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Conversation article: Documenting the world’s largest prehistoric rock art in South America – new study

Dr Philip Riris co-authors this article for The Conversation about his experiences documenting monumental rock art along the Orinoco River…

Documenting the world’s largest prehistoric rock art in South America – new study

Enhanced image of monumental rock art on Cerro Pintado, Venezuela.
Philip Riris, Author provided

Philip Riris, Bournemouth University; José R. Oliver, UCL, and Natalia Lozada Mendieta, Universidad de los Andes

We weren’t the first to lay eyes on the engraving since it was carved into the hillside any number of centuries or millennia ago, not by a long shot. The Venezuelan archaeologist José Maria Cruxent even recorded it in his diaries in the 1940s – and there were certainly visitors before him.

The site of Cerro Pintado (Painted Hill), in the Venezuelan state of Amazonas, is a local landmark and a well-known fixture on the itinerary of those travelling on the Middle Orinoco River.

Yet viewing the gigantic snake, carved high up on the hillside, immediately ignited both our sense of wonder and our scientific curiosity. Why a snake? Why did its creators climb a towering granite hill to place it there, just so? What about all the other engravings orbiting it – what do they mean?

All these questions and more swirled around our little group as we stood, sticky and mosquito-bitten, in the savanna at the foot of the hill. Its singular status made it all the more intriguing.

While there are other examples of giant prehistoric rock art in other parts of the world, these appear to be the largest. While, as mentioned, some were already known to archaeologists, our team documented others, including over the border in Colombia.

The results reveal a high concentration of these monumental engravings in the region. The subjects of these symbolic works include snakes, humans and centipedes. The animals probably played an important role in the mythologies of the people who made them. The results have been published in the journal Antiquity.

New sites to survey

On our visit to Cerro Pintado in 2015, we supposed that the enormous 42-metre-long snake engraving (probably representing a boa or anaconda, native to the region) stood in splendid isolation. Prior scholars observed that many rock shelters in the surrounding savanna hosted prehistoric paintings, and we had already seen plenty of engravings near our dig sites.

Although often numerous or quite large, none of these sites shared the truly monumental scale of the Cerro Pintado engravings. Its apparent uniqueness led us to dutifully return with a drone to secure better images of the highly inaccessible panel. Already during the first stint in the field, however, we suspected that there was more to be uncovered about the rock art of the region.

Our guide, Juan Carlos García, a local educator and photographer, was well travelled around the area, and had plenty of insights to share. While surveying the islands that separate the calm middle course of the Orinoco River from its turbulent upper reaches, he pointed to the Colombian bank and forthrightly informed us: “Do you see that hill? Over there, behind it, is another snake, as big as Pintado.”

The possibility of another snake was beyond tantalising to us. Did it also have a set of accompanying motifs? Was it truly as big and as visible from far away? For lack of scientific permits in Colombia, or the time to search for a new site even if we had permits, these questions were left unanswered. After four campaigns in Venezuela, our fieldwork funding ended in 2017 and Cerro Pintado remained, as far as archaeology was concerned, a one-and-only location.

Luckily, the project’s principal investigator, José Oliver, at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, secured the means to return to survey the Colombian side in 2018. The results of careful systematic surveys were shared between the team in a flurry of excited text messages and emails, confirming that there was not just one more snake, but several. They were also comparable in size to Pintado and clearly related, yet each with their own twist.

The project’s doctoral candidate, Natalia Lozada Mendieta, from the Universidad de Los Andes, Colombia, now an assistant professor, also returned in 2021 and 2022 to find more snakes. Finally, the entire original team reunited in the field in 2023. Collectively, and with help from local guides, we amassed a database of 13 vast rock art sites with upwards of 150 individual engravings between them.

Striking motifs

To us, the snakes were the most striking motifs, although giant centipedes, humans dancing or playing instruments, and mysterious geometric shapes of unknown intent did not fail to impress. Although not unique, as previously thought, Cerro Pintado is now accompanied by a constellation of related sites – a genuine monumental rock art tradition.

Very large prehistoric petroglyphs, the scientific term for rock engravings, are not unknown. Whales and elk are depicted in the Stone Age art of Norway, and virtually life-size giraffes and camels are known from Niger and Saudi Arabia, respectively.

Highly visible or salient rock art such as this is often presumed to communicate ideas or concepts of importance. While their exact meaning is lost, their impact can be felt through their physicality, meaning their size and placement.

