Academics and research in the news

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Juneteenth: Freedom's promise is still denied to thousands of blacks unable to make bail

Matthew Larson, assistant professor of criminal justice, wrote a piece about Juneteenth (June 19) marking “the celebration of the de facto end of slavery in the United States.” (This article is republished from a June 19, 2018 edition of The Conversation). Larson points out, however, that for hundreds of thousands of African-Americans stuck in pretrial detention – accused but not convicted of a crime, and unable to leave because of bail – that promise remains unfulfilled. “While Juneteenth is a momentous day in U.S. history, it is important to appreciate that the civil rights and liberties promised to African-Americans have yet to be fully realized. As legal scholar Michelle Alexander forcefully explains, this is a consequence of Jim Crow laws and the proliferation of incarceration that began in the 1970s, including the increase of people placed in pretrial detention and other criminal justice policies. There are 2.3 million people currently incarcerated in American prisons and jails – including those not convicted of any crime. Black men comprise 40 percent of them, even though they represent just 13 percent of the U.S. population. Larson adds, “Juneteenth celebrates the freedom of black Americans and the long, hard road they were forced to traverse to gain that freedom. But as criminologists like me have maintained time and again, the U.S. criminal justice system remains biased, albeit implicitly, against them.”
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Multiple sclerosis cases on the rise nationally

A recent study shows that the number of people living with MS is on the rise. A recent MS Prevalence Study funded by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society shows that in 2010 the estimated 10-year prevalence of adults in the U.S. was 727,344 cases, not the 400,000 that had previously been thought. In addition, the study shows the prevalence of MS cases from 2000 to 2017 is now estimated at 913,925 cases, though that number may be as high 1,000,000. Dr. Robert P. Lisak, who specializes in neuroimmunologic diseases at Wayne State University School of Medicine, said that an initial increase in the numbers of people with MS was thought to be because of better diagnostic tools and more awareness of the disease. "But over the last 10 to 20 years we think there are more cases," Lisak said, though nobody knows why. The problem is if you don't know the cause of the disease you can speculate all you want, but you don't really know," he said. "But there is probably no one single cause or one single risk factor," Lisak said. Lisak said there are new medications out that delay or even prevent progression of the disease. But researchers still need to find out what ultimately causes MS — the mechanisms of what causes attacks, what causes attacks to shut off and what causes progression. Until that is known it is hard to develop therapies, he said. "We need to get more basic knowledge in order to make further progress."
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Study finds treating inmates’ mental health reduces their risk of returning to jail

A new study offers a solution to the problems of jail overcrowding and recidivism in Michigan: Invest more in mental health and drug treatment. Wayne State University’s Center for Behavioral Health and Justice spent five years reviewing treatment and jail-diversion programs in 10 counties. Researchers found that people who got treatment for mental health disorders were less likely to return to jail. “Training law enforcement to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness is really important,” says Sheryl Kubiak, dean of WSU’s School of Social Work who led the study. “When we did pre- and post-interviews, officers would tell us things like they didn’t believe in mental illness, they just thought it was bad behavior. If we can decrease the number of people who go into costly confinement and deter them to treatment, I think we will do a lot better.” 
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How medical providers talk about death with teenagers facing life-threatening illnesses

A diagnosis of a life-threatening illness is an enormous shock wave to any family. But there are extra challenges involved when that diagnosis happens for a teen or young adult. While their friends are getting ready for the prom or for college, they will be going through treatment and having tough conversations with family and doctors. Cynthia Bell is an assistant professor and research scientist at the Wayne State University College of Nursing, and has studied end-of-life conversations with teens and young adults. 
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Can You Reshape Your Brain's Response To Pain?

