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Posts By / Rachel Bowen

New research shows that active gaming technology could help people with Multiple Sclerosis

A new study published by Bournemouth University has shown that using the Nintendo Wii™ could help people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) become more active.  Being more physically activity has a range of potential benefits, including better balance and posture, improved confidence and improved mood.

The study saw 30 participants trial the use of Wii Fit Plus™, Wii Sports™ and Wii Sports Resort™ games at home, following initial orientation and guidance from physiotherapists in a hospital setting.  People recorded how often they used the Wii™, as well as responding to a number of questionnaires exploring its effects.  Dr Sarah Thomas, lead researcher, explains the rationale behind the project:

“Physical activity is known to make a difference to the health and wellbeing of people with MS, but they often face greater barriers to participation.  I’d noticed from my own family that playing the Wii appealed across the generations and was interested to see whether its ease of use and accessibility would make a difference to people with MS,” says Dr Thomas.

“Conversations with the Dorset MS team showed that they’d been thinking along the same lines, as they’d noticed that the Wii was increasingly being used by their patients.  That’s what led us to develop a successful grant application to the MS Society.”

As part of the Mii-vitaliSe study, people with MS were allocated  at random to one of two groups – one which trialled the Wii intervention immediately alongside their usual care for 12 months, and one which started the Wii intervention after a 6 month delay.

“The people we worked with were relatively physically inactive at the beginning of the study,” explains Dr Thomas, “Through regular 1-2-1 sessions with a physiotherapist, they were able to develop individual goals, which they then worked towards achieving using the Wii™ in their own homes.”

“We found that people were using the Wii™ on average about twice a week, most often for balance exercises, yoga or aerobics,” continues Dr Thomas, “Our participants found it a fun and convenient way to increase their physical activity levels, with people reporting benefits such as reduced stress, increased confidence and better balance, among others.”

“In day-to-day life, people noticed improvements such as dropping fewer pegs when hanging out washing, finding it easier to get in and out of the shower and walking further.”

We hope to build on these promising initial findings by carrying out a large multi-centre trial to test whether this intervention is effective.”

The full study can be read here.

A briefing paper about the research can be found here.

A terrible fate awaits North Korean women who escape to China

As North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme and provocative missile tests draw the world’s attention, one crucial reality about the totalitarian regime has been left largely unnoticed: as bleak as life is for most who live in North Korea, it is often far worse for those who flee – most of whom are forced to suffer horrific human rights abuses away from the world’s scrutiny.

Since China shares a border with North Korea, it has become the first destination for desperate North Koreans who risk their lives to escape. An unofficial figure estimates that there are between 50,000 and 200,000 North Koreans living in China. The Chinese government denies most of them refugee status, instead treating them as economic migrants who have illegally crossed the border to seek work. Most have no formal identification or legal status. In addition, Beijing works together with Pyongyang to capture defectors and send them back, making their lives as escapees completely untenable.

I have interviewed many North Koreans now settled in the UK. Many of them told me they had been caught by the Chinese police and repatriated to the north a number of times, but managed to escape again and again. The combination of desperation, the denial of legal status and the terror of the Chinese police operation exposes these people to gross exploitation – especially women.

Among those who successfully leave North Korea, women make up the majority. In their search for freedom, many of them paradoxically end up being trafficked, detained and treated inhumanely because of their precarious and insecure positions in China as “illegal migrants”.

Vulnerability exploited

Drawn to what they hope is a guarantee of work, some women who cross the border are instead sold to Chinese or Korean-Chinese men in rural areas who cannot find wives due to poverty, undesirable living conditions, disability and the lopsided gender demographics created by the now-replaced one-child policy. Other women are abducted in public spaces, such as streets and trains, and forced into prostitution. As a survival strategy, a few women or family members volunteer themselves to be sold. Some are lucky enough to find decent and kind men, but they are a vanishingly small minority.

Most are locked up so they cannot escape. They are denied contact with their family members or friends, and often a whole village effectively becomes a community of guards to watch them so they cannot run. Many of the women forced into these relationships endure physical hardships, forced to work in the fields and do endless household chores. Some are trafficked to households with several men, where their keepers take turns to violate them on a regular basis.

During their captivity, many of them also become pregnant. If they manage to escape to other countries, such as South Korea, they are forced to leave their children behind – and since these children aren’t officially recognised in China, they are denied basic rights and entitlements, foregoing even basic healthcare and education.

And so even those fortunate enough to escape from their dire situations in North Korea and China are left with agonising worry and guilt about their left-behind children. Out of shame, many never talk about the intense pain they feel, instead suffering in lonely silence.

What must be done

A 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry report on the human rights situation in North Korea criticised the Chinese government for its violation of the human rights of North Korean refugees on a number of counts, including its repatriation of North Korean refugees, its failure to protect them from trafficking, and its refusal to recognise the children of North Korean women and Chinese men. However, the Chinese government rejected the commission’s report and refused to change its stance.

It is therefore time for the rest of the world to change the way it interacts with China. International organisations, governments and the media must apply even greater pressure on Beijing to change its policy towards North Korean refugees and the children they have in China; it must recognise that they’re entitled to refugee status by virtue of the human rights abuses they endure at home.

If governments are to act, their citizens and media must pressurise them to make this issue a higher priority. If a global campaign can gather enough momentum and strength, the Chinese government will be forced to listen and reconsider.

The ConversationIt may be a significant obstacle, but it is a challenge we can all play our part in. By demanding action, we can all support the fight against the sustained human rights abuse of desperate North Korean defectors and their invisible children. We might not be able to see it, but we know it’s happening – and we have a human duty to act.

Hyun-Joo Lim, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

It’s important to keep tourism afloat in areas that experience natural disasters

In 2016, tourism in the Caribbean saw a healthy growth of 4.7% and Mexico earned its place among the top ten tourist destinations. Tourism is an important source of income for both the Caribbean Islands and Mexico. In Mexico, the industry was responsible for 16% of total GDP in 2016, with North America its main source market.

Both the Caribbean and Mexico were recently in the headlines due to a series of natural disasters. Hurricanes Irma and Maria battered the Caribbean, causing widespread destruction and loss of life, and a deadly earthquake hit Mexico on September 19. Some 326 people have so far been reported dead in Mexico. Both the earthquake and hurricanes have left major infrastructural and super structural devastation in their wake. The search for survivors is ongoing. Bodies are being recovered and the significant loss of lives mourned.

