Academics and research in the news

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Lego starts recycling program for unwanted bricks

Danish toymaker Lego is testing a new way for customers to return their unwanted bricks in an effort to move closer to its goal of switching to 100 percent sustainable materials in the next decade. U.S. customers can now print out a mailing label on its site, dump their used Lego bricks in a box and ship them off for free, the company announced. The pieces will be cleaned, put in a box and given to Teach for America, a nonprofit that will donate them to classrooms across the United States. Some bricks will be sent to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston for its after-school programs. In 2015, the Lego Group announced its ambition to use 100 percent sustainable materials in both its bricks and packaging by 2030. Now the company is speeding up that plan, announcing that it's aiming for 100 percent sustainable packaging by 2025 in an effort to make a "positive impact on the lives of children, our colleagues, our community and the planet." Plastic does not disintegrate. It breaks into smaller pieces, called microplastics, and can be eaten by animals and fish, putting their health at serious risk. It's a problem in all bodies of water, from the oceans to the Great Lakes. Earlier this year, Wayne State University was given a $1 million grant to hopefully find a solution to microplastics.
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Wayne State University pediatrician and professor helps develop policy recognizing racism as a health factor

A Wayne State University pediatrician played a critical role in developing a national policy statement that recognizes for the first time the impact racism has on the health of American children and teens. Lynn Smitherman, M.D., FAAP, assistant professor of WSU Pediatrics, is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Task Force Addressing Bias and Discrimination. The task force’s work contributed to the policy statement, “The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health,” issued by the AAP on July 30. The statement is a call for action by the nation’s pediatricians to reduce the impact of racism and improve the health of American children. The AAP believes that racism has a significant impact on children’s health. The academy says that pediatricians must play a part in improving the health condition of children through listening to families, creating “culturally safe medical homes” and by becoming advocates for social justice in their communities. “Eliminating discrimination, racism and bias in the care of our most valuable resource, our children, is a basic tenet to any civil society. Participating in the AAP’s Task Force on Addressing Bias and Discrimination in the care of children was one of the many highlights of my professional career,” said Smitherman, who also chairs the National Medical Association’s Pediatric Section and is the vice chair of Medical Education for the WSU Department of Pediatrics. “Any activity to bring people together and heal the divides of this country are critically important to the well-being and health of the society in general. I was very proud that the AAP took this important position and that I, as a WSU faculty member, was able to contribute.”
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Trump’s America shines bright for Europe’s radical New Right

Senior Lecturer of History Sylvia Taschka wrote for The Conversation about the rise of Europe’s New Right. “Donald Trump might not be as popular in Europe as Barack Obama was, but for many groups on the far-right of Europe’s political spectrum, he has become a heroic figure. America under Trump is no longer seen as the enemy by the New Right. With the election of Trump, they have found a new hero in a surprising place…America under Trump is no longer seen as the enemy by the New Right. With the election of Trump, they have found a new hero in a surprising place.
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Protecting seniors from financial exploitation

Addressing what some call “The Crime of the 21st Century” Peter Lichtenberg of Wayne State University delivered an eye-opening presentation on the prevalence of financial exploitation in older adults. And the statistics reveal that it is growing at a rapid rate. In 2013, there were on average 1,300 suspicious activity reports a month, a figure that jumped to 5,700 a month in 2017 with an estimated loss of $1.7 billion in that year alone. “I just saw that millennials are getting scammed at a higher rate than older adults,” said Lichtenberg noting we are all vulnerable, “but the big losses, where you are scammed repeatedly are older adults.” Lichtenberg explained that cognitive impairment and probable Alzheimer’s Disease will affect nearly one out of every five individuals by the time they reach their 80th birthday. That figure jumps to nearly 40 percent by the age of 90. Referring to the insidious onset of the decline Lichtenberg said it often can be hidden. With cognitive aging folks can continue to retain facts, vocabulary and procedural knowledge without showing any signs in those areas, while at the same time losing reaction speed, memory and the ability to problem solve and plan. “They almost self-correct,” he observed changing social routines and curtailing their former hobbies. “It’s easy not to notice.” In the category of theft and scams, seniors can fall victim to various ploys losing their money to con artists, but often times the money is taken by family members, friends and trusted caregivers utilizing abuse of power, financial entitlement and coercion to access funds and even homes. “Just because someone has a cognitive impairment that doesn’t mean they can’t make any decisions,” said Lichtenberg offering a free service to assist with evaluations.
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Researchers progressing in fatberg study

