Posts By / Rachel Bowen

Conversation article: Oscars 2020: Why people are talking about visual effects

As the presentation of the 2020 Academy Awards approaches, there has been a lot of buzz around the visual effects category. Two films – Sam Mendes’s 1917 and Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman have, in particular, attracted a lot of attention for the tricks they use to immerse the viewer in the characters and storyline.

The first film to win an award for visual effects, in the first ever Oscars ceremony in 1929, also won best picture. American special effects artist and film director Roy Pomeroy won for Wings, a first world war movie featuring breathtaking realistic dogfight sequences. His work still looks amazing, given the tools he had to work with. In the 90 years since he won his award, though, visual effects have become ever more sophisticated.

Big bangs theory

If we take a look at the films that are nominated for Best Visual Effects in this year’s Academy Awards, we see five very different types of film.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the continuing sci-fi saga of the battle between the Jedi and the Sith. A set of tried-and-tested visual effects techniques were used in the film.

This included the return of a fully digital replacement for Princess Leia using pieces of old footage of the late Carrie Fisher and computer-generated elements to create a complete character that blended seamlessly into the new narrative. Most of the environments were created in the computer and then composited with actors’ performances against a green screen that allows backgrounds to be replaced with digital sets.

Avengers: Endgame, is the final episode of a comic book-based world of superheroes and their enemies in one final, epic battle. Green screens played a huge part in this film as well, allowing intricate digital environments to play their part in the storytelling.

As you’d expect there are plenty of pyrotechnics, explosions and battle scenes that were made with animated digital characters.

Rumble in the jungle

The Lion King, a computer-generated remake of the Disney classic, originally animated, on the whole, by hand in 2D. Many of the techniques used in this movie were originally developed for the making of the 2016 remake of Jungle Book which, like The Lion King, was reworked as a fully digital film – apart from Mowgli who was played by a real boy.

In The Lion King, director John Favreau developed a technique that he felt would inform the animation of the animals in a far more realistic way than how animation is traditionally created. Rather than simply recording voice actors in a sound booth, he put them in a studio and filmed them acting together so that animators had nuanced reference to work with to ensure the tiniest of reactions were captured in the creatures’ performances.

Virtual reality also played a big part in the making of the film. Camera operators were able to use digital sets to see the environments and move digital cameras in a realistic way.

Forever young

The Irishman jumps between present-day action and as far back as the 1950s, made more complicated by the fact that the characters are played by the same actors. The point of difference is that prosthetics and makeup weren’t used, but stars including Robert De Niro and Al Pacino were “de-aged” using computers, using images of the actors from photographs and previous films to build “digital masks” in the computer that replaced the actor’s real faces.

This meant that De Niro who plays the lead role was, at 74 when filming began, playing the role of a man in his 30s and by the end of the film the same man in his 80s. How successfully is something that has been hotly debated – but nobody can doubt the expertise with which the artists carried out their task.

Spot the joins

The final film nominated is the first world war epic 1917, co-written, produced and directed by Sam Mendes. Loosely based on a story Mendes was told by his grandfather, the film relies on a single shot depiction of the entire narrative, following the main character on his journey to get a message to the front line. This technique, also used in 2015’s best picture winner, Birdman, required meticulous planning to ensure that the cuts that occurred were invisible to the viewer.

Camera moves were choreographed to allow two scenes that were filmed in the same location at different times to be taken into the computer and “stitched” together as if they were one complete shot. Doing this over and over enabled the illusion of one continuous sequence.

Like many films though, 1917 used a host of other visual effects techniques that were unseen. This is often regarded as the pinnacle of success in visual effects – an effect that can’t be seen versus one that is smacking you in the face with a large, wet fish.

Appliance of science

Some of the nominated movies need visual effects to create worlds and creatures that don’t exist, while some employ tricks to enhance the cinematic experience and the ability of the filmmaker to tell their story. All of them use the technical expertise of visual effects artists to bring the director’s vision to the screen.

And there’s a great deal of scientific knowhow that goes into creating cinematic illusion. The movie that won the visual effects award in 2014, Interstellar, involved recreating the appearance of a black hole. To do this, visual effects artists worked with scientists to accurately model the phenomenon. The results were so advanced that scientists have since cited its importance to their ongoing work.

This scientific knowledge underpins flawless visual effects production. Not only does a visual effects artist need to know how their tools work, they need to be able to understand the science that informs the visuals we see on the screen. Human and animal anatomy, lighting, pyrotechnics, fluid simulation, mechanical engineering and robotics are just a few of the scientific disciplines that add strings to a visual effects artist’s bow.

So, when we talk about visual effects and the people who create them, remember the science that supports almost everything they do. Every frame is looked at in minute detail, so much so that the casual viewer might never understand the hours that go into making one of these films look the way they do and allow us to sit back and enjoy the story.The Conversation

Chris Williams, Senior Principal Academic, National Centre for Computer Animation, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation: Trump the transgressor: the psychological appeal of leaders who break the rules

Many of today’s politicians appear to appeal to the basic human need for safety, presenting their versions of strong leadership as the best hope for order and safety in a fearful world of growing instability and risk. Much evidence confirms that this appeal is certainly an important factor in the political landscape.

But alongside this, other psychological dynamics are currently influential in a number of Western democracies – particularly in attracting people to support populist leaders and their agendas.

One of these – which is of particular relevance to the impeachment trial of the US president, Donald Trump – concerns the pleasure and excitement that some citizens appear to find in a leader who breaks rules and ignores taboos. These transgressions can come in various forms, such as controversial statements, unconventional lifestyles or disrespectful approaches to the political process. But they can also extend to improper activities and abuse of power – such as those detailed in the impeachment charges against Trump – or anti-democratic activity and violence.


Rule breakers

I suggest that support for this kind of leader can be understood as “identification with the transgressor”. This is an idea modelled on the concept of “identification with the aggressor”, a term coined by the psychoanalyst Anna Freud in 1936. Since then, psychologists have used the concept to understand a range of behaviours, including our tolerance of or collusion with bullies.

Different types of transgressive leader can appeal to transgressive parts of ourselves. Like others before him, the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, Anna’s father, observed that some measure of resentment towards authority and of a longing to cast aside the rules, is a universal feature of the human psyche. In its development since Freud, the psychoanalytic tradition has examined how this longing is a legacy of the painful process of emotional development we each undergo very early in life as we come to accept the limits placed on us as requirements for membership of human society.

Where there are good reasons to think that normal political processes are failing, many people can feel a surge of gratitude towards a leader who breaks with some conventions with the aim of bringing more integrity and legitimacy to political life. Lech Wałęsa in Poland and Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia, and others who led the way out of totalitarianism for countries in the Communist bloc, were certainly transgressors within the political worlds they confronted. They could be identified as a force for good in a corrupt or sclerotic system.

But given our built-in ambivalence towards authority and rules, we can also identify with political leaders whose transgressions are driven at least in part by more destructive impulses. While promising their supporters a better world, these leaders use rhetoric that focuses on the urgent need to attack existing authorities and destroy existing arrangements, with little real attention paid to how to replace them.

One example is a coup leader who, once in power, has little plan for bettering their country. At worst is the leader free of most if not all moral constraint, who is contemptuous of international standards of conduct, and unconcerned by the human costs of his or her own conduct.

Trump set out to break the rules of American politics.
By oleskalashnik/Shutterstock

Impact on voters

Therefore, one psychological question hanging over the US impeachment proceedings is the extent to which Trump’s support base will judge him negatively over the events at the centre of the impeachment trial. When Americans head to the polls in November 2020, how many will be inclined to enjoy Trump’s truculent dismissal of any criticism, and his capacity to brazen it out?

Remember, evidence of Trump’s questionable moral conduct was available to the US electorate in 2016. Following the release before the election of a videotape in which he boasted about groping women without their consent, 91% of those likely to vote for Trump said in a CBS/YouGov poll that the tape didn’t change their view of him. And Trump was elected.

The refusal by many voters to censure Trump for his transgressions has a powerful psychological basis to it in the wish to break free of authority. This can also be enjoyed without the guilt that would, for most people, usually accompany an assault on widely held values.

That’s because a leader like Trump offers an opportunity to combine transgressive pleasure with the moral high ground. This emotional package is offered to those who identify with Trump’s (somewhat erratic) self-presentation as a fusion of pleasure-seeking rebel and visionary saviour, leading an insurrection against the corrupt authorities – “the swamp”.

The eulogistic book on Trump by Conservative commentator Ann Coulter is one of many demonstrations of how much his supporters are energised by the wish to attack the “establishment” for their own alleged transgressions. Of course, not all Trump supporters feel this way, or support him for the same reasons.

This populist attack on the established elite can enable the supporters of the transgressive leader to feel that they are on a moral crusade, as well there for a pleasure kick. This could be a powerful aid to Trump in the coming election. We should expect such a transgressor figure to continue attracting strong identification and support, unless challenged by a leader who can somehow disrupt the transgressor’s psychological relationship with their support base.The Conversation

Barry Richards, Professor of Political Psychology, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation – Fergal Keane: hopes that BBC reporter’s courage will help remove stigma of PTSD in journalists

In the hard-nosed world of journalism, admitting to suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has traditionally been taboo – a sign of weakness never to be admitted to colleagues in the newsroom where the remedy was often a stiff drink or two. Despite repeated efforts over the past decade to draw attention to the dangers of mental illness faced by foreign correspondents, that stigma has not gone away.