How should the tourism industry respond to such disasters? Of course, the interests of holidaymakers are far from important now, but tourism is economically key to these countries. Currently, the mood is certainly not right for tourists to return to either Mexico or the worst-hit Caribbean islands. And besides the lack of infrastructure and security in affected areas means many would not want to go.

At the same time, developing countries such as Mexico need the income, employment opportunities and foreign exchange generated by tourism. If tourists stay away from such destinations the resident population will not only lose loved ones and belongings, they could also lose their livelihood. As such, it is important that the industry is not damaged too much.

The importance of this can be seen from past instances of disaster. Soon after the 2005 Boxing Day tsunami, for example, Thailand started its marketing campaign with Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand’s prime minister, asking tourists to “stop fearing ghosts” and to return to the region. Similarly, in 2002, following the Bali bombing, the Indonesian minister of culture and tourism asked people to visit Bali, saying “it makes no sense to isolate them” (the people of Bali). So how much should we worry about this in the case of Mexico and the Caribbean?

The Caribbean sands that attract so many tourists.
Maridav / Shutterstock.com

Tourism has proven to be resilient industry, although it can be susceptible to shocks from risk-increasing events. Such disasters sometimes have large initial negative effects, but later these tend to decrease or even disappear. But potential tourists can become used to negative events if they occur frequently enough; the shock factor decreases over time.

This has been evident in the responses to the terrorist attacks in Europe that have occurred in recent years. The impact of shock initially put people off from travelling but in many cases there has been a strong rebound once the threat is perceived to have been removed. Overall, studies have shown that impact and recovery depends on a number of factors including destination and tourist type, the type of event, the frequency and scale of destruction.

An earthquake or a hurricane is quite different to an intentional terrorist attack, however. As such, once it is over the risk associated with it tends to diminish, unless the cause of it is perceived to remain. Therefore, given the strength of Mexico as a destination, the recent hurricanes and the Mexico earthquake may impact tourism less than we might expect.

Natural disasters tend to lead to considerable infrastructural damage which in itself impedes the recovery of tourism, in particular if it damages tourist-related infrastructure. In the case of Fukushima, in Japan, for example, multiple connected crises – an earthquake, causing a tsunami, which in turn triggered a nuclear disaster – resulted in a longer recovery time for the tourism industry. Tourist arrivals in Japan did not exceed their pre-disaster levels until early 2013.

The overwhelming majority of tourists going to Mexico and the Caribbean come from within the region, particularity from North America, they tend to be familiar with the hurricane season, although perhaps not earthquakes. Even though the earthquake in Mexico has affected the capital and around it, many tourists areas in the country remain untouched. It is important to pay respect to people who lost their lives during the earthquake, but as long as the foreign office are not advising against travel to these destinations, there may be more reasons to go than not.

The ConversationThe concept of leisure tourism might be seen as fractious when many people are suffering due to the natural disasters in Mexico and the Caribbean, but staying away and watching the scene on TV will not help Mexico to rebuild lives in affected areas. The tourist economy, however, might.

Yeganeh Morakabati, Associate Professor in Risk and Resilience, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Newly discovered 6m-year-old Cretan footprints stolen – finder writes about how we must protect precious sites

File 20170915 13360 lvndej
Vandalised site, showing fresh sand along the edges of the slab where it has been lifted and the holes left by the removal of two blocks in the centre.
Babis Fassoulas, Author provided

There has been a lot of interest in our discovery of nearly-6m-year-old footprints on Crete, first reported by the The Conversation – suggesting that human ancestors could have roamed Europe at the same time as they were evolving in East Africa.

Sadly the site was vandalised in the last week, with four or five of the 29 tracks stolen. We are fortunate that many of the best tracks remain – the people who did it clearly didn’t know what they were looking for. Our guess is that they were simply intending to sell them.

The theft occurred despite the site being afforded protection under Greek heritage law and being in the care of local officials. Police, we are told, have made an arrest in connection with the incident, and it is hoped that the missing material will be returned soon. The damage, however, is irreparable.

The site has now been buried.
Babis Fassoulas, Author provided

The Cretan authorities moved swiftly to bury the site temporarily while a more permanent conservation solution, such as moving the entire surface, is sought. We are lucky that the whole area has been 3D-scanned with an optical laser scanner in high resolution as part of the original study. In due course this data will be made available via the Natural History Museum of Crete and the Museum of Evolution at Uppsala University in Sweden. So there will fortunately not be much of an impact on the research.

Yet the event is devastating. To understand the significance to someone who studies ancient tracks like these, consider it equivalent to an attempt to steal part of the Sphinx at Giza or vandals dislodging one of lintel blocks at Stonehenge.

Unfortunately, the theft and vandalism of tracks is nothing new. For example, there was a recent case on the Isle of Skye in Scotland of vandalised dinosaur tracks dating from around 165m year ago that lead to a police probe. The ethics around the collection and sale of fossils and artefacts is complex, and many of the great scientific collections today are based on collection and sales by amateurs in the past. Ultimately, it seems wrong to collect and sell artefacts that there’s only a limited number of.

Conversation challenges

But how can you conserve what is essentially a slab of soft rock, close to the sea and open to the elements? Oddly, erosion at such sites is to be encouraged because it often helps reveal new surfaces which may contain additional prints.

It’s tricky – a problem I first faced following my discovery of the Ileret hominin footprints, the second oldest such tracks in the world at the time, and preserved in nothing but packed silt.

The site has been buried in haste to avoid further thefts.
Babis Fassoulas, Author provided

I did some research on this with colleagues and concluded that the only option is to excavate and digitally record them in 3D. This can be done either with a laser scanner or just with a digital camera in the field. Some 20 pictures of a track from different angles is enough to create a 3D image. These days 3D printers can easily create models for museums and for collectors.

Digital preservation is probably the key for the Cretan tracks as well. This worked well for the 2,100-year-old human footprints of Acahualinca
in Managua (Nicaragua), where the originals are perfectly preserved under a roof built over the site, and in an adjacent museum.

The 120,000-year-old human footprints at Nahoon Point in South Africa are marked by a footprint-shaped visitors’ centre that looks great from Google Earth. There are also a number of excellent examples of dinosaur track sites preserved in museums and under shelters, such as those at Las Cerradicas in Spain.

Perhaps the most controversial of conservation solutions has been to bury the world’s oldest confirmed hominin footprints – from Laetoli in Tanzania – which were first documented in the late 1970s. These tracks were buried as a way of protecting them from weathering and natural-decay.

