Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lucy: Debunking the 10 percent brain myth

If video does not appear on screen, click here.

"It is estimated most human beings use only 10 percent of the brain’s capacity.” Morgan Freeman pronounced it in his God-like voice so it must be true, right?

Definitely not, says Emory neurologist Krish Sathian. The premise of the new sci-fi movie “Lucy,” starring Freeman and Scarlett Johansson, is based on a widespread, lingering myth that we tap into only a tiny fraction of our neurons.

“We are probably using all of our brain much of the time, and much of our brain all of the time,” Sathian says. “Even when you’re engaged in a task, and some neurons are engaged in that task, the rest of your brain is occupied doing other things. That’s why, for example, the solution to a problem can emerge after you haven’t been thinking about it for a while, or after a night’s sleep. That’s because your brain’s constantly active.”

Watch the above video, part of the Emory Looks at Hollywood series, to learn more.

The science and ethics of X-Men
Nazi eugenics versus the American Dream

Tuberculosis: A rising concern on U.S. southern border

Click here if video does not appear on screen

Cases of tuberculosis have been steadily decreasing in the United States – except along the southern border and within the Mexican-born population where cases are on the rise.

“Most alarming is the increase in multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis on both sides of the border,” says Polly Price, an Emory law professor and an expert on immigration. “Multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis is very expensive to treat. It’s a very debilitating disease, many people don’t survive. It’s a problem that needs to be addressed at the national level.”

Tuberculosis requires a long course of treatment, 12 months or more, so continuity of care is the primary issue along the border, Price says. She is developing a guide to U.S. laws pertaining to tuberculosis treatment for states along the border.

“California, Arizona, Mew Mexico and Texas all have slightly different procedures for how to treat tuberculosis, what do to with a non-compliant patient, how to follow that patient and make sure the treatment regimen is followed,” Price says. “So just coordinating laws on the U.S. side is something of a big task.”

Price is also working on a best-practices guide for health care workers dealing with the situation along the border. “The law should help in this situation, it should not hinder in the efforts to provide tuberculosis care,” Price says.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Apes vs. humans: Finding common ground

Is war ever truly inevitable?

That question is central to “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” opening this weekend. The movie is the latest in the “Apes” drama series featuring a character named Caesar, an ape raised by humans who leads a simian rebellion against the human race.

Fear and misunderstanding can easily lead to violence, says Emory political scientist Shawn Ramirez, an expert on conflict resolution. In this video, Ramirez considers the plot to “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” as a mirror to real-life situations.

“I think it’s really hard when one side sees the other as a lesser – a lesser species or a lesser race or a lesser ethnicity or religion,” Ramirez says. “It’s very hard to overcome that.”

What can one side do when they face that issue?

“I think Hollywood captures this, actually,” Ramirez says, “because usually it’s some central characters that move over to the other side and they start communicating to the other side and realize that there is something more valuable there.”

A wild view of "Planet of the Apes"

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Resilience: The new development buzzword in the era of climate change

Haile Gebrselassie, shown celebrating after winning a gold medal in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, rose from poverty in rural Ethiopia to become an international hero. (Photo by Darren England/AllSport.)

By Carol Clark

Haile Gebrselassie, the former Olympic long-distance runner, grew up poor in Ethiopia. He was one of ten children of a farmer, and developed his athleticism by running 20-miles, round-trip, from his rural home to school each day.

Now 41, Gebrselassie was a featured speaker at the 2020 Conference on Building Resilience for Food and Nutrition Security, held in Addis Ababa last month.

“We had just enough land,” Gebrselassie recalled of his subsistence childhood. The population of Ethiopia has since grown, the country is rapidly urbanizing, and the size of family farms are getting smaller. “On top of that, nowadays there are many other problems,” he said. “My province used to have very nice and cool weather, but the temperature has risen.”

