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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.

The Conversation: one-to-one training sessions available

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

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

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

José Blázquez, Bournemouth University

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

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

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

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

Losing Link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Hollywood’s hands

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

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

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

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

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


Looking for something good? Cut through the noise with a carefully curated selection of the latest releases, live events and exhibitions, straight to your inbox every fortnight, on Fridays. Sign up here.The Conversation


José Blázquez, Senior lecturer, Bournemouth University

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

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

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

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

Pressmaster/Shutterstock

Andy Phippen, Bournemouth University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do I make sure they use a phone safely?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should I check my child’s phone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aralisa Shedden, Bournemouth University

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

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

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

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

On the trail of big cats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we found

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Aralisa Shedden, Postdoctoral Researcher in Conservation, Bournemouth University

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

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

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

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

Shutterstock

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

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

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

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

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

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

Survey shows abuse goes undisclosed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This makes these findings highly concerning.

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

Having a policy is important, but not enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One participant shared bullying was so widespread that:

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

How we respond to children matters

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

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

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

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

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

A participant shared her parents’ response was:

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

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

This leaves the experiences of abuse undocumented and unaddressed.

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

Taking action against abuse in sport

We need to talk more about abuse in sport.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Conversation launches new online, on-demand training courses

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

In addition to the training sessions run by Conversation editors throughout the year, they have now created four new asynchronous online courses to help you learn more about working with The Conversation and what they are looking for from pitches and articles.

Four short courses are now available for you to complete online at your leisure:

The courses are open to all BU academics and PhD candidates who are interested in finding out more about working with The Conversation. They will help you to understand how The Conversation works, the editorial support provided, and develop the skills to write for non-academic audiences.

The courses are being mapped to Vitae’s researcher development framework to help further contribute to professional development at all levels.

The courses can be accessed at: https://theconversationuktraining.teachable.com/

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Conversation article: Humans got to America 7,000 years earlier than thought, new research confirms

Professor Matthew Bennett and Dr Sally Reynolds write for The Conversation about their research dating fossil footprints found in New Mexico…

Humans got to America 7,000 years earlier than thought, new research confirms

The footprints come from a group of people of different ages.
National Park Service

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

When and how humans first settled in the Americas is a subject of considerable controversy. In the 20th century, archaeologists believed that humans reached the North American interior no earlier than around 14,000 years ago.

But our new research found something different. Our latest study supports the view that people were in America about 23,000 years ago.

The 20th century experts thought the appearance of humans had coincided with the formation of an ice-free corridor between two immense ice sheets straddling what’s now Canada and the northern US. According to this idea, the corridor, caused by melting at the end of the last Ice Age, allowed humans to trek from Alaska into the heart of North America.

Gradually, this orthodoxy crumbled. In recent decades, dates for the earliest evidence of people have crept back from 14,000 years ago to 16,000 years ago. This is still consistent with humans only reaching the Americas as the last Ice Age was ending.

In September 2021, we published a paper in Science that dated fossil footprints uncovered in New Mexico to around 23,000 years ago – the height of the last Ice Age. They were made by a group of people passing by an ancient lake near what’s now White Sands. The discovery added 7,000 years to the record of humans on the continent, rewriting American prehistory.

If humans were in America at the height of the last Ice Age, either the ice posed few barriers to their passage, or humans had been there for much longer. Perhaps they had reached the continent during an earlier period of melting.

Our conclusions were criticised, however we have now published evidence confirming the early dates.

Dating the pollen

For many people, the word pollen conjures up a summer of allergies, sneezing and misery. But fossilised pollen can be a powerful scientific tool.

In our 2021 study, we carried out radiocarbon dating on common ditch grass seeds found in sediment layers above and below where the footprints were found. Radiocarbon dating is based on how a particular form – called an isotope – of carbon (carbon-14) undergoes radioactive decay in organisms that have died within the last 50,000 years.

Some researchers claimed that the radiocarbon dates in our 2021 research were too old because they were subject to something called the “hard water” effect. Water contains carbonate salts and therefore carbon. Hard water is groundwater that has been isolated from the atmosphere for some period of time, meaning that some of its carbon-14 has already undergone radioactive decay.

Common ditch grass is an aquatic plant and the critics said seeds from this plant could have consumed old water, scrambling the dates in a way that made them seem older than they were.

It’s quite right that they raised this issue. This is the way that science should proceed, with claim and counter-claim.

How did we test our claim?

Radiocarbon dating is robust and well understood. You can date any type of organic matter in this way as long as you have enough of it. So two members of our team, Kathleen Springer and Jeff Pigati of the United States Geological Survey set out to date the pollen grains. However, pollen grains are really small, typically about 0.005 millimetres in diameter, so you need lots of them.

This posed a formidable challenge: you need thousands of them to get enough carbon to date something. In fact, you need 70,000 grains or more.

Medical science provided a remarkable solution to our conundrum. We used a technique called flow cytometry, which is more commonly used for counting and sampling individual human cells, to count and isolate fossil pollen for radiocarbon dating.

Flow cytometry uses the fluorescent properties of cells, stimulated by a laser. These cells move through a stream of liquid. Fluorescence causes a gate to open, allowing individual cells in the flow of liquid to be diverted, sampled, and concentrated.

Illustration of pollen grains.
Pollen can be a useful tool for dating evidence of human settlement.
Kateryna Kon / Shutterstock

We have pollen grains in all sediment layers between the footprints at White Sands, which allows us to date them. The key advantage of having so much pollen is that you can pick plants like pine trees that are not affected by old water. Our samples were processed to concentrate the pollen within them using flow cytometry.

After a year or more of labour intensive and expensive laboratory work, we were rewarded with dates based on pine pollen that validated the original chronology of the footprints. They also showed that old water effects were absent at this site.

The pollen also allowed us to reconstruct vegetation that was growing when people made the footprints. We got exactly the kinds of plants we would expect to have been there during the Ice Age in New Mexico.

We also used a different dating technique called optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) as an independent check. OSL relies on the accumulation of energy within buried grains of quartz over time. This energy comes from the background radiation that’s all around us.

The more energy we find, the older we can assume the quartz grains are. This energy is released when the quartz is exposed to light, so what you are dating is the last time the quartz grains saw sunlight.

To sample the buried quartz, you drive metal tubes into the sediment and remove them carefully to avoid exposing them to light. Taking quartz grains from the centre of the tube, you expose them to light in the lab and measure the light emitted by grains. This reveals their age. The dates from OSL supported those we got using other techniques.

