03 July 2020

Freedom, Regulations and Ideology

Welcome back. In my blog post Go Explore, I mentioned that, while I paid little attention to those protesting the lockdowns, I thought justifying the opening as American freedom was a bit much.

Although states have begun to reopen, ending the protests, I kept thinking about that claim of freedom. I dug a little and came up with an insightful commentary on the subject as well as a recent study that points to the relation with political ideology.

Commentary on Lockdown Protesters
Ronald W. Pies, MD, is professor emeritus of psychiatry at SUNY Upstate Medical University and clinical professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine. In his commentary, he distinguishes between freedom, which embraces responsibility and is guided by reason and virtue, and license, which removes responsibility, is incompatible with virtue and destroys community.

He also distinguishes between individualism and what he calls hyper-individualism.

San Diego freedom rally for California to open
(from timesofsandiego.com/politics/2020/04/18/).
The motto, Don’t Tread on Me, from the American Revolution, epitomizes the spirit of American individualism. But American society has always had a strong communitarian dimension. The community can be thought of as a bearer of rights, the holder of interests, to which an individual’s interests may be subordinate. The imposition of isolation and quarantines to contain infectious diseases is a prime example of communitarian priorities.

Dr. Pies empathizes with protesters voicing concerns about unemployment, missed opportunities and social isolation; however, he feels that protesters who characterized COVID-19 safety precautions as acts of tyranny revealed a troubled mindset, hyper-individualism.

Further, many protesters did not comply with directives on social-distancing or wearing masks, under notions of freedom. He characterizes this as a raw manifestation of license, not a mature construct of freedom. In his view, the actions are not rugged individualism but hyper-individualism, bordering on sociopathy.

Political Ideology and Regulations
Dr. Pies emphasizes that, while the lockdown protests were by the far right of the political spectrum, hyper-individualism is not the province of one political party or ideology. (Some of us remember the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests by the far left.)

Nevertheless, researchers affiliated with Miami, Utah Valley and Notre Dame universities observed the same reaction by conservatives, not liberals, against government regulations toward safer and healthier choices.

In a series of experiments, they found conservatives were more likely than liberals to use mobile phones in cars when their use was restricted and to purchase unhealthy foods and view smoking e-cigarettes more favorably after being exposed to consumption regulations from the government (e.g., laws or Food and Drug Administration warning labels).

FDA warning label on e-cigarettes (from
And here’s a touch of hyper-individualism again. These reactions by conservatives were not observed when the government’s message was presented as a notification rather than a warning or when a non-government source was used. Apparently, conservatives were only concerned and felt a threat to freedom if the regulations were government imposed.

Wrap Up
The research study points to the roles of political ideology and message source in increasing response to regulations, thereby mitigating the effectiveness of government public policy initiatives.

On 26 June, 46 states required masks to be worn statewide or had some requirement in certain locales (from abcnews.go.com/Health/us-states-require-masks/story?id=71472434).
Given the spikes in COVID-19 and people ignoring mask requirements, state and local governments could try framing the wearing of masks as a notification rather than a mandate or warning. It’s unfortunate that a mixed message has replaced national leadership. Well, keep your social distance; things are changing.

Thanks for stopping by.

Commentary on lockdown protestors in Psychiatric Times journal: www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/freedom-does-not-mean-being-loose
Study of political ideology and regulations in Jour. of Marketing Research: journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0022243720919709
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-06/uond-ghs061020.php

26 June 2020

Animals, Land Use and Disease

Welcome back. One of the daily science news websites I monitor usually announces one or two new funding awards. I was particularly interested in one awardee’s grant because I’d been hemming and hawing about reviewing a recently published study on the topic. That was the shove I needed.

The grant was from the National Institutes of Health to Kansas State University to establish a Center on Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. Zoonotic refers to a zoonosis, a disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

A young pangolin in Namibia—pangolins in China are one of the animals suspected of transmitting the coronavirus (photo by Alex Strachan from www.pressenza.com/2020/03).
The study that I’m going to tell you about was by researchers affiliated with the UK’s Exeter and Southampton universities.

Zoonotic Disease Review Background
The researchers completed a systematic review of the effects of anthropogenic (i.e., human-induced), land-use change on emerging, zoonotic diseases originating in mammals. If any of that slipped by you, here’s the longer version:

- Emerging infectious diseases are newly recognized or reappearing diseases that are rapidly increasing in prevalence or geographic range.

- Three-quarters of emerging human pathogens are zoonotic; zoonoses account for nearly two-thirds of emerging infectious diseases.

