Academics and research in the news

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Critical race theory: politics enters the classroom

According to experts, critical race theory is really an academic and legal theory first developed in the 1970s in response to the civil rights movement. According to those railing against it, it will teach young students they are racists and White supremacists, and rewrite Black History and those of “others,” including indigenous people. “The goal of critical race theory is that people existed besides the typical European narrative that we see in text books,” said Truman Hudson, Jr., EdD, instructor, College of Education, Wayne State University. “We don’t need to have separate narratives; we’re the United States, yet we’re not united. We’re teaching separateness. It’s looking through a multicultural lens. It does not look at Black, White, Arab, Jew – it lifts up everyone’s story. As long as we continue to look at education and race through a separate lens, we’ll end up with separate and unequal, which is what happened. It hurts all kids when we don’t look at race through a culturally sustaining pedagogy. We’re missing all these stories, the richness by all these people that don’t look like the people in these textbooks. The richness adds to all of our lives when we build on this space. It shouldn’t be us versus them. Our future generations need to know. It’s okay to say the country is an experiment that we’re still trying to figure out – it’s okay to make people feel uncomfortable talking about it. The amendments to the Constitution show growth. They helped establish justice, of where we want to go. Education helps us grow, and the more we learn, we can continue to grow.”
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Historic floods fuel misery, rage in Detroit

City officials have repeatedly pointed to climate change as the main culprit in last month’s flood, when Detroit was overwhelmed by as much as 8 inches of rain in less than 19 hours. Weather stations in and around Detroit set records for the most amount of rainfall within a 24-hour period during the storm, according to the National Weather Service. Thousands of basements were flooded, causing widespread damage and prompting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to declare a state of emergency. The White House has since issued a disaster declaration, freeing up federal funds. The storms offer a foreboding glimpse of Detroit’s new reality in a warming world: flooding intensified by high water levels on Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes. And the floods have also churned up debate about the management of Detroit’s aging flood-control system and whether officials are taking steps to harden the system against what’s becoming a regular drumbeat of record-setting storms. Lyke Thompson, a professor of political science and director of the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University, agreed. “The people in the city that are better off live in neighborhoods that have better infrastructure for removing the water from the neighborhood,” Thompson said. “And whites left the city in droves decades ago, so most of the city of Detroit is occupied by people of color. So, if the city has a problem, they have a problem. And the city has a problem.” Detroit’s outer suburbs, he said, are on higher ground with newer infrastructure, while lower-lying neighborhoods experience flooding and leaks on a regular basis. Those same houses, he said, are getting “whammy after whammy because we’re having repeated 100-year floods, and the residents can’t cope with it.” Thompson and other researchers have documented those trends in a study that found recurrent residential flooding in Detroit is far more prevalent than previously thought, disproportionately affects Black residents and may contribute to a greater incidence of asthma. Of the 6,000 homes in Detroit surveyed, researchers found almost 43% had experienced flooding, and neighborhoods like Jefferson Chalmers are especially vulnerable.
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Great Lakes algae threaten air quality

Toxins from harmful algal blooms, such as those looming in Lake Erie off Monroe County shores, are well-known as water polluters, but now researchers are looking at how they harm Great Lakes air. And that could have implications for human health, they say. Algae blooms occur because of a warming climate and nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from activities like agriculture, said Judy Westrick, a chemistry professor at Wayne State University. In the Great Lakes region, algal blooms occur in inland lakes and the western basin of Lake Erie, primarily in shallow water, Westrick said. Research focuses on water quality because of observations, Westrick said. When people became sick after swimming in toxic water, scientists began researching it. However, now that water quality is better understood, scientists are branching out into understanding algae toxins and air, Westrick said. “You’re probably going to see, in probably the next year, like 100 studies on aerosol,” Westrick said. “Aerosol has become a big thing because of a couple of factors.” Those factors are part of climate change, she said. For example, heavy rainfall can cause waves and break up harmful algae, releasing particles that could be toxic in the air. The expert consensus is algae blooms will get worse as climate change and runoff worsen, Westrick said. Algae essentially eat nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients from agricultural runoff. “If you take care of the nutrients and you don’t have the nutrient load, then then they won’t get worse, but if everything stayed the same, the nutrient load, and it just gets warmer, we expect them to go longer,” Westrick said.
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Safety panel: Government conflict on pay rules hurts driver retention

