07 May 2021

Voting Access

Welcome back. The initial results of the 2020 Census were released last month, and the race has begun. Population counts from the census are used to apportion the 435 seats in the House of Representatives among states and, thus, also determine the number of each state's electoral votes (one per senator and one per House seat) for the next 10 years.

2020 Census results (from news.yahoo.com/census-results-big-disappointment-hispanic-005034556.html).
By the end of September, the Census Bureau will provide the breakdown of population by local areas. Each state will then redraw (redistrict) their congressional districts to ensure they are of equal population and adjust other legislative boundaries.

Although some states with more than one district have shifted redistricting from the state legislatures to special commissions or made other changes, most have not (33 at last count). Instead, these states use or have the potential to use redistricting for partisan gerrymandering (manipulate district boundaries to favor their party). Gerrymandering can exert a huge influence on election results and everything that goes with that.

Wait, this isn’t a blog post about gerrymandering; in most cases, we’ve got 10 years to fix that. There’s an immediate, more pressing problem. Partisan politicians won’t need gerrymandering if they can stop people from voting.

Suppressing the Vote

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 required certain states and local governments that had a history of voting discrimination to obtain federal approval before implementing any change to their voting laws or practices. That protection went by the wayside in 2013, when the Supreme Court ruled, in Shelby County v. Holder, that one section of the Voting Rights Act was no longer constitutional.

President Lydon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., other civil right activists and politicians standing behind him (from dp.la/primary-source-sets/voting-rights-act-of-1965/sources/1389).
Did it matter? Oh, did it ever. Within five years after the ruling, there were cuts to early voting, purges of voter rolls, imposition of strict voter ID laws and closure of nearly 1,000 polling places, many in predominantly African-American counties. Virtually all voting restrictions were by Republicans.

But apparently that wasn’t enough. Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of election fraud convinced millions of his supporters that the results were rigged, undermined voter trust and gave Republican state legislators a new, albeit bogus, justification to restrict voting access--election integrity. As of late March, they had introduced 361 bills in 47 states.

An April Pew Research Center survey of 5,109 U.S. adults confirmed that Republicans and Republican-leaning independents bought into what Trump has been pitching and now back what their legislators have been trying to do for years. For example, the percentage that favor early or absentee voting without a documented reason fell from 57% in 2018 to 38%, while Democrat and Democrat-leaning independents’ support remained over 80%.

Wrap Up
That April Pew survey found marked differences in Democrat and Republican support for multiple voting proposals, from requiring government-issued photo IDs to allowing ex-felons to vote. 

Pew Research Center survey of response of Democrats/Democrat-leaning independents and Republicans/Republican-leaning independents to voting access proposals; April 5-11, 2021, 5,109 U.S. adults (from www.pewresearch.org/politics/2021/04/22/republicans-and-democrats-move-further-apart-in-views-of-voting-access/).
Still, the current political split is best captured with the finding of a March Pew Center survey of 12,055 U.S. adults: Everything possible should be done to make it easy for every citizen to vote – agreed to by 28% of Republicans/Leaning Republican and 85% of Democrats/Leaning Democrat.

Thanks for stopping by.

Redistricting and gerrymandering:
Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Shelby County v. Holder:
Voter suppression and latest threats:
Pew Research Center surveys:
April 2021: www.pewresearch.org/politics/2021/04/22/republicans-and-democrats-move-further-apart-in-views-of-voting-access/
March 2021: www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/04/01/share-of-republicans-saying-everything-possible-should-be-done-to-make-voting-easy-declines-sharply/

30 April 2021

Tea and Blood Pressure

Welcome back. Come in; please sit down. Would you care for a cup of tea? began a blog post seven years ago. After blogging about the virtues of coffee (Caffeine, Health and Memory), I paid homage to tea (Tea Time). As I wrote at the time, I started drinking green tea with a little milk before exercising because it was way too early in the morning to caffeinate with coffee.

Serving tea (photo from multiple websites).

The research findings on tea’s health benefits were generally positive; unlike coffee, it was hard to find any negatives. Observational studies had found reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, slightly lower blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol as well as other improvements, such as inhibited blood clotting. The only problem I had was that some research suggested milk negated tea’s health benefits.

Seven years have passed, and a recent study has got me focusing on hypertension (high blood pressure) and tea’s antihypertensive (blood pressure lowering) properties.

The U.S. National Health, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health describes hypertension as a common disease that develops when blood flows through your arteries at higher-than-normal pressures. Controlling or lowering blood pressure can help prevent or delay chronic kidney disease, heart attack, heart failure, stroke and possibly vascular dementia.

Blood pressure guidelines adopted in 2017 by American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology and nine other health organizations (from www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/reading-the-new-blood-pressure-guidelines).

