Category / the conversation

Conversation article: what teachers think of children and young people’s technology use

Dr Sarah Hodge writes for The Conversation about research asking teachers about their experiences of how young people use technology and the effect it has on them…

What teachers think of children and young people’s technology use

nimito/Shutterstock

Sarah Hodge, Bournemouth University

Mobile phones, computers, social media and the internet are part of the daily lives of children and young people, including at school. Concerns over the risks of too much screen time or online activity for children and young people have been tempered by the reality of technology use in education and leisure.

The experience of life during the pandemic, when much schooling and socialising went online, has also changed attitudes to technology use. UK communications regulator Ofcom reported that in 2020 only a minority of children and young people did not go online or have internet access.

Teachers are in a unique position when it comes to assessing how children and young people use technology such as mobile phones and the effect it has on them. They see how children and young people use technology to learn, socialise, and how it affects their relationships with their peers.

Together with colleagues, I carried out in-depth research with eight teachers from different backgrounds, ages, years of professional experience, and type of educational institution from across the UK. We asked the teachers about their experiences of children and young people’s use of technology: how they thought it affected their emotions, behaviour and learning both before and during the pandemic.

The teachers talked about the importance of technology as a tool in the classroom and learning and the opportunities it provides for creativity. As one teacher put it:

It is what the children are used to, and it engages them more – it is a useful tool that can add to our teaching.

Empowered through tech

We also found that teachers were optimistic about the role technology could play in empowering children and young people. One said:

They use social networking sites to learn from one another and to express their beliefs – even children who are quiet in the classroom, they find it easier to express themselves online.

They thought that children and young people could learn to understand and recognise the signs of unhealthy technology use from their own emotions and behaviour when using technology. This included showing empathy and care through noticing how they and others feel. One teacher said children and young people were becoming more compassionate and offering their help to friends who were showing signs of distress through their online posts.

However, some teachers did express concern about how interacting online affected children and young people’s social skills. One teacher said:

They don’t know how to have proper conversations with their friends. They don’t know how to resolve anything because it’s easy to be mean behind a screen and not have to resolve it.

Another questioned how technology use was affecting play. They said:

They don’t know how to play and actually you will see groups of them surrounding a phone.

Teachers also pointed to the problems of disengaging from technology use. One teacher stated:

The parents have ongoing battles trying to pull their children away from screens and the next day they are exhausted, and they find it difficult to get them into school because the children are so tired.

Teachers discussed how they encouraged their pupils to take part in team sports as a way to encourage face-to-face communication and conflict resolution. However, while some online safety and internet use is covered at school, guidance on how to live with technology, be resilient towards challenges and use technology in a balanced could be more explicitly taught.

The PHSE Association – a national body for personal, social, health and economic education – offers guidance on online safety and skills for the curriculum, such as the potential harms of pornography but there is much scope to develop a broader approach to supporting healthy technology use.

Boy looking sad putting phone down
Teachers felt that there should be more discussion of online behaviour in the classroom.
Daisy Daisy/Shutterstock

In class, this could be as simple as working on how to make informed decisions about technology use – such as being more cautious if online activity involves talking with strangers, or recognising if spending time online is a large time commitment. It could include using social media posts as real-world examples to encourage childrenand young people to be informed, critical and resilient towards content they are likely to see and interact with.

Teachers felt that adding online safety to the curriculum would be valuable, as would providing opportunities for children and young people to talk about their experiences and content of technology. One teacher said:

There are predators out there and we do discuss online safety issues with my students, but some stuff should be part of the curriculum as well, and parents should access it too.

The teachers highlighted that they, too, needed support in their knowledge about technology and suggested this should be more incorporated into teacher training. One teacher said:

We need to keep up with the times and if there is something this pandemic taught us, is that not all of us are keeping up… one-off training is not adequate, schools need to invest in continuous professional development activities related to technology.

Children and young people can get significant benefits from technology, but it has risks, too. More attention to how teachers can address this in school can be an invaluable way to help children and young people understand and balance their time online.

The Conversation

Sarah Hodge, Lecturer in Psychology and Cyberpsychology, Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article: Cameroon’s exploding lakes – deadly gas release could lead to another tragedy

Dr Henry Ngenyam Bang writes for The Conversation about the potential dangers associated with crater lakes located in a region of volcanic activity in Cameroon…

Cameroon’s ‘exploding’ lakes: disaster expert warns deadly gas release could cause another tragedy

The waters of Lake Nyos, Cameroon, turn a murky brown following a deadly release of toxic gas.
Photo by Thierry Orban/Sygma via Getty Images

Henry Ngenyam Bang, Bournemouth University

A sudden change on 29 August 2022 in the colour and smell of Lake Kuk, in north-west Cameroon, has caused anxiety and panic among the local residents. Fears are driven by an incident that happened 36 years ago at Lake Nyos, just 10km away.

On 21 August 1986, Lake Nyos emitted lethal gases (mainly carbon dioxide) that suffocated 1,746 people and around 8,300 livestock. It wasn’t the first incident like this. Two years earlier, Lake Monoum, about 100km south-west of Lake Nyos, killed 37 people.

Desolation around Lake Nyos on 1 August 1986.
Photo by Eric Bouvet via Getty Images

Research into the cause of the Lake Nyos disaster concluded that carbon dioxide gas – released from the Earth’s mantle – had been accumulating at the bottom of the lake for centuries. A sudden disturbance of the lake’s waters due to a landslide resulted in a sudden release of around 1.24 million tonnes of carbon dioxide gas.

Survivors briefly heard a rumbling sound from Lake Nyos before an invisible gas cloud emerged from its depths. It killed people, animals, insects and birds along its path in the valley before dispersing into the atmosphere where it became harmless.

Both Kuk and Nyos are crater lakes located in a region of volcanic activity known as the Cameroon Volcanic Line. And there are 43 other crater lakes in the region that could contain lethal amounts of gases. Other lakes around the world that pose a similar threat include Lake Kivu at the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lake Ngozi in Tanzania and Lake Monticchio in Italy.

After Lake Nyos erupted, its water turned a deep red colour and survivors reported the smell of rotten eggs. These are the same characteristics to have recently manifested at Lake Kuk. The change in colour of Lake Nyos was only noticed after the gas burst.

In an official press release, heavy rainfall was linked to the odour and change in colour of Lake Kuk. The tens of thousands of people living around the lake were urged to “remain calm while being vigilant to continuously inform the administration of any other incident noted”.

As a geologist and disaster management expert, I believe that not enough is being done to address and manage the potential danger from crater lakes in the region.

Through my experience and research I’ve identified several key steps that policymakers must take to prevent another tragedy from happening.

Preventing disaster

To start with, it’s important to know which lakes are at risk of “exploding”.

Initial checks in some of the lakes were done more than 30 years ago and not thoroughly – it was just one team and on one occasion. Further investigations and regular monitoring are required.

Currently it’s believed that, of the 43 crater lakes on Cameroon’s Volcanic Line, 13 are deep and large enough to contain lethal quantities of gases. Although 11 are considered to be relatively safe, two (Lakes Enep and Oku) are dangerous.

Map showing the Cameroon Volcanic Line and other hazards in Cameroon.

Research has revealed that the thermal profile (how temperature changes with depth), quantity of dissolved gases, surface area or water volume and depth are key indicators of the potential for crater lakes to store large quantities of dangerous gases.

The factors that lead to the greatest risk include: high quantities of dissolved gases, held under high pressures, at great depths, in lakes with large volumes of water. They are at an even greater risk of explosion when the lakes sit in wide or large craters where there are disturbances.

The two lakes that caused fatalities (Nyos and Monoum) are deep and have thermal profiles that increase with depth. Other lakes are too shallow (less than 40 metres) and have uniform thermal profiles, indicating they do not contain large amounts of gases.

Investigating all the crater lakes in Cameroon would be a logistical challenge. It would require significant funding, a diverse scientific team, technical resources and transportation to the lakes. Since most of the crater lakes are in remote areas with poor communication network (no roads, rail or airports), it would take a couple of years for the work to be completed.

Since Cameroon has many potentially dangerous crater lakes, it is unsatisfactory that 36 years after the Lake Nyos disaster, not much has been done to mitigate the risks in other gas-charged hazardous lakes.

Managing dangerous lakes

Lake Kuk was checked shortly after the 1986 Lake Nyos disaster and found not to contain excess carbon dioxide. Its relatively shallow depth and surface area means the risk of gas being trapped in large quantities is low.

Nevertheless, authorities should have immediately restricted access to Lake Kuk pending a thorough onsite investigation. The official press release urging calm was sent just one day after the incident was reported. It’s not possible that a scientist could have carried out a physical examination of the lake. The release said that rainfall was responsible for the changes, but this will be based on assumptions.

Lake Kuk might be considered safe, but due to the dynamic and active nature of the Cameroon Volcanic Line, there is a possibility that volcanic gases can seep into the lake at any moment.

An onsite scientific investigation would determine with certainty the abnormal behaviour of Lake Kuk. Keeping people away from the lake until a swift and credible investigation had been done would be the most rational decision.

An additional step would be for a carbon dioxide detector to be installed near Lake Kuk and other potentially dangerous crater lakes. This would serve as an early warning system for lethal gas releases.

A carbon dioxide early warning system is designed to detect high concentrations of gases in the atmosphere and to produce a warning sound. Upon hearing the sound, people are expected to run away from the lake and onto higher ground. After the Lake Nyos disaster, carbon dioxide detectors and warning systems were installed near Lakes Nyos and Monoum. Nevertheless, no simulation has been conducted to determine their effectiveness.

