Archive for January, 2013

Virtual Superheroes: Using Superpowers in Virtual Reality to Encourage Prosocial Behavior

January 31, 2013 Comments off

Virtual Superheroes: Using Superpowers in Virtual Reality to Encourage Prosocial Behavior

Source: PLoS ONE


Recent studies have shown that playing prosocial video games leads to greater subsequent prosocial behavior in the real world. However, immersive virtual reality allows people to occupy avatars that are different from them in a perceptually realistic manner. We examine how occupying an avatar with the superhero ability to fly increases helping behavior.

Principal Findings

Using a two-by-two design, participants were either given the power of flight (their arm movements were tracked to control their flight akin to Superman’s flying ability) or rode as a passenger in a helicopter, and were assigned one of two tasks, either to help find a missing diabetic child in need of insulin or to tour a virtual city. Participants in the “super-flight” conditions helped the experimenter pick up spilled pens after their virtual experience significantly more than those who were virtual passengers in a helicopter.


The results indicate that having the “superpower” of flight leads to greater helping behavior in the real world, regardless of how participants used that power. A possible mechanism for this result is that having the power of flight primed concepts and prototypes associated with superheroes (e.g., Superman). This research illustrates the potential of using experiences in virtual reality technology to increase prosocial behavior in the physical world.

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New From the GAO

January 31, 2013 Comments off

New GAO Reports

Source: Government Accountability Office

Performance Measures and Comprehensive Funding Data Could Enhance Management of National Capital Region Preparedness Resources
GAO-13-116R, Jan 25, 2013

Actions Needed to Analyze Data and Ensure Canine Teams Are Effectively Utilized
GAO-13-239, Jan 31, 2013

Corelogic (R) Reports 1.4 million borrowers returned to “positive equity” Year to date through the end of th e third quarter 2012

January 31, 2013 Comments off

CoreLogic ® Reports 1.4 million borrowers returned to “positive equity” Year to date through the end of the third quarter 2012 (PDF)

Source: CoreLogic

CoreLogic, a leading provider of information, analytics and business services, today released new analysis showing approximately 100,000 more borrowers reached a state of positive equity during the third quarter of 2012, adding to the more than 1.3 million borrowers that moved into positive equity through the second quarter of 2012. This brings the total number of borrowers who moved from negative equity to positive equity September YTD to 1.4 million. 10.7 million, or 22 percent, of all residential properties with a mortgage were in negative equity at the end of the third quarter of 2012. This is down from 10.8 million properties, or 22.3 percent, at the end of the second quarter of 2012. An additional 2.3 million borrowers had less than 5 percent equity in their home, referred to as near-negative equity, at the end of the third quarter.

Negative equity, often referred to as “underwater” or “upside down,” means that borrowers owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Negative equity can occur because of a decline in value, an increase in mortgage debt or a combination of both.

Together, negative equity and near-negative equity mortgages accounted for 26.8 percent of all residential properties with a mortgage nationwide in the third quarter of 2012, down from 27 percent at the end of the second quarter in 2012. Nationally, negative equity decreased from $689 billion at the end of the second quarter in 2012 to $658 billion at the end of the third quarter, a decrease of $31 billion. This decrease was driven in large part by an improvement in house price levels.This dollar amount represents the total value of all homes currently underwater nationally.

CRS — Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) Status for Russia and U.S.-Russian Economic Ties

January 31, 2013 Comments off

Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) Status for Russia and U.S.-Russian Economic Ties (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

U.S.-Russian trade is governed by Title IV of the Trade Act of 1974, which sets conditions on Russia’s normal trade relations (NTR), or nondiscriminatory, status, including the “freedom-ofemigration” requirements of the Jackson-Vanik amendment (section 402). Changing Russia’s trade status to unconditional NTR or “permanent normal trade relations status (PNTR)” requires legislation to lift the restrictions of Title IV as they apply to Russia and authorize the President to grant Russia PNTR by proclamation. On November 16, 2012, the House passed (365-43), and on December 6, 2012, the Senate passed (92-4) H.R. 6156, which does just that, among other things. The legislation also included provisions—the Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012—that impose sanctions on individuals linked to the incarceration and death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. H.R. 6156 also authorizes PNTR status for Moldova. President Obama signed the legislation into law on December 14, 2012.