The humble pollen grain and some marvellous medical technology helped us confirm the dates the footprints were made, and when people reached the Americas.The Conversation

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

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

Conversation article: New species of cobra-like snake discovered – but it may already be extinct

Tom Major co-authors this article for The Conversation about using the latest DNA extraction techniques to study the remains of ancient animals, discovering a new snake species…

New species of cobra-like snake discovered – but it may already be extinct

Hemachatus nyangensis in Nyanga National Park, Zimbabwe.
Donald Broadley, Author provided

Tom Major, Bournemouth University; Axel Barlow, Bangor University, and Wolfgang Wüster, Bangor University

Around the world, natural history museums hold a treasure trove of knowledge about Earth’s animals. But much of the precious information is sealed off to genetic scientists because formalin, the chemical often used to preserve specimens, damages DNA and makes sequences hard to recover.

However, recent advances in DNA extraction techniques mean that biologists can study the genetic code of old museum specimens, which include extremely rare or even recently extinct species. We harnessed this new technology to study a snake from the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe that was run over in 1982, and discovered it was a new species. Our research was recently published in PLOS One.

The Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, a mountain chain on the border with Mozambique, create a haven of cool and wet habitats surrounded by savannas and dry forest. They are home to many species that are found nowhere else.

Here, a mysterious population of snakes first drew the attention of scientists around 1920. An unusual snake displaying a cobra-like defensive hooding posture was spotted in the grounds of Cecil Rhodes’ (prime minister of the Cape Colony in the late 19th century) Inyanga Estate in Nyanga.

This snake had unusual markings with red skin between its scales, creating the effect of black dots on a red background when its hood is extended. None of the other cobras found in the area match this description.

More snakes like this were reported in the 1950s, but no specimens were collected.

A rare find

The mystery surrounding these sightings piqued the interest of the late Donald G. Broadley, now considered to be the most eminent herpetologist (reptile and amphibian expert) of southern Africa. In 1961, Broadley was given some severed snake heads and identified the mystery snake as a rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus), a species otherwise only found in South Africa, Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) and Lesotho.

A handful of specimens were observed and measured in later years, but the landscape has been drastically altered by forestry. The rinkhals from Zimbabwe has not been seen in the wild since 1988 and is feared to be extinct.

This population lives 700km away from other, more southerly populations, which made us suspect it may be a separate species. But the genetic material contained within the specimen from Zimbabwe was degraded, meaning we couldn’t do the DNA studies needed to confirm whether it is a different species from other rinkhals.

New technology

However, the latest DNA extraction and sequencing methods have been developed over the last ten years to help biologists study the remains of ancient animals. We used the new techniques to examine the Zimbabwe rinkhals specimen. Our study showed they represent a long-isolated population, highly distinct from the southern rinkhals populations.

Based on their genetic divergence from the other rinkhals, we estimate that the snakes in Zimbabwe diverged from their southern relatives 7-14 million years ago. Counting a snake’s scales can help identify what species it is. Subtle differences in scale counts, revealed by our analysis of other specimens, provided enough evidence to classify the Zimbabwe rinkhals as a new species, Hemachatus nyangensis, the Nyanga rinkhals.

The scientific name nyangensis means “from Nyanga” in Latin.

Hemachatus nyangensis has fangs modified to spit venom, although the behaviour was not reported from the few recorded interactions with humans. The closely related true cobras (genus Naja), some of which are known to spit venom, do so with the same specialised fangs that allow venom to be forced forwards through narrow slits, spraying it toward animals that are threatening them.

Venom in the eyes causes severe pain, may damage the eye, and can cause blindness if left untreated. Venom spitting appears to have evolved three times within the broader group of cobra-like snakes, once in the rinkhals, and twice in the true cobras in south-east Asia and in Africa.

A connection between human and snake evolution

Scientists think this defence mechanism may have evolved in response to the first hominins (our ancestors). Tool-using apes who walked upright would have posed a serious threat to the snakes, and the evolution of spitting in African cobras roughly coincides with when hominins split from chimpanzees and bonobos 7 million years ago.

Similarly, the venom spitting in Asian cobras is thought to have emerged around 2.5 million years ago, which is around the time the extinct human species Homo erectus would have become a threat to those species. Our study of Nyanga rinkhals suggests that the third time venom spitting evolved independently in snakes may also have coincided with the origin of upright-walking hominins.

If a living population of Nyanga rinkhals was found, fresh DNA samples would help us to more accurately determine the timing of the split between the two species of rinkhals and how this compares to hominin evolution. Technological advances may be giving us incredible insights into ancient animal lineages but they can’t make up for an extinction. We still hope a living population of Nyanga rinkhals will be found.

The possible relationship between venom spitting and our early ancestors is a reminder that we are part of the Earth’s ecosystem. Our own evolution is intertwined with that of other animals. When animals become extinct, we don’t just lose a species – they take part of our history with them.The Conversation

Tom Major, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Bournemouth University; Axel Barlow, Lecturer in Zoology, Bangor University, and Wolfgang Wüster, Reader in Zoology, Bangor University

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

Conversation article: Online safety bill – why making the UK the ‘safest place to go online’ is not as easy as the government claims

Professor Andy Phippen writes for The Conversation about the government’s online safety bill and the challenges of regulating the internet…

Online safety bill: why making the UK the ‘safest place to go online’ is not as easy as the government claims

fizkes/Shutterstock

Andy Phippen, Bournemouth University

The government’s online safety bill, a reform years in the making, will now become law.

Among the bill’s key aims is to ensure it is more difficult for young people (under the age of 18) to access content that is considered harmful – such as pornography and content that promotes suicide or eating disorders. It places a “duty of care” on tech companies to ensure their users, especially children, are safe online. And it aims to provide adults with greater control over the content they interact with, for example if they wish to avoid seeing sexual content.

The legislation puts the onus on service providers (such as social media companies and search engines) to enforce minimum age requirements, publish risk assessments, ensure young people cannot access harmful content (while still granting adults access) and remove illegal content such as self-harm and deepfake intimate images.

The government has said the new law will make the UK the “safest place to be online”, but this isn’t something that can happen overnight. Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, is in charge of turning the legislation into something they can actually regulate. By the regulator’s own calculations, this process will take months.

There are many who view the bill as poorly thought out, with potential overreach that could conflict with fundamental human rights. The Open Rights Group has raised serious concerns around privacy and freedom of expression.