It can only be hoped that may change now that one of the BBC’s most high-profile correspondents, Fergal Keane, has shared publicly the PTSD he has been tussling with privately for several years.

The BBC announced that after decades of covering conflict, its veteran war reporter would be changing his role from that of Africa editor to “further assist his recovery”. The corporation’s head of newsgathering, Jonathan Munro, said: “It is both brave and welcome that he is ready to be open about PTSD.”

Keane is not the first correspondent by any means to have shared in public the impact that covering a relentless diet of conflict, crisis and disaster can have on even the most resilient human being. His BBC colleague Jeremy Bowen, Middle East editor, spoke about his own diagnosis of PTSD in 2017, characterised by bouts of depression related to his work.

Janine Di Giovanni, winner of the 2018 Courage in Journalism Award.
World Bank Photo Collection, CC BY-SA

Renowned foreign correspondents such as Janine di Giovanni have also written movingly about the effects of PTSD. In her 2011 memoir, Ghosts by Daylight, she confessed that crisis had become normality and “this real life, with all its sharp edges was terribly difficult”.

Combat fatigue

Almost two decades ago, research by South African psychologist Anthony Feinstein underscored the importance of efforts to introduce structured trauma training and counselling into news organisations. His first major study of 140 war journalists published in 2002 found that they had significantly more psychiatric difficulties than journalists who did not report on war.

In particular, the lifetime prevalence of PTSD in journalists who cover war was similar to rates reported for combat veterans, while the rate of major depression exceeded that of the general population. In 2018, Feinstein conducted a retrospective study of PTSD data collected over 18 years from journalists who have covered conflict across four continents.

Between 1999 and 2017, data had been collected from 684 journalists covering stories ranging from the 9/11 attacks and the Arab Spring to drug wars in Mexico and the refugee crisis in Europe. The data showed that the majority of the correspondents did not display prominent symptoms of PTSD at any one moment in time. But over a longer time-frame (many correspondents were spending well over a decade covering conflict) the data confirmed that rates of the full PTSD syndrome can approach those experienced by those engaged in actual combat – and he cautioned that news organisations could not afford to be complacent when it came to their duty of care.

Raising awareness

Large news organisations such as the BBC and Reuters have made great strides in recognising the issues associated with PTSD and providing both training and support. This has been reinforced by the work of a US-based global charity, the Dart Centre for Journalism & Trauma which offers a range of best practice guidelines and resources to safeguard the mental well-being of journalists.

This is not just about those on the frontline of foreign reporting. Almost every journalist will end up covering traumatic news events in their career – whether this be sexual violence, traffic accidents, or criminal trials. Most recently, there is a growing awareness of the dangers posed to journalists in the newsroom monitoring incoming, raw user-generated content from the sites of conflict, terror and disaster worldwide – what has been dubbed the “[digital frontline]”.

It is a point that was highlighted in a 2015 survey by Eyewitness Media Hub. This major study on the issue surveyed 122 journalists around the world and concluded that:

Office-bound staff who used to be somewhat shielded from viewing atrocities are now bombarded day in and day out with horrifically graphic material that explodes onto their desktops in volumes, and at a frequency that is very often far in excess of the horrors witnessed by staff who are investigating or reporting from the actual frontline.

Slowly but surely, journalism courses at universities in the UK are becoming aware of the importance of trauma training before students enter this professional environment. We would like to think that the work we are doing at Bournemouth University through both education, research and professional practice – in conjunction with the Dart Centre, BBC and others – is starting to make a difference.

The aim is to create an awareness of how people caught up in traumatic news might react and how to conduct ethical interviews with victims and survivors of trauma. In addition, we feel it is only responsible to make our journalism students aware of the mental stresses that journalists are exposed to whether on the frontline or in the newsroom.

Coping strategies

That doesn’t mean we should assume that every journalist who covers a distressing news story or handles sensitive material will develop PTSD. But it is important to do our best to build resilience and develop coping strategies so that journalists can bounce back stronger from the impact of covering distressing news.

As Keane’s case illustrates, PTSD can often present itself long after events. He has spoken and written about the effects that covering the 1994 Rwanda genocide had on him. It can only be hoped that the courage Keane has displayed in moving himself away from the frontline will send a signal that it is acceptable to recognise mental health issues in journalism.

Far from turning his back on the profession, according to the BBC he intends to “continue to provide original and compelling journalism” and hopes to draw on his experiences to guide and nurture young journalists. This can only be positive for the next generation of journalists.The Conversation

Stephen Jukes, Professor of Journalism, Bournemouth University and Karen Fowler-Watt, Senior Principal Academic, Centre for Excellence in Media Practice (CEMP), Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Fusion Professorial Lecture: Addressing the environmental crisis

With so many reports and news stories about the environmental issues we currently face, including climate change, biodiversity loss and plastic pollution, which problems should cause us most concern and how can we tackle them?

A Bournemouth University (BU) academic will talk at RNLI College on Thursday 13 February to address these issues in the first of a series of free public lectures. BU’s Professor of Marine Biology and Conservation, Rick Stafford, will launch the Fusion Professorial Lecture Series with his talk, ‘Addressing the environmental crisis: from reusable coffee cups to political reform, what really works?’

Rick, from the Department of Life and Environmental Sciences, said: “It’s vital we address the environmental crisis properly in the very near future. This talk will bring together my research over the last two years and present a timely message that it’s not too late to act, and give a positive vision of what the future could be like if we do.”

Using his research, Rick will demonstrate that plastic pollution is a real threat, but has been overemphasised in order to maintain the economic and political status quo. His findings also show that climate change and biodiversity loss need large systematic changes in economic and political thinking to be successfully tackled, although nature-based solutions such as tree planting and a respect for nature are also important.

Rick will demonstrate the benefits to biodiversity and society of changing our approach to economics, and show that necessary changes will be advantageous to most people, both in developed and developing countries.

Rick added: “It’s very timely, and hopefully it will inspire people to support the necessary changes we need at local, national and international levels.”

The Fusion Professorial Lecture Series is free and open to the public, with six planned throughout the year, and cover a wide range of topics from BU academics.

Rick Stafford’s research began studying rocky shores, and developed into mathematical and computer models of animal behaviour. He currently works on topics as diverse as marine protected areas, fisheries, artificial reefs, as well as climate change and biodiversity loss.

The free to attend lecture takes place on Thursday 13 February, 6:30pm, and is ticketed. You can register for tickets on Eventbrite.

Conversation article: 3D printing of body parts is coming fast – but regulations are not ready

In the last few years, the use of 3D printing has exploded in medicine. Engineers and medical professionals now routinely 3D print prosthetic hands and surgical tools. But 3D printing has only just begun to transform the field.

Today, a quickly emerging set of technologies known as bioprinting is poised to push the boundaries further. Bioprinting uses 3D printers and techniques to fabricate the three-dimensional structures of biological materials, from cells to biochemicals, through precise layer-by-layer positioning. The ultimate goal is to replicate functioning tissue and material, such as organs, which can then be transplanted into human beings.

We have been mapping the adoption of 3D printing technologies in the field of health care, and particularly bioprinting, in a collaboration between the law schools of Bournemouth University in the United Kingdom and Saint Louis University in the United States. While the future looks promising from a technical and scientific perspective, it’s far from clear how bioprinting and its products will be regulated. Such uncertainty can be problematic for manufacturers and patients alike, and could prevent bioprinting from living up to its promise.

From 3D printing to bioprinting

Bioprinting has its origins in 3D printing. Generally, 3D printing refers to all technologies that use a process of joining materials, usually layer upon layer, to make objects from data described in a digital 3D model. Though the technology initially had limited applications, it is now a widely recognized manufacturing system that is used across a broad range of industrial sectors. Companies are now 3D printing car parts, education tools like frog dissection kits and even 3D-printed houses. Both the United States Air Force and British Airways are developing ways of 3D printing airplane parts.

The NIH in the U.S. has a program to develop bioprinted tissue that’s similar to human tissue to speed up drug screening.
Paige Derr and Kristy Derr, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences

In medicine, doctors and researchers use 3D printing for several purposes. It can be used to generate accurate replicas of a patient’s body part. In reconstructive and plastic surgeries, implants can be specifically customized for patients using “biomodels” made possible by special software tools. Human heart valves, for instance, are now being 3D printed through several different processes although none have been transplanted into people yet. And there have been significant advances in 3D print methods in areas like dentistry over the past few years.

Bioprinting’s rapid emergence is built on recent advances in 3D printing techniques to engineer different types of products involving biological components, including human tissue and, more recently, vaccines.

While bioprinting is not entirely a new field because it is derived from general 3D printing principles, it is a novel concept for legal and regulatory purposes. And that is where the field could get tripped up if regulators cannot decide how to approach it.