Around 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. Most of us think of pain as something that arises after a physical injury, accident or damage from an illness or its treatment. But researchers are learning that, in some people, there can be another source of chronic pain. Repeated exposure to psychological trauma, or deep anxiety or depression — especially in childhood — can leave a physical imprint on the brain that can make some people more vulnerable to chronic pain, scientists say. EAET is a different sort of psychotherapy. It’s one of several behavioral therapies (among other interventions) included in a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services titled “Pain Management Best Practices.” According to the report, published May 9, “Research indicates that EAET has a positive impact on pain intensity, pain interference, and depressive symptoms.” EAET was developed in 2011 by psychologist Mark Lumley at Wayne State University and his colleague Dr. Howard Schubiner. 
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The epic political battle over the legacy of the suffragettes

The movement for suffrage spanned from the mid-19th century to the early 20th, and was advanced by women with a range of political priorities and viewpoints. They were progressives, in the broadest sense of the word: They believed in pushing for social change and using politics for the betterment of humanity. Yet many of their views might seem shocking today, especially to Americans who identify with the same “progressive” movement of which suffrage activists were a part. By and large, white American suffragists were racist, arguing that giving the vote to white women would cancel out the influence of newly enfranchised black men. This was as much a matter of political strategy as personal prejudice, says Liette Gidlow, associate professor at Wayne State University who is working on an upcoming book on this subject. Poll taxes, literacy tests, and so-called grandfather clauses kept many black men away from the polls in the years following the Civil War, even after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment gave them the vote. “Many leading … white suffragists were deeply afraid that … [if] the Susan B. Anthony amendment”—which proposed women’s suffrage—“would lead to the return of African Americans ... to the polls, that would damage support for the amendment,” Gidlow said. Even after the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, many states passed laws limiting the voting rights of black Americans, including black women.
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Wayne State develops novel geocoded map to improve health outcomes

If you live in southeast Michigan, your ZIP code may determine how long you live. Live in the 48236 ZIP of Grosse Pointe and at birth you can expect to live to an average of 82 years. Just a few short miles away, however, if you’re born and live in the Detroit ZIP of 48201, you can shave 13 years off that respectable mark. The 13-year loss can be attributed to numerous factors, including a lack of access to healthy food, health care and safe places to exercise. Resource limitations and socioeconomic disparities in the 48201 ZIP code also contribute to soaring levels of toxic stress and poor health. That stress often manifests in the form of disproportionate levels of high blood pressure, which, if uncontrolled, brings on a host of illness guaranteed to shorten lifespan. That’s the bad news.
The good news, as attendees of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual Mackinac Policy Conference heard Thursday morning, is that a radically new form of mapping health data by census tract may give policymakers, researchers and health care providers the information they need to design targeted efforts to improve health in areas with a long history of worse outcomes. The goal, said Phillip Levy, assistant vice president of Translational Science and Clinical Research Innovation for Wayne State University, is to develop a precision approach to population health, guided by data provided by drilling down as far as possible, perhaps even to individual neighborhoods.
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Addressing mental health key to improving criminal justice system

Diverting individuals with mental health disorders into treatment programs rather than simply jailing them not only significantly reduces the jail population but also lowers the chances of recidivism among offenders, according to a five-year study conducted by the Center for Behavioral Health and Justice at Wayne State University’s School of Social Work and released by the state of Michigan. According to the study, 54 percent of all individuals booked into jails in the target counties reported some variation of a substance abuse problem, while 45 percent described themselves as housing insecure and 42 percent said they had been recently incarcerated. Meanwhile, 34 percent had some indication of mental illness. “More than just a collection of data, this report offers us an early roadmap to drastic improvements in how our criminal justice system handles issues of mental illness and substance abuse,” said Sheryl Kubiak, dean of the Wayne State School of Social Work and the principal investigator for the study. “In addressing these issues, we also give ourselves opportunity to address many of the problems that these issues underlie, including jail overcrowding, poor access to mental health, and drug treatment and recidivism.” Drug abuse presented an equally thorny problem for many jails, said Kubiak. “Most jails have little therapy or protocols for inmates suffering withdrawals,” she said. “Some just hand out blankets and Gatorade and think that’s enough.” Kubiak concludes: “As the study proves, when we simply lock up mentally ill or addicted individuals with no real plan to get them help, we’re only prolonging and exacerbating problems that we have the tools to effectively address.”  
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Howard Stern talks childhood trauma, trauma psychiatrist talks about lasting effects

