Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Black Health Update - Diabetes & Amputations

A problematic symptom of having Diabetes or "sugar" is poor circulation, especially in the feet and legs (lower extremities) and poor healing of any sores and wounds. It is so important for people with diabetes to take really good care of their feet and to be careful. What happens is the the arteries aren't getting enough fresh or oxygenated blood to the lower parts of the body. Without this fresh blood, the body has a hard time getting all of the energy it needs to keep the muscles working in top condition. Combine poor circulation with poor movement, being over weight, and poor nutrition and it can inevitably lead to ulcers or festering sores in the lower extremities. If patients or their caretakers don't take them to the doctor soon enough it can lead to an amputation, often of a leg or foot.

Health researchers at Northwestern University, in Chicago have summarized a 20 year of study of diabetes patients in the Chicago area and found that black patients, primarily from the south and west sides are more likely to have a limb amputated. They found that African Americans have 5 times higher amputation rate than whites.

“Amputations are the canary in the coal mine for quality of care," said Joe Feinglass, lead author and research professor of medicine at the Feinberg School. “Many amputations are preventable. This means the primary care for minority people may not be very good. "
The high amputation rate for minorities in Chicago likely reflects other racial disparities in healthcare, Feinglass said. "Diabetes is a condition that is highly susceptible to quality of care. Amputation rates give you a basic idea of how the system is performing."

Read the entire article on ScienceBlog.

Stay Healthy. Stay Informed

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Science of the Sewer Study in Poor Black Neighborhoods

In response to the dialogue about this case, I have added some links that are a follow-up. Specifically, I want to address the science or scientific processes involved in this type of research. Here is the SOIL COMPOST STUDY TO REDUCE LEAD HAZARD FACT SHEET.

Here is the abstract or summary of the research experiment. The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Science of the Total Environment. The journal is an international medium for publication of original research on the environment with emphasis on changes caused by human activities. It is concerned with changes in the natural levels and distribution of chemical elements and their compounds that may affect the well-being of the living world, or represent a threat to human health. Papers in applied environmental chemistry and environmental health sciences are particularly encouraged. This study falls well within the purview of this publication.

I do understand the environmental justice concerns of this research specifically with this research group, as noted by Francis Holland. I'm not dismissing his or others concerns. However, I think it is important that those who are most vocal about this issue demonstrate a basic comprehension of how this type of research is conducted and what this study found.

Let me break a few more things down.
In addition to Institutional Review Boards (see note in previous post), the peer-review process is another stop-gap for making sure appropriate procedures and ethical measures are followed in research. Research that is believed to be problematic is investigated and not permitted to be published. There are also number of professional reprimands for researchers are proven to be unethical or inappropriate when researching or reporting results.

The Abstract - rewritten
High lead concentrations in urban industrial areas are a big problem and can cause many health problems in people, but there is no one program to get rid of lead in soils, unless it is a big nasty spill from a company or factory. So there are many people who are exposed to lead in soil, but there is no feasible and affordable solution at hand. The researchers selected lawns in contaminated neighborhoods where the ground contained a fairly high concentration of lead which can get into the human and animal body systems. They used a commercially comparable compost, organic material from animals, that contained a fairly high concentration of iron and phosphate, and spread it over the lawns. Iron and phosphate can grab the lead in the soil and keep it from getting into the body system of people and animals. Iron and phosphate are also great fertilizers to improve the health and appearance of lawns.

The lawns were tilled, or dug up, and the compost was applied. They sampled the soil in the lawn several times to compare the levels of lead in the soil in various locations in the yard (near to the home vs farther away from the home) and many times over the course of the year. They compared the level of lead before the compost was applied and many times after the application.
At the end of the experiment, the lead concentration that can get into the body was much lower. The lower concentration of lead was more notable at areas closer to the home, where the risk of picking up lead was higher. At the more distant parts of the lawn, the treatment didn't lower the lead concentrations much, but there was always a lower concentration of risky lead in those parts of the yard. Plus, the lawns were healthier and more attractive at the end of the study. This research met its objective of finding a possible and feasible way of reducing lead in soil without having to dig up the whole yard and discard of the contaminated dirt in some undetermined place. This research is particularly important because it may provide an affordable solution to reducing lead poisoning risk in children.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sewer Study in Poor Black Neighborhoods - Good Science or Bad Policy?

