friendly to the concept as a whole. That has certainly been the case in some states that have undermined the effectiveness of school choice policies by excessively regulating them. He elaborates by stating:

“When a state adopts regulations that undermine its school choice program, it’s lamentable but at least the ill effects are localized. However, if the federal government regulates a national school choice program, there is no escape.”

Higher Education

Trump’s plans for higher education aren’t quite as descriptive as those for K-12. He has said he wants to “work with Congress on reforms to ensure universities are making a good faith effort to reduce the cost of college and student debt in exchange for federal tax breaks and tax dollars.” He also wants to ensure that the opportunity to attend a two or four-year school, as well as a vocational or technical school to attain specific skills, is “easier to access, pay for, and finish.” However, that is the extent of details as to how that will happen.

He has suggested that instead of students dealing with the “albatross” of student debt, they could pay 12.5 percent of their income each year for fifteen years, and after that, their loans could be forgiven. There is already a program in place that requires a payment of 10 percent over twenty years. Jason D. Delisle, of the American Enterprise Institute, has said that Mr. Trump’s plan would give a huge break to students with a higher amount of student debt (like those with more advanced degrees), but would ultimately end up costing the government more.

Controversy

Like many other things, Donald Trump’s education policies have been no stranger to controversy. The Trump transition team announced on Wednesday, November 23rd that his pick to head the Department of Education was to be Betsy DeVos. It was difficult to find an article that wasn’t somehow critical of this decision.

DeVos is the chair for American Federation for Children, a group that promotes charter school education. She also served on the board for an organization called Foundation for Excellence in Education, which is a group led by former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, and promotes both school choice and common core standards of education. Conservatives were quick to critique the decision because of her involvement in an organization who supports common core. However, she issued a very bold statement on her website saying that “I am not a supporter–period.”

“Have organizations that I have been a part of supported Common Core?”, she continued. “Of Course. But that’s not my position.” She says that she believes every child regardless of their zip code or their parent’s jobs deserves access to a quality education. The National Education Association, the largest labor union in the US, gave fierce condemnation of Trump’s pick. Asserting that she has “done more to undermine public education than support students” and accused her of pushing “a corporate agenda”.

 

Like most things about Donald Trump, his education policy plans have been subject to controversy and debate. The reactions to these education proposals have been a mixed bag. Some are embracing the policies, while others are harshly critical, and there are those that fall between both umbrellas. Either way, the debate surrounding these issues are seemingly far from over with.

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Op-Ed: GMO Lives Matter II: Who is Behind the Propaganda and Misinformation?

The internet is a vast ocean of information. Some sources being valid, credible, and reliable. Not so much, others. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)  is currently one of the most controversial topics out there. However, much of the heated debate and paranoia could be avoided if people could better determine the difference between reliable and unreliable sources of information. Certain anti-GMO content published on the web from outlets such as the Huffington Post, Alex Jones, and Natural News are either completely misguided or flat out lying to you.

I’ll begin with the Huffington Post. As a more mainstream source, more people are unfortunately inclined to take them seriously. WhyHunger Co-founder and ambassador, Bill Ayres, made the following statement in a piece published in September of 2016:

“Members [of the Food Sovereignty Program] believe that increased dependence on technology, as heralded in the World Food Prize honorees, in the form of pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, and GMO seeds is not the answer to hunger and food production.”

On what evidence are you basing your “beliefs”? As I mentioned in the previous GMO Lives Matter piece, this technology has saved an estimated one billion (with a ‘b’) or more lives thus far. Largely due to the scientific and technological achievements of Dr. Norman Borlaug–the brains behind certain varieties of wheat and rice–who happens to be the founder of the World Food Prize. Let us not forget that this technology also has allowed for impoverished importers of grains like Mexico and Pakistan to double their wheat production and become major exporters of the crop within a handful of years. As mentioned in this lecture given in June of 2013 by Cornell University Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics, Margaret Smith, approximately six (out of seven) billion people today have access to adequate carbohydrates, up from two (out of 3.3) billion just fifty years ago. So if you “believe” this isn’t the answer to hunger and food production, despite the evidence already having shown that it is, you should probably consider looking at it a bit more objectively.

