The Global Fool

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Neil Young, Monsanto, Starbucks, and “The Monsanto Years”
Jun18

Neil Young, Monsanto, Starbucks, and “The Monsanto Years”

By Roberta Attanasio About two months ago, legendary music icon Neil Young announced the release of “The Monsanto Years“, which will come out on June 29th. The album — the result of a collaboration between Neil Young and Promise of the Real, a band featuring Lukas and Micah Nelson (sons of the legendary Willie Nelson) — includes songs criticizing the multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto. The North American summer tour dates for “The Monsanto Years” have also been released — the tour starts July 5th at the Marcus Amphitheater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Monsanto is a leader producer of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. For years, Young has railed against it. However, Monsanto is not the only corporate target in the album — other targets are Chevron, Walmart and Starbucks. In the interest of hearing from both sides, Billboard sent Young’s lyrics to these organizations and asked for a response. Monsanto replied: “Many of us at Monsanto have been and are fans of Neil Young.  Unfortunately, for some of us, his current album may fail to reflect our strong beliefs in what we do every day to help make agriculture more sustainable.  We recognize there is a lot of misinformation about who we are and what we do – and unfortunately several of those myths seem to be captured in these lyrics.” On the title track, Young sings: “The farmer knows he’s got to grow what he can sell, Monsanto, Monsanto / So he signs a deal for GMOs that makes life hell with Monsanto, Monsanto / Every year he buys the patented seeds / Poison-ready they’re what the corporation needs, Monsanto.” Last year, Young announced on his website that he was boycotting Starbucks over the coffee company’s involvement in a lawsuit against the state of Vermont’s new requirements to label genetically modified ingredients. He wrote: “I used to line up and get my latte everyday, but yesterday was my last one. Starbucks has teamed up with Monsanto to sue Vermont, and stop accurate food labeling.” In the song “A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop“, Neil Young and Promise of the Real sing: “A rock star bucks a coffee shop / Yeah, I want a cup of coffee / But I don’t want a GMO / I’d like to start my day off Without helpin’ Monsanto / Ask Starbucks if coffee has GMO… / Monsanto let our farmers grow what they want to grow / When the people of Vermont voted to label food with GMOs / So they would know what was in what the farmer grows / Monsanto and Starbucks through the grocery manufacturers alliance / Sued the...

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Emotional Contagion and Social Networks
Jun15

Emotional Contagion and Social Networks

By Roberta Attanasio More than two decades ago, Gerald Schoenewolf described emotional contagion as a process in which a person or group influences the behavior of another person or group through the conscious or unconscious induction of emotional states and behavioral attitudes. However, “The science of emotional contagion goes back to 400 B.C., when Hippocrates, the founder of medicine, observed that some women seemed to transfer “hysteria” to one another. By the 1700s, researchers began to discover that people mirror the smiles and frowns they see on someone else’s face. In the late 1800s, German psychologist Theodor Lipps took the idea a step further, suggesting that this unconscious imitation was the root of empathy. But it’s only within the past several decades that scientists have begun to understand the dynamics behind such exchanges, finding that “emotional contagion” affects all human relationships, from marriage to business to professional sports.” Now, in a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on June 2, 2014, social scientists at Cornell University, the University of California, San Francisco, and Facebook, report novel findings about the spread of emotions among users of online social networks. The study (Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks) — carried out with 689,003 randomly selected Facebook users — manipulated the extent to which people were exposed to emotional expressions in their News Feed. Results show that emotional states can be transferred to others, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness. Jeff Hancock, one of the scientists involved in the study, said in a  press release “People who had positive content experimentally reduced on their Facebook news feed, for one week, used more negative words in their status updates. When news feed negativity was reduced, the opposite pattern occurred: significantly more positive words were used in peoples’ status updates.” The scientists never saw the content of actual posts, per Facebook’s data use policy; instead, they counted only the occurrence of positive and negative words in more than 3 million posts, for a total of 122 million words. They report that 4 million of those words were “positive” and 1.8 million were “negative.” Interestingly, 22.4% of posts contained “negative” words, whereas 46.8% of posts contained “positive” words, thus indicating that the number of “negative” posts on Facebook is about half the number of the “positive” ones. Hancock said peoples’ emotional expressions on Facebook predicted their friends’ emotional expressions, even days later. Jalees Rehman reminds us that “The fact that the researchers relied on the general Facebook Data Use Policy as sufficient permission to conduct this research (manipulating News Feeds and analyzing emotional content) should serve as a reminder that when we...

