Reversing the ban on trophy imports to save elephants?

I was scrolling through the Wonkblog on the Washington Post website when this article caught my eye. The title, “The Fish and Wildlife Service said we have to kill elephants to help save them. The data says otherwise.,” caught my eye because of what it seemed to imply: People think that we can save an endangered species by hunting them. That doesn’t sound right, so I decided to click and read on.

The first paragraph of the article states that “Supporters of trophy hunting say that permit fees from the practice, which can run into the tens of thousands of dollars in the case of large game like elephants, can be put toward conservation efforts that help bolster the populations of endangered animals.” Okay, I can see some reasoning in there, but it still doesn’t sound right.

Another big part of this article that caught my eye was the mention that the Trump administration was going to reverse an Obama-era ban on importing African elephant trophies, with the reasoning above being part of the logic behind making this change. That’s something that really bothered me, and probably other people, but I’ll come back to that in a bit.

The Global Elephant Census, which is an effort to track elephant populations in 18 countries in Africa over three years, found that there were about 374,000 elephants remaining in Africa, which was down from an estimated 10 million elephants at the turn of the 20th century and roughly 600,000 from 1989. Those are very dramatic decreases. Seeing these numbers makes it hard to believe that hunting elephants and using permit fees for conservation efforts will do much work.

Elephant Population Falling

What makes this even more worrisome is considering how these conservation fees fit into the economy: how much do they contribute to the economy, and how much of that contribution actually goes to conservation efforts? Economists at Large, an economic analysis firm that is based out of Australia, found that in eight countries, tourism is between 2.8% and 5.1% of the GDP in studied countries, and that trophy hunting makes up, at most, about 0.03% of the GDP. That’s not a lot. What’s more, in 2015 a National Geographic Report found that minimal amounts of revenue from trophy hunting actually went to conservation efforts, with government corruption being cited as one factor (especially in Zimbabwe, which comes up a lot in several places).

So, things aren’t looking great so far: fees from trophy hunting provide a very small percentage of the GDP in 8 countries, and due to several factors, government corruption being the most quoted one, an even smaller amount of that money goes back to animal conservation efforts. I think the logic behind hunting elephants works, but human greed isn’t considered when making these arguments. There’s the assumption that all the money from fees will go to help conservation efforts, but it doesn’t. If that were the case, then maybe it wouldn’t be as bad.

Back to the Trump Administration reversal of the Obama-era ban on importing African elephant trophies: According to Fish and Wildlife Service data that was analyzed by the Humane Society, elephants hunted in Zimbabwe accounted for nearly half of the trophy imports to the United States. After the ban was put in place, imports dropped dramatically, as we can see in the graph below.

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This ban has kept law-abiding citizens from contributing to the declining elephant populations for the sake of sport and pride. The article mentions that between 2005 and 2014 American hunters imported an average of nearly 200 elephant trophies each year, and as of 2016, that number had dropped to just three. 200 doesn’t sound like a lot until you consider the already declining number of elephants. 200 trophies each year adds up very quickly. If the ban on trophy imports is reversed, we’re risking going back up to that 200-imports-each-year average, and adding even more deaths to African elephants. We’re risking contributing to the decline in number of African elephants, and likely aiding in their untimely extinction.

These things aren’t great. We should care about not letting this ban reversal go through because even though 200 elephants per year isn’t a huge number (relatively) to be gone each year, but it’s better to have 200 more elephants with the ban than it is to lose an additional 200 elephants without it. Let’s help the elephants, not add on to their already declining numbers.

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Gender in writing about love.

I was scrolling through the Upshot on the New York Times website and came across an interesting article titled “The Words Men and Women Use When They Write About Love.” This stood out to me because I’ve never really considered writing differences between men and women, other than the usual action for boys, romance for girls that was common back in middle school. I decided to dive in and learn about this difference, and to see if there was even a strong, solid argument for a difference.

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Comparison of words men and women use when writing about love. These words were charted based on whether the essay was published and gender of the author. Image from the New York Times.

The authors of this article used essay submissions for the last four years as their data pool. They charted the words along two dimensions: the gender of the author (horizontal) and whether the essay was published (vertical). The words at the top of the chart are more likely in published essays, and the words at the bottom in rejected essays. The words on the left side are more likely in essays written by men, and words on the right in essays written by women. Visually, this is shown using colors: blue for men, pink for women, and purple for the words in the middle that represent overlap.