The study by researchers affiliated with the University of California, Irvine, and Denmark’s University of Copenhagen determined that certain compounds in tea relax the muscle that lines blood vessels and may be responsible for lowering blood pressure.

Here’s the thing. While drinking tea may not produce a major reduction in blood pressure, their finding could point the way to the development of new, more effective blood pressure-lowering medications. That would be a very big deal. Consider the numbers. In 2019, the World Health Organization estimated that, worldwide, 1.13 billion people have hypertension. In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) judged that hypertension was a primary or contributing cause of nearly half a million deaths in the U.S.

Breaking Down the Results
The study details are steeped in vascular biology, biophysics and bioelectricity, but I’ll take a swipe if you’ll bear with me. I’ll start with an excerpt from my Tea Time blog post: tea is loaded with polyphenols, particularly flavonoids such as catechins, which have antioxidant and other potentially useful properties and different effects on the body.

Channels in nerve and muscle cells maintain voltages across their membranes by allowing controlled passage of positive and negative ions. They are voltage-gated, responding to voltage changes by opening or closing.

The researchers showed that two tea catechins each activate a specific type of ion channel protein labeled KCNQ5, which allows potassium ions to diffuse out of cells to reduce cellular excitability. KCNQ5 is found in the smooth muscle that lines blood vessels. The researchers predicted then confirmed that its activation by tea catechins would relax blood vessels.

Wrap Up
What about adding milk to tea? The researchers added tea with milk directly to cells, and it did indeed fail to activate the cells’ KCNQ5 channels. They are confident, however, that drinking tea with milk, whether hot or iced, would have different results. The stomach’s warm environment should separate the catechins from the proteins and other molecules in milk that would block the catechins’ beneficial effects.

Who am I to argue? So, enjoy your black, green, oolong or white tea, straight or with milk. 

Enjoy your tea with or without milk, and if no one is looking, have fun (photo from multiple websites).
Oh, herbal teas, such as hibiscus and chamomile, may offer antioxidants and health benefits, yet they are not true teas from the Camellia sinensis plant species. They lack flavonoids and were not addressed by the study.

Thanks for stopping by.

Study of KCNQ5 activation by tea in Cellular Physiology and Biochemistry journal:  www.cellphysiolbiochem.com/Articles/000337/
Articles on study on EurekAlert! and MedicalNewsToday websites:

23 April 2021

Reducing Online Misinformation

Welcome back. Several weeks ago, I took my car to the dealer for service, which was estimated to take an hour. When I arrived, there was one young woman in the waiting room. She left as I was reading, and soon, a middle-aged couple and one other customer joined me.

Though I walked a bit every 15 minutes or so, I started getting antsy after an hour. While I was wandering the corridor and showroom, another customer joined the waiting group, a non-stop talker I could hear from the corridor: Fauci can’t make up his mind; now he says 3 feet not 6 feet is enough…I don’t know why they’re picking the Floyd jury now when the trial isn’t until November...We have to do something; China has more aircraft carriers than we do.

As I debated whether to correct this fountain of misinformation (Dr. Fauci was reporting the latest research finding. The trial will start, as it did, when the jury was selected. China has far fewer aircraft carriers than the U.S., and as yet, none is nuclear-powered), I was advised that my car was ready. 

Fabricated social media posts have lured millions into sharing lies (graphic by Dave Cutler from https://www.pnas.org/content/114/48/12631).
Would my corrections, offered tactfully of course, have made any difference? A recent study suggests they could have had an effect.

Why People Share Misinformation
A team of researchers then affiliated with Canada’s University of Regina, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the U.K.’s University of Exeter conducted a series of experiments to address why people share misinformation on social media. They tested three theories: confusion about what is accurate, preference for factors such as political partisanship over accuracy, and inattention to accuracy.

Their initial experiment tested 1,002 MTurk American participants on what people deem accurate and what they would share on social media. The participants were presented the headline, lead sentence and image for 36 news stories taken from social media. Half of the headlines were false, half true, half favorable to Democrats, half to Republicans. Participants were randomly assigned to either judge each headline’s accuracy or indicate whether they would share each headline.

True headlines were rated as accurate 56% more often than false headlines, but partisan alignment had a significantly larger effect on sharing intentions (19%) than whether the headline was true or false (6%). Nevertheless, participants overwhelmingly said accuracy was more important than partisanship when deciding whether to share on social media. 

When 1,002 American participants judged the accuracy of 36 headlines and whether they would share them given their political alignment with the headlines, accuracy judgements were much more discerning than sharing intentions despite the participants’ desire to share only accurate content (from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03344-2).
The disconnect between accuracy and sharing formed the basis for additional experiments.

Effect of Prompting Accuracy
In one experiment, for example, participants were asked the likelihood they would share 24 headlines. To induce thoughts of accuracy, the treatment condition began by first asking participants to rate the accuracy of a single nonpartisan headline; that step was omitted for the control condition.