- Zoonotic diseases range from A for anthrax to W for West Nile fever and include HIV, Ebola, SARS and, probably, COVID-19.

- The majority of zoonoses originate in wild animals, and mammals are particularly important disease hosts.

- Incursions into wild habitats expose humans to new pathogens if they come in contact with animals or hunt, butcher and consume wild meat.

- Land-use changes that alter the local environment and human-wildlife interactions can be a major source of zoonotic diseases; they remove or reduce the natural habitats and ranges of many species, forcing them to live closer to humans.

- Land-use changes, such as urbanization, agricultural intensification, deforestation and habitat fragmentation, are expected to increase with expanded population and increased demand for resources.

The Systematic Review
To highlight the most important mammalian hosts and pathogens and identify avenues for future research, the researchers compiled 276 studies on zoonotic diseases and anthropogenic land-use change, published between 1990 and 2019. Nearly half of the studies (136, 49%) focused on mammals and 42% lacked a specific host.

Of the mammal studies, 24% were global, 20% were conducted in each of South America and Asia, and about 10% in each of Europe, Africa and North America.

The most frequently studied mammalian taxa were rodents (27%), livestock (25%) and carnivores (24%); the remaining studies focused on non-human primates (13%), bats (10%) and other wild mammals (10%).

Studies of anthropogenic land-use change and mammalian zoonotic diseases--(left to right) proportion of papers on different host taxa, land-use change categories and pathogens (from onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/mam.12201).
The mammal studies were mostly empirical (63%), on rodents (34%) and urbanization (53%); while the majority of non-host specific studies were reviews (72%), on livestock (54%) and agricultural intensification (54%).

Significant associations were identified between land-use change and mammals. Livestock were studied more in the context of agricultural intensification, carnivores with urbanization, bats with deforestation and primates with habitat fragmentation.

The most common pathogens and parasites studied in conjunction with anthropogenic land-use change and mammals were bacteria (33 studies, 24%), viruses (16%), helminths (parasitic worms) (16%) and protozoa (15%). Bats were studied more with viruses, carnivores with helminths and primates with protozoa. A quarter of mammalian studies reviewed did not focus on a specific pathogen.

Associations between (a) mammalian taxa and land-use change, (b) pathogens and land-use change and (c) mammalian taxa and pathogens, based on the percentage of studies on each category; the number of studies is shown above each bar (from onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/mam.12201).
Wrap Up
Research into specific animal reservoirs has increased our understanding of how anthropogenic land-use change affects the risk of spillover to humans and spread of zoonotic diseases.

Improved prediction requires more empirical and data synthesis studies that link host ecology and responses with pathogen ecology and disease spread. The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the urgency of meeting that need.

The timing is right for Kansas State University’s new center. Thanks for stopping by.

Announcement of NIH grant to Kansas State University: www.ksnt.com/news/local-news/k-state-veterinary-research-team-receives-federal-grant/
Example articles on zoonoses:
Study of emerging zoonotic diseases in Mammal Review journal: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/mam.12201
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-06/w-hdl060120.php

19 June 2020

People Are Generous

Prosocial: Relating to or denoting behavior which is positive, helpful and intended to promote social acceptance and friendship (www.lexico.com/).
Tasty prosocial behavior (from quizlet.com/240141367/).

Welcome back. With political partisanship and hateful behavior peaking, it’s easy to think people either don’t give a hoot about their fellow human beings or that they’ve narrowed the concept. 

Take heart! A recently published study found human prosociality is alive and well.

Prosociality and Reciprocity
Theoretical models and empirical tests have shown that prosocial behavior is promoted by reciprocity. Forms of reciprocity include helping those in our social networks who have helped us (direct reciprocity); paying forward help we receive from one person to another in our network (generalized reciprocity); giving more in the presence of network members who can reward our giving (reputational giving); and rewarding network members who have given to others (rewarding reputation).

Illustration of four forms of reciprocity, with individuals denoted by letters and help shown by arrows; e.g., in direct reciprocity, B helps A after A helped B (from advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/23/eaba0504).
On their own, each form of reciprocity predicts prosociality; each motivates people to behave in a way that benefits other people. But what happens if we are confronted with multiple forms of reciprocity simultaneously? Will some forms of reciprocity crowd out other forms? For example, will giving solely to gain a positive reputation eliminate gratitude and other more sincere prosocial giving via generalized reciprocity? Does human prosociality break down when multiple forms of reciprocity co-occur?

