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The cultural side of science communication

October 6, 2014 Comments off

The cultural side of science communication
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

The main proposition of this paper is that science communication necessarily involves and includes cultural orientations. There is a substantial body of work showing that cultural differences in values and epistemological frameworks are paralleled with cultural differences reflected in artifacts and public representations. One dimension of cultural difference is the psychological distance between humans and the rest of nature. Another is perspective taking and attention to context and relationships. As an example of distance, most (Western) images of ecosystems do not include human beings, and European American discourse tends to position human beings as being apart from nature. Native American discourse, in contrast, tends to describe humans beings as a part of nature. We trace the correspondences between cultural properties of media, focusing on children’s books, and cultural differences in biological cognition. Finally, implications for both science communication and science education are outlined.

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The multimillennial sea-level commitment of global warming

September 25, 2014 Comments off

The multimillennial sea-level commitment of global warming (PDF)
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Global mean sea level has been steadily rising over the last century, is projected to increase by the end of this century, and will continue to rise beyond the year 2100 unless the current global mean temperature trend is reversed. Inertia in the climate and global carbon system, however, causes the global mean temperature to decline slowly even after greenhouse gas emissions have ceased, raising the question of how much sea-level commitment is expected for different levels of global mean temperature increase above preindustrial levels. Although sealevel rise over the last century has been dominated by ocean warming and loss of glaciers, the sensitivity suggested from records of past sea levels indicates important contributions should also be expected from the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets. Uncertainties in the paleo-reconstructions, however, necessitate additional strategies to better constrain the sea-level commitment. Here we combine paleo-evidence with simulations from physical models to estimate the future sea-level commitment on a multimillennial time scale and compute associated regional sea-level patterns. Oceanic thermal expansion and the Antarctic Ice Sheet contribute quasi-linearly, with 0.4 m °C−1 and 1.2 m °C−1 of warming, respectively. The saturation of the contribution from glaciers is overcompensated by the nonlinear response of the Greenland Ice Sheet. As a consequence we are committed to a sea-level rise of approximately 2.3 m °C−1 within the next 2,000 y. Considering the lifetime of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, this imposes the need for fundamental adaptation strategies on multicentennial time scales.

Land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States

July 23, 2014 Comments off

Land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Livestock-based food production is an important and pervasive way humans impact the environment. It causes about one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, and is the key land user and source of water pollution by nutrient overabundance. It also competes with biodiversity, and promotes species extinctions. Empowering consumers to make choices that mitigate some of these impacts through devising and disseminating numerically sound information is thus a key socioenvironmental priority. Unfortunately, currently available knowledge is incomplete and hampered by reliance on divergent methodologies that afford no general comparison of relative impacts of animal-based products. To overcome these hurdles, we introduce a methodology that facilitates such a comparison. We show that minimizing beef consumption mitigates the environmental costs of diet most effectively.

Nonlinear permanent migration response to climatic variations but minimal response to disasters

July 3, 2014 Comments off

Nonlinear permanent migration response to climatic variations but minimal response to disasters
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

We present a microlevel study to simultaneously investigate the effects of variations in temperature and precipitation along with sudden natural disasters to infer their relative influence on migration that is likely permanent. The study is made possible by the availability of household panel data from Indonesia with an exceptional tracking rate combined with frequent occurrence of natural disasters and significant climatic variations, thus providing a quasi-experiment to examine the influence of environment on migration. Using data on 7,185 households followed over 15 y, we analyze whole-household, province-to-province migration, which allows us to understand the effects of environmental factors on permanent moves that may differ from temporary migration. The results suggest that permanent migration is influenced by climatic variations, whereas episodic disasters tend to have much smaller or no impact on such migration. In particular, temperature has a nonlinear effect on migration such that above 25 °C, a rise in temperature is related to an increase in outmigration, potentially through its impact on economic conditions. We use these results to estimate the impact of projected temperature increases on future permanent migration. Though precipitation also has a similar nonlinear effect on migration, the effect is smaller than that of temperature, underscoring the importance of using an expanded set of climatic factors as predictors of migration. These findings on the minimal influence of natural disasters and precipitation on permanent moves supplement previous findings on the significant role of these variables in promoting temporary migration.

See: With climate change, heat more than natural disasters will drive people away (EurekAlert!)

Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks

July 1, 2014 Comments off

Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness. Emotional contagion is well established in laboratory experiments, with people transferring positive and negative emotions to others. Data from a large real-world social network, collected over a 20-y period suggests that longer-lasting moods (e.g., depression, happiness) can be transferred through networks [Fowler JH, Christakis NA (2008) BMJ 337:a2338], although the results are controversial. In an experiment with people who use Facebook, we test whether emotional contagion occurs outside of in-person interaction between individuals by reducing the amount of emotional content in the News Feed. When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks. This work also suggests that, in contrast to prevailing assumptions, in-person interaction and nonverbal cues are not strictly necessary for emotional contagion, and that the observation of others’ positive experiences constitutes a positive experience for people.

Economic scarcity alters the perception of race

June 26, 2014 Comments off

Economic scarcity alters the perception of race (PDF)
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

When the economy declines, racial minorities are hit the hardest. Although existing explanations for this effect focus on institutional causes, recent psychological findings suggest that scarcity may also alter perceptions of race in ways that exacerbate discrimination. We tested the hypothesis that economic resource scarcity causes decision makers to perceive African Americans as “Blacker” and that this visual distortion elicits disparities in the allocation of resources. Studies 1 and 2 demonstrated that scarcity altered perceptions of race, lowering subjects’ psychophysical threshold for seeing a mixed-race face as “Black” as opposed to “White.” In studies 3 and 4, scarcity led subjects to visualize African American faces as darker and more “stereotypically Black,” compared with a control condition. When presented to naïve subjects, face representations produced under scarcity elicited smaller allocations than control-condition representations. Together, these findings introduce a novel perceptual account for the proliferation of racial disparities under economic scarcity.

Father’s brain is sensitive to childcare experiences

June 19, 2014 Comments off

Father’s brain is sensitive to childcare experiences
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Brain, oxytocin, and parenting behavior were measured in primary-caregiving mothers, secondary-caregiving fathers, and primary-caregiving homosexual fathers raising infants without maternal involvement. Parenting integrated functioning of two neural networks: subcortical-paralimbic structures implicated in emotional processing and cortical circuits involved in social understanding. Mothers showed greater activation in the emotional processing network and fathers in the socio-cognitive circuits, which were differentially linked with oxytocin and behavior. Primary-caregiving fathers exhibited high amygdala activation similar to mothers, alongside high superior temporal sulcus (STS) activation comparable to fathers, and functional connectivity between amygdala and STS. Among all fathers, time spent in childcare correlated with amygdala-STS connectivity. Findings describe mechanisms of brain malleability with caregiving experiences in human fathers.

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