Participants who rated the accuracy of the single introductory headline were significantly less likely to share false headlines yet just as likely to share true headlines as the control participants that did not rate the introductory headline. The difference in sharing intentions for true versus false headlines was two times larger, with 727 MTurk American participants.

In another experiment, participants were asked to assess the accuracy of each headline before deciding whether they would share it. Of sharing intentions for false headlines, inattention to accuracy explained 51%, confusion about what was accurate explained 33%, and preferring partisanship over accuracy explained 16%, confirming that inattention has a central role in the sharing of misinformation.

Wrap Up
To test the findings on social media, the researchers sent an unsolicited message to 5,379 Twitter users who had recently shared links to websites that regularly produce misleading and hyperpartisan content. The message asked the recipients to rate the accuracy of a single nonpolitical headline. Monitoring for 24 hours showed the Twitter users increased the average accuracy of news they shared after receiving the accuracy message.

Overall, the study demonstrated that most people fail to implement their preference for accurate sharing because their attention is focused on factors other than accuracy. The results challenge the notion that people opt for partisanship over accuracy. It would appear that attention-based interventions, easily implemented by social media platforms, would help reduce online misinformation.

Thanks for stopping by.

Study of online misinformation in Nature journal: www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03344-2
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/miot-arf031521.php

16 April 2021

Women’s Sports Uncovered

Welcome back. Did you catch any of the March Madness games? The women’s tournament? With all the hoopla focused on the men’s tournament, you’ll probably be surprised that a tally of Twitter and Instagram counts found 8 of the 10 most-followed players on the final eight teams were women.

Coach Tara VanDerveer cuts down the net after Stanford beat Arizona for the 2021 women's national title (AP photo by Morry Gash from chroniclet.com/photo-single/155963/?mode=team).

The fans must have been excited to see those players in action. The women’s tournament was televised, even if there was relatively little on televised sports news and highlights shows. Unfortunately, the lack of coverage is nothing new; women’s sports are usually ignored. At least that’s what Purdue and the University of Southern California researchers have documented every 5 years from 1989 to 2019.

Data Collection and Analysis
For their 2019 effort, the researchers followed the same methodology they applied in assessing the quantity and quality of men's and women's sports news coverage since 1989. They sampled and analyzed three 2-week blocs of televised news in March, July and November on NBC, CBS and ABC Los Angeles affiliates and on the ESPN SportsCenter program. When available, the continuous running ticker at the bottom of the television screen was included. As a first, they also added online daily sports newsletters and official NBC, CBS and ESPN Twitter accounts.

Men’s vs. Women’s Sports Coverage
The enormous gap between men’s and women’s sports coverage in 2019 appeared in every way.

Less than 6% of airtime was devoted to women’s sports (i.e., about 94% to men’s sports). Most of women’s sports coverage was in July, when the U.S. women’s soccer team won the World Cup and U.S. women were competing in the Wimbledon tennis tournament. Airtime in March and November was only 1.7% and 0.7%, respectively.

The proportion of airtime devoted to women’s sports on three network affiliates’ sport news and on ESPN’s SportsCenter, 1989–2019 (from journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/21674795211003524).

Women’s sports fared better in online newsletters (8.7%) and Twitter (10.2%); however, most was due to espnW, which ended its weekly newsletter following the July 2019 data collection period.

Lead Stories
Like all news shows, sports open with the most important or engaging story of the day. Of the 251 broadcasts analyzed in 2019, five led with a women’s sports story; all five were on the U.S. Women’s soccer team winning the World Cup. Of the 93 online newsletters analyzed, eight led with a story about women’s sports.

Men’s “Big Three”
In their 2009 analysis, the researchers reported that sports coverage was becoming less diverse; 68% of the airtime was devoted to what they labeled men’s Big Three--college and professional basketball, baseball and football. That rose to 75% in 2019, with the remaining 25% shared by other men’s sports, gender-neutral topics and women’s sports.

Televised news and highlights, online newsletters and social media sports coverage, by gender (excludes espnW), 2019 (from journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/21674795211003524).

Never Too Early or Too Much
Since moving to Wisconsin, I’ve been amused by TV network affiliates’ year-round coverage of the Green Bay Packers whether important or trivial.

The researchers point out that the dominance of men’s Big Three sports on TV news and highlights programs is amplified by in-season as well as off-season reporting. In 2019, men’s professional basketball had nearly as much off-season as in-season coverage, while women’s professional basketball was covered only in-season. Worse, even in-season, women’s sports stories may be superseded by off-season men’s sports stories.

Notably, the community and charitable contributions of men athletes and teams were frequently featured in news and highlights shows, but women athletes’ contributions, including their social justice activism, seldom made it into women’s sports stories.