Arash Javanbakht, assistant professor of psychiatry, wrote a piece for The Conversation about the growing interest in trauma and childhood trauma. “A child’s brain is a sponge for learning about how the world works and who they themselves are. We humans have an evolutionary advantage in having the ability to trust the older and learn from them about the world. That leads to cumulative knowledge and protection against adversity, about which only the experienced know. A child absorbs the patterns of perceiving the world, relating to others and to the self by learning from adults. But when the initial environment is unusually tough and unfriendly, then a child’s perception of the world may form around violence, fear, lack of safety and sadness. Brains of adults who experience childhood adversity, or even poverty, are more prone to detecting danger, at the cost of ignoring the positive or neutral experiences.” Javanbakht continued: “Childhood trauma is more common than one would think: Up to two-thirds of children experience at least one traumatic event. These include serious medical illness or injury, firsthand experience of violence or sexual abuse or witnessing them, neglect, bullying and the newest addition to the list: mass shootings.

Learning to love (or at least leverage) technology

A client suffers from one of the oldest and most common fears: arachnophobia. The mere thought of a spider causes her anxiety, and she often has a friend check a room for spiders before she enters. She wants to get help, but she lives in a remote area without access to a clinical expert. Could the use of augmented reality help the client overcome this phobia and actually touch a tarantula? Arash Javanbakht, an assistant professor of psychiatry and director of the Stress, Trauma & Anxiety Research Clinic (STARC) at Wayne State University, has found that it can. At STARC, Javanbakht uses augmented reality along with telepsychiatry as a method of exposure therapy for clients with phobias.
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The challenges of the trailing spouse

Annmarie Cano, professor of psychology and associate provost for faculty development and faculty success, wrote a piece about the career challenges she faced as a “trailing spouse.” Cano wrote: ”Here are just a few ideas for those hiring at institutions as to how they can help achieve these goals. Offer dual-career policies and information. There’s no question that institutions must deal with a number of challenges when hiring one or both members of a dual-career couple. It’s not an easy process for them or the couples themselves. But the reality is that more than a third of faculty members at research universities have academic partners. Be open to what couples can bring, including diversity. Rather than narrowing the conversation to whether the partner’s scholarly area is a good fit for the department, consider the total package. Be mindful that how you treat one, you treat the other. Dual-career couples are people, too… Clearly developed dual-career policies, meaningful efforts to increase diversity and investment in the development of faculty and department chair leadership skills are needed to continue to improve the climate for dual-career couples and access to higher education careers for women and minorities.
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Wayne State preps water study participants

An independent study by Wayne State University into Adrian’s water got underway Tuesday night as representatives prepped participants on what to expect. The meeting with Adrian residents was closed to the media but Wayne State student Andrew James briefed media ahead of the meeting on his study. James will test water samples throughout Adrian for the presence of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and certain toxins affiliated with the bacteria, specifically microsystin and anatoxin. James said the study was suggested by Thomas Prychitko, due to the previous findings. The Wayne State professor will help supervise James through the project. “The gist of it is, yes, we are testing to see if there is any harmful bacteria in the water of these fine people in Adrian, Michigan,” James said. The study is for James’ master’s degree and thesis, he said. The study is not in conjunction with any other agency, nor is it affiliated with the city of Adrian and its water study being conducted by Tetra Tech. Wayne State is funding the project. “This is a significant investment by Wayne State,” Taylor said as each water sample can cost up to $225. James said the purpose is to identify if there is cyanobacteria in the water and where in Adrian it might be. The university put a call out in April for participants.
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Will Michigan 3rd-grade reading law hurt poor?

Children from low-income and minority families will be more likely to flunk than wealthier white classmates with similarly low test scores under Michigan’s third-grade reading law, if the experience of Florida is repeated here. Research and Northwestern University found that Florida third-graders with similarly low reading scores were held back at different rates, depending on the socioeconomic status of their families. While the long-term impact of holding children back a grade is mixed, the socioeconomic and racial disparity found in Florida should be a flashing yellow caution light for Michigan, said Sarah Lenhoff, assistant professor of education at Wayne State University. “This study is an important warning for Michigan lawmakers and educators as our state implements this new law,” Lenhoff said. “If children are given differential opportunities to use exemptions from retention, this policy could lead to greater inequity in educational opportunity between low-income children and their wealthier peers.”
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Age of fraud: are seniors more vulnerable to financial scams?