Alex Jones, well-known conspiracy theorist and host of The Alex Jones Show, is vehemently against genetic engineering. He was quoted saying “We’re all being shoved GMO that kills the rodents that eat it.” He makes reference to the 3rd generation of some rats being fed Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) corn which he claims renders them infertile and “looking like something out of a Frankenstein movie”. He also stated the following: 

“Rats have a multi-year life cycle, but they don’t live that long. Humans, of course, have about a 75 year cycle. We’re already one cycle into this and you can already see the cancer, the death, the mutations, the problems, all of it. Can you imagine phase two? It’s already started. Every TV show I watch is ads to raise money for kids that have cancer. They’re all over the place.”

So much to dissect and refute here. According to a publication in the journal, Recent Patents on Food, Nutrition & Agriculture:

“It could be conjectured that GMFs/GMOs could be potential hazard on reproduction, linking to the development of infertility through influencing the endocrine metabolism, endometriosis. However, little evidence shows the impaction on embryo or reproductive related tumor due to the limited literatures, and needs further research.”

Basically, there isn’t enough evidence to substantiate a link between GMOs and infertility. In the realm of science, correlation does not always imply causation. The Séralini rat study is a solid example of bunk science supposedly displaying a link between GMOs and tumors in rats. However, it was retracted by the publishers in 2013 for “inadequate data to support its conclusions.” The small number of rats, as well as the fact that there is a well-known high incidence of tumors in the Sprague-Dawley strain of rat, means that “no definitive conclusion can be reached.” You can’t exclude such important variables like that and expect the entire scientific community not to notice.

What about the concerns of childhood cancer? According to the National Cancer Institute, “the causes of most childhood cancers are not known”. Much of it is caused by inheritable genetic mutations. Children with Down syndrome are also 10-20 times more likely to develop leukemia than those without. There is a list of other variables that come into play, but GMOs aren’t even one of those. Alex never mentioned the specific studies was referencing to. But considering that the debunked study already specified has been so since years before he made this segment in Januaray of 2016, it would help his case here had he been a bit more specific. As Carl Sagan once said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” However, Alex fails to provide that in yet another brilliant segment of his. That doesn’t keep him from reaching 6.2 million people monthly on his website, infowars.com. He also has approximately 1.6 million subscribers on his YouTube channel. So a lot of people take this guy seriously. 

Natural News, a well-known pseudoscientific outlet, is another outlet which pumps out a considerable amount of anti-GMO propaganda. A piece from June of 2016 made the following claim:

“So the problem with some modern diseases, like metabolic syndrome, is they probably have multiple causes. Eating too much sugar and pesticides (from GMO corn syrup) in this case could be two causes adding to metabolic syndrome.”

I’m not sure where this author is getting their information from, but according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are many possible causes of Metabolic syndrome, and none of them are related to GMOs. They include overweight and obesity, an inactive lifestyle, insulin resistance, excess fats in the liver, polycystic ovarian syndrome, gallstones, and breathing problems during sleep such as sleep apnea. Not only is there solid evidence to show GMOs are safe for consumption. Here is a list of more than 1,700 studies which conclude precisely that. 

I hope reading through his piece has shown that many outlets that speak out against GMOs either do not have an adequate enough understanding of the topic or are purposely misrepresenting it. There are more reputable voices out there than the Huffington Post, Alex Jones, and Natural News. Be skeptical. In the next piece of this series, we’ll explore how this propaganda and misinformation has shown itself to be rather dangerous.

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Op-Ed: GMO Lives Matter I: What is the Green Revolution?

