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Virtual Reality Can Make a Remote Crisis Real and Spur Effective Responses – University of Virginia

In Gyumri, Armenia, about 4,000 survivors of a 1988 earthquake that destroyed their city are still living in uninsulated shipping containers. Their improvised shelters are susceptible to flooding when it rains and, because of the moisture, infested with mold.

Engineers a half a world away can help solve these problems through virtual reality, according to Bethany Gordon, a first-year Ph.D. student in civil engineering at the University of Virginia.

Virtual reality can give you an understanding of someone elses world in minutes, Gordon said in a podcast that won an international competition this summer. Its not a perfect understanding, and maybe you are not aware of all the cultural nuances, but you can make that connection in five minutes by sitting on your couch and looking through a $10 virtual reality viewer.

Gordon, of Richmond, entered the contest sponsored by the Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy at the University College London while attending the Global Grand Challenges Summit in Washington, D.C. in July. The summit was organized by the Royal Academy of Engineering and its American and Chinese counterparts, and drew hundreds of science and engineering professionals and students from across the three hosting countries.

Addressing the contests theme, How Engineers Can Change the World, Gordon offered the idea that engineers can use virtual reality to explore problems in remote areas without having to travel there.

In her podcast, Gordon also cited the work of Pablo Suarez, associate director of research and innovation at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre in the Netherlands. Suarez, who teaches at the University of Lugano, University College London and Boston University, sees the potential of virtual reality in increasing awareness of projected threats against people in the future.

Virtual reality can create a genuinely immersive experience, where your senses are exposing your mind and soul to a reality that is not your reality, Suarez said on her podcast. We call it virtual, but it can be very real and realistically convey the threat that happened from a flood that happened in Togo, downstream from a hydropower dam, all the way to the meeting of Arctic sea ice. Virtual reality offers a magical way to connect what we know with what we can do.

Gordon, who received her undergraduate degree in civil engineering from UVA in May, wants to integrate virtual reality into her research, which involves developing sustainable design interventions for civil engineers using behavioral science and neuroscience. Gordon is starting to explore the idea that increasing the blood flow to the parts of an engineers brain dealing with empathy will produce more sustainable designs. Gordon is also working on the hypothesis that the later in the process an engineer commits his or her design to a model, the more willing the engineer is to change the design.

I hope to focus specifically on sustainable development in resource-restricted communities, she said. It combines many of my passions civil engineering, neuroscience, sustainability and virtual reality. There are many practical applications for virtual reality that will emerge as it becomes more accessible the potential of an immersive, non-intrusive environment has a lot of potential.

Gordon believes that virtual reality can be used to prevent problems and save lives.

Virtual reality connects what we know with what we can do, she said, echoing Suarez. The knowledge of an engineering professional and the ability to approach problems in a systematic way can be applied to people who may be living in unhealthy situations, or struggling to survive.

She cited Rajiv J. Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, who spoke at the 2017 Global Grand Challenges Summit, where he urged the audience not to be moral bystanders, but to be moral leaders to take initiative and solve the problems of those who are often forgotten.

It is our moral obligation as people who possess this knowledge to not forget about the problems of our poorest global citizens, Gordon said in the podcast. And yet it is easy for that sentiment to bleed into the background of our many other important obligations, such as work and family. Virtual reality has the potential to change that.

Gordon said she attended the Global Grand Challenges Summit to have in-depth conversations with thought leaders and other students in engineering. I wanted to exchange ideas in the hope of building potential collaborations or coming up with impactful ideas. I found myself constantly in deep thought about how the speakers wisdom related to the issues I was hoping to learn more about, she said.

Gordons podcast bested a field of 150 contestants. She and the second place-winning team, Yun Gu of Peking University in Beijing and Katie Brown of Auburn University, will receive fully funded attendance at the next Global Grand Challenges Summit in London in 2019, organized by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

It is our moral obligation as people who possess this knowledge to not forget about the problems of our poorest global citizens.

– Bethany Gordon

Gordons mentor, Leidy Klotz, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and architecture at UVA, praised the graduate student for her drive and creativity.

Bethany is a uniquely creative engineer who is not afraid to seek insight from other disciplines in her quest to help people, Klotz said. She combines her creativity and intelligence with an unmatched work ethic. I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to work closely with Bethany over the next few years, and I look forward to seeing the massive contributions I am sure she will continue to make in her lifes work.

A graduate of the Episcopal High School of Alexandria, Gordon plans a career in academia, teaching, mentoring and performing research that revolves around humanitarian aid, accessible sustainability and built environment design in resource-restricted communities.

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Virtual Reality Can Make a Remote Crisis Real and Spur Effective Responses – University of Virginia

Seniors enter final year of school at UMFK – WAGM

FORT KENT, Me (WAGM) “I’m so excited for my parents to have somebody in our family graduate from a University.”

It’s a big year for Marina Koloamatangi. The senior at the University of Maine at Fort Kent will receive a degree in behavioral science this May. Though that moment will be one she won’t forget, she’s also looking forward to what’ll happen throughout the many months before that.

“Yeah, I was just really excited to see my friends, start playing basketball again, and work on my senior year,” she said.

Koloamatangi came to Fort Kent last year as a transfer student from the Bay Area of California. The 5’11 basketball forward has her eyes set on a ring this year, but beyond that, she says this will be an important year for her in choosing her career path.

“I think I’m still kind of hesitant on what exactly I want to do but our behavioral science program has definitely guided me in the right direction on what I want to do in the future,” she said.

One thing she’s certain about though – this won’t be the end of her schooling. She wants to get her masters in sports psychology right away.

“I just feel like if I was done here I’d probably just be limiting myself. So, yeah, I’m ready for more school,” she said.

Other students of course will take a different path by jumping right into the working world. The University of Maine at Fort Kent has 475 seniors this year. University President John Short says this year for them should be all about experiential education.

“For students in nursing, getting those clinical experiences…for students in education doing student teaching, for others doing internships…it’s a focus to the future, a sense of what’s next in your future,” said Short.

A future that this California gal couldn’t be more ready for.

“It doesn’t even feel like school to me. It feels like doing what I love and I’m really excited,” she said.

The end of one era, can only mean the beginning of another.

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Seniors enter final year of school at UMFK – WAGM

Taking Advantage Of Behavioral Economics Can Get Aid To More … – Fast Company

One of the biggest challenges that aid groups face when battling poverty in the developing world is that being in poverty can make it nearly impossible to act in your own long-term best interest. Offering someone access to a savings account that generates good interest, for instance, isnt particularly enticing to a person who is worrying about not having enough money to get through that day. Its harder for a family to save scholarship money earmarked for an upcoming school enrollment, say, when everyones stomach is rumbling.

These problems stem from two well-known psychological ticks that come with stress: present bias (favoring immediate rewards over long-term considerations) and limited attention (when lack of money, time, hunger, and/or sleep affect rationalization). Sure, the wealthy might be pressed for time, too, but they compensate by hiring more help or outsourcing chores. Poor people can end up trapped in a vicious cycle.

Once you put in that sort of extra mental effort, its often zero or close to zero marginal cost in terms of the actual execution of the policy. [Image: RadomanDurkovic/iStock]To combat this, some interventions are designed to reduce the upfront costs (in terms of money, but also time). Others can be presented at moments when the beneficiaries feel somewhat financially stable. Together, these assists toward a more stable financial future have been shown to be extremely effective, according to a recent review in the journal Behavioral Science & Policy.

The article, entitled Overcoming Behavioral Obstacles To Escaping Poverty was commissioned by the Behavioral Science and Policy Association, a group of public and private researchers, policy analysts, and aid agencies committed to exploring the potential of behavioral economics to nudge people in subtle ways that also benefit them.

In Morocco offering households assistance filling out forms for an interest-free loan for piped-in water increased program participation by 59%. [Image: RadomanDurkovic/iStock]Even considering just a couple of the most widely and thoroughly researched behavioral science principles, [they have] the potential to improve the effect of development programs and development policiesin some cases pretty dramaticallyat little or no cost, says Christopher Bryan, an assistant professor at University of Chicago Booth School of Business, who co-authored the report. Once you put in that sort of extra mental effort, its often zero or close to zero marginal cost in terms of the actual execution of the policy. (Read more examples from the report here.)

A huge stumbling block for getting assistance, for instance, is paperwork. But offering assistance that saves time and eliminates confusion, by, say, auto-populating forms ahead of time, or offering some sort of automatic enrollment could be an equally powerful incentive: In Morocco, for instance, offering households assistance filling out forms for an interest-free loan for piped-in water increased program participation by 59%.

