Academics and research in the news

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Courts have avoided refereeing between Congress and the president, but Trump may force them to wade in

Kirsten Carlson, associate professor of law and adjunct associate professor of political science, wrote an article for The Conversation about President Trump’s refusal to hand over records to Congress and allow executive branch employees to provide information and testimony to Congress during the impeachment battle. Carlson calls these actions “the strongest test yet of legal principles that over the past 200 years have not yet been fully defined by U.S. courts.”
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This emergency manager says better management wasn’t enough

Emergency managers appointed to heal the Detroit district’s finances did little more than apply Band-Aids to a major wound, according to a recent report. Robert Bobb, one of those emergency managers, says Band-Aids were all he had. Like others appointed to run Detroit Public Schools amid a financial crisis, Bobb took out loans to cover the district’s short-term costs, an approach that led to ballooning debt and interest payments. “We couldn’t make payroll. The district could not even pay its utility bills,” he recalled. “Either we close the doors, or we go to short-term borrowing that will have a negative impact in the long term.” The report, which was commissioned by the school board, found “startling mismanagement” by the state officials who largely ran the district between 1999 and 2015. “The whole idea of emergency management is that the school district’s problems are due to poor management and the failure or local democratic governance,” said Mike Addonizio, a professor of education at Wayne State University. “By 2016 it became apparent to policymakers in Lansing that there was no way to manage DPS out of its budget deficit.” Addonizio agrees that a major cash infusion was the only way to solve the problem. He believes it didn’t come sooner because of a political consensus in the Republican-controlled statehouse that the structural issues would be solved by school choice measures. “They were convinced that more choice could resolve problems of educational deficiencies and management problems. I guess maybe they thought that failing schools would close and that children would then enroll in schools that were succeeding. But when students leave schools and districts, the schools don’t close. The children remaining in the district just suffer.”
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Report: Detroit faces the most challenges to keeping kids in school

How bad is Detroit’s student chronic absenteeism problem? Wayne State University researchers have identified eight conditions — such as poverty, unemployment, and even cold temperatures — that are strongly correlated to chronic absence, and the city leads all other large metropolitan areas in having the worst outcomes for almost all of those conditions. The findings come with a key takeaway the researchers hope will prompt action: Schools alone can’t solve the problem of getting students to school every day, said Sarah Winchell Lenhoff, an assistant professor in the college of education at Wayne State University. And, the findings come during a critical time as the Detroit school district invests heavily in a number of efforts designed to get students in school. Citywide, across district and charter schools, about half of the students are chronically absent — meaning they’re missing 18 or more days during the school year. Lenhoff said what’s needed is a more coordinated effort that brings together policymakers, school district officials, charter school officials, community organizations, and community members. Without it, the work being done by schools is “unlikely to make the huge difference we need to make,” Lenhoff said.
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Researchers discover natural toxin fatal to invasive mussels

Researchers at Wayne State University believe they may have found a way to stop invasive species of mussels from spreading throughout the Great Lakes by using algae. The find, a toxin released by dying algae called Microcystin LR, which when placed in direct contact with juvenile mussels can be fatal. Algal blooms which commonly flourish in the Great Lakes every summer are filled with toxins. Microcystin LR is the most common and also the most toxic, however some researchers don’t believe the application is practical. Scientists remain optimistic over the find as the invaders had been largely left unchecked since their introduction to the Great Lakes through ballast water in the 1980’s.
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FCA and UAW negotiators must be transparent in light of GM lawsuit

The General Motors lawsuit accusing Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and its predecessor entities of corrupting labor negotiations as far back as 2009 is a bombshell, but several labor experts say its impact on current bargaining between the UAW and FCA could be limited. That's not to say the allegations in the 95-page complaint filed Wednesday in federal court, naming FCA, Alphons Iacobelli, its onetime lead labor negotiator and a convicted felon, among others, won't make the task of ratification harder. But it's not clear the issues raised, many already suggested by the ongoing federal corruption probe, will be a deciding factor. Marick Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University, said that if nothing else, the lawsuit puts an even bigger spotlight on negotiations. "I think they have to be extraordinarily careful that what they're doing is being watched microscopically by many parties," he said. "I think they will be extremely careful to avoid the appearance of any background deal (and be) as transparent as possible." Any impact on talks or how workers view a deal is not fully clear, but  deviation from the pattern could generate skepticism. The pattern deal, which includes gains for temporary and in-progression workers, would be costly for FCA because of its heavier reliance on them. "If the agreement between Chrysler and the UAW were to deviate in any way (from the pattern at GM and Ford) to the disadvantage of workers, people would say, 'We told you so, you'd better look in to this,'" Masters said.
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After losing her dad to pancreatic cancer, Alicia Smith raises awareness through a survivor's story