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“Iceman” Wim Hof and the Flow Within: The Immune System Goes with It
May20

“Iceman” Wim Hof and the Flow Within: The Immune System Goes with It

By Roberta Attanasio Scientists generally believe that it is not possible to voluntarily influence the autonomic nervous system, which regulates — among other physiological processes — heart rate, breathing, blood circulation and the immune response. However, results from a new study show that, using techniques developed by Wim Hof, it is indeed possible to modulate our own autonomic nervous system and, consequently, our own immune response. “Iceman” Wim Hof is internationally known for his unusual accomplishments — he ran a marathon above the Arctic circle and climbed the highest mountains on earth in only shorts, appeared on several television stations by sitting in a cylinder filled with ice cubes up to his neck, run a marathon in the Namib desert without water consumption, and successfully carried out many more “impossible” feats — in doing so, he has shown “what the human body is capable of once you find the flow within your physical and mental state.” Results from the new study (Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans), published about two weeks ago in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, raise hopes for people with chronic inflammatory diseases, as for example rheumatoid arthritis — the results indicate that the techniques developed by Wim Hof allow to control and decrease the levels of inflammation. The study included 24 volunteers — 12 volunteers were trained for 10 days in meditation (third eye meditation), breathing techniques and exposure to cold (immersions in ice cold water). The other 12 volunteers represented the control group and were not trained. After completion of training, all volunteers were injected with endotoxin, a component from the cell wall of bacteria that elicits a response from the immune system. Peter Pickkers, one of the researchers, said in a press release “”By administering a dead bacterial component we are actually fooling the body. The immune system responds as if living bacteria are present in the blood stream and produces inflammatory proteins. As a result of this the subjects develop symptoms such as fever and headache. We can therefore use this approach to investigate the immune system of humans.” The researchers demonstrated that, in the trained volunteers, endotoxin injection results in the voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system — the trained volunteers produced much higher levels of epinephrine than the untrained ones. Epinephrine is a stress hormone that is released during increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system and suppresses the immune response. The researchers found that, in the trained volunteers, the release of inflammatory proteins was attenuated, resulting in the decrease of symptoms such as fever and headache. In conclusion, results from the study show...

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The Science of Chocolate: How Long Does it Survive in Hospital Wards?
Dec22

The Science of Chocolate: How Long Does it Survive in Hospital Wards?

By Roberta Attanasio The prestigious British Medical Journal is giving the best Christmas present ever to its readers: food for thought. The food is chocolate, the thought (or concern) is chocolate survival. A new research article published just a few days ago and entitled “The survival time of chocolates on hospital wards: covert observational study” presents the result of a study aimed “To quantify the consumption of chocolates in a hospital ward environment.” In other words, the study aimed to answer the following research question: How long does chocolate survive after being identified by healthcare assistants, nurses, and doctors? To answer this research question, observers — doctors familiar with the ward in which testing was being carried out — covertly placed boxes of chocolates at multiple locations (main nursing or reception area of four wards across three United Kingdom sites.) The boxes were kept under continuous covert surveillance and the observers covertly recorded at what time each box was opened, and at what time individual chocolates were taken from each box and eaten. The observers did not discuss the chocolates with ward staff, nor were they on active patient care duties during the observation periods The researchers found that: The survival time of chocolate is short (under an hour) The initial rate of chocolate consumption from a box is rapid but slows with time An exponential decay model best fitted this trend Taken as whole groups, the highest percentages of chocolates were consumed by healthcare assistants and nurses, followed by doctors Importantly, no adverse effects occurred For this study, no identifiable data were collected. No prior consent from participants was sought, as the researchers feared that obtaining consent would bias the study significantly. In the article footnotes, it is stated that the observers would like to apologize to anyone who received a less than truthful answer to the question: “What are you doing...

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Embarrassing Facebook Posts May Cause Anguish
Dec10

Embarrassing Facebook Posts May Cause Anguish

By The Editors A new study from Northwestern University explores the strength of the emotional response to “violations” or ”threats” on Facebook – something that gets posted and results in embarrassment and may, sometimes, create anguish. Jeremy Birnholtz, one of the researchers, said: “Almost every participant in the study could describe something that happened on Facebook in the past six months that was embarrassing or made them feel awkward or uncomfortable.” The study, which will be presented in February 2014 at the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing in Baltimore, found that people concerned about social appropriateness and those with a diverse network of friends on Facebook are more likely to strongly experience a threat, whereas people with a high level of Facebook skills experience the same types of threats less severely. “Perhaps people with more Facebook experience, who know how to control settings, delete pictures and comments and untag, think they knew how to deal with these encounters or at least try to deal with them,” Birnholtz said. The types of violations or threats people in this study reported experiencing most often are: Norm violations: This is the most common type of threat study participants reported experiencing (45 percent) and involves situations when social norms are violated and one’s behavior is exposed in a way that could lead to social and emotional consequences. Ideal self-presentation violations: This is the second most common threat reported (29 percent) and involves ideal self-presentation violations, when content posted is inconsistent with the manner in which a person wants to appear to his or her Facebook audience. Association effects: These threats are a little less common (21 percent) and involve people worrying about their self-presentation because of how someone they associate with on Facebook is presenting himself. Aggregate effects: This is the least common threat (5 percent) and it occurs when an individual’s content gains higher visibility within his or her network as more people like it or comment on it. The unexpected attention can cause one to feel self-conscious about their self-presentation. “People can make bad decisions when posting to your Facebook because they don’t have a good idea of your privacy settings and which friends of yours might see this content,” Birnholtz said. “Facebook doesn’t provide a lot of cues as to how friends want to present themselves to their audience.” He said in the future Facebook could offer more pop-ups and nudges to help people think twice before posting a possible “threat” to a friend’s...

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