Wrap Up
Women’s sports coverage hasn’t changed in quantity for 30-years, yet there have been striking changes in the ways they’re reported. In the 1990s, women athletes were routinely trivialized, insulted and humorously sexualized. By the 2000s, sports news viewed women athletes less offensively, instead underlining their roles as wives, girlfriends or mothers. In 2014, women’s sports was being delivered in a boring, inflection-free manner.

I began and end with March Madness. The researchers found that, in 2019, their local network affiliates and ESPN’s SportsCenter devoted no more than 5% of their combined coverage to the women’s tournament, the online newsletter articles and tweets about 11%. Go girls!

Thanks for stopping by.

Most-followed players on men’s and women’s elite eight teams: www.axios.com/ncaa-basketball-social-media-followings-a98b2f21-e907-4276-b860-32565654d64a.html
Study of women’s televised sports, 1989-2019, in Communication & Sport journal: journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/21674795211003524
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/uosc-nmk032221.php

09 April 2021

Quick Responses More Sincere

Welcome back. When I was young or at least younger, I was normally able to respond quickly to most questions. These days, people may have to give me some slack.

Does response speed really matter? In a recent study, researchers affiliated with France’s Grenoble Ecole de Management and Australia’s James Cook University conducted 14 experiments involving 7,565 participants to prove that it does.

When people pause before replying, even for just a few seconds, their answers seem less sincere, less credible than if they replied immediately. Slower responses are perceived as taking time to fabricate an answer while suppressing the truth.

Are you lying or do you just respond slowly?
(Graphic from Walt Disney Productions)
Now, if you’re asking me what was done in the study, I’ll try to respond as quickly as I can.

Experimental Design
Participants in the experiments included U.S. or U.K. adults enlisted via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk or Prolific as well as one experiment with French students.

The notion that slower responses are thought less sincere is predicated on the delays attributed to a cognitive process related to lying. Nevertheless, the researchers recognized and allowed that response delays might be due to other factors, e.g., mental effort or digging to find socially desirable responses. For instance, people often downplay resentment at being asked a favor or they try to cover materialistic with positive values.

The experiments thus included audio, video and vignette stimuli, testing the perceived response sincerity across different response speeds, actors and scenarios; whether slower responders would be judged guilty of serious or trivial crimes; if the sincerity judgement is weaker when attributed to mental effort; and even if the sincerity judgement is weaker when participants are instructed to ignore response speed.

When participants were instructed to ignore response speed, the perceived sincerity and guilt judgment was reduced though not eliminated (from www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-pspa0000250.pdf).
Example Experiments
The initial experiment tested the sincerity judgement using audio stimuli with 1,133 MTurk participants (57% male).

Participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 6 response speeds from 0 to 10 seconds. For each speed, they listened to 4 audio snippets--2 with male actors, 2 with female, 2 snippets pertaining to a taste preference scenario, 2 snippets to a money theft scenario. For each speed and situation, the question and answer were the same, replying either “Yes I did” to liking the taste or “No I didn’t” to the theft. After each audio snippet, participants rated the responder’s sincerity from 1 to 7.

One variation of the initial experiment used video stimuli with 562 MTurk participants (52% female) to test whether slower responders were more likely to be judged guilty of an accused crime.

Participants were randomly assigned to hear either a fast or slow response. Each was shown 2 videos of police interrogating a man or woman accused of stealing a few thousand dollars. In the fast condition, after the police officer asked, “Did you steal the money?”, the suspect immediately replied, “No, I didn’t!” In the slow condition, the suspect replied after a delay of about 5 seconds. After each video, participants rated the suspect’s sincerity from 1 to 7 and whether they thought the suspect was guilty (yes/no).

Wrap Up
Across all experiments, participants consistently rated delayed responses as less sincere. As expected, however, certain conditions reduced the effect. For example, if the answer was considered socially undesirable, such as saying “No" when a friend asks if you like their cake, the response was considered sincere whether fast or slow. Similarly, if participants thought a slower response was due to mental effort, such as recalling the theft of candy 10 years earlier, response speed had a smaller effect. 

Response speed affected sincerity judgments when the response was socially desirable (e.g., telling your friend you like the cake he or she made), but speed hardly mattered when the response was socially undesirable (e.g., telling your friend you don’t like the cake) (from www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-pspa0000250.pdf).
The lead researcher notes that the study results apply to a wide range of interactions--workplace chit-chat, couples bickering, job interviews, court trials. Though it may seem unfair when a response is delayed by distraction or being thoughtful, delaying for even a couple of seconds may be considered a slow lie.

Did you learn much? (Answer quickly.) Thanks for stopping by.

Study on response speed perception in Jour. of Personality and Social Psychology: www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-pspa0000250.pdf
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-02/apa-aqt021121.php