A long-standing gap between how the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Labor view driver wages must be bridged before the trucking industry will have a shot at curing its chronic driver retention problem, according to a university researcher. Speaking at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Council (MCSAC) meeting on Monday, Michael Belzer, an economics professor at Wayne State University, told attendees that wage requirements under the DOL-enforced Fair Labor Standards Act conflict with FMCSA hours-of-service regulations that allow drivers to be unpaid while they wait to load and unload at a shipper or receiver facility. “The Wage and Hour Division at the Department of Labor requires that employers pay for all work time, and covers the entire labor market,” said Belzer, a former Teamsters driver. “But FMCSA allows employers to declare drivers off duty while keeping them on the job. That’s a very different definition. Drivers’ time does not belong to them.” Belzer contends that DOT and DOL have to “bridge the gap together” to fix the problem. “DOL and DOT can rebuild the truck driver labor market and solve this problem. Through interagency cooperation they can fix the driver shortage and create a workforce development solution that is stable.” MCSAC took up the discussion because driver pay and retention can have a direct effect on driver safety. At a low pay rate, drivers work as many hours as necessary to reach target earnings that allow them to pay their bills, Belzer said. Drivers earning higher pay will rest rather than work extra hours that damage their health, risk their safety or keep them away from their families, he pointed out.
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Understanding why Detroit floods and why it keeps happening

Thousands of Detroit residents, businesses, churches, nonprofits, libraries and others will likely need months to recover from the disastrous flooding caused by record rainfall two weeks ago and aging water infrastructure. It was the second time a so-called 100-year rain event occurred in the past decade. “We clearly can’t go on like this,” said William Shuster, chair of Wayne State University’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. “The infrastructure was built for a different time and place, and that’s changed. We are not keeping up.” This survey, which should be released by the end of July by Wayne State University and the University of Michigan-Dearborn, shows which parts of the city — from Jefferson Chalmers, on the east side, to Aviation Subdivision on the west — have dealt with recurrent flooding since 2012. Among 4,667 Detroit households surveyed between 2012 and 2020, 46 percent have dealt with flooding. There is a map showing which areas are more at risk of flooding — and it is strikingly similar to the current maps released by the City showing the hardest hit areas in the current disaster. The map doesn’t name neighborhoods, but shows clusters of streets on the west side, the northeast and lower east side that are prone to flooding. The report describes the physical and emotional impact many residents deal with long after the water recedes. There’s also a resource guide for various agencies that can provide assistance. “It’s nobody’s fault in particular; we have a huge and expanding service area,” said Wayne State’s Shuster. “Regional cooperation is the way forward. Let’s focus on that opportunity. “This is an equal opportunity disruptor, destroyer of health, property and morale.”
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How fear of government surveillance influences our behavior

People steer away from talking about policy issues publicly or even among family and friends when they think their attitudes aren’t widely shared. This inclination is known as the spiral of silence. Knowledge of government monitoring influences online expression, especially if users think their opinions conflict with that of the majority, according to a study by journalism professor Elizabeth Stoycheff at Wayne state University. Stoycheff asked 225 participants to fill out a survey about how they get their news, and about their views on surveillance. She showed them a fake Facebook page that reported on renewed U.S. airstrikes against ISIS terrorists in Iraq. Its tone was neutral. Participants were asked if they’d be willing to express their opinion on the airstrikes, by liking, forwarding, or commenting on the page. Half received several reminders that although the answers were confidential, there was no guarantee that the NSA would not be monitoring them. Afterward, participants were questioned about their opinions of airstrikes and what they believed most Americans thought about them. They were also asked questions about the legitimacy of online surveillance by government agencies. Their answers were consistent with the spiral-of-silence effect. The more their personal opinions diverged from perceived mainstream opinion, the less participants were willing to express their views. The effect was strongest in participants who believed that they might be monitored and that online surveillance was taking place: they answered in a more conformist way and engaged in self-censorship.
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Wayne State University researcher invited to edit book on neuropsychiatry