The challenges of regulating the internet

There are also aspects of the bill that are, currently, technically impossible. For example, the expectation that platforms will inspect the content of private, end-to-end encrypted messages to ensure that there is no criminal activity (for example, sexual communication with children) on their platforms – this cannot be done without violating the privacy afforded by these technologies.

If platforms are expected to provide “back doors” to technology designed to ensure that communications are private, they may contradict privacy and human rights law. At present, there is no way to grant some people access to encrypted communications without weakening the security of the communications for everyone. Some platforms have said they will leave the UK if such erosions in encryption are enacted.

There is a rich history of governments wrongly assuming encryption can be accessed that is not being reflected upon in current debates.

Furthermore, age verification and estimation technology is not yet foolproof, or indeed accurate enough to determine someone’s exact age. Yoti, a leading age verification and estimation technology provider has stated that their technology could correctly predict a user aged 13-17 being “under 25” 99.9% of the time. It’s entirely possible that many young adults would be falsely identified as being minors – which might prevent them from accessing legal content. There have been previous attempts to legislate age verification for pornography providers (such as in the 2017 Digital Economy Act), which the UK repealed due to the complexities of implementation.

While technology continues to develop, it seems unlikely there will be perfect implementations anytime soon for these issues.

What is ‘harmful’ content?

The other major argument against the bill is that, even with the best of intentions, the protections designed to keep children safe could have a chilling impact on freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

Previous versions of the bill placed expectations on platforms to explicitly tackle “legal but harmful” content for adults. This was defined at the time as content that would be viewed as offensive by a “reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities”. While these provisions are now removed, there is still a great deal of intangibility around what it means to protect children from “harmful” content.

Outside of illegal content, who decides what is harmful?

Platforms will be expected to make rules around content they deem might be harmful to certain users, and censor it before it can be published. As a result, this might also prevent children from accessing information related to gender and sexuality that could be caught up in the filtering and monitoring systems platforms will put in place. Without a clear definition of what harmful content is, it will be down to platforms to guess – and with moving goalposts, depending on the government of the day.

A young girl holding an ipad sits next to her mother on a sofa. The mother has her own laptop but is looking at her daughter's iPad screen.
Young people want adult support in dealing with what they see online – not regulation banning them from seeing it.
Prostock-studio/Shutterstock

What would actually make the internet safe?

As someone who researches the ethics of technology and the habits of young people online, my concern is that this bill will be viewed as the solution to online harms – it clearly is not.

These measures, if effectively implemented, will make it more difficult for young people to stumble across content meant for adults, but they will not prevent the determined teenager. Furthermore, a lot of intimate content shared by young people is shared between peers and not accessed via platforms, so this legislation will do nothing to tackle this.

I often to speak to young people about what help they would like to be safer online. They rarely ask for risk assessments and age verification technologies – they want better education and more informed adults to help them when things go wrong. Far better, young people tell me, to provide people with the knowledge to understand the risks, and how to mitigate them, rather than demanding they are stopped by the platforms.

I am reminded of a quote from the American cybersecurity researcher Marcus Ranum: “You can’t solve social problems with software.”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: Like many women, I didn’t know I was autistic until adulthood – how late diagnosis can hurt mental health and self image

Dr Rachel Moseley writes for The Conversation about the gender differences in autism and the impact of late, or no, diagnosis for autistic people…

Like many women, I didn’t know I was autistic until adulthood – how late diagnosis can hurt mental health and self image

Dagerotip/Shutterstock

Rachel Moseley, Bournemouth University

For many women, adult diagnoses of autism are “a light in the darkness”, an epiphany of self-understanding. My “lightbulb moment” came in my late 20s. “They thought you were autistic,” my mum mused when I told her I was embarking on an academic career in autism research.

As a child, I was painfully aware of being different. The adults and the children around me had noticed my strangeness, my inability to fit in. It turned out that autism had been suggested to my mother – but then dismissed by a child psychiatrist. I didn’t fit what was known about autism. Although socially gauche, I’d mastered eye contact and was fairly eloquent.

A few years after my mum had made that off-the-cuff comment, I was re-evaluating my life in the context of a shiny new diagnosis.

Researchers are learning more and more about the way autism differs in people of different sexes and genders. As they do so, the lights are coming on for more of us who’ve felt lost in the world.

The female face of autism

There is no one type of autistic person. The key features of autism – differences in the way we think, communicate and interact with others – show up in more diverse and subtle ways than the limited examples suggested by the diagnostic criteria. This is often true in autistic girls.


This article is part of Women’s Health Matters, a series about the health and wellbeing of women and girls around the world. From menopause to miscarriage, pleasure to pain the articles in this series will delve into the full spectrum of women’s health issues to provide valuable information, insights and resources for women of all ages.

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While they struggle with social understanding, many autistic girls are adept mimics of the social behaviour of other people. In the way they speak and the things they talk about, they are more similar to neurotypical children than autistic boys are. This may explain why, on first impression, people tend to underestimate autistic girls’ difficulties.

In comparison to autistic boys, the conversation of autistic girls tends to be more social in nature, focusing more on the people and friendship groups around them. Their interests tend to be more social, involving fictional characters, animals or celebrities rather than non-living objects. Tellingly, they express greater longing for the friendships and relationships which often elude them.

As they grow, some girls learn scripts to use in social situations, and develop a passive way of behaving with others that focuses on making the other person feel comfortable. Many autistic girls and women engage in this kind of “social camouflaging” constantly in order to seem acceptable to others.

The subtleties of autism in girls mean that they’re diagnosed significantly later than boys. In part, this reflects lack of awareness in the professionals who typically signpost children to autism services. However, others will be passed over because diagnostic assessment tools are less sensitive to autism in girls with cognitive abilities in the normal range.

The price of being overlooked

Undiagnosed autistic people are often painfully aware of their inability to fit in and to do the things that others do easily. If no one gives you an explanation, you’re left to find one yourself.

I knew as a teenager that I must be fundamentally bad, since I was bullied and had no friends at school. Autistic people I’ve worked with in my research have similarly blamed themselves for a lifetime of struggling and being abused, pinning these things on personal failings.

Woman looking sadly out of window.
Undiagnosed autism can lead to mental health struggles.
Rocketclips, Inc./Shutterstock

Across research studies, we late-diagnosed autistics are that societal subgroup with a history of academic struggles, employment problems, mental illness and relationship breakdowns. Our self-narratives are ones of inadequacy and failure.