The authors found differences when talking about families: men typically mentioned son, father, and dad more often while women mentioned daughter, mother, and mom more often. The authors linked this to parents reporting that they felt closer to their children of the same sex. Another pattern that they noticed was that women tended to describe emotion and feeling more while men described action more. These seem to fit into the traditional gender roles: girls and women are expected to be more emotional, to accept and experience feeling, while boys and men are told not to cry, and basically that showing emotion is a weakness. Also noted is the change in male and female behavior: Robin Lakoff says that the line between male and female behavior is blurring:

“Back in the 50s, men could show anger, rivalry and hostility, so they could swear. Women could show fear, sorrow and love, and so they could cry… [Today,] it’s probably best to say we are somewhat confused about gender roles and stereotypes.”

Since our views on traditional gender roles have been changing, maybe this would have been different from 60 years ago. Maybe what we see reflects those changes. The authors mention that men aren’t not talking about emotions, they just aren’t talking about as many of them. Perhaps this might have been different in the 50s: maybe we would’ve seen even fewer emotions mentioned in essays written by men (who knows?).

The part of the chart above that confused me was the published versus unpublished essays. I wasn’t sure why that would be important: people can still use certain words more than others even if their essays and other writings aren’t published. The authors mention this variable in the last few paragraphs of the article: their analysis offers hints at what types of essays are published. The essays published seem to be more specific in their characters and settings.

What might this mean?

This analysis is interesting, but does it have any meaning? From what I understand, this analysis of words could be used to determine who gets published and who doesn’t. Knowing what words are more likely to be published can alter one’s voice when writing. This analysis could also be used by publishers to address how they choose which essays get published; they could look back on their methods of choosing essays, and see if they’ve been making biased decision. For example, one publisher might read an essay and deem it “too feminine” based on the name of the author. On a less serious note, someone could alter their writing to come across as someone completely different when writing under a pen name. For example, if a man was concerned with publishing something about love under his real identity, he could alter his words to seem like his piece was written by a woman. It’s a long process to hiding your identity in your work, but if someone really wants to hide the identity in their writing, it’s a process that might work.

All in all, however, I think it’s difficult to take any meaning from this analysis as a general meaning because it has only sampled a select group of people (at least, from my understanding), which is people who read the New York Times and submit essays to it. I think it would be interesting to see how the words presented might change if there was a more diverse group of people and essays sampled (ie, people who subscribe to other news sources than the New York Times, or people who don’t generally keep up on current events; how might essays written by these people differ? Would they differ at all?). It’s tough to draw solid conclusions from a single data set, and on something as abstract as words used in essays.

What do I think?

I went into this article thinking about the different ways that men and women write about love. This article did indeed provide general differences (action versus emotion, men in the family versus women in the family). I don’t think that the article itself gives enough information about the method used to gather these essays. We know that these words come from essays collected over four years, but how many essays are there? Was the topic/prompt that people were writing for the exact same over those four years? I still have these questions, but I do think that this is a good starting point. Given this general topic, this is the analysis of words used by people that submitted essays to the New York Times.

Another point that keeps coming up in my mind is Robin Lakoff’s comment about the blurring lines between male and female behavior. I wonder if we would have expected less overlap in a situation like this back in the 50s, and if we would expect to see more overlap if we tried this experiment in another 20, 40, and 60 years from now. It’s interesting to me to think about how much our behaviors might change in any of those time intervals, especially considering the changes we’ve seen since the 1950s. That could be a social implication: the blurring of the lines between male and female behavior, and the confusion (and rejection) of gender roles can be shown in our writings about love. I’m interested to see how this might look in larger and later settings as well.

Past and future space endeavors

What’s our future in space?

We’ve been to the moon, but it doesn’t seem like we’ve done much since. To get a good idea of what to expect, maybe we need to look into our history in space.

Christopher Ingraham wrote an article for the Washington Post titled “What humanity’s history in space tells us about our future in the stars.” He begins by giving a little bit of the history of humans and space travel: how many launches we’ve done between 1957 and present day, how much of the federal budget is dedicated to NASA in that time frame. Harvard astrophysicist Johnathan McDowell has a database that lists all known attempts of space launches – roughly 5,730 launches.

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The space age began after Russia’s space program launched Sputnik. The number of launch attempts peaked in 1967 with 143 rockets launched into orbit. The activity remained high in the 1970s and 1980s, then began to decline in the 1990’s. This decline that we see could be caused in part by the 1986 Challenger explosion. Seeing this explosion on live television doesn’t really give space launches a good look. The budget dedicated to NASA also declines significantly after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. I guess there’s not much of a hurry to make advancements in space when you have no competitors.