The Directorate of Civil Protection is the designated agency responsible for coordinating disaster risk management in Cameroon. The agency should liaise with other stakeholders in the government and private sector to ensure the safety of Cameroon’s dangerous lakes. If the authorities are not proactive, the Lake Nyos disaster scenario may repeat where thousands of people and livestock are suddenly killed.The Conversation

Henry Ngenyam Bang, Disaster Management Scholar, Researcher and Educator, Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article: Online reviews are broken – here’s how to fix them

Professor Vasilis Katos writes for The Conversation about the abuse of online review systems and potential solutions…

Online reviews are broken – here’s how to fix them

Online reviews are not always what they might seem.
Thapana_Studio via Shutterstock

Vasilis Katos, Bournemouth University

It’s a crime story fit for the digital era. It was recently reported that a number of restaurants in New York had been targeted by internet scammers threatening to leave unfavourable “one-star” reviews unless they received gift certificates. The same threats were made to eateries in Chicago and San Francisco and it appears that a vegan restaurant received as many as eight one-star reviews in the space of a week before being approached for money.

It’s surprising this sort of thing hasn’t emerged before. An over-reliance on the “wisdom of the crowd”, whereby many people measure things by the approval of the rest of the community, leaves us vulnerable to this kind of fraud.

It’s all about numbers. Products and companies are measured online by the number of stars they get on a five-star scale, influencers are measured by numbers of followers, posts are measured by the numbers of likes or retweets. The satirical Kardashian index provides a quantitative measure for academics by comparing citations of their research papers with their number of Twitter followers.

But why are these systems considered to be of value and why do we consult them almost blindly? In an age of information overload, feedback and reputation systems enable fast decision-making, providing us with the sense (or illusion) that we are in control as the decision taken is perceived to be informed.

Another idea at play here is the “attention economy paradigm”. Under this way of thinking, human attention is a scarce commodity and – as with all resources that are limited on this planet – it is of high value.

Businesses compete for a high as possible place on the first page of Google’s search results in order to capture this attention. And user feedback is one of the many parameters that influence the search engine’s secret ranking algorithms.

The notable success and acceptance of such reputation systems is grounded in the idea of the wisdom of the crowd comes in. If a sufficiently large sample of the population is asked to estimate something, the average of these estimations is expected to be very close to the actual value. This is because any personal bias becomes insignificant when a considerable amount of opinions is collected.

But all systems that come along with successful business models are open to abuse and can attract opportunistic and malicious actors, to an extent that organised criminal groups may form and systematically exploit such systems. For example, business opportunities that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic were instantly matched by an assortment of criminal activities including shopping scams, disinformation, illegal streaming and even child sexual exploitation.

Fake reviews

There are several reasons and motivations for fake reviews. Business competitors may try to flood a business target with negative reviews in order to harm their competitor. Others may attempt, by creating fake profiles or “bribing” customers with free or discounted products, to engineer positive reviews and misrepresent the quality of their products.

Conceptual picture showing person with a tablet with numerous review words jumping out.
Everyone has an opinion, but some people have a vested interest.
kheira benkada via Shutterstock

But extortion via threats of negative review is particularly insidious. A surge of negative reviews on a business’s Google profile not only affects its search engine ranking, but significantly influences the potential customers’ purchase decisions.

Although these practices are reported to have been streamlined from organised groups in India, variations of this have also been observed from other countries. Amazon recently sued 10,000 Facebook group administrators exceeding 43,000 members who allegedly solicit fake (positive) reviews in exchange for free products.

What can be done?

The abuse of online feedback and reputation systems has grown to epidemic proportion. Countering it will require the coordination of everyone involved.

Google and other feedback and reputation service providers need to invest more resources into the prevention, detection and removal of fake reviews. Machine learning technologies have made impressive leaps in recent years and could help in weeding out fake content.

Tighter rules governing the selection of reviewers enabling their participation under specific conditions. We’ve seen this with verified buyer schemes that aim to provide assurances that the reviewer has had a genuine experience with the business.

The presentation of the feedback and particularly the star scoring system could also have more contextual information, say through additional colour coding to communicate the sentiment mined out of the textual comments. In this case, highly emotional comments based on less factual or useful information could have a different colour from those trying to be impartial and objective.

Businesses also need to embrace the system for reporting problem reviews and use it responsibly. They should not report negative feedback if it is genuine, as this affects the relationship with the feedback platform, which will understandably be more distrustful to the business.

And consumers should be more alert and educated about this rather than following these rankings religiously. There are many telltale signs of a fake review, including simply checking the language to see if they are generic. It’s also instructive to check whether the reviewer produces a lot of negative reviews across many and seemingly unconnected products in a short time.

We, the crowd should be active participants by being always fair with our purchase experiences and acknowledge and support business when they exceed our expectations – but also provide candid negative reviews and recommendations for improvement. Only then the wisdom of the crowd will truly serve us.The Conversation

Vasilis Katos, Professor of Cybersecurity, Head of BU-CERT, Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article: Lord of the Rings – a cheat’s guide to Middle Earth before you watch the new show

Ahead of new TV show, The Rings of Power, Dr Laura Crossley writes for The Conversation about the universe created by J.R.R Tolkien…

Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power – a cheat’s guide to Middle-earth before you watch the new show

Laura Crossley, Bournemouth University

For a newcomer to the wonderful world of Middle-earth, the universe created by the British author and academic J.R.R. Tolkien can seem as large and unwieldy as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (currently in Phase Four with more still to come). And, there is a new addition as Amazon’s Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?) hits screens.

The series comes eight years after the concluding film of The Hobbit and 19 years after the last Lord of the Rings film. So if you want to watch the series and keep up with inevitable social media debates, here is a guide to this sprawling world to initiate newcomers to Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

A quick catch-up

The Hobbit (1937) and
The Lord of the Rings trilogy (published between July 1954 and October 1955) were Tolkien’s most successful and famous novels.

The Hobbit follows the adventures of the eponymous creature (short of stature, hairy feet), Bilbo Baggins, on a quest with a party of dwarves to reclaim lost treasure. Along the way, he finds a ring that gives him the power of invisibility.


Quarter life, a series by The Conversation

This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting those of us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of beginning a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore the questions and bring answers as we navigate this turbulent period of life.

You may be interested in:

Salman Rushdie: where to start with this pioneering and controversial author

Five dating tips from the Georgian era

Rihanna and radical pregnancy fashion – how the Victorians made maternity wear boring


The Lord of the Rings picks up the story many years later as Bilbo’s ring is revealed to be the One Ring, forged by the evil dark lord Sauron as a source of power. Bilbo’s nephew Frodo embarks on a dangerous journey to destroy the ring and save Middle-earth. He is aided by his gardener Sam Gamgee as well as representatives of the other chief races of Middle-earth: two further hobbits, the dwarf Gimli, elf Legolas and two human men, Boromir and Aragorn.

Tolkien served during the first world war and his experiences on the battle-field shape the numerous conflicts depicted in the stories as well as the various forms of heroism that are displayed. In Tolkien’s world, moral courage is just as important, if not more so, than physical prowess for the enduring heroes of Middle-earth.

The close bonds between serving soldiers also inform the interpersonal relationships that are central to The Lord of the Rings – it is evident in the devotion between the hobbits Frodo and Sam and the enemies-to-friends narrative of Gimli and Legolas.

What is Middle-earth?

Middle-earth is the fictional setting for Tolkien’s invented mythology, which made its debut in The Hobbit. However, the term Middle-earth was not used in that book – that came later with The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien was a professor of English literature and an expert in language, especially in written and oral histories. His mythology for Middle-earth is filled with poems, songs and oral history traditions that help to build the world of different cultures and races (hobbits, elves, dwarves, men) that inhabit his universe. Norse mythology, Anglo-Saxon epic poems, fairy tales and the Finnish mythic poem the Kalevala are all influences on the stories, characters and languages found in Tolkien’s work.

Although The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are the best known stories, they’re not the complete history of Middle-earth. The Silmarillion (1977), which was published after Tolkien’s death and edited by his son Christopher and the fantasy writer Guy Gavriel Kay, outlines the thousands of years of history of Middle-earth.

The book charts the creation of Arda, where the continent of Middle-earth is located, and covers the First and Second Ages of the world (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place in the Third Age). Arda starts as a flat disc and evolves into something more recognisably planet-like over the course of cataclysmic events during repeated battles between forces of good and evil. Further events and characters that shape Arda and Middle-earth feature in Unfinished Tales (1980).

However, as Amazon has only acquired the rights for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, none of the stories from either Unfinished Tales or The Silmarillion will feature in the new series. The extensive appendices to The Lord of the Rings are the source of the material for the new show.

Familiar names

Set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, The Rings of Power takes place thousands of years before either The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings so there will be few recognisable characters. Sauron, who appeared in The Lord of the Rings as a flaming red eye, is still the big bad.

The creator of the corrupting rings of power and of the infamous One Ring that controls the others, Sauron may not be front-and-centre as an antagonist but his actions and desire for control of Middle-earth will drive much of the action.

The other two familiar names are the elves Galadriel and Elrond, here much younger than they appeared in the films. Galadriel is established as a warrior – which is true to her history as Tolkien wrote it – and there is a lot of scope in the series to see how she develops into the wise ruler of the elven realm Lothlorien.

Elrond Half-elven, the ruler of the enclave of Rivendell, is shown as more optimistic than in The Lord of the Rings and with closer links to the human kingdom of Númenor, whose rulers are descended from his twin brother, Elros.

As the brothers were half-elven, they could choose which of their kindred they would identify as. Elros lived as a mortal and eventually aged and died. Elrond chose to live as an immortal elf and the emotional toll of those decisions will be explored in his story arc.

Fans might be concerned that Tolkien might have disliked some of the liberties taken with his works. While his estate is known to be protective (and litigious) over the original works, Tolkien stated that he wanted other hands to add to his universe. In light of that, he would probably have been delighted to see his creation still so beloved and still expanding.The Conversation

Laura Crossley, Programme Leader and Senior Lecturer in Film, Bournemouth University

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

Online training opportunity: Writing for The Conversation

Would you like to build a media profile and take your research to a global audience?