There has been extensive debate about what should happen at this site and many scientists are unhappy about the lack of access. Plans for the site over the years have varied from an on-site museum to the removal of the whole slab to another site. The debate continues, but ultimately it is money that precludes a solution that would allow access to the public and scientists alike.

The footprints pictured in the research paper are still intact.
Author provided

Indeed, the challenge is always money. It is expensive to erect and maintain protective structures, and to gain funds you need publicity to ensure that all the stakeholders involved are aware of the scientific, social and emotional value of a site.

One of the reasons for publicising the Trachilos tracks was not only to get the discovery debated in open scientific circles, but also to raise its public profile – thereby seeking better protection and ultimately its preservation in a local museum. That would bring visitors and fuel local revenue.

The ConversationThe trouble is the very publicity aimed to assist the site’s protection may have led to an enhanced perception of its monetary value. After all, the site had been known locally for years. Publicity though, is a double-edged sword and we have been lucky on this occasion to avoid the full length of its blade.

Matthew Robert Bennett, Professor of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tourist codes of conduct are a bad idea – here’s why

As the detritus from another summer season is swept from the streets of holiday hot spots around the world, locals are wondering if it was all worth it. Disquiet has grown about tourists behaving badly and making local communities suffer for their pleasure. In Palma de Mallorca, graffiti recently appeared telling tourists to “go home”. In New Orleans, a “neighbours, not tourists” campaign argues that AirBnB rentals erode local communities. In Venice, posters have been put up telling tourists they are ruining the city.

There is a belief that the tourism system, like the financial system, is not working for everyone. Local residents are starting to feel like they’re receiving less than they’re giving. A combination of societal and economic concerns, a reduction in quality of life, alongside innovations that seem to push out traditional tourism work in place of a “gig economy”, is in part driving new tensions.

When Spanish taxi drivers torched ride-sharing cars, they were reacting not only to the disruption of the so-called sharing economy, but also how predatory capitalism is creating new distrust, jealousy and social distance in an industry which politicians and businesses have long heralded as bringing stable jobs, intercultural dialogue and opportunity.

Destinations such as Santorini in Greece and Cinque Terre in Italy are considering restrictions on tourist arrivals. Dubrovnik has introduced cameras to monitor the number of visitors. In Paris, incivility police tackle antisocial behaviour such as littering, while Magaluf introduced 64 bylaws to curb behaviours such as dropping cigarettes in the street, defecating, urinating or spitting in public places.

Watch your behaviour in Venice.

A climate of mistrust has created a new wave of tourist codes of conduct. The aim is to assign rules to make tourists more sensitive to local residents. Hvar in Croatia warns tourists that they face fines of €600 if they fail to dress appropriately. Dubrovnik enforces a dress code. Venice can hand out fines ranging from €25 to €500 for bad behaviour. That includes breaking a rule that states “no standing at any time” – even to eat and drink. Other codes of conduct have been introduced in Vietnam and Cambodia.

A moral code

But there’s a problem here. City authorities, and managers of tourist attractions who impose moral laws aren’t accountable to the people who are supposed to abide by them. The danger is that they perpetuate narratives about marauding tourists. They do, however, work as marketing strategies, with local politicians and businesses happy to gain reputational capital by scapegoating tourists for bad behaviour in their area.

Requiring tourists to dress a certain way does not nurture trust and solidarity. Nor does it reduce exploitation or over-commercialisation. Codes create more social and physical distance between tourists and residents. They won’t make relations between tourists and residents any warmer, protect historic buildings, increase low pay for tourism workers, or prevent AirBnB from saturating residential areas. Indeed, distrust may contribute to the decline of tourism’s cultural merits.

A message for tourists in Barcelona.
EPA

To rebuild trust and restore faith in the tourism system, authorities must step outside of their traditional roles. They need to work towards a smarter governance model that puts people rather than businesses first. It must recognise all those who have a stake in tourism and come up with strategies that work for all sides.

The ConversationMost people realise that tourism is economically and socially important. By putting people at the heart of everything they do, tourists and residents can coexist with and relate to each other without regulating behaviour or imposing codes of conduct. That might mean limiting the number of hotels that can operate or AirBnB properties that can be registered. Longer term tourism strategies could also seek to cut out the short-term political meddling that can leave local residents asking themselves who is really benefiting from tourism in their area.

Michael O’Regan, Senior Lecture in Events & Leisure, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Our controversial footprint discovery suggests human-like creatures may have roamed Crete nearly 6m years ago

The human foot is distinctive. Our five toes lack claws, we normally present the sole of our foot flat to the ground, and our first and second toes are longer than the smaller ones. In comparison to our fellow primates, our big toes are in line with the long axis of the foot – they don’t stick out to one side.

In fact, some would argue that one of the defining characteristics of being part of the human clade is the shape of our foot. So imagine our surprise when we discovered fossil footprints with remarkable, human-like characteristics at Trachilos, Crete, that are 5.7m years old. This research, published in the Proceedings of the Geologist Association, is controversial as it suggests that the earliest human ancestors may have wandered around southern Europe as well as East Africa.

The period corresponds to a geological time interval known as the Miocene. The footprints are small tracks made by someone walking upright on two legs – there are 29 of them in total. They range in size from 94mm to 223mm, and have a shape and form very similar to human tracks. Non-human ape footprints look very different; the foot is shaped more like a human hand, with the big toe attached low on the side of the sole and sticking out sideways.

The footprints were dated using a combination of fossilised marine microorganisms called foraminifera and the character of the local sedimentary rocks. Foraminifera evolve very rapidly and marine sedimentary rocks can be dated quite precisely on the basis of the foraminifera they contain. These indicated an age somewhere in the span 8.5m to 3.5m years. However, at the very end of the Miocene, about 5.6m years ago, an extraordinary thing happened: the entire Mediterranean sea dried out for some time. This event left a clear signature in the sediments of the surrounding areas. The sediments that contain the footprints suggest they probably date to the period immediately before this, at about 5.7m years.

Cradle of humanity

The “cradle of humanity” has long been thought to lie in Africa, with most researchers suggesting that Ethiopia was where the human lineage originated. The earliest known body fossils that are accepted as hominins (members of the human lineage) by most researchers are Sahelanthropus tchadensis from Chad (about 7m years old), Orrorin tugenensis from Kenya (about 6m years old) and Ardipithecus kadabba from Ethiopia (about 5.8-5.2m years old).