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, and Thursday, Nov. 21, is World Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day. This disease is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in America – more than breast cancer. Dr. Asfar Azmi, assistant professor of oncology at Wayne State University School of Medicine, has been working on the front lines of finding new treatments. “We have a drug that can lock the good proteins at the right place. And when we see that locking, these are tumor suppressors. They can prevent a tumor from growing, and we see the pancreatic cancer cells die,” said Azmi. They are also researching how to catch pancreatic cancer sooner. “If we are able to bring a new biomarker – what we call – which can detect this disease early, that would change the game,” Azmi explained. The work is encouraging, but Dr. Philip Philip -- a gastrointestinal oncologist at Karmanos and professor of hematology-oncology at Wayne State University, says the research is lagging behind that being done into other major cancers. “[Pancreatic cancer] is difficult to fight for a number of reasons. One of them is because we often get the patients diagnosed at a late stage in their disease -- late as in it’s gone beyond the pancreas and spread to other parts of the body,” explained Philip. He says you need to know the signs and symptoms. “Patients often times ignore these symptoms thinking that it could be for ‘something I ate’ or ‘something I’m doing’… and they ignore those symptoms for a long time,” Philip explained.  “The key message here is that if you have symptoms that are persistent for a few days/weeks, you have to see your doctor,” said Philip.
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Impeachment: Two quotes that defined the first day of public hearings

Kirsten Carlson, Wayne State University associate professor of law and adjunct associate professor of political science, and Chris Edelson, assistant professor of government, American University School of Public Affairs, wrote an article on the impeachment proceedings. Wednesday was the first day of public hearings in the House impeachment inquiry. Two career diplomats – William B. Taylor Jr., acting ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs – gave testimony to the House Intelligence Committee. Two scholars listened, and each picked one quote to analyze. “What we will witness today is a televised theatrical performance staged by the Democrats”. - Rep. Devin Nunes, Republican of California. “In this highly partisan era, Rep. Nunes’ words come as no surprise,” Carlson wrote. “Nunes was attempting to discredit the impeachment inquiry as a partisan attack on President Donald Trump. But his emphasis on partisanship obscures a vital function of Congress in protecting the public and preserving democratic government: oversight. Oversight is part of the U.S. Constitution’s carefully orchestrated balance of power among the three branches of government. The Constitution authorizes, if not obligates, Congress to exercise oversight over the executive branch.”
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Don’t like vegetables? It may be your genes

Why is it difficult for some people to eat vegetables? Researchers at the University of Kentucky believe a certain gene makes compounds in some vegetables taste particularly bitter to some people, so they avoid nutritious, heart-healthy vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. Humans are born with two copies of a taste gene called TAS2R38. Those who inherit two copies of the variant called AVI are not sensitive to the bitterness of these chemicals. But those who inherit one copy of AVI and one copy of PAV are especially sensitive and find these foods particularly bitter. For this study, researchers investigated the possibility that this association existed in people with two or more cardiovascular disease risk factors. Tonia Reinhard, a senior lecturer at Wayne State University and course director for clinical nutrition at the university’s school of medicine, said it’s intriguing that the University of Kentucky researchers identified genetic regions that relate to taste that can influence one’s food choices and potentially influence development of certain chronic diseases. “Since fruits and vegetables contain numerous phytonutrients and essential nutrients that can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage — two key damaging processes linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic diseases — anything that affects dietary intake of these foods can possibly influence disease development,” said Reinhard, a fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and past president of the Michigan Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She added that people should remember that human taste perception is a complex process that is affected by numerous variables. “It is useful for individuals to try to understand their own preferences and when unhealthful, use their cognitive function to override some of those,” she said.
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As prosecutors take larger role in reversing wrongful convictions, Philadelphia DA exonerates 10 men wrongly imprisoned for murder