PNTR for Russia became an issue for the 112th Congress because, on August 22, 2012, Russia joined the WTO after having completed a 19-year accession process. The WTO requires each member to accord newly acceding members “immediate and unconditional” most-favored-nation (MFN) status, or PNTR. In order to comply with WTO rules, the United States has to extend PNTR to Russia.

Social networking: Gen Xers connect online as often as they socialize in person

January 31, 2013 Comments off

Social networking: Gen Xers connect online as often as they socialize in person

Source: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan

Young adults in Generation X are as likely to connect with friends, family and co-workers online as they are in person, according to a University of Michigan study.

In a typical month, adults in their late 30s report that they engaged in about 75 face-to-face contacts or conversations, compared to about 74 electronic contracts through personal emails or social media.

CRS — Title IX, Sex Discrimination, and Intercollegiate Athletics: A Legal Overview

January 31, 2013 Comments off

Title IX, Sex Discrimination, and Intercollegiate Athletics: A Legal Overview (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Enacted four decades ago, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs or activities. Although the Title IX regulations bar recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of sex in a wide range of educational programs or activities, such as student admissions, scholarships, and access to courses, the statute is perhaps best known for prohibiting sex discrimination in intercollegiate athletics.

Indeed, the provisions regarding athletics have proved to be one of the more controversial aspects of Title IX. At the center of the debate is a three-part test that the Department of Education (ED) uses to determine whether institutions are providing nondiscriminatory athletic participation opportunities for both male and female students. Proponents of the existing regulations point to the dramatic increases in the number of female athletes in elementary and secondary school, college, and beyond as the ultimate indicator of the statute’s success in breaking down barriers against women in sports. In contrast, opponents contend that the Title IX regulations unfairly impose quotas on collegiate sports and force universities to cut men’s teams in order to remain in compliance. Critics further argue that the decline in certain men’s sports, such as wrestling, is a direct result of Title IX’s emphasis on proportionality in men’s and women’s college sports.

In 2002, ED appointed a commission to study Title IX and to recommend whether or not the athletics provisions should be revised. The Commission on Opportunity in Athletics delivered its final report to the Secretary of Education in 2003. In response, ED issued new guidance in 2003 and 2005 that clarified Title IX policy and the use of the three-part test. The 2005 guidance, however, was withdrawn in 2010.

This CRS report provides an overview of Title IX in general and the intercollegiate athletics regulations in particular, as well as a summary of the commission’s report and ED’s response and a discussion of legal challenges to the regulations and to the three-part test. For related reports, see CRS Report RS22544, Title IX and Single Sex Education: A Legal Analysis, by Jody Feder.

The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS)

January 30, 2013 Comments off

The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS)

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States, based on a survey conducted in 2010. Over the course of a year, that equals more than 12 million women and men. Those numbers only tell part of the story—more than 1 million women are raped in a year and over 6 million women and men are victims of stalking in a year. These findings emphasize that sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence are important and widespread public health problems in the United States.

Tackling Non-Communicable Diseases In Low- and Middle-Income Countries: Is the Evidence from High-Income Countries All We Need?

January 30, 2013 Comments off

Tackling Non-Communicable Diseases In Low- and Middle-Income Countries: Is the Evidence from High-Income Countries All We Need?

Source: PLoS Medicine

Summary Points

  • Applied health research and development for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is limited, and despite repeat calls for action, the NCD burden is increasing unchecked.
  • NCD research in high-income countries (HICs) and LMICs can result in mutual advantages in the areas of replication and extending findings; discovering new causes of NCDs; studying health effects of exposures rare or ubiquitous in HICs; and exploring links between infectious diseases and NCDs.
  • Different NCDs are at varying stages of needing research, policy development, and action. These stages range from not knowing the population burden of many NCDs to knowing all we need to take action.
  • Changes in the global and national funding agendas will be required to strengthen the research and health system capacity for NCDs, which should reduce deaths and disability attributable to NCDs and yield economic dividends.