Recently, some media outlets have cried a possible foul against the scientific research community concerning a study that fertilized lawns with human and industrial waste as possible remediation to lead poisoning. NPR News & Notes featured a piece about Scientists Under Fire for Sewage Sludge Study. Francis Holland ranted about it too on American Journal of Color Arousal. Study participants were all Black and lived in poor urban neighborhoods. Since this research is 'government funded' some are asking whether these participants were intentionally targeted and if the government is 'deliberately experimenting on vulnerable citizens'.

I realize that the black community is still untrusting of scientists and science research. And this issue has several groups like the NAACP up in arms claiming Tuskegee type issues. What is the main problem? That the recent research was done in those neighborhoods or that the research was done and people were harmed? If people were harmed AND they were not fully alerted to the dangers (I doubt that) AND they were not treated AND the incident was swept under the rug, then there is a point and the anger is justified. But according to the press stories none of these scenarios seem to be the case.

It seems the matter of research can’t be addressed objectively among the Black community because of the sensitivity regarding the Tuskegee Experiment. The Tuskegee Experiment was a sad page in history, but let's keep things in perspective. 1. Monitoring the unchecked effects of syphilis in blacks was a meaningful experiment - at that time. Back then, Syphilis was unchecked in everybody and because of racist beliefs, many people really believed that similar treatment in blacks as whites would have been a waste. As sad it is sounds, the doctors wanted to prove (not just provide anecdotal evidence) that Syphilis harms black people just as bad as Europeans. 2. What made the Tuskegee Experiment egregious was the fact that a cure had been found and they did NOT Inform the participants.

Since that case, the laws and ethics of clinical research have improved dramatically. Remember the finding that hormone therapy might be harmful to menopausal women? They pulled that treatment and halted that study. That's how research works now. Also, Institutional Review Boards (IRB) are VERY stringent and serious about critiquing ALL research before ANY experiment is done. They make sure everything is proper and safe and legal. They follow strict federal and state and professional research organizations’ procedures and ethics guidelines when conducting ANY research with living subjects, especially human. They err on the side of safety and caution. These Boards are not comprised of a group of like mined scientists who co-sign each other’s research. These boards consists of scientists, a doctor or veterinarian, lay persons from the larger community (such as clergy or politicians or teachers or community activist). And you best be sure the university administrators have lawyers look over things for liability as well.This case is a perfect example of a sensationalized story that was presented to speak to people’s fears and ignorance about science or research processes. I understand the sensitivity we have that poor, marginalized people may be being taken advantaged of in research studies. But that fear and the campaign against research is harmful.

This is a matter alerts me of the crucial need to increase the public’s awareness of science and research. The need to increase scientific literacy among people is not just limited to the marginalized and under-educated, specifically black people. I keep discovering that even presumably well-educated black people are still prone to get keyed up emotionally and are largely ignorant about science and how it proceeds.

Which leads me to address one more issue - Government funded research does NOT mean government directed research. Scientists develop hypotheses from direct observations. Hypotheses aren't handed down to scientists. This research was undertaken by a team of academic researchers. This was an idea that they developed, perhaps born of real-life issues they were encountering - lead poisoning of nearby residents (who happen to be poor and black). The researchers secured funding to undertake this research - they asked for the money, the government was not trolling around for researchers willing to make guinea pigs out of people.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Human Origins in Africa - Weekly Science update

Palentologists and Population Geneticists have discovered and confirmed that our human ancestors originated on the dark continent. "A team of Genographic researchers and their collaborators have published the most extensive survey to date of African mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). " The genetic material of the mitochondria, or powerhouse of the cell, is high conserved and has a very low mutation rate compared to nuclear or regular DNA. When sperm and egg unite, they each bring their fair share of nuclear DNA - 23 chromosomes. 22 Somatic or body chromosomes and 1 set of sex chromosomes to determine the gender of the baby. The chromosomes are the packages of ALL of your genes. Both the egg and sperm are single cells, but the egg, which is a bit larger than the sperm, also houses other cell organelles, including the mighty, mighty, mitochondria. So if you did a cheek swab, a la Maury Povich style, your mitochondrial DNA is exactly your mom's so on down the line.