In our cases, we are fortunate to note repeating themes across the indigenous cosmologies of northern South America that allude to gigantic snakes as the creators and protectors of rivers – including the great “river” in the sky, the Milky Way. Yet they are also menacing, predatory and lethal.

This information enriches our understanding of the archaeological record. The snakes were intended to be seen from some distance, reflecting a shared understanding of the world and its inhabitants. What marks the Middle Orinoco out as a unique hotspot, we argue, is the sheer concentration of these enormous works of pre-Columbian art.

They appear to be the largest in the world, and speak to a contested, yet openly communicative cultural landscape during the pre-Columbian period that we are only just beginning to understand.

More importantly, as regional tourism expands year on year, the sites are
increasingly in need of protection, an activity in which indigenous people should have a leading voice. Undoubtedly, there are dozens more sites in this unique monumental tradition to encounter, record and, hopefully, preserve.The Conversation

Philip Riris, Lecturer in Archaeological & Palaeoenvironmental Modelling, Bournemouth University; José R. Oliver, Reader in Latin American Archaeology, Institute of Archaeology, UCL, and Natalia Lozada Mendieta, Assistant Professor, Department of Art History, Universidad de los Andes

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

Conversation article: How 2-Tone brought new ideas about race and culture to young people beyond the inner cities

Dr Ian Gwinn writes for The Conversation about his oral history project exploring the impact of 2-Tone music on people from Dorset…

How 2-Tone brought new ideas about race and culture to young people beyond the inner cities

Ian Gwinn, Bournemouth University

This Town, Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight’s latest drama for the BBC, brings to life a defining – if short-lived – era in the history of British youth culture and popular music. Set in the West Midlands against the backdrop of industrial decline and social unrest in the early 1980s, the drama unfolds to the syncopated sounds of 2-Tone.

A furious mix of punk and Jamaican ska, 2-Tone became a genuinely national phenomenon, bursting out of a bedsit in Coventry and into the charts and the popular consciousness.

We know a lot about the urban multiracial landscapes of its Midlands origins, out of which its twin ideals of racial unity and musical hybridity sprang. But we know much less about how it resonated with the experience of young people beyond the big towns and cities.

Such considerations are timely. It is now 45 years since the founding of 2-Tone Records by Jerry Dammers, organist and songwriter for ska’s most famous band The Specials, and mastermind of the whole movement.

Of course, 1979 was also a decisive year for politics in the UK. But bands like The Specials did more than just soundtrack the civil strife of the early Thatcher years; they actually inspired political and cultural change.

To understand how they did so is important not only for historical reasons. A deeper sense of how anti-racist and multicultural ideas have shaped less culturally diverse regions may enrich contemporary debates over racism, particularly rural racism, which have become increasingly polarised.

My own ongoing oral history project with people from the Dorset region registers the powerful effect 2-Tone had in less racially mixed areas. Interviewees speak vividly of the energy, excitement and unruliness of attending gigs, as well as the sense of shared community, belonging and togetherness.

Nobody is special

As The Specials’ first single, Gangster, hit the airwaves in the summer of 1979 and the first 2-Tone tour opened in the autumn (with support from fellow labelmates The Selecter and Madness), a growing legion of youth clad in slim-fit mohair “tonic suits”, pork-pie hats, and black-and-white checkerboard greeted the bands as they made their way across the country. By the time all three bands appeared together on Top of the Pops that November, 2-Tone had swept the nation.

The Specials, in particular, built an ethos on the idea that “nobody is special”, refusing the division between band and audience (symbolically represented in the audience joining the band on the stage for the final numbers).

The inaugural tour covered the length and breadth of the country, reaching musical outposts like Aberdeen, Ayr, Blackburn, Bournemouth, Plymouth and Swindon. A seaside tour followed in 1980, winding its way through several English coastal towns, from Blackpool to Worthing.

One interviewee described how 2-Tone bands made a big deal of moving out into the remote areas and bringing the music to the people. That made them more accessible, setting them apart from other bands of the period.

For one fan from Weymouth, travelling up to that first Bournemouth gig was a powerful unifying experience:

You just didn’t realise that you were part of a bigger thing…When you get in there and everyone’s got the same attitude, the same outlook, the same sense of purpose and sense of place – it was really quite an amazing feeling.