Testing Prosociality with Co-occurring Forms of Reciprocity
Researchers affiliated with Ohio State and South Carolina universities set out to determine if the forms of reciprocity persist in the presence of other forms. They assessed the robustness of reciprocity with a web-based experiment using Amazon Mechanical Turk in which more than 700 participants interacted. The participants, unseen by and unknown to each other, had no known social network relationship.

For the experiment, the researchers crossed the four forms of reciprocity with three levels of each form. In all, they generated 81 conditions to isolate the effects on prosociality while enabling the different forms to be embedded together.

Participants were provided the information corresponding to different conditions and asked how many, if any, of a 10-point endowment they wanted to give to other people. Helping was costly to the giver and socially beneficial; the points had monetary values to participants, and any point given was doubled.

The researchers found that, with the four forms of reciprocity combined, direct reciprocity did not vary and generalized reciprocity, though strongest in the absence of rewarding reputation, was present across all conditions.

While reputational giving and rewarding reputation were moderated by direct reciprocity, reputational giving promoted giving across all conditions and rewarding reputation failed to increase giving in only one condition--when the person to whom the participant was giving had previously given to the participant.

Wrap Up
With a single exception, all four forms of reciprocity positively predicted giving, regardless of whether the other forms of reciprocity were present or how they were combined.

People overwhelmingly chose to be generous to others at a cost to themselves. And in this experiment, the others were strangers. I think that’s pretty cool. Thanks for stopping by.

Study of prosociality and reciprocity in Science Advances journal:
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-06/osu-ptt052920.php

12 June 2020

What Sways Social Status?

Welcome back. Tell me. How do you rate your social status, your reputation? No, wait. This is better. What criteria would you consider if you were rating someone’s social status? Would you use different criteria for men and women?

An international team, led by researchers with the University of Texas at Austin, investigated the criteria people in different countries would use to rate social status. The study provides the first systematic measure of potentially universal and gender-differentiated behaviors and traits by which individuals are accorded high or low status by their peers.

Study Background
The study was not aimed at justifying the number of social media followers. Rather, as the researchers discuss, its significance begins with social status being a central feature of our highly social species. Relevant resources, including food, territory, mating opportunities, alliances and group-provided health care, flow to those high in status and trickle slowly to those low in status.

Some serious social status--ancient Egypt
(from www.thinglink.com/scene/885586337846001665).
Most  of us would be content to just learn key status criteria, but the lead researchers, being evolutionary psychologists, set out to test hypotheses drawn from evolutionary meta-theory. They hypothesize that (a) men’s and women’s status criteria will depend equally on skills and characteristics that increased their relational value equally throughout our evolutionary history and (b) there will be gender differences in status criteria where ancestral relational value differed between the sexes.

I refer you to the paper (see P.S.) should you wish to pursue their hypotheses further. I’ll stick to the criteria themselves.

Surveying Social Status Criteria
The researchers surveyed 2,751 people (average age 23; 1,487 female) from 14 countries across 5 continents.

Social-status criteria survey sample by country
(from doi.org/10.1037/pspa0000206).
A total of 240 status-affecting actions, characteristics and events were generated through a mix of nomination and expert input. American undergraduate students nominated items, which were culled to 175. Other items were added over time in consultation with anthropologists and psychologists who had specific knowledge of the cultures surveyed.

Survey respondents rated the full list of items available at the time of data collection. With required translations, they were provided an explanatory prompt, then asked to rate (from +4 to -4) the likely effect of each item on a person’s status and reputation in the eyes of the individual’s peer group. Each respondent rated the items twice, once for the impact on men and once for the impact on women.

Status-Impacting Criteria
Of the 240 items rated, 123 were judged to increase
and 117 to decrease a person’s status. The most status-increasing criteria were being a trusted group member, being intelligent and getting accepted at a prestigious university. The most status-decreasing criteria were being known as a thief, being unclean and being stupid
The most status-affecting criteria and mean ratings for men and women combined across all countries (from doi.org/10.1037/pspa0000206).
Many criteria did not differ by gender and appear to have similar effects across the countries sampled. Three candidates for universal status criteria are those associated with general value to the group and to individuals within the group, value to one’s kin, and physical health.

Traits of acting masculine (e.g., assertive, forceful, willing to take risks) and feminine (e.g., affectionate, sympathetic, understanding) showed the largest gender-differentiated status consequences. Leadership qualities appear more central to men’s than women’s status, while domestic skills, attractiveness and aspects of women’s sexual strategy (e.g., chastity/purity) appear more central to women’s status.