Community College Contributions

January 30, 2013 Comments off

Community College Contributions

Source: American Association of Community Colleges

The “jobs gap”—or number of jobs needed to return to pre–Great Recession levels—stood at 11.3 million in late 2012, while 12.8 million Americans were unemployed. Carnevale, Smith, and Strohl (2010), however, estimated 46.8 million new jobs will need to be filled by 2018, of which 13.8 million will be new jobs and 33 million will be jobs open due to retirement. The types of industries expected to grow will shift in occupational expectations toward those needing abilities associated with greater levels of educational attainment, so these jobs will require college-educated workers. Factors contributing to the need for college-educated workers include creative destruction leading to a churn of skills needed by the workforce, a continuing increase in the wage premium associated with differences in educational attainment, the increasingly tough road to economic stability for low-income students, and the training provided in internal labor markets for workers that are more educated. Together these trends suggest that access to not only a job, but also to the training to keep that job, is augmented by higher levels of educational attainment.

Simply put, America’s community colleges are the brokers of opportunity for a stronger middle class and more prosperous nation. The value of community colleges has repeatedly been detailed in broad brushstrokes. Belfield and Bailey (2012) reviewed twenty studies on the earnings effects of a community college, concluding, “[T]his review affirms that there are strong positive earnings gains from community college attendance and completion, as well as progression to a 4-year college” (p. 60). In addition, the latest national estimate of the return on investment to state and local governments from investing in community colleges in 2007 was 16.1%.

While these broad-brush pictures of the community college contribution are important, the community college is an intricate institution offering pathways to credentials, degrees, and retraining opportunities for those with and without college credentials; they operate as engines of economic development. To date, the multifunctional nature of the community college mission has limited our ability to understand these colleges’ role in sustaining the nation’s general welfare. This brief provides a better opportunity to understand community colleges’ role, and frames private and public economic returns of the community college movement in three ways:

1. The community college as a launching pad. Community colleges serve as a starting point for students in terms of educational progression—the lockstep mentality that dominates considerations of educational attainment. They also accelerate learning through early college experiences and transfer opportunities.

2. The community college as a (re)launching pad. Community colleges serve as providers of knowledge and skills to members of the community when they need them, and in ways that they need them, often for those who have already been successful in college.

3. The community college as a local commitment. Community colleges serve local purposes, focusing on the needs and demands of the communities they serve.

As mentioned above, the workforce of the future will increasingly rely on occupations that require college-educated workers, and many of those workers will need the education and training provided at the subbaccalaureate level to enter a field, and in some cases to maintain job tenure. Given that there are numerous public and private returns associated with educational attainment, it is therefore prudent to align fiscal resources with the workforce of the future.

New From the GAO

January 30, 2013 Comments off

New GAO Reports

Source: Government Accountability Office

States Use Flexible Federal Funds, But Struggle to Meet Service Needs
GAO-13-170, Jan 30, 2013

Status of Funding for the Central America Regional Security Initiative
GAO-13-295R, Jan 30, 2013

CRS — Presidential Transition Act: Provisions and Funding

January 30, 2013 Comments off

Presidential Transition Act: Provisions and Funding (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Presidential Transition Act of 1963 (PTA), as amended, authorizes funding for the General Services Administration (GSA) to provide suitable office space, staff compensation, and other services associated with the presidential transition process (3 U.S.C. § 102 note). Section 6 of the PTA directs the President to include in his budget request, for each fiscal year in which his regular term of office will expire, “a proposed appropriation for carrying out the purposes of this Act.” The President’s FY2013 budget proposal included $8.95 million in funding for the 2012-2013 presidential transition. Of this sum, not more than $1 million was to be used for training and orientation activities under specified provisions of the PTA. These recommendations were endorsed by Congress and included in the Continuing Appropriations Resolution of September 28, 2012 (P.L. 112-175).