The number of HIV patients in rural Kenya who stuck to their medical treatment regimens changed from 40% to 53% with weekly text reminders. [Image: RadomanDurkovic/iStock]Strategically timing when and where a subsidy is offered can also dramatically affect participation. To increase the rate of health insurance adoption in Tanzania, for instance, advocates have tried targeting cash-transfer points on disbursement daysthe place where people are most likely to be flush and optimisticincreasing enrollment by 20%.

To that end, some farming improvement groups have learned to approach growers about reinvesting in better seeds or fertilizers for the next year right after their current harvest. That concept, matched with a limited-time discount to take advantage of it, has proven particularly effective, notes the review. In Bogota, Columbia, the distribution of educational subsidies has shifted to be aligned more closely with when that money needs to be spent so it isnt used for other things, something that has led to higher participation rates among the neediest.

Basic reminder prompts for dire situations that can begin to feel commonplace help, too. As the report notes, the number of HIV patients in rural Kenya who stuck to their medical treatment regimens changed from 40% to 53% with weekly text reminders. Even informal reminders and rewards can be powerful: In Chile, the members of another community improved their ability to generate savings not by tracking interest rates, but by forming a self-help group, where people openly share goals and cheer progress.

For Bryan, one of the most surprising findings was how easily some life-improving changes might be implemented. When peoples attention is so heavily taxed that they simply cant devote any of it to noticing interesting things that might be useful to them, then something as simple as pointing out what seems obvious to you can be really useful.

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Taking Advantage Of Behavioral Economics Can Get Aid To More … – Fast Company

Mayor Jim Kenney wants to clean up 'Filthadelphia' and he's enlisting Penn's help – The Daily Pennsylvanian

Photo: Matt Rourke

The Philadelphia mayor’s office has unveiled an expansive plan to clean up Filthadelphia, and they’re enlisting Penn’s help.

The Zero Waste and Litter Action Plan, initiated by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, aims to reduce litter in the city and end the citys use of landfills and conventional incinerators by 2035. To implement the plan, the Kenney administration partnering with various local institutions including Temple University, Swarthmore College and Penn.

Litter is an issue that has plagued Philly for a very long time, Nic Esposito, the director of Phillys Zero Waste Plan said. Being that we have so much crossover with [Penns] sustainability office and now with some of their research, were exciting to be working with Penn on this issue.

Penn political science professor Dan Hopkins has been enlisted as an academic partner to work on the reduction of litter.

As a member of the projects behavioral science subcommittee, Hopkins conducts experiments throughout the city to better understand what motivates people to recycle and how the placement of trash cans in public spaces can reduce littering.

Ive been excited to see behavioral science integrated in this work from the ground up, Hopkins said. The city had the foresight to bring us in not just on the back end to analyze what happened afterwards, but from the very beginning so we can provide advice about what policies would be more or less useful.

The Kenney administration devised the Zero Waste 2035 campaign late last year, but Penn has been working to clean up its campus for several years now.

In 2014, Penn launched the Climate Action Plan 2.0, which aimed to divert more than 90 percent of Penn’s away from landfills. The initiative also aims to increase student awareness on sustainability and climate change, promote sustainable design and reduce solid waste.

College junior Karen Chi is a member of the Eco-Reps program, which engages students to work on small projects that advance the goals of Climate Action Plan 2.0.

Chi said while Penn keeps its campus fairly litter-free, she thinks more trash cans could be placed near food trucks since they generate a large amount of waste. Chi isn’t alone; several other student groups on campus say more needs to be done to make Penn a truly clean and green campus.

The Penn Environmental Group advocates for the establishment of a green fund, which would set aside a portion of University revenue for future, large-scale green initiatives such as increasing the use of solar panels around campus, and adding gardens and water-collection technology to buildings.

We want to make sure its targeted and doesnt become another research fund that students dont know about or understand, but specifically a fund that will be making Penn more sustainable and innovative, said Susan Radov, political director of the Penn Environmental Group and College junior.

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Mayor Jim Kenney wants to clean up ‘Filthadelphia’ and he’s enlisting Penn’s help – The Daily Pennsylvanian

SRU completes busy summer of campus improvements – Allied News

SLIPPERY ROCK – While students returning to Slippery Rock University for the fall semester may have noticed a few physical changes to the campus exterior, the most visible changes have occurred on building interiors and student’s computer screens.

The most noticeable of all exterior changes that occurred over the summer was the demolition of the former Kraus Hall. Built in 1966, the hall, located on Main Street, was originally known as “The Riviera,” a privately owned facility belonging to Stanley Kraus. Kraus donated the hall to the University in 1982. The hall, valued at $4.5 million at that time, was the largest gift ever received by the University. It continued to house students until 2009. It was demolished at a cost of approximately $150,000.

The now empty lot will be used as a staging area for materials and trailers when the renovation projects for SRU’s performing arts buildings – Miller Auditorium, East Gym and West Gym – begin later this year. Long-term plans for the former Kraus Hall space are undetermined.

Projects that either started during the summer or were scheduled to start, including a $6.5 million renovation to the Strain Behavioral Science Building, will continue during the fall. However, according to Scott Albert, assistant vice president of facilities, planning and environmental safety, the value of completed improvements on campus during the summer was estimated at $6 million.

“It was one of our busiest summers because of the timing of projects,” Albert said. “Overall, if you look at the volume of construction that’s been ongoing, year to date and, with the BSB and performing arts projects kicking off, it’ll be close to one of our busiest overall years in the past 20 years.”

The first phase of a $4 million improvement project for Bailey Library was completed during the summer, which included the renovation of the second and third floor restrooms that were closed during the summer. Ongoing improvements, which will continue through the fall, include an additional computer lab and study spaces, a redesigned entryway and an expanded caf. The project is scheduled for completion in December.

“From a cost perspective, Bailey was the biggest project of the summer,” Albert said. “When all the projects are completed, it’ll provide an exciting and modern look to the campus. Until then, we appreciate everyone’s patience.”

Other significant changes from the summer included second floor renovations to Rhoads Hall; improved accessibility to the Gail Rose Lodge; the replacement of the Swope Music Hall loading dock; and asphalt maintenance and seal coating to several parking lots. An underground condensate line, that returns water from the McKay Education Building to the boiler plant, was also replaced. Restoration work from that project continues near Old Main.

There were also considerable upgrades related to classrooms, technology and sustainability:

Students may notice changes in lighting, as the University continues to switch completely over to LED lighting, which uses less energy and lasts longer.

Eight classrooms were upgraded with new technology, including items such as laser projectors and digital audio controls. The upgraded classrooms included two each in the Eisenberg Classroom Building, the School of Physical Therapy Building, Spotts World Culture Building and the Advanced Technology and Science Hall. A “Concepts of Sciences Lab” was created in Room 130 of ATSH while Room 103 of Spotts was converted from a classroom to a computer lab.

More than 700 computers were replaced in academic buildings, making this year one the largest-scale overhauls in recent years as most computers are replaced on a three-year cycle.

As part of yearlong upgrades, 350 Wi-Fi access points were replaced in various academic buildings and the Smith Student Center that will give students stronger connections with more bandwidth. An additional 250 access points are scheduled to be replaced in other campus buildings this academic year.

See a gallery of photos at: http://www.sru.edu/news/083117a

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SRU completes busy summer of campus improvements – Allied News

Losing weight for the couch potato and others – The Washington Post – Washington Post

Over the years, Robert Kushner has seen many obese patients get tripped up trying to keep pounds off because they rely on fast food, juggle too many tasks and dislike exercise.

So Kushner, an obesity expert, began helping patients plan diet and physical activity around their lifestyles and habits.

We dont necessarily put people on any specific diet; it really gets to what is their life, what are their struggles, he said. We believe obesity care cant be inconsistent with culture, family or how you lead your life.

He recently suggested that a patient split meals with his wife when they dined out, rather than each having large portions or avoiding restaurants entirely. When the man said he was uncomfortable sharing a meal with his wife when the couple was out with friends, Kushner said to do it anyway.

I said, Its a strategy that works whether youre with other people or not. … Be assertive, said Kushner. I think people dont think about it because they just arent raised to share.

The patient kept track of the foods he was eating, learning to avoid larger portions and fattening dishes. He has lost 15 pounds in six months, cutting about 500 to 700 calories per day.

