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ECRN – The Conversation Media Training

 

Are you an academic, researcher or PhD candidate who would like to build a media profile and take your research to a global public audience by writing for The Conversation?

The Conversation is a news analysis and opinion website with content written by academics working with professional journalists. It is an open access, independent media charity funded by more than 80 UK and European universities.

In this interactive session we’ll take you through what The Conversation is – our origins and aims; what we do and why.

We’ll look at why you should communicate your research to the public and take you through The Conversation’s unique, collaborative editorial process.

We’ll give you tips on style, tone and structure (with examples), look at how to pitch (with examples) and look at different approaches and article types.

You will have the opportunity to discuss your research with a Conversation editor and pitch potential story ideas.

*Note the session takes place on Zoom and we expect you to turn your camera on.

Benefits of attending

  • Find out how to join a community of academic authors taking their expertise outside the institution
  • Understand what makes a good story and the types of articles your expertise could generate
  • Learn the skills of journalistic writing and how to make your writing accessible and engaging to a diverse general audience
  • Meet one of The Conversation’s editors and learn how we commission articles

To get the most out of your time with the editor, come prepared:

  • Read some articles on The Conversation to get a sense of what we publish
  • Think about the sort of pieces you might potentially write, what aspects of your research might interest people, and come armed with ideas.

Book your place here 

There are a limited number of places for this session. If you sign up and then are no longer able to attend, please cancel your registration so that your place can be re-allocated to a colleague on the waiting list.

Student numbers in the next decade

In contrast to recent student numbers intake across the country FT has published an article stating that, undergraduate numbers will see a rise in England in the next decade. [APRIL 7 2024. Looming rise in student numbers sparks calls for skills reform in England. Peter Foster and Anna Gross. © The Financial Times Limited 2013. All Rights Reserved].

Total numbers have a direct relation to several factors including but not limited to overseas students, and both financial and planning challenges faced by international students. Various geographical regions for example South and Southeast Asia are conventionally more leaning towards traditional degrees for example engineering and medicine. Particular interest in these degrees is stemmed by primary and secondary education systems, national skill gaps and more widely societal impacts. Despite, a brief decline in the numbers of international students a pattern in terms of various disciplines varies according to available data. In order to attract and sustain international student numbers core engineering and medical/ medicine degrees will remain significant centripetal force.

FT also reported that, this year universities will make a loss on each domestic student unless there is a change in fees policy [APRIL 7 2024. Looming rise in student numbers sparks calls for skills reform in England. Peter Foster and Anna Gross. © The Financial Times Limited 2013. All Rights Reserved]. In addition, a more diverse repositioning in terms of educational provisions is needed, such as strategic priorities for engineering & technology degrees, innovation in delivery models and methods of gradually but completely decoupling from textbooks taught system to a more flexible intuitive, research informed and practice-based education in partnership with industry which is fit for solving real world impact bearing problems. In turn safeguarding graduates’ future, placing their learning experience at the heart of education-research interface to guarantee higher levels of employability and job satisfaction.

HEIs are also facing a challenge in terms of financial sustainability as reported, the sector is struggling to recruit the higher-paying foreign students it relies on to subsidise lossmaking domestic places [FT 07 April 24]. A two-pronged approach would be needed to address these challenges. Firstly, repositioning in terms of facilities and resources to introduce, apply and integrate more state-of-the-art modelling and simulation techniques for practice, practical and experimental elements of teaching in engineering and technology degrees and initiating a phased transition from dependency on conventional hardware tools e.g. expensive machines to realise releasing economies of scale. Secondly, more robust, simpler and well understood parallels and transitioning pathways between HEIs and primary to higher secondary education are needed.

FT added that, “At the same time, government spending on skills will be 23 per cent below 2009—10 levels, according to analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank.” [APRIL 7 2024. Looming rise in student numbers sparks calls for skills reform in England. Peter Foster and Anna Gross. © The Financial Times Limited 2013. All Rights Reserved]. Collaborating closely with industrial partners and stakeholders’ skills gaps can be strategically prioritised for medium to long term needs, and educational provisions would need reshaping to integrate with research portfolio, UNSDGs, socio-economic, environmental impacts and relevant REF Unit of Assessment (UoA).

FT reported that, “The apprenticeship levy introduced in 2017 has also failed to deliver the expected boost to training, according to London Economics.” [APRIL 7 2024. Looming rise in student numbers sparks calls for skills reform in England. Peter Foster and Anna Gross. © The Financial Times Limited 2013. All Rights Reserved]. This is an important pathway for filling the skill shortages and also bridging the gap between theory and practice. A steady rise in flexible learning engineering degree students’ numbers, have been observed. These students are industry professionals who join these degrees at L5/6 level for a BEng/MEng flexible learning program. In addition to academic benefits these professionals achieve academic benchmark qualifications for professional registrations with professional institutions. This is one of the best available models to address skill shortages with a flexible high-quality delivery and academic provisions underpinned by research.

A stronger and broader engineering sector in collaboration with industry partners and professional institutions to develop futuristic engineering degrees to contribute to economic growth and its sustainability with an upward trajectory to address real concerns that, “tackling (of) the UK’s entrenched skills shortages and low economic productivity.” [APRIL 7 2024. Looming rise in student numbers sparks calls for skills reform in England. Peter Foster and Anna Gross. © The Financial Times Limited 2013. All Rights Reserved] is important.

Telescopic Electrochemical Cell (TEC) for Non-Destructive Corrosion Testing of Coated Substrate. Patent number GB2018/053368

FT also mentioned in its latest article that, “Policymakers should also remove the cap on FE college places in order to “level up” education, (Lord Jo Johnson), added, providing more opportunities.” [APRIL 7 2024. Looming rise in student numbers sparks calls for skills reform in England. Peter Foster and Anna Gross. © The Financial Times Limited 2013. All Rights Reserved]. This can be looked into within the context of above-mentioned points in terms of establishing more defined parallels between HEIs and from primary to higher secondary education. A rethink to consider schools’ post code model for HEIs entry will help in levelling up.

Keywords: education, numbers, overseas students, engineering, skills, industry, professions.

 

Zulfiqar A Khan

Professor of Design, Engineering & Computing

NanoCorr, Energy & Modelling Research Group Lead

Email: zkhan@bournemouth.ac.uk

 

Article Processing Charges

Keywords: APC, Open access, REF, Repositories, Journals, Outputs.

APC and subscription-based models have their specific yet intersecting merits. Here in the UK, several aspects of publications have been repositioned during the last REF2021 census period. Lord Stern review led to several key changes, especially in terms of reporting research. Although the costs of APCs are high, HEIs have ringfenced QR funding to support outputs in quartile two and above through an internal review process. Similarly, publishers have institutional partnerships where partial or full waivers are offered. Several reputable publishers have introduced incentives to waive or partially waive APCs, for example, by contributing to the review process, participating as editors, and recommending high-quality manuscripts in terms of originality, significance, and academic depth.

APC route, for example, Creative Commons CC BY, offers many benefits to researchers, academics, and especially early career researchers in terms of flexibility of literature use as compared to traditional publication processes, such as the complexity and costs associated with permission to use or reuse infographics, including authors’ own results and images where copyright transfer has occurred. On the other hand, APCs provide an opportunity for wider availability of research to be read, used, and applied within research contexts where funding for subscription-based models is not generous or sometimes limited. Making preprint peer-reviewed and accepted author version manuscripts available on institutional repositories is a better alternative to APCs.

Traditional and legacy practices could benefit from dialogue and consideration; publishers’ subscription models could be diversified for greater inclusivity by offering variations in subscription fees based on certain metrics such as a country’s GDP or RPI. Revenues generated from both subscription and APCs should be more transparent, with figures available to public and open to stakeholders feedback. Profits should be reinvested in discounted subscription fees for HEIs, funding research through RC UK initiatives and similar programmes, and supporting early and mid-career researchers.