"Mitochondrial DNA, inherited down the maternal line, was used to discover the age of the famous 'mitochondrial Eve' in 1987. This work has since been extended to show unequivocally that the most recent common female ancestor of everyone alive today was an African woman who lived in the past 200,000 years. Paleontology provides corroborating evidence that our species originated on this continent approximately 200,000 years ago."

So this backward game of chasing down the mtDNA has to deadline somewhere - that's to mitochondrial Eve. But the researchers found that there are 2 dead ends. Both deadline on the African continent, but separated geographically - eastern and southern Africa - and over many tens of thousands of years.

Check out the full article on ScienceBlog: Humanity nearly split in two, study finds

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Black Health Update - Heart Disease.

I couldn't have said it better myself, so I'm linking the original post - Racial differences & heart attacks. But here are some key points.

  • About 40 percent of African-Americans have a genetic variant that can protect them after heart failure and prolong their lives, according to research conducted at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and collaborating institutions.
  • The researchers...found that 41 percent of African-Americans have a variant GRK5 gene that more effectively suppresses the action of adrenaline than the more common version of the gene. People with the variant gene could be said to have a natural beta blocker, Dorn says. The variant is extremely rare in Caucasians, accounting for its predominant effects in African-Americans.
  • Razib goes on further to explain the importance of this research and why working with sub-populations (or different 'racial') groups is important to understanding not only effective medical treatments but evolutionary processes as well.

Keep learning.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Save money on gas

Two ways to go green without the extreme costs of hybrid technology.
The Set back - if you're a big guy - like my dad - these are not for you. What a shame, because these cars are affordable and the fuel efficiency and carbon footprint is much smaller than typical American Cars.
Happy Earth Day!!
Go Green!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Unconcious classism

Jeanne Burns at Social Class & Quakers has made a few really good and insightful comments on my page. Often, when I have vented about my frustrations at the soon-to-be-vacated-job house, she has offered some food for thought.

She has pointed out that many of the things I am frustrated about with my employees
- not doing a job well, not caring to do a job well, acting out behaviorally, not using time wisely, poor problem-solving, etc. are perhaps because such tasks or performance measures require more middle and owning class skills.
Skills like - networking, research, asking the right questions and of the right persons, constructive critique, socially-accepted behaviors, etc.

She suggested that I may have class blinders on - expecting my employees (and some students I have had the past) - behave "middle class" so that they can succeed or at least take advantage of opportunities presented to them. So in spite of wanting to help, my blinders hinder me.

This blog is about class so this topic is right on topic. And it's completely fair to vet my own short-sightedness and inadequacies. I'll accept that I have class blinders on. (Wow. who'd've guessed. I grew up poor and working class and I'm trying to reach out and I've got the unconscious nerve to be snobbish).

But that still leaves me wondering.
How do I remove these blinders? and What do I do to make an impact/help others?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Pre-College Computer Science Camp for youth

Attention to all the College Park, Maryland Area!!

The Dept of Computer Science at the University of Maryland is sponsoring their annual Passport Program this Summer for middle and high school students interested in computer science or computer programming. This program is offered at no cost to the student.
Free Supplemental Education in Computer Programming. This beyond just application or using a computer. These classes are about creating and designing software. Wow! What a fantastic opportunty for students. It looks good on college applications. Makes your child or students more employeable or college ready!
The online application needs to be completed by the May 30, 2008 deadline. Since, I so obviously overlook Technological sciences so often, I'm trying to make amends here and there. Please share this information with any student, parent or teacher that you think might be interested.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Science Diversity Meme: Women Scientists Summary

Wow! the Science Diversity Meme was quite successful. I've learned about so many women in science, math, technology, and the social sciences. The lesson learned - I became more attentive to paying attention to the 'person' who was a scientist. I began paying attention to who was being interviewed during Science Fridays on NPR. I paid attention to who was being interviewed for science and nature prorgams on Discovery Channel. I becamed focused on jotting down the names of these persons. For the television shows, I was noting how many may have been persons of color. Just an interesting note. And if you're trying to 're-tune' your students into paying more attention to the 'life cirucumstances' that yield scientific discovery, I recommend giving them such assignments. Have them learn more about the person, focus on the diversity of the field.