More than a third of U.S. adults are obese, according to a 2015 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kushner, who directs the Center for Lifestyle Medicine at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, said he realized in the 1980s that obesity was a looming problem. He started combining diet, nutrition, exercise and behavioral changes into a plan for patients.

Since then, whats changed is the maturity of the area, understanding more about the effects of stress and sleep on body weight, and some of the behavioral-change techniques have expanded, he said.

In addition to promoting good sleep habits and stress management techniques such as meditation, Kushner and his colleagues suggest bariatric surgery for patients with a body mass index of 40 or more and for some who are less obese but who have medical problems such as Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea and heart disease. They also recommend medication for patients with BMIs as low as 30 who have additional medical problems or have failed to lose weight despite lifestyle changes.

Kushner said patients often have trouble shedding pounds unless problems like stress are managed.

Kushners approach proposes gentler, moderate changes. Rather than tell patients to cut out every unhealthy food they love, Kushner suggests focusing on alternatives with higher fiber and water content but fewer calories. (Think beans, vegetables, salads, fruits, broth-based soups and whole grains such as oatmeal.)

For the couch potato who finds exercise overwhelming, Kushner advises walking for short periods, building up to three 10-minute brisk walks daily to boost your energy level and mood while you also burn calories.

He also suggests that dog owners walk their pet for 30 minutes daily rather than leave Fido in the back yard. Kushner found that dog-walking helped overweight and obese people lose weight in a study, and he wrote a book about it Fitness Unleashed!: A Dog and Owners Guide to Losing Weight and Gaining Health Together with veterinarian Marty Becker.

I call it an exercise machine on a leash, Kushner said. It is a way for people to think about moving their body around in a fun way.

Most of his patients lose about 10 percent of their body weight (some more than 20 percent) after six months and keep it off during the program, Kushner said.

Patients say they feel understood and more motivated as they are given personalized direction to make positive changes in their lifestyle, he said.

Kushner created a questionnaire to screen patients for traits that prevent weight loss such as eating whats convenient rather than planning healthy meals or having an all-or-nothing mentality traits that Kushner and colleagues found in a study to be strongly linked with obesity.

Once you take the quiz and know your factor type, I can personalize a plan to help you lose weight and keep it off, Kushner said.

Another way Kushner hopes to help patients tackle obesity is by teaching medical students about treating and preventing it. He found in a recent study that the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination was focusing much more on diagnosing and treating obesity-related illnesses, such as Type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea, than on how to counsel patients on diet, physical activity, behavior changes, the use of medications and bariatric surgery.

But Kushner said his approach isnt only about weight loss.

We know that as little as 5 to 10 percent weight loss will improve the health and well-being of individuals and can also improve blood sugar, blood pressure, the fats in your blood, arthritis or reflux symptoms, as well as your mood and energy level.

Read more

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Losing weight for the couch potato and others – The Washington Post – Washington Post

Meditation expert tells us what the science really says and why multitasking is a 'myth' – Southernminn.com

So you fell asleep easily enough, but now it’s 3 a.m. Your mind is spinning, and rest is elusive. You’re reliving every foolish or embarrassing thing you did in the past 24 or 48 or 72 hours, and that is a lot of material to run through. And you simply can’t stop.

Except maybe you could, if only you knew how to be mindful.

“When you’re caught in that loop of rumination, that’s very real, and it creates very intense feelings,” explains psychologist and journalist Daniel Goleman, who reported on brain and behavioral sciences for the New York Times. “If you’re mindful, you realize it’s just a thought. You don’t have to believe your thoughts. You can question them, and that changes them. It takes energy from the brain that creates the heaviness. Looking at it in a different way makes the rumination less intense.”

You might think, on hearing such praises of mindfulness a form of meditative practice that it will solve just about every problem in your life. Meditation can halt the late-night rumination cycle, right? So can’t it also make you into a better person? Enlarge your brain? Make you taller and thinner and richer?

Well, no, says Goleman, who’s also the author of the best-selling book “Emotional Intelligence.” Some claims of meditation’s power are overblown. Some studies are less rigorous than they should be. But science has proven that meditation can induce healthy and important physical improvements, such as lowering your blood pressure, decreasing relapses into depression and managing chronic pain.

Which leaves us with a question: As our interest in meditation grows, how do we know what’s too good to be true?

Goleman has some answers. With Richard J. Davidson, who directs a brain lab and founded the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Goleman has just published “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body” (Avery, $27). The book separates truth from fiction, debunking studies and highlighting truth about meditation’s startling effects on the brain.

“Altered Traits” also chronicles the authors’ decades-long friendship and lifelong interest in the subject of meditation, which began at a time during which scientific circles had little patience or interest in the subject.

The book is important because it represents “the coming together of two very important voices,” says Scott Rogers, founder and director of the Mindfulness and Law Program at the University of Miami School of Law. He will be in conversation with Goleman at Miami Dade College.

Rogers, co-founder of UMindfulness, the university’s inter-disciplinary collaboration that marries research to training, notes another benefit: Not only are Goleman and Davidson experts in their fields, they’re also meditation practitioners.

“We need responsible, reasoned voices speaking from a variety of perspectives, and here we have the hard science and the journalist, and both are practitioners. We need a book we can look to as a reliable source of information,” Rogers says. “They both practice and have for a long time. A lot of researchers have been interested in this over the last 10 or 15 years, but they haven’t historically practiced mindfulness. There are a bunch of people practicing, but they’re not scientists.”

“Altered Traits” examines scientific studies on meditation and the benefits of intensive retreats, learning to view our selves and our brains in a whole new light and the importance of a good teacher (“I feel strongly the quality of the teacher is important,” Goleman says). The book also challenges notions we (or at least our bosses) hold dear, such as the idea that multitasking is a positive endeavor.

“Multitasking is a myth,” Goleman says. “You can’t really do two things at once. What happens is your brain switches rapidly. As it switches, you lose the power of your concentration. You do many things at once, you do them less well.”

But there is good news for multitaskers, according to “Altered Traits”: Cognitive control can be improved. One test of undergrad volunteers tried short sessions of focusing or breath-counting. “Just three 10-minute sessions of breath counting was enough to appreciably increase their attention skills on a battery of tests. And the biggest gains were among the heavy multitaskers, who did more poorly on those tests initially,” the authors write.

Which brings up another important question: If the benefits of meditation expand the deeper a person’s practice goes, is meditating in short sessions still useful?

“Casual practice helps you in surprising ways, but the deeper you go and the more you practice, the more benefits you get,” he says. “The research shows that right from the beginning mindfulness practices counter the ill effects of multitasking. We’re all doing so many things a day. But the improvement in attention starts at the beginning.”

And if you can only spare 10 minutes at a time for meditation, Goleman suggests spreading your practice throughout the day.

“Intersperse it through the day. Ten minutes in the morning. Ten at lunch. Ten at night. The effect is prolonged. If you can do 20 minutes, even better. If you can do it for a year, that’s good. Five years is even better.”

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Meditation expert tells us what the science really says and why multitasking is a ‘myth’ – Southernminn.com

Self-driving cars still can't mimic the most natural human behavior – Quartz

What do you need to build a self-driving car? Roboticists and computer scientists have generally settled on similar requirements. Your autonomous vehicle needs to know where the boundaries of the road are. It needs to be able to steer the car and hit the brakes. It needs to know the speed limit, be able to read street signs, and detect if a traffic light is red or green. It needs to be able to react quickly to unexpected objects in its path, and it gets extra points if it knows where it is on a map.

All of those skills are important and necessary. But by building from a list of technical requirements, researchers neglect the single most important part of real-world driving: our intuition. Using it to determine the motivations of those around us is something humans are so effortlessly good at that its hard to even notice were doing it, nonetheless program for it.

A self-driving car currently lacks the ability to look at a personwhether theyre walking, driving a car, or riding a bikeand know what theyre thinking. These instantaneous human judgments are vital to our safety when were drivingand to that of others on the road, too.

As the CTO and cofounder of Perceptive Automata, an autonomous-vehicle software company started by Harvard neuroscientists and computer scientists, I wanted to see how often humans make these kinds of subconscious calls on the road. I took a camera out to a calm intersection near my former lab at Harvard with no traffic signals. It is not by any stretch of the imagination as congested or difficult as an intersection in downtown Boston, let alone Manhattan or Mexico City. But in 30 seconds of video, it is still possible to count more than 45 instances of one person intuiting whats in the mind of another. These non-verbal, split-second intuitions could be that person is not going to yield, that person doesnt know Im here, or that person wouldnt jaywalk while walking a dog. Is that bicyclist going to turn left or stop? Is that pedestrian going to take advantage of their right-of-way and cross? These judgments happen instantaneously, just watch.