A fatberg discovered in a Macomb County sewer had led to a more introspective look on the subject, courtesy of a pair of Wayne State University researchers. Barely more than a year ago, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller stood at a podium and discussed how a 100-foot long, 19-ton fatberg was discovered in a sewer 50 feet underground as part of the Lakeshore Interceptor along Interstate 94. A few months later, Wayne State University researchers acquired an $86,000 National Science Foundation grant that has allowed them to study how fats, oil and greases, or FOGs, lend themselves toward these environmental blobs. It also helps compile a model, aimed to predict future situations when fatbergs might arise — not just in Macomb County, but anywhere. “We’ve been working very closely with the Macomb County Department of Public Works to investigate the whole fatberg phenomena,” said Carol Miller, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of Healthy Urban Waters at WSU. “Macomb County has been really helpful, and we have a wealth of information regarding system characters, and data regarding pressure flows of pipes before and after the fatberg.” Carol Miller works alongside Tracie Baker, assistant professor in WSU’s Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Their research as part of the grant will continue for about another four months.
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Why I’m teaching kids science through the sport of rowing

Elizabeth A. Barton, associate professor of research, wrote an article for The Conversation about her research in combining the sport of rowing with a new curriculum that teaches middle and high school students science and mathematical concepts. Working with the Detroit Boat Club Crew, overseen by the nonprofit Friends of Detroit Rowing, Barton’s innovative approach is tackling two areas of concern for Detroit youths: promoting physically active lifestyles and preparing youth for successful careers in scientific and technological fields. Barton wrote: “Rowing leans heavily on STEM concepts commonly found in the fields of mathematics, physics and kinesiology. Through the sport, our curriculum covers works from the famous Greek mathematician Archimedes up through NASA engineer Katherine Johnson. For example, potential and kinetic energy, boat velocity and rowers’ mass are strategies for teaching essential concepts. Promoting critical thinking skills, problem-solving and innovation through STEM education is necessary for job creation and retention for youth in the 21st century. Physical activity and participation in sports such as rowing is essential for mental and physical health and well-being. We hope that fusing the components of STEM and rowing will result in an engaging educational experience, healthier youth and future careers in high-demand fields.”
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Data: Metro Detroit pharmacies received more than 40 percent of state's pain pill supplies

At least 40 percent of the 2.9 billion prescription pain pills supplied to Michigan in the years preceding the nation’s third wave of opioid overdose deaths landed in Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties, according to federal data released over the summer. The flood of pills fueled opioid deaths across the region, and some experts are thankful the newly-released Drug Enforcement Administration database can now be used to pinpoint trends and problem areas. Victoria Tutag Lehr, a Wayne State University pharmacy practice professor, said the database is good for verifying some suspected trends. “It has some research helpfulness, (yet) you just can’t assume that all those doses dispensed went to a patient with a prescription,” Lehr said. “People will tell you they’re not afraid of going to jail, losing their house, waking up in an alley … They are afraid of going into withdrawal. It’s a big, big issue.” She would prefer a more zoomed look at prescription opioid pills, such as similar data for census tracts or zip codes. Lehr emphasized that opioids should be part of “multi-modal management” that includes other treatments like topical anesthetics and physical therapy.
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How to develop an appetite for insects

In 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released a report declaring the need to swap traditional protein sources for insects to support a sustainable future. The report helped drive an explosion of efforts all dedicated to making mealworms your next meal. When Christopher Columbus returned from the Americas, he and members of his expedition used the insect-eating of the native inhabitants as an example of savagery, and as justification for dehumanizing people he would later enslave, said Julie Lesnik, an anthropologist at Wayne State University and author of “Edible Insects and Human Evolution.” While it wasn’t the only factor, the colonial era deepened the stigmatization of entomophagy in mainland Europe, and in turn among European settlers in the Americas. Further distaste grew as insects threatened profitable agricultural monocultures supported by slavery and industrialization. Many of us were programmed early in life to fear insects, and developing an appetite for them won’t be easy. “It’s O.K. if you think it’s gross. It’s totally fine,” said Lesnik. “You didn’t ask to be programmed this way.” But entomophagy advocates think reprogramming can transform people’s attitudes toward insects. For instance, kale, sushi, lobster and even olive oil or tomatoes were once scorned and unfamiliar in some cultures. But change can come about. With education and by acknowledging negative feelings toward eating insects, adults can try to resist passing them to their children. “It will really benefit them if they don’t think bugs are gross,” she added. “Because it’s our kids’ generation that’s going to have to be able to solve those problems.”
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$3.1 million NIH grant to improve quality of life for African American cancer survivors