Here are the links to all Meme Participants. Each blog listed several Women Scholars and their commenters listed MANY other scholars.
Greg Laden's Blog at ScienceBlogs Eclectic Echoes Good Math, Bad Math -- adds in Computer Science as science field. Dinochick Blog - adds in Paleontologists. Planet Musings Dynamics of Cats - read comments, includes spontaneous discussion about Astronomers from different ethnic groups, too. Uncertain Principles: Physics, Politics, Pop Culture

Also, though these blogs didn’t participate in the meme, I came across them anyway and I have them to be included in this summary.
Tiny Flame: Women in Science post Jan 21, 2008
The Information Paradox: Women in Science post on Mar 31, 2008
Urban Science Adventures: Women in science post on Mar 3, 2008 and on Mar 10, 2008
Black Data Processors Association Education and Technology Foundation: Black Women in Mathematical Sciences on Mar 6, 2008
Women in Science Blog post on April 1, 2008 Scientiae Carnival: Fools and Foolishness and on Apr 05, 2008 Big Think: Shirley Tilghman on Women in Science

Here is a catalog of Women in Science

Life Sciences
Wildlife Biologist Amy Vedder
Neuropsychologist Nancy Wexler
Linda Buck, Molecular Biologist, currently at Howard Hughes. Recently go the Nobel Prize for work on the olfactory system (although she recently had to retract a paper, but it doesn't seem to be a big deal. The bulk of her work has stood up to pressure.)
Vivian Budnik, University of Massachusets. Neuroscientist. Studies addiction pathways and protein signalling. Eve Marder, Biologist and Neuroscientist, Brandeis. Pioneering work in neural circuitry formation and emergent rhythms. Once moderated a discussion with the Dali Lama at the AAAS meeting in DC a few years ago.
Nora Volkow, current head of the National Institute for Drug Addiction (NIDA) at the NIH. Did brain imaging to examine the role of addiction as a brain disease. Travels extensively internationally.
Karen Gale, neuroscientist, Georgetown. Studies basal ganglia, thalamus and limbic system expression of GABA receptors, and has been influential in analysis of epileptic rat models.
Mary Beckerle, Executive Director of the Huntsman Cancer Center (Salt Lake City) Dept. of Biology. Also a professor at the U of Utah and an expert on cell adhesion and motility.
Barbara Weiss
Mae Jemison, MD (NASA Astronaut) * listed multiple times
Dr Funmi Olapade
Beatrix Potter (fungus)Jane Goodall B. McClintock M.E. RuvuloC. KnottA. YoderLinda BuckHelen KellerRosalyn YalowRosie FranklinBarbara McClintock
Bobbie Lowe
Ruth Hubbard
Marty Crump
Erica Wildy
Sharon Franks
Karen Venti, Biochemistry *
Penny Boston - BiologyDiana Northup - Biology
Beth Shapiro - Biology
Sue Hendrickson - PaleontologyJennifer Blank - Geochemistry
Jane Goodall * Biology and AnthropologySylvia Earle - Marine Biology / OceanographyEugenie Clark - Marine Biology
Rosalind Franklin - BiologyB. Galdikas - BiologyMeave Leakey - PaleontologyLouise Leakey - Paleontology
Barbara Block - Marine Ecology and BiologyLisa Levin - Marine Ecology / OceanographyCindy Lee Van Dover – Oceanography
Laurie Marker - Biology
Gerty Cori *- Biochemistry
Genetics: Rosalind Franklin*
Beatrix Potter (fungus)Jane Goodall B. McClintock M.E. RuvuloC. KnottA. YoderLinda Buck!Helen KellerRosalyn YalowRosie FranklinFlorence NightingaleHilde Mangold (would have won a Nobel if she hadn't died tragically)Salome Glueksohn-SchoenheimerRita Levi-MontalciniMarianne Bronner-FraserNicole Le DouarinChritiane Nusslein-Volhard (Nobel laureate)Carla ShatzSusan McConnell