We have lots of empirical evidence that humans are incredibly good at intuiting the intentions of others. The Sally-Anne task is a classic psychology experiment. Subjectsusually childrenwatch a researcher acting out a scene with dolls. A doll named Sally hides a marble in a covered basket. Sally leaves the room. While Sally is gone, a second dollAnnesecretly moves the marble out of the basket and into a closed box. When the first doll comes back, children are asked where she will look for the marble. Its easy to say, Well, of course shell still look in the basket, as Sally couldnt have known that the marble had moved while she was gone. But that of course is hiding an immensely sophisticated model. Children have to know not only that Sally is aware of some things and not of others, but that her awareness only updates when she is able to pay attention to something. They also have to know that her mental state is persistent, even when she leaves the room and comes back. This task has been repeated many times in labs around the world, and is part of the standard toolkit researchers use to understand if somebodys social intuitions are intact.

The ability to predict the mental state of others is so innate that we even apply it to distinctly non-human objects. The Heider-Simel experiment shows how were prone to ascribe perceived intent even to simple geometric shapes. In this famous study, a film shows two triangles and a circle moving around the screen. With essentially no exceptions, most people construct and elaborate narrative about the goals and interactions of the geometric shapes: One is a villain, one a protector, the third a victim who grows courageous and saves the dayall these mental states and narratives just from looking at geometric shapes moving about. In the psychological literature, this is called an impoverished stimulus.

Our interactions with people using the road are an example of an impoverished stimulus, too. We only see a pedestrian for a few hundred milliseconds before we have to decide how to react to them. We see a car edging slightly into a lane for a half second and have to decide whether to yield to them. We catch a fleeting glimpse of a cyclist and judge whether they know were making a right turn. These kinds of interactions are constant, and they are at the very core of driving safely and considerately.

And computers, so far, are hopeless at navigating them.

The perils of lacking an intuition for state of mind are already evident. In the first at-fault crash of a self-driving vehicle, a Google self-driving car in Mountain View incorrectly assumed that a bus driver would yield to it, misunderstanding both the urgency and the flexibility of a human driver trying to get around a stopped vehicle. In another crash, a self-driving Uber in Arizona was hit by a turning driver who expected that any oncoming vehicles would notice the adjacent lanes of traffic had slowed down and adjust its expectations of how turning drivers would behave.

Why are computers so bad at this task of mind reading if its so easy for people? This circumstance comes up so often in AI development that it has a name: Moravecs Paradox. The tasks that are easiest for people are often the ones that are the hardest for computers. Were least aware of what our minds do best, said the late AI pioneer Marvin Minsky. Were more aware of simple processes that dont work well than of complex ones that work flawlessly.

So how do you design an algorithm to perform a task if you cant say with any certainty what the task entails?

The usual solution is to define the task as simply as possible and use what are called deep-learning algorithms that can learn from vast quantities of data. For example, when given a sufficient number of pictures of trees (and pictures of things that are not trees), these computer programs can do a very good job of identifying a tree. If you boil a problem down to either proving or disproving an unambiguous fact about the worldthere is a tree there, or there is notalgorithms can do a pretty good job.

The only way to solve these problems is to deeply understand human behavior by characterizing it carefully using the techniques of behavioral science.But what to do about problems where basic facts about the world are neither simple nor accessible? Humans can make surprisingly accurate judgments about other humans because we have an immensely sophisticated set of internal models for how those around us behave. But those models are hidden from scrutiny, hidden in the black boxes of our minds. How do you label images with the contents of somebodys constantly fluid and mostly nonsensical inner monologue?

The only way to solve these problems is to deeply understand human behaviornot just by reverse-engineering it, but by characterizing it carefully and comprehensively using the techniques of behavioral science. Humans are immensely capable but have opaque internal mechanisms. We need to use the techniques of human behavioral research in order to build computer-vision models that are trained to capture the nuances and subtleties of human responses to the world instead of trying to guess what our internal model of the world looks like.

First, we need to work out how humans worksecond comes training the machines. Only with a rich, deep characterization of the quirks and foibles of human ability can we know enough about the problem were trying to solve in order to build computer models that can solve it. By using humans as the model for ideal performance, we are able to gain traction on these difficult tasks and find a meaningful solution to this intuition problem.

And we need to solve it. If self-driving cars are going to achieve their promise as a revolution in urban transportationdelivering reduced emissions, better mobility, and safer streetsthey will have to exist on a level playing field with the humans who already use those roads. They will have to be good citize
ns, not only skilled at avoiding at-fault accidents, but able to drive in such a way that their behavior is expected, comprehensible, and clear to other vehicles drivers and the pedestrians and cyclists sharing space with them.

Follow Sam on Twitter. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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Self-driving cars still can’t mimic the most natural human behavior – Quartz

Brain researchers in uproar over NIH clinical trials policy – Nature.com

Scientists studying human behaviour and cognitive brain function are up in arms over a plan by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to classify most studies involving human participants as clinical trials.

An open letter sent on 31 August to NIH director Francis Collins says that the policy could unnecessarily increase the administrative burden on investigators, slowing the pace of discovery in basic research. It asked the NIH to delay implementation of the policy until it consulted with the behavioural science community. As this article went to press, the letter had garnered 2,070 signatures.

Every scientist I have talked to who is doing basic research on the human mind and brain has been shocked by this policy, which makes no sense, says Nancy Kanwisher, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who co-wrote the letter with four other researchers.

The policy is part of an NIH clinical trial reform effort started in 2014 to ensure that all clinical results were publicly reported. The policy is scheduled to go into effect in January 2018. Its definition of a clinical trial included anything involving behavioural interventions, such as having participants perform a memory task or monitor their food intake. Such studies would need special evaluation by NIH review committees and institutional ethics review boards; and the experiments would need to be registered online in the clinicaltrials.gov database.

But many researchers believe that studies of normal human behaviour intended to discover new phenomena rather than alter them should not be classified in this way. Among other concerns, small institutions that do not normally perform clinical trials may not have the resources or knowledge to fully comply.

These concerns are overblown, said Michael Lauer, NIH deputy director for extramural research at a 1 September NIH advisory council meeting in Bethesda, Maryland. The only regulation were talking about is reporting that the trial exists and telling the world about the results. It is as simple as this and as profound as this. He said that his office would work with behavioural scientists to ensure their studies were getting the proper review and that their research could be properly registered.

But advisory council member Terry Jernigan, a cognitive scientist at the University of California San Diego, told Lauer that it was not as simple as that. She said the policy has already caused problems for a study shes leading that tracks normal brain development in adolescents. When her group had the parents sign the required clinical trial consent form, some expressed concerns that the language indicated that something was being done to their children, rather than just having researchers observe them.

The NIH, in response to some of those concerns, will release a list of study examples that qualify as clinical trials under the new policy next week. The NIH definition of a clinical trial may be broader than other clinical trial definitions because it reflects NIH’s mission, encompassing biomedical and behavioral outcomes as they pertain to human health, said the NIH in a statement to Nature News. This definition does not encompass all psychological and cognitive research that is funded by NIH.

Jeremy Wolfe, a vision researcher at Brigham and Womens Hospital in Boston, says he is encouraged to hear Lauer say the NIH plans to work with researchers in his field, but says that the details of the policy will be key. Were worried about whether those details can be worked out by the January deadline, he says.

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Brain researchers in uproar over NIH clinical trials policy – Nature.com

Mnoa volcanologists receive top international awards – UH System Current News

Two volcanologists from the University of Hawaii at Mnoas Department of Geology and Geophysics have received two of the top three awards from the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earths Interior (IAVCEI). Bruce Houghton, the Gordon A. MacDonald Professor of Volcanology and science director of the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center at UH Mnoa was honored recently with the IAVCEI Thorarinsson Medal. Sbastien Biass, a post-doctoral researcher, was honored George Walker Medal.

Bruce Houghton near Ruapehu, New Zealand.

The Thorarinsson Medal is awarded only once every four years by IAVCEI for outstanding contributions to volcanology, and is the highest award in international volcanology.

A giant of volcanology, Bruce has tackled big problems in geology with innovative approaches and technologies, and is truly a scientist of outstanding distinction, stated University of Tasmanias Rebecca Carey in her nomination letter. His research has not only generated a wealth of new scientific understanding, but also critically Thorarinsson-type pioneering advances in long-standing cornerstone volcanologic concepts.