Find out more about writing for The Conversation and have the chance to pitch your article ideas to one of their editors in an online training session on Thursday 15 September.

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

The training session will run by one of The Conversation’s Editors and will take place from 2pm – 3pm over Zoom.

It is open to all BU academics and PhD candidates who are interested in finding out more about working with The Conversation.

Learn how to consider the news potential of your expertise, make your writing accessible and engaging to a diverse range of audiences, and pitch your ideas.

The session will be followed by a limited number of one-to-one slots from 3pm – 4pm where you can chat with the editor about working with The Conversation and share your research and article ideas.

Slots are 15 minutes and will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis. To request a slot, please email newsdesk@bournemouth.ac.uk

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 license.

Since we first partnered with The Conversation, articles by BU authors have had over 8.5 million reads and been republished by the likes of The i, Metro, and the Washington Post.

Book your place via Eventbrite.

Conversation article: How centuries of self-isolation turned Japan into one of the most sustainable societies on Earth

Dr Hiroko Oe writes for The Conversation about Japan’s Edo period and how it led to the development of sustainable lifestyle practices…

How centuries of self-isolation turned Japan into one of the most sustainable societies on Earth

‘Lower Meguro (Shimo Meguro)’, artist: Katsushika Hokusai, c1830–32.
The Met Museum

Hiroko Oe, Bournemouth University

At the start of the 1600s, Japan’s rulers feared that Christianity – which had recently been introduced to the southern parts of the country by European missionaries – would spread. In response, they effectively sealed the islands off from the outside world in 1603, with Japanese people not allowed to leave and very few foreigners allowed in. This became known as Japan’s Edo period, and the borders remained closed for almost three centuries until 1868.

This allowed the country’s unique culture, customs and ways of life to flourish in isolation, much of which was recorded in art forms that remain alive today such as haiku poetry or kabuki theatre. It also meant that Japanese people, living under a system of heavy trade restrictions, had to rely totally on the materials already present within the country which created a thriving economy of reuse and recycling). In fact, Japan was self-sufficient in resources, energy and food and sustained a population of up to 30 million, all without the use of fossil fuels or chemical fertilisers.

The people of the Edo period lived according to what is now known as the “slow life”, a sustainable set of lifestyle practices based around wasting as little as possible. Even light didn’t go to waste – daily activities started at sunrise and ended at sunset.

Clothes were mended and reused many times until they ended up as tattered rags. Human ashes and excrement were reused as fertiliser, leading to a thriving business for traders who went door to door collecting these precious substances to sell on to farmers. We could call this an early circular economy.

Painting of people washing in a river
Washing in a river – Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)
katsushikahokusai.org

Another characteristic of the slow life was its use of seasonal time, meaning that ways of measuring time shifted along with the seasons. In pre-modern China and Japan, the 12 zodiac signs (known in Japanese as juni-shiki) were used to divide the day into 12 sections of about two hours each. The length of these sections varied depending on changing sunrise and sunset times.

During the Edo period, a similar system was used to divide the time between sunrise and sunset into six parts. As a result, an “hour” differed hugely depending on whether it was measured during summer, winter, night or day. The idea of regulating life by unchanging time units like minutes and seconds simply didn’t exist.

Instead, Edo people – who wouldn’t have owned clocks – judged time by the sound of bells installed in castles and temples. Allowing the natural world to dictate life in this way gave rise to a sensitivity to the seasons and their abundant natural riches, helping to develop an environmentally friendly set of cultural values.

Working with nature

From the mid-Edo period onwards, rural industries – including cotton cloth and oil production, silkworm farming, paper-making and sake and miso paste production – began to flourish. People held seasonal festivals with a rich and diverse range of local foods, wishing for fertility during cherry blossom season and commemorating the harvests of the autumn.

This unique, eco-friendly social system came about partly due to necessity, but also due to the profound cultural experience of living in close harmony with nature. This needs to be recaptured in the modern age in order to achieve a more sustainable culture – and there are some modern-day activities that can help.

For instance zazen, or “sitting meditation”, is a practice from Buddhism that can help people carve out a space of peace and quiet to experience the sensations of nature. These days, a number of urban temples offer zazen sessions.

Lady meditates in forest
You don’t need water to go forest bathing.
Palatinate Stock / shutterstock

The second example is “forest bathing”, a term coined by the director general of Japan’s forestry agency in 1982. There are many different styles of forest bathing, but the most popular form involves spending screen-free time immersed in the peace of a forest environment. Activities like these can help develop an appreciation for the rhythms of nature that can in turn lead us towards a more sustainable lifestyle – one which residents of Edo Japan might appreciate.

In an age when the need for more sustainable lifestyles has become a global issue, we should respect the wisdom of the Edo people who lived with time as it changed with the seasons, who cherished materials and used the wisdom of reuse as a matter of course, and who realised a recycling-oriented lifestyle for many years. Learning from their way of life could provide us with effective guidelines for the future.The Conversation

Hiroko Oe, Principal Academic, Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article: The environment is the silent casualty in the Cameroon Anglophone crisis

Dr Henry Ngenyam Bang writes for The Conversation about his research into the environmental consequences of the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon…

The environment is the silent casualty in the Cameroon Anglophone crisis

Women displaced from rural villages in the Anglophone region gather to wash clothes in a stream.
Photo by Giles Clarke/UNOCHA via Getty Images

Dr Henry Ngenyam Bang, Bournemouth University

Most analysis of Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis has been skewed towards the socioeconomic, cultural and political ramifications of the conflict.

But, based on my work on natural, environmental hazards and disaster management in Cameroon over the past two decades, I would argue that the environment in the Anglophone region is a silent casualty of the conflict. And it has largely been ignored.

Our recently published research on the crisis showed that over 900,000 people had been internally displaced. Eighty percent of the inhabitants of villages that were conflict hot spots had fled into adjacent forests. The research investigated the consequences of the Cameroon Anglophone crisis and determined it to be an acute complex emergency.

These developments are leaving huge environmental footprints and causing serious damage. This will get worse if the armed conflict escalates into a “complex disaster emergency”.

I have identified six environmental consequences of the Cameroon Anglophone crisis. These range from failures in environmental governance to increases in deforestation, unmet measures in Cameroon’s climate action plan, poor municipal waste management, the effects of scorched earth tactics and the impact of improvised explosive devices.

There is a need to address these environmental oversights and build them into resolving the crisis. This would prevent the environmental legacies of the armed conflict from haunting the region’s population after the crisis has ended.

The fallout for the environment

One of the effects of the fighting since 2016 was that it brought conservation activities to a halt in the country’s biodiversity hot spots in the Anglophone regions. Cameroon has around 14 national parks, 18 wildlife reserves, 12 forest reserves and three wildlife sanctuaries hosting rare and threatened species.

Before the crisis, many of these protected areas were still in a pristine condition because Cameroon had less tourism than other regions of Africa.

But the crisis has stalled several environmental projects.

For example, violence forced environmentalists and NGOS operating in the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary in Lebialem to flee. The Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary is home to the critically endangered Cross River gorillas and other endangered wildlife like the African chimpanzee and elephant.

These gorillas are also under increased threat from militias such as the “Red Dragons” which have set up camps within the sanctuary (see Figure 1).

Likewise, efforts to protect the Mount Cameroon National Park, which hosts endangered primates, have been hampered. This poses a threat to the Nigerian-Cameroon chimpanzee, which already faces extinction.

A map
Figure 1: Landscape of the Lebialem Highlands hosting the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary.
GSAC (2022)

Insecurity in areas hosting wildlife has led to a rise in uncontrolled illegal hunting. Poaching of endangered chimpanzees (see Figure 2) and elephants increased in the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary and the Takamanda and Korup National Parks after state rangers and eco-guards fled.

An ape sitting on a tree.
Figure 2: Endangered ape species in Cameroon’s protected reserves.
Photo by Julie Langford courtesy of the Limbe Wildlife Centre.

The rise in the number of internally displaced people has had a number of consequences.

Deforestation has risen as relocated communities have cut down trees to provide shelter and firewood.

They are also putting pressure on access to water. Toilet facilitates are inadequate in areas hosting large numbers of people. Drilling of wells, sometimes in unhygienic surroundings, and defecation in streams are also responsible for the poor water quality in the region.

The southwest region has recently experienced a cholera epidemic.

Thirdly, measures in Cameroon’s climate action plan have been halted by the crisis. The measures include providing fertilisers and improved seeds to farmers; installing renewable energy in rural areas; and restoring mangrove forests along the Limbe coast.

Fourthly, the crisis has worsened the problem of municipal waste management.

Separatists have threatened to burn the garbage collection company, HYSACAM. Some of its workers have been attacked. This has affected the collection of municipal waste in Bamenda and Buea, capitals of the Anglophone northwest and southwest regions.

Fifth, military forces are using scorched earth tactics that could create serious environmental harm. The military has destroyed houses, crops and livestock in several villages perceived to be strongholds of militia groups.

Likewise, militias have destroyed property owned by the state and that of civilians suspected to be colluding with security forces.

Satellite images from February and March 2021 confirm the destruction of multiple villages in the northwest region.

Lastly, the use of improvised explosive devices by militia groups against Cameroon’s military vehicles has been increasing and getting more sophisticated.

Explosive remnants and munitions can make the land uninhabitable, severely harm wildlife, and contaminate the soil and watercourses. Clearance of devices can also cause localised pollution, soil degradation and negative land use consequences.

A destroyed military vehicle.
Figure 5: Military vehicle destroyed by IED.
Photo courtesy of SBBC (2022).

Next steps

Contingency plans being put in place by the Cameroon government for a potential complex disaster emergency should consider the environmental aspects of the conflict.

First it’s necessary to empirically diagnose the environmental ramifications and how they can be resolved.