Sexual promiscuity lowers the status of both genders, albeit more for women than for men. Nevertheless, items that address simply finding a long-term mate tend to be equally beneficial to the status of both men and women.

Wrap Up

Although the study is the first to examine specific criteria by which humans evaluate and accord status cross-nationally, the researchers have been able to highlight criteria central to both men and women as well as those that are gender-differentiated. Their theoretical modeling suggests that status criteria reflect a complex mixture of evolutionary, environmental and cultural forces.

Perhaps you can draw insight to examine your own social status, though I’m confident there’s little room for improvement. Thanks for stopping by.


Social-status criteria study in Jour. of Personality and Social Psychology: doi.org/10.1037/pspa0000206
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-06/uota-bat060220.php

05 June 2020

The Wildlife Trade

Attempted smuggling of king cobra
snakes in potato chip canisters

(from www.reuters.com/news).
Customs agents at John F. Kennedy Airport arrested a man who hid 70 live finches inside hair rollers he had brought from Guyana. A Los Angeles man was arrested after federal prosecutors said he arranged to smuggle three live, highly venomous king cobra snakes into the U.S. hidden in potato chip canisters. Police investigators in Indonesia arrested individuals from a wildlife trafficking syndicate who were attempting to smuggle out three orangutan babies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confiscated tarantulas a German national shipped by mail into the U.S...
Attempted smuggling of baby
orangutans in Indonesia

(from www.reuters.com/news).

Were these souvenirs, isolated incidents, a small group out to make a buck? Not even close.

Welcome back. Legally and illegally taking and selling living or dead plants and animals and products derived therefrom is a multibillion-dollar business. In 2007, the U.S. State Department estimated that wildlife trafficking was the third-largest type of illegal trade, after drugs and weapons, at about $10 billion a year. Given that illegal wildlife trade is often connected with organized crime and terrorist organizations, it’s probable the dollar value has increased significantly.

Another economic factor is that the wildlife trade can be the cause of global health issues with disease outbreaks causing losses of hundreds of billions of dollars. It’s estimated that nearly 75% of emerging diseases that reach humans come from animals (e.g., SARS, avian flu, monkeypox, Ebola and likely Covid-19).

And finally, from an environmental standpoint, the illegal wildlife trade threatens thousands of wildlife species and is a major threat to biodiversity. Certain animals and plants are in higher demand, leading to a decline of those species in their native habitats, possibly introducing invasive and harmful species and pushing endangered indigenous species toward extinction. For example, the dramatic rise in poaching to supply the demand for their horns has rhinoceros species on the brink of extinction.

Analysis of Traded Species
I was drawn to the subject of wildlife trade by a recently published study from researchers with Finland’s University of Helsinki and the National Research Council of Italy.

In an effort to better address the diversity of traded organisms, the researchers analyzed data available in the database of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which has more than 1,400 government and civil society member organizations and input from more than 15,000 experts.

The IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species evaluates the extinction risk of thousands of species and subspecies and is the most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species.

The researchers analyzed IUCN’s Red List data from phyla or divisions with more than 10 assessed species, quantifying the number of species categorized as critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, near threatened, least concern and data deficient.

Percentages of traded threatened species in IUCN (from www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320720300677?via%3Dihub).
Vertebrate Bias
The analysis found that, with 15,374 species, vertebrates (Chordata) are the most traded organisms. The group with the least traded species, only 12, is Basidiomycota (fungi), yet several divisions of Fungi are absent in IUCN, preventing any inference about their significance in global trade.

Although a huge fraction of legally and illegally traded wildlife involves invertebrates and plants, most analyses of global wildlife trade have focused on a small selection of charismatic vertebrate species. This bias prevents the development of comprehensive conservation strategies.

Wrap Up
Much of the wildlife trade is illegal, making it difficult to obtain reliable data. Further, for some organisms, such as invertebrates, the numbers of traded taxa in available databases are a gross underestimation, being
biased toward vertebrate species. 

The researchers recognize that their analysis, however detailed, is far from drawing a comprehensive picture about wildlife trade and its biological conservation consequences. They emphasize the importance of filling the knowledge gaps about non-vertebrate life forms to achieve an in-depth understanding of global trading patterns across the full canopy of the Tree of Life.

Thanks for stopping by.

Attempted smuggling in Australia of 51 tropical
fish in water-filled bags hidden in specially
designed apron under a woman’s skirt

(from www.reuters.com/news).
Wildlife trade background:
Study of wildlife trade species in Biological Conservation journal: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320720300677?via%3Dihub
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-05/uoh-twt052520.php
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN): www.iucn.org/