African Americans have the lowest survival rate of any racial or ethnic group in the United States for most cancers – a problem that is magnified in southeast Michigan. These differences are often due to socioeconomic disparities that result in unequal access to medical care, health insurance, healthy food and more. African Americans who survive cancer also have the shortest survival of any racial/ethnic group in the United States for most cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. A team of researchers from Wayne State University and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute are investigating the combined role that community, interpersonal and individual influences have on the health-related quality of life for African American cancer survivors, and how those influences create racial health disparities between African Americans and white survivors. The team includes Felicity W.K. Harper, Ph.D., associate professor of oncology in the Wayne State School of Medicine and the Karmanos Cancer Institute; Malcolm P. Cutchin, Ph.D., professor in the Institute of Gerontology and the Department of Health Care Sciences in Wayne State’s Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences; and Hayley Thompson, Ph.D., professor of oncology in the School of Medicine and associate center director for community outreach and engagement at Karmanos. The study, “ARISE: African American Resilience in Surviving Cancer,” is a five-year, $3.1 million project funded by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health that aims to identify targets of change and inform the development of interventions to address causes of poorer health-related quality of life experienced by African American cancer survivors.
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What the Jeffrey Epstein case reveals about female sex offenders

Wayne State University professors in the School of Social Work Poco Kernsmith, Erin B. Comartin and Sheryl Kubiak, dean, wrote a piece for The Conversation about the importance of understanding sex offenses perpetrated by women in light of the recent indictment of Jeffrey Epstein for sex trafficking. Epstein allegedly did not act alone. In a variety of court filings, some of his female associates, most notably Ghislaine Maxwell, have been depicted as instrumental in his sexual encounters. None of them has been criminally charged. “We have studied women who have been convicted of sexual assault, abuse and human trafficking, as well as public attitudes toward sex offenders. Our research, and that of others, shows the similarities and differences between male and female sexual offenders.” In conclusion, the authors wrote: “We believe that introducing prevention programs that specifically address women as potential perpetrators may be effective in helping to prevent some abuses, such as those alleged in the Epstein cases.”
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Data dump points task force toward areas of potential change when it comes to state’s jails

A group of lawmakers, judges, and law enforcement is starting to get a better idea of who is in Michigan’s jails and why. The Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration met Friday and got their first data dump from the PEW Charitable Trusts. PEW is working on collecting jail, court and arrest data from across the state to help the task force come up with recommendations for improvement. The Center for Behavioral Health and Justice at Wayne State University also presented the findings to the state task force. They found that almost half of the people released from jail in Michigan, are discharged after business hours. Experts say that creates problems for people who need mental health or substance abuse treatment. Sheryl Kubiak, School of Social Work dean and director of the Center for Behavioral Health and Justice, worked on the study. She said they studied jails in ten counties, and they found more than 43-percent of people released from jail are released between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. “So, if you can imagine somebody who is being discharged at 12:01 or 8 p.m., trying to connect with services is much more difficult,” she told the task force. The task force was created earlier this year to study’s Michigan’s jail system. It plans to have recommendations for improvements to the state’s jail system by January 9.
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10,000 counselors and 150,000 clients with mental health issues could be impacted by new proposal

Much of the mental health field is worried by the State Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) move to reduce the number of counselors who could diagnose conditions like depression, anxiety, addiction and PTSD. It would impact both clients and their counselors. "Given the prevalence rates of mental health concerns in the United States and Michigan today, this is something that would impact literally every family in Michigan," said Scott Branson, an assistant professor in the counselor program at Wayne State University. The proposal would also prevent counselors from being reimbursed by insurance companies for their work. "The amount of clients who would lose mental health services would be astronomical. This is not a good time for that," said Shirley Mack, the clinical director of counseling at Wayne State University. In response to the threat, a Republican representative in the House has introduced a bill that would preserve the scope of the profession and how they operate. Professionals are urging residents to contact their representatives to support counselors.
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Sources: GM offers 2% raises to UAW; company ends strikers' health care