“The most powerful people in the criminal justice system are the prosecutors,” said Marvin Zalman, a criminal justice professor at Wayne State University who has written extensively about wrongful convictions. When DNA analysis started leading to exonerations in the early 2000s, prosecutors resisted any sort of systemic review of their cases, Zalman said. Now, with dozens of review units, “it’s a remarkable change. They have more of the ability to generate exonerations than the innocence organizations. They have the capacity to cut through the years of federal review, habeas review, the complexity of these cases. The ability of prosecutors is great.”
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FTC approves toothless settlement with DFW staffing agencies over wage fixing allegations

In March 2017, Neeraj Jindal had a problem. He ran a Richland Hills staffing agency that provided home health care agencies with therapists to do house calls. One of those agencies had just informed him that it was reducing the amount it would be paying for each house call. Jindal knew if he passed this pay cut down to the therapists, they would find another staffing agency to work with, threatening his business. So Jindal did what squeezed contractors often do: He decided to screw his workers. Jindal directed one of his physical therapists to send a text message to Sheri Yarbray, the owner of a competing staffing agency. The message disclosed the new, lower rate that Jindal planned to pay his therapists. Yarbray responded: “Yes I agree[.] I’ll do it with u.” Jindal then contacted four other DFW therapist staffing agencies requesting that they lower their rates the same amount. Laura Padin, a senior staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project, called this a “blatant example” of wage fixing, which particularly threatens gig workers — independent contractors, like many of these therapists — who are vulnerable to collusion by the large firms that typically employ them. The Federal Trade Commission investigated, and confirmed that Jindal and Yarbray had indeed broken the law. But, in a move that seemed to rile nearly everyone, from legal scholars and unions to one of the agency's own commissioners, the agency declined to levy any punishment. Sanjukta Paul, a law professor at Wayne State University,.said that monetary penalties are necessary in a case like this to change the “decision calculus for these middlemen businesses” and make wage fixing less attractive. Generally, such schemes are difficult to identify, making this a rare opportunity to penalize perpetrators. But she’s encouraged by the public statements being made by the FTC’s Democratic commissioners, which she said could mark a change in the agency’s antitrust enforcement strategy. “There's kind of been this bipartisan consensus that overall antitrust law doesn’t do much,” she said. “I think that antitrust law can be leveraged to make this a slightly less terrible place for American workers,” Paul added.
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Wayne State professor who watched the Berlin Wall fall knew he was 'witnessing history'

Andrew Port didn’t anticipate a seat he took on a train while studying abroad in Europe in 1987 would change his life forever. But that train ride ended up being Port's ticket to witnessing history — the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. Port — then a junior in college and now a Wayne State University professor — sparked a conversation with a young German man sitting in the seat next to him. That man took a liking to Port, inviting him to a New Year's Eve party in West Berlin. Port attended the party, where he met a Berliner with whom he fell in love. After finishing his study abroad and graduating from Yale in the spring of 1989, he moved to West Berlin in October 1989 to be with his girlfriend. He couldn't have foreseen that he would be involved in one of the most consequential moments in modern history the following month. As an American living in Berlin for only about a month, the scene was especially surreal, Port said. Port went on to study history. He conducted research from Germany as a Harvard graduate student from 1994 to 1996. He has published several books on post-war Germany, some of which garnered significant media attention in Germany, and now teaches German history courses at Wayne State. 
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Mom’s immune system and microbiome may help predict premature birth