State of the art in bioprinting

Scientists are still far from accomplishing 3D-printed organs because it’s incredibly difficult to connect printed structures to the vascular systems that carry life-sustaining blood and lymph throughout our bodies. But they have been successful in printing nonvascularized tissue like certain types of cartilage. They have also been able to produce ceramic and metal scaffolds that support bone tissue by using different types of bioprintable materials, such as gels and certain nanomaterials. A number of promising animal studies, some involving cardiac tissue, blood vessels and skin, suggest that the field is getting closer to its ultimate goal of transplantable organs.

Researchers explain ongoing work to make 3d-printed tissue that could one day be transplanted into a human body.

We expect that advancements in bioprinting will increase at a steady pace, even with current technological limitations, potentially improving the lives of many patients. In 2019 alone, several research teams reported a number of breakthroughs. Bioengineers at Rice and Washington Universities, for example, used hydrogels to successfully print the first series of complex vascular networks. Scientists at Tel Aviv University managed to produce the first 3D-printed heart. It included “cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers” and used cells and biological materials from a human patient. In the United Kingdom, a team from Swansea University developed a bioprinting process to create an artificial bone matrix, using durable, regenerative biomaterial.


Though the future looks promising from a technical and scientific perspective, current regulations around bioprinting pose some hurdles. From a conceptual point of view, it is hard to determine what bioprinting effectively is.

Consider the case of a 3D-printed heart: Is it best described as an organ or a product? Or should regulators look at it more like a medical device?

Regulators have a number of questions to answer. To begin with, they need to decide whether bioprinting should be regulated under new or existing frameworks, and if the latter, which ones. For instance, should they apply regulations for biologics, a class of complex pharmaceuticals that includes treatments for cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, because biologic materials are involved, as is the case with 3D-printed vaccines? Or should there be a regulatory framework for medical devices better suited to the task of customizing 3D-printed products like splints for newborns suffering from life-threatening medical conditions?

In Europe and the U.S., scholars and commentators have questioned whether bioprinted materials should enjoy patent protection because of the moral issues they raise. An analogy can be drawn from the famed Dolly the sheep over 20 years ago. In this case, it was held by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that cloned sheep cannot be patented because they were identical copies of naturally occurring sheep. This is a clear example of the parallels that exist between cloning and bioprinting. Some people speculate in the future there will be ‘cloneprinting,’ which has the potential for reviving extinct species or solving the organ transplant shortage.

Dolly the sheep’s example illustrates the court’s reluctance to traverse this path. Therefore, if, at some point in the future, bioprinters or indeed cloneprinters can be used to replicate not simply organs but also human beings using cloning technologies, a patent application of this nature could potentially fail, based on the current law. A study funded by the European Commission, led by Bournemouth University and due for completion in early 2020 aims to provide legal guidance on the various intellectual property and regulatory issues surrounding such issues, among others.

On the other hand, if European regulators classify the product of bioprinting as a medical device, there will be at least some degree of legal clarity, as a regulatory regime for medical devices has long been in place. In the United States, the FDA has issued guidance on 3D-printed medical devices, but not on the specifics of bioprinting. More important, such guidance is not binding and only represents the thinking of a particular agency at a point in time.

Cloudy regulatory outlook

Those are not the only uncertainties that are racking the field. Consider the recent progress surrounding 3D-printed organs, particularly the example of a 3D-printed heart. If a functioning 3D-printed heart becomes available, which body of law should apply beyond the realm of FDA regulations? In the United States, should the National Organ Transplant Act, which was written with human organs in mind, apply? Or do we need to amend the law, or even create a separate set of rules for 3D-printed organs?

We have no doubt that 3D printing in general, and bioprinting specifically, will advance rapidly in the coming years. Policymakers should be paying closer attention to the field to ensure that its progress does not outstrip their capacity to safely and effectively regulate it. If they succeed, it could usher in a new era in medicine that could improve the lives of countless patients.

[ You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can get our highlights each weekend. ]The Conversation

Dinusha Mendis, Professor of Intellectual Property and Innovation Law and Co-Director of the Jean Monet Centre of Excellence for European Intellectual Property and Information Rights, Bournemouth University and Ana Santos Rutschman, Assistant Professor of Law, Saint Louis University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: You’re probably more susceptible to misinformation than you think

Online misinformation works, or so it would seem. One of the more interesting statistics from the 2019 UK general election was that 88% of advertisements posted on social media by the Conservative Party pushed figures that had already been deemed misleading by the UK’s leading fact-checking organisation, Full Fact. And, of course, the Conservatives won the election by a comfortable margin.

Internet firms such as Facebook and Google are taking some steps to limit political misinformation. But with Donald Trump aiming for reelection in 2020, it seems likely we’ll see just as many false or misleading statements online this year as in the past. The internet, and social media in particular, has effectively become a space where anyone can spread any claim they like regardless of its veracity.

Yet to what degree do people actually believe what they read online, and what influence does misinformation really have? Ask people directly and most will tell you they don’t trust the news they see on social media. And a landmark study in 2019 found 43% of social media users admitted to sharing inaccurate content themselves. So people are certainly aware in principle that misinformation is common online.

But ask people where they learned about the “facts” that support their political opinions, and the answer will often be social media. A more complex analysis of the situation suggests that for many people the source of political information is simply less important than how it fits with their existing views.

Spurious thinking

Research into the UK Brexit referendum and 2017 general election found that voters often reported making their decisions based on highly spurious arguments. For example, one voter argued that Brexit would stop the takeover of the British high street by foreign companies such as Costa Coffee (which was British at the time). Similarly, a Remain voter spoke of mass deportations of any non-UK born resident if the country left the EU, a much more extreme policy than anything actually put forward by politicians during the campaign.

During the 2017 election, various claims were made by survey respondents that unfairly questioned Conservative leader Theresa May’s humanity. For example, some falsely argued she enacted laws that led to flammable cladding being placed on the exterior of Grenfell Tower, the London block of flats that caught fire in June 2017, killing 72 people. Others called her Labour opponent Jeremy Corbyn a terrorist sympathiser, or a victim of a conspiracy to discredit him by the military and industrial elites. The common thread was that these voters gained the information to support their arguments from social media.

How do we explain the apparent paradox of knowing social media is full of misinformation and yet relying on it to form political opinions? We need to look more widely at what has become known as the post-truth environment. This involves a scepticism of all official sources of news, a reliance on existing beliefs and biases formed from deeply held prejudices, and a search for information that confirms bias as opposed to critical thinking.


People judge information on whether they find it believable as opposed to whether it is backed by evidence. Sociologist Lisbet van Zoonen calls this the replacement of epistemology – the science of knowledge – with “i-pistemology” – the practice of making personal judgements.

A lack of trust in elite sources, in particular politicians and journalists, doesn’t fully explain this large-scale rejection of critical thinking. But psychology can provide some potential answers. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Twersky developed a series of experiments that explored under what conditions humans are most likely to jump to conclusions about a specific topic. They argue intelligence has little impact on making ill-informed judgements.

Intelligence tests demonstrate the capacity to perform logical reasoning, but cannot predict that it will be performed at every moment it is needed. As I have argued, we need to understand the context of people’s decisions.

Everyone wants your attention.
Andrew E Gardener/Shutterstock

The average undecided voter is bombarded with arguments from political leaders, especially in marginal seats or swing states that can make a difference to the outcome of an election. Every politician offers a redacted account of their or their opponents’ policies. And voters are aware that each of these politicians is trying to persuade them and so they retain a healthy scepticism.

The average voter also has a busy life. They have a job, perhaps a family, bills to pay and hundreds of pressing issues to address in their daily lives. They know the importance of voting and making the right decision but struggle to navigate the contested election communication they receive. They want a simple answer to that age-old conundrum, who most or who least deserves my vote.

So instead of conducting a systematic critical analysis of every piece of evidence they encounter, they look for specific issues that they see as driving a wedge between the competing politicians. This is where fake news and disinformation can be powerful. As much as we like to think we’re good at spotting fake news and being sceptical of what we’re told, we’re ultimately susceptible to whatever information makes it easiest to make a decision that seems right, even if in the long term it may be wrong.The Conversation

Darren Lilleker, Associate Professor of Political Communication, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: How breastfeeding sparked population growth in ancient cities

Historians down the ages have examined the ebb and flow of populations in ancient societies. But most of these examinations have tended to focus on male dominated events – the wars, the politics and the money. But there is another side to the past that struggles to be heard over the clashing of swords. It is this unreported history that our new research focuses on.

My colleagues and I at Bournemouth University and the University of Warsaw used advanced chemical techniques to study breastfeeding in some of the world’s early cities in ancient parts of Syria and Lebanon. We analysed small pieces of bone from infants, children and mothers interred in ancient Bronze Age cemeteries between 2800 and 1200 BC by using a technique known as stable isotopes analysis. From this we built computer models that estimated the age of weaning (the introduction of complementary foods to a breastfeeding child’s diet) and complete weaning (stopping breastfeeding entirely) in these populations.