When seeking political solutions to the crisis, stakeholders should also incorporate measures to mitigate the environmental consequences.The Conversation

Dr Henry Ngenyam Bang, Disaster Management Scholar, Researcher and Educator, Bournemouth University

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

The Conversation article: UK abortion laws are more precarious than they seem – replacing the Human Rights Act could unsettle them further

BU Lecturers in Law Jamie Fletcher and Karolina Szopa write for The Conversation about the legal status of abortion in the UK, following the overturning of Roe v Wade in the US…

UK abortion laws are more precarious than they seem – replacing the Human Rights Act could unsettle them further

zjtmath / Shutterstock

Jamie Fletcher, Bournemouth University and Karolina Szopa, Bournemouth University

The state of abortion laws in the US has many in the UK wondering about reproductive rights in their own country. While abortion is largely accessible in the UK, its legal status is more precarious than many understand. Whichever government is in power next, it has the ability to either solidify abortion access or put it further into jeopardy. With this in mind, the next prime minister should reconsider plans to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 with the proposed bill of rights.

In June 2022, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab introduced the bill of rights bill, which, if passed, will repeal and replace the Human Rights Act. When asked about inserting a right to abortion in the bill of rights, Raab said this wasn’t necessary, claiming that abortion is “settled in UK law”. Without the Human Rights Act, however, abortion in the UK is far from settled.

This is because no law created by parliament is ever truly settled. This is a principle of the British constitution known as parliamentary sovereignty. Parliament is free to pass laws on any issue without being limited by an existing law created by a previous parliament, or any court. This differs from the US, where courts can strike down laws if they conflict with the constitution.

Applied to abortion, this means parliament can legislate any new abortion laws it desires. No court of law or authority could prevent parliament from arriving at a new legal position that would restrict or prohibit abortion access.

The legal status of abortion access in the UK, through the Abortion Act 1967, is more precarious than common understanding. Having an abortion is still a criminal act. A 19th-century law, which remains in place, states that any woman who intends to cause her own miscarriage commits a criminal offence that can result in life imprisonment.

The Abortion Act merely creates a limited exception when two doctors agree that the abortion is necessary and approve the procedure within 24 weeks of conception. At least two women in England and Wales are currently being prosecuted for illegally procuring abortions.

Separate legislation, passed in 2019, removes criminality for abortion in Northern Ireland. Still, due to the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, this legislation lacks any degree of permanency. The right to access abortion in Northern Ireland remains as fragile as in the rest of the UK.

The law granting a right to abortion access in Northern Ireland is re-voted on every year in the House of Commons. Votes in 2020, 2021 and 2022 show that around 25% of MPs are consistently opposed to abortion rights. If political winds change in the future, this percentage might increase and bring forward the true extent of this fragility.

Abortion and the Human Rights Act

Raab’s claim that abortion law is settled might have been based on European human rights law, which applies in the UK through the Human Rights Act. However, this would be incorrect – European human rights law, so far, has offered only minimal protection to abortion access. The right to private and family life enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) protects personal autonomy and bodily integrity.

Because the issue of abortion raises difficult moral questions over when life begins, the European Court of Human Rights has left it to each country to determine its own laws on abortion. This approach has been applied to other issues including same-sex marriage. Baroness Hale, during her time on the supreme court, remarked that the European court has given countries an “unusual” amount of leeway to determine their abortion laws.

The European court has made it clear that where a pregnancy would directly endanger a pregnant person’s life, their safety must take priority over the life of the foetus. Nonetheless, the court has yet to intervene in countries with restrictive abortion laws, such as Malta, Liechtenstein or Poland.

Domestic law and the power of the courts

Domestic human rights law, on the other hand, offers some support to Raab’s claim of abortion being settled. In a 2018 ruling, the UK supreme court held that domestic laws restricting access to abortions in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality would be interpreted as being incompatible with the ECHR right to private and family life.

This interpretation of the right to privacy effectively limited Parliament’s ability to pass more restrictive abortion laws. But it was only possible due to the Human Rights Act, which grants UK judges interpretive powers when it comes to human rights law.

Dominic Raab mid-speech in front of a UK flag and an EU flag
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab is spearheading the plan to replace the Human Rights Act.
Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock

The new bill of rights purports to enhance UK courts’ ability to make judgments like the one described above, by declaring that European Court of Human Rights case law will no longer be “part of domestic law”.

But what it actually does is restrict the courts’ powers when it comes to the European Convention on Human Rights. The bill only permits the creation or expansion of new rights when domestic courts view it as being “beyond reasonable doubt” that the European Court will change its previous decided position on the issue.

There is presently not enough evidence to suggest “beyond reasonable doubt” that the European court will change its current legal framework on abortion. This would mean that under the bill of rights, a future UK supreme court would be prevented from reading Article 8 as requiring access to abortion in certain cases, as it did in 2018. Domestic courts would no longer be able to protect access to abortion in the UK and would return the issue almost entirely to parliament and political winds.

While there might be some support for the claim that abortion is sufficiently protected in law, this will be greatly undermined if the Human Rights Act is repealed. The next prime minister could commit to including a provision within the Bill of Rights specifically aimed at protecting abortion rights – or even better, reverse course entirely and keep the Human Rights Act in place.The Conversation

Jamie Fletcher, Lecturer in Law, Bournemouth University and Karolina Szopa, Lecturer in Law, Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article – Jake Daniels: how homophobia in men’s football is changing

Dr Jayne Caudwell writes for The Conversation about footballer Jake Daniels becoming the UK’s only openly gay male professional footballer…

Jake Daniels: how homophobia in men’s football is changing

Jayne Caudwell, Bournemouth University

Blackpool forward Jake Daniels’ announcement that he is homosexual makes him the UK’s only active, openly gay, male professional footballer.

Daniels, aged 17, described the move as a “relief”, and was met with support and praise from key figures in men’s football and beyond, including Gary Lineker, Harry Kane and Sir Ian McKellen. He was also praised by national figureheads Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince William, who said Daniels coming out will “help break down barriers”.

A head shot of UK footballer Justin Fashanu smiling.
Justin Fashanu.
Wikipedia/7sur7, CC BY

The first UK professional footballer to come out was Justin Fashanu in 1990. The support for Daniels has been a stark contrast to the homophobic responses to Fashanu, who killed himself in 1998 at the age of 37.

Sport in the UK has long been rife with homophobia and considered an unsafe place for LGBT+ players. In 2017, a House of Commons report concluded that “despite the significant change in society’s attitudes to homosexuality in the last 30 years, there is little reflection of this progress being seen in football.”

Men’s professional football is the last of the UK’s three most popular sports, following rugby and cricket, to have an active, elite professional player come out. Rugby player Gareth Thomas came out in 2009 and cricketer Steven Davies came out in 2011.

This lagging behind is no surprise given the vile homophobic chanting at some of England’s best players such as Sol Campbell, and the reaction to Fashanu in the 1990s. Indeed, there are some early signs of homophobic hate in response to Daniels that have been condemned by LGBTQ+ rights group Stonewall.

Still, over the last couple of decades, changing cultural attitudes and campaigning efforts by organisations and fans have raised awareness of LGBTQ+ participation in sport.

The Justin Campaign, established in 2008 by a Brighton-based grassroots organisation, was one of the first official campaigns to raise awareness of homophobia in men’s football. The campaign had a local reach and targeted young people, mainly school and university students who entered tournaments as team “Tackle Homophobia”.

From the Justin Campaign came Football v Homophobia, developed by PrideSports, which now has a significant presence in the game worldwide. Alongside this grassroots activism, in 2013 betting company Paddy Power, working with Stonewall, initiated the Rainbow Laces campaign.

The FA, football’s governing body in England and Wales, introduced its first anti-homophobia initiative in 2012, Opening Doors and Joining In. Since then, the FA has endorsed both Football v Homophobia and the Rainbow Laces campaigns. However, research indicates that efforts by sport governing bodies can fall short and can be ineffective at actually implementing change.

While I don’t know how aware Daniels and his peers were of these campaigns as they were growing up, there is evidence from a 2017 study at a boy’s football academy that revealed “progressive attitudes towards homosexuality” among a small group of 14-15 year olds. This suggests that attitudes are becoming more inclusive – although the boys in the study felt unable to individually challenge homophobia when they observed it.

Fan attitudes

Homophobic chanting at men’s professional games can be a common occurrence. This chanting, often deemed as “banter” by the perpetrators, can be outright blatant homophobia, or what we now call a “micro-aggression”. Micro-aggressions are the everyday speech and actions directed at marginalised members of communities that reflect prejudice and discrimination, and can be damaging to minority individuals in sport.

Obviously, not all football fans make homophobic remarks and gestures at a game or on social media. Many formal LGBTQ+ fan groups, such as the Kop Outs (Liverpool), Gay Gooners (Arsenal) and Proud Canaries (Norwich City), have also been set up in recent years, creating a visible community within the oft-discriminatory world of football fandom.

Despite these efforts by fans, football’s governing bodies continue to ignore or forget homophobia. A case in point is Qatar, host country for FIFA’s men’s World Cup later this year, which has anti-gay laws.

Cultural shifts

At 17, Daniels has grown up with a popular culture that is more diverse than ever when it comes to gender and sexuality. There are more visible stories of LGBTQ+ people and communities generally, and within the world of sport. Thanks to decades of activism, LGBTQ+ culture has a place in the mainstream, and football is benefiting from this movement.

The women’s game is further along in celebrating out lesbian and bisexual players internationally. The 2019 FIFA women’s World Cup alone had 40 out women – players, coaches and managers – offering further evidence that the women’s game is a safer environment than the men’s. This might be because women in sport have had to deal with sexist and homophobic stereotypes for a very long time.

All of this, in addition to support from family and friends and teachers, coaches, officials and managers who are LGBTQ+ allies, will make young male footballers feel safe enough to come out.