Another aspect which is not usually discussed is that traditionally, journals editorial teams, especially editors and chief editors, serve in their roles for prolonged periods. Although unintended, this inadvertently limits opportunities for diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunities for a diverse community of researchers worldwide. New thinking is needed to change the structure of publishers’ journal editorial teams to meet twenty-first-century needs. Some initial measures could include: (i) open calls for expressions of interest in editorial team roles, including editors and chief editors, (ii) transparent recruitment based on person specifications, and (iii) a maximum two-year tenure in the role. Subscription fees and APC revenue, combined with alternative grants from research councils and charities, could be used to incentivise engagement with the publishing process, from editorial board participation to contributing to the review process.

Zulfiqar A Khan
Professor of Design, Engineering & Computing
NanoCorr, Energy & Modelling (NCEM) Research Group Lead
Email: zkhan@bournemouth.ac.uk

RKEDF Workshop: Impress the Press: How to talk to Journalists – Wednesday 24 April 2-4pm

A practical session covering tips and techniques for speaking with broadcast media (TV and radio) followed by the chance to put it into practice through mock interviews.

This session is open to all academic staff with an interest in engaging with the media. No previous experience is necessary.

By the end of the session, attendees will:

  • Have a better understanding of communicating their work with the media
  • Understand the difference between TV and radio interviews and what is required
  • Feel confident in undertaking media interviews and dealing with difficult questions

Facilitated by: Emma Matthews – Research Communications Adviser & Stephen Bates – Senior Press Officer

Wednesday 24 April, 2-4pm

Talbot Campus

Book your place here under ‘Impress the Press: How to talk to Journalists – 16/04/2024’ in the drop-down menu

Conversation article: Four ways to eat less meat that are better for the planet, your health and your bank balance

Professor Katherine Appleton and Danielle Guy write for The Conversation about the simple food swaps that have the greatest benefits environmentally and for your health…

Four ways to eat less meat that are better for the planet, your health and your bank balance

Making a few simple eco-friendly food choices can be healthy and cost-effective too.
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Katherine Appleton, Bournemouth University and Danielle Guy, Bournemouth University

Do I choose the meat in my local store or drive out of town for tofu instead? Shall I add honey to my winter porridge or would strawberries or mango be better? Should I choose to drink oat milk or organic goat’s milk?

Most people are familiar with the idea that food consumption will affect their health. But food consumption also contributes between 20% and 30% of the environmental footprint from daily life, with impacts from production, processing, transport and retail. For many of us, our diet could be healthier and more sustainable, but it can be hard to know which options will have the biggest positive effect.

As part of our research into healthy and sustainable eating, interviews with predominantly young adults found that UK consumers are willing to make small changes that would improve the health and environmental footprint of their diet, if these changes will have some benefit and are of little cost to them. Small dietary changes tend to be easier to maintain in the longer term than larger changes, but the small changes to make for greatest benefit, for health and the planet, are not well known.

To provide this advice, we compared the health-related, environmental and financial effects of a number of sustainable dietary actions that have previously been proposed. We applied 12 sustainable actions to the dietary data of 1,235 UK adults in the National Diet and Nutrition Survey.

We investigated differences between the new diet and the original diet for six dietary markers (protein, saturated fat, sugars, salt, iron, calcium), three environmental markers (greenhouse gas emissions, freshwater withdrawals, land use), and dietary cost. There were some limitations – we couldn’t quantify the impacts of reducing food waste, for example.

But our research showed that four simple switches resulted in the greatest benefits for your diet, the planet and for your pocket. These changes won’t be small or simple for everyone, but you don’t need to try them all. Every switch will benefit both your health and our home, and lots of small changes will soon add up.

1. Replace meat items with pulses

Beans, chickpeas and lentils are high in protein, fibre and are low in fat. They have low environmental impacts and can even benefit the growth of other crops, plus they are very inexpensive. Barriers that prevent people consuming pulses tend to focus around their taste or texture. And pulses can be perceived as inconvenient, effortful or difficult to cook.

Start with houmous – a tasty pre-prepared chickpea spread or dip. Including more pulses in your diet is made easier and quicker by using pre-prepared and canned pulses or by batch cooking dishes and freezing portions for another day. Try incorporating canned beans into your favourite soups and stews. Add lentils to your bolognese sauce. If you’re feeling more adventurous, experiment with some tasty new recipes from cultures that traditionally use pulses, such as Mexico, the Middle East or India.

Flatlay shot looking down over a dozen or so colourful bowls of different beans, pulses, legumes
Replacing the meat in your diet with a diverse array of pulses is good for your health as well as for the planet.
Nopparat Promtha/Shutterstock

2. Replace meat items with eggs

Eggs, like pulses, are highly nutritious. They provide protein and many micronutrients, have low environmental impacts, and are good value for money. Choose free-range eggs for added animal welfare benefits.

Eggs can be easy to prepare. They are soft and can be easier to eat for those who may have difficulties chewing, swallowing or cutting up foods. Eggs can add taste and flavour to your diet. Eggs can be consumed at any meal. Poached or scrambled, they make a great high-protein breakfast, hard-boiled eggs are a filling on-the-go snack, and sous-vide (slow-cooked) eggs can impress guests at dinner parties.

3. Replace meat items with hard or soft cheeses

Cheese is another nutritious food, full of calcium and other micronutrients, good for strong bones and teeth. Often considered a food with high environmental impacts, cheese typically has a lower environmental footprint than meat, even more so for soft cheeses.

The environmental impact of dairy foods increases with the processing needed, predominantly as a result of the waste created at each stage of manufacture. Milk has the lowest environmental impact, yoghurt slightly higher, soft cheeses, such as cream cheese, slightly higher again, and hard cheeses such as Cheddar are higher still.

Try switching your pepperoni pizza for four cheeses pizza, replace the meat in pasta dishes for soft blue cheese to retain flavour, and use soft cheeses in sandwiches.

4. Reduce meat consumption by 20%

Meat production, particularly for beef and lamb, has high environmental impacts. Consuming a lot can be unhealthy, but meat consumption in small amounts can offer a valuable source of protein and micronutrients, including iron, zinc and B vitamins. Try consuming smaller portions, increase the quality of meat you buy to gain the health benefits while eating less, or aim to have regular vegetarian days, such as meat-free Mondays. Choose the meat option when you’re eating out, make it a treat for special occasions, and eat more plant-based dishes at home.


Imagine weekly climate newsletter

Don’t have time to read about climate change as much as you’d like?

Get a weekly roundup in your inbox instead. Every Wednesday, The Conversation’s environment editor writes Imagine, a short email that goes a little deeper into just one climate issue. Join the 30,000+ readers who’ve subscribed so far.The Conversation


Katherine Appleton, Professor of Psychology, Bournemouth University and Danielle Guy, PhD Candidate in Psychology, Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article: The problem with seeing young sportspeople as athletes first, children second

Dr Ellie Jennings and Dr Alice Hunter write for The Conversation about the problems that can occur when young people are treated as athletes rather than children…

The problem with seeing young sportspeople as athletes first, children second

RomanSo/Shutterstock

Ellie Gennings, Bournemouth University and Alice Hunter, Bournemouth University

A recent report commissioned by Swim England, the national governing body for swimming in England, has found evidence of a “culture of fear” in swimming clubs. The report finds that children involved in competitive swimming can be treated like professional athletes, and the importance of sporting performance held above all else.

Sport can be a positive influence on young people’s wellbeing. Children are encouraged to participate in sport, and the aspiration to become an elite athlete is widely seen as an admirable goal.

Many children will find competitive sport enjoyable and rewarding. But problems can occur when the athletic identity of a young person overshadows their identity as a child. There is a risk that clubs, coaches and parents may treat young people as athletes rather than as children. And this can take place at all levels of sport, from children taking part in sports like swimming at local clubs to those who compete at the highest level.