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We’re still active in sending things to space, as you can see in the earlier graph. Ingraham attributes some of this to private companies. Private companies, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, have been making space launches; SpaceX has completed 15 successful launches in 2017 alone. Ingraham mentions that sending things into space is also like a routine, claiming that “humans have attempted to shoot something into space about once every four days this year, with a success rate greater than 93 percent.” It’s good to see that we’re still active in space. Maybe we’ll make it off this planet before we completely ruin it.

What’s in the future?

It seems that we might be moving from a government-funded space program to several individual, privately-funded space programs. With the low budget dedicated to NASA (projected to be less than 0.5%), it makes sense that privately owned companies would step in to take over space travel. The Trump administration, however, claims to want to send people to the moon. Two privately-funded space explorers/companies have big launch plans for the future: SpaceX wants to send a crewed mission to Mars in seven years, and Jeffrey P. Bezos’s Blue Origin plans to send tourists into suborbital flight by 2018. These are some pretty exciting prospects.

What does it mean for everyone else?

Yeah, I’m a nerd for space, so I think space and the prospects of space travel are cool, but what about everyone else? Why should anyone else care about space travel? I’d like to start by being a pessimist: we, the human race, aren’t going to be around on Earth forever, and with the way we treat the planet, we’re going to be gone sooner rather than later. Space travel allows us to look beyond our planet for home. If we continue to improve and advance our space travel, there might even be the potential for space exploration.

We can get into all the realistic space movies out there. Round two on a new planet because we destroyed our first home. Mining and resource collection on other planets because we used up all of ours. Traveling just for the sake of traveling. Space travel has the potential to provide so much for us. We can get a fresh start, or try to fix what we’ve screwed up, or even just travel because we want to. It’s possible that people could live the same way they do now, except they’re on a different planet, or there’s the opportunity that traveling between planets becomes the new traveling to a different continent. The possibilities are exciting, but we need to continue space travel and funding to get there.

We need space travel for a backup plan when we screw up our own planet so bad that it becomes inhabitable. But, we also need it to fuel our curiosity and need for adventure.

Police and body worn cameras: a surprising result.

An article published by the New York Times reports on the results of a study concerned with the effects of body worn cameras on police officers. The effects looked at were civilian complaints and use of force.

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An Axon camera worn by officers on duty. Image from Google.

We often see that people behave better, or are more likely to do things that are ‘good’ when there is the illusion of someone watching them (like with the eyes poster that we saw in Thinking Fast and Slow), so this is what we would probably expect to see from police wearing body cameras. The results of the study suggest that wearing body cameras had no statistical significance on police behavior, which is very surprising.

Amanda Ripley, the author of this article, mentions another study from 2012 in Rialto, CA, focused on the effects of “body worn cameras” (BWC’s). This other study showed calming effects from BWC’s, such as a 90 percent decrease in civilian complaints from the previous year. Although these studies had different results, Ripley also mentions differences between the studies: the 2012 study focused on just 54 officers, while the recent study focused on 2200 officers. This difference in size also results in a difference in amount of footage: the recent Washington study has about five times more footage than the earlier Rialto study. The larger sample size and amount of footage adds more reliability to the recent study.

This study has a result that is completely unexpected. We would expect police officers to be less willing to show use of force while being filmed (or with the potential to be filmed), but this doesn’t seem to be the case. Ripley discusses in her article some potential reasons why these results are the way they are.

One hypothesis was that the officers became desensitized to the BWC’s. This is less likely though, because the researchers didn’t see a difference in behavior at the start of the study compared to the end.

Another hypothesis was that “officers without cameras were acting like officers with cameras, simply because they knew other officers had the devices.” If all of the officers were acting the same, with or without cameras, it would make sense that the results would appear the same rather than having a difference with presence of camera.

The third hypothesis that Ripley brings up is fear: officers in Washington DC turn their cameras on when they answer a call or interact with the public as officers. Ripley states: “The kinds of situations that might lead to civilian complaints or use-of-force incidents are high-stress encounters. When frightened, humans tend to act on automatic fear responses (or, in the case of good police officers in an ideal world, training).” So, officers could be having complaints against them and using force due to responding out of fear and reverting back to their initial training.

The final hypothesis is that their might not have been a difference in complaints and use of force because the Washington DC police department has already had to confront excessive use-of-force problems. Since these problems are already being addressed, it might not seem like there’s much of a before and after difference.

Whatever the cause, this study shows that BWC’s aren’t a guaranteed fix to complaints against officers or force used by officers. This is an interesting result to see because we have seen in many other places that being recorded, or even having eyes from a poster on someone usually makes them a “more honest” person (like we saw in Thinking Fast and Slow). If officers aren’t made “more honest” (more likely to abide by the rules, for example) by having their actions recorded, then what does that say about them as people? Would we really want to have them as officers? That’s something that I find concerning, but I’d like to see more into the study, maybe in more areas to see where those results are common to (maybe big cities, cities with violent officer problems, etc.).