Further, Houghton has pioneered research across the interface of fundamental volcanological science and hazards, social and behavioral science, leading to a world-first detailed training course for scientists, first responders and emergency managers, titled the U.S. FEMA Volcanic Crisis Awareness course.

Houghton and his predecessor at UH Mnoa, George Walker, are among the only nine volcanologists to-date given the Thorarinsson award, an award named for the noted Icelandic geologist and volcanologist Sigurdur Thorarinsson.

Houghton reflected on becoming a Thorarinsson Medalist; I was delighted and surprised by the award. All my research is collaborative and, since moving to UH 70 percent of my papers have been first-authored by my students or postdocs, and these are not the type of statistics that usually lead to such awards. I was particularly pleased because allthree of my mentors in volcanology are in the list of eight prior winners of the medal; it is quite humbling to be joining them. For UH to have been awarded two of the nine Thorarinsson Medal to-date is, I think, a sign that volcanology is in excellent health here in Hawaii. The challenge now is to find ways to build on this reputation and capture for UH some of the wonderful crop of young volcanologists on the market.

Sbastien Biass

The George Walker Awardis given every two years to a young scientist up to seven years after acquiring a doctoral degree. The award recognizes achievements of a recent outstanding graduate in the fields of research encompassed by IAVCEI.

Biass, post-doctoral researcher working with Houghton at UH Mnoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, was honored for achievements that are all deeply rooted in field studies and because of his unique appreciation with the importance of statistical and critical treatment of field data within the growing field of numerical modelling, cited professor Costanza Bonadonna of the University of Geneva. His unique approach, stems from combining thorough field studies with state-of-the-art numerical modeling, furthering both deposit characterization and the newly-born discipline of hazard and risk assessment that he is pioneering. What makes Sbastien unique in his science is his open mind and multidisciplinary approach, his scientific curiosity and enthusiasm and his dedication to going beyond his own limits.

Biass commented, My vision of the IAVCEI George Walker Award for early career scientist is closely tied to my vision of scientific research, which contains three components. First, scientific curiosity is one of the greatest source of pleasure in life and provides the motivation to attempt understanding the unknown. Second, luck, in the selection of work colleagues, has been an integral part of my research. Specifically, Costanza Bonadonna and Bruce Houghton, both part of the UH family in either past or present, have shown me how working on interesting science with bright people is an invaluable source of satisfaction. Thirdly, I see research as having a global objective of the wellbeing of society, which in volcanology translates to a better understanding of the physics of hazardous processes occurring during eruptions in order to mitigate better the impacts on exposed communities. This award therefore represents a success on these three levels and belongs as much to everyone I have ever looked up to as it does to me. Having been picked amongst a long list of such successful young scientists humbles me and gives great motivation to pursue my scientific career.

The award honors the memory of former UH Mnoa geology professor George Walker, whose discoveries pioneered a modern quantitative approach to physical volcanology and greatly accelerated understanding of volcanic processes.

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Mnoa volcanologists receive top international awards – UH System Current News

Developing technology with advisors at heart – Financial Planning

DALLAS They are young and committed to the technology they’ve spent years and their own money developing. But unlike some other fintech entrepreneurs, they have no ambition to upend wealth management.

Assembled at the annual conference for the XY Planning Network, some of the finalists vying for top prize in its fintech competition are in fact RIAs themselves.

Mark Friedenthal is both president of an eponymously-named RIA firm in New Jersey and CEO of Tolerisk, a startup he launched to develop better risk assessment software for advisors.

Jantz Hoffman runs his Washington-state based RIA, a non-profit and a startup called CSLA Tech, developing a tool for advisors to better help clients struggling with student debt.

They balance the multiple roles, driven by common beliefs that advisors need better technology to stay competitive and that they can help them better than anyone else.

“The top of the class understands they need to embrace technology,” Friedenthal says. “It’s very difficult to provide competitive advice without technology. But it is easier and becoming more intuitive to use for advisors and clients.”

Hoffman agrees, adding that advisors will need new tech tools to address the needs of the next generation of wealth management clients. “We want to teach others what I’ve learned,” he says. “We want to be able to provide them with a tool to do the work.”

Friedenthal, who says one of the key innovations in his software is its ability to perform two levels of risk tolerance, sees all advisors working for the best interests of clients.

“We’ve made a big bet that the future of advice and planning is entrenched in the fiduciary standard and culture,” he says. “If you believe that’s the future, everybody is going to need technology to do that.”

Motivating Hoffman is his idea that RIAs are best situated to help young investors burdened by large amounts of student debt, a client that the industry has traditionally shunned, he says.

“It’s short-sighted, as everyone now has student loans,” he says. “The old guard doesn’t see the big picture. The assets will come. I have nurses, teachers, doctors, lawyers, all have tons of debt. But if I can help them minimize that, I’ll have built those relationships, and that will help me build assets.”

LABOR OF LOVEThe effort to bring better behavioral science to advisors is partly a personal mission for Sarah Stanley Fallaw, whose platform DataPoints is based on the work done by her father, Thomas J. Stanley, which he used to write his best-selling book The Millionaire Next Door.

“It’s a labor of love, it is something he would’ve been proud of,” Fallaw says. “He would want to get this in the hands of people to improve the way they live their lives.”

Fallaw sees advisors opening up to the potential of behavioral finance tools and data as they look for ways to provide more insightful advice.

“They are slowly changing to where they value science,” she says. “You can pinpoint behaviors that an advisor can use to help coach clients. Talking about spending is not as exciting as investment returns, but it gets at the heart of how well an individual is managing their life.”

Advisors can better manage their practices too, says Elsa Chan, senior vice president of business development at Vestwell, a digital retirement platform.

Coming to wealth management, Chan realized how much advisors have to take on and why they need better tools.

“They are all entrepreneurs themselves, all working for commissions,” Chan says. “I was amazed at the amount of work that they have to do just to set up and build the business. Helping them grow their business is very rewarding.”

She hopes that the advisor tech industry can adopt the collaborative tone she found among her competitors, particularly around integration.

“There are different options out there for advisors, but a lot of tools are siloed,” she says. “Advisors do not want a login for every tool; they want a single dashboard to their clients and to be able to efficiently manage those assets through one platform.”

Suleman Din is managing editor of SourceMedia’s Investment Advisor Group. Follow him on Twitter at @sulemandn

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Developing technology with advisors at heart – Financial Planning

Text Messaging Initiative Will Nudge STEM Students Toward Success – Campus Technology

STEM

A new project is tapping into mobile technology to increase community college completion for students in STEM fields. Nudging to STEM Success a joint initiative from Persistence Plus, maker of a mobile app for student success, and nonprofit Jobs for the Future will use text messages to help students “navigate the complexities of college, succeed in STEM studies and move toward college graduation,” according to a news announcement. The project is funded by the Helmsley Charitable Trust.

The Persistence Plus platform sends students interactive text messages to “nudge” them along the path to degree completion. The software takes into account students’ real-time responses and provides personalized support according to each user’s individual needs. For the Nudging to STEM Success project, the text message nudges will “employ strategies based on behavioral science and social psychology to address challenges that students encounter in introductory STEM courses,” the announcement said. The goal is to help students:

“A nudge designed to encourage students to seek help and build their academic network might say: ‘JTCC students who meet with a STEM professor outside of class find it rewarding and helpful. Will you commit to talking to a prof in the next week?'” the announcement explained. “This language based on research on the power of social norms and implementation intentions establishes networking with a professor as a normal and expected part of the college experience, as well as asks the student to commit to a specific plan for doing so.”

Four community colleges will receive $50,000 grants to implement the nudges of the next two years: Lakeland Community College (OH), Lorain County Community College (OH), Stark State College (OH) and John Tyler Community College (VA). Students at the colleges will start receiving text message nudges this fall. Jobs for the Future plans to document and share “best practices for how colleges implement the nudges and integrate the platform into existing student support and retention strategies.” In addition, a blog series will feature success stories from the program.

“College completion rates and STEM success are two deeply important factors for the fundamental future of our workforce,” said Maria Flynn, president and CEO of Jobs for the Future, in a statement. “As JFF is now focusing on more partnerships between traditional systems and innovative disrupters, such as with Persistence Plus, we are excited to work with them to implement cutting-edge technology on a large scale, which could potentially generate lasting, positive results for students across the country in years to come.”