One participant in the Swim England report said that a focus on swimming performance led to their social and academic life suffering, and that they would frequently push themselves in training to the point of vomiting or collapse to please their coach. “The way in which the sport is delivered to children and hiding under the label of ‘high performance athletes’ is driving people away from the sport they once loved,” they said.

“We’re not here to have fun, we’re here to win!” one parent told a researcher for the Swim England report.

A focus on sporting success above all can compromise children’s wellbeing and safety. Young people may be exposed to environments that are highly pressurised, psychologically demanding and often tolerant of abuse.

Certain practices that take place in youth sports, such as coaches and parents screaming on the sidelines, that would be considered unacceptable in other settings. A teacher would be unable to behave like this towards their charges in a school setting, for instance.

In football academies, child athletes are potential future stars – and money spinners. A business mindset shifts the focus from nurturing children to moulding them into “assets” for potential profit.

Treating children like products rather than unique individuals with their own childhood experiences overshadows children’s vital developmental needs.

Accelerated adulthoods

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp recently spoke about the need to protect young football players, including from media attention, as academy youth players made their debut in senior-level games. “But from tomorrow, leave the boys in the corner, please. And don’t ask: ‘Where are they now? Where are they now? Where are they now?’” he told reporters after Liverpool’s FA cup win over Southampton.

Darts player Luke Littler competed in the World Darts Championships and other major darts tournaments at the age of 16. Littler has received intense levels of public scrutiny that extended beyond the reaches of sport: his private life, including his relationship status, has made headlines.

Attention on the personal life of a minor rushes them towards adulthood but also shows a lack of respect for the privacy of young athletes: a significant safeguarding concern.

Children’s names have even been included in reports about doping. Kamila Valieva, a Russian figure skater, experienced the unwelcome publicity of having her positive test revealed at the age of just 15, causing controversy at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

This stands in stark contrast to practices elsewhere, such as in courts of law. Article 16 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child outlines children’s right to privacy.

A balanced approach

Children have the right to be protected from all forms of harm in sport. This extends to their right to participate in sports within a safe and enjoyable environment. There are evidently distinct challenges that arise when young people compete in elite and often adult-dominated sporting spaces.

The abuse of children in sports is a concern at both community and elite levels. It is essential to address these concerns to ensure that the pursuit of athletic excellence does not come at the cost of the fundamental rights and safety of young people.

When children are treated solely as athletes, the excitement around their potential means that the fact that they are still minors may be forgotten. They must be recognised as children first, especially when their performance in elite sports takes place prior to reaching adulthood.

It is the moral obligation of all adults involved in sport to develop an approach that keeps children in sport safe, even when they are classed as elite athletes.The Conversation

Ellie Gennings, Senior Lecturer in Sport Coaching, Bournemouth University and Alice Hunter, Senior Lecturer in Sports Coaching, Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article: Hayek’s Road to Serfdom at 80 – what critics get wrong about the Austrian economist

Dr Conor O’Kane writes for The Conversation about the impact of Friedrich von Hayek’s book 80 years after its publication…

Hayek’s Road to Serfdom at 80: what critics get wrong about the Austrian economist

Conor O’Kane, Bournemouth University

“The most powerful critique of socialist planning and the socialist state”, is how Margaret Thatcher described Friedrich von Hayek’s book, The Road to Serfdom. Published in March 1944 during the Austrian economist’s tenure at the London School of Economics (LSE), the book has been enduringly popular among free-market liberals.

Among its admirers was Winston Churchill, who as prime minister released 1.6 tons of precious war-rationed British government paper to allow additional copies to be printed. More recently Elon Musk tweeted a photo of The Road to Serfdom with the caption “Great Book by Hayek” to his 174 million followers, no doubt bringing Hayek’s work to a new generation.

On the other hand, the Austrian is often seen by the left as an intellectual bogeyman, an enabler of unfettered greed, minimal social responsibility and soaring inequality.

So who was Hayek and why does The Road to Serfdom matter?

How laissez-faire fell out of favour

Born into an upper middle-class Vienna family in 1899, Hayek earned doctorates in law (1921) and political science (1923) at the city’s university. He first made a name for himself in economics in 1928, publishing a report for his research institute employer that predicted the Wall Street crash of 1929 (some critics argue that his achievement gets exaggerated).

Hayek spent 18 years at the LSE (1932-1950), before moving to the University of Chicago (1950-1962). There he worked alongside Milton Friedman, another seminal advocate for free-market principles.

These views were profoundly unfashionable at the time. The social democrat consensus had been shaped by the “robber barron” period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Key industries such as rail and oil had been dominated by cartels and monopolies, leading to massive wealth inequalities.

Then came the Wall Street crash and great depression, prompting a loss of confidence in economists and economic reasoning. Free-market capitalism took much of the blame. Socialism was offered as a realistic and even desirable alternative.

Prominent colleagues of Hayek’s at the LSE, including political scientist Harold Laski and sociologist Karl Mannheim, believed socialist planning was inevitable in the UK. The Labour party explicitly warned in a 1942 pamphlet against a “return to the unplanned competitive world of the inter-war years, in which a privileged few were maintained at the expense of the common good”.

Copy of the Road to Serfdom

Hayek disagreed. He thought this wave of popular “collectivism” would lead to a repressive regime akin to Nazi Germany.

In The Road to Serfdom, he accepted the need to move beyond the laissez-faire approach of classical economics. But he argued in favour of “planning for competition” rather than the socialists’ “planning against competition” approach. He opposed the state being the sole provider of goods and services, but did think it had a role in facilitating a competitive environment.

In a central theme of the book, Hayek described the difficulties that democratic decision-making would face under central planning. He believed it would lead to policy gridlock and present opportunities for unscrupulous characters to become the key decision-makers.

Hayek’s goal was to show that the British intelligentsia was getting it wrong. Socialist planning, he believed, would see citizens returned to the types of limited freedoms endured by serfs under feudalism.

Hayek and conservatism

The Road was especially popular in the US. This was helped by Reader’s Digest publishing a shortened edition in 1945, introducing Hayek to a non-academic audience of some 9 million households. He was seized upon by conservatives opposing Franklin D Roosevelt’s interventionist New Deal, who feared for the loss of personal freedoms and a drift to totalitarianism.

However, Hayek was concerned his ideas had been oversimplified and misinterpreted. He warned of “the very dangerous tendency of using the term ‘socialism’ for almost any kind of state which you think is silly or you do not like”. By the mid-1950s he had distanced himself from American and European conservatives.

Ultimately, though, after the second world war most western countries adopted a more Keynesian approach. Named after Hayek’s greatest intellectual rival, John Maynard Keynes, this involved using government spending to influence things like employment and economic growth.

Hayek’s work, meanwhile, was mostly ignored until the 1970s, a period during which the UK became mired in stagflation and industrial action. He then became the inspiration for Margaret Thatcher’s policy mix of deregulation, privatisation, lower taxes and a bonfire on state controls of the economy. With the US also facing domestic economic challenges, the then US president, Ronald Reagan, followed suit.

What the critics say

If that was perhaps peak Hayek, he has been heavily criticised from some quarters in recent years. The American economist John Komlos, in his 2016 paper, Another Road to Serfdom, convincingly argues:

Hayek failed to see that any concentration of power is a threat to freedom. The free market that he advocated enabled the concentration of power in the hands of a powerful elite.

Such over-concentration had created the “too big to fail” environment in the financial sector in the run-up the global financial crisis of 2008, and many thought Hayekian deregulation was the culprit.

More recently, the tax-cutting economic policies during Liz Truss’s short stint as UK prime minister were incubated by think tanks who regard themselves as the keepers of the Hayekian flame. Similarly, Argentinian president Javier Milei’s libertarian vision of a minimalist state is said to be influenced by Hayek.

Equally, however, it is easy to fall into that trap of oversimplifying Hayek. It is worth noting, for instance, that in the Road, he also envisaged a substantial role for the state. He saw the state providing a basic minimum income for all. He also argued that “an extensive system of social services is fully compatible with the preservation of competition”.