The impact of Jake Daniels’ decision to come out cannot be underestimated. Not only will it allow him to be fully himself – and perhaps an even better player – it is set to shift the culture of men’s elite professional football.The Conversation

Jayne Caudwell, Associate Professor Social Sciences, Gender& Sexualities, Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article – Women’s football: record crowds and soaring popularity – here’s how to keep it that way

Dr Keith Parry writes for The Conversation about the increasing popularity of women’s football and how to ensure gains in women’s sport are not lost…

Women’s football: record crowds and soaring popularity – here’s how to keep it this way

Keith Parry, Bournemouth University

On Boxing Day 1920, a sell-out crowd of 53,000 watched a women’s football match at Liverpool’s Goodison Park, with others waiting outside. With more than 900,000 women working in munitions factories during the first world war, many factories set up women’s football teams to keep the new female workers healthy and safely occupied. At the time, women seemed to be breaking barriers in sport and society.

But it would be almost 100 years before similar numbers of spectators were seen again at women’s sports matches, and in 2022 crowds are now breaking world records. In March, for example, 91,553 people watched Barcelona play Real Madrid in the UEFA Women’s Champions League – the highest attended women’s football match of all time.

The reason why it took so long to get here is that after the first world war progress for women slowed, and even went backwards. By 1921 there were 150 women’s football teams, often playing to large crowds. But on December 5 1921, the English Football Association’s consultative committee effectively banned women’s football citing a threat to women’s health as medical experts claimed football could damage women’s ability to have children. This decision had worldwide implications and was typical of attitudes towards women’s sport for many decades.

Women’s professional sport is now seeing dramatic changes. England will host the 2022 Women’s Euros later this year, and tickets for the final sold out in less than an hour. There is clear demand from fans and not just for women’s football, but other professional women’s sports.

In 2021, 267,000 people attended the women’s matches in English cricket’s new domestic competition, The Hundred, making it the best attended women’s cricket event ever. A year before, another cricketing record was set with 86,174 spectators at the Women’s T20 World Cup final between Australia and India at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Record crowds for professional women’s matches have also been seen recently in rugby union.

There is increasing investment in women’s sport and a rising number of professional athletic contracts for women. Clubs and organisations are finding that if people know about women’s sport they will attend games and watch it on television.

TV coverage is vital

In a sign that the times really may be changing, the current minister for sport, Nigel Huddleston, and the home secretary, Priti Patel, announced that they are minded to add the (FIFA) Women’s World Cup and the Women’s Euros (UEFA European Women’s Football Championship) to the list of protected sports events. Set out in the 1990s, these are the “crown jewels” of English sport, deemed to be of national importance when it comes to television coverage. The list has not included any women’s events until now, and the proposed change is crucial to keep women’s sport visible for as large an audience as possible.

Football has also seen considerable growth in participation. In 2020, 3.4 million women and girls played football in England and the world governing body FIFA aims to have 60 million playing by 2026.

The wider picture is perhaps less rosy. There are 516,600 more inactive women than men in England. Girls are less active than boys, even though their activity levels increased comparatively during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nonetheless, this pandemic-related increase also points to positive changes. During the lockdowns, there was a shift away from traditional team sports to fitness classes and walking, which have traditionally appealed more to women and girls. In a similar way Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign, which was relaunched in January 2020, aimed to break conventional ideas that physical activity and sport are unsuitable for women. Sport England’s evaluation states that 2.8 million women were more active due to the overall campaign.

With traditional masculine ideals slowly being replaced across society, these changes can also be seen in sport. Sport is also becoming more inclusive for minorities.

And, as happened around 100 years ago, women’s rights and equality in society and workplaces are improving. The #MeToo movement has brought sexual harassment to the forefront of public awareness and is gradually shifting workplace culture.

Threats ahead

However, this is not time for complacency. The pandemic has affected women more than men and in different ways, slowing progress. Greater domestic responsibilities impacted on women’s free time more than men, reducing time for physical activity. Similarly, funding cuts in sport may threaten the gains that have been made in women’s sport. And many males continue to hold unfounded, stereotypical views such as women in sport being more emotional than men.

Recently, my colleagues and I mapped out five actions needed to make sure that recent gains for women’s sport are not lost, see below. With changes in society, widespread support for gender equality, and the current popularity of women’s sport, now is the time to act on these changes to ensure that it is not another 100 years before we see the recent attendance records broken. Gender equality is a societal goal and it should be in sport too.

Roadmap for the success of women’s sportThe Conversation

Author provided

Keith Parry, Deputy 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: Pet therapy – how dogs, cats and horses help improve human wellbeing

Professor Ann Hemingway writes for The Conversation about the benefits of Animal Assisted Interventions…

Pet therapy: how dogs, cats and horses help improve human wellbeing

Monkey business images/shutterstock

Ann Hemingway, Bournemouth University

We’ve all heard of the psychotherapy couch, and the dynamic between a client and their human therapist. But perhaps less well known is the increasingly popular pet therapy. And no, that’s not therapy for your pet – it’s the relatively new phenomenon of therapy for humans, which involves animals.

These animal assisted interventions (AAIs) – which also include a trained human professional – are proving beneficial to people of all ages, leading to significant reductions in physiological responses to stress – such as heart rate – and associated emotions, such as anxiety.

It’s a longstanding and widely accepted fact that people of all ages can benefit from partnerships with animals as pets. From the joy of the human-animal bond, to companionship and improved mental health, there is no doubt that cats, dogs and other pets enhance our lives immeasurably.

But over the last ten years or so, animals have started to help humans in settings away from the home – such as hospitals and care homes for the elderly, as well as schools, universities, prisons and rehabilitation services.

The Royal University Hospital Emergency Department in Saskatchewan, Canada, for example, has been welcoming therapy dogs (and their handlers) since 2016.

A recent study based at the hospital set out to investigate whether canine therapy had any impact on the wellbeing of patients – the majority (around 70%) of which had been admitted and were waiting for a hospital bed, and all of whom were experiencing pain.

They each received a ten minute visit from a St John Ambulance therapy dog in addition to the usual hospital care. Using a detailed psychometric survey, the researchers assessed patients immediately before the visit, immediately afterwards and 20 minutes afterwards. They were encouraged to find that the patients reported a significant reduction in pain, anxiety and depression following the visit by the therapy dog – and an increase in general wellbeing.

Therapy involving dogs can also reduce blood pressure and heart rate.

Cats and horses also help

Over the last ten years, cats have also joined the AAI movement – and have been used in settings such as schools and care homes to improve wellbeing. Just being in the presence of a cat has been shown to improve mood and reduce feelings of loneliness. Playing with a cat, and physical contact through stroking and hugging, can induce a sense of calm, especially for children and frail elderly patients in long term care.

Elderly women in wheelchair cuddling a cat
Stroking and interacting with a cat can improve our mood and reduce loneliness.
Toa55/shutterstock

In fact, even a cat’s purr can bring emotional relief, especially when we’re feeling stressed.

One study – with patients living with chronic age-related disabilities in a nursing home – found that those who were assigned a cat therapy session three times a week, for six weeks, had improved depressive symptoms and a significant decrease in blood pressure.

Horse assisted therapy is particularly useful for young people experiencing mental health and behavioural issues. In many cases, those who have not benefited from traditional, talk-based therapy, may experience benefits – particularly an increased feeling of calm and emotional control – when participating in horse therapy, during which they learn how to communicate with and care for the horses.

Similarly, therapeutic horse riding therapy provides physical and emotional benefits to children with disabilities, helping to improve their balance, posture and hand-to-eye coordination. It can also help children to learn to trust and become more socially aware.

Therapeutic horse riding has been shown to improve symptoms of PTSD in adults, too. And equine therapy, where there is no riding – but instead feeding, grooming and leading the horse – can help people to process and change negative behaviours, such as those associated with addiction.

Why pets are good therapists

Building relationships and social connections through socialising and human interaction is a key part of maintaining and improving our mental health.

Animals, when left to their own devices, also make and work to maintain and enhance emotional relationships and connections with others. We are extremely lucky that – when it comes to dogs, cats and horses – this tendency also extends to humans, as long as we behave in a way that is comfortable for the animal.

And science has shown that they can understand what is happening in our interactions with them, too.

Young boy stroking horse on the nose before a horse therapy session
Horses can read our emotions and adjust their behaviour accordingly.
Goodmoments/shutterstock

Horses can read and tune into human emotions. They can even learn about a person from watching them interact with another horse, and adjust their behaviour accordingly – such as approaching and touching the person more if they appear to display discomfort around the other horse.

Research with dogs and cats has found that they too can read and respond to our body language, facial expressions and voices.

Part of the joy of building a connection with an animal is discovering who they are and what they enjoy – and it goes without saying that their welfare must always be a top priority. But if think you have a superstar therapy pet in the making, then do consider reaching out to a pet therapy organisation in your area, such as Pets As Therapy in the UK. They’d be glad to meet you and your animal companion.The Conversation

Ann Hemingway, Professor of Public Health and Wellbeing, Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article: Protecting children in the metaverse – it’s easy to blame big tech but we all have a role to play

Professor Andy Phippen writes for The Conversation about child safety in virtual spaces…

Protecting children in the metaverse: it’s easy to blame big tech, but we all have a role to play

Newman Studio/Shutterstock

Andy Phippen, Bournemouth University

In a recent BBC news investigation, a reporter posing as a 13-year-old girl in a virtual reality (VR) app was exposed to sexual content, racist insults and a rape threat. The app in question, VRChat, is an interactive platform where users can create “rooms” within which people interact (in the form of avatars). The reporter saw avatars simulating sex, and was propositioned by numerous men.

The results of this investigation have led to warnings from child safety charities including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) about the dangers children face in the metaverse. The metaverse refers to a network of VR worlds which Meta (formerly Facebook) has positioned as a future version of the internet, eventually allowing us to engage across education, work and social contexts.

The NSPCC appears to put the blame and the responsibility on technology companies, arguing they need to do more to safeguard children’s safety in these online spaces. While I agree platforms could be doing more, they can’t tackle this problem alone.