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The eyes study from Thinking Fast and Slow.

We also see that even though these results aren’t what the researchers were hoping for, there is some benefit to it: the information gathered from BWC’s can be used in training, as well as holding an officer responsible if any errant behavior is recorded. There’s also the potential that civilians will feel safer with BWC’s on officers. They’ll know that if they feel unsafe with an officer, or have any issues, their concerns are at least recorded.

So, what does all of this mean for us as civilians? Officers wearing cameras doesn’t show a significant difference in civilian complaints, or uses of force, but there is some comfort in knowing that the interaction is being recorded. More research is needed to tell us how the public feels about police officers wearing cameras: if civilians feel safer and more comfortable with officers wearing cameras, then it’s enough of a win to keep with the BWC plan. On the other hand, it’s an expensive process to make all officers record interactions, then store all of that data (the most expensive part), especially if the results of officers wearing BWC’s doesn’t positively impact their behavior and complaints. Either way, more research is needed to fully determine if BWC’s have any impact (whether small increases or small decreases) on officers’ use of force or complaints against officers.

Should we worry about the Yellowstone supervolcano?

I was scrolling through Facebook earlier this week when an article caught my eye. The article, Yellowstone’s Supervolcano Could Erupt Much Faster Than Anyone Thought was shared by one of the geology pages I follow. This got me thinking about my fear of volcanoes as a child. I was terrified of a volcano erupting and making me burn to death. Ah, the good times.

Yellowstone is one of the most popular supervolcanoes today. Many scientists estimate that supereruptions happen every 100,000 years; Yellowstone’s last eruption was 631,000 years ago, so it makes sense that people would be concerned.

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The highlighted are where ash beds have been identified from previous Yellowstone eruptions. Image from GeologyIn.com

The study this article focuses on is looking into how long it takes for conditions to build up for a supereruption to occur after fresh magma becomes available in the chamber. This time estimate would tell us how long it would take for another supereruption to occur, as well as give us a rough estimate of when we could expect one to occur (if we have the right conditions forming, we could expect an eruption to occur in a certain range of years).

Hannah Shamloo, a graduate student at Arizona State University, conducted this research with some colleagues. They gathered samples from Yellowstone’s Lava Creek Tuff and analyzed the crystals in the rocks. These crystals originate in the magma and grow as the magma cools. As these crystals grow, they record changes in temperature, pressure, and water content (these changes are very apparent in zircon crystals in the form of “zoning“).

Shamloo and her dissertation adviser, Christy Till, expected the process to occur over thousands of years, but instead found that the outer zones indicate an increase in temperature and change in composition over a short period of time. Essentially, they found that i’s possible that these conditions could have occurred decades after fresh magma entered the chamber. A previous study noted that the “awakening” of another supervolcano, one under Long Valley in California, took only a few hundred years. This is important because it shows that these conditions can build in a human lifetime instead of thousands of years previously expected.

This isn’t all negative though: Shamloo has warned that more research is needed before we can give a definite answer to her research question. Another scientist, geochemist Kari Cooper from UC Davis, has agreed that this research offers new insights into time frames of supereruptions, but that she isn’t convinced yet that we can pin the precise trigger of the last Yellowstone eruption event. That’s another individual supporting more research on this topic before accepting a definite answer.

So, should we be worried? The answer is, not yet. More research is needed before we can give a definite answer to how long it takes for the conditions of a supervolcano eruption to build up. Until then, we can go along our own merry ways in blissful ignorance.

Sleeping Troubles, Mental Health, and Chronotherapy

I read an article that talks about a bit about the link between sleep and mental health. The title of the article is what drew me in: “Sleep Problems Have More Links to Mental Health Than You Think.” Well, damn, I’d like to know more about these links; I know sleeping troubles can be a sign of mental illness and sleeping troubles can lead to decreased mental health, but what else am I missing? Unfortunately, those were the only two big links mentioned in the article, but there was some mention of a potential “solution” to this problem.

The author of this article, Brittany Nims, mentions chronotherapy, which is a method to reset your circadian rhythm/clock. Nims mentions that more research is needed in chronotheraphy, but initial studies seem to support the healing abilities. She cites two studies to show the support: the first claims that “70 percent of participants with bipolar disorder (who did not have a history of drug resistance) ‘improved rapidly with sleep deprivation and early morning light,’ and 57 percent felt better just nine months later.” The second study used a combination of antidepressants and chronotherapy to treat patients with bipolar disorder. The results looked at the amount of time it took for patients to feel relief: some felt it after 48 hours, whereas typical antidepressants can take anywhere from 2-8 weeks to provide relief.