Our research found that women seem to have exclusively breastfed their children until about the age of six months and completely stopped around the age of two and a half – earlier than was common elsewhere at this point in history. These earlier weaning times may have helped boost the population of these cities, which became flourishing centres of civilisation.

Read more:
Discovery of prehistoric baby bottles shows infants were fed cow’s milk 5,000 years ago

The sites we excavated were urban centres on the Mediterranean coast, and between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in what was called Mesopotamia. Children’s bones found by archaeologists are often more fragile than those of adults, as they are smaller and not completely mineralised (their bones have less inorganic material such as calcium than those of adults). This means they often get damaged or are lost through decomposition.

However, enough children were excavated at these cemeteries for chemical analysis and confident statistical modelling. That’s partially due to the ancient Near Eastern practice of burying infants and children in jars, which partially protected the bones from the burial environment.

A Middle Bronze Age infant from the Lebanese site of Sidon buried in a large jar.
Claude Doumet-Serhal, CC BY-NC-ND

Read more:
Breast or bottle feeding: the debate has its origins in Victorian times

Our ancient sites were metropolitan hubs and probably had wide-ranging contact from people all over the ancient world. Within these cities, women seem to have exclusively breastfed their children until about the age of six months, which fits with the World Health Organization’s recommendations for healthy infant feeding.

While other foods seem to have been introduced after six months, complete weaning stopped around the age of two-and-a-half. And these times seem to fit with written records from that part of the world. For example, there are some Babylonian contracts dating to as early as 1000 BC between parents and a wet nurse (a woman who would breastfeed the baby as if it were her own). According to these contracts, the wet nurse would breastfeed the baby for a proscribed amount of time, often around two to three years, and be repaid in barley, oil, wool and sometimes silver.

Later religious texts also provide clues. Some books in the Bible (Maccabees and Chronicles) note breastfeeding lasting for three years, and later sources from the first millennium AD such as the Quran and the Babylonian Talmud estimate this period as two years.

Relic from Mesopotamia (2000-1500 BCE) at The Sulaimaniya Museum, Iraq, shows a woman breastfeeding her child.
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin, CC BY

Breastfeeding on average for two and a half years might seem like a long time in most modern cultures but it’s shorter than in many ancient societies as revealed by archaeological studies from all over the world also using stable isotopes analysis to estimate infant feeding practices. These found that the global average length of time until initial weaning in in pre-industrial societies would have been one year (as opposed to six months in our ancient cities). And complete weaning occurred at around the age of three.

Breastfeeding and populations

The timing and nature of weaning and complete weaning have long-lasting health impacts through infancy and even into adulthood. But beyond their impact on the health of individuals, breastfeeding and infant feeding strategies also affect population structures.

Breastfeeding for longer tends to mean women have gaps between pregnancies, and this has been considered a major factor in controlling fertility in hunter-gatherer groups where breastfeeding up to and beyond the age of five was the norm. In contrast, earlier weaning is associated with early farming communities with higher population growth.

This means the shorter breastfeeding times shown by our findings may have helped boost the population of the cities of ancient Syria and Lebanon. It could have been the result of having access to cereal crops such as wheat and barley and dairy products such as yogurt, which could easily be fed to children as weaning supplements. Agriculture was introduced earlier in this part of the world than elsewhere and coincided with the emergence of urban civilisations and the establishment of wide reaching international networks.

Sidon, for example, grew into one of the Mediterranean’s great port cities, connecting the Phoenicians as a commercial power. And our research suggests the strategies they used for childrearing may have had a hand in their achievements. So breastfeeding and weaning in ancient Lebanon and Syria didn’t make it into the big historical texts. But our study shows that these seemingly modern issues had big impact on society.The Conversation

Chris Stantis, Postdoc in Archaeology and Anthropology, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Wafer-thin bicycles, speedy shorts, go-faster trainers: controversial technology in sport

When the Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge became the first human to run a marathon in under two hours as part of the recent INEOS 1:59 Project Challenge, this was arguably one of the most significant achievements of athleticism since Sir Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile in 1954. But almost immediately afterwards there was controversy, not toward the runner or the unofficial nature of his run (his record has no official status), but over his running shoes.

The trainers in question were the AlphaFLY running shoes designed and manufactured by Nike. They are built around a carefully considered sole design that absorbs the energy of each foot strike and then helps store, channel and return it as the athlete runs. Its various patented innovations include the types of polymers used and how they and air pockets are located to absorb and return energy, coupled with a carbon plate built into the midsole. The question is, can a running shoe really be they key to sporting success? Or is it just an easy target for others’ misplaced jealousy?

A study published back in 2005 predicted the probable limits of the men’s marathon record. Yet since then the maximum projections in that study have already been exceeded by around two minutes, and nearly by four if you include Kipchoge’s time. On that basis it seems fair to suggest that the shoes are at least partly responsible for such large and unexpected performance improvements. The International Association of Athletics Federations, the governing body, has established a group to study the Nike’s running shoes and report back with an adjudication.

A more recent study examining shoe technology supports this concern, suggesting that a predecessor to the Alphafly shoe design had been shown to improve running economy significantly. In fact, compared directly to other elite-level trainers in the same study, the performance gain was in the range of 2.6%-4.2%. At the razor thin margins of elite sport, that sort of benefit is the equivalent of bringing a gun to a knife fight.

Seeking an edge through technology

To be sure, as far as debating technological assistance in sport goes, we’ve been here plenty of times before. The Australian sprinter Cathy Freeman wore a one-piece aerodynamic suit in the 400 metres at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. In 2008, the very nature of disability itself was challenged when South African Oscar Pistorius attempted to run in both the Paralympic and Olympic Games the same year while using a pair of composite prosthetic legs. These, like Kipchoge’s shoes, also raised concerns about the nature of and extent to which technology contributes toward helping us perform at our very best. In a systemic review published in 2015, I found the impact of technology in sport as having brought a huge source of positive interest, but, on occasion, being hugely damaging.

The British Olympic team recently unveiled its new track cycling bicycle, dubbed HB.T, upon which athletes will be competing at the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This machine (a project undertaken between British Cycling and manufacturers Hope and Lotus Engineering) pushes the rules to their absolute limits and demonstrates the flair that Lotus themselves applied back in 1992 when they designed Chris Boardman’s gold medal-winning Lotus bicycle. But this design was itself later banned from competition due to its perceived unfairness.

The new Team GB bicycle is resplendent with an unusual fork configuration and bowed, thin frame members that virtually disappear from view when you look at it head on. Engineers will be keen to know the measured advantages. But I’m wondering whether the real effects of the bike are in the psychological blow to its opposition as it is wheeled out for the first time – at a point probably and quite intentionally too late for competing cycling teams’ to respond to in time for Tokyo.

The general criticism behind such new technology is not just about how effective it may or may not be but also about its perceived fairness. Such arguments typically debate issues surrounding equal access to a technology, the ability to ensure any new technology is safe, that it is not fundamentally an unfair advantage, and that it doesn’t ultimately change the nature of the sport entirely.

Some sports governing bodies attempt to remove or marginalise the impact of technology. Cycling has tried several times to do so. However, even the relative simplicity of a sport such as running was changed forever when Kipchoge used a huge team of around 40 pace-setters in an aerodynamic formation and those shoes.

Technological progress can be slowed, but it can’t easily be halted – and arguably shouldn’t be. So there will be much more debate on the effects of technology ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Games as more athletes, teams and manufacturers all compete for the most prized medals in competitive sport.The Conversation

Bryce Dyer, Principal Academic, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

BU researcher explores how people who have had a stroke can be supported to return to work

The 8th edition of BU’s annual research magazine – the Bournemouth Research Chronicle – has now been published.  This year’s edition focuses on the work of our Early Career Researchers (ECRs). Read on to find out more about research being undertaken in the Faculty of Health & Social Sciences.

At least 100,000 people in the UK have a stroke each year and around a third of them are of working age. In 1990 only a quarter of strokes were experienced by people aged between 20-64 years old, meaning that the average age of stroke victims is falling. BU’s Dr Kathryn Collins, a Lecturer in Physiotherapy, noticed this trend emerging while working as a physiotherapist in Chicago and while undertaking her PhD at the University of East Anglia.

“My PhD explored neural plasticity, and the corticospinal tract which connects our brain to different muscle groups. I was really interested in the way our brains can change: whether from learning a new skill or from being damaged through a stroke,” explains Dr Collins, “For example, in someone who has had a stroke, we might see an undamaged area of the brain developing differently in order to compensate for an area that has been damaged.

“Through both my practice and my research, I noticed that my patients were becoming much younger. Not only were this group trying to recover from their strokes, they were also trying to get back to work. Working gave them a purpose as well as enabling them to provide for themselves and their families.”

There are a number of reasons why people are at risk of having a stroke at a younger age. Some may be more susceptible to blood clotting because of a pre-existing condition, such as sickle cell anaemia, while others may be at risk because of certain lifestyle factors. These could include stress, poor diet or lack of physical activity.

Now at Bournemouth University, Dr Collins has been continuing her research into the facilitators and barriers to returning to work. Her research was funded by BU’s Acceleration of Research & Networking (ACORN) grant scheme, which provides promising Early Career Researchers with the opportunity to lead and manage their own research project.