Laetoli footprints.
Tim Evanson/Flickr, CC BY-SA

The oldest known footprints, however, were found at Laetoli in Tanzania and come from the next geological time interval, the Pliocene. These are some 3.66m years old and even more human-like than those of Trachilos. The second oldest tracks are those at Ileret made by Homo erectus (1.5m years old), and are little different from the tracks that we ourselves might make today.

If – and for many it is a big if – the tracks of Trachilos were indeed made by an early human ancestor, then the biogeographical range of our early ancestors would increase to encompass the eastern Mediterranean. Crete was not an island at this time but attached to the Greek mainland, and the environment of the Mediterranean region was very different from now.

Oldest known footpints.

The discovery comes just months after another study reported the discovery of 7m-year-old Greek and Bulgarian fossil teeth from a hominin ape dubbed “El Graeco”. This is the oldest fossil of a human-like ape, which has led some to suggest that humans started to evolve in Europe hundreds of thousands of years before they started to evolve in Africa. But many scientists have remained sceptical about this claim – as are we. The presence of Miocene hominids in Europe and Africa simply shows that both continents are possible “homelands” for the group. In theory, El Graeco could be responsible for the Trachilos foorprints but without any limb or foot bones it is impossible to tell.

Alternative solutions

But there are other ways to interpret the findings. Some might suggest that the distinctive anatomy of a human-like foot could have evolved more than once. The tracks could have been made by a hitherto unknown Miocene primate that had a foot anatomy and locomotive style not unlike our own.

There are examples throughout the fossil record of what is called “convergent evolution” – two unrelated animals developing similar anatomical features as adaptations to a particular lifestyle. However, there is nothing about the Trachilos footprints themselves that suggests such convergence.

Convergence rarely produces perfect duplicates; rather, you tend to get an odd mix of similarities and differences, like you see when you compare a shark and a dolphin for example. Now, imagine if the Trachilos footprints combined human-like characters with a few other characters that simply didn’t “fit”: for example, that the toes looked human-like but carried big claws. This would be a reason to suspect that the human-like features could be convergent. But the Trachilos footprints don’t show any such discordant characters, they simply look like primitive hominin footprints as far as we can tell.

The footprints.
Author provided

For those unable to see beyond Africa as the “human cradle”, these tracks present a considerable challenge, and it has not been easy to get the discovery published. Some have even questioned whether the observed features are footprints at all. However, collectively, the researchers behind this study have published over 400 papers on tracks, so we are pretty confidence we know what they are.

Although the results are controversial, suggesting that the rich East African evidence for early hominids may not be telling the whole story, it’s important that we take the findings seriously. The Trachilos tracksite deserves to be protected and the evidence should be debated by scientists.

The ConversationIt is now for the researchers in the field to embark on finding more tracks or, better still, body fossils that will help us to better understand this interesting period of primate diversity, which ultimately led to our own evolution irrespective of where this first happened. The very essence of this type of science is prospection, discovery, evidence-based inference and debate. We are sure that this paper will stimulate debate; let us hope that it also stimulates further discoveries.

Matthew Robert Bennett, Professor of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, Bournemouth University and Per Ahlberg, Professor of Evolutionary Biology, Uppsala University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Present-day Lebanese descend from Biblical Canaanites, genetic study suggests

The Sidon excavation site. (A) Map shows the location of Lebanon with present-day political borders in the Near East. (B) A magnification showing the Levant region and the location of the city of Sidon. (C) Photo shows the Sidon excavation site, which included the burials of individuals studied here.

In the most recent whole-genome study of ancient remains from the Near East, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute scientists and their collaborators sequenced the entire genomes of 4,000-year-old Canaanite individuals who inhabited the region during the Bronze Age, and compared these to other ancient and present-day populations. The results, published in the August issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics suggest that present-day Lebanese are direct descendants of the ancient Canaanites.

The Near East is often described as the cradle of civilisation. The Bronze Age Canaanites, later known as the Phoenicians, introduced many aspects of society that we know today – they created the first alphabet, established colonies throughout the Mediterranean and were mentioned several times in the Bible.

However, historical records of the Canaanites are limited. They were mentioned in ancient Greek and Egyptian texts, and the Bible, which reports widespread destruction of Canaanite settlements and annihilation of the communities. Experts have long debated who the Canaanites were genetically, what happened to them, who their ancestors were, and if they had any descendants today.

In the first study of its kind, a team led by scientists of the Sanger Institute have uncovered the genetics of the Canaanite people and a firm link with people living in Lebanon today. The team discovered that more than 90 per cent of present-day Lebanese ancestry is likely to be from the Canaanites, with an additional small proportion of ancestry coming from a different Eurasian population. Researchers estimate that new Eurasian people mixed with the Canaanite population about 2,200 to 3,800 years ago at a time when there were many conquests of the region from outside.

The analysis of ancient DNA also revealed that the Canaanites themselves were a mixture of local people who settled in farming villages during the Neolithic period and eastern migrants who arrived in the area around 5,000 years ago.

The researchers sequenced whole genomes of five Canaanite individuals who lived 4,000 years ago in a city known as Sidon in present-day Lebanon were, as well as the genomes of 99 present-day Lebanese, and analysed the genetic relationship between the ancient Canaanites and modern Lebanese.

Dr Marc Haber, first author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: “It was a pleasant surprise to be able to extract and analyse DNA from 4,000-year-old human remains found in a hot environment, which is not known for preserving DNA well. We overcame this challenge by taking samples from the petrous bone in the skull, which is a very tough bone with a high density of ancient DNA. This method of extraction combined with the lowering costs of whole genome sequencing made this study possible.”

Dr Claude Doumet-Serhal, co-author and Director of the Sidon excavation site* in Lebanon, said: “For the first time we have genetic evidence for substantial continuity in the region, from the Bronze Age Canaanite population through to the present day. These results agree with the continuity seen by archaeologists. Collaborations between archaeologists and geneticists greatly enrich both fields of study and can answer questions about ancestry in ways that experts in neither field can answer alone.”

Prof Holger Schutkowski of Bournemouth University’s Department of Archaeology, Anthropology and Forensic Science and a co-author, said: “We are delighted to be part of this significant collaboration with the Sidon excavation and the Sanger Institute, and to contribute to elucidating the Canaanite origin and legacy.”