A Wayne State University School of Medicine faculty member is editor of a newly published book, Brain Network Dysfunction in Neuropsychiatric Illness: Methods, Applications & Implications. Vaibhav A. Diwadkar, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Wayne State, and his colleague, Simon Eickhoff, Ph.D., from Heinrich-Heine University in Dűsseldorf and Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine in Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany, were invited co-editors of the volume, which is published by Springer Nature Publishing, a subsidiary of the Nature Publishing Group, one of the largest scientific publishing houses in the world. The volume is a unique compendium of diverse chapters from more than 40 of the world's leading experts in the fields of brain imaging, computational and analytic methods, and neuropsychiatry. It is the first collection of its kind to focus attention specifically on the challenging problem of understanding how abnormal brain network function might give rise to debilitating conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, mood disorders, borderline personality disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism.
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Researchers study how algal bloom toxins may harm Great Lakes air

Toxins from harmful algal blooms are well-known as water polluters, but now researchers are looking at how they harm Great Lakes air. Algae blooms occur because of a warming climate and nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from activities like agriculture, said Judy Westrick, a chemistry professor at Wayne State University. In the Great Lakes region, algal blooms occur in inland lakes and the western basin of Lake Erie, primarily in shallow water, Westrick said. Research focuses on water quality because of observations, she said. When people became sick after swimming in toxic water, scientists began researching it. However, now that water quality is better understood, scientists are branching out into understanding algae toxins and air, Westrick said. “You’re probably going to see, in probably the next year, like 100 studies on aerosol. Aerosol has become a big thing because of a couple of factors.” The factors are part of climate change, she said. For example, heavy rainfall can cause waves and break up harmful algae, releasing particles that could be toxic in the air. The expert consensus is algae blooms will get worse as climate change and runoff worsen, Westrick said. Algae essentially eat nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients from agricultural runoff. “If you take care of the nutrients and you don’t have the nutrient load, then then they won’t get worse, but if everything stayed the same, the nutrient load, and it just gets warmer, we expect them to go longer,” Westrick said.
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As Michigan rapidly ages, “We are not at all prepared” for the burdens of long-term care

“The number of Americans 65 and older is expected to nearly double in the next 40 years,” according to a recent Kaiser Health News report. Experts say the aggregate cost of care for our elderly population is ballooning, particularly in Southeast Michigan. The burden of long-term care has fallen on families and, for many, finding adequate care and resources has proven to be a grueling process. “We are dramatically underfunded, especially in Southeast Michigan. And the population just keeps getting older,” says Tom Jankowski, associate director for research and adjunct professor of gerontology and political science. Jankowski’s work revolves around the aging of the population, as well as the historical origins and implications of policy that pertain to older adults. ”Michigan faces some special challenges because it was historically a younger state in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s … But today … it’s one of the fastest aging states,” he says. He explains there are limited resources for elderly Michigan residents. ”Unfortunately, the services are a patchwork. We’ve got the Medicaid home and community-based waiver program … In Michigan, that program is underfunded, there are wait lists in most areas of the state. And in Michigan, only about a third of our Medicaid long-term care folks are at home,” he says. ”I have been an advocate for increasing that at-home spending for years … it’s what most people prefer and it’s less expensive than putting people in nursing homes.” 
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We’re learning the wrong lessons from the world’s happiest countries

Since 2012, most of the humans on Earth have been given a nearly annual reminder that there are entire nations of people who are measurably happier than they are. This uplifting yearly notification is known as the World Happiness Report. With the release of each report, which is published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the question is not which country will appear at the top of the rankings, but rather which Northern European country will. Finland has been the world’s happiest country for four years running; Denmark and Norway hold all but one of the other titles (which went to Switzerland in 2015). Perhaps deeper insights can be gained from looking beyond the trends of cozy hearths and nature walks. Even the Nordic countries themselves have a lesser-known cultural ideal that probably brings happiness more reliably than hygge. Jukka Savolainen, a Finnish American sociology professor at Wayne State University, in Michigan, argued in Slate that the essence of his happy home region is best captured by lagom, a Swedish and Norwegian word meaning “just the right amount.” Savolainen even theorizes that this inclination toward moderation shapes residents’ responses to the happiness ranking’s central question. “The Nordic countries are united in their embrace of curbed aspirations for the best possible life,” he writes. “In these societies, the imaginary 10-step ladder is not so tall.”
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Prioritizing children’s mental health