“The funding enabled me to carry out a systematic review with two of our physiotherapy students. It was a really good opportunity for them to get involved in research and for them to broaden their skills. Through this review, we have been exploring hidden impairments which were seen as a significant barrier to returning work.”

Dr Collins also worked with BU’s Public Involvement in Education and Research (PIER) Partnership to run a number of focus groups with stroke survivors. The PIER Partnership put her in touch with the local Stroke Association, who were keen to be involved. Through these focus groups Dr Collins was able to identify a number of barriers and facilitators to returning to work.

“Peer support was big factor in helping people back to work, as it gave stroke survivors the opportunity to learn from someone else who had been in the same position,” says Dr Collins. “Learning to listen to their bodies was also important. If they felt fatigued, for example, then they needed to learn that it was OK to take a break and rest.

“Workplace support made a big difference too. Being offered a phased return to work, having a flexible working pattern or having adjustments to help them carry out tasks they now found difficult were all examples of the kinds of support people found beneficial.”

In addition to this, training, longer rehabilitation, family support and returning to or learning new hobbies were seen as facilitators to help people return to work. The latter often helped to increase confidence which would then spill over into other areas of life“One of the biggest barriers to returning to work were hidden impairments, such as emotions. People experience a huge range of emotions after a stroke; anxiety about having another stroke, frustration at not being able to do things they could do before or guilt that they were no longer able to support their families in the same way. These emotions could then lead to changes in their behaviour or their personalities,” explains Dr Collins.

“Fatigue was also a significant barrier. Some people had returned to work, only to have to give it up altogether shortly afterwards as they hadn’t realised how fatigued they would be. In addition to this, some stroke survivors might face physical barriers such as finding it difficult to drive, climb stairs or get out of their chair easily.”

Changes in cognition were also recognised as a barrier. Some stroke survivors reported no longer being able to process information in the same way, finding that they felt overwhelmed or were facing ‘information overload’ if faced with too much to process at once.

“The final set of barriers centred on perceptions; both of their employers and colleagues. Some people found that there was a lack of understanding about the effects of a stroke, which meant they didn’t have the right support at work. It was felt that employers were better at making adaptations for people with visible, physical disabilities, but less so for people who might have hidden impairments.”

As the project draws to a close, Dr Collins is now considering what her next steps will be and how she can ensure that her research findings can make a difference to stroke survivors.

“I’d like to broaden my research to speak to more stroke survivors to make sure that I’ve correctly identified all the barriers and facilitators to returning to work. I’d also like to speak to employers to find out what their perceptions are,” says Dr Collins. “Ultimately, I want to be able to use my research findings to inform the support that physiotherapists and other health professionals provide to stroke survivors. My goal is to make sure that we’re providing the right kind of support and interventions to enable stroke survivors to get the most out of their lives.”

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Understanding and improving media literacy among unaccompanied refugee youth

The 8th edition of BU’s annual research magazine – the Bournemouth Research Chronicle – has now been published.  This year’s edition focuses on the work of our Early Career Researchers (ECRs). Read on to find out more about research being undertaken in the Faculty of Management.

In 2018, according to UNICEF, European countries recorded the arrival of 602,920 new asylum seekers, a figure which includes 20,325 unaccompanied child refugees. The successful integration of refugee children poses a number of policy and practical challenges for both the child and host country. Research carried out at Bournemouth University suggests that providing children with media literacy education can help them learn to navigate their new media-centric environments and make decisions which protect their wellbeing.

While many refugee children have good IT skills, they often lack the skills needed to make critical choices and informed decisions about their wellbeing. Media literacy education can go some way to combat this. It can also help to provide them with the skills that will help them to find employment later in life, as well as protecting them from risks, such as identity theft or radicalisation.

In 2015, at the start of Europe’s migrant crisis, Dr Annamaria Neag was finishing her PhD research into media literacy education. Budapest’s Keleti Railway Station had become a de facto refugee camp, and among the chaos and squalor of the crowds Dr Neag noticed the importance of smart phones to people in this desperate situation.

“Their phones were their guide through Europe, their connection to home and their tool for building new relationships and a new life,” explains Dr Neag. “This was what sparked my idea to combine my research into media literacy with refugee studies.”

To bring this idea to fruition, Dr Neag teamed up with Bournemouth University’s Dr Richard Berger, to pursue funding for her research idea. Using the assistance of BU’s Research Development & Support team, Dr Neag and Dr Berger submitted a successful proposal for the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme funding. As a result of this funding, Dr Neag was appointed as a Marie-Curie Fellow at Bournemouth University’s Centre of Excellence in Media Practice (CEMP), where she began the research that had been inspired by her observations at Keleti Railway Station two years’ previously.

The aim of Dr Neag’s research is to provide an in-depth description of unaccompanied refugee children’s media use. This will enable her to design and develop educational tools that will support unaccompanied refugee children to develop their media literacy skills and become more connected to their new home countries.

Fieldwork has been carried out in the Netherlands, Sweden and Italy – the three countries with the highest number of refugee children at the time of grant application. Research consisted of informal semi-structured interviews with unaccompanied asylum seeking children, refugee mentors, participant observation, and digital ethnography (the study of online communities and cultures).

Dr Neag has also undertaken participatory action research in the UK. This was conducted with London based NGO ‘Young Roots’ who provide support and activities for young refugees. Here, data was collected about unaccompanied asylum seeking children’s knowledge of fake news, fake profiles and mental health risks associated with phone addiction.

Her research has found that access to smart phones has great benefits for unaccompanied asylum seeking children who are using their mobiles to check their bank balances, order online goods, or communicate using language translating tools or social media. However, research also shows the associated risks.

Though social media offers a route to meet new people, usage may also restrict someone to a particular community, thus creating an echo chamber of ideas. Additionally, the unintended consequences of exposure to phone addiction, fake news and online community pressures can expose vulnerable children to higher risks.

Dr Neag found that unaccompanied asylum seeking children were using social media applications, such as Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram, which were consistent with young people in their new host countries. However, Dr Neag discovered that these children were also downloading simplified versions of the same applications which worked in their home countries.

“Applications such as ‘imo’ or ‘Facebook Lite’ can be used with in areas with poor internet connections, which is often the case for their relatives living in their home countries,” says Dr Neag, “It was very interesting to see that some children, who were illiterate, were using these apps to communicate by using functions such as voice messages.

“My research also showed that there were similarities in the ways in which young Europeans and unaccompanied asylum seeking children use social media. It showed that there was a shared desire to present a beautified version of their lives on social media. For example, selfies were very popular with refugee children, who often enjoyed sharing photos of themselves in front of landmarks such as the Milan Cathedral.”

Dr Neag believes that educating the mentors and guardians of unaccompanied asylum seeking children may be the most effective way to improve media literacy skills among this large and hugely diverse group. Her findings are now being collated into an app called Mentor+Media which will offer help to refugee mentors and guardians about media literacy. The app development team consists of Dr Neag, Dr Berger and Kyle Goslan, a BU demonstrator in digital media design. NGO experts are also helping to inform the app’s content.

“The purpose of the app is to communicate the importance of being critical of various forms of media,” explains Dr Neag. “This knowledge can then be passed on to unaccompanied asylum seeking children on an individual basis – in a way that suits their needs.”

To find out more about the research of BU’s Early Career Researchers, visit

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Reducing re-offending through hospitality training

The 8th edition of BU’s annual research magazine – the Bournemouth Research Chronicle – has now been published.  This year’s edition focuses on the work of our Early Career Researchers (ECRs). Read on to find out more about research being undertaken in the Faculty of Management.

There is a population of around 82,000 prisoners in the UK, according to the Ministry of Justice. Statistics from the Prison Reform Trust suggest that 48% of adult prisoners reoffend within one year after release, with rates rising to 64% for those serving sentences of less than 12 months.

The National Audit Office has estimated that crimes committed by recent offenders costs the economy £9.5 billion to £13 billion per year. However, evidence suggests that those who go into work after leaving prison are less likely to reoffend, but this can be difficult without the right training and support.

The Clink Charity aims to reduce reoffending rates by training prisoners in hospitality skills (predominantly in fine dining restaurants) which they will be able to use in meaningful employment on release. The charity offers prisoners the chance to achieve NVQ qualifications, with the added incentive of a job opportunity and accommodation upon release. They operate five training restaurants in partnership with Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service. Since the Clink Charity initiative was launched in 2009, their programmes have helped to reduce reoffending by 50% among those who have graduated from their schemes.

As part of a team of researchers, BU’s Dr Charalampos Giousmpasoglou has been collaborating with the charity to critically assess the quality of training they provide. As well as being an active researcher in the area of hospitality and human resources management, Dr Giousmpasoglou has over 20 years’ experience as a hotelier in luxury hospitality and fine dining restaurant management.

“Training prisoners is always challenging. The Clink Charity is unique because there is no other fine dining training restaurant in a prison globally. As a concept, it’s very innovative, original and interesting, which is why I wanted to get involved,” says Dr Giousmpasoglou.