In the event the President-elect is the incumbent President, or the Vice President-elect is the incumbent Vice President, no funds may be spent on the provision of services and facilities to this incumbent. Any funds appropriated for such purposes are to be returned to the Treasury.

From enactment of the PTA in 1964 (P.L. 88-277) through the presidential transition of 2008- 2009, most PTA-authorized appropriations were provided after the election of the incoming President and Vice President. The Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-283) amended the PTA and included several other provisions to provide additional support to eligible candidates for pre-election transition planning. These provisions had effect for the first time during the 2012 presidential election.

What do Consumers’ Fund Flows Maximize? Evidence from Their Brokers’ Incentives

January 30, 2013 Comments off

What do Consumers’ Fund Flows Maximize? Evidence from Their Brokers’ Incentives
Source: Social Science Research Network

We ask whether mutual funds’ flows reflect the incentives of the brokers intermediating them. The incentives we address are those revealed in statutory filings: the brokers’ shares of sales loads and other revenue, and their affiliation with the fund family. We find significant effects of these payments to brokers on funds’ inflows, particularly when the brokers are not affiliated. Tracking these investments forward, we find load sharing, but not revenue sharing, to predict poor performance, consistent with the different incentives these payments impart. We identify one benefit of captive brokerage, which is the recapture of redemptions elsewhere in the family.

See: Broker fees from mutual funds affect advice; predict worse performance, new study says (EurekAlert!)

Substance Abuse — Recovery post treatment: plans, barriers and motivators

January 30, 2013 Comments off

Recovery post treatment: plans, barriers and motivators

Source: Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy


The increasing focus on achieving a sustained recovery from substance use brings with it a need to better understand the factors (recovery capital) that contribute to recovery following treatment. This work examined the factors those in recovery perceive to be barriers to (lack of capital) or facilitators of (presence of capital) sustained recovery post treatment.


An opportunity sample of 45 participants was recruited from 11 drug treatment services in northern England. Semi-structured qualitative interviews lasting between 30 and 90 minutes were conducted one to three months after participants completed treatment. Interviews examined key themes identified through previous literature but focused on allowing participants to explore their unique recovery journey. Interviews were transcribed and analysed thematically using a combination of deductive and inductive approaches.


Participants generally reported high levels of confidence in maintaining their recovery with most planning to remain abstinent. There were indications of high levels of recovery capital. Aftercare engagement was high, often through self referral, with non substance use related activity felt to be particularly positive. Supported housing was critical and concerns were raised about the ability to afford to live independently with financial stability and welfare availability a key concern in general. Employment, often in the substance use treatment field, was a desire. However, it was a long term goal, with substantial risks associated with pursuing this too early. Positive social support was almost exclusively from within the recovery community although the re-building of relationships with family (children in particular) was a key motivator post treatment.


Addressing internal factors and underlying issues i.e. ‘human capital’, provided confidence for continued recovery whilst motivators focused on external factors such as family and maintaining aspects of a ‘normal’ life i.e. ‘social and physical capital’. Competing recovery goals and activities can leave people feeling under pressure and at risk of taking on or being pushed to do too much too soon. The breadth of re-integration and future plans at this stage is limited primarily to the recovery community and treatment sector. Services and commissioners should ensure that this does not become a limiting factor in individuals’ long term recovery journeys.

Climate-Induced Displacement of Alaska Native Communities

January 30, 2013 Comments off

Climate-Induced Displacement of Alaska Native Communities

Source: Brookings Institution

Alaska has warmed twice as fast as the global average during the past half-century, and temperatures are projected to rise 1.5-5° F (1-3 ºC) by 2030 and by 5-18° F (3-6.5 ºC) by 2100. Less sea ice covers the Arctic Ocean today than at any time in recent geologic history. At the same time, the land itself is also affected by temperature increases. Permanently frozen subsoil – permafrost – keeps the land intact and habitable along the northwestern Alaskan coast, but is melting. These environmental phenomena are resulting in accelerated rates of erosion and flooding which damage or destroy infrastructure and threaten the livelihoods and well-being of people residing throughout Alaska.