General Motors stopped paying for health care coverage for striking workers Tuesday, the company confirmed. That means striking GM union workers are eligible for union-paid COBRA to continue their health care benefits. The latest development added to tension as GM and the UAW returned to the bargaining table Tuesday morning. The two sides negotiated until about 9 p.m. Monday, sources said. Meanwhile, more details emerged about GM's offer to the UAW. Two sources familiar with GM's offer said it called for a 2% wage increase for the first and third year of the four-year contract and 2% lump sum payments the second and fourth years. UAW members are emotional after GM moved to shutter U.S. plants, so the fear that the automaker wants to break the union is understandable to Marick Masters, business professor at Wayne State University who specializes in labor. But he said, it's not realistic. “If that were the case, they could take more draconian measures, such as hiring other workers, encouraging people to break the line and go back to work or GM could have had a workforce ready to hire before this even started,” said Masters. GM likely knows it will have a union for the foreseeable future, which is why it is structuring a contract that allows it to be more cost competitive against nonunion automakers, he said. That means having the ability to have a larger temporary workforce and multiple wage tiers is crucial to the carmaker. But the two sides must reach an agreement in short order for several reasons, he said.  
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UAW corruption investigation casts shadow at the bargaining table as GM workers strike

GM workers have been on strike since midnight Monday. Company and union leaders are back at the bargaining table in Detroit. They’re trying to hammer out a new contract after GM workers walked off the job for their first strike since 2007. But there’s a third, unseen presence at the bargaining table this time. It’s the U.S. Justice Department, and its investigation into alleged corruption by some UAW officials. Peter Henning is a professor of law at Wayne State University and a former federal prosecutor. He says that when the feds investigated union leaders in the past, it was usually over suspected ties to organized crime. But this may be something entirely different. “It appears that it was essentially treating some of the funds like their own little piggy bank,” said Henning. Some UAW officials allegedly devised a scheme to use union member dues for personal expenses, like California luxury accommodations and golf. These are only allegations, and neither Jones nor Williams has been charged. Despite GM’s profits right now, the automaker is looking at a possible looming recession, weakening demand, and tariff challenges. It’s leaning heavily on truck and SUV sales, as the industry is becoming more technologically complex and electrified. Marick Masters teaches business and labor studies at Wayne State. He says the UAW will inevitably have to make a less-than-perfect deal for its members—but with many union members’ skeptical of the leadership’s credibility, leaders are more likely to “play to the crowd” and less likely to make a deal. “And that becomes a vicious circle in which inflexibility on one side leads to inflexibility on the other side,” said Masters. “I think at this point in time, the company has the leverage, because of the cloud that hangs over the UAW leadership.”

GM workers head to picket lines to press demands

General Motors Co.’s factory workers took to the picket lines Monday, hoisting signs reading “UAW on Strike” and blocking traffic into plants, in an effort to secure better pay, more job security and other benefits ahead of an expected U.S. car market slowdown. The United Auto Workers union over the weekend called on nearly 46,000 full-time factory workers at GM to walk off the job starting early Monday morning, after negotiations for a new four-year labor agreement hit a standstill. The nationwide walkout is the UAW’s first in 12 years and involves more than 30 factories across 10 states. It is also one of the largest private-sector work stoppage in decades, coming at a time when unions more broadly have pulled back on striking companies. Work-stoppages involving more than 1,000 employees are down, falling from more than 200 a year in the early 1980s to fewer than 20 annually in recent years. “The strike really has lost its utility as a viable weapon in the private sector,” said Marick Masters, a professor of business at Wayne State University. “You very rarely see an employer willing to buckle.” At the same time, he said both sides have an incentive to reach a deal quickly. “The company knows it’s going to have losses, and workers know they’re going to miss a paycheck,”  Masters said.
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E-scooters are fast, unregulated and all over Detroit. What could go wrong?

In a rapidly changing Detroit, the scooters have become something else: a symbol of tension about whether the city belongs to newcomers or longtime residents. In a city with chronic problems, the service that appeals mainly to young professionals was rolled out so quickly and with virtually no regulations that a City Council analyst last year wrote that Detroit was “inundated.” The results have often been confusion, annoyance, anger and broken bones as scooter users have shown up by the dozen at Detroit emergency rooms. Rayman Mohamed, a Wayne State University professor of urban studies and planning, said the absence of accepted rules about scooters fuel tensions. “At least there are rules of the road that cars generally follow,” said Mohamed, who occasionally uses a scooter himself.  “And, for the most part, both pedestrians and drivers have a common understanding what those rules are. “I think with scooters we haven’t had time to come to a common understanding about those rules. Instead, the rules are ambiguous and that leaves lots of room for animosity between pedestrians and scooter users.”
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Is there such a thing as ‘friend-zone’?