Reading about the BBC investigation, I felt a sense of déjà vu. I was surprised that anyone working in online safeguarding would be – to use the NSPCC’s words – “shocked” by the reporter’s experiences. Ten years ago, well before we’d heard the word “metaverse”, similar stories emerged around platforms including Club Penguin and Habbo Hotel.

These avatar-based platforms, where users interact in virtual spaces via a text-based chat function, were actually designed for children. In both cases adults posing as children as a means to investigate were exposed to sexually explicit interactions.

The demands that companies do more to prevent these incidents have been around for a long time. We are locked in a cycle of new technology, emerging risks and moral panic. Yet nothing changes.

It’s a tricky area

We’ve seen demands for companies to put age verification measures in place to prevent young people accessing inappropriate services. This has included proposals for social platforms to require verification that the user is aged 13 or above, or for pornography websites to require proof that the user is over 18.

If age verification was easy, it would have been widely adopted by now. If anyone can think of a way that all 13-year-olds can prove their age online reliably, without data privacy concerns, and in a way that’s easy for platforms to implement, there are many tech companies that would like to talk to them.

In terms of policing the communication that occurs on these platforms, similarly, this won’t be achieved through an algorithm. Artificial intelligence is nowhere near clever enough to intercept real-time audio streams and determine, with accuracy, whether someone is being offensive. And while there might be some scope for human moderation, monitoring of all real-time online spaces would be impossibly resource-intensive.

The reality is that platforms already provide a lot of tools to tackle harassment and abuse. The trouble is few people are aware of them, believe they will work, or want to use them. VRChat, for example, provides tools for blocking abusive users, and the means to report them, which might ultimately result in the user having their account removed.

A man assists a child to put on a VR headset.
People will access the metaverse through technology like VR headsets.
wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

We cannot all sit back and shout, “my child has been upset by something online, who is going to stop this from happening?”. We need to shift our focus from the notion of “evil big tech”, which really isn’t helpful, to looking at the role other stakeholders could play too.

If parents are going to buy their children VR headsets, they need to have a look at safety features. It’s often possible to monitor activity by having the young person cast what is on their headset onto the family TV or another screen. Parents could also check out the apps and games young people are interacting with prior to allowing their children to use them.

What young people think

I’ve spent the last two decades researching online safeguarding – discussing concerns around online harms with young people, and working with a variety of stakeholders on how we might better help young people. I rarely hear demands that the government needs to bring big tech companies to heel from young people themselves.

They do, however, regularly call for better education and support from adults in tackling the potential online harms they might face. For example, young people tell us they want discussion in the classroom with informed teachers who can manage the debates that arise, and to whom they can ask questions without being told “don’t ask questions like that”.

However, without national coordination, I can sympathise with any teacher not wishing to risk complaint from, for example, outraged parents, as a result of holding a discussion on such sensitive topics.

I note the UK government’s Online Safety Bill, the legislation that policymakers claim will prevent online harms, contains just two mentions of the word “education” in 145 pages.

We all have a role to play in supporting young people as they navigate online spaces. Prevention has been the key message for 15 years, but this approach isn’t working. Young people are calling for education, delivered by people who understand the issues. This is not something that can be achieved by the platforms alone.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: Mosquitoes might be attracted to certain colours – new research

Dr Cassandra Edmunds writes for The Conversation about new research which explored mosquitoes’ attraction to different colours…

Mosquitoes might be attracted to certain colours – new research

Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock

Cassandra Edmunds, Bournemouth University

There’s no question that finding yourself covered in mosquito bites quickly takes the shine off a pleasant summer evening. But mosquitoes are more than a nuisance. They’re also the deadliest creatures on Earth, owing to the diseases they spread.

A lot of research on mosquitoes is dedicated to understanding their behaviour and preferences for who they bite. Vision is an important sense in biting insects, including mosquitoes. Although they don’t rely on their vision alone – smell and temperature work with visual cues to help mosquitoes locate a host.

Previous research has sought to link particular colours (or the wavelengths of light which we see as distinct colours) to mosquitoes’ host-seeking behaviour. However, the results have been mixed, with the same mosquito species showing preferences for different colours in different studies.

A recent study published in the journal Nature Communications is the latest to explore mosquitoes’ attraction to different colours. Could this research tell us how to avoid being bitten simply by adjusting the colours we wear? Let’s take a look.

The researchers conducted a series of experiments on three disease-spreading mosquito species: primarily Aedes aegypti, but also Anopheles stephensi and Culex quinquefasciatus.

In one experiment they used a wind tunnel equipped with cameras to track the mosquitoes’ flight patterns. The tunnel was designed to encourage them to behave as naturally as possible.

On the floor of the tunnel were two small coloured spots; one to represent the colour (wavelength) of interest and a control (white). Some of the colour samples were chosen to mimic different skin tones, including one to represent the colour of tanning lotion.

In mosquitoes, only the females bite, because in most species they require a blood meal to complete the reproductive process. So 50 mated but unfed female mosquitoes were released into the wind tunnel, where they would naturally search for a host.

After an hour carbon dioxide (CO₂) was released into the wind tunnel. CO₂ is exhaled by humans and other mammals. While it’s odourless to us, mosquitoes can smell it and use this scent to help guide them to a source of blood.

Seeing red

Before the odour stimulus was released, the Ae. aegypti mosquitoes largely ignored the coloured circles on the floor, instead exploring the ceiling and the walls of the tunnel. But once CO₂ had been introduced they started to investigate the coloured circles, particularly as the wavelength increased from 510 nanometres (nm) to 660nm.

These longer wavelengths represent colours in the orange and red end of the spectrum, though the Ae. aegypti mosquitoes were most attracted to the red, and then black. Notably, these orange to red wavelengths are the same as those given off from human skin tones. Blue, green and violet weren’t any more attractive to the mosquitoes than the control.

When the skin tone spots were used, they were more attractive to the mosquitoes than the control, but no preference was observed for any particular skin tone.

A mosquito on skin.
The researchers wanted to explore the role of colours in attracting mosquitoes.
nechaevkon/Shutterstock

Previous experiments have shown mosquitoes are more attracted to contrasting colours, like a chequerboard pattern, than one solid colour. The researchers also showed the mosquitoes different spots against both similar and contrasting backgrounds. Ae. aegypti were more interested in spots with a high contrast to the background. Scientists believe this helps the mosquitoes distinguish between an object (person) and the background, even in low light. The contrast was more important in attracting the mosquitoes than the colour itself.

Similar to Ae. aegypti, An. stephensi were attracted to black and red, with little interest in the lower wavelengths. Cx. quinquefasciatus showed interest in violet/blue and red (interestingly, opposite ends of the tested spectrum).

The researchers conducted a separate experiment in insect cages to explore the mosquitoes’ attraction to real skin tones. Six volunteers from different ethnic backgrounds were recruited to help with this test. The control was a white glove in one window and the volunteers’ hands were held one at a time in the other window to see if the mosquitoes were attracted to any particular skin tone.

The mosquitoes were more attracted to the hands than the white glove, but as with the dots, there wasn’t a preference for a particular skin tone.

What does this all mean?

This study shows that mosquitoes are attracted to the colours found in human skin, but only in the presence of CO₂, suggesting the smell of human or mammal respiration may act as the initial cue. This confirms previous research which has found CO₂ attracts mosquitoes.

The researchers found that colour and contrast were important factors for Ae. aegypti who showed a preference for red, then black. An. Stephensi were interested in colours similar to Ae aegypti, though preferring black over red. Meanwhile, Cx. quinquefasciatus were interested in a range of colours.

As the researchers recognised, their experiments didn’t account for some of the other factors that affect mosquitoes’ choice of host. These include chemicals released from human skin, the temperature of the skin, and sweat on the skin. It would be interesting for future experiments to include these factors.

So what does this mean for the average person who doesn’t want to get bitten? You could try wearing white, blue or green and avoiding black, red and orange. Definitely avoid red and black checked patterns.

While adjusting your clothing may reduce your risk of being bitten, there’s no guarantee it will, or how effective this will be, particularly given the apparent variation in colour preferences between species. But these findings do suggest that with more research, colour could potentially be used as a tool in mosquito control.The Conversation

Cassandra Edmunds, Lecturer in Forensic Biology, Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article: Fiction can change the world – five books that made a difference

Dr Hywel Dix writes for The Conversation about the ways fiction novels can influence social change…

Fiction can change the world: five books that made a difference

Hywel Dix, Bournemouth University

Activist Jack Monroe recently used Terry Pratchett’s “boots theory” to explain the vicious circle for people on low incomes only being able to afford clothing that constantly wears out. Monroe has now used the Vimes index (named after a Pratchett character) of inflation to persuade the Office of National Statistics to review how it calculates the cost of living.

Raymond Williams’s classic 1977 book Marxism and Literature broke new ground arguing that fiction could influence social change. Here are five contemporary examples.

1. Bitter Fruit (Achmat Dangor, 2001)

In this novel, a bi-racial South African civil servant comes face-to-face with the white member of the state security forces who had raped his wife during apartheid. The book explores the consequences of political violence for both perpetrators and victims. There are no easy winners, pointing to the need for reconciliation – even when this feels impossible.

Reviewing the novel, South African academic Ronit Frenkel has shown that Bitter Fruit raised through fiction the questions South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission tried to answer for the whole country after apartheid. Nelson Mandela was said to be a fan and Dangor went on to head the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

2. Then We Came to the End (Joshua Ferris, 2007)

In Joseph Heller’s anti-war classic Catch-22, the pilots joke while one by one they get shot down. The combination of bleak humour with a serious message played out numerous times throughout the 20th century. Franz Kafka had already used the same logic in The Trial, where Josef K is executed for an offence he never understands. Ferris’s novel is an heir to both of these. It is set in the late 1990s among a group of advertising executives as they lose their jobs. But although it was written immediately before the financial crisis of 2007-08, it can’t help but feel like a tragicomic social critique of it.