Since 2003, federal and state governments have documented these climate change impacts on Alaskan communities and the need for immediate action to protect populations. State and federal government agencies are struggling to respond to the enormous new needs of these communities. Despite spending millions of dollars, the traditional methods of erosion control and flood protection have not been able to protect some communities. For several Alaska Native communities, protection in place is not possible and community relocation is the only adaptation strategy that can protect them from accelerating climate change impacts. This paper presents a brief overview of climate change in Alaska, examines the impact of climate change on Alaska Native rural villages, and analyzes the state, federal and community responses.

Comprehensive Airline Fees Guide (newly updated)

January 30, 2013 Comments off

Comprehensive Airline Fees Guide

Source: Airfare Watchdog

In the first three quarters of last year, U.S. airlines made almost half a trillion dollars in baggage and change fees alone. It seems like there’s a fee for everything these days. (Actually, there sort of is.) Figuring out which airline to book with and what the true cost of your travel will be is sort of like playing Guess Who? (but not nearly as fun). Need help? Let us introduce you to our brand new Comprehensive Airline Fees Guide, which comes in an easy-to-read PDF format. Here you’ll find every major fee charged by every major domestic carrier. The best part? It won’t cost you a dime.

Surveillance for Foodborne Disease Outbreaks — United States, 2009–2010

January 30, 2013 Comments off

Surveillance for Foodborne Disease Outbreaks — United States, 2009–2010
Source: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (CDC)

Known pathogens cause an estimated 9.4 million foodborne illnesses annually in the United States (1). CDC collects data on foodborne disease outbreaks submitted by all states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico through CDC’s Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System. Data reported for each outbreak include the number of illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths; the etiologic agent; the implicated food vehicle; and other factors involved in food preparation and consumption. During 2009–2010, a total of 1,527 foodborne disease outbreaks (675 in 2009 and 852 in 2010) were reported, resulting in 29,444 cases of illness, 1,184 hospitalizations, and 23 deaths. Among the 790 outbreaks with a single laboratory-confirmed etiologic agent, norovirus was the most commonly reported, accounting for 42% of outbreaks. Salmonella was second, accounting for 30% of outbreaks. Among the 299 outbreaks attributed to a food composed of ingredients from one of 17 predefined, mutually exclusive food commodities (2), those most often implicated were beef (13%), dairy (12%), fish (12%), and poultry (11%). The commodities in the 299 outbreaks associated with the most illnesses were eggs (27% of illnesses), beef (11%), and poultry (10%). Public health, regulatory, and food industry professionals can use this information when creating targeted control strategies along the farm-to-table continuum for specific agents, specific foods, and specific pairs of agents and foods. This information also supports efforts to promote safe food-handling practices among food workers and the public.

CDC defines a foodborne disease outbreak as the occurrence of two or more similar illnesses resulting from ingestion of a common food. State, local, tribal, and territorial health department officials voluntarily submit reports of outbreaks investigated by their agency to the Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System on a standard, Internet-based form.* This report analyzes outbreaks that were reported by August 2, 2012, in which the first illness occurred during 2009–2010. Data reported for each outbreak include the number of illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths; the etiologic agent (confirmed or suspected†); the implicated food vehicle; factors contributing to food contamination; and the settings of food preparation and consumption. Foods were assigned to one of 17 commodities§ if a single contaminated ingredient was identified or if all ingredients belonged to that commodity (2). Outbreaks identifying foods that could not be assigned to one of the 17 commodities, or for which the report contained insufficient information for commodity assignment, were not attributed to any commodity. Population-based outbreak reporting rates were calculated for each state using U.S. Census estimates of the 2009 and 2010 state populations.¶

Belief in AIDS-Related Conspiracy Theories and Mistrust in the Government: Relationship with HIV Testing Among At-Risk Older Adults

January 30, 2013 Comments off

Belief in AIDS-Related Conspiracy Theories and Mistrust in the Government: Relationship with HIV Testing Among At-Risk Older Adults
Source: Gerontologist

One in 4 persons living with HIV/AIDS is an older adult (age 50 or older); unfortunately, older adults are disproportionately diagnosed in late stages of HIV disease. Psychological barriers, including belief in AIDS-related conspiracy theories (e.g., HIV was created to eliminate certain groups) and mistrust in the government, may influence whether adults undergo HIV testing. We examined relationships between these factors and recent HIV testing among at-risk, older adults.