“My PhD research focused on people management in a luxury hospitality context, which gave me a better insight into a general manager’s job in luxury hotels. I’ve also explored the ways in which an individual’s cultural identity, occupational and organisational culture can affect their ability to succeed in the sector.

“It is really helpful to be able to use my industry experience in class, as it helps my students to develop a better understanding of the real world. It is also an advantage to be able to present myself as a former colleague to practitioners. Through carrying out research with those working in industry, I have found that even in very high-class establishments, poor management still exists.”

UK Hospitality estimates that around 6 million people are directly or indirectly employed through the hospitality industry, making it the third biggest sector in the UK economy. Although the industry faces challenges in terms of the uncertainty of Brexit and changes from the use of new technologies, it remains a thriving sector of the economy.

“I hope that my research will help to better inform staff selection and increase the standards of management within the sector, so that more staff can be better trained and retained,” explains Dr Giousmpasoglou. “By applying these insights to the challenges being addressed by The Clink Charity, I hope that we will be able to improve job retention and further reduce re-offending by former prisoners.”

The collaboration between Dr Giousmpasoglou’s research team and The Clink Charity began in early 2018, when he attended Hotelympia (a trade show), which included a presentation about the charity’s work. This gave Dr Giousmpasoglou the opportunity to discuss his research idea and potential for a collaboration with the charity’s Chief Executive, Christopher Moore.

Thanks to the Bournemouth University’s Acceleration of Research & Networking (ACORN) grant scheme, Dr Giousmpasoglou was able to carry out a pilot study with The Clink Charity to assess trainee prisoner satisfaction and their reasons for joining the skill building programme.

“The aim of the project was to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the programme and make recommendations regarding the programme curriculum and the participants’ wellbeing,” explains Dr Giousmpasoglou, “We focused on how the training has been implemented and received, rather than the way the restaurants are run.”

Initial results have been very positive, with the research team finding that participants reported increases in self-confidence (91.6%), in their desire to learn (83.3%), their chances of getting a job (80.6%) and their ability to cope with prison (75%).

“We found that participants wanted to take part in the programme because they were keen to usefully occupy their time, challenge themselves and increase their employment opportunities on release. As well as boosting their confidence in a number of ways, our research suggested that it was also changing their future plans. 91.7% of people reported wanting to get a job once they left prison, while 52.8% said they were interested in starting their own business or being self-employed.

“The project was only possible because of the ACORN fund and the support of the Research Development & Support team’s training and seminars. It’s given me an opportunity to test the waters, share knowledge with The Clink Charity and find out if a larger research project would be worthwhile,” concludes Dr Giousmpasoglou.

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Understanding gender differences in autism

Dr Rachel Moseley

The 8th edition of BU’s annual research magazine – the Bournemouth Research Chronicle – has now been published.  This year’s edition focuses on the work of our Early Career Researchers (ECRs). Read on to find out more about research being undertaken in the Faculty of Science & Technology.

Autism is a lifelong condition that affects an individual’s ability to communicate and relate to others, and how they experience the world around them. Research in autism covers a wide spectrum of issues, with gender differences currently a dominant point of conversation and investigation.

Numbers of people being diagnosed with autism are very unequal; research from 2017 suggests that boys are diagnosed at a rate three times higher than girls. It is now evident that autism presents quite differently and often more subtly in girls and women. With these findings now being brought to light, more and more women are being diagnosed with autism as adults. This makes it more important to understand why it is so difficult to detect autism in young girls, who are therefore more likely to miss out on support and interventions.

Dr Rachel Moseley is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology in the Faculty of Science & Technology. Her work centres on autism spectrum conditions, and has covered a range of sub-topics, including brain connectivity, cognition and language, and more recently, ageing, mental health, self-injury and suicidality. Female diagnosis of autism has been a strong element within her research, with a major focus on reasons why autism in women is underdiagnosed.

Findings from a study run by Dr Moseley and her colleague, Dr Julie Kirkby, suggest that the tools used for screening autism may play a part in the failure to detect autism in girls and women.

“It is really hard to know why there is such a disparity in diagnosis,” explains Dr Moseley. “It might be that autism does exist more in men, as men are more commonly diagnosed. On the other hand it might be that we just don’t recognise the symptoms in women. One paper I published looked at the screening tools that doctors use to check for red flags, and all of those instruments were designed through research studies with male participants.”

Women tend to be better at hiding their symptoms, something known as camouflaging. The likelihood of picking up ‘red flags’ in individuals who can mask their symptoms, when the screening measures are based upon surface behaviour, is slim and results in much later diagnosis.

“When people have very good cognitive abilities or high intelligence, they often learn to hide their symptoms,” says Dr Moseley, “The diagnostic instruments that we have tend to pick up surface behaviours. When observing autistic people, children or adults, medical professionals are expected to assess what is going on in front of them within the room.”

“Autistic women in particular are good at learning to hide their symptoms, as they are sometimes very good at picking up social rules and interactions. It might be costing them a great deal of mental energy to do this but on the surface you can’t detect that they are struggling.”

The later diagnosis of autism in women relates to two more recent aspects of Dr Moseley’s research into autism; mental health and autism within the ageing population. Due to later diagnosis, women often spend a lot longer not understanding why they behave and feel the way they do, resulting in a vulnerability to poor mental health.

“Very few studies are interested in autistic people as they age,” says Dr Moseley. “I am currently carrying out a study into ageing in autistic women, because women are a minority group in autism research. The majority of the research is based on men and boys. Autistic women are doubly marginalised as they age, because research into autism also nearly always focuses on children.”

Dr Moseley is also currently working on developing a better understanding of self-injury and suicidality in autistic people. This is a crucial goal given the very high rates of suicide in this population, which seem to be highest in autistic women. Dr Moseley’s forthcoming research on ageing in autistic women has indicated that many struggle with the changes in cognition, mental health and social communication associated with mid-life, and that these can make them feel too overwhelmed to carry on.

Between funding from the Department of Psychology and training workshops led by the Research Development & Support team, BU has provided support to Dr Moseley in her work, helping to ensure her research continues to make a positive impact in the wider community.

Her enthusiasm for working with external organisations, such as the National Autistic Society, and for sharing the results of her research with the autistic community has gained very positive feedback. This has highlighted to her the importance of the research she is conducting.

Dr Moseley says “I find it very important to share my work with the autistic community. I give talks at local support groups and I’ve recorded videos for my online participants, among other activities. I have received lots of lovely emails saying ‘this has changed my life’ and ‘I feel a lot better about myself now’. It means the world to me and gives me the encouragement I need to pursue my research.”

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For young refugees, a mobile phone can be as important as food and water when arriving in a new country

Between 2015 and 2018, more than 200,000 unaccompanied children claimed asylum in Europe. Many of these young people, now in the EU, have one thing in common: their smart phones.

Digital tools are not only a means to keep in touch with friends and family. They can also become a lifeline for refugees and unaccompanied minors, according to a recent report, becoming as essential as food, water and shelter. But for many of these unaccompanied young children, out-of-date kit, lack of access to digital technologies and expensive mobile broadband packages can all act as barriers to being able to live in a digital environment.

Similarly, levels of literacy, can also significantly hinder technological development. And without structured educational provision, many young refugees can also struggle because of poor IT skills.

As researchers based in the UK and Hungary, we decided we wanted to help. And what began as a chance conversation at a conference in Prague, is now a major research project. The main aim of our two-year-long media literacy project was to understand how unaccompanied young refugees use digital technologies and social media.

We wanted to find out whether these technologies can help to foster successful integration. The fieldwork was carried out in four European countries with a high share of unaccompanied minors among asylum-seekers: Sweden, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK.

EU Calling

Our project involved interviews with 56 refugees, age 14-19, as well as their carers, mentors and educators. We met and observed the young people in their homes and community centres. We also carried out “digital ethnography” –- a type of online “audit” – on Facebook, with some of the children.

We found that young refugees can become easily lost when trying to access the digital world, needing multiple skills and tools to integrate successfully into a highly networked culture. The plethora of service providers, social media platforms and devices can be intimidating at first, but we were astonished at how quickly some of the young people we worked with were able to finds ways to negotiate their new digital circumstances – often after leaving war-torn countries.

A phone can be a lifeline for unaccompanied minors.
Shutterstock/Marian Fil

From using translating apps, to communicate with locals, to downloading music from their own countries, some of these young people learned very rapidly how these tools work. That said, this was not the case for the majority of unaccompanied young people.

And for many, mentors or guardians were often the first point of aid when it came to problems encountered online. Older refugee children who have perhaps been in the new host country for some time – or have more familiarity with digital technologies – were also found to be key in helping new and arriving young people to better understand the digital world.

Digital navigation

We also found that many of the young people did not think too critically about their online experiences. And in an era of “fake news” they may be ushered into making poor judgements on what information to trust, and which opinions to follow. So for this reason we created an app called Media+Mentor specifically for mentors or educators who work with unaccompanied refugee youth.