These days we’re used to seeing the word “green” used as an adjective to describe everything from various technologies to entire philosophies and movements, including those of political nature. There are green parties in nearly 90 countries in the world, including the Green Party of the United States. The green parties are typically associated with liberalism, but there are also green conservatives, libertarians, anarchist, etc. What unites them is that they all collectively embrace environmental concerns. The core of each of these are relatively well-known in western society and have their roots in environmentalism. While that is great and all, you will hardly find people these days who are familiar with the much different “green revolution” that began in the 1940’s; a scientific revolution that has quite literally saved an estimated more than one billion lives thus far, and actually provides solutions to environmental issues.

Despite the fact that genetic engineering has proven to be a reliable method of solving the problems that environmentalists haven’t let us forget about, many individuals within this same crowd of people often times are part of the movements that rail against this very technology. This is what I like to call “the height of irony”, and a dangerous entity with its roots based solely in ignorance.

The Mexican government and the Rockefeller Foundation united around a common goal of increasing grain yields for a rapidly growing population with a diminishing food supply and established a plant-breeding station. They brought to the table a weapon of mass destruction: Dr. Norman Borlaug (1914-2009), an American biologist and plant breeder from the University of Minnesota, who had recently developed a high-yield, disease-resistant wheat plant. In 1944, Mexico relied on importing about half of their wheat. Twelve years later in 1956, the country was officially self-sustained with their wheat production and was exporting ½ million tons of it by 1964. This was a production increase of an astounding more than 600%, as pointed out in the documentary film entitled Freedom From Famine: The Norman Borlaug Story produced by a collaborative effort between the Mathile Institute for the Advancement of Human Nutrition and Courter Films & Associates.

In time, this new agricultural technology would show its face Pakistan and India. Dr. Borlaug’s work nearly doubled each of the two nation’s wheat production between 1965 and 1970, saving millions of people from starvation.  In just twenty years, annual wheat production in India had been increased almost fourfold from what it was before; going from producing twelve million tons in 1966 to forty-seven million tons in 1986. This only takes into account one of many genetically modified (GMO) crops. What about all the others?

I’m glad I asked. With the help of Dr. Borlaug, Mexico founded a research institute called The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). It was in that setting that Borlaug worked together with the Ford Foundation to develop a new variety of rice called ‘IR8’. This technology essentially saved the country of India, which was on the brink of a mass famine in the 1960’s. Today, however, the Indian food situation is very different as the country is now one of the world’s leading producers of rice. The use of IR8 rice subsequently spread all throughout the continent of Asia following India’s adoption of the crop. Nowadays, rice is considered by many to be the single most important crop on the globe as it accounts for 80% of the total calories consumed by 2.7 billion Asians; which happens to be nearly half of the world’s rapidly growing population. Though the yield of these crops been massively increased, we have managed to do this without having to increase the amount of land used for agriculture. The amount of arable farmland available is expected to decrease in the coming years. Without GMO crops, we would have to further encroach on most of the remaining natural habitats in the world such as forests to be able to keep up with the growing global demand for food.

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Speaking of rapid population growth: boy, do we have issues. Recent estimates have suggested that approximately 6.5% of all people ever born are alive this very moment. Considering the fact that we’ve been here about 200,000 years, that’s a gigantic rate of growth to experience in real time. There are currently about 7 billion of us on the face of the planet. Just as the Freedom From Famine documentary points out, in 1975 there were only 3.9 billion people on earth. Our population has nearly doubled from what it ever has been in just more than forty years out of approximately two hundred thousand! In the year 1800, there were less than one billion. All though the overall rate of growth is slowing down, that doesn’t discount the fact that our population is estimated to be at a whopping 8.9 billion people by 2025.

Dr. Norman Borlaug’s work as a scientist has arguably been among the most important in human history. Which is probably why he’s the only individual to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize (1970), U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977), and the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal (2006) during his lifetime. He also was awarded the United Nations FAO Agricola Medal (2010), but not until the year after his death. All though the success of the green revolution has been profound, there are still a lot of people in the world who are starving. Those of you concerned with the scary GMO foods need to take this sort of information very carefully into account before going and rehashing the propaganda put forth by pseudoscientific outlets such as Natural News. We’ll continue to explore the misinformation you can find all over the web more in-depth in part II of this series.