Even Keynes congratulated him on his publication, saying, “morally and philosophically I find myself in agreement with virtually the whole of it”.

In short, while it’s probably fair to say that the world has had to suffer the flaws in Hayek’s ideas, it is important to separate him from his supporters. He was certainly no statist, but his vision for how best to run an economy was not as uncompromising as many would have us believe.The Conversation

Conor O’Kane, Senior Lecturer in Economics, Bournemouth University

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

The Conversation one-to-one training for academics – 19th March

BU is a partner of The Conversation, a news analysis and opinion website with content written by academics working with professional journalists.

As a partner organisation, BU academics can write for The Conversation on your areas of expertise. Conversation journalists are offering 1-2-1 training sessions for you to understand more about The Conversation, or to discuss and pitch an article to them.

A training session for staff is available on Tuesday 19 March from 10.30am – 12.30pm. Slots are available for BU academics to book for a 15-minute session with a journalist through the Eventbrite link below.

Book your slot 

Why write for The Conversation?

The Conversation is a great way to share research and informed comment on topical issues. Academics work with editors to write pieces, which can then be republished via a Creative Commons licence. Since we first partnered with The Conversation, articles by BU authors have had over 9.5 million reads and been republished by the likes of The iMetro, National Geographic Indonesia and the Washington Post.

You can learn more about working with The Conversation on the Research and Knowledge Exchange Sharepoint site

Conversation article: Why bans on smartphones for teenagers could do more harm than good

Professor Andy Phippen writes for The Conversation about growing calls to stop young people having access to smartphones or social media…

Why bans on smartphones or social media for teenagers could do more harm than good

Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Andy Phippen, Bournemouth University

There are growing calls for young people under the age of 16 to be banned from having smartphones or access to social media. The Smartphone Free Childhood WhatsApp group aims to normalise young people not having smartphones until “at least” 14 years old. Esther Ghey, mother of the murdered teenager Brianna Ghey, is campaigning for a ban on social media apps for under-16s.

The concerns centre on the sort of content that young people can access (which can be harmful and illegal) and how interactions on these devices could lead to upsetting experiences.

However, as an expert in young people’s use of digital media, I am not convinced that bans at an arbitrary age will make young people safer or happier – or that they are supported by evidence around young people’s use of digital technology.

In general, most young people have a positive relationship with digital technology. I worked with South West Grid for Learning, a charity specialising in education around online harm, to produce a report in 2018 based upon a survey of over 8,000 young people. The results showed that just over two thirds of the respondents had never experienced anything upsetting online.

Large-scale research on the relationship between social media and emotional wellbeing concluded there is little evidence that social media leads to psychological harm.

Sadly, there are times when young people do experience upsetting digital content or harm as a result of interactions online. However, they may also experience upsetting or harmful experiences on the football pitch, at a birthday party or playing Pokémon card games with their peers.

It would be more unusual (although not entirely unheard of) for adults to be making calls to ban children from activities like these. Instead, our default position is “if you are upset by something that has happened, talk to an adult”. Yet when it comes to digital technology, there seems to be a constant return to calls for bans.

We know from attempts at prevention of other areas of social harms, such as underage sex or access to drugs or alcohol, that bans do not eliminate these behaviours. However, we do know that bans will mean young people will not trust adults’ reactions if they are upset by something and want to seek help.

Mother and daughter looking at phone
Teenagers need to know they can talk to adults about their lives online.
Studio Romantic/Shutterstock

I recall delivering an assembly to a group of year six children (aged ten and 11) one Safer Internet Day a few years ago. A boy in the audience told me he had a YouTube channel where he shared video game walkthroughs with his friends.

I asked if he’d ever received nasty comments on his platform and if he’d talked to any staff about it at his school. He said he had, but he would never tell a teacher because “they’ll tell me off for having a YouTube channel”.

This was confirmed after the assembly by the headteacher, who said they told young people not to do things on YouTube because it was dangerous. I suggested that empowering what was generally a positive experience might result in the young man being more confident to talk about negative comments – but was met with confusion and repetition of “they shouldn’t be on there”.

Need for trust

Young people tell us that two particularly important things they need in tackling upsetting experiences online are effective education and adults they can trust to talk to and be confident of receiving support from. A 15 year old experiencing abuse as a result of social media interactions would likely not be confident to disclose if they knew the first response would be, “You shouldn’t be on there, it’s your own fault.”

There is sufficient research to suggest that banning under-16s having mobile phones and using social media would not be successful. Research into widespread youth access to pornography from the Children’s Commissioner for England, for instance, illustrates the failures of years of attempts to stop children accessing this content, despite the legal age to view pornography being 18.

The prevalence of hand-me-down phones and the second hand market makes it extremely difficult to be confident that every mobile phone contract accurately reflects the age of the user. It is a significant enough challenge for retailers selling alcohol to verify age face to face.

The Online Safety Act is bringing in online age verification systems for access to adult content. But it would seem, from the guidance by communications regulator Ofcom, that the goal is to show that platforms have demonstrated a duty of care, rather than being a perfect solution. And we know that age assurance (using algorithms to estimate someone’s age) is less accurate for under-13s than older ages.

By putting up barriers and bans, we erode trust between those who could be harmed and those who can help them. While these suggestions come with the best of intentions, sadly they are doomed to fail. What we should be calling for is better understanding from adults, and better education for young people instead.The Conversation

Andy Phippen, Professor of IT Ethics and Digital Rights, Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article: Children’s high-impact sports can be abuse – experts explain why

Dr Keith Parry co-authors this article about new research which questions whether it is right for children to be involved in high impact sports that risk injury to the brain…

Children’s high-impact sports can be abuse – experts explain why

ANDRE DIAS NOBRE/AFP via Getty Images

Eric Anderson, University of Winchester; Gary Turner, University of Winchester, and Keith Parry, Bournemouth University

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a brain disorder likely caused by repeated head injuries. It was first described as dementia pugilistica and punch drunk syndrome almost 100 years ago. CTE continues to be a serious risk associated with high impact sports, such as boxing, American football and rugby.

Although the risks of traumatic brain injuries, such as concussion, and longer-term brain degeneration from repetitive hits in impact sports have been known for decades, some sport governing bodies continue to try and cast doubt onto the relationship between impact sports and CTE. However, media attention has begun to change people’s minds.

This growing awareness is accelerated by the many lawsuits against organising bodies in relation to brain trauma. Former professional and amateur players in sports such as American football, Australian rules football and rugby say their governing bodies failed to prevent harm during their playing careers.

The NFL has paid out almost a million pounds to former players suffering the effects of sport-induced brain trauma. High-profile rugby players are now also taking legal action over brain injuries.

These are not only issues for elite players. Studies into the brains of former players have found CTE in those who only played as amateurs. CTE has also been found in the brains of players under the age of 30 and even those as young as 17.

Each additional year of playing impact sports raises the risk of CTE, by as much as 30% in American football.

The dangers of high-impact sport aren’t contentious. Academic evidence and medical professionals now agree that sport-induced brain trauma leads to degenerative brain disease.

Not suitable for under-18s

Given this context, our recent paper written with Jack Hardwicke, a senior lecturer in the sociology of sport at Nottingham Trent University, has questioned whether it is right for children to participate in sports that intentionally feature impact, particularly involving the head. We argue that allowing under-18s to take part in high impact sports should be viewed as a form of child abuse – we use the term “child brain abuse” – and that these impact sports should be legally prohibited.

We are not calling for adult versions of impact sports to be banned and our argument does not apply to sports or activities where brain trauma might occur by accident. But in sports where impact is a structured part of the game, like boxing – or sports that create rapid brain movements, as in rugby tackling – collisions are not accidents, they are an inherent part of the sport.