Research has found that autistic girls and women have poorer mental health than autistic men. So are people who are diagnosed later in life compared to those diagnosed when young. These two facts are almost certainly interrelated. Autistic children who grow up without a diagnosis are unlikely to receive appropriate support. What’s more, they’re less likely to be viewed with compassion when they struggle.

Recognition of autism in girls and women may come at a crisis point. For some, this occurs in the pubertal chaos and complex social world of adolescence, where rates of anxiety and depression climb steeply in autistic girls. For some, it happens in the world-rocking turmoil of menopause, which appears to derail the coping skills and social camouflage that undiagnosed people rely on.

For some, it never happens. Undiagnosed autistic people are believed to constitute a high number of suicide deaths.

Further challenges

Beyond diagnosis, there are other ways that autistic girls and women face greater challenges than boys and men. While women generally suffer higher rates of sexual abuse, this risk is even higher for autistic women.

Autistic women often find their difficulties are poorly understood by employers, and must also contend with gendered pressures to perform emotional labour at work – taking on the unpaid and implicit responsibility to look after the emotions of others – or face damage to their reputation.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, autistic gender disparities in stress-related illnesses and risk of suicide are stark. Despite this, autistic women still face greater barriers to accessing help.

It’s uncertain to what extent these disparities can be traced back to the fundamental fact that autism is poorly understood and under-catered for in women and people of minority sexes and genders.

What we do know is that early diagnosis seems crucial for girls to grow up with positive self-image and lower risk of mental illness.

For we lucky women who got there in the end, a discovered autistic identity can be a life-changing gift. Finding ourselves means finding each other, release from self-blame and a new sense of belonging.The Conversation

Rachel Moseley, Principle Academic in Psychology, Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article: Russell Brand allegations are leading to renewed scrutiny of the endemic bullying and harassment in the TV industry

Dr Christa van Raalte and Dr Richard Wallis write for The Conversation about the culture and working practices within the TV industry…

Russell Brand allegations are leading to renewed scrutiny of the endemic bullying and harassment in the TV industry

Gnepphoto/Shutterstock

Christa van Raalte, Bournemouth University and Richard Wallis, Bournemouth University

The presenter, comedian and actor Russell Brand is at the centre of a joint investigation by The Times, The Sunday Times and Channel 4 Dispatches, which has reported allegations of abuse made against him by four women, which include emotional abuse, sexual assault and rape. Brand has denied these allegations, saying his relationships have been “always consensual”, and they have not been tested in any court of law. However, this investigation focuses attention on a problem at the heart of the culture of the UK’s television industry.

According to the investigation, many of the allegations were borne out of what TV industry insiders describe as a working culture that tolerates, even facilitates, the abuse of power by its “talent”. A runner on one of Brand’s shows, interviewed for the Channel 4 film, recalls a colleague’s response on hearing of Brand’s behaviour: “Girls, girls. You know, it’s what happens with the talent. Boys will be boys.”

These allegations are only the most recent in a seemingly endless stream of high-profile incidents dating back to 2012 and the uncovering of historic abuse by the broadcaster Jimmy Savile. This scandal is clearly referenced in Dispatches’ documentary’s title, Russell Brand: In Plain Sight (Savile was described across the media at the time as having hidden “in plain sight”).

There have been many efforts at industry reform since 2012. However, we continue to see regular revelations of alleged bad behaviour – from accusations levelled at staff at Gogglebox to complaints recently made about TV chef James Martin.

Often abuses are all too conveniently attributed to “a few bad apples”. Yet the reality is that bullying and harassment are endemic in the UK television industry. We found this in a survey we conducted in 2021 of nearly 1,200 television professionals.

A staggering 93% of respondents had experienced or witnessed bullying or harassment at work during their careers. The Film and Television Charity’s 2022 report on mental health in the industry supports these findings, with nearly half of respondents reporting personal experience of bullying, harassment or discrimination in the previous 12 months.

Brand may or may not ultimately be found to be a “bad apple” but he’s prominent in an industry where such alleged cases, as recent interviewees in the media have attested to, are often open secrets and accepted as part of the nature of the work.

Bullying and abuse as systemic problems in UK television

Our research suggests that the problem is structural and systemic.

Research in organisational behaviour shows that certain characteristics of work increase the likelihood of bad behaviour. It is more likely to happen where workloads are high and mentally demanding. It is more likely where roles are not well-defined or where people are constantly asked to balance conflicting demands.

It is common where teams are working under pressure to tight schedules, where lines of communication are unclear and critically where job insecurity makes workers reluctant to report concerns. All of these circumstances characterise current working conditions in UK television.

Over the past two or three years various mechanisms have been introduced to encourage the reporting of unacceptable behaviour and the abuse of power in the television industry. A new bullying watchdog, the Creative Industries Independent Standards Authority (CIISA), is currently refining its brief before a planned launch next year.

Arising out of the work of Time’s Up UK, which campaigns against discrimination and sexism in the workplace, this is certainly a welcome development. However, it does little to tackle the underlying structural issues, including the culture of fear that enables serial abusers.

Facilitated abuse

The TV executive quoted as dismissing staff concerns in the Dispatches film was not unusual in her attitude. The kind of work environment in which bullies and abusers feel able to operate with impunity – and victims feel disempowered – is common.

Industry insiders claim that Brand’s activities were an “open secret” and that staff were “basically acting as pimps” for him, being expected to provide his contact details to women in his studio audiences.

Multiple complaints from crew members reportedly went unheeded. It is also claimed that in a development meeting for a new show, when the issue of his behaviour toward female crew was raised, one producer’s suggestion was to use an all-male crew – an idea which could potentially be putting female professionals out of work.

The investigation suggests that the alleged way in which Brand’s behaviour was tolerated by successive employers effectively gave the star permission to abuse the women around him. In a Guardian review of the Channel 4 documentary, Jack Seale accurately identified a “collective culpability that resonates well beyond whatever one man might have done”.

In our written evidence to the culture, media and sport parliamentary select committee this week, we are proposing an industry-wide code of practice to support good work and employment arrangements. We also hope to discourage the use of exploitative and unethical ways of working.

There needs to be a clear-cut way for staff to report bullying and harassment. And managers need to be made aware of their legal and ethical responsibilities in caring for their staff.

We hope that the film and television industries can set a positive example for the wider creative industries, where similar problems are reported. Fundamental changes are needed now and the industry cannot remain the sort of environment that facilitates bullying and harassment, moving from one scandal to the next.