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Op-Ed: Signs of Psychological Abuse in a Relationship and Prevention Strategies

Domestic abuse. It’s arguably one of the touchiest topics out there. On one far end of the conversation, we have the Social Justice Warrior (SJW) crowd who is known to hold victim culture high on a pedestal and shove it down everyone’s throats. On the other side of the spectrum, you have those who argue that the SJW crowd has taken it too far with the oppressed victim narrative, and essentially bury their heads in the sand about the issue. Who is more accurate, though?

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It turns out that there is a ton of gray area, and the truth is lost somewhere in the middle. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) as a “serious, preventable public health problem that affects millions of Americans.” IPV is broken down into four main types: physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression. Merriam-Webster goes as far as to define aggression as “hostile, injurious, or destructive behaviour or outlook.”

Psychological aggression is the use of communication with intent to harm. This includes humiliation, name-calling, coercive control, threats of violence, manipulation/mind games, and exploitation of vulnerabilities such as disabilities. A young author from Texas State University, Bridget Reneau, recently published a piece essentially saying the same thing in simpler terms:

“Possible signs of an emotionally abusive situation are degrading comments, shameful statements, a partner unable to own up to their own shortcomings, isolation from friends and family, and enmeshment in the relationship.”

 

Risks

So we can objectively establish that this is a legitimate issue. But what is at stake, and what can be done about it? The first step, of course, is to understand what the reality of the situation is. Variables on both sides of the equation are important to acknowledge.

The CDC shines some light on this:

“A combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of becoming an IPV perpetrator or victim. Understanding these multilevel factors can help identify various opportunities for prevention.”

The individual risk factors include but are not limited to depression, unemployment, low self-esteem, financial stress, heavy alcohol and drug use, the desire of control in a relationship, a personal or family history of IPV, and many others. This doesn’t even cover the multiple relational, communal, and societal factors that come into play.

The American Psychological Association (APA) points out that there is double the average rates of suicide attempts among victims of IPV. Suicide, according to data released by the CDC in 2014, is the second leading cause of death in the United States among the age groups between ten and thirty-four, and the third leading cause of death for people in between the ages of thirty-five and fifty-four. Wow, right? What the hell?! We should probably attempt to intervene. 

 

Solutions

The solutions are just as complex as the problem. Ideally, we need to address preventative measures and solutions applicable to each of the levels of influence.  According to the CDC, these methods include promoting resiliency for the individual, raising awareness via education, and encouragement of social change. 

A secondary analysis of a study published in February 2016 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health evaluated community prevention efforts in 8 different communities (4 intervention, 4 control) in Kampala, Uganda. It turns out there were statistically significant effects for each strain of IPV observed within the communities that implemented the intervention efforts. The Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University is in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) to bring you a really cool database consisting of the abstracts of a ton of similar studies, original research, and systematic literature reviews.


The takeaway from this is that IPV is undeniably a serious, worldwide public health and human rights issue. The studies have shown that intervention at the community level is effective, but not a cure-all. Establishing resiliency, and efforts at the relationship and societal levels are all necessary if we care to ever see any progress made. Let’s not let the tactics of the incredibly regressive SJW crowd get in the way of that.

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By Enrique Parrilla

Chronic Illness Report: A Conversation with LaRissa Vienna About Mental Illness

 

I recently sat down with LaRissa Vienna and her husband/drummer, Luke Wolfe, to discuss the topic of mental illness. We touched on the history of her battle with severe Depression and Anorexia, defining factors in her journey with them, and how she is telling her story to the world through the music of LaRissa Vienna and the Strange.

Being 4 ft. 11 and always rather thin, LaRissa moved in with her aunt after getting out of an abusive relationship a few years ago. As she began to eat more, she stepped on the scale one day and noticed a weight gain of about 7 lbs. “It felt like the end of the world to me, and that’s kind of when that behavior started,” she said.