The issue of the “friend-zone” – and the reasons that men and women view it differently – helps us to understand the ways that people judge sexual interest and the things that lead us to strike up friendships in the first place. Trying to make a move on a friend is a balance of risk and reward, and men, more often than women, are attracted to opposite-sex friends, even when both people define the relationship as platonic. Men overestimated how attractive they were to the women, and the women underestimated how attracted the men were to them. People who rate themselves as highly attractive are also more likely to overperceive other's sexual interest in them. “Once we expect something we tend to see it,” says Antonia Abbey, from Wayne State University, a social psychologist who studies relationships. “If you think someone is sexually attracted to you, you watch for it more. Like when a person leans forward or laughs, or whatever – they view [that] as a sexual sign. They might not notice that when they leaned in the other person backed off.” Researchers like Abbey study the exchanges between people initiating romantic interest – called dating “scripts”. These scripts can reveal the sequence of events that lead to successful or unsuccessful pursuits of romance – and it turns out we often have pre-defined roles. “Context really matters in interactions like this,” says Abbey. “Men might be looking for signs of attraction more than women because traditional gender roles suggest men take the initiative. It sounds old fashioned in 2019, but there have been quite a few qualitative studies that ask about dates and people tend to still have a lot of those traditional themes around who asks whom out, who pays and things like that. Women hold back and men feel the burden to take the lead.”
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Texas hospital tries to stop birds living in nearby trees, accidentally creates haven for North America's most venomous caterpillar

Texas hospital's attempts to deter birds have accidentally created a haven for North American's most venomous caterpillar species, whose painful sting has been compared to breaking a bone. Nets were put up on the oak trees that line the sidewalks of Texas Medical Center in Houston to stop birds like grackles and pigeons—which can carry diseases and create a mess—from gathering. But by putting the birds off from landing on the trees, the institution created a new problem. With no birds to eat them, the population of bugs commonly known as "asps" exploded. After studying the area for three years, researchers found the caterpillars were 7,300 percent more abundant on netted trees compared to those without protection. Also known as Megalopyge opercularis or puss moth caterpillars, the insects are the most poisonous caterpillars in North America. The creatures are covered in spines linked to a sac filled with poison. If someone brushes against an asp, the protrusions break off and stick into the skin, releasing venom. After around five minutes, the victim will experience an intense throbbing pain, which then spreads. Stings can be accompanied by headaches, vomiting and nausea, as well as stomach pains. Glen Hood, who led the study at Rice University and is a research assistant professor of biological sciences at Wayne State University, said in a statement: "There are a lot of people that congregate in the green spaces of TMC [Texas Medical Center]. It becomes this scenario of what's worse—bird guano or venomous asps—and is there a happy medium?" Hood commented: "It's highly suggestive that when you don't take into account the natural interactions taking place within a community or ecosystem, even in an urban setting, it can cause unforeseen consequences."
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How flying in a fighter jet affected my mind and body

Arash Javanbakht, director of the Stress, Trauma and Anxiety Research Clinic at Wayne State University, wrote a piece about his perspective, as a psychiatrist, on the mental and physical aspects of flying a fighter jet. “The experience was condensed and fast, affecting so many sensory modalities, and its processing took some time: Part of me was in denial for a couple days, and I repeatedly found myself in awe, telling myself excitedly: Dude, I flew a fighter jet! Overall, it took a couple days for my mind and body to come back to normal; it was a once in life experience, and it was amazing,” Javanbakht wrote.
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Vaping may be bad for teens. But will Michigan’s ban hurt smokers trying to quit?

Banning flavoring in e-cigarettes and similar devices might move the products further away from Michigan teens, but some worry that an all-out ban also strips cigarette smokers of a powerful tool to help them quit. Smoldering for years now, the health debate ignited Wednesday when, in a surprise move, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed banning flavoring in e-cigarettes and other vaping devices in the state. Still, others worry about adult smokers trying to quit cigarettes by turning to vaping, which early research suggests is not as dangerous as combustible tobacco. At Wayne State University’s School of Medicine, clinicians are helping smokers shake the tobacco habit through the use of incentives — gift cards, for example, sometimes alongside tobacco cessation products, like the nicotine patch. David Ledgerwood, a clinical psychologist and director of Wayne State’s Nicotine and Tobacco Research Division, said vaping products can indeed be used to help smokers cut down or quit cigarettes. But Ledgerwood also noted that adolescents and teens are easily moved by marketing gimmicks and flavored products. “There’s a lot of stuff going on there around the development of the adolescent brain. Their role at that age is to break away from their parents, and that’s why you get this rebellious stage,” Ledgerwood said. “This is where they’re going to try out new things and make decisions about where their lives are going to head, and they can make some really smart decisions and really risky decisions,” he said.