A two-day virtual 2021 Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health Summit, held April 13-14, invited professionals and insiders to address critical topics related to mental health, wellness, substance use disorder and suicide prevention. The event was designed for clinicians, social service providers, educators, parents, and anyone who works with youth. “What is the worst stress you’ve experienced in your life?” This question can help mental health professionals get to the core of a patient’s distress. But, according to Dr. Arash Javanbakht, director of the Stress, Trauma and Anxiety Research Clinic (STARC) at Wayne State University, it often goes unasked. Javanbakht led a session on the role of trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during the summit. He explained that about 8 percent of Americans suffer from PTSD, described as an overgeneralization of fear, when memories are not where they belong in a person’s timeline. With PTSD, the brain reacts as if things are happening now, not as a memory. The brain is trained to be in a constant survival mode, making normal life nearly impossible to enjoy. Javanbakht said that diagnosing PTSD is not always a part of a children’s mental health professional’s training. “The two things you have to ask about are usually not volunteered: sex life and trauma,” he advises mental health professionals. “Trust is hard, especially when it comes to painful memories.” Javanbakht discussed different treatments for PTSD, including a variety of therapy options as well as medications. He said it’s important to see PTSD as a disease that can be treated.
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What to expect from the Biden and Putin summit

Wednesday marks the first time that President Joe Biden  met with Russian President Vladimir Putin since taking office. The summit happened in Geneva, and the discussions could set the course between the two adversaries as tensions continue to escalate between U.S. and Russia. Since Biden took office, he has significantly ramped up his rhetoric against Putin. His administration has twice imposed sanctions on Russia. In March, they sanctioned seven senior officials over the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and in April, they imposed economic sanctions because of various cyberattacks. Aaron Retish is a professor of history at Wayne State University, with a specialization in Russian and Soviet history. He says while these meetings between world leaders are important, they are mostly “grand theater.” “What you want is to have two heads of state, shaking hands and speaking, that itself is important,” Retish says. “It’s actually essential in diplomatic relations to kind of show that the two are willing to be in the same room. It’s what happens behind the scenes, what happens on the sidelines that is really the most important.” 
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3 ways schools can improve STEM learning for Black students

James Holly Jr., assistant professor of urban STEM education, wrote an article for The Conversation on improving STEM learning for Black students. “Black people make up just 9% of the STEM workforce in the U.S. As a scholar who studies how STEM educators can more effectively reach Black students, I want to help all people develop an understanding of how anti-Black racism is a significant barrier for Black students learning STEM. Many scholars have argued that our current ways of teaching STEM are bad for everyone because only the experiences and contributions of white people are discussed, but the negative effects are greater for Black people. Teachers frequently question the intellectual ability of Black students and prevent them from using their cultural worldviews, spirituality and language in the STEM learning setting. Still, Black people continue to boost STEM knowledge across the world. It is time to generate new teaching practices in STEM that affirm Black students in a way that connects with their lives.”
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Wayne State physics professor awarded DOE Early Career Research Program grant

The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced the awardees for its Early Career Research Program. The program will support 83 scientists, who will receive a total of $100 million in funding that will support critical research to cement America as a global leader in science and innovation. Chun Shen, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics and astronomy in Wayne State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was awarded a five-year, $750,000 award for his project, “Quantitative Characterization of Emerging Quark-Gluon Plasma Properties with Dynamical Fluctuations and Small Systems.” The project will focus on elucidating Quark-Gluon Plasma (QGP) properties — a novel state of matter that existed at the infant phase of our universe — by understanding the dynamical evolution of stochastic fluctuations in relativistic heavy-ion collisions from large to small systems. “My research will provide a quantitative characterization of the QGP properties, how it ripples and flows, and its phase structure by interweaving theoretical many-body nuclear physics, high-performance computing and advanced machine learning techniques,” said Shen. “My work aims to develop a new open-source theoretical framework to decode hot nuclear matter properties from the measured multi-particle correlations.”
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Prom send-offs celebrate Black girls and their communities

Aja D. Reynolds, assistant professor of education, wrote a piece for The Conversation. “As a researcher of Black girlhood, I interviewed and attended prom send-offs for both Danielle Nolen, 20, who attended prom in 2019, and Tonayvia Turner, 19, who attended prom in 2020 amid COVID-19 restrictions. My purpose was to learn more about what these occasions represent – both for the girls and for their communities. In my research, I didn’t find much – if anything – that discussed the kinds of prom send-offs that I observed in Chicago.
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MDMA may help treat PTSD – but beware of claims that Ecstasy is a magic bullet