One major point we touched on was the issue with achieving adequate treatment. From having difficulty finding insurance to being told “we don’t deal with eating disorders” by many clinics. This presents complications for the necessity of early intervention that has shown to be most effective. She also expressed that “even with eating disorder centers sometimes they just make you get back to a healthy weight and then send you off into the world.” This sort of treatment just deals with the symptoms on the surface, though, rather than digging deeper to target the root of the problem.

There are some people who ultimately do not seek treatment at all for various reasons. They may be in denial, simply not perceive that they have a problem, fear the encouraged weight gain of treatment, have shame and fear of stigma, have the feeling of hopelessness, not be able to afford treatment, or possibly any combination of these factors. In males, eating disorders are more often overlooked as they are more prevalent among and associated with females.

Despite LaRissa’s struggle and receiving little help from the medical field, she says that she has found peace in performing live and expressing herself through her lyrics:

“I feel like when you have anxiety and depression, you feel like you’re very held back from everything because you don’t even want to do something as simple as leave your house to go to the grocery store, so how could you imagine even going out on stage and performing? But, for me, that’s the only medicine I have.”

We often hear a lot about the obesity epidemic and the results of overeating, but the importance of raising awareness for the other end of the spectrum cannot be emphasized enough. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Anorexia nervosa (AN) has an incredibly high mortality rate of about ten percent from a combination of starvation, metabolic collapse, and suicide; thus making it the single most fatal mental disorder in existence.

Thankfully for LaRissa, her husband Luke was her “prescription lenses” to help her see the reality of things. Both of them admitted that their relationship was the biggest hurdle given her set of circumstances, but persisting through has been worth it. While that is a truly wonderful thing, there are many people out there who lack a support system at all. The facts say it is essential to treat as early as possible. Whether it is you or a loved one who is suffering, procrastinating to reach out for help is in the best interest of no one.

 

Notes from the author: 

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I. If you have an eating disorder and feel as if you have no one to reach out to, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has some tips, information, and resources on their website. You can also speak directly with a representative of the organization via phone or chat. Their helpline number is 1-800-931-2237, or you can text “NEDA” to 741741 to speak with a trained professional.

II. Catch LaRissa Vienna and the Strange on tour this August in the states of Colorado, Texas, Nevada, and Utah. As a friend and fan who has had the privilege of seeing her play live, I would certainly recommend them. It’s bound to be an energetic experience worth having. If you’re unable to do so, check them out on Facebook, YouTube, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, or ReverbNation.

III. Check out their new music video just released for the track entitled “Breaking the Spell”:

 

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ark-beyond-lake

The Story of Noah’s Ark is Historically, Scientifically, and Mathematically Impossible

Answers in Genesis, a Christian apologetics ministry, recently revealed their latest project to the world: The Ark Encounter. Based out of Williamstown, Kentucky, this $102 million project ($18 million of which came from tax rebates) is the biblical story of Noah’s Ark come to life and is built according to the dimensions mentioned in the Bible. Concerning the accuracy of the literal claims in the story, you do not have to dig too deep before coming across a field of red flags.

According to the book of Genesis, the dimensions were about 300 cubits (450 ft) long, 50 cubits (75 ft) wide, and 30 cubits (45 ft) tall; holding over 14,000 individual animals for forty days and nights while the entire earth was flooded. While this may sound fascinating, it isn’t the first story of its kind. The quite similar Sumerian poem entitled the Epic of Gilgamesh, to our knowledge, is the oldest written story on earth. Considering that Mesopotamia is known as the cradle of civilization, in part due to their invention of writing, it only makes sense to assume that if any of the ancient flood stories were true it would surely be this one.

The WyomingBut let’s assume, for the sake of this piece, that the old testament’s version of the flood myth is the correct one. Before Noah could even begin to contemplate such a large project as the ark, he would have needed to be thoroughly educated in naval architecture, physics, calculus, mechanics, and structural analysis. The problem here is that most of these fields of study did not arise until thousands of years after the time period in which Noah supposedly lived. This was an era in which the extent of advanced naval technology was hollowed out logs and reed rafts. He would have had no source of information nor experience to help guide him through the building process. A project of this magnitude would actually not be attempted until 1909 with the building of the largest ship in history at the time, the Wyoming. Constructed by the world’s top shipbuilding experts of the time, all it took was a strong enough storm (with no need for a global flood) to sink the ship and kill all thirteen hands on board. What are we to assume assisted this then 600-year-old man and his small family with their venture? Magic?