These allegations are a wake-up call. The TV industry cannot continue the way it has.The Conversation

Christa van Raalte, Associate Professor of Film and Television, Bournemouth University and Richard Wallis, Principal Academic in Media Production, Faculty of Media & Communication, Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article: Bidenomics – why it’s more likely to win the 2024 election than many people think

Dr Conor O’Kane writes for The Conversation about President Joe Biden’s economic approach and why it might end up winning votes in the next US election…

Bidenomics: why it’s more likely to win the 2024 election than many people think

Conor O’Kane, Bournemouth University

Joe Biden has come out fighting against perceptions that he is handling the US economy badly. During an address in Maryland, the president contrasted Bidenomics with Trumpian “MAGAnomics” that would involve tax-cutting and spending reductions. He decried trickle-down policies that had, “shipped jobs overseas, hollowed out communities and produced soaring deficits”.

Changing voters’ minds about the economy is one of Biden’s biggest challenges ahead of the 2024 election. Recent polling data suggested 63% of Americans are negative on the US economy, while 45% said their financial situation had deteriorated in the last two years.

Voters are also downbeat about Biden. In a recent CNN poll, almost 75% of respondents were “seriously” concerned about his mental and physical competence. Even 60% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning respondents were “seriously” concerned he would lose in 2024.

This appears a great opportunity for Donald Trump. He’s the clear favourite amongst Republican voters for their nomination, assuming recent indictments don’t thwart his ambitions.

Trump won in 2016 by capitalising on Americans’ economic discontent. Globalisation is estimated to have seen 5.5 million well paid, unionised US manufacturing jobs lost between 2000 and 2017. The “small-government” approach since the days of Ronald Reagan also exacerbated inequality, with only the top 20% of earners seeing their GDP share rise from 1980-2016.

Trump duly promised to retreat from globalisation and prioritise domestic growth and job creation. “Make America Great Again” resonated with many voters, especially in swing manufacturing states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Winning these “rust-belt” states was crucial to Trump’s success.

These will again be key battlegrounds in 2024, but the economic situation is somewhat different now. There may be more cause for Democrat optimism than the latest polls suggest.

What is Bidenomics?

When Biden won in 2020, he too recognised that the neoliberal version of US capitalism was failing ordinary Americans. His answer, repeated in his Maryland speech, is to grow the economy “from the middle out and the bottom up”. To this end, Bidenomics is centred on three key pillars: smarter public investment, growing the middle class and promoting competition.

On investment, Biden’s approach fundamentally challenges the argument by the right that increasing public investment “crowds out” more efficient private investment. Bidenomics argues that targeted public investment will unlock private investment, delivering well paid jobs and growth.

The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) has helped raise US capital expenditure nearer its long-term trend, although there’s a way to go. But what is really distinctive is the green-economy focus.

US public investment as a % of GDP

Graph showing US public investment as a % of GDP
CEIC

Almost 80% of the US$485 billion (£390 billion) in IRA spending is on energy security and climate change investment, through tax credits, subsidies and incentives. Much of the investments announced into manufacturing electric cars, batteries and solar panels, and mining vital ingredients like cobalt and lithium, are in the rust belt.

Meanwhile, Biden’s 2022 Chips Act is a US$280 billion investment to bolster US independence in semiconductors. With both acts backing domestic investment, the strategy concedes Trump’s point that globalisation failed blue-collar America. This is underpinned by other protectionist measures such as Biden’s “buy American” policy.

A whole series of measures aim to boost the middle classes. These include increasing workers’ ability to collectively bargain, and widening the maximum earning threshold for workers entitled to overtime pay from US$35,000 to US$55,000 – taking in 3.6 million more workers. As for promoting competition, measures include banning employers from using non-compete clauses in employment contacts.

The results so far

It’s too early to judge these policies, but the US economy has been relatively impressive under Biden. Over 13 million new jobs have been created, though much of this can be perhaps attributed to workers resuming employment after COVID. Unemployment is below 4%, a 50-year low, though similar to what Trump achieved pre-COVID.

Total US jobs

Graph of the total number of non-farm jobs in the US
This shows the total number of non-farm jobs in the US.
St Louis Federal Reserve

The IMF predicts the US economy will grow 1.8% in 2023, the strongest among the G7. The US also has the group’s lowest inflation rate, although it rose in August. On the closely watched core-inflation metric, which excludes food and energy, the US is mid-table, though improving.

The federal deficit, the annual difference between income and outgoings, is heading in the wrong direction. It deteriorated under Trump, ballooned during COVID then partially bounced back, but is forecast to widen in 2023 to 5.9% of GDP or circa US$2 trillion.

Graph showing the US federal deficit over time
St Louis Federal Reserve

Ratings agency Fitch recently downgraded the US credit rating from AAA to AA+. Fitch says the US public finances will worsen over the next three years because GDP will deteriorate and spending rise, and that the endless political battles over the US debt ceiling have eroded confidence.

Nonetheless, the other major ratings agencies have not made similar downgrades, and the widening deficit is mostly not because of Bidenomics. Tax receipts are substantially down because the markets have been less favourable to investors, while surging interest rates have increased US debt interest payments.

Overall, the economics signs are arguably moving in the right direction. An article co-written by business professor Jeffrey Sonnefeld from Yale University in the US, advisor to Democrat and Republican administrations, compares Bidenomics to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. It argues:

The US economy is now pulling off what all the experts said was impossible: strong growth and record employment amidst plummeting inflation … the fruits of economic prosperity are inclusive and broad-based, amidst a renaissance in American manufacturing, investment and productivity.

The Democrats know they must make this case to win in 2024. To compound Biden’s Maryland speech, there are plans for an advertising blitz in key states. Of course, the party may yet back another candidate, if they are thought more likely to win – currently Biden and Trump are neck and neck.

One consolation to the Democrats is that voters’ gloom is partly related to interest rates, which are probably close to peaking. Anyway, recent polling suggesting voters view the economy as the paramount issue is arguably good news: it means that Republican efforts to shift the narrative towards the culture wars are less likely to win an election.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.

Conversation article: The psychology of spot fixing – why athletes might gamble their careers

Dr Lucy Sheppard-Marks writes for The Conversation about her research into sport and crime and how to better protect athletes…

The psychology of spot fixing – why athletes might gamble their careers

Wpadington/Shutterstock

Lucy Sheppard-Marks, Bournemouth University

Fifa is reportedly investigating allegations of an illegal betting ring in Greece. Meanwhile the Bolivian Football Federation has cancelled two top-flight tournaments over reports of spot fixing.