Physical Sciences
Astronomy: Henrietta Leavett
Geology: Tanya Atwater,Mary Anning, Marie Tharp, Inge Lehmann, Helen Tappan Loeblich.
Madam Lavoisier, wife of somebody. Judy SealeySusan YoungSara/Sarah Wilson? (South Africa)Kay BehrensmyerMary LyellEmi Ito
Marie Currie
Karen Venti, Biochemistry *
Mae Jemison, MD (NASA Astronaut) * listed multiple timesCarolyn Finney (Geography)
Henrietta Something...The lady who worked at Harvard Observatory and helped discover binary stars.Jocelyn Bell (Pulsars)Rosie FranklinMadam Curie Maria Goppert (sp?) (atomic structure)
Margaret Wertheim
Jennifer Ouellette
Alanna Schepartz (Yale)Laura Kiessling (Wisconsin)Carolyn Bertozzi (Berkeley)Alice Ting (MIT)Catherine Fenseleau Carol Fierke (Michigan)
Lise Meitner - PhysicsShirley Jackson - Theoretical PhysicsHenrietta Swan Leavitt - AstonomyMarie Curie - Chemistry and PhysicsIrene Joliot-Curie - ChemistryHelene Langevin-Joliot - PhysicsCaroline Herschel - AstronomyGerty Cori *- BiochemistryMaria Mitchell - Astronomy Jill Tarter - AstronomyLisa Kaltenegger - AstrophysicsElizabeth Catlos – Geochemistry
Carolyn Porco of the Cassini Imaging TeamLaura Danly of the Griffith ObservatoryMargaret Tolbert of the Univ of Colorado
Planetary Astronomer Heidi Hammel
Climate Scientist Inez Fung
Planetary Geologist Adriana Ocampo
Physics: Wendy Freedman, currently director of the Carnegie Obervatories. Helped being insight about the rapid expansion of the universe.
Lisa Randall, Theoretical physicist and author. Recently appeared on the Colbert Report
Planetary Science: Candice Hansen, JPL, recently part of the team that discovered an avalanche on Mars.
Jocelyn Bell (Pulsars)Rosie FranklinMadam Curie Maria Goppert (sp?) (atomic structure)Lisa RandallHelen Hogg
Chemistry: Judy SealeySusan YoungSara/Sarah Wilson? (South Africa)Marie CurieHelen Joliot-Curie

Math and Technology Sciences
Dr. Elva Jones, chair of Winston Salem State University's Computer Science Department and professor of computer scienceMath: Hypathia, Caroline Herschel, Sofia Kosavaleskya, Edna Krammer Lasson, Irene FonsecaRobot Designer Cynthia Breazeal
Biomechanist Mimi Koehl

Social Sciences
Dereece Smither
Meredith West
Jane Goodall *- Biology and Anthropology
Amber VanDerwarker – Anthropology
Mary Leakey – Anthropolgy
Sociologist Marta Tienda
Forensic Anthropologist Diane France
Anthropology: Diane Fossey, Mary Leakey
Laurie Santos, Yale. Psychology. Helped author the recent article "The Origins of Cognitive Dissonance: Evidence From Children and Monkeys"

Friday, April 4, 2008

Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. - The Dream Reborn

credit - http://www.summit.mccsc.edu/

It was just after dinner time, around 7 o'clock in the evening, forty years ago today, that a peacemaker and rights advocate was forever silenced. Though more commonly credited for the eruption of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, Dr. King was a Human Rights Advocate. He championed the cause of the oppressed, economically, socially, and politically disenfranchised. In fact, he was refining his advocacy focus in 1968 and had embarked upon the Poor People's Campaign. His advocacy visit in Memphis was apart of that campaign.

Now it is a new day, a new millennium, in fact. But there are still poor people and that campaign needs rekindling. An organization, called Green For All, has re-ignited Dr. King's torch of justice and advocacy - for both people and the environment - The Green Collar Jobs Campaign! There is a conference in Memphis, TN, this weekend, the commemorative weekend of Dr. King's assassination, to celebrate his life and legacy of advocacy.
Right now, there are no other issues that are more paramount to this world than the environment. But for whatever reason, the Black Community is largely absent and the traditional Black Advocacy organizations are silent. That is a shame, because the state of the environment affects us all and we have a responsibility to sustain it and be sustained by it.

“In an ecological age, it’s not like the environment is separate from Black people. We have this fantasy that somehow the white people are supposed to deal with the environment and the polar bears and the whales, and I guess we live on some other planet. But the reality is that when the environment is poisoned, our children get poisoned first. So we should be the foremost environmentalists." - Van Jones, Founder of the Green For All founding president of Green For All talking about The Dream Reborn Conference, hosted by Green for All in Memphis, TN, at the Cook Convention Center April 4-6, 2008. Excerpt taken from an article in the Tri-State Defender.