The idea is that the Media+Mentor app will bring mentors and carers together. The app will also point users to further resources, support and advice on the most common issues unaccompanied minors face online – such as fake news, cyberbullying or hate speech.

From our findings, it’s clear that media literacy education is essential for these young people and their mentors. Indeed, for any teenager in the EU, popular apps and platforms are useful resources for learning new things, finding relevant information or simply as a way to connect with other young people. But as a refugee in a new country it can be hard to know how to access such help.

And these children are not just crossing physical borders, but are shifting into the heightened technological spaces that all EU youth probably take for granted. It has been estimated, for example, that 83% of young people across the EU use their smart phones to access the internet – and generally use fairly up-to-date kit.

So we hope that our research could help to provide young refugee people with the skills needed to stay safe and thrive – not only in the online world, but also in a new country where they are building new lives.The Conversation

Annamaria Neag, Marie Curie Research Fellow, Bournemouth University and Richard Berger, Associate Professor, Head of Research and Professional Practice, Department of Media Production, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation: British people hardly ever thought about the EU before Brexit, now it dominates their lives

The polling agency Ipsos MORI has, for many years, asked people in Britain every month what they think are the most important issues facing the country. In December 2015, only six months before the EU referendum and after nearly three years of anticipating it, just 1% of the sample cited Europe as the most important issue of the day. By April 2019 that figure had jumped to 59%.

If Brexit really is the issue which has riven the British public, dividing it into two irreconcilable blocs, why was it so low down the list of urgent concerns at the end of 2015? And not only then: the percentage of people rating it as a major issue had remained in the single digits for more than a decade.

This data does not support a view of Britain’s relationship with Europe as the cause of a longstanding and deep split within the British people. Instead it points to the referendum and the propaganda around it – before and since – as causing the split. Prior to 2016, although people differed in their views of Europe – sometimes strongly – it was never, for most, the overriding issue which it has become.

Much commentary has suggested that Brexit is a proxy issue, or the spark for an uprising of the “left-behind” against a self-serving elite. While inequality and immigration are important to understanding Brexit, this sort of analysis does not provide us with a full explanation for its current all-consuming primacy. It has been suggested that hostility to immigration has been in sharp decline since 2010, and so the referendum vote was not driven by an onrushing wave of such feeling. Nor can the theory of the Brexit vote as expressing the pain of those “left behind” by globalisation explain the Leave votes that came from people who lead comfortable and secure lives.

So how can we explain the sudden emergence, in all its breadth and fury, of both popular support for Brexit – previously a passion mainly of a europhobic, and sometimes xenophobic, fringe – and opposition to it?

According to British Social Attitudes data, between 1992 and 2015 there was a slow and unsteady growth in euroscepticism. We can attribute this, at least in part, to a background throb of anti-EU propaganda in sections of the British press. But then there was a huge leap in anti-EU feeling. In 2015, only 22% wanted to leave the EU yet, as we know, 52% voted to leave in the referendum held the following year. This inflation of europhobia, which provoked alarm among Remainers, was more or less simultaneous with the rapid installation, noted above, of Brexit as the major national issue.

Socio-political analysis stops short of a full understanding of these two big changes in public opinion. There were no events in the world to which people were responding as they coalesced into opposing camps – except the referendum itself, and the rhetoric which had crystallised around it. Brexit is a major example of a shift which took place almost entirely within what we can call the emotional public sphere, the mood and preoccupations of a national public, which is often heavily shaped by dominant media agendas and messages.

People who had previously felt either indifferent or mildly negative towards the EU were encouraged to feel outrage – first at the alleged drain of UK resources into the EU and the political suffocation it was claimed we were subjected to, then at the “treachery” of those politicians who would seek to thwart the popular vote.

Remainers, for their part, found a new focus for suspicion and negativity towards the culturally unwashed, as some tended to see the bulk of the Leave vote. Told that they were all in irreconcilable conflict with each other, many of the British people believed it and felt it.

However, media effects need psychological underpinning. Media content cannot shape our outlooks unless it speaks to some need already present in us. The referendum invited people to identify with one of two sides, to find a clear home in the bewildering flux of today’s complexities and uncertainties. On both sides, membership of a community of self-confidence and self-righteousness seemed to beckon, an antidote to the widespread sense of precarity and confusion. The Brexit question offered people the increasingly scarce experience of being sure, clear and together with others. In a world where it can be increasingly difficult to feel at home, and to know what we should be doing, this is a powerfully attractive experience – none the less so for being, in this case, illusory.

This regressive surge into tribalistic unity of purpose was led by the Brexiteers. But Remainers have subscribed all-too readily to the melodramatic, self-fulfilling headlines that say Britain has plunged into a civil war.

Of course, the UK’s relationship with the rest of Europe is a real and important issue, but behind all that there is a toxicity at work on both sides of the “Brexit divide”. A small anti-EU minority laid the fuse, but the rest of the public proved highly combustible. Getting to the bottom of how and why Brexit has blown up as it has will be essential to the work of repairing and improving British democracy.The Conversation

Barry Richards, Professor of Political Psychology, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation: B Corp certification won’t guarantee companies really care for people, planet and profit

svobodavpraci, CC BY-SA

Michael O’Regan, Bournemouth University

Weeks after the collapse of his restaurant group and the loss of 1,000 jobs, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver announced that he was creating an “ethical” B Corporation or “B Corp”, a sort of company certification designed to show its holder gives equal weight to people, planet and profit. While it has loosely the same aim as the “triple bottom line” of the social enterprise model, B Corp certification is available to for-profit companies that apply to B Lab, a non-global profit organisation, and pay for it.

B Lab was founded in 2006 by Stanford University alumni and businessmen Jay Coen Gilbert and Bart Houlahan, and former investment banker and Stanford colleague, Andrew Kassoy. There are now more than 2,900 certified B Corps in more than 60 countries, cutting across industries and sectors. Through extensive lobbying and promotion it has expanded worldwide through new local offices. With the number of B Corps opening under the organisation’s UK arm growing at 14% a year, is this really a new way of doing business?

People, planet and profit

On the face of it, the certification should indicate a company’s environmental performance, employee relationships, diversity, involvement in the local community, and the impact a company’s product or service has on those it serves. This in turn can attract staff and consumers seeking socially responsible businesses, boost an established public company’s stock price, and help investors find companies that balance profit and purpose.

In the B Lab certification process, a businesses must sign a “Declaration of Interdependence”, committing it to using “business as a force for good.” The company must modify its governing bylaws to allow directors to “consider stakeholders besides shareholders in company decision-making”. Companies must also disclose information on “any sensitive practices, fines, and sanctions related to the company or its partners”. Certification is done chiefly over the phone, with around 10% selected for more in-depth review. Companies must re-certify every three years.

While B Corp claims that certification balances the interests of shareholders with the interests of workers, customers, communities and the environment, B Corp standards are not legally enforceable. Neither the board nor the corporation are liable for damages if a company fails to meet them. Even the changes in company bylaws remain secret. A business can fill out the initial B Corp Impact Assessment in a few hours, and complete the certification process in between four and eight weeks, finally paying a certification fee of between US$500 and US$50,000, depending on revenue.

B Corp certification is available to any for-profit business around the globe as long as it’s been operating for at least 12 months. Certification is initially self-assessed, and doesn’t override the profit-driven focus of the company.

A cash-generating machine?

B Lab has raised over US$32m since launch, and receives much of its funding from major foundations and organisations such as Prudential, Deloitte LLP, the Rockefeller Foundation, and even the US Agency for International Development. In 2017 it received about US$6m in certification fees, and US$5.6m in donations. Its board members primarily come from the business sector, with B Lab paying US$6m in salaries and compensation in 2017.

In the face of this highly cash-generative activity, B Lab’s rhetoric (“lead a movement”) fails to spell out compelling reasons for certification. B Lab claims that traditional corporations cannot be socially responsible, because they open themselves to liability for not following shareholders interests. But there is no law that explicitly requires directors of businesses to maximise shareholder revenue to the exclusion of all other corporate objectives. European (EU Directive 2014/95/EU) and UK law already push companies to practice sustainability reporting, and British firms have always had the flexibility to amend their articles of association with shareholder consent to reflect their social responsibilities. Pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, for example, changed its Articles of Association to state that it “strives to conduct its activities in a financially, environmentally and socially responsible way”.

So while B Lab speaks of seeking to meet the “highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose” it has nevertheless certified companies allegedly involved in tax avoidance, those producing cannabis-related products, for-profit college education companies, corporations working in the prison sector, and those allegedly involved in union busting.

What value does it add?

My research into one of the earliest certified B Corps,, shows how certification can be used to pacify angry consumers and attract investors. Certified companies can simply walk away if they feel being a B Corp no longer suits their profit-making aims or strategy, or if it threatens short-term shareholder profitability. The online marketplace Etsy is one that walked away, while others dropped certification after being bought out by larger companies that had other plans.

There is no directory of former B Corporations that dropped certification or had it removed. The closed nature of a private certifying body that sets and regulates its own standards is problematic, even if well intentioned, and especially so if it seeks to control the process by which certified businesses are held accountable. Certified corporations are as accountable to B Lab as they are to their stakeholders. The lack of full transparency and rigorous vetting in the face of its aggressive expansion indicates that B Lab’s certification should not be seen as a reliable method for certifying corporations to some standard, from the perspective of either the general public, investors or regulators.