As the characters are laid off, their dreams shrivel up and their solidarity collapses. Researcher Alison Russell describes the tension between the office workers’ desire for security being in conflict with their desire for individual achievement in Then We Came to the End. It brings to mind Pastor Niemöller’s poignant words about standing up for others, or being left with no one to defend you. It comes across as a stark warning of what happens when corporate culture is left unchecked.

The story of Martin Niemöller.

3. Elena Knows (Claudia Piñeiro, 2007)

Argentinian author Claudia Piñeiro’s fifth novel to appear in English is narrated by Elena, a 63-year-old woman with Parkinson’s disease. She measures out her day through doses of medication, between which, she knows, she will barely be able to move. And yet this is not the most interesting things about Elena Knows. Her daughter Rita has died, apparently killing herself. When no one is willing to investigate, she calls for assistance on Isabel – a woman whom she and Rita had earlier dissuaded from having an abortion.

What ensues is a subtle and skilful exploration of how far women have the right to control their own bodies. This has been of particular importance in Argentina, where Piñeiro was at the forefront of the campaign to legalise abortion as recently as 2020. Its readership was huge by South American standards – Piñeiro is the third most widely translated Argentinian writer ever – and its effect has been dramatic.

4. Girl, Woman, Other (Bernadine Evaristo, 2019)

There are so many good things about this book it’s hard to know where to begin. Some readers would have been familiar with the struggles of African-American women through the work of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. Black British women writers, rightly or wrongly, had not received as much attention. Until now.

The wide varieties of speech used by Evaristo’s women from many different backgrounds makes Girl, Woman, Other a joy to read. Along the way it debunks a number of mistakes about ancestry and race. And the way it handles the often-fraught politics of trans rights is both sensitive and accessible, cutting through to a far more mainstream audience than would normally consider this still-emerging issue.

5. Broken Ghost (Niall Griffiths, 2019)

This is Brexit fiction, or BrexLit. The rapidly changing political landscape of the past ten years has been just too tempting for authors to ignore, but Brexit novels are often tame and twee. Invariably they portray educated cosmopolitan types thrown into disarray. That is, BrexLit often reinforces the social divisions it should be the job of the writer to break down.

Griffiths does something different. His cast of characters – a “slut”, a “junkie” and a “thug” – are worlds away from the middle-class lives of most Brexit novels. When he takes readers to a hippie commune up a Welsh mountain to see what happens to them, they might end up understanding the world from somebody else’s perspective. In healing the divisions in Britain post-Brexit, the importance of this book can hardly be overstated. This is why in the desert of Brexit fiction, Broken Ghost is a novel oasis.The Conversation

Hywel Dix, Associate Professor in English, Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article: How the sports world is still stacked against top women

Dr Keith Parry writes for The Conversation about the disparity in pay and opportunities between male and female sport…

How the sports world is still stacked against top women

Keith Parry, Bournemouth University

The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) recently awarded full-time professional contracts to 12 women players. However, the value of the contracts has not been revealed and the 12 contracts are not enough to make up a full rugby union team, let alone a squad.

These contracts are still unusual and top sportswomen continue to face more funding issues than men at the same level. Contracts offered to top women athletes are often short term, covering the weeks of a sporting competition, or part-time, and, until recently, lacking maternity leave. Women’s teams frequently face poor pitches, lower wages/prize money, and inferior conditions compared to men.

Sport has been (and largely still is) governed by male, hypermasculine former athletes. One theory argues that these managers of sport make decisions that benefit themselves and (white, heterosexual, middle/upper-class) males. As a result, women’s sport has, at many times, been misunderstood and treated poorly.

History of discrimination

Women’s sport is getting more backing, but this comes against a long history of discrimination. Last year’s Women’s FA Cup Final took place 100 years after the Football Association banned women’s football in Football League grounds. This ban fed into historic hostility towards women playing sport.

That has not gone away completely. The International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) stoked controversy with its views shortly after women’s boxing was accepted as an Olympic sport. AIBA suggested that women boxers should wear skirts when they competed to help them stand out from the men’s competitions.

While 22-year-old Ema Klinec from Slovenia, the current World Champion, is one to watch for the women’s ski jumping at the Winter Olympics this year, women were excluded from this sport for years. As recently as 2008, the International Olympic Committee cited the “technical merit” of women’s ski jumping as justification for its exclusion. Another reason was also the misguided belief by the governing body that ski jumping would damage women’s reproductive health. Following international pressure and unsuccessful court cases, it was finally accepted in 2011 and appeared for the first time at Sochi 2014.

This type of view has heavily influenced the way women’s sport is treated and its funding and resourcing.

Equal pay

Just over 50 years ago, Billie Jean King and eight other professional tennis players launched their own tennis tour to ensure that they were paid and treated on a par with men’s tennis players. Yet it was not until 2006 that the last Grand Slam tennis tournament, Wimbledon, agreed to pay equal prize money to men and women. The men’s World Number 1 tennis player, Novak Djokovic argued in 2016 that men should earn more than women players.

Even when women’s teams have successes, they are frequently paid significantly less than men. The US Women’s national soccer team filed a wage discrimination act (and later a gender discrimination lawsuit) against the governing body of their sport. Despite winning World Cups and generating more income than the men’s team, they were paid a quarter of what the men’s team earned prior to their legal action.

There are signs that change is coming. The Welsh national football association has recently pledged to introduce equal pay for its men’s and women’s teams by 2026. They have joined a growing number of national associations to have equal pay agreements for their men’s and women’s teams.

In cricket, The Hundred was the first professional tournament that put women’s and men’s teams on an equal footing, with women’s matches played on the same grounds as the men’s. Attendances for the women’s matches was higher than for previous tournaments.

Increased attendance show that when women’s sport is marketed suitably, spectators see greater value in it and are more likely to attend.

At the Winter Olympics, the inclusion of sports such as mixed team ski jumping and women’s monobob mean that there are not only more events for women but also greater opportunities for sponsorship. At the 2020 Tokyo Games, sponsorship of women athletes grew. Sponsors increasingly see value in backing women athletes.

The FA and Professional Footballers’ Association have finally agreed to include maternity and long-term sickness cover in the contract of women footballers. At the same time, the Women’s World Cup and European Championship are likely to be recognised as
two of the protected sports events made available to free-to-air broadcasters.

Progress has been made in women’s sport but until the attitudes of those running sport change, top sportswomen will continue to face more obstacles than men.The Conversation

Keith Parry, Deputy 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 – what Djokovic row means for unvaccinated elite athletes

Dr Keith Parry answers some of the most pressing questions about what tennis star Novak Djokovic’s deportation from Australia means for unvaccinated athletes in this article for The Conversation

‘We’re entering unprecedented territory’: sports expert Q&A on what Djokovic row means for unvaccinated elite athletes

Keith Parry, Bournemouth University

Tennis star Novak Djokovic is out of the Australian Open after the country’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, cancelled his visa “on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so”. This follows an earlier quashing of the original decision by Border Force officials to cancel the Serbian player’s visa when he arrived in Australia because he didn’t have a COVID vaccination. Djokovic’s lawyers headed to court to seek an injunction against his deportation, which has now been dismissed.

Djokovic was seeking a tenth title at the event, as well as the world record for men’s Grand Slam wins. At the age of 34, it this makes it harder for him to now be able to fulfil his potential on the court before he retires.

At a time when multiple countries have been introducing restrictions on unvaccinated people, it raises questions about whether other sports stars will run into similar issues. We asked sports management expert Keith Parry about what the visa struggle might mean for sports stars and teams around the world.

Will Djokovic’s visa saga have implications for other sports in Australia?

Yes it will. Now they’ve set the precedent, I think we could see other players fall foul of this system when entering Australia. Clearly the federal government do not want unvaccinated players coming into Australia so it will deter some (unless they agree to isolate for two weeks).

Are significant numbers of sports stars unvaccinated?

In the US the public know if players are unvaccinated because of regulations there. For example the National Basketball Association has released a list of unvaccinated players. There’s no requirement to name players in the UK, but there’s been coverage about Premier League footballers not being vaccinated.

What are other teams likely to do to avoid trouble?

Liverpool FC manager Jürgen Klopp has said that he won’t sign an unvaccinated player. So there’s an implication for players’ livelihoods. Players who are unvaccinated may have limited choice not just in terms of where they can go and travel, but also in terms of the clubs that are prepared to sign them. So we’re entering unprecedented territory now. Other managers may follow Klopp’s lead.

Some managers will see the Djokovic decision as further evidence of the challenge that unvaccinated players pose to clubs. Another challenge for sport managers may be sponsors and partners, who may exert influence on athletes or teams if they have strong views on vaccinations. We see many sponsors end relationships with teams or players if they feel it is bad for their image.

Teams and organisations will also now think carefully about where they play or host matches. Teams will pay even closer attention to the regulations in countries and ensure that they have sufficient time to meet the requirements for isolation or bubbles. Countries that have stricter rules may look less appealing in the future.

Will sports stars worry about their statements on vaccines making a difference to them playing?

Players are very affluent. They’re young and feel indestructible. But they may think twice now about what they say on social media about vaccines. It will be interesting to see how athletes who refuse to be vaccinated are viewed. Will it tarnish Djokovic’s image or, as is often the case, will he be forgiven and the episode written out of his story?

Which countries with upcoming tournaments could be an issue in future?

In Europe, Italy and Germany have vaccine mandates and so tournaments there, or European club competition matches in these countries, may present challenges. France just relaxed its travel rules but unvaccinated players are still required to isolate for ten days. This may be an issue for the Six Nations rugby tournament this spring.

Different state rules around the US may be a challenge for athletes. Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets, for instance, cannot play in New York because of its regulations, but he can play in the team’s away matches in most other states.

Is this a sign that sports stars can’t always get around the rules?

In the past, organisations like international football association FIFA and the International Olympic Committee have operated outside of borders and outside of the rules. Often no one holds them accountable. Clearly these celebrities do expect to have preferential treatment. So this visa wrangle may be a bit of a shock.