Dr. Arash Javanbakht, associate professor of psychiatry, wrote an article for The Conversation. “Recent clinical trials, including one soon to be published in Nature Medicine, have suggested that MDMA combined with psychotherapy may help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. The news generated considerable optimism and excitement in the media, and some in the scientific community. As a psychiatrist and an expert in neurobiology and treatment of PTSD, I think these developments may be important – but not the major breakthrough that some people are suggesting. This approach is not a new magic bullet.
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‘Bullwhip' hits supply chains as missing links reverberate for months in flow of goods

From lumber to cheese to bath bombs to auto parts, shortages abound as the world's producers, distributors and retailers can't accurately match supply to demand. The result is empty shelves and skyrocketing prices ... with no end in sight. The fundamental issue behind each of these disruptions stems from the immediate impact of the pandemic. As stay-home orders landed across the globe and factories shut down, orders dried up in anticipation of a drawn-out recession. But it didn't play out like that. For instance, demand shifted from restaurants to grocery stores — remember the great toilet paper shortage of 2020? — and government stimulus buoyed, and sometimes boosted, consumer spending. The auto industry's ongoing semiconductor conundrum is a blueprint on how improperly assessing future demand can reverberate through the supply chain. For Zingerman's, the story is of similar dynamics. Cheese production slammed to a halt as Italy and Spain and other parts of Europe battled the virus last spring, followed by mandatory store closures in the U.S. Orders dried up, cheese spoiled, distributors docked their ships. But demand never faltered and as the industry came back on line, it's battled to play catch-up. To meet demand, purveyors ordered more imported cheese than necessary. This leads to even greater shortages from producers and distributors. So if a retailer can't get access to a wheel of imported Fleur de Marquis now, it may order more than normal when it is available to ensure it doesn't run out of stock in the future. This is called the bullwhip effect, said John Taylor, associate professor of global supply chain management and chair of the department of marketing and supply chain management at Wayne State University. "Companies are having difficulty figuring out what their customers' real demand is and are putting a lot of extra orders into the system," Taylor said. "Everyone is hedging their bets. This all leads to a lack of clarity what the demand signal really is. When you get a bullwhip, things begin to see out of stock conditions and then overflowing inventory. Industries are gyrating from having not enough product to having too much."
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Birmingham and the national planning trends

As Americans live longer and healthier, as today's youth may take longer to launch, as couples have fewer children, if they choose to have any at all – what are these demographic realizations portending for land use and urban planning? If people can live anywhere, how do city leaders permit housing options to retain and grow the population while maintaining values and encourage diversity? “Single family zoning was designed to protect single family property values from uses that were less desirable – and they explicitly called out 'less desirable' uses, including apartments, and oftentimes the underlying motivation was trying to keep white neighborhoods white,” said Carolyn Loh, associate professor, urban studies and planning, Wayne State University. “Today, some people are saying that is the reason single family zoning shouldn't exist – but it shouldn't be the only housing choice. For example, in order to live in a town with a good school district, renting or owning, that's your ticket to the community. Higher density (than single family) allows you to split the cost of the ticket. It doesn't mean low income – it means a lower income. A duplex can provide that.”
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Airbnb hosts, Uber drivers and waiters who are more politically conservative get slightly higher ratings and tips

Alexander Davidson, assistant professor of marketing, wrote an article for The Conversation. “Customers give higher ratings and tips to politically conservative Airbnb hosts, Uber drivers and waiters than to ones with more liberal leanings, according to new peer-reviewed research I co-authored. That’s despite evidence we found that consumers may actually expect the opposite. To reach the first conclusion, a colleague and I conducted four different studies. The first involved poring over about 50,000 Airbnb listings in 16 U.S. cities. We examined average ratings and compared them with the percentage of Republican voters in the city, based on recent elections. We found that Airbnb hosts in cities with a greater share of Republican voters tended to have higher ratings. Specifically, an increase of one percentage point in a city’s proportion of Republicans correlated with a 0.12 increase in its average Airbnb rating. While that may seem small, Airbnb ratings are often quite high, which means a small change can be significant.”