Roughly 10 percent of children worldwide — an estimated 15 million babies — are born prematurely, or before 37 weeks gestation, each year. In developed countries, surviving an early birth has become more likely, thanks to the availability of intensive medical care. More than 98 percent of U.S. preemies survive infancy, according to a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2016, though as many as 44 percent of the youngest preemies don’t make it. Survival is least likely in nations with the fewest resources. Worldwide, complications associated with preterm birth are the leading cause of death in children younger than 5 years old. Some of the signs of inflammation linked to preterm birth differ from those found during full-term birth, says Nardhy Gomez-Lopez, a reproductive immunologist at Wayne State University. For example, in 2017, she and colleagues reported in the American Journal of Reproductive Immunology that some proteins involved in inflammation, called cytokines, were present at higher than normal levels in amniotic fluid from a subset of women who delivered preterm. The earlier the women delivered their babies, the higher the cytokine levels. Infections, which are present in at least a quarter of preterm births, could be the cause, but inflammation and cytokine levels were also elevated when no infection was found. Part of the problem with developing a predictive test is that preterm labor isn’t just one condition. Thirty years ago, preterm labor was viewed simply as regular labor that happened early, says perinatologist Roberto Romero at Wayne State, who directs the perinatology research branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Although scientists now recognize that the biology of preterm labor is distinct, they still have to grapple with the reality that it varies depending on the underlying cause. Wayne State and NICHD recently released gene activity data from the whole blood of 150 Detroit women, 71 of whom delivered preterm, and encouraged researchers to use the data to find predictors of preterm labor, as part of a crowdsourcing collaboration called the DREAM challenge. The challenge is expected to be completed in January 2020. “We are at the beginning of an exciting period,” says Romero at Wayne State. The field is now equipped to start studying preterm birth as a collection of several different syndromes and seek out treatments to address each one, he says.
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Why are uterine cancer rates rising so drastically in black women?

According to a December 2018 report from the CDC, the number of new uterine cancer diagnoses increased an average of 0.7 percent per year between 1999 and 2015, resulting in an overall 12 percent rise. Rates of endometrial cancer, specifically, jumped 4.5 percent per year on average. The uterine cancer mortality rate increased 1.1 percent per year on average between 1999 and 2016, amounting to a 21 percent leap overall. What’s more, the burden of uterine cancer is greatest for black women, and the disparity is increasing with time. While that same CDC report found that non-Hispanic white and black women had similar incidences of uterine cancer (about 27 cases out of 100,000 people), black women were more likely to be diagnosed with uterine sarcoma, the most aggressive form of uterine cancer, than women of other races, and also more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage than women of other races. Teasing apart the potential reasons behind this disparity is a complex task. The puzzle pieces start to come together when you look at some of the major risk factors for developing uterine cancer. Let’s start with endometrial cancer risk factors. “We do know that obesity is one risk factor,” Michele L. Cote, Ph.D., a professor of Oncology at Wayne State University and associate center director of Cancer Research Career Enhancement, tells SELF. This is because it’s a health condition that can increase the amount of estrogen in your body. Another endometrial cancer risk factor revolves around children. “The more children you have, the lower your risk,” Cote says. Pregnancy increases your output of progesterone, so you might benefit from its protective effects against this cancer. But people are generally having fewer kids these days, Cote explains, including black women. “Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of research data yet on why black women are more likely to have a more aggressive form of uterine cancer,” Cote says.
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“Joker”: A powerful psychological drama

Arash Javanbakht, M.D., director of the Stress, Trauma, and Anxiety Research Clinic (STARC) at Wayne State University, wrote a piece for Psychology Today about the film “Joker.” “I am a psychiatrist expert in trauma in adults and children, and a movie lover. When friends tried to convince me to watch "Joker" with them, I was hesitant. I was not interested in an action movie solely focused on the bad guy, especially given I liked Batman. However, a few minutes into the movie I realized what I had got myself into. "Joker" is not an action movie, it is a sad psychological drama, depicting the suffering of a man who was wronged, and got it wrong.”
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Russia Steps Into Syria As United States Withdraws

News of the United States pulling out of Syria has triggered upheaval and turmoil in the region. The Trump Administration’s change of course in Syria has complicated the already complex power structure in the Middle East. Wayne State University history professor Aaron Retish joined Stephen Henderson on Detroit Today to help unpack the complex web of interests and influence in the region. On the administration’s newfound adoption of non-intervention policy, Retish says, “There are going to be ramifications for that, one of them is going to be instability and the other one is going to be new power asserting themselves.” Those power players he is speaking of include Russia, Turkey and the Assad-led Syrian government, all of which have unique motivations. Retish asserts that we have to rethink the region if we are not going to commit to a military presence. This new American foreign policy approach in the area might mean “a totally refigured Middle East.”
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Should public servants refuse to serve under President Trump?