Scientists looking into age-related financial vulnerability are very interested in physical changes to the aging brain, the way eyesight and hearing can get less keen. In some cases, a new pattern of making mistakes with money may be a harbinger of cognitive bad things to come, the “first thing to go,” as it were. McGill University neuroscientist Nathan Spreng was able to track down 13 elderly scam victims and 13 others equivalent in age, gender and education who had successfully fended off a scam. Spreng’s research found the brains of the two groups were physically different. He noticed this thinning of the part of the brain called the “insula,” which, along with a lot of other things, may help us trigger our “spidey sense,” the hunch that can warn us away from dicey financial situations. Some experts are skeptical about practical applications of research like Spreng’s. Peter Lichtenberg, director of the Institute of Gerontology at Wayne State University, is not a neuroscientist but a psychologist who studies financial decision-making capacity. While he sees the brain scanning as promising, his experience tells him financial acumen and scam-spotting are really complex matters. “There is no one aging pattern,” Lichtenberg said. “You know, some older adults are as good as they were in their fifties and sixties. Others are showing a more significant decline.” Lichtenberg says he has data showing 20 percent of older people admit when they do talk about money with others, it’s out of loneliness. That is, people might engage with a scammer because they want to talk to someone, anyone.

Wayne State smart manufacturing center partners with HERE Technologies

Wayne State University and HERE Technologies have announced an agreement to partner on various industry projects, create education curriculums, and develop solutions with other technology providers at the Wayne State Smart Manufacturing Development Center (SMDC). “Wayne State University is at the heart of Detroit’s resurgence. The campus is growing, the curriculums are being tuned to the needs of the future workforce and we’re aligning to new industry principles such as Industry 5.0,” said Joseph Kim, professor of industrial & systems engineering at Wayne State University. “HERE’s expertise in navigation and location will help us bring practical experiences and real-life business situations to students and provide them an opportunity to see how location technology is applied to customers in the industrial sector.” 

The 5 worst things to say after someone dies—and what to say instead

Around 7,500 people die each day in the United States—one person every 11.5 seconds. By your 50s and 60s, you’ve almost certainly had personal experience with death—a parent’s death, other close family members, and/or personal friends. And yet, when you hear that someone has died, it’s still hard to know what to say to their loved ones. Part of the reason is that seeing the grief and pain of others surrounding death is uncomfortable. You also may be grappling with your own feelings about your experiences. They may also be busy making arrangements, causing it to appear like they’re handling the death particularly well. “Then you might find a few months later that it’s all starting to hit,” says Peter A. Lichtenberg, a clinical psychologist and director of the Institute of Gerontology at Wayne State University. “Grief is very variable. It brings out a sense of finality and a sense of helplessness in all of us,” says Lichtenberg. 
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Brain scans help shed light on the PTSD brain

Arash Javanbakht, assistant professor of psychiatry, wrote an article for The Conversation about post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. “PTSD is common, affecting 8 percent of the U.S. population, up to 30 percent of the combat exposed veterans, and 30-80 percent of refugees and victims of torture. A brain scan is a general term that covers a diverse group of methods for imaging the brain. In psychiatric clinical practice, brain scans are mostly used to rule out visible brain lesions that may be causing psychiatric symptoms. However, in research we use them to learn about the pathologies of the brain in mental illness. 
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Are America’s teachers really underpaid?

Michael Addonizio, professor of educational leadership and policy studies, examines the growing disparity in compensation to America’s teachers. “In the spring of 2018, thousands of public school teachers walked out of their classrooms in a half-dozen states, protesting low salaries, rising class sizes and cuts to school budgets that have prompted most teachers to buy their own classroom supplies. Additional strikes followed in 2019 in Los Angeles, Denver and Oakland. While these walkouts, which enjoyed much public support, were about more than teacher pay, stagnant teacher salaries were central issues.”