Despite claims that sport is safer, there has been rightful concern over childhood concussions in these impact sports – and brain injury can occur at very low levels of impact. For example, heading a football can result in immediate and measurable alterations to brain functioning and longer-term brain diseases, such as CTE.

The risk of CTE is far higher in sports such as American football and rugby. The odds of developing degenerative brain diseases are increased in former players of impact sports than are found in sports without deliberate impacts or the general population.

What is CTE?

Staying healthy

Some sports bodies defend high-impact sports by arguing that sport and physical activity are important for overall health. Teams sports can reduce isolation and help players to develop a range of social skills.

But these benefits can still be gained from non-impact versions of sports, such as touch rugby, which can help teach discipline and teamwork without the harm from brain trauma.

There are no health benefits of tackling – and there are no health benefits of being struck in the head. The health benefits of impact rugby or boxing are instead gained from the body’s overall movement.

Tag rugby tends to be faster moving than the sport’s full contact version so is better for improving cardiovascular health. Research has shown that incidents of contact during children’s rugby are the cause of cause of 87% of known injuries. Tackling, in particular, is responsible for 52% of all injuries – with concussion being the most common injury type. Tagging, rather than tackling, saves children’s brains from harm.

Inability to consent

Our research shows that impact sports should be treated equally with other prohibited activities for children, such as smoking. Children are unable to make informed decisions about the long-term risks of these activities. Parental provision for these activities is also socially stigmatised or criminalised.

Our research draws on a number of legal positions that support our argument that neither children nor parents on their behalf can consent to sports that require brain trauma as a necessary component of the sport.

For example, Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), to which 195 countries are signatories, covers protection from violence, abuse and neglect. It states that:

Governments must do all they can to ensure that children are protected from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and bad treatment by their parents or anyone else who looks after them.

Some commentators have agreed that while high-impact sports are dangerous, using the term child abuse is a step too far.

However, the NSPCC, the UK’s leading children’s charity, say that physical neglect is a form of abuse that occurs if a child is not kept safe. Allowing children to participate in impact sports while being aware of the harm they can cause is, our research shows, a failure keep children safe.

Opponents of prohibiting children from playing high-impact sports argue that boys are naturally aggressive and heavy contact sport helps them to learn how to control their feelings.

Boys, some argue, need physical activities – they need space and learn through activity. But there is no research showing that boys need to endure brain trauma in order to grow up to be responsible men.

There is no justifiable health reason for a child to play impact sport over non-impact versions. We are asking that ministers privilege children’s brains over corporate sporting bodies. The Conversation

Eric Anderson, Professor of Masculinities, Sexualities and Sport, University of Winchester; Gary Turner, Doctoral researcher in Policy Analysis of Traumatic Brain Injury in UK Combat Sports, University of Winchester, and Keith Parry, Head Of Department in Department of Sport & Event Management, Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article: How a New York Times copyright lawsuit against OpenAI could potentially transform how AI and copyright work

Professor Dinusha Mendis writes for The Conversation about the potential copyright implications of AI as a lawsuit is lodged by the New York Times against the creator of ChatGPT…

How a New York Times copyright lawsuit against OpenAI could potentially transform how AI and copyright work

Stas Malyarevsky / Shutterstock

Dinusha Mendis, Bournemouth University

On December 27, 2023, the New York Times (NYT) filed a lawsuit in the Federal
District Court in Manhattan against Microsoft and OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT,
alleging that OpenAI had unlawfully used its articles to create artificial intelligence (AI) products.

Citing copyright infringement and the importance of independent journalism to democracy, the newspaper further alleged that even though the defendant, OpenAI, may have “engaged in wide scale copying from many sources, they gave Times content particular emphasis” in training generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) tools such as Generative Pre-Trained Transformers (GPT). This is the kind of technology that underlies products such as the AI chatbot ChatGPT.

The complaint by the New York Times states that OpenAI took millions of copyrighted news articles, in-depth investigations, opinion pieces, reviews, how-to guides and more in an attempt to “free ride on the Times’s massive investment in its journalism”.

In a blog post published by OpenAI on January 8, 2024, the tech company responded to the allegations by emphasising its support of journalism and partnerships with news organisations. It went on to say that the “NYT lawsuit is without merit”.

In the months prior to the complaint being lodged by the New York Times, OpenAI had entered into agreements with large media companies such as Axel-Springer and the Associated Press, although notably, the Times failed to reach an agreement with the tech company.

The NYT case is important because it is different to other cases involving AI and copyright, such as the case brought by the online photo library Getty Images against the tech company Stability AI earlier in 2023. In this case, Getty Images alleged that Stability AI processed millions of copyrighted images using a tool called Stable Diffusion, which generates images from text prompts using AI.

The main difference between this case and the New York Times one is that the newspaper’s complaint highlighted actual outputs used by OpenAI to train its AI tools. The Times provided examples of articles that were reproduced almost verbatim.

Use of material

The defence available to OpenAI is “fair use” under the US Copyright Act 1976, section 107. This is because the unlicensed use of copyright material to train generative AI models can serve as a “transformative use” which changes the original material. However, the complaint from the New York Times also says that their chatbots bypassed the newspaper’s paywalls to create summaries of articles.

Even though summaries do not infringe copyright, their use could be used by the New York Times to try to demonstrate a negative commercial impact on the newspaper – challenging the fair use defence.

ChatGPT
Giulio Benzin / Shutterstock

This case could ultimately be settled out of court. It is also possible that the Times’ lawsuit was more a negotiating tactic than a real attempt to go all the way to trial. Whichever way the case proceeds, it could have important implications for both traditional media and AI development.

It also raises the question of the suitability of current copyright laws to deal with AI. In a submission to the House of Lords communications and digital select committee on December 5, 2023, OpenAI claimed that “it would be impossible to train today’s leading AI models without copyrighted materials”.

It went on to say that “limiting training data to public domain books and drawings created more than a century ago might yield an interesting experiment but would not provide AI systems that meet the needs of today’s citizens”.

Looking for answers

The EU’s AI Act –- the world’s first AI Act –- might give us insights into some future directions. Among its many articles, there are two provisions particularly relevant to copyright.

The first provision titled, “Obligations for providers of general-purpose AI
models” includes two distinct requirements related to copyright. Section 1(C)
requires providers of general-purpose AI models to put in place a policy to respect EU copyright law.

Section 1(d) requires providers of general purpose AI systems to draw up and make publicly available a detailed summary about content used for training AI systems.

While section 1(d) raises some questions, section 1(c) makes it clear that any use of copyright protected content requires the authorisation of the rights holder concerned unless relevant copyright exceptions apply. Where the rights to opt out has been expressly reserved in an appropriate manner, providers of general purpose AI models, such as OpenAI, will need to obtain authorisation from rights holders if they want to carry out text and data mining on their copyrighted works.

Even though the EU AI Act may not be directly relevant to the New York Times complaint against OpenAI, it illustrates the way in which copyright laws will be designed to deal with this fast-moving technology. In future, we are likely to see more media organisations adopting this law to protect journalism and creativity. In fact, even before the EU AI Act was passed, the New York Times blocked OpenAI from trawling its content. The Guardian followed suit in September 2023 – as did many others.

However, the move did not allow material to be removed from existing training
data sets. Therefore, any copyrighted material used by the training models up until then would have been used in OpenAI’s outputs –- which led to negotiations between the New York Times and OpenAI breaking down.

With laws such as those in the EU AI Act now placing legal obligations on general purpose AI models, their future could look more constrained in the way that they use copyrighted works to train and improve their systems. We can expect other jurisdictions to update their copyright laws reflecting similar provisions to that of the EU AI Act in an attempt to protect creativity. As for traditional media, ever since the rise of the internet and social media, news outlets have been challenged in drawing readers to their sites and generative AI has simply exacerbated this issue.