Ordinary people have to go through immigration, fill in forms ourselves and follow the rules. But when you’re idolised by millions around the world, it’s very difficult to think that the rules apply to you. Sports heroes have crossed over into the realm of celebrity but there’s a need for athletes to uphold society’s values.The Conversation

Keith Parry, Deputy 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: Women’s sport is on the way up – but more needs to be done to secure its future

Dr Keith Parry and Dr Rafaelle Nicholson co-author this article for The Conversation about the challenges facing women’s sport… 

Women’s sport is on the way up – but more needs to be done to secure its future

Chelsea Women’s Sam Kerr takes a shot at goal during an FA Women’s Superleague match against Arsenal Women.
Andrew Orchard sports photography/Alamy

Keith Parry, Bournemouth University; Beth Clarkson, University of Portsmouth, and Rafaelle Nicholson, Bournemouth University

The delayed 2020/21 Women’s FA Cup final is finally taking place. Two London rivals, Arsenal and Chelsea, and some of the best players in the world make this a sporting event worthy of a grand stage such as Wembley Stadium. The timing of the final, December 5, is significant and ironic, as on December 5 1921 the Football Association banned women’s football.

The ban was because sports were believed to be unsuitable for females. Fifty years on from the end of this ban, women’s football is now where it belongs, at the “home of football”.

This is just one of many significant developments in women’s sport that have happened recently.

In summer 2021, English cricket’s new Hundred tournament attracted the highest attendance for a women’s cricket event ever, with a total attendance at the games of 267,000. The opening game of the American women’s soccer Challenge Cup, meanwhile, became the most-watched match in league history with 572,000 viewers, a 201% increase on the previous record. And in England, a “landmark £7m deal” was struck with broadcasters to show Women’s Super League football matches on free-to-air and subscription services.

It’s been claimed that interest in women’s sport is thriving. However, there are concerns regarding the future of women’s sport due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More needs to be done to assure its future.

The need for caution

We research key governance aspects of women’s sport and, while we agree there has been much improvement, our research also suggests that areas of inequality remain and more needs to be done by governing bodies, organisations and policymakers. While women’s sport is currently popular, changes are needed for its success to be sustained.

For instance, when men’s and women’s sports are governed by the same organisation, the decisions made typically prioritise men’s sport. Recent accusations of institutional racism highlight the issues when sports are run by hypermasculine, failed male athletes – they make decisions that benefit themselves and those that resemble them (men).

This is an issue that has worsened over time. Historically, many women’s sports were governed separately and run wholly or mainly by women – for example, the Women’s Football Association was in charge of English women’s football until the Football Association took over in 1992, and the Women’s Cricket Association ran women’s cricket until 1998 when the England and Wales Cricket Board gained control. But since the 1990s, women’s sport has typically been run by men with little knowledge of women’s sport, who tend to prioritise what they know.

This privileging of men’s sport was particularly the case at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The exception to this was in North America where women’s football has its own governing body, and where during the pandemic, women’s football was prioritised – a new tournament introduced and new commercial partners found. In other countries, women’s sport was simply cancelled.

Another area of concern is that sports media coverage, which is now the way most people access sport, continues to be dominated by men’s sports. This pattern is not helped when those who talk and write about sport remain predominantly men. Our research shows that when women have greater involvement in sports journalism there’s greater coverage of women’s sport. The challenge is breaking into the “boys’ club” of sports journalism.

We also found that women’s sport is both under-valued and under-sold. Women’s sport often receives less investment in marketing and promotion. As a result, spectators see it as less exciting and less spectacular than men’s sport.

This research also found that women’s games are often scheduled in the middle of the workday or early on weekdays, rather than primetime slots on weekday evenings or weekend afternoons. This scheduling creates problems because spectators are often not able to attend when games are during work hours or when children’s sport is taking place.

Women’s sport is often only accessible on pay-TV, limiting the potential audience. Recent research shows that when matches are moved onto free-to-air channels, the sky is the limit. A study for the Women’s Sport Trust recently showed that the broadcast audience of women’s sport in the UK has grown from 46.8 million in 2019 to 51.1 million in 2021. Much of this increase comes from new coverage of women’s cricket and women’s football, and gender-parity in Olympic coverage.

A roadmap for sustained success

So, while the future of women’s sport looks bright, inequalities remain. We propose a five-point “roadmap” detailing the changes that are needed for the success of women’s sport to be sustained:

• Ensure that the governance of women’s sport has women in visible leadership positions, to prioritise it and ensure that any decisions support the interests of women’s sport. Otherwise, if men run both men’s and women’s sport they will continue to prioritise the male version.

• The sports media workforce needs greater diversity. Although we focus on gender here, sports media is dominated by white men.

• The marketing and presentation of women’s sport need to be on a par with men’s sport. While men’s sport has greater investment in these areas it will continue to be seen as superior to women’s sport. There needs to be unity in how sports clubs communicate with fans about their men’s and women’s teams.

• Women’s sport needs consistent prime time scheduling (as seen with women’s football in England this season), rather than during the day when the majority of fans are at work and cannot attend.

• Coverage of women’s sport needs to be on free-to-air television – if it is not, awareness of it will drop.

If these points can be addressed, we believe that women’s sport will continue to thrive, not just now, but well into the future.The Conversation

Keith Parry, Deputy Head Of Department in Department of Sport & Event Management, Bournemouth University; Beth Clarkson, Senior Lecturer in Sports Management, University of Portsmouth, and Rafaelle Nicholson, , Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article: A new species of early human? Why we should be cautious about new fossil footprint findings

Writing for The Conversation, Professor Matthew Bennett and Dr Sally Reynolds discuss the potential discovery of an early human species…

A new species of early human? Why we should be cautious about new fossil footprint findings

Dawid A. Iurino for THOR, Author provided

Matthew Robert Bennett, Bournemouth University and Sally Christine Reynolds, Bournemouth University

A collection of fossil footprints at Laetoli in Northern Tanzania, preserved in volcanic ash and dated to 3.66 million years ago, are still yielding surprises almost 45 years after their discovery.

Based on a re-analysis of fossil footprints from one of Laetoli’s sites, the authors of a new study published in the journal Nature say they’ve discovered evidence of a previously unknown early human species at this spot. However, there are reasons to be cautious about this conclusion.

Before we delve into these new findings, let’s orientate ourselves. Laetoli, an area well-known for paleontological excavations, has a number of distinct sites, each denoted by letters of the alphabet. British paleoanthropolgist Mary Leakey and her colleagues first reported fossil footprints in 1978 at Site G, the main track site at Laetoli.

In 2016, a team led by Fidelis Masao, an archaeologist in Tanzania, uncovered additional tracks close to Site G, at Site S. The footprints from Sites G and S are usually assigned to the well-known ancestral human (hominin) species Australopithecus afarensis, of which the skeleton “Lucy” is the best-known example.

Less well-known is the fact that in 1976, two years before Leakey’s famous discovery, a set of five footprints were found at Site A. Importantly, all these sites occur on the same ash surface, so we know they date from the same time period.

But the five footprints from Site A were largely forgotten, eclipsed by Leakey’s later discovery. This was understandable because the footprints at Site A had poor morphological shape, or definition, and there were fewer of them (there are more than 30 individual footprints at Site G).

In 1987, American paleoanthropologist Russell Tuttle suggested that these footprints may have been made by a species of bear, or by a different hominin from those of Site G. He also cautioned that the diversity in the footprints’ form as compared to those at Site G might simply reflect the changing properties of the ash layer over which the hominin walked.

Seeking to find out who these footprints belonged to, a team of international researchers re-excavated the tracks from Site A in 2019. Their findings are the focus of the new paper in Nature.

The researchers used various methods including photography and 3D scanning to inspect the Site A footprints. They compared the width and length with footprints from black bears, chimpanzees and humans, as well as the tracks from Sites G and S. They also explored the bear hypothesis by examining video footage of modern black bears which, on rare occasions, walk upright.

The authors concluded that on balance, the footprints at Site A did not resemble bear tracks, and were different from the footprints at Sites G and S.

One particular feature they draw attention to is that the Site A trackway cross-steps, almost as if one was attempting to toe a line as part of sobriety test. Based on this and their other findings, the authors suggest that the tracks at Site A were made by a different hominin than those at sites G and S. They argue that two hominin species walked the Laetoli landscape 3.66 million years ago.

A footprint from Site A on the left and Site G on the right.
Image on left by Jeremy DeSilva and on right by Eli Burakian/Dartmouth.

The broader evolutionary context at this time suggests what the authors are proposing would be possible. There was more than one species of hominin on the African landscape during this period, and we’ve seen anatomical variation in the foot within some Australopithecus species. That said, it’s quite a significant leap to identify a second species based on a handful of poorly defined tracks.

Variation in trackways is the key issue here. Imagine going for a walk down a beach or sandy path. The footprints you make will vary from one step to the next. This reflects natural variability in human gait, as well as subtle differences in the characteristics of the ground you’re walking on.

In a recent paper we suggested that you need a minimum of between ten and 20 footprints before you can confidently quantify the variability in just one dimension, such as footprint length, let alone several. Others have suggested that you may need over 250 tracks to adequately quantify the three-dimensional form of a footprint.

Footfall and the resulting footprints are more variable than once thought and some have argued that even individuals of the same species may have highly unique gaits.

In this context it is rather surprising that the authors of this paper make inferences not just about one individual, but a whole species.

One way to strengthen their conclusions would be to use modern “whole foot” methods to statistically compare the best footprint at Site A with those at Sites S and G. This could be an approach for future research.

Certainly more evidence is needed to determine whether these footprints justify this excitement, and do indeed belong to another early human species.The Conversation

Matthew Robert Bennett, Professor of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, Bournemouth University and Sally Christine Reynolds, Principal Academic in Hominin Palaeoecology, Bournemouth University

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