Which isn’t to say that the efforts haven’t been worthwhile. B Lab could re-focus and promote new global benchmarks and corporate structures such as low-profit limited liability companies (L3Cs) in the US, or community interest companies (CICs) and multi-stakeholder co‑operatives in the UK. Rather than striving to become a political-economic actor spending millions on creating and marketing a private company certification offering brand building and expensive workshops, B Lab might consider whether its market-driven certification offers solutions to market-produced problems.

Jamie Oliver is largely transparent in his business values and commitment to social responsibility. He would be better to say “goodbye and big love as ever” to B Lab as he did in his goodbye letter to staff, and focus instead on working with co-operatives, worker and community-owned businesses, and other non-profits that are building a new economy now – without the need to buy a certificate.The Conversation

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

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Digital technologies are transforming African businesses, but obstacles remain

Digital technology is being used to improve rice processing in Nigeria.

Elvira Bolat, Bournemouth University and Nasiru Taura, Bournemouth University

Digital technology has created new opportunities for businesses in sub-Saharan Africa to compete on a more equal footing. However, these businesses have yet to enjoy the full benefits because of a difficult operating environment.

Our recently published book, ‘Digital Entrepreneurship in Sub-Saharan Africa: Challenges, Opportunities and Prospects’, details case studies of economic sectors where digital technologies are making a positive impact.

In Ghana, digital technologies have had an impact on the agriculture sector. Agri-tech firms like Farmable, Farmerline and Esoko have successfully pursued the creation of new business ventures and renewal of existing, matured corporate business models. These agri-tech firms support farmers with pricing data, crowdfunding and communication activities. They are also connecting farmers with buyers as well as helping them work out what differentiates them from competitors.

Digital technologies are playing a role in Nigeria’s agricultural sector too.
Prime Wave , an engineering company that supplies equipment to rice processing firms, and Al-Wabel Trading Company Ltd, a rice miller, have been working together to invent new technological solutions. These are aimed at improving the performance of rice processing. The innovative solutions the company came up with for rice processing can be applied more widely across the agricultural sector. However, these firms have had to overcome regulatory and institutional challenges in the sector.

Crossing boundaries

Digital technologies have also become a part of arts, media and entertainment, in particular in Kenya and Nigeria.

Case studies from Nigeria show how small and medium-sized new media players benefit from embracing a culture of experimentation, partnership and continuous learning. These businesses have adopted a “mobile first” mindset. They do this by using mobile technology as a resourceful, quick and flexible solution to do business, connect and promote their content.

The advertising, game development and media companies that took part in the research had all invested substantially in establishing their own systems for sharing data. These firms also embrace the Passion economy which centres around social causes and high access to mobile technology “as driving forces of the business”.

Nigeria’s movie industry, too, has benefited from digitisation. The technology has improved production time and quality. It has also helped extend the reach of movies to wider audiences. Foreign investors are taking greater interest in this fast growing business.

A potential drawback of digital technology in the arts is that cultural artefacts created digitally can also appear in many places at once. So, instead of gaining visibility it is actually lost in the digital crowd. But Kenyan artists have managed to use social media networks to build their own “cultural capital” and gain access to physical galleries.

Innovation hubs

There’s also been an increase in the number of digital hubs across the sub continent. But do they really help business to start up and survive?

The number of innovation hubs in Africa has grown sharply. There’s BusyInternet and SMSGH Solutions in Ghana; Erik Hersman’s iHub and Safaricom’s M-PESA in Kenya; and Nigeria’s Yaba, a suburb of Lagos labelled the country’s Silicon Valley.

A chapter in our book discusses the social complexity of engaging these hubs. In Accra, the Ghanaian capital, hubs could not provide support that is relevant to local digital entrepreneurs’ circumstances. Entrepreneurs in Harare thought that hubs “wasted precious resources”. Most hubs on the subcontinent also appear to make little contribution to the creation of new businesses.

Perhaps “impact-oriented” investors who are passionate about the region should assist digital hubs to make the necessary changes to how they operate.

Local conditions and culture can shape the “ecosystems” in which businesses operate. Some of these conditions, such as corruption, are hostile to business efficiency. The challenges are most pronounced in the communications, transport, and energy networks. Much of the region’s infrastructure is inefficient, and more than three-quarters of the population remains offline.

Take Nigeria’s movie industry. It needs more than investment. It also needs government to make regulatory changes to protect the creative sector. Government should also prioritise the development of movie industry skills. The same can be said about the music industry.

Afrocentric digital solutions

Overall, the book highlights that in a region with multiple social, environmental, economic and political challenges there is a need for more interrogation into how both incumbent and new players in sub-Saharan Africa are shaping the landscape with a view to meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Digital technologies, as some of our case studies show, can play an important role in transforming African economies. However, digital technology solutions must not just be mere adaptations of dominant Western services and products. They must be aimed at meeting the sub-continent’s needs. In this regard, there’s a lot to learn from Japan.

Demand for technology after the Second World War resulted in the development of a plethora of advanced solutions which secured Japan’s status as an innovator.
There are promising new ventures such as Google’s Artificial Intelligence lab in Ghana – the company’s first in Africa. This is a centre of research into digital solutions to Africa’s problems.The Conversation

Elvira Bolat, Principal Academic in Marketing, Bournemouth University and Nasiru Taura, Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Opportunity to share your research at the Bournemouth Air Festival

As part of BU’s public engagement activity BU’s Marketing and Communications (M&C) Team will again have a presence at the Bournemouth Air Festival, which sees tens of thousands of visitors each year. For BU, the purpose will be to raise our profile and showcase the activity we do as part of our outreach activity in schools and colleges.  As part of this, M&C will be running activities which are accessible, participative and relevant to the audience, but we also want to showcase BU’s research to demonstrate the impact we have on our community locally, regionally or internationally – again, all relevant to the audience and a chance to position BU’s research specialisms, breadth and impact.

Members of BU’s outreach and corporate communications team will be on the stand each day of the festival and there is an opportunity to join us for a couple of hours to talk about your research with the public. The event runs from Thursday 29 August to Sunday 1 September .  If you are free to join us at some point over these 4 days, M&C can arrange the necessary pass, help in transporting any display materials you may wish to have on the stand during your visit and promote through our social media channels before and during the festival. There will also be a couple of tables under a covered stand on the main promenade.

It would be great to engage with the public on a range of areas of BU research and if you are interested in joining us please contact Ella Thompson in M&C and she will be able to plan your visit into our timetable.

The Research Impact Fund is open for applications for 2019/20 – strand 3

Demonstrating impact is becoming an increasingly normal part of academic life, with changes in the external environment underpinning the need to show how research is making a difference beyond academia. As well as forming a significant part of a university’s REF submission, impact pathways are often included as a routine part of funding applications.

In order to support impact development at Bournemouth University, an impact fund was established in spring 2019, overseen by the Research Impact Funding Panel. The first call for applications was launched in March 2019 for the remainder of the 2018/19 academic year. This call is now closed.

For 2019/20, the Research Impact Fund has been split into three strands:

  1. To support the development of new research partnerships and networks, to lay the groundwork for future research projects (£17,500) – now closed.
  2. To provide support for emerging impact from existing underpinning research (£17,500) – now closed.
  3. For the development of impact case studies for REF2021 (£15,000) – open.

We are pleased to announce that the fund is now open for applications for strand 3.


 This strand is open only to those developing an impact case study for REF2021. It is expected that those who are applying for the fund will have previously submitted a draft case study for review through mock REF exercise. If you are yet to submit a draft case study, but believe you have a potential impact case study for REF2021, please speak to your Faculty Impact Officer in the first instance:

 Application process

To apply, please read the application form and policy document. To apply, please read the application form and guidance. Applications must be submitted by your Impact Champion or UoA Lead to by Friday 20 September.

 If you have any questions about your application please email either Rachel Bowen (for HSS or FM queries) or Genna del Rosa (for FMC or SciTech queries).

You can also seek advice from the following RDS colleagues when developing your application:

BU’s Research Principles

Putting the Research Impact Fund into strategic context, under BU2025, the following funding panels operate to prioritise applications for funding and make recommendations to the Research Performance and Management Committee (RPMC).

There are eight funding panels:

  1. HEIF Funding Panel
  2. GCRF Funding Panel
  3. Research Impact Funding Panel
  4. Doctoral Studentship Funding Panel
  5. ACORN Funding Panel
  6. Research Fellowships Funding Panel
  7. Charity Support Funding Panel
  8. SIA Funding panel

Please see further announcements regarding each initiative.

These panels align with the BU2025 focus on research, including BU’s Research Principles.  Specifically, but not exclusively, regarding the Research Impact Funding Panel, please refer to:

  • Principle 5 – which sets of the context for such funding panels,
  • Principle 6 and Outcome 9 – which recognises the need for interdisciplinarity and the importance of social science and humanities (SSH).