This case will not spell the end of generative AI or copyright. However, it certainly raises questions for the future of AI innovation and the protection of creative content. AI will certainly continue to grow and develop and we will continue to see and experience its many benefits. However, the time has come for policymakers to take serious note of these AI developments and update copyright laws, protecting creators in the process.The Conversation

Dinusha Mendis, Professor of Intellectual Property and Innovation Law; Director Centre for Intellectual Property Policy and Managament (CIPPM), Bournemouth University, Bournemouth University

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

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Conversation article: The Legend of Zelda film – past adaptations have gotten Link’s character wrong

Dr José Blázquez writes for The Conversation about the upcoming live-action film of The Legend of Zelda and some of the potential challenges adapting this beloved videogame…

The Legend of Zelda film: past adaptations have gotten Link’s character wrong

José Blázquez, Bournemouth University

The Legend of Zelda (first produced in 1986) is one of the most beloved videogames around the world, so when Nintendo announced the development of a live-action movie a couple of weeks ago, it inspired a lot of speculation (and fear) about how they might pull off a film.

Despite being haunted by the infamous adaptation made 30 years ago, the recent The Super Mario Bros. Movie was a global family hit. However, for some fans – myself included – it failed to deliver a compelling story about its central characters, which are some of the most iconic in videogame history. If Nintendo’s aim is to put smiles on every fan’s face, then adapting The Legend of Zelda will be a real challenge.

Set in a fantasy medieval world, the game series follows Link, an Hylian elf-like hero, and Zelda, princess of the kingdom of Hyrule. The stories differ from game to game, but often involve Link’s quest to rescue Zelda, defeat Ganon (the main antagonist of the series) and save Hyrule. They also tend to feature stories around the Triforce, a divine artefact formed by three equilateral triangles, each of which represent a virtue (power, wisdom and courage). The triangles can grant a wish to players who possess them all.

There is not a magic formula for a good adaptation and the process is made more complicated by such a vast, narrative-rich source material. Like many other fans, I would like to see a film that echoes what I felt when playing the games and preserves its DNA.

Losing Link

The original game was first released in 1986 and since then, another 19 games have followed (excluding spin-offs, remakes and re-releases). The latest instalment, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, has become one of the most lucrative.

From the vibrant landscapes and welcoming inhabitants of Hyrule to the daunting puzzles in dungeons and caves, feelings and emotions are the essence of Zelda’s storytelling. Recent titles have provided an expanded view of the settings, underpinned by open worlds offering a vast array of side quests, locations, monsters and non-playable characters.

A major part of getting the adaptation “right” will be in how the film chooses to portray Link.

Link is an archetype of a hero. He is brave, pure and communicates non-verbally in the games. His muteness is one of his most recognisable traits and one which helps anyone to identify with the character during the gameplay.

Although we barely know anything about his past, Link is somehow given depth by the players’ actions, who decide if they want to spend hours talking and helping villagers in side quests or embody an introvert hero who simply sticks to the main plan. This approach used in the games is not easily transferable to other media and, unsurprisingly, previous adaptations diverted from this path.

Earlier official adaptations of the game series were deemed non-canonical and distanced themselves from the source material in different aspects and degrees.

Many Zelda games have their own manga adaptations, which follow the original game storylines and add depth and provide backstories to the main characters. In the manga, Link talks, expresses emotions with facial expressions and is given a more rounded personality. We also learn about his past, providing more context about how the hero came to be.

The animated series was released in 1989, alongside Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, and lasted only 13 episodes due to the negative reception. In this adaptation, Link has brown hair and eyes (in contrast to his blonde hair and blue eyes in the games) and is chatty and immature.

While protecting the kingdom and the Triforce of Wisdom from Ganon, he is truly invested in flirting with Zelda, who – far from being a damsel in distress – rejects all his attempts to get a kiss. This diverts from the games, which have never depicted Zelda as Link’s love interest.

In Hollywood’s hands

In 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported that Netflix was preparing a live-action series based on The Legend of Zelda, which was described as “Game of Thrones for a family audience”. This was eventually denied by Nintendo.

Game of Thrones is notoriously dark, bloody and highly sexual, it’s hard to imagine what it looks like re-imagined as family entertainment. The Zelda series does feature more complex stories, which sometimes get quite dark (such as Twilight Princess and Majora’s Mask).

However, it’s difficult to imagine Nintendo moving away from light, family fun – it’s what they do best. Players will also expect them to produce a film with a PG rating. They tried a flirty Link before and it didn’t quite work – here’s hoping they leave that iteration alone.

Nothing has yet been said about the plot of the film adaptation, but Nintendo has confirmed that it will be directed by Wes Ball (The Maze Runner trilogy). It will be produced by Shigeru Miyamoto – co-creator of the game series and one of the most influential and acclaimed game designers of all time – and Avi Arad, chairman of Arad Productions Inc. The company has been involved in a long list of videogame, anime and comic adaptations. Miyamoto has also said that he has been working on the theatrical adaptation for many years.

It seems to be in safe hands and hopefully Nintendo has learnt from past failures. The least we can hope for is that with Miyamoto on board the legendary world of Zelda will be able to inspire similar feelings in viewers as the games have for nearly 40 years.


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José Blázquez, Senior lecturer, Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article: When to give your child their first mobile phone and how to keep them safe

Professor Andy Phippen answers some key questions for The Conversation about giving children mobile devices, based on his research into young people and the internet…

When to give your child their first mobile phone – and how to keep them safe

Pressmaster/Shutterstock

Andy Phippen, Bournemouth University

I spend my career researching young people and the internet: what they do online, what they think about it and how their views differ to those of their parents.

I often get questions from parents about their children’s internet use. One of the most common is when to get their child a mobile phone, as well as how to keep them safe when they have one. Here are my answers to some key questions.

How old should my child be when they get their first phone?

I’m afraid I often disappoint parents in my answer to this question by not giving them a definite number. But the key here is what your child is going to use the phone for – and when might be suitable for that individual child.

According to a 2023 report by UK communications regulator Ofcom, 20% of three year olds now own a mobile phone. But this phone may just be used for taking pictures, playing simple games and supervised video calls with family.

The more pertinent question is when children should have their own fully-connected phone, which they can use unsupervised to contact others online.

When a child is primary school age, it’s highly likely that they will be used to adult supervision in most aspects of their life. They will either be at school, at home, with friends and trusted adults or with other family members.

Their need to contact a distant adult may not be that great – but you will want to think about what the specific needs of your own child might be.

Typically the transition from primary school to secondary is when children might be more distant from home, or be involved in school activities or socialising with friends where being able to contact home becomes more important. I have spoken to plenty of young people who talk about starting secondary school as the point where they first had their own phone.

How do I make sure they use a phone safely?

First of all, it’s important that if your child is going online – at whatever age and regardless of the device they’re using – you have a conversation with them about online safety.

Parents have a role to play in educating their children and making them aware of the risks that come with being online, as well as being mindful that most online experiences are not harmful.

I have carried out extensive research with young people on online harms. As part of this research, I and colleagues developed a number of resources for parents, put together with the help of over 1,000 young people.

What these young people say the most is they want to know who to turn to when they need help. They want to be confident they will receive support, not a telling off or confiscation of their phone. This means that a key first step is to reassure your child that they can come to you with any problems they encounter and you will help them without judgment.

It’s also important to discuss with your child what they can and can’t do with their device. This could mean, for instance, setting ground rules about which apps they can have installed on their phone, and when they should stop using their phone at the end of the day.

You should also explore the privacy settings for the apps that your child uses, in order to ensure that they cannot be contacted by strangers or access inappropriate content. The NSPCC has resources for parents on how to use privacy settings.

Should I check my child’s phone?

Sometimes parents ask me about whether they should be able to check a child’s device – either by physically looking at the phone or by using “safetytech”, software on another device that can access the communications on the child’s phone.

Father and son looking at mobile phone
Open conversations about phone use are key.
Khorzhevska/Shutterstock

I believe it’s important that this is also something you discuss with your child. Trust is important to ensure that your child comes to you with any online issues, so if you want to monitor their phone, talk to them about it rather than doing so covertly.