Playing venues in far-flung places was part of the 2-Tone mission. For Dammers and others, the anti-racist message was aimed directly and primarily at white youth. These 2-Tone bands sought to reach audiences with a visual and aural display of unity. The symbolism had a profound impact. As another interviewee recalled:

Groups were either all white or all black…2-Tone was the first thing where you actually saw white and black musicians on stage together…That was a massive difference.

But not everyone suddenly became a staunch anti-racist. Some simply went for the music, the dancing and the good times. But for others the unity of politics, style and music cut across divisions among fractious youth cults and against far-right influences. Embracing the spirit of 2-Tone gave rural and small-town youth a way of expressing anti-racist politics in a more local idiom.

Race and racism today

Despite the contribution of 2-Tone – and before it, Rock against Racism – to anti-racist struggles, issues of racism have never gone away. The fight against far-right nationalism and police brutality continues, but increasingly the spotlight has shifted towards the more subtle and unseen ways in which racism is perpetuated. This ranges from everyday microaggressions to the lingering shadow of Britain’s imperial legacy, attracting a strong backlash in some quarters.

Recent evidence of rural racism, for example, has been met with swift dismissals. The former home secretary Suella Braverman was quick to deny others’ experience of racism, stating that the claim the countryside is racist is one of the most ridiculous examples of left-wing identity politics – just because there are more white people than non-white people somewhere does not make it racist.

Recalling the example of 2-Tone and The Specials may encourage a longing for a simpler time, when racists were easy to spot; things are more complicated today. Still, it can help us to understand how racial solidarities are forged, particularly in and through social and geographical differences. For my interviewees, 2-Tone’s ska revival was not a passing fad; it allowed them to reinterpret their own experience of class, race and locality.

If only for a moment, 2-Tone mania ruled Britain, in the words of the music critic Simon Reynolds. But as This Town shows, its rich and complex legacies can still be brought powerfully to life in the present.The Conversation

Ian Gwinn, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Bournemouth University

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

Working with The Conversation: online training session – Wednesday 8th May

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 hear directly from one of their editors in an online training session from 2-4pm, Wednesday 8th May.

The Conversation is a news analysis and opinion website with content written by academics working with professional journalists. Since we first partnered with The Conversation, articles by BU authors have had over 10 million reads and been republished by news outlets across the world.

In this interactive session, you’ll find out more about communicating your research to the public, what The Conversation is looking for, and have the chance to discuss your research with a Conversation editor and pitch potential story ideas.

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

Sign up now via Eventbrite

Conversation article: London Marathon – how visually impaired people run

Ahead of the London Marathon this weekend, Dr Ben Powis co-authors this article for The Conversation which explains the variety of techniques used by visually impaired runners, as well as the societal barriers that stop visually impaired people from getting involved in the sport.

London Marathon: how visually impaired people run

GB parasport athlete Charlotte Ellis (left) finishing the 2019 London Marathon with her guide runner.
Dave Smith/Shutterstock

Jessica Louise Macbeth, University of Central Lancashire and Ben Powis, Bournemouth University

In this weekend’s London Marathon, nearly 50,000 runners will hit the capital’s streets in one of the world’s most iconic races. For the visually impaired (VI) runners on the start line, their approach to this famous route will differ from their sighted counterparts. Just as there are misconceptions about blindness itself, many people are confused about how VI people run.

Some assume that all VI runners are blind with no usable vision, have superhuman compensatory skills and are passively guided around running routes by sighted guides. The reality is that, like all runners, VI runners have diverse experiences, preferences and needs.

In our research, we’ve conducted in-depth interviews with eight blind and partially sighted runners about their running practices. Some navigate routes independently, while others run with a guide – using a tether, holding their elbow or running in close proximity.

VI running can be a rich and creative experience, engaging all the senses. But, as one of our participants stated, this process is not innate: “People say, ‘Oh your smell becomes better, your hearing becomes better’. I don’t think it does, I just think you tune into it a little bit more… it just becomes more of a natural thing.”

As research on the runner-guide partnership shows, it can take practice and trying different strategies for runners to make sense of their surroundings and figure out what works for them.

Through touch, hearing, smell and usable vision, VI runners actively develop unique relationships with the routes they run. Our participants described how they identify landmarks, such as the sound of a river or the feel of changing terrain, to construct maps inside their heads. As one runner explains: “I could subconsciously tell you where every crack on the pavement is.”