Design and Methods:
This was a cross-sectional study among older adults enrolled in a large venue–based study. None had a previous diagnosis of HIV/AIDS; all were seeking care at venues with high HIV prevalence. We used multiple logistic regression to estimate the associations between self-reported belief in AIDS-related conspiracy theories, mistrust in the government, and HIV testing performed within the past 12 months.

Among the 226 participants, 30% reported belief in AIDS conspiracy theories, 72% reported government mistrust, and 45% reported not undergoing HIV testing within the past 12 months. Belief in conspiracy theories was positively associated with recent HIV testing (adjusted odds ratio [OR] = 1.94, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.05–3.60), whereas mistrust in the government was negatively associated with testing (OR = 0.43, 95% CI = 0.26–0.73).

Psychological barriers are prevalent among at-risk older adults seeking services at venues with high HIV prevalences and may influence HIV testing. Identifying particular sources of misinformation and mistrust would appear useful for appropriate targeting of HIV testing strategies.

Attitudes Toward HPV Vaccination Among Low-Income and Minority Parents of Sons: A Qualitative Analysis

January 30, 2013 Comments off

Attitudes Toward HPV Vaccination Among Low-Income and Minority Parents of Sons: A Qualitative Analysis
Source: Clinical Pediatrics

To characterize the attitudes of low-income and minority parents/guardians toward vaccinating sons against human papillomavirus (HPV).

In 2010-2011, we conducted qualitative interviews with 68 black, 24 white, and 28 Latino parents/guardians of sons. We identified attitudes related to HPV vaccination, vaccine mandates for males and females, and adolescent male sexuality using constructs from the Health Belief Model and methods based in grounded theory.

Most participants were concerned that their sons could be exposed to HPV through sexual experimentation and believed that the consequences of HPV infection could be severe; thus, 75% would accept HPV vaccine for their sons. Yet the lack of efficacy and safety information specifically pertaining to males posed barriers. More black (73%) and Latino (86%) than white (44%) participants supported school-entry requirements for HPV vaccination.

Low-income and minority parents/guardians were generally receptive toward vaccinating their sons against HPV; racial/ethnic differences emerged regarding school-entry mandates.

Hospice Care in America 2012

January 29, 2013 Comments off

Hospice Care in America 2012 (PDF)

Source: National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

NHPCO Facts and Figures: Hospice Care in America provides an annual overview of important trends in the growth, delivery and quality of hospice care across the country . This overview provides specific information on:

  • Hospice patient characteristics (e .g ., gender, age, ethnicity, race, primary diagnosis, and length of service)
  • Hospice provider characteristics (e .g ., total patients served, organizational type, size, and tax status)
  • Location and level of care
  • Role of paid and volunteer staff

Recent Improvements to the Government Finance Statistics Yearbook Database in Response to Analytical Needs

January 29, 2013 Comments off

Recent Improvements to the Government Finance Statistics Yearbook Database in Response to Analytical Needs

Source: International Monetary Fund

The demand for high quality detailed public finance statistics covering a globally representative sample of countries has increased dramatically during the recent financial crisis. Due to the complexity of public finance statistics, however, such data tend to be either available in oversimplified high level aggregates and lacking in methodological transparency, or, available with a great level of detail and a unified methodological approach yet overly complicated to understand. The IMF’s Government Finance Statistics Yearbook (GFSY) with data over an almost 40 year period for almost 140 countries is a valuable database but with a complex structure requiring some specialty knowledge that most data users do not have. The IMF’s Statistics Department embarked on several initiatives to improve its accessibility. The purpose of this paper is to provide a non-technical overview of the methodology and advantages of the GFSY database and discussion of how the database is improving to better meet the needs of the user community.


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