These country-level investigations follow numerous examples of professional footballers being personally investigated for breaking betting rules. In 2022, Reading defender Kynan Isaac was handed a 12-year ban for placing illegal bets.

From the outside it might seem strange that well-paid athletes who seemingly have everything might risk it all in this way. Those who are eventually found guilty can be fined, suspended from playing the sport or even banned for life.

As yet not much is known about the benefits athletes get out of spot fixing, beyond payments from fixers, and researchers aren’t even sure if athletes always get payments direct from bookmakers. But it may not all be simply about money.

My previous research into why male professional athletes commit crime may help us understand why they would gamble their careers – the intense conditions of a professional athlete’s world can prime them for criminality.

Why do athletes do it?

Sport corruption cases have been on the on the increase around the world in recent years.

My study in sport and crime involved interviewing elite male athletes who have committed crimes, ranging from driving offences or drug possession, to importing drugs or grievous bodily harm.

I found the very characteristics that may have made them a good athlete may have also set them on the path to criminality. There are parallels between the core features of athletic excellence such as competitiveness, aggression, appetite for risk and assertion, and some of the traits that underpin criminal activities.

In some circumstances, an athlete may view crime as an intense and thrilling activity that fulfils their need for excitement and fuels their appetite for risk.

Some athletes viewed crime as a means to alleviate boredom, with players struggling to fill the void that was left when not competing or training. The thrill of the crime wasn’t necessarily an initial motivator but it was clearly a reason for repeated offences. As one athlete told me: “Some of those feelings, like feelings of elation and at times camaraderie as well, that I experienced on a football pitch, in a changing room… I got that from crime as well.”

Another athlete said: “There is a buzz of it … Anyone who tells you anything else is lying, it’s a buzz”.

Close up of hands gripping prison bars.
One athlete said he didn’t need to worry about jail because he wouldn’t get caught.
fongbeerredhot/Shutterstock

Athletes in my study highlighted their susceptibility to temptation, their sense of invincibility and belief the rules did not apply to them and, in hindsight, their self-centredness. In psychology, these characteristics are linked with a type of behaviour called “terminal adolescence”, where they appear to not grow up because they don’t have to. Some athletes are so indulged they develop unrealistic views of themselves and a sense of invincibility commonly seen in adolescents.

A disregard for consequences was also clear. One participant said: “Of course there are consequences, of course there are people that go to jail, I know them, but I’m not going to get caught so I don’t have to think about that”.

Athletes may take part in crime because risky experiences can give people a sense of control in their largely constrained lives – it can help athletes escape from the restrictive nature of elite sport.

Negative sporting experiences influenced some atheletes’ criminal behaviour too. Rejection, failure and a belief that sporting bodies, coaches or fans are treating them unfairly can incite athletes to rebellion. For example, one professional boxer began a phase of going out with friends and taking drugs after he lost a match because he thought the outcome was unfair.

Substance misuse was also often a negative influence. The need for money to pay for drugs and increasing greed in general were given as reasons for these bouts of self-destructive behaviour.

What can be done?

Sport organisations need to ensure they know the backgrounds, and social pressures, that are inescapable for many athletes so they can protect them. Young athletes’ potential criminality is not always on the radar of coaches, but it needs to be. One of the athletes I interviewed did get pulled up by his coach who had realised what he was doing in his free time – and this was a changing point for him.

Participants in my study touched upon the pressure they felt to be successful and how they struggled with mental health. One athlete described how draining his sport could be, and how the intensity – combined with the pressure an athlete is constantly under to perform – was exhausting.

The destructive criminal behaviour may be self-inflicted but these athletes still need support. Failing to support an athlete who has committed a crime may well make things worse, as they struggle with the financial, social and emotional consequences of their actions.

The frequency of drug and alcohol misuse is also an influence on athletes committing crimes. Athletes were indifferent to the use of class B and C drugs, and the negative impact these drugs could have on their careers, or how these could result in a criminal record. Education should be extended to coaches about how to spot social drug use, as it was clear that athletes in this study were adept at hiding their substance misuse.

The experiences of athletes who have committed crimes can be used allow others to learn from their mistakes. Telling their stories will also enable those who have offended to give back to their sports, and give convicted athletes a focus for getting their careers in sport back on track.The Conversation

Lucy Sheppard-Marks, Lecturer Sport and Event Management, Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article: Fans are finding out just how disappointing merchandise for women’s football is

Dr Keith Parry co-authors this article for The Conversation about the choice and availability of kits for women’s football fans…

Fans are finding out just how disappointing merchandise for women’s football is

Keith Parry, Bournemouth University; Beth Clarkson, University of Portsmouth, and Katie Sveinson, UMass Amherst

England goalkeeper Mary Earps was named player of the match in England’s victory over Nigeria in the Fifa Women’s World Cup. She has played a key role in England’s recent successes, not just at the World Cup but in previous tournaments. Her performances have made her a hero to her fans.

But Earps’ fans are unable to emulate her by wearing a replica of her goalkeeper shirt: it is not being put up for sale by team kit manufacturer Nike. Earps has said that her goalkeeping shirt not being available to buy is “hurtful”, and a petition by fans calling for the shirt to be produced has reached over 35,000 signatures.

We are currently researching the availability of kits for women’s football fans, together with colleague Jess Richards. The merchandise and clothing available to female fans and male fans of women’s teams is often limited, undesirable or just not available.

Female fans have expressed dissatisfaction with merchandise offered in varying shades of pink. A women’s Manchester United shirt with a low neckline produced in 2015 was criticised for sexualising fans.

Or women may feel obliged to buy a shirt that doesn’t fit them if women’s cuts (shirts made to fit the shape of a female torso) of men’s team shirts are unavailable.

Here, we’ve looked at the kits women can buy on the official online stores for six teams to explore some of these issues.

World Cup clothing

The official online store for England football kits currently highlights the women’s home kit on their home page. Fans can buy a men’s cut – a shirt fitted to the shape of a male torso – of the Lionesses’ shirt, including personalised versions with player names on.

But female fans have fewer items available specifically for them in the store. There are no women’s fit versions of the men’s national team jersey.

The same is true for France – men can buy a men’s fit of the women’s team kit, but there is no women’s fit of the men’s team jersey currently available.

In their official online shop the Republic of Ireland offer women the women’s national team jersey in two different fits. They do also have the women’s national team goalkeeper kit for sale. However, the men’s team shirts are available in both long and short sleeved versions, but the women’s team shirts only come with short sleeves.