Not only does the story of Noah’s ark have serious issues with historical accuracy, but also scientific. What about the predator-prey situation? Apparently, none of the animals on board managed to eat one another, despite the fact that many of them would have at any other given time. What about the specialized diets and food supply? One adult elephant can consume up to 300 lbs of vegetation in a single day. This includes roots, grasses, fruits, and bark. What about the different climatic conditions needed by different animals? Polar bears have two layers of fur, as well as a thick layer of body fat, that allows them to maintain an average body temperature of 98.6º F in an environment where winter temperatures can plunge as low as -50° F. Brown bears are genetically closely related but live in a drastically different habitat with average summer temperatures in Syria, home of the Syrian Brown bear, for example, of 71.6º F.

Creationists often argue that there were only one male and one female representative for each kind, rather than individual species and that they split from there. Suggesting, of course, that it was no more than a few thousand years ago. However, according to scientists at Texas Tech University, the Polar bear and Brown bear species split at least 150,000 years ago. Possibly more. So it took hundreds of thousand of years for the different species to evolve to how we observe them in the present day. For this to have occurred in a few thousand years, the rate of favorable genetic mutations would have to be unrealistically high; at a rate which we do not observe in nature.

There is absolutely no evidence in the geological record of a worldwide flood. There are species, such as the Eastern-Australian Kangaroo for one example, that are specific to certain locations quite far away from the middle east where Noah’s ark is supposed to have been located. As Bill Nye pointed out in his infamous debate with Ken Ham at the Creation Museum back in February 2014, there have been zero fossils of Kangaroos unearthed between the two places. In the process of migrating like 8,000 miles, is it reasonable to think that none of them died along the way and left behind fossil remains? Answers In Genesis has a list of claims attempting to explain these matters; including the “hard facts” straight from, you guessed it, the book of Genesis.

So, weighing out all of the evidence and coming to an objective conclusion, who are we to take more seriously concerning the planet’s biology? The scientists or the Bible? The book of Genesis is fundamentally wrong and incompatible with science. The fact that $18 million tax rebates went to help fund the construction of a life-sized replica of a religious theme park, as well as the public school trips to this place, are a direct slap in the face to the separation of church and state our country was founded on. 

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Why Are We Seeing a Global Mass Exodus of Religion?

It is becoming increasingly more apparent in recent years that we are seeing a trend towards secularization at a global level. China is at the top of the list in terms of the least religious of nations, with about 90% of the population claiming to be non-religious or atheist. This phenomenon isn’t restricted to China alone, and to provide answers as why this is happening is far from simple.

Exactly 0% of young Icelanders believe that a god created the earth. Zero. And in a matter of 20 years the country has seen a drop from about 90% of the people having some kind of religious belief to that number being less than 50%. For the first time in both British and Norwegian history, there are more atheists and agnostics than there are believers. Church attendance rates have hit an all-time low in the United Kingdom as well, with less than 2% of the population participating in services. Then there is the 34% of Swedes, 40% of French, 24% of Danes, and 19% of Spaniards (to name a few) to take into consideration who believe in no higher power at all. But each of these countries are relatively close together; so what about the rest of the world?

According to the latest figures published by the Pew Research Center, the percentage of the adult population in the United States who identify as religiously unaffiliated has risen from about 16% in 2007 to 23% as of recently. Nearly two-thirds of those people claim that religious beliefs are of little to no importance to them, up from 57% over the course of nearly a decade. Gallup also explains how the level of trust Americans have for religious institutions has dropped to a record low of 42% as of 2015. All of this, of course, doesn’t mean that the people do not profess a belief in a higher power. In fact, just 9% of people say they do not believe in God. However, that number has nearly doubled from 5% in 2007.