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Image from the Wikipedia page on circadian rhythm.

These study results sound nice and all, but I wasn’t able to access the papers to see methods or any other descriptions, so I will choose to remain skeptical. Fortunately, Nims also says: “Though initial studies of the effects of chronotherapy and mental health appear positive, it’s important to remember that engaging in any kind of new health regimen without your doctor’s guidance isn’t advised.” So, although she tells us that chronotherapy appears positive after initial studies, she reminds us not to just jump on it after reading these two studies. At least it’s not a biased article promoting the “healing powers” of chronotherapy over any other methods.

On a serious note, though, this is a topic I find very interesting at the moment. I’ve been experiencing some problems with mental health and sleeping troubles, so this potential solution interests me. Perhaps if I am able to reset my internal clock, I’ll feel at least the slightest bit better. Besides, it’ll be beneficial to get a regulated sleeping schedule as well.

Although I do like the mention of chronotherapy (it sounds like an interesting topic and area to study), I think that the title of the article was a little misleading. There wasn’t much focus on the links between mental health and sleep problems, but rather a quick mention of the two connections and some numbers to support those. The article seemed to be set up more for the potential solutions (chronotherapy and a quick list of tricks to try to get a better night’s sleep) than it was for the connections, so I’m a little disappointed. As it turns out, I’m not missing much in the connections, just in the potential solutions.

What’s Up With Dress Codes?

I was scrolling through Facebook earlier today when I came across a Facebook post about a teacher who was “cited for inappropriate dress” on an outfit that I personally thought looked fine. This made me think about dress codes and the ridiculousness that often comes with them. I decided to look up dress code violations, to get a better idea of dress code regulations, what they are, and the ways in which they are violated. I’m curious,  what makes these violations such a big deal?

I read an article by npr.org titled “The Anatomy of a Dress Code” by Juana Summers, which discusses, you guessed it, the anatomy of dress codes. Why they’re there, what their function is, some general guidelines that most school districts follow. This article also has a subsection about dress code and gender bias. The main focus seems to be on prom and the dress codes that come with it. Many schools have several “don’t”s for girls to look out for with their dresses, whereas men are only given a handful of advisories, if any. Summers also adds a quote from a spokesperson for Vanguard High School in Ocala, Florida, the school focused on, that says,

“…as for male vs. female dress codes, the general understanding (I think you’ll agree) is there are fewer options for males, therefore fewer opportunities to wear something inappropriate and/or unacceptable.”

Kevin Christian

Though this is generally true, I think there is also something to be said of the way society sees women’s bodies. If there wasn’t such an issue of sexualizing women’s bodies, then we probably wouldn’t have to worry about as many regulations for girls’ prom dresses.

Since I wanted a bigger idea on why dress codes are such a big topic these days, especially when it comes to gender, I decided to look for another article to get more information. Using the search “male vs female dress code violations” I found that most of the articles were either protesting dress codes or focused on the sexism within dress codes. One article from CNN, titled “Gender-equal Dress Codes: Students Call for Fairness” discusses the inequality of dress codes. Why should one group be able to wear a certain set of clothes while another can’t?

Another big topic in this article is the idea that girls are dress coded more than boys because they are seen as more distracting. To combat this idea, a student, Mari Tufts, from Citrus High School in Iverness, Florida, conducted an experiment where she had 15 boys complete multiplication tables while she showed them 26 different pictures of girls in different outfits. She then timed how long each student was distracted by each picture. Mari said of her experiment:

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Mari Tufts standing with her science project. Photo from CNN article.

“I did it so people will start to see that girls are not a distraction and to stop teaching young men that it is an acceptable excuse to be distracted from their education. I found there was no correlation between any of the photos that were in dress code or out of dress code.”

Mari Tufts

So, this experiment that Mari conducted shows a sample that the ways girls are dressed doesn’t distract boys as much as administrators seem to be concerned with.

So, dress codes are concerned with protecting student’s learning by avoiding distraction, and promoting modesty when it comes to prom dresses. Looking into these two articles has made me curious as to more exact statistics of dress code violations of girls versus boys, and statistics of how many schools have a prom dress code that is much more extensive for girls than it is for boys. Though these things don’t affect me currently, it is something that I will get to witness with my brothers; will they experience as much trouble with dress code as I did in high school? Probably not, but it will be interesting to see.