“Supporting community college students’ success in STEM goes beyond academics,” commented Jill Frankfort, president and co-founder of Persistence Plus. “Research shows that students, particularly those underrepresented in STEM, need to develop an image of themselves as a STEM learner, connect with STEM mentors and peers, and make a clear link between their studies and their goals for themselves and their communities. This partnership is an exciting opportunity for leveraging this knowledge to help tens of thousands of students stay on the pathway to a degree and a rewarding STEM career.”

For more information on the Nudging to STEM Success initiative, visit the Jobs for the Future site.

About the Author

About the author: Rhea Kelly is executive editor for Campus Technology. She can be reached at rkelly@1105media.com.

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Text Messaging Initiative Will Nudge STEM Students Toward Success – Campus Technology

Sales Incentives and Machine Learning: Intelligently Motivate Revenue-Driving Behaviors – Customer Think

Imagine you are trying to get children to do household chores for the summer. You decide to offer them an incentive of $5 per completed chore. At the beginning of summer, this works great; work is getting done and the kids enjoy the reward. However, after a few weeks, the system has fallen apart. The children only do the chores they enjoy, they neglect other jobs, and the quality of their work has decreased. Should you change the reward amount? Should different chores have different incentives? Should each child receive different rewards? Did this system work better last year? What do your neighbors do to get their kids to do chores?

In this simple example of human behavior, there is a broken incentive system and a lack of data to help determine how things should change. This scenario is not a far comparison to many organizations sales compensation systems. Every year, new compensation plans roll out to the sales teams who go out and sell based on how they believe they will be compensated. As of 2017, 90 percent of U.S. companies change their compensation plans on an annual basis. But are these adjustments optimal are they going to lead to desired business outcomes? Is there a better way to identify which changes need to be made, and when to make them?

Traditionally, sales compensation changes are based more on intuition than data, but often there is some level of analysis that goes into designing and adjusting incentives. However, most reports today are all hindsight and adjustments are made well after there is any potential to change behavior before the end of the quarter or end of the year. What if optimal changes could be identified mid-period and put in place well before it is too late? Better yet, what if the incentive compensation solution itself could identify, recommend and implement plan changes? The most practical way to do this is with machine learning.

The concept of machine learning is not exactly new in the world of technology. It has been around in a variety of forms for decades, but its application to enterprise software is relatively new, particularly with sales incentive management, and its popularity is growing. There are many factors making machine learning realistically applicable in the business world changes in the economics of cloud computing (cheaper than ever before), cloud storage, proliferation of sensors driving Internet of Things (IoT), pervasive use of mobile devices that consume gigabytes of data in minutes, and freely available algorithms are all major contributors to accelerating machine learning adoption. Add to these the complex problems companies face including managing sales compensation, and the perfect environment is in place for machine learning to dramatically proliferate.

Machine learning is all about applying learned data to prescribe more economically efficient business decisions. Sales incentives apply the disciplines of psychology and behavioral economics to prompt people to make desired decisions. When you combine principles of behavioral economics with the data science of machine learning, you create the potential to optimize your sales incentives and drive powerful business outcomes.

Machine learning allows us to assess large sets of data and surface patterns, identifying when past performance is indicative of future results. For instance, machine learning can accurately forecast what products are most likely to be sold and which customers are most likely to buy. But what if you not only want to understand potential outcomes, what if you want to completely change outcomes?

What is going to motivate your sales team to do what you need them to? The difference between expectations and reality is often referred to as the behavioral gap (see chart below). When the behavioral gap is significant, an inflection point is needed to close that gap. The right incentive (an added bonus, Presidents Club eligibility, a promotion, etc.) can initiate an inflection point and influence a change in behavior.

The behavior gap depicted above represents the difference between raised expectations (management increasing quota) and the trajectory of current sales performance.

In the US, studies from Harvard Business Review and other industry publications estimate that companies spend over one trillion dollars annually on incentives. That number is four times the money spent on advertising in the US annually. What that means is that, as a nation, we are deeply invested in motivating our employees, partners and customers. Incentives are most effective when they are intelligent, or data driven. Deloitte University Press published a report stating that when it comes to the relationship between data science and behavioral science, it is reasonable to anticipate better results when the two approaches are treated as complementary and applied in tandem. Behavioral science principles should be part of the data scientists toolkit, and vice versa.

With Machine learning and behavior mechanics, sales teams can plot out the path from one goal to the next and analyze and implement proper incentives. As an example, lets say your company is a furniture manufacturer that uses a CPQ tool to manage its complex quoting and pricing processes. One of the major reasons your company invested in the CPQ solution was to curb chronic, costly discounting by the sales team. You are a new sales rep using CPQ to build a quote. What if, mid-quote, your system alerts you that the discount you entered, while within the approved range, may not be ideal. Machine learning ran in the background and identified a different discount used by the top 10% of reps that has had more success. Additionally, you learn that if you choose the prescribed discount, you will earn 40% more commission! Talk about a relevant incentive, based on powerful data.

When applied together, machine learning and sales incentives provide powerful business results by collecting relevant, timely insight and defining incentives that align human behaviors with organizational goals.

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Sales Incentives and Machine Learning: Intelligently Motivate Revenue-Driving Behaviors – Customer Think

Basic studies of how our brains work are now clinical trials, NIH says – Science Magazine

Studies of how a normal persons brain processes images could be labeled clinical trials under a new National Institutes of Health policy.

Vassar College/Karl Rabe

By Jocelyn KaiserAug. 25, 2017 , 1:55 PM

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, has confirmed that the agencys definition of clinical trials now includes imaging studies of normal brain function that do not test new treatments. The change will impose new requirements that many researchers say dont make sense and could stifle cognitive neuroscience.

Although NIH revised its definition of clinical trials in 2014, the agency is only now implementing it as part of a new clinical trials policy. Concerns arose this summer when an NIH official said the definition could apply to many basic behavioral research projects, including brain studiesfor example, having healthy volunteers perform a computer task while wearing an electrode cap or lying in an MRI machine. Scientists say the new requirementssuch as training and registration on clinicaltrials.govare unnecessary, will impose a huge paperwork burden, and will confuse patients seeking to enroll in trials.

NIH told ScienceInsider in July that the agency was still deciding exactly which behavioral studies would be covered by the new definition. On 11 August, the agency released a set of case studies that has confirmed many researchers fears. Case No. 18 states that a study in which a healthy volunteer undergoes MRI brain imaging while performing a working memory test is now a clinical trial because the effect being evaluatedbrain functionis a health-related outcome.

This example suggests that almost all basic science behavioral research and experimental psychopathology research would be viewed misleadingly as a clinical trial, wrote neuroscientist William Iacono of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in one of more than 30 comments expressing concern on the Open Mike blog of NIH extramural chief Michael Lauer.

Critics also find NIHs reasoning inconsistent. Case No. 22 states that a study of learning in children will not be considered a trial because an evaluation of learning has no clear link to health. It is not clear why a study of memory in adults would be health-related and yet learning in children would not, several researchers argued in comments.

Cognitive psychologist Nora Newcombe of Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who studies childhood learning, writes that although its nice to be exempted from the regulatory burden, she worries that if her research isnt considered health-related, will there later be criticism of funding from NIH?

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) in Washington, D.C., shares concerns about the case studies. They dont provide as much clarity as the research community would need to know which projects must follow the new clinical trial policies, says Heather Pierce, AAMCs senior director for science policy.

NIHs Lauer says the agency is trying to address the concerns. We are continuing to receive feedback on the case studies and anticipate updating them, including Case 18, in the next 2 weeks and as needed on an ongoing basis to eliminate confusion, Lauer said in a statement.

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Basic studies of how our brains work are now clinical trials, NIH says – Science Magazine

How Overcoming Demands on Attention Can Help Alleviate Poverty – Newswise (press release)

Newswise If the interest rate banks paid on customers deposits were to soar from 0.3 percent to 5 percent, you would expect that most people would start saving more. But, it turns out, most people arent that calculating.

In a recent field experiment in Chile, a large majority of people did not increase their savings in response to the higher interest rate. What did prompt them to save more? It was when their peers were watching. Savings almost doubled when the participants in the experiment announced their savings goals to a self-help group and had their progress publicly monitored.

It is just one example of how behavioral science can help policymakers spur changes that impede economic development around the world.

In the paper, Overcoming behavioral obstacles to escaping poverty, published in the journal Behavioral Science & Policy, University of Chicago Booth School of Business Assistant Professor Christopher Bryan and coauthors from several universities and development organizations, find policies aimed at serving the poor are more effective when they take into account the human tendency to procrastinate and the limits poverty puts on attention spans.