It seems reasonable parental supervision to be accessing a child’s device when they are of primary age, in the same way a parent would check with another child’s parent before agreeing to let them visit their home.

However, as your child gets older, they might not want their parent to see all of their messages and online interactions. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly states that a child does have a right to privacy.

Should I track my child’s location through their phone?

I have spoken to some families that track each other’s devices in an open and transparent manner, and this is a decision for the family. However, I have also spoken to children who find it very creepy that a teenage friend is tracked by their parents.

The question here is whether parents are reassuring themselves that their child is safe – or whether they want to know what they are doing without them knowing. I had a particularly memorable conversation with someone who told me their friend was extremely upset because their daughter had changed device and so they could no longer track her. When I asked how old the daughter was, they said she was 22.

It’s also worth considering whether tech like this actually provides false reassurance. It may allow parents to know where their child is, but not necessarily whether they are safe.

As with monitoring a child’s phone, it is worth reflecting upon whether a surveillance approach creates the ideal conditions for them to come to you with problems, or whether this is more likely to be fostered by open conversations and an environment of mutual trust.The Conversation

Andy Phippen, Professor of IT Ethics and Digital Rights, Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article: Big cats eat more monkeys in a damaged tropical forest – and this could threaten their survival

Aralisa Sheddon writes about her research which found that big cats in southern Mexico are increasingly preying on endangered howler and spider monkeys…

Big cats eat more monkeys in a damaged tropical forest – and this could threaten their survival

A jaguar in the jungle of southern Mexico.
Mardoz/Shutterstock

Aralisa Shedden, Bournemouth University

Monkeys are not usually a popular menu item for big cats. Primates are, after all, hard to catch: living in the canopies of large trees and rarely coming down to the ground. Jaguar and puma have varied diets and will normally hunt the species that are most common where they live, such as deer, peccary (a type of wild pig) and armadillo.

But jaguar and puma living in southern Mexican forests with a high human footprint (where wood and other resources are regularly harvested and there are large clearings for farms or expanding settlements) seem to be changing their feeding preferences to include more monkeys, according to new research.

Other studies have already found that when there is less of their usual prey around, big cats turn to alternatives. The changes in jaguar and puma diets that my colleagues and I recorded may indicate that the populations of these normal prey are shrinking, or that something in the environment has changed to make catching and eating primates easier.

This change in the diet of large cats could make the disappearance of primate populations in tropical forests like this one in southern Mexico more likely. This would, in turn, make the disappearance of large cats themselves more likely due to a lack of food, threatening the stability of an entire ecosystem.

On the trail of big cats

When forests are cut down or altered by loggers and hunters, primates are particularly affected, as many species depend on tall trees for food, shelter and to chart paths through the forest. Globally, more than 60% of primate species are threatened with extinction.

These changes to forests have also put large predators at risk. Understanding what is happening in these areas can inform more effective conservation measures, which may prevent species from disappearing.

The Uxpanapa valley in southeastern Mexico is one of the last relicts of tall evergreen forest in the country, and is classified as one of the most biodiverse areas in both Mexico and the world. It is home to jaguar, puma and many other species, including two endangered primates: howler and spider monkeys.

A black monkey in a tropical forest canopy.
Howler monkeys are native to South and Central American forests.
David Havel/Shutterstock

I led a research team that studied the distribution of primates in the Uxpanapa Valley for the first time. We recorded the number of primates and where they were found, as well as the type of forest they preferred.

Another team looked for large cats with the help of a dog which could detect their faeces, otherwise known as scat. Scat was collected to obtain DNA and determine the species that left it, whether it had any parasites, and what its diet was like. The team found out what prey these large cats were eating by using microscopes to study the hairs left in each scat. Special identification guides can link each kind of animal to its hair – each has a particular colour, pattern and shape.

Large carnivores maintain biodiversity and the functioning of an ecosystem by controlling populations of certain species – for example, herbivores that might otherwise harm trees or prevent forests regrowing. The presence of such predators can indicate an ecosystem’s health. Knowing what top predators are eating can tell us even more about how an ecosystem is functioning.

What we found

When we combined the data and information we collected, we began to understand that something out of the ordinary was happening.

Primates were the most frequent prey found in jaguar and puma scats, making up nearly 35% of the remains. Primate remains were also more likely to be found in scats collected from areas with less forest. Spider monkey remains, for example, were more likely to be found in scats collected in areas with more villages, and in forest that was regrowing after being disturbed.

A possible explanation is that where there are more villages, it is likely that there is more hunting and tree-cutting taking place. Where there is more hunting, the prey that jaguar and puma usually prefer might not be as plentiful. And regrowing forests do not offer primates the same protection as tall, untouched forests. These two factors may explain why large cats are eating spider monkeys more often here.

Jaguar and puma will usually eat the prey that is more abundant. If their preferred prey is scarce, they will hunt the species they encounter most. Similar to what we observed with spider monkeys, in areas where there was less tall forest, howler monkey remains were more likely than non-primate prey to be found in the scats, possibly as big cats found it easier to reach primates.

A pile of logs in a deforested Mexican plain.
Logging robs monkeys of hiding places from predators.
Eduardo Cota/Shutterstock

Less tree cover and overhunting of other prey (combined with general habitat loss) could explain the high rates of primate predation we discovered. Nevertheless, we need to continue monitoring these sites to fully understand these changes in large cat diets.

Our results highlight the importance of maintaining tall forest cover to ensure primates and other forest-dependent species can survive. They also raise the urgent need for conservation, before the negative effects of human activities on both primate and large cat populations become irreversible, and the ecosystems they live in are lost.


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Aralisa Shedden, Postdoctoral Researcher in Conservation, Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article: Many Australian kids abused in sport won’t ever speak up. It’s time we break the silence

Dr Emma Kavanagh co-authors this article for The Conversation about new research exploring how children talk about – or don’t talk about – their experiences of abuse in sport:

Many Australian kids abused in sport won’t ever speak up. It’s time we break the silence

Shutterstock

Mary Woessner, Victoria University; Alexandra Parker, Victoria University; Aurélie Pankowiak, Victoria University, and Emma Kavanagh, Bournemouth University

Sport is supposed to be a safe place for kids to learn and play.

Too often, however, sporting clubs can be places where children are abused psychologically, physically or sexually.

Imagine, then, a child in your life had been abused, but never told an adult about it.

Our new research shows that’s the case for many children who’ve experienced abuse in a community sport club.

Here’s what we found about how children talk about – or don’t talk about – their experiences of abuse in sport.

Survey shows abuse goes undisclosed

Our research is the first to explore how often children tell adults about abuse in community sport.

Before this, we knew very little about how children spoke about their experiences of abuse.

This data builds on our previous study, focusing on the responses of the 800 adults who had all experienced abuse in community sport as children.

In our new study, our survey tool asked about childhood experiences of abuse in sport. These ranged from psychological violence (excessive criticism and humiliation), physical abuse (throwing equipment, striking someone), sexual violence (sexualised comments or acts) and neglect (ignoring a child after a poor performance).

We found more than half said they never spoke to an adult about it.

Three in four children never spoke to an adult about abuse from a coach.

Rates of disclosure were even lower when the abuse was from a parent, with eight in nine children not speaking to another adult about their experiences.

We also found boys disclose peer abuse in sport less frequently than girls, while girls had lower rates of disclosing to an adult within the sport club (coach/club manager) than boys.

The evidence shows delayed disclosures of abuse (or never disclosing) can have severe and long-lasting impacts on a child’s mental health.

This makes these findings highly concerning.

A man yelling from the sidelines of a running race
Even when children are aware and able to say something is wrong, we found they think twice before speaking to an adult.
Shutterstock

Having a policy is important, but not enough

Clubs often try to stamp out abuse by having policies aimed at protecting children.