Dr Chris Tyler-Smith, lead author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: “Genetic studies using ancient DNA can expand our understanding of history, and answer questions about the likely origins and descendants of enigmatic populations like the Canaanites, who left few written records themselves. Now we would like to investigate the earlier and later genetic history of the Near East, and how it relates to the surrounding regions.”

Burial 63: Middle Bronze Age II B, about 1600 BC. Photos courtesy of Dr Claude Doumet-Serhal.

*For more information on the Sidon excavation site, please visit www.sidonexcavation.com

Marc Haber et al. (2017) Continuity and admixture in the last five millennia of Levantine history from ancient Canaanite and present-day Lebanese genome sequences. American Journal of Human Genetics. DOI: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2017.06.013

Funding:
This work was supported by the Wellcome Trust (grant 098051).

Building Roman Britain: The Movie

Bournemouth University’s archaeologists have released a short video on one of their projects in which they have been working closely with partners at the famous Roman sites of The Roman Baths and Fishbourne Roman Palace. The project has been using new methods to examine the main materials used by the Romans in their buildings.

Project Director, Professor Mark Brisbane, said “When the Romans arrived in Britain in the first century AD they brought with them a new form of architecture that used carefully cut, squared stone blocks and materials made of fired clay such as bricks and tiles. This would have been a completely new form of construction to most of the local inhabitants whose main building materials were wood, thatch and daub.”

In order to better understand these ‘new’ materials of the Roman World, the Building Roman Britain project investigated their composition and production through an innovative programme of archaeological science. To do this, BU’s Department of Archaeology, Anthropology & Forensic Science worked in a knowledge exchange partnership with two well-known heritage organisations, Fishbourne Roman Palace Museum near Chichester and The Roman Baths in the City of Bath.

The project aimed to characterise stone and ceramic building materials (the bricks, tiles, etc.) by using a relatively new type of instrument known as portable X-ray Florescence (or pXRF for short). This allows us to chemically ‘fingerprint’ archaeological examples of these materials, so that we can learn more about where the stone was quarried and where the ceramic building material was produced.

Mark Brisbane added, “Central to the project was a need to communicate the process of scientific discovery to the general public. To do this we decided to produce a short video to communicate to a wide audience the project’s novel scientific approach to understanding the organisation of early Roman Britain’s building industries. We are particularly grateful to our partners in Bath and Fishbourne for their assistance in the project and to IMMIX Media Ltd who brought their creative know-how to the video and its production.”

As well as discussing the project’s results and their implications, the video includes an outline of the development of the project, the manner in which questions were structured to examine the potential and limitations of the use of the handheld pXRF, and the way in which the approach was applied within the museums and in the field. Some preliminary results are also discussed as well as where the project goes next.

The work was largely funded by HEIF (Higher Education Innovation Fund), part of HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England) and will be the subject of on-going collaborations between the university and our partner museums.

The work has subsequently helped underpin a successful bid by The Roman Baths to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a major new learning centre known as the Archway Project: https://www.romanbaths.co.uk/archway-project

For further information on the Building Roman Britain Research Project see: https://research.bournemouth.ac.uk/project/building-roman-britain/

For further information on Fishbourne Roman Palace see: https://sussexpast.co.uk/properties-to-discover/fishbourne-roman-palace

BU research models spread of disease through aquatic communities

The interaction of species within an ecosystem is important in predicting how they will respond when diseases are introduced, Bournemouth University (BU) modelling has found.The research examined how aquatic communities can recover after a disturbance – in this case, the introduction of the rosette agent, a fish parasite which was introduced to UK waters through invasive species the topmouth gudgeon and has had severe effects on native UK fish populations.

The BU study modelled the introduction of a healthy carrier of a fungal infection into a host community and examined how the susceptibility of predators at the top of the food chain influenced the spread and impact of the disease.

The paper, published in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Animal Ecology, found that to make predictions about the effect of a disease on a given disease, the species’ interaction with each other is as important as their response to the disease.

The presence of resistant hosts at the top of the food chain controlled the population growth of the disease carrier, but was not able to effectively eliminate the spread of infection.

The study was led by Dr Demetra Andreou, Principal Academic in Environmental Science at BU, with PhD student Farah Al-Shorbaji and Professor Rob Britton alongside Rudy Gozlan and Benjamin Roche from L’Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD) in France.

“Different communities can recover to different degrees, based on many factors,” said Farah Al-Shorbaji.

“Two of those factors are how much the disease affects each species, and interactions like predation. Our model combined both those factors. This allowed us to test possible ways of controlling the disease. For example, we could test if adding a predator that would eat infected fish might control the spread of the disease.”

Dr Andreou added: “Our results demonstrate why disease emergence can occur in some communities but not others, and show how management practices such as biocontrol (the introduction of one species to manage another) must be closely monitored.

“It also highlighted the danger of a fungal pathogen that can transmit widely through direct contact and the environment.”

Read the full paper on the Journal of Animal Ecology website.

Launch of the VISTA AR project at Exeter Cathedral

Discover the digital possibilities in cultural heritage at the launch event of the VISTA AR project (led by the University of Exeter), held in Exeter Cathedral. Experience first-hand the range of augmented reality and virtual reality scenario available and how the project could help you to develop affordable digital solutions for your business model.

There will be demonstrations of cutting-edge geospatial tracking / augmented reality / virtual reality thanks to headsets and apps on tablets. This is your chance to engage with the project and register your interest in this new solution. It is also a unique opportunity to find out about Exeter Cathedral and also Fougères Castle in France. We are taking over the Cathedral for the event so it is a fantastic chance to see first-hand one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture anywhere in the world.

Key note speakers: Sir Tim Smit, Co-Founder of the Eden Project and Tom Barker, Head of Digital at the National Trust. 

To find out more more and register click here

Blue sky thinking: we need your help

Why do we remember summers of our youth as warmer, and the skies bluer? Despite our nostalgic view of the past, climate is getting warmer not cooler. Old photos hold clues to past climate in the clouds and the blue tones of the sky. In 2014 people uploaded an average of 1.8 billion digital images every day[1]. That’s 657 billion photos per year, or put another way every two minutes we create more pictures than in the previous 150 years combined. That’s a lot of sky (both blue and cloudy!) with which to create a unique climate archive, with a very personal twist.