The Dream Reborn Conference will host over 1000 people coming together to celebrate MLK's extraordinary life and present positive solutions from today's generation of visionary leaders to build an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Anxiety is good for you - helps you avoid negative situations over time

Anxiety can be your friend, study shows at Scientific Blogging. Seems that being anxious can be a good thing. Well, to use the wise witty of my no-nonsense grandmother - "Be smart enough to scared. It'll keep you out of trouble." Having the good sense to be nervous just might be our mind's and body's way of tapping us on the shoulder before making a potentially bad decisions. And over time, it's a good a thing. It keeps us safe and secure.

Again, using anecdotal evidence from my daily life, I have relatives and people I've met through service activities from lower SES. Why this might matter? Well, perhaps this is why some continue to make what might seem to be obvious mistakes. e.g. spending bill money at the casino, going on trips to All-Star Weekend instead of buying car insurance, getting into fist fights in public, dating mean-tough mean who hit women, going on a 'run' with Pooky and you know he's riding dirty or has warrants out, smoking weed in public around complete stragers...Crazy stuff like that.

And when I ask, "Hey, have you thought about not doing blah, blah, blah, since the outcome is never as great as you hope?"
Response " ", yep. Silence or hem-hawing.

That last one - smoking weed in public - actually happened to me. I was ordering food at a ghetto restaurant (you know, a walk-up counter with bullet-proof glass, no table or chairs) and I smelled smoke. I thought, "is that weed I smell?" I notices a guy with a blunt in his fingers. Well, blunts are legal, so I brushed it off. I guess they just smell like that. Then another guy walked in and made that face. Smoker offered him a hit. Other guy said, "no, not inside, let me take it outside". Smoker said, "You's a scary N***a. Nah main, hit it here." How did Smoker not know I (or anyone else in the restaurant) wasn't a Narc or cop? He didn't and he didn't care. Smoker got his food and departed. Other guy shook his head in disgust and said "That's why I'm trying to get my own. Cause he is crazy and don't care about getting locked up."
Anxiety = good. Low anxiety = stupid

But being anxious is a good thing...Really? Okay it makes sense if I'm spending money or cliff diving. But what about my everyday anxieties because I'm an anxious mess. Everything seems so unresolved, unfinished.

I haven't made ANY progress on my dissertation in MONTHS. I'm running out of time and MUST defend before summer's end. I hate this. I should have walked in December.
I hate my job, but thankfully that's almost over. I submitted my resignation Monday. I am relieved. Already my partner has noticed a dramatic improvement in my behavior and attitude. But I haven't told my employees yet. And actually I'm anxious about leaving them - stranded. Though far from perfect pupils, they don't deserve the mess they'll gain by being merged with the other team.
Oh, I don't have another job to go to. WHAT!! yes, you read right. I'm actually scared to take another job. I've got to finish that damn dissertation. That job sucked the life, energy and innovative brain cells out of me.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Framing Science - so you can understand

I was reading though The Intersection and came across this list kind of explains the importance of Framing Science. This is a big deal to me. Sharing science with under-represented and under-served audiences is my focus. I am especially committed to African-American audiences (regardless of SES). The truth is, most Americans are scientifically illiterate. But, I have found that regardless of economic, political, social or even educational status, most African-Americans are not very scientifically literate. That's scary, because even within other demographics, things shake out across SES lines. So this signals a great need to provide across the board attention to the whole demographic.

Here is a part of the post from that blog that lists 8 issues related to Framing Science. Emphasis and comments in colored text are mine.

1. We have long-running politicized science controversies on subjects like evolution and climate change, with separate polarized camps and the repeated use and misuse of complex scientific information in the arguments. Yes, to true. The African-American community does have some experience with the evolution issue and right now, most are out of the climate change and environmental game. We are consistently late on adding out 2 cents in on global issues that aren't specifically "black issues". I have peeves with this, see previous post. Back to the evolution issue. Like most Americans, Black Americans are largely confused about this scientific concept and most of what people think they understand comes from equally uninformed church leaders and other cognitive novices.

2. Wonks and science enthusiasts--and ScienceBloggers!--can parse these arguments. But most members of the general public are unlikely to grasp the fine scientific details, and--having neither the time nor the interest to deeply inform themselves about them--are more likely to make up their minds about these complex issues in the absence of real detailed knowledge about them. So true. I feel the same way about the economic news and the Bloomberg report. Like I care to know all of the caveats and nuances. But, I recognize there are caveats and nuances. So, I don't take that for granted when I do hear/read economic news. The point here is that I understand that people don't want or need all of those details. The trick is to inform them without boring them or oversimplifying the info.