But we found while policies can provide guidance on who to report abuse to, even getting that far can be difficult.

First, a child victim/survivor (and adults around them) needs to recognise their experience as abuse. In community sporting clubs, a child would then need to talk to an adult (a club member protection officer, for example). Finally, the adult/child would need to formally report the abuse for the policy to be enacted.

In an environment where abuse has become so normalised, children may not even realise they’re experiencing it.

The response system relies on reports of abuse, but participants are often afraid to come forward, or aren’t believed when they do.

Even when children are aware and able to say something is wrong, we found they think twice before speaking to an adult.

The children often questioned whether their experiences were bad enough, especially when they saw other kids going through the same things.

One participant shared bullying was so widespread that:

[…] it’s [violence] a cultural thing in the sport. And so you just learn to live with it, ignore it.

How we respond to children matters

Often children will not have the words to say “I am experiencing abuse”.

In our study children would simply tell their parents they weren’t enjoying sport.

They often didn’t even think they were talking about abuse. One of the people we spoke to said:

I didn’t know I was disclosing […] I just thought I was reiterating what happened during the day.

In most instances, the responses from adults normalised or rationalised the child’s experience of abuse.

A participant shared her parents’ response was:

Sorry you’re experiencing this, but time to just be resilient. Like, just don’t think about it.

Sometimes, the adult offered a supportive and empathetic response, but this was rarely followed up with long-term support or lodging an official report of abuse.

This leaves the experiences of abuse undocumented and unaddressed.

A young girl being comforted by her mother
Believe children when they say they are uncomfortable, not enjoying sport or feel unsafe, and ask them how you can help.
Shutterstock

Taking action against abuse in sport

We need to talk more about abuse in sport.

The issue is gaining some traction, with the launch of international and national campaigns.

Start To Talk encourages people to have conversations about poor behaviours and improving safety in sport.

Our team in Australia is running workshops on abuse with community sporting organisations.

We have passionate volunteers who want to change the culture, but need support to do so.

Abuse thrives in the shadows, and it is time for more significant action to realise real change. Here is what you can do to help:

  • listen to children, really listen to what they say
  • believe them when they say they are uncomfortable, not enjoying sport or feel unsafe, and ask them how you can help
  • seek support for them and yourself
  • when it’s safe to do so, call out poor behaviours.

Sport has so much power for good, but we all must play our part in ensuring it is first and foremost, a safe environment.


If this article has raised issues for you or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.The Conversation

Mary Woessner, Lecturer in Clinical Exercise and Research Fellow, Institute for Health and Sport (iHeS), Victoria University, Victoria University; Alexandra Parker, Executive Director of the Institute for Health and Sport, Professor of Physical Activity and Mental Health, Victoria University; Aurélie Pankowiak, Research Fellow, Institute for Health and Sport, Victoria University, and Emma Kavanagh, Associate Professor in Sport Psychology and Safe Sport, Bournemouth University

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

The Conversation launches new online, on-demand training courses

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Conversation article: Artificial coral reefs showing early signs they can mimic real reefs killed by climate change – new research

Professor Rick Stafford and Zach Boakes write for The Conversation about their research exploring whether artificial reefs in the tropics can function in the same way as natural ones…

Artificial coral reefs showing early signs they can mimic real reefs killed by climate change – new research

Alexey UW/Shutterstock

Rick Stafford, Bournemouth University and Zach Boakes, Bournemouth University

Earth’s average temperature in September 2023 was 1.75°C above its pre-industrial baseline, breaching (if only temporarily) the 1.5°C threshold at which world leaders agreed to try and limit long-term warming.

Persistent warming at this level will make it difficult for the ocean’s coral reefs to survive. The same goes for those communities who rely on the reefs for food, to protect their coastline from storms and for other sources of income, such as tourism. Recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessments have predicted that even if global heating is kept within the most optimistic scenarios, up to two-thirds of all coral reefs could deteriorate over the next few decades.

It will not be possible to restore all the reefs lost to climate change. But we are scientists who study how to preserve these habitats, and we hope that artificial structures (made from concrete or other hard materials) could replicate the complex forms of natural reefs and retain some of the benefits they provide.

We know artificial reefs can attract fish and host high levels of biodiversity – often similar to natural reefs. This is partly due to them providing a hard surface for invertebrates like sponges and corals to grow on. Artificial reefs also offer a complex habitat of crevices, tunnels and other hiding places for species that move around a lot, such as fish, crabs and octopus.

Until now though, scientists were unsure if artificial reefs attracted wildlife which would otherwise live on nearby coral reefs or whether they helped support entirely new communities, enlarging existing populations. This is important, because if natural reefs do die, these artificial structures must be self-sustaining to continue benefiting species, including our own.

A fisher casts a net over the camera in shallow water at sunset.
Millions of people worldwide rely on fish as their main source of protein.
BankZa/Shutterstock

Our recent study is the first to examine whether artificial reefs in the tropics can function in the same way as their naturally formed counterparts. The answer is: not yet, but these concrete structures are beginning to mimic some of the key functions of coral reefs – and they should get better at it over time.

Follow the nutrients

Coral reefs support lots of different species in high numbers despite growing in tropical waters low in nutrients (chemicals such as nitrates and phosphates which boost plant growth). This puzzled naturalist Charles Darwin, and it became known as Darwin’s Paradox. We now know reefs achieve this by circulating nutrients extremely rapidly through the invertebrates, corals and fish that live on them.

In a healthy coral reef system, nutrients from dead animals and faeces are rapidly consumed by animals living on the reef, such as small fish or invertebrates, and these small animals are frequently eaten by larger animals. This ensures these nutrients cannot accumulate and so they remain at low levels, preventing algae from overgrowing and smothering the reef.

If artificial reefs perform a similar function to natural reefs then we would expect them to rapidly process nutrients entering the system and keep overall nutrient levels low too. This would indicate they are also highly productive ecosystems, similarly capable of supporting diverse and abundant wildlife even if many natural reefs die.

We tried to make an accurate comparison of natural and artificial reefs by comparing nutrient levels and how they are stored between the two.

From concrete to corals

Our study was conducted in north Bali, Indonesia. A local non-profit, North Bali Reef Conservation, which Zach co-founded, has been making artificial reefs for the last six years with the help of international volunteers and local fishers who use their boats to drop them offshore.

While over 15,000 reefs have been deployed so far, they only cover around 2 hectares – roughly the size of two football pitches.

But these structures are beginning to show signs of functioning like coral reef communities. In water we extracted from just under the sand near the artificial reefs we found high levels of phosphates – evidence of a large number of fish excreting. And in water samples from above the sediment, levels of all the nutrients we measured were low and similar to those recorded on natural reefs, indicating the artificial reef was rapidly recycling these nutrients.

However, the sediment around the concrete structures we tested appeared to be storing less carbon than that surrounding the natural reefs. We think the difference may be related to the relative abundance of invertebrate species such as hydroids (plant-like relatives of corals which feed by sifting detritus from seawater). These were common on the natural reefs we studied, but were only found in small, but increasing numbers on the artificial reefs. We think, as more of these species colonise the concrete over time, the reefs will function even more like their natural counterparts.

The study offers some hope that over time, artificial reefs can mimic more of the processes maintained by natural reefs. Our findings are an early indication that artificial reefs may be able to support local communities affected by reefs lost to climate change.

The climate threat to coral reefs will not be solved by artificial reefs. Only rapidly eliminating emissions of greenhouse gases can preserve a future for these ecosystems. But our research indicates that, where reefs have already been lost, through pollution, destructive fishing or coastal development, it may be possible to restore some of the lost benefits with artificial structures.

Our study suggests it can take up to five years for artificial reefs to begin functioning like coral reefs, so these recovery programmes must begin right away.


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Rick Stafford, Professor of Marine Biology and Conservation, Bournemouth University and Zach Boakes, PhD Candidate in Conservation, Bournemouth University

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