Droughts and other extreme weather events are more frequent, and yet, Gebrselassie is returning to his roots, investing his earnings as an international sports star into an Ethiopian coffee plantation. “I’m doing the same thing I did before, that is farming,” he said in his address. “I’m planting coffee. It’s a better farm, a better way, a modern way.”

Anthropologist Peter Little and long-distance runner Haile Gebrselassie at the conference in Addis Ababa.

“His personal experience of not just getting through a life of poverty, but becoming a holder of 23 world records and two gold medals in the Olympics, is a powerful story of resilience,” says Peter Little, an Emory anthropologist who was also a plenary speaker at the conference.

Little, who has been researching pastoralist communities in the Horn of Africa for three decades, gave a talk about the resilience of these nomadic herders over millennia, and how they face unique challenges today due to climate change, conflict, and loss of land. Pastoralists have managed to weather these new shocks and develop new markets. “A billion dollars in live animals and animal products are exported each year from the Horn of Africa,” Little noted in his talk. He added that pastoralism may evolve into new forms, but it will continue to remain a viable enterprise.

The tri-annual development conference is sponsored by the International Food Policy Research Institute, which is based in Washington, D.C., and part of an agriculture research network funded by governments, private businesses, foundations and the World Bank. Heads of state, academics, and representatives of non-governmental agencies and major corporations were among the 800 invited guests at the event.

“A lot of different actors from the international community are interested in issues of poverty eradication. They are searching for new ideas and new ways of doing development work,” Little says. “The conversation is moving away from the focus on crises, to looking at how to build and promote resilience, especially in terms of drought and other natural shocks.”

Watch Peter Little's conference keynote in the video below:

The Horn of Africa “could be the poster child for the effects of climate change,” he says. The region suffered a major drought and famine in 2011, killing an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 people.

While many presentations at the conference considered the effects of that disaster, the discussions also reflected optimism for the future of the region and for the continent as a whole. “Africa is coming up as a major player in the 21st century, whether you believe it or not,” Little says. About 200 million to 300 million Africans are expected to enter the middle class during the next 10 to 15 years.

“Despite massive problems of poverty and conflict,” Little says, “a growing middle class is making things happen, and a lot of people are focusing on the enormous potential of Africa.”

Climate change, from the hooves up
What we can learn from African pastoralists

Childhood memories: How stories make us who we are

Thinking back: As children acquire more ability with language, and a fuller sense of time and place, they can start to hold onto complex autobiographical memories.

Britt Peterson writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education about how the work of Emory psychologists Patricia Bauer and Robyn Fivush “has been crucial in understanding the highly philosophical mysteries of autobiographical memory: How our stories become our selves.”

An excerpt from the article:

“Patricia Bauer’s earliest memory comes from when she was just under 4. Her family had moved into a house with a concrete patio that was a few inches up from the lawn, and she rode her tricycle right off it. ‘Traumatic, right?’ she told me. “Everything before that is a blank—as it is for everyone. As Bauer said, ‘You can look at pictures of yourself as an infant, you can hear family stories about how you behaved as an infant, but you don’t know yourself as an infant. … And that’s kind of a little disturbing, when you think about it.’

“We’ve taken for granted since the late 19th century that people don’t have a working memory before about 3 years of age. Freud thought that some memories were formed, but that ‘the remarkable amnesia of childhood, … the forgetting which veils our earliest youth from us and makes us strangers to it,’ was caused by repression. … The general theory on what came to be known as ‘childhood amnesia’ was that very young children were, as Bauer put it to me, ‘a turnip that sat in a car seat.'

“Her early work in memory helped challenge the ‘turnip in a car seat’ paradigm. It turned out the problem was language, not memory: When Bauer developed nonverbal tests of recall—using a new toy to demonstrate a sequence of tasks, then testing over time to see how that knowledge endured—she was able to show that children as young as a year were forming memories, even if they couldn’t yet describe them.”

Read the whole article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.


Psychologists document the age our earliest memories fade
Stories your parents should have told you