3. Rather, these members of the public will rely on cues, cognitive shortcuts, and sources of information that may not be scientific--e.g., church leaders, neighbors, Fox News. They will use these information sources, in combination with their partisan, ideological, or religious backgrounds, to make up their minds. I co-sign, see my comment for #1. One big issue is the fact that most people (especially Blacks) don't have any 'science authorities or leaders' they can quote. So, it is hard to refute the arguments if you have no one (whom everyone may also be able to relate to) to quote as saying, "this is the way it is" or offer people another way to look at things. Overall, better Science PR is needed to elevate the status if science and science professionals in the African-American community.

4. Furthermore, in the fragmented media system, many members of the public can opt out of receiving high quality scientific information entirely--and often do. They can just turn the channel. They can watch the Food Network. or BET. Gotta love free-market system. I've made comments on this topic of framing before, see previous post.

5. Therefore, if--if--you want to get beyond audiences of science enthusiasts who understand the fine details, and move this broad public on these highly complex and politicized issues, you have to do more with your communication strategy than simply informing people about the details of science. I agree and that's the hard part. Though this is something I want to do, I struggle with it.
For one, scientists are trained to provide the information, not shape your opinion. I think it is an Achilles heal of the profession. "Let the results speak for themselves" is a common quote. Interpret results, but don't go too far. Most scientists are careful about over-stepping or making too much out of something. It's considered inappropriate to overstate the importance or impact of your results. Conservatism. Hmmm, what to do? Because the other side has NO problem explaining inferences and guesses as fact.

6. Rather, you have to pare down these highly complex issues--or "frame" them--selectively highlighting just those aspects of the issue that will resonate with the core values of the particular audience (and there are different audiences, of course, and different frames will work for them). Working on that.

7. Furthermore, you have to reach a given audience through the media outlets it is actually going to--and that will often not be scientific media, ScienceBlogs, etc. True. Meet people where they are. But here is the rub. Blogging maybe a special case. Though the internet is popular, many black people I know (in the real world) largely underutilize the internet and it's related technologies. With the exception of email, texting, mobile phone calls, and entertainment (music, videos, you tube and celebrity gossip) most are clueless. For example, they may have heard the term blog, but don't know what it is, how to use it and definitely don't comprehend the power of it. I often break news to my friends and they are always shocked and say "how did you know that?!" So, despite LOVING the internet and blogging, to meet my audience where it is means - the TV, the radio, and "ghetto newspapers". Sorry EBPs, I've got to try to reach our other brethren, too.

8. All of this leads to the following conclusion: With various types of intensive (and expensive) research--polling, focus grouping, media research, frame analysis, etc--it ought to be possible to come up with a communication strategy that should work on a given scientific issue. However, these strategies will often not involve talking about the technical details of science. Often, it will be important to emphasize other aspects of the issues--moral, economic, and so on. I'm working on this, too. Wish me luck. Better yet, let me know when I'm 'relating' to you.

Stay informed.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Fear of messing up may cause whites to avoid blacks

I came across this interesing post at ScienceBlogs: Fear of messing up may cause whites to avoid blacks.

Here's a snippet.

Now a provocative new study from Northwestern University suggests that whites who are particularly worried about appearing racist seem to suffer from anxiety that instinctively may cause them to avoid interaction with blacks in the first place.

“The Threat of Appearing Prejudiced and Race-based Attentional Biases,” by Jennifer A. Richeson, associate professor of psychology and African-American studies and faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research (IPR) at Northwestern, and Sophie Trawalter, post-doctoral fellow, IPR, recently appeared in the journal Psychological Science.

Study participants indicated that they worry about inadvertently getting in trouble for somehow seeming biased. As a result, the study suggests, they behaved in a way that research shows people respond when faced with stimuli that cause them to feel threatened or anxious: they instinctively look at what is making them feel nervous and then ignore it.

In this case, study participants, 15 white college students, indicated that they were motivated to respond in non-prejudiced ways toward blacks primarily for appearance’s sake because of concern about social disapproval -- rather than because of their internal values.