The scholars focus on two well-studied psychological phenomenapresent bias and limited attentionthat have wide ranging implications for international development policy.

Everyone has limited attentional bandwidth, but wealthy people, freed from having to spend this precious attention on acquiring food, shelter and other basics, have more attention available for handling unexpected hassles and making strategic decisions to improve their circumstances, the authors write.

Likewise, people often fail to expend small amounts of money, time or effort up front to obtain much larger benefits in the future. This human tendency towards present bias is common in rich and poor populations alike, but has a larger negative effect on people with low incomes.

The authors outline simple interventions that policymakers can take to overhaul international development policy with these behaviors in mind. Removing obstacles upfrontsuch as lowering upfront costs, simplifying or eliminating complicated paperwork, and timing the delivery of subsidies to correspond to when major payments (like school fees) will be dueimprove outcomes.

How does it work?

The bottom line here is that, by taking into account even just a couple of important behavioral principles, we can improve the effectiveness of many development programs and policiesoften dramatically, said Bryan. More exciting than that: we can often achieve those gains in effectiveness at little or no added cost once the policies are in place.

The other co-authors of the research are Nina Mazar, World Bank and University of Toronto; Julian Jamison, World Bank and Innovations for Poverty Action; Jeanine Braithwaite, University of Virginia; Nadine Dechausay, MDRC; Alissa Fishbane, ideas42; Elizabeth Fox, United States Agency for International Development; Varun Gauri, World Bank; Rachel Glennerster, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Johannes Haushofer, Princeton University, National Bureau of Economic Research, and Busara Center for Economics; Dean Karlan, Yale University and Innovations for Poverty Action; Renos Vakis, World Bank. The authors are members of the BPSA Working Group on International Development.

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How Overcoming Demands on Attention Can Help Alleviate Poverty – Newswise (press release)

Diverse programming and experiential learning top of mind for SEHHB Interim Dean Paul Rose – RiverBender.com

EDWARDSVILLE – The Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Education, Health and Human Behaviors (SEHHB) diverse programming offers students powerful learning opportunities that are not readily available elsewhere, according to Interim Dean Paul Rose, PhD.

In his interim role as leader of the School, Rose is focused on working collectively with faculty and staff to orient academic programs around student needs. A key component in fostering student success, he says, is the infusion of experiential learning opportunities into the programming which covers education, health sciences and behavioral science.

Students in the School of Education, Health and Human Behavior get a diversity of experiences from our wide range of disciplines, Rose said. We continue to expand opportunities for students through new programming and innovative learning environments.

Were particularly excited about the imminent launch of a public health graduate program. This will add to our health science offerings and allow us to contribute public health leaders to the region. Additionally, our new nutrition laboratory is providing applied learning experiences for students in our growing nutrition program.

The School also prides itself on community engagement activities and outreach clinics that not only create hands-on experiences for students, but also provide tremendous value to members of the community.

Were grateful for the partners we have throughout the region and want to continue to build on those relationships, said Rose. These partnerships allow our students to become involved in the community and apply their knowledge in the field.

Also contributing to student success, is the Schools unique emphasis on student mentoring through faculty and professional advising, as well as research supervision.

Through strong mentorships, students are able to get the advice they need to be highly effective in achieving their goals, Rose explained. Were enthusiastic about educating citizens who will contribute to their communities and become highly effective employees within the diversity of disciplines that our School represents.

The SIUE School of Education, Health and Human Behavior prepares students in a wide range of fields including public health, exercise science, nutrition, instructional technology, psychology, speech-language pathology and audiology, educational administration, and teaching. Faculty members engage in leading-edge research, which enhances teaching and enriches the educational experience. The School supports the community through on-campus clinics, outreach to children and families, and a focused commitment to enhancing individual lives across the region.

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Sylvia Sims Bolton appointed new Waukegan 1st Ward alderman – Chicago Tribune

A clinical therapeutic counselor with the Gateway Foundation and anger management educator at the Lake County jail has been named Waukegan’s new 1st Ward alderman.

The City Council voted unanimously this week to approve Sylvia Sims Bolton to fill the seat left vacant when Sam Cunningham, who had served as the ward’s alderman for 18 years, was elected the city’s next mayor in April.

“She is a long-time resident and an incredibly capable individual and, most important, she’s a wonderful person,” Cunningham said ahead of Monday’s vote.

As a child, Bolton moved to Waukegan where she attended what was then Carman Elementary School, Webster Junior High School and Waukegan West High School, according to a biography provided by the city.

She moved back into the 1st Ward 19 years ago when she was selected as a Habitat for Humanity partner, and helped volunteers renovate the house that would become her home, she said.

“I just wanted to improve my life for myself and my children,” Bolton said. “I was a single parent. I wanted to own my own home.”

The move happened while she was pursuing her undergraduate work, said Bolton, who has three grown children and seven grandchildren. She recently married David Bolton.

Emily K. Coleman/News-Sun

Sylvia Sims Bolton has an associate’s degree from the College of Lake County in counseling, a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science from National Lewis University, a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Dominican University and an honorary doctorate degree in practical counseling from Open Arms Bible College and Seminary.

According to a biography provided by Bolton, she currently works as a therapeutic clinical addiction counselor for Gateway Foundation in Lake Villa and as a chaplain and educator at the Lake County jail with Nicasa, formerly known as the Northern Illinois Council Against Substance Abuse.

She’s never served in an elected position before, but has volunteered as an local elections judge in the past, she said.

Bolton, who plans on running for the seat when it’s up for eleciton in April 2019, said she thinks the skills she’s learned through her work, her “people person” personality and her connections to the community will help make her a good alderman.

“I’m interested in the residents and empowering them for one thing helping my community improve,” she said. “I’d like to see better communication between residents and city officials. I’d to improve safety, less violence, less drug activity, less prostitution. I’d like to see the businesses collaborate together in supporting the community, and I’d definitely like to see the church community to come together and support the residents there.”

Her plan is to get businesses and churches working together and playing a more visible role in the community through block parties and events designed to help residents come together, she said.

“I think if we could get everyone on the same page instead of reinventing the wheel, that would build us a stronger community,” Bolton said. “We won’t be so divided.”

emcoleman@tribpub.com

Twitter @mekcoleman

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Sylvia Sims Bolton appointed new Waukegan 1st Ward alderman – Chicago Tribune

Science and Society on the Vineyard – Martha's Vineyard Times

Betty Burton is the coordinator of the Adult Lecture Series at the VHPL.

Marthas Vineyard is proud of how it preserves tradition: We cherish life in the slow lane. But this is 2017 and we are part of the modern world, and the latest scientific advancements affect us as much as they do anyone.To explore how science touches all of us in our everyday lives, the Vineyard Haven Public Library, funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation, is in the middle of an ambitious summer program on the themes of science and society, science, and everyday life. The grant, administered by a program called Rural Gateways, with the theme of Pushing the Limits, also funds similar programs in 110 other rural libraries. It allows us to participate in a nationwide reading, viewing, and discussion series. Since the beginning of time, humans have imagined and achieved ways to push the boundaries of the physical world.We want to be stronger, smarter, more aware; with great new advances in science and technology, we are finding ways in which all of us are able to push the limits every day. The Pushing the Limits program will explore these ideas in discussions that will include recommended popular books and feature film-quality videos with authors, scientists, and everyday people who thrive on exploring the natural world.Rural Gateways, Pushing the Limits, is funded not only by NSF but also was created through a collaboration of Dartmouth College, the Califa Library Group, the Association of Rural and Small Libraries, Dawson Media Group, and the Institute for Learning Innovation. The speaker series sponsored by this grant will feature programs both this summer and next winter. A science reading group is also meeting on Mondays at 3 pm every three weeks until Sept. 11.Some of the programs so far:Jonathan White presented our very first program, Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean. Mr. White a lifelong mariner traveled the globe for 20 years to examine one of the most primal forces on the planet. The result is a gorgeous exploration of the science, mystery, and history of earths oceanic tides.

In July, Dr. Daniel Goleman presented Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Transforms Mind, Body, and Brain. Dr. Goleman is an author, psychologist, and science journalist. For 12 years, he wrote for the New York Times, reporting on the brain and behavioral sciences. He is probably best known for his books on emotional intelligence. He has recently written a book with the Dalai Lama, A Force for Good.