Sylvia Taschka teaches modern German and world history at Wayne State University and is the author of a book about Hans Heinrich Dieckhoff, the last German ambassador to the United States before the Second World War. Taschka wrote a historical perspective piece focusing on the question: Should diplomats resign or decline to serve if they have deep moral misgivings about their government’s policy, or should they remain in office to try to prevent worse from happening?
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Violent crimes in U.S. drop when pollen count is high, scientists discover

A study recently published in the Journal of Health Economics found that reports of violent crime decline by approximately 4 percent on days where the local pollen hunt is low. The team also found there is a particularly noticeable drop—4.4 percent—in violent crimes that take place in the home—a fact that surprised researchers. Previous studies have shown that situational circumstances (like an unseasonably hot day) can affect the likelihood of a crime taking place—or at the very least, being reported. The idea here is that it affects the balance between the drawbacks of committing a crime and the benefits of a crime, which combined create the net cost of criminal activity. If the drawbacks outweigh the benefits, it is less likely the crime will take place. For the study, researchers wanted to look at the net cost of criminal activity that comes with a common health shock—in this case, seasonal allergies, which affects up to one in five Americans. Allergies can cause nasal congestion, watery eyes, an irritated throat and sneezing. They can also affect cognitive ability, mood and sleep activity. "We started this research with the personal experience that allergies made us feel less physically active and slugging on high pollen days," co-author Shooshan Danagoulian, an assistant professor in the department of economics at Wayne State University, told Newsweek. "Past research has shown that high pollen reduces children's performance on math and English tests, so we expected to see some effect on other activities as well. Though our findings confirmed our suspicions, we did not expect the magnitude of the effect on crime—the 4 percent decline in violent crime is very substantial." Danagoulian added, “Our research gives law enforcement and local governments a better understanding of the nature of interpersonal violence, especially violence at home. Domestic violence is a particularly difficult problem for law enforcement to solve since they cannot patrol inside people's homes, and our research sheds light on the role of health in the moment on such violence."
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Where is my Xanax Rx? Why your doctor may be concerned about prescribing benzodiazepines

Arash Javanbakht, associate professor of psychiatry, wrote a piece about benzodiazepines, a class of anti-anxiety medications that increase the activity of the gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors in the brain. There has been increasing attention into long-term risks of benzodiazepines, including potential for addiction, overdose and cognitive impairment. The overdose death rate among patients receiving both benzodiazepines and opioids is 10 times higher than those only receiving opioids, and benzo misuse is a serious concern. The benzo family includes diazepam, or Valium; clonazepam, or Klonopin; lorazepam, or Ativan; chlordiazepoxide, or Librium; and the one most commonly known to the pop culture, alprazolan, or Xanax, among others. A major risk of long-term use of benzos is addiction. That means you may become dependent on these meds and that you have to keep increasing the dose to get the same effect. Actually benzos, especially Xanax, have street value because of the pleasant feeling they induce. In 2017, there were more than 11,000 deaths involving benzos alone or with other drugs, and in 2015, a fifth of those who died of opioid overdose also had benzos in their blood. There are safer effective treatments for anxiety, but they require patience to work. A first line treatment for anxiety disorders is psychotherapy, mainly cognitive behavioral therapy. During therapy, the person learns more adaptive coping skills, and corrects cognitive distortions to reduce stress.
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Why the guillotine may be less cruel than execution by slow poisoning

Associate Professor of History, Janine Lanza, wrote an article about the history of the guillotine and other methods of execution used in various countries, including recent developments in the United States. “From the stake to the rope to the firing squad to the electric chair to the gas chamber and, finally, to the lethal injection, over the centuries the methods of execution in the United States have evolved to make execution quicker, quieter and less painful, both physically and psychologically. It wasn’t always so. And there are, perhaps, lessons in history that could provide an answer to current concerns about the unusual cruelty of execution methods in the U.S. Under the French monarchy in the 17th and 18th centuries, execution was meant to be painful. That would purify the soul of the condemned before his final judgment, deter others from committing crime, and showcase the power of the king to impose unbearable suffering on his subjects. The guillotine remains a quick method of execution – it takes about half a second for the blade to drop and sever a prisoner’s head from his body.”