The online store for Canada Soccer also features the women’s kit prominently, but the high-end “authentic jersey” is only available for the men’s team, and only in men’s sizes. A women’s fit of the men’s jersey is not available at all.

US soccer fans hoping to emulate women’s team goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher are currently only able to buy outfield shirts with her name on it on the official kit website. The only goalkeeper jersey on offer is for the men’s national team and it is only available in a men’s fit. The store has many more items for men than for women, even for products replicating the women’s national team kit.

In 2020 in Australia the away version of the Matildas’ kit, produced by Nike, was not initially available in a women’s cut. Football Australia now has equal availability in terms of the replica jerseys and there are more items for women than for men. But the replica shirts that are currently available for the men’s team are only offered in men’s sizes.

Buying merchandise and especially replica shirts is important to fans. It is a way to show loyalty to a team and helps to develop a sense of identity.

The fan clothing worn by women can affect whether they feel they are considered as “authentic” fans. Sporting culture continues to be dominated by men.

Subtle differences in how women’s sport is treated, such as those we have found here, show that women are still disadvantaged. It is important that fans continue to push for equal opportunities on and off the pitch.The Conversation

Keith Parry, Head Of Department in Department of Sport & Event Management, Bournemouth University; Beth Clarkson, Senior Lecturer in Sports Management, University of Portsmouth, and Katie Sveinson, Assistant professor, UMass Amherst

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

 

Conversation article: How community markets for all could be a sustainable alternative to food banks

Dr Rounaq Nayak writes for The Conversation about his research into the value of community food banks…

How community markets for all could be a sustainable alternative to food banks

Troyan/Shutterstock

Rounaq Nayak, Bournemouth University

The number of people using food banks in the UK has increased from 26,000 in 2008-09 to more than 100 times that in 2023. Nearly one in five British households experienced moderate to severe food insecurity in September 2022.

In the financial year to April 2023, Trussell Trust, the largest (but not the only) network of food banks in the UK, distributed emergency food parcels to nearly three million people.

Food banks provide free, pre-prepared parcels of food to those most in need. They have provided a great deal of support for low-income families, especially during the cost of living crisis.

However, they are not perfect. Food banks offer people little choice, are dependent on unreliable supply chains. Research has also shown that people who use food banks often experience shame and stigma when doing so.

My research, with colleague Heather Hartwell at Bournemouth University, has found a viable alternative. Community markets selling food and household items at subsidised rates to all could be a sustainable solution to the problems with existing food support programmes.

Food banks rely heavily on donations. But rising food prices means even would-be donors are struggling to buy that extra can of beans and other items. Beneficiaries of food banks also told us that parcels were mostly made up of dried, tinned and processed foods.

While it is important that parcels have a long shelf life, people experiencing food poverty want a choice of fresh and frozen food items, including meat. The constraints in the range and quality of food available are also associated with health problems such as diabetes, asthma and obesity.

Food banks also do not empower people who use them to become self-sufficient. Rather, they often result in long-term reliance on food aid. Hence, food banks offer temporary relief from hunger without addressing the bigger issues that lead to food insecurity.

Community markets

Community markets operate differently to food banks. They are open to everyone in the local community, regardless of income level, and provide a range of food choices along with other items such as school uniforms and toiletries.

We interviewed 38 people who regularly used or were involved in the operation of these programmes in the UK. Through these discussions, we assessed how well community markets address the challenges of food security, and found that they are a possible solution to the limitations of food banks and parcel distribution.

Community markets do not solely rely on donations from the public or businesses. They pay a subscription to charity networks such as FareShare, which provide the market with items in bulk, which are sold to the community at a subsidised rate. All revenue from sales is reinvested to pay for future bulk purchases.

People with low incomes who shop at community markets told us they enjoyed having food at affordable food prices and felt a stronger sense of autonomy, and being part of the community. They did not feel their reliance on food support was a barrier to being part of society. As one person said:

I very much prefer being able to choose my food instead of being given parcels. … It just feels dignified to be able to pay for goods, even if it is at subsidised rates, and then being able to choose what I want based on what I would like to eat.

A middle-aged man wearing a face mask and carrying a shopping basket in front of refrigerator cases in a supermarket
People across social classes are struggling with high food prices.
Anna Nahabed/Shutterstock

Food for all

These markets can be used by people from across the community, including those on a higher income. People who were more well-off told us they wanted to shop at the markets because they felt they were giving back, spending their money to be reinvested in the programme:

I thought that people who would come to the market … would be very needy, not only financially but mentally as well but it isn’t like that … I like shopping here because the money I pay is invested back into the community.

Additionally, community markets serve as a hub, offering organised group activities and services for people, such as cooking and gardening classes, yoga and sewing. Through these activities, the community markets are tackling loneliness and other health issues – not just hunger.

Community markets are economically self-sufficient. They use revenue generated from selling products at subsidised rates to subscribe to charitable food surplus redistribution organisations. This financial independence sets them apart from food banks, which often rely on grants. They can also be environmentally sustainable, actively reducing food waste and their carbon footprint by redistributing surplus food to local emergency services and farms.

As more people rely on food aid, it’s important that local councils and national governments support alternatives to food banks. For the family struggling to fill the fridge or the student coping with higher rent, our findings show community markets could be of significant help, while allowing people to maintain their dignity and be part of their community.The Conversation

Rounaq Nayak, Lecturer in Sustainable Agri-Food Systems, Bournemouth University

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

Conversation article: ChatGPT isn’t the death of homework – just an opportunity for schools to do things differently

Professor Andy Phippen writes for The Conversation about how educate can adapt to AI technology…

ChatGPT isn’t the death of homework – just an opportunity for schools to do things differently

Daisy Daisy/Shutterstock

Andy Phippen, Bournemouth University

ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence (AI) platform launched by research company Open AI, can write an essay in response to a short prompt. It can perform mathematical equations – and show its working.

ChatGPT is a generative AI system: an algorithm that can generate new content from existing bodies of documents, images or audio when prompted with a description or question. It’s unsurprising concerns have emerged that young people are using ChatGPT and similar technology as a shortcut when doing their homework.

But banning students from using ChatGPT, or expecting teachers to scour homework for its use, would be shortsighted. Education has adapted to – and embraced – online technology for decades. The approach to generative AI should be no different.

The UK government has launched a consultation on the use of generative AI in education, following the publication of initial guidance on how schools might make best use of this technology.