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A publication from March 2016 in Sage Journals elaborates on some data collected from the nationally representative General Social Survey; which demonstrates how this losing streak also affects attendance to services, claims of any form of spirituality, and the amount of people who admit to praying. The largest group of people to be affected by this are Millennials. Nearly a third of 18 to 29-year-olds in the U.S. are admittedly secular, and eight times as many of them have never prayed in their lives as opposed to the early 1980’s. This is by far the largest cohort of its kind in the history of the country.

At this point, you may be wondering what is happening to faith in the world. There are a few factors accounting for at least a significant fraction of the global decline of religious faith, as unlikely as some may seem.

The Internet

In the age of the internet, it is fairly easy to access information like never before in human history. Literally at the click of a button, one could cross paths with information that directly challenges fundamental beliefs held by their entire culture. Popular YouTube channels such as Secular Talk, The Amazing Atheist, NateTalksToYou, AronRa, and DarkMatter2525 make it easy to be either challenged or inspired to challenge, as well as entertained in the process.

How much of a difference does internet access really make, though? It has been established that there is an association between internet use and decreased probability of religiosity. The estimates show that the internet could account for as many as 5.1 million people in the U.S. with no religious affiliation, a whole 20% of the observed decrease in affiliation relative to the 1980’s. That means one out of every five people could be secular as a result of the internet.

Education

According to the same figures that demonstrate the internet’s impact on the prevalence of religious belief, college graduation could account for an additional 5% of the country’s decline in faith. Which is another huge factor that has been steadily on the rise in the states. The fraction of people with 16+ years of education was at 17.4% in the 80’s, 24.4% in the 90’s, and 27.2% in the 2000’s. Considering the fact that fewer than half of college graduates believe in hell, this presents a true dilemma for organized religion. The philosopher, Anton Szandor LaVey, put it best when he said “Satan has been the best friend the church has ever had as he has kept it in business all these years.” Could we possibly see a similar trend in American churches like that of the Dutch example in the near future? With nearly 70% of the population in the Netherlands unaffiliated with any religion, more than 1,700 Catholic and Protestant churches are expected to close their doors over the next few years. The percentage of their population with a secondary education level is just over 40% as of 2013.

Politics

More than two-thirds of atheists in the U.S. tend to identify with or lean towards the Democratic party. About 56% identify as political liberals, whereas only about 10% identify as conservatives. Socially, atheists are overwhelmingly liberal. 92% favor same-sex marriage, 87% are for legal abortion, 79% are in favor of stricter environmental regulations, and 74% believe that government aid to the poor does more good than it does harm.

Tradition in American politics has long been that someone who is not religious could not qualify to hold office as president of the United States. Half of the country says that they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who does not believe in God, while only 6% admit that they would. However, this seems to be changing. Even the Republican party widely seems not to see their nominee for the 2016 presidential race, Donald Trump, as a very religious person. In fact, 47% of them feel this way. This is a bit strange, seeing as how two-thirds of Republicans claim that it is at least somewhat important that the president share their beliefs.

 

Economics

According to the Pew Research Center, people in richer countries tend to place less emphasis on belief in God for morality and “good values”, as well as the role of religion in their personal lives, than people in poorer countries do. America is the one exception among the developed world. 54% of U.S. citizens say that religion plays an important role in their lives. This number is far higher than that of Canadians (24%), Australians (21%), and Germans (21%); inhabitants of the next three wealthiest economies in the world. The narrative is the same in terms of people who believe morality is a “prerequisite for being moral”. 53% of U.S. citizens feel that way, as opposed to 15% of the French, and 23% of Australians. This is according to a two-year study of 39 different nations.

 

So what can we take away from all this? Is the world becoming more secular as a result of the internet, a higher percentage of college graduates, political influence, and/or a better economic position on the totem pole? It seems that these factors are among the largest that contribute to this trend over the last few generations, and especially among Millennials. As far as whether or not this continues, we will have to wait and see. 

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