Using this incredible and growing archive we have launched a project that aims to unlock the climate record in these images and to make it personal by allowing you to create your own climate history from the images stored on your phone, or in a dusty shoebox. So our photo algorithms use state-of-the-art deep learning techniques to extract a climate signal from images whether they are online, in your phone or even from the art in a gallery. Our outdoor experiences and memories as recorded in the photographs we take, or in the art we create, are influenced by the weather. We have developed tools to unlock this. Now your own images are location and time specific, but put them with millions of others and they become powerful, allowing us to reconstruct specific summers, winters or even temporal trends in different places or in time countries.

We are just starting out and have our first prototype running, which automatically classifies every single pixel in an image into cloud, sky or other and samples the blue tones. We are currently using measures of cloudiness and colour intensity within sky segments to get a record of the weather in an image, but we’re also experimenting with cloud textures and other automatically descriptors that the algorithms came up with on their own.

Why does it matter? Making historic and contemporary climate change real and tangible to the public is a priority to altering perceptions and behaviours about climate and our changing planet. It also provides a way of appreciated landscape art in a different way, the manifestation of climate in art has been well documented[2] and this project simply continues this trend bringing it up to date. It also showcases the potential of machine learning and big data to create new perspectives on old problems.

As we say we are starting out and will shortly launch a citizen-science project, via a dedicated website that will allow you to scan and upload your images and for the climate data to be extracted. We need your help to test safely within BU our algorithms and to collect some initial data. In short we need help to break our system before we launch it on the world! The system also learns and the more data we can get at this initial stage the more it can learn – better to send an 16 year old kid out into the world than one with the learning of a 4 year old! So put another way we would like your help in educating our algorithms.

You can access our site on campus only at: http://dec251.bmth.ac.uk/

Go online and upload some of your pictures and give it a try. We are particularly interested in pictures from Bournemouth/Poole over the last twenty years.

Marcin Budka, Bastian Fraune, Sally Reynolds, Matthew Bennett

 

[1] According to Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report

[2] Bonacina, L.C.W., 1939. Landscape meteorology and its reflection in art and literature. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society 65, 485-498.

Neuberger, H., 1970. Climate in art. Weather 25, 46-56.

Thornes, J.E., 2000. A brief history of weather in European landscape art. Weather 55, 363-375.

Robinson, P.J., 2005. Ice and snow in paintings of Little Ice Age winters. Weather 60, 37-41.

 

 

Publishing case studies in high quality journals

case study image

The Influences on Consumer Behaviour cluster are pleased to a session on ‘Publishing case studies in high quality journals‘ with Professor Jillian Dawes Farquhar

Date: 19th July 2017

Time: 1pm to 5pm

Venue: Sandbanks Hotel, 15 Banks Road, Sandbanks, Poole, Dorset, BH13 7PS

Despite the benefits that case studies offer, many management researchers (and particularly those in marketing) still face an uphill battle when trying to get their papers published in top quality journals.  This session aims to identify the reason why and offers insight into how to address case study rigour. Drawing on a study of selected high quality case studies, lessons are identified to help all case study researchers to improve their case study papers.

This session will be of interest to those undertaking (or considering undertaking) case study research as well as those using qualitative methods.  The session will be interactive so please bring along papers/details of case study research that you are currently working on.

Note, places are limited to 30 delegates.  If you are unable to make your own way to the venue, please let the organisers know and we will look to arrange transport.

To reserve your place please contact: Prof. Juliet Memery.  Email: jmemery@bournemouth.ac.uk

Sandcastles, trivialising science?

Most scientists agree that we have an image problem. This is serious at a time when research is at a premium to inform decision-making as argued so beautifully by Mark Henderson in The Geek Manifesto. We have a new generation of skilled science communicators on television today like Brian Cox, Jim Al Kalil, Alice Roberts and Iain Stewart to name but four and the quality and availability of science reporting has increased dramatically with the digital age. But the focus remains on discovery, the easy or sexy headline and therefore often on the trivial. Complex more nuanced, incremental stories are more often than not ignored. Every publically funded researcher is under pressure to engage the public and to increasingly justify what they do as part of the social contract with the public which funds them. For example, almost all funding in the UK requires statements now about pathways to engagement, but with this focus there is an ever present risk of simply pandering to the trivial and the easy as researchers seek publicity. It is something that I have been accused of myself.

The month of June is here which means for me the inevitable phone call to write something about building the perfect sandcastle. Professor Sandcastle, or the Sandcastle Boffin, was born in the summer of 2004 when I innocently became involved in a bit of summer ‘fluff’ for a holiday company. They wanted a formula for the perfect sandcastle. I obliged and the result caused a small unexpected media frenzy. The formula made it into the tabloids, was reported across the broadsheets and was a perfect regional story for radio and local television that summer. Much to my embarrassment I found myself portrayed as the Sandcastle Boffin. All was light hearted except for a barbed comment in the Independent, my newspaper of choice at the time, which cut deep: ‘haven’t they got anything better to do?’ ‘Yes of course I have, but you’re not interested in what I normally do’ I might have replied. The barb of triviality stuck fast.

The thing about the sandcastle story is that it would not die, despite the fact that the original research was never worthy in my view at least of publication. The following May I started to receive messages ‘we were so impressed by what you did for sandcastles last year can you . . .’ I was asked to create equations for love, happiness and luck. I turned most of them down but the idea of the ‘science equation as a’ tool was firmly embedded in a new generation of PR consultants. An appearance on the BBC Coasts programme with a linked session at the Cheltenham Science Festival helped cement the sandcastle connection, along with a slow but steady request for articles and radio interviews over the years. Most summers don’t pass without a request of some sort, nor has this one [http://theconversation.com/how-to-build-the-perfect-sandcastle-according-to-science-79600].

I have always delivered something when requested, seeing it as part of my remit as a modern academic to engage with the public slipping in messages about geology and earth history at every turn. I have resisted feelings of rancour when my real research has got less publicity remaining for the most part philosophical; if the public want fluff let them have it, better something than nothing, right? In truth it has done me no harm. The original interest gave me media training like no other and BU likes to remind people of its golden sands. It helped me as an academic appreciate the power and pitfalls of the media and the need for the sound bite and money shot in presenting more serious and challenging stories. Despite this the barb still twists; I am not just trivialising my academic discipline of sedimentology that I care deeply about? Is this not an ever present risk as we strive as academics for more public engagement? It is easy for us to write into funding pitches that we will do school events, give popular talks, create websites, attend and run festivals but does this really engage the public in the value and power of research? Are we not just feeding the media-machine with yet more trivia in lip-service to our funding aims? I have no idea whether my work on the perfect sandcastle over the years has made any real difference, it is impossible to quantify in terms of output. The truth is that measuring the consequences of engagement is hard and often undertaken post hoc. I am left without the answers but a gut feeling that is it better to show that science is all around us even in the humble sandcastle however trivial this may seem, than simply sit aloof concerned only about the more serious science stories that we may occasionally have to peddle.