In general, the advice is progressive and acknowledged the potential benefits of using these tools. It suggests that AI tools may have value in reducing teacher workload when producing teaching resources, marking, and in administrative tasks. But the guidance also states:

Schools and colleges may wish to review homework policies, to consider the approach to homework and other forms of unsupervised study as necessary to account for the availability of generative AI.

While little practical advice is offered on how to do this, the suggestion is that schools and colleges should consider the potential for cheating when students are using these tools.

Nothing new

Past research on student cheating suggested that students’ techniques were sophisticated and that they felt remorseful only if caught. They cheated because it was easy, especially with new online technologies.

But this research wasn’t investigating students’ use of Chat GPT or any kind of generative AI. It was conducted over 20 years ago, part of a body of literature that emerged at the turn of the century around the potential harm newly emerging internet search engines could do to student writing, homework and assessment.

We can look at past research to track the entry of new technologies into the classroom – and to infer the varying concerns about their use. In the 1990s, research explored the impact word processors might have on child literacy. It found that students writing on computers were more collaborative and focused on the task. In the 1970s, there were questions on the effect electronic calculators might have on children’s maths abilities.

In 2023, it would seem ludicrous to state that a child could not use a calculator, word processor or search engine in a homework task or piece of coursework. But the suspicion of new technology remains. It clouds the reality that emerging digital tools can be effective in supporting learning and developing crucial critical thinking and life skills.

Get on board

Punitive approaches and threats of detection make the use of such tools covert. A far more progressive position would be for teachers to embrace these technologies, learn how they work, and make this part of teaching on digital literacy, misinformation and critical thinking. This, in my experience, is what young people want from education on digital technology.

Children in class looking at tablets.
Young people should learn how to use these online tools.
Ground Picture/Shutterstock

Children should learn the difference between acknowledging the use of these tools and claiming the work as their own. They should also learn whether – or not – to trust the information provided to them on the internet.

The educational charity SWGfL, of which I am a trustee, has recently launched an AI hub which provides further guidance on how to use these new tools in school settings. The charity also runs Project Evolve, a toolkit containing a large number of teaching resources around managing online information, which will help in these classroom discussions.

I expect to see generative AI tools being merged, eventually, into mainstream learning. Saying “do not use search engines” for an assignment is now ridiculous. The same might be said in the future about prohibitions on using generative AI.

Perhaps the homework that teachers set will be different. But as with search engines, word processors and calculators, schools are not going to be able to ignore their rapid advance. It is far better to embrace and adapt to change, rather than resisting (and failing to stop) it.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: Modest fashion – why the UK high street still offers women too little choice

Dr Samreen Ashraf writes for The Conversation about the availability of modest fashion in the UK…

Modest fashion: why the UK high street still offers women too little choice

Samreen Ashraf, Bournemouth University

When Indonesian designer Vivi Zubedi made her debut on the international stage during the New York Fashion Week in 2018, critics gushed at the elevated abayas her models sported. Her high fashion takes on the traditional Muslim full-length garment married velvet and pearls with leather jackets, baseball caps and batik prints.

Some hailed designers catering thus to women wanting to dress modestly as fashion’s “exciting new frontier”. The market for modest fashion was hailed as being on the rise.

Modest fashion encompasses clothing that covers the body in a conservative manner, often in adherence to religious and cultural beliefs and identities. Though most often referred to in a Muslim context, it is not actually limited to one particular region or religion. Instead it is a concept that has been embraced by people of all kinds of backgrounds across the world.

The research my colleagues and I have conducted looks at female Muslim identities and how they are considered – or not – within the UK fashion industry. Despite the fact that the worldwide Muslim fashion market is projected to be worth $311 billion (£251 billion) by 2024, we have found that many women in the UK still have very little choice within their price bracket.

Not enough choice

Between 2017 and 2021, we conducted interviews with 23 Muslim women in the UK, from seven different ethnicities or cultural heritages: Bangladeshi, British, Indian, Iranian, Nigerian, Turkish and Tunisian. We wanted to understand how, as Muslims living in a non-Muslim majority country, their religious identity influenced their fashion consumption.

To our minds, the UK represented an ideal setting for this kind of study, because it has a strong retail sector and liberal values which encourage individual choice. It is also widely considered to be diverse and multicultural.

And yet, the women we spoke to still struggle to find clothing options they can afford, that they feel are appropriate and support them in adhering to their beliefs. As one interviewee, Izma, put it:

I want to wear something within my modest limits but it is so hard to find such clothes. I wish they start making fashionable clothes which are fully covered. Sometimes I see these modest lines, but these are out of my reach.

For these women, being fashionable is important and so is their Muslim identity. But they are still stuck with having to choose between the two.

You see, I don’t want to wear anything revealing because I am Muslim, but also because I come from a conservative family and certain background and ‘modern’ clothes don’t go well with my family image.

Expressing identity

Many non-Muslim women embrace some degree of modesty in their clothing, in a bid to express personal style while maintaining a more conservative appearance. As the writer Sarah Al-Zaher has said:

Modest fashion is for people who just choose to show less. It is also for people who just prefer the ‘relaxed’ or the ‘oversized look’.

In the Muslim world, modest fashion plays a central role in projecting your religious identity. Al-Zaher puts it plainly:

It is not just a short-lived fad; it is a need because it is something that is embedded in our mindset and beliefs that will remain with us for life.

Back in 2018, when London followed New York in showcasing modest runway options, pundits assumed the buzz would push modest fashion into the mainstream and boost the market beyond high-end fashion. However, it still only receives temporary attention from designers and retailers alike.

By 2030, the Muslim population will represent over 25% of the global population. It is growing at twice the rate of the non-Muslim population.

This means that fashion brands have a great opportunity to bridge the gap between fashion and modesty, and properly cater to what is clearly a growing market demographic. However, the gap persists. In 2021, journalist Yasmin Khatun Dewan highlighted the example of Halima Aden, the “trailblazing hijab-wearing Muslim model” who had been hailed in 2017 as an “an icon of inclusivity” only to quit the fashion industry altogether four years later because, as she put it, she had compromised who she was in order to fit in.

Muslim women – and those for whom modesty is a guiding principle in how they choose to dress themselves – shouldn’t have to compromise. They deserve as broad a range of fashion choices as any other. As Ana, another woman I interviewed in 2021, said:

Just because you are Muslim doesn’t mean you can’t have fun wearing what you want to wear. You can still wear really pretty dresses if it’s long, or long tunics or whatever, it can still be fun. It doesn’t have to be just black and drape.The Conversation

Samreen Ashraf, Principal Academic in Marketing, Bournemouth University

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