Barriers to running

With VI people being one of the most inactive minority groups, running can be inclusive, empowering and provide a range of social and physical benefits.

But there are a number of societal barriers to VI people getting and staying involved in running. Ableist assumptions about who can and cannot run, are frequently internalised by VI people themselves.

One of our participants, who is blind from birth, explained: “I’d never even considered running before really… I just thought I couldn’t do it.” Having acquired sight loss in adulthood, another participant said: “I thought I’d never be able to run again, which was a massive blow when I first started losing my sight.”

To combat these assumptions and spread awareness about opportunities, runners like Kelly Barton and her guides share running content online. A recent video of her 250th parkrun, which she completed without being tethered to a guide, attracted national media coverage.

Our participants reported struggling to find guide runners, who can support VI people to run safely by guiding them along a route using verbal instructions, tethers or physical contact.

One VI runner who owns a guide dog contacted a local running event for a guide and was told they “haven’t found a guide yet, but we’ve got a dog sitter”. While there are local groups connecting VI runners and guides in some areas, such as VI Runners Bristol, this is not consistent across the UK.

The challenge of finding guides was also exacerbated during the pandemic. In the US, an innovative project using guide dogs trained for running has led to positive outcomes for both runners and dogs. But such projects are not yet widespread and require additional training for the guide dogs.

For VI runners who prefer running indoors, the treadmills used in many gyms are inaccessible. The charity Thomas Pocklington Trust and UK Coaching are working to address this through the inclusive facilities toolkit.

How you can get involved

For many VI runners, including our participants, parkrun has become a popular place to get started. The event’s inclusive ethos and specific efforts to encourage VI runners have created a welcoming and accessible environment.

The Great Run Series has introduced VI runners challenges at the Bristol 10K and Manchester Half Marathon, the only dedicated events for severely sight-impaired runners and guides in the UK.

If you are in search of a guide, British Blind Sport and England Athletics operate a database to connect VI runners with guides licensed by England Athletics. And if you are a sighted runner thinking about becoming a guide, you can complete a sight loss awareness and guide running workshop to get listed on the database.

Prospective runners and guides can also connect informally through parkruns, running clubs, local VI organisations or running organisations like Achilles International.The Conversation

Jessica Louise Macbeth, Senior Lecturer in Sports Studies, University of Central Lancashire and Ben Powis, Senior Lecturer in Sport, Bournemouth University

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

RKEDF: ECRN – The Conversation Media Training

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits of attending

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

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

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

Book your place here 

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

Student numbers in the next decade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Zulfiqar A Khan

Professor of Design, Engineering & Computing

NanoCorr, Energy & Modelling Research Group Lead

Email: zkhan@bournemouth.ac.uk

 

Article Processing Charges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By the end of the session, attendees will:

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

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

Wednesday 24 April, 2-4pm

Talbot Campus

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine Appleton, Bournemouth University and Danielle Guy, Bournemouth University

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Replace meat items with pulses

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

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

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

2. Replace meat items with eggs

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

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

3. Replace meat items with hard or soft cheeses

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

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

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

4. Reduce meat consumption by 20%

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


Imagine weekly climate newsletter

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

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

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

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

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

RomanSo/Shutterstock

Ellie Gennings, Bournemouth University and Alice Hunter, Bournemouth University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accelerated adulthoods

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

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

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

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

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

A balanced approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conor O’Kane, Bournemouth University

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

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

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

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

How laissez-faire fell out of favour

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

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

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

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

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

Copy of the Road to Serfdom

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

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

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

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

Hayek and conservatism

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

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

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

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

What the critics say

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book your slot 

Why write for The Conversation?

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

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

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

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

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

Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Andy Phippen, Bournemouth University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need for trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANDRE DIAS NOBRE/AFP via Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not suitable for under-18s

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

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

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

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

What is CTE?

Staying healthy

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

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

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

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

Inability to consent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stas Malyarevsky / Shutterstock

Dinusha Mendis, Bournemouth University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use of material

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

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

ChatGPT
Giulio Benzin / Shutterstock

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

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

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

Looking for answers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Conversation: one-to-one training sessions available

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

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

Two training dates are available, on Wednesday 28 February from 2–4pm or Tuesday 19 March from 10:30am – 12:30pm.

You can book a fifteen minute session with a Conversation journalist using the links below: 

Book your place for 28 February 

Book your place for 19 March 

Why write for The Conversation? 

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

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