Professor Matthew Bennett

 

How to build the perfect sandcastle – according to science

Whether we prefer water sports or relaxing with a good book, the humble sandcastle is often a seaside must. But what’s the secret to building a majestic sandcastle that will withstand the tide of time? Luckily, there’s a scientific formula for that.

It all started back in 2004, when a holiday company asked us to investigate the question. As a sedimentologist, someone who studies fragments of rock, I began pondering what kind of beach would work best for castle building. To find out, I compared the sand from the ten most popular beaches in the UK at the time. Though in truth any sandy beach will do, Torquay came out top with its delightful red sand, closely followed by Bridlington, with Bournemouth, Great Yarmouth and Tenby tied in third. At the bottom of the league was Rhyl.

Having selected a beach one has to find the perfect spot. Now this is a question of taste rather than hard rules. Some might prefer a spot close to the car park with easy access when the rain arrives while others might want to stay next to a cafe. Others yet might hanker after the secluded fringes of the beach, perhaps sheltered by natural promontories of rock that keep the biting wind at bay.

Torquay harbour.
averoxus/wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Now a castle should be a symbol of military strength, but to stand proud one needs strong sand. The strength of sand depends on the properties of its individual grains and on the water between them. The more angular the grains, the better they will lock together. The more a grain is transported the more rounded it becomes. Microscopic shell fragments work well in this regard. The finer the grains the more they hold the water. And water matters.

Too much water and your sand will flow, too little and it will crumble. You need to get it just right and your castle will stand proud and last. It’s all down to the surface tension of water – the thing that gives the “meniscus”, or skin, to a glass of water and holds down that glass when placed on a wet bar top. The film of water between individual sand grains is what gives sand its strength, too much and it lubricates one grain over the other, but just right and it binds them strong.

The magic formula

Now the experimentation we did suggested that the perfect sandcastle requires one bucket of water to eight buckets of dry sand. Or if you want the magic formula: Water = 0.125 x Sand. So assuming that you don’t have any science gear with you, then you are looking for a spot close to the high tide line – usually marked by a line of seaweed and flotsam – and the low tide line where sand is still visibly wet and the waves are close. But remember that this will change as the tide comes and goes during the day.

High tide line.

My next tip refers to quality of your tools. In my experience there is a direct correlation between the age of the builder, spade size and the speed at which boredom sets in. Adult helpers find the smallest spade nothing but frustrating, and while young assistants might aspire to use the biggest spade, it is often too big to handle. A selection of tools will keep the workforce in harmony. The bucket also has to be the perfect size and shape. The best buckets are the simple round ones – not the ones with the fancy turrets which when turned out produce a castle in itself. A round bucket will allow you turn out countless towers and architectural features. A single bucket can be turned out several times to create a large mound from which you carve an amazing tower.

As you build, spare a thought to the story, not just of the castle one is building with its tales of derring-do, but also the story of the sand itself. Each grain is a fragment of rock and contains a story of relict mountains, ancient rivers, dinosaur-infested swamps and seas, of past climates and events which tell the amazing story of our planet. The red sand of Torquay once blew in giant sandstorms, as the area was once part of a desert far greater than that of the Sahara. The sand at Bridlington or Great Yarmouth tells a tale of giant ice sheets and drowned lands below the North Sea.

The ConversationMy next tip refers to size. Yes, size matters – at least in the game of sandcastles. The modest castle with perfect towers, battlements and moat is ok, but it is the huge castles which break the beach horizon that inspire awe and wonderment in people that pass by. Think big! Pebbles, shells, driftwood fragments and feathers all enhance a castle. And let’s face it: a castle is about being seen. And although there may be science behind the humble sandcastle, don’t forget to have fun building it.

Matthew Robert Bennett, Professor of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Impact training – spaces avaliable

Over the course of the summer, RKEO has been running a number of training sessions with Vertigo Ventures aimed at supporting academics to develop the impact of their research.

The next two sessions are booked for Monday 3 July (one between 9am – 12:15pm and one between 1:15pm – 4:30pm) and will take place at an off campus location.  Lunch and refreshments will be provided.

The aims of the training as follows:

  • Attendees will have identified what their intended impact could be by 2020 and what knowledge exchange/impact acceleration activities they should be looking to do over the next year
  • Attendees will have developed a workable plan for their  potential (REF2021) impact case studies between now and 2020
  • Attendees will have identified what kind of evidence will be gathered and how this will be obtained.

The session is being run by Laura Fedorciow and Shireen Ali-Khan of Vertigo Ventures, one of the few established specialist firms operating in this arena.

Places are being offered on a first come, first serve basis.  Please email Rachel Bowen rbowen@bournemouth.ac.uk to book your place.

A day in the life of a smart-city commuter – and why it’s not so far from reality

The alarm on your smart phone went off 10 minutes earlier than usual this morning. Parts of the city are closed off in preparation for a popular end of summer event, so congestion is expected to be worse than usual. You’ll need to catch an earlier bus to make it to work on time.

The alarm time is tailored to your morning routine, which is monitored every day by your smart watch. It takes into account the weather forecast (rain expected at 7am), the day of the week (it’s Monday, and traffic is always worse on a Monday), as well as the fact that you went to bed late last night (this morning, you’re likely to be slower than usual). The phone buzzes again – it’s time to leave, if you want to catch that bus.

While walking to the bus stop, your phone suggests a small detour – for some reason, the town square you usually stroll through is very crowded this morning. You pass your favourite coffee shop on your way, and although they have a 20% discount this morning, your phone doesn’t alert you – after all, you’re in a hurry.

After your morning walk, you feel fresh and energised. You check in at the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled bus stop, which updates the driver of the next bus. He now knows that there are 12 passengers waiting to be picked up, which means he should increase his speed slightly if possible, to give everyone time to board. The bus company is also notified, and are already deploying an extra bus to cope with the high demand along your route. While you wait, you notice a parent with two young children, entertaining themselves with the touch-screen information system installed at the bus stop.