On August 10, award-winning science journalist Peter Brannen, presented his new book, The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and our Quest to Understand Earths Past Mass Extinctions. As new, groundbreaking research suggests that climate change played a major role in the most extreme catastrophes in the planets history, Peter took us on a wild ride through the planets five mass extinctions and, in the process, offered us a glimpse of our increasingly dangerous future.

On August 17, Donald Berwick, MD, MPP FRCP, president emeritus and senior fellow, Institute for Healthcare Improvement, and former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, spoke about Health Care as it Should Be. A pediatrician, Dr. Berwick has served on the faculty of the Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, and on the staff of Bostons Childrens Hospital Medical Center.

On Thursday, August 24, at 7 pm, Dr. Henry Kriegsteins subject will be Digging for Dinosaurs in the Badlands. Dr. Kriegstein will describe his passion for paleontology, organizing private digs in the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana, and collecting dinosaur fossils. One fossil, which Dr. Kriegstein bought from a collector in Tucson, turned out to be a completely new, previously undiscovered mini T.rex, now named Raptorex kriegsteini. Every summer, Dr. Kriegstein returns to the Badlands and continues his search for fossils. He considers it a philosophical perspective on the mystery of life and the beauty of the mineral-laced fossils.

On Wednesday, August 30, at 7 pm at the Katharine Cornell Theatre, the library will host a panel CRISPR and Genetic Editing: Uncharted Waters. Leading scientists and bioethicists from Harvard, MIT, Harvard Kennedy School, Stanford and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will discuss the astounding new techniques that make editing DNA nearly as easy as editing an email (well, that is if you have a degree in molecular genetics). Along with vast potential for curing disease, feeding the world, and eliminating pollution come vexing issues of fairness, safety and morality.

Included on this panel will be Dr. Sheila Jasanoff from Harvards Kennedy School. She is one of the worlds leading bioethicists. Simply put, her job is to think and talk about the ethics of the work being done with gene editing. Professor Kevin Esvelt from the MIT Media Lab is director of the Sculpting Evolution group, which invents new ways to study and influence the evolution of ecosystems. His current project is developing mice that are immune to Lyme disease and releasing them on Nantucket. Professor Neel Aluru, of the Biological Labs at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, is in the field of environmental epigenetics, which involves studying how environmental factors interact with DNA, turning genes on or off. WHOI is one of the premiere institutions in the world for this kind of research. Professor Jeantine Lunshof, is an assistant professor at the Department of Genetics, University Medical Center Groningen, the Netherlands, and currently a visiting professor at Harvard. She is a philosopher and bioethicist, based in the synthetic biology laboratory of Dr. George Church. As an embedded ethicist, Dr. Lunshof works with scientists at all stages of their research to help identify potential areas of concern. MV Times science columnist, Professor Emeritus Paul Levine from Stanford, will open with introductory remarks about the short history of genetic engineering from the 70s. John Sundman will moderate the panel. His background includes writing and speaking at various institutions about CRISPR. This presentation is funded in part by a grant from National Science Foundation and Califa Library Groups.

As part of this grant, we have started a Science Book Club. So far we have read When the Killings Done by T. C. Boyle and Thunderstruck by Erik Larson. For each meeting we have viewed interviews by the authors, who discuss their take on the science in their stories. On Monday, August 28, at 3 pm we will discuss Arctic Drift by Clive Cussler. The topic of this section is Survival and how it fits into our worlds of science. On Monday, Sept. 11, at 3 pm we will discuss Land of the Painted Caves by Jean Auel and our subject will be Knowledge.

The series will continue into 2018 with more books and speakers to come.

Im happy to say that getting this grant has prompted me to re-establish our connection to the Woods Hole Marine Biological Lab and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, both world-class research institutions that you can almost see with the naked eye from Vineyard Haven.

This series has special importance to me. Long before moving to the Vineyard I was a research scientist in molecular biology labs in Indiana, North Carolina, and Boston. A lot of the work I did was pure research on viral DNA, with no immediate real-world impact. But in North Carolina I was part of a research team that worked on a vaccine for Haemophilus influenza Type B. Before the vaccine, it was the leading cause of meningitis and other invasive bacterial diseases among children younger than 5. But my biggest thrill came when I was a graduate student. I was invited to present my research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1978. That was the mecca for all DNA researchers then. I was in the middle of giving my talk when I looked up and saw Francis Crick at the back of the room, standing next to James Watson [geneticists who won the Nobel Prize for solvin
g the structure of DNA], both of them looking right at me. I nearly fainted.

For more information and schedules in one place, visit vhlibrary.org.

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Science and Society on the Vineyard – Martha’s Vineyard Times

Scientists give star treatment to lesser-known cells crucial for brain development – Seacoastonline.com

After decades of relative neglect, star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes are getting their due. To gather insight into a critical aspect of brain development, a team of scientists examined the maturation of astrocytes in 3-D structures grown in culture dishes to resemble human brain tissue. The study, which confirms the lab-grown cells develop at the same rate as those found in human brains, was published in Neuron and funded in part by the National Institutes of Healths National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

This work addresses a significant gap in human brain research by providing an invaluable technique to investigate the role of astrocytes in both normal development and disease, said NINDS program director Jill Morris, Ph.D.

In 2015, a team directed by Dr. Sergiu Pasca, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stanford University in California, and Dr. Ben Barres, Ph.D., a Stanford professor of neurobiology, published a method for taking adult skin cells, converting them to induced pluripotent stem cells, and then growing them as 3-D clusters of brain cells called human cortical spheroids (hCSs). These hCSs, which closely resemble miniature versions of a particular brain region, can be grown for many months. The cells in the cluster eventually develop into neurons, astrocytes, and other cells found in the human brain.

One of the challenges of studying the human brain is the difficulty of examining it at different stages of development, Dr. Pasca said. This is a system that tries to simulate brain development step by step.

In the new study, Steven Sloan, a student in Stanfords M.D./Ph.D. program, led a series of experiments comparing astrocytes from hCSs to those found in tissue from the developing and adult human brain. The team grew the hCSs for 20 months, one of the longest-ever studies of lab-grown human brain cells.

The results verified that the lab-grown cells change over time in a similar manner to cells taken directly from brain tissue during very early life, a critical time for brain growth. This process is considered critical for normal brain development and deviations are thought to cause a variety of neurological and mental health disorders, such as schizophrenia and autism. Creating hCSs using cells from patients could allow scientists to uncover the underlying developmental biology at the core of these disorders.

The hCS system makes it possible to replay astrocyte development from any patient, Dr. Barres said. Thats huge. Theres no other way one could ever do that without this method.

The current study showed that hCS-grown astrocytes develop at the same rate as those found in human brains, in terms of their gene activity, their shapes, and their functions. For example, astrocytes taken from hCSs that were less than six months old multiplied rapidly and were highly engaged in eliminating unnecessary connections between neurons, just like astrocytes in babies growing in the womb. But astrocytes grown in hCSs for more than nine months could not reproduce and removed significantly fewer of those connections, mirroring astrocytes in infants 6 to 12 months old. On the other hand, just like astrocytes from developing and adult brains, the early- and late-stage astrocytes from hCSs were equally effective at encouraging new connections to form between neurons.

Astrocytes are not just bystanders in the brain, Dr. Pasca said. Theyre not just there to keep neurons warm; they actually participate actively in neurological function.

Since astrocytes make up a greater proportion of brain cells in humans than in other species, it may reflect a greater need for astrocytes in normal human brain function, with more significant consequences when they dont work correctly, added David Panchision, Ph.D., program director at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which also helped fund the study.

The researchers caution that hCSs are only a model and lack many features of real brains. Moreover, certain genes that are active in fully mature astrocytes never switched on in the hCS-grown astrocytes, which they could conceivably do if the cells had more time to develop. To address this question, the researchers now hope to identify ways to produce mature brain cells more quickly. hCSs could also be used to scrutinize precisely what causes astrocytes to change over time and to screen drugs that might correct any differences that occur in brain disease.

These are questions that are going to be very exciting to explore, Dr. Barres said.

The study was funded by NINDS, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, the MQ Fellow Award, and Stanford University.

The NINDS is the nations leading funder of research on the brain and nervous system. The mission of NINDS is to seek fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease.

The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For information, visit the NIMH website.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences supports basic research that increases understanding of biological processes and lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention. For information, visit the NIGMS website.

The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) was established to transform the translational process so that new treatments and cures for disease can be delivered to patients faster. For information, visit the NCATS website.

The National Institutes of Health, the nation’s medical research agency, encompasses 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.

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Scientists give star treatment to lesser-known cells crucial for brain development – Seacoastonline.com


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