Bus stops of the future.
from www.shutterstock.com

Once the bus arrives, boarding goes smoothly: almost all passengers were using tickets stored on their smart phones, so there was only one time-consuming cash payment. On the bus, you take out a tablet from your bag to catch up on some news and emails using the free on-board Wi-Fi service. You suddenly realise that you forgot to charge your phone, so you connect it to the USB charging point next to the seat. Although the traffic is really slow, you manage to get through most of your work emails, so the time on the bus is by no means wasted.

The moment the bus drops you off in front of your office, your boss informs you of an unplanned visit to a site, so you make a booking with a car-sharing scheme, such as Co-wheels. You secure a car for the journey, with a folding bike in the boot.

Your destination is in the middle of town, so when you arrive on the outskirts you park the shared car in a nearby parking bay (which is actually a member’s unused driveway) and take the bike for the rest of the journey to save time and avoid traffic. Your travel app gives you instructions via your Bluetooth headphones – it suggests how to adjust your speed on the bike, according to your fitness level. Because of your asthma, the app suggests a route that avoids a particularly polluted area.

Sick ride.
Mr.tinDC/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

After your meeting, you opt to get a cab back to the office, so that you can answer some emails on the way. With a tap on your smartphone, you order the cab, and in the two minutes it takes to arrive you fold up your bike so that you can return it to the boot of another shared vehicle near your office. You’re in a hurry, so no green reward points for walking today, I’m afraid – but at least you made it to the meeting on time, saving kilograms of CO2 on the way.

Get real

It may sound like fiction, but truth be told, most of the data required to make this day happen are already being collected in one form or another. Your smart phone is able to track your location, speed and even the type of activity that you’re performing at any given time – whether you’re driving, walking or riding a bike.

Meanwhile, fitness trackers and smart watches can monitor your heart rate and physical activity. Your search history and behaviour on social media sites can reveal your interests, tastes and even intentions: for instance, the data created when you look at holiday offers online not only hints at where you want to go, but also when and how much you’re willing to pay for it.

Personal devices aside, the rise of the Internet of Things with distributed networks of all sorts of sensors, which can measure anything from air pollution to traffic intensity, is yet another source of data. Not to mention the constant feed of information available on social media about any topic you care to mention.

The ConversationWith so much data available, it seems as though the picture of our environment is almost complete. But all of these datasets sit in separate systems that don’t interact, managed by different entities which don’t necessarily fancy sharing. So although the technology is already there, our data remains siloed with different organisations, and institutional obstacles stand in the way of attaining this level of service. Whether or not that’s a bad thing, is up to you to decide.

Marcin Budka, Principal Academic in Data Science, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What if opinion polls had been banned during this election?

When the prime minister, Theresa May, called a general election back in mid-April it was widely assumed she would easily win a large majority. The Conservative leader was far more popular than her Labour rival Jeremy Corbyn, and had a clear path back into No 10. We know this because the voters themselves told us – through opinion polls.

Six weeks later, the narrative is rather different. Labour’s manifesto has been praised while the Tory campaign has stuttered. Though a Conservative majority is still the most likely outcome, Corbyn appears increasingly confident while May seems more worried. But again this is largely down to the polls.

Like it or not, opinion polls are a staple part of an election campaign narrative. The media often obsesses over the slightest swings, enquiring of their readers and of party leaders: why, what have you done to increase or lose support?

But what if the media was not allowed to report on such polls during an election campaign? It might lead to a renewed focus on policy issues instead of “who is winning”. But banning polls may also hand even more power to political parties and media gatekeepers.

The influence of polls

Polls can drive campaigning style and substance. A leader buoyant in the polls will appear more confident and relaxed, so fulfilling the prophecies of the polls by delivering more assured performances. A leader lagging may seem edgy and nervous about answering questions, constantly second guessing how the media will replay their words and how the public will respond. This can lead to the sort of less assured performance that voters can find a turn off.

But an impact on substance matters. A struggling campaign will seek magic bullets to secure victory, which may simply mean candidates repeat slogans they think have traction, or focus on negative messages and image building exercises. As polls narrow, so does the debate, and candidates will completely avoid getting drawn into debates on policy detail that might obscure their message. Without the distraction of headlines based on polling, however, campaigns may feel more able to engage in serious and detailed policy debate.

Polls also influence voters. There has long been talk of polls creating a bandwagon effect, with voters flocking to support the party or candidate who is the most likely winner. This might explain the recent surge in Labour support, or the landslide victory in Scotland for the SNP in 2015. In both cases polls suggested the tide was moving one particular way, which can drive the decision making of undecided voters.

Alternatively poll predictions can mobilise or depress activism and voter turnout. If activists believe their party is doing well they may not feel the need to do as much door-knocking, while if a party is doing poorly they may feel disillusioned (though the reverse can be the case for both scenarios).

Similarly on election day voters can look at the polls and form the belief their vote does not matter or that they will get the outcome they want without making the effort to vote. Hence polls affect the nature and levels of engagement of an election campaign.

Polls provide transparency

But polls will be commissioned regardless of coverage, and many parties rely on pollsters to give an indication of how their campaign is going. If polls go unreported citizens will not be aware of why the focus of a campaign is shifting.

Voters may attribute a less than assured performance to poor poll performance and be sympathetic. Similarly they may see an act as desperate and driven simply by the polls and so grow cynical. Without the polls a vital sense of transparency of process is lost, and voters would only be able to speculate at what is driving campaign strategies.

So a campaign without polls could allow leaders to be themselves, unaware of the public reaction beyond that from the audience immediately in front of them. Leaders may also feel they must get more into the detail, persuading through the use of facts and costed promises that can be interrogated, rather than resorting to headlines or negative attacks in order to draw in the least engaged voters. Parties may also court activists more, in the hope that every leaflet or phone call can make a difference.

While many of these things happen in the course of a campaign anyway, the focus can be skewed by the erroneous notion that polls are shifting for or against a party. Comparing the performances of May and Corbyn one might attribute some of their performance style and communication strategy to perceptions of their relative standing in the polls.

All this relies on party leaders and strategists also being unaware of their standing with the public, however. And with pollsters in the business of making news and attracting corporate clients, it is hard to imagine an election truly without polls.

But what if polls were treated with greater caution and scepticism? If reporters were more clear about margins of error, or the difficulty of factoring in underrepresented groups, then both parties and citizens may not be so ready to be influenced by each percentage point change. In turn elections may be less negative, more substance focused and leaders could perform with fewer worries about the next day’s headlines.

The ConversationPerhaps reporting of polls simply needs to be better – not banned.

Darren Lilleker, Associate Professor of Political Communication, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.