How Far is Tehran From Your Door? Your Estimate May Depend on How Scared You Are
David Berreby is the author of "Us and Them: The Science of Identity." He has written about human behavior and other science topics for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Slate, Smithsonian, The New Republic, Nature, Discover, Vogue and many other publications. He has been a Visiting Scholar at the University of Paris, a Science Writing Fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory, a resident at Yaddo, and in 2006 was awarded the Erving Goffman Award for Outstanding Scholarship for the first edition of "Us and Them." David can be found on Twitter at @davidberreby and reached by email at david [at] davidberreby [dot] com.
Feeling threatened changes people's perceptions of other people. Before World War II, for example, American university students described the Japanese as artistic and progressive, while the Chinese were supposedly treacherous and deceitful. By 1943, those stereotypes were reversed—just as American descriptions of brave, hardworking Russians in 1942 gave way to images of cruel, conceited Russkies in 1948. Now this study, in the current Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, suggests that fear also alters people's perceptions of geography. For example, the authors found that Americans who fear Mexican immigration estimate Mexico City to be closer than it is (and closer than less-concerned Americans think). And die-hard Yankees fans think the Red Sox's Fenway Park is closer to New York than do people who don't care about that rivalry.
It's the Yankees-Red Sox result that got all the press this week, but the whole paper, by Y. Jenny Xiao and Jay J. Van Bavel, is well worth reading. (A pdf is here.) The baseball experiment—giving candy to 46 Yankees fans and 27 non-fans at a game in 2010 in exchange for their answers to a few questions—was just the first of three interesting tests. People whose responses indicated that they really cared about the Yankees put Fenway Park slightly closer to New York than it actually is—and slightly closer than Camden Yards, stadium of the (then completely unthreatening) Baltimore Orioles. In fact, the Baltimore stadium is slightly closer than Boston's, as the non-fans correctly guessed.
But of course most of life isn't lived at war or in baseball arenas. In regular life, the identities that matter to us rise and fall from awareness in accordance with what is happening at the moment. You might be a Yankees fan, but in the context of a political argument, that identity might never come to mind, so caught up will you be with being a Tea Partier or Occupier or Third Way Democrat. And what goes for identity also goes for relationships between groups. Boston can be the home of the enemy Red Sox (bad!) in one conversation but the site of the great original patriotic Tea Party (good!) in another. So for their second experiment Xiao and Van Bavel looked to see if they map the effects of this kind of difference: They wanted to see if the same place felt closer to people it spooked than it did to people who saw that place in a different, non-threatening context.
They had NYU students and staff read about New York City's other great university, Columbia. Some read an article that made Columbia out to be entirely superior to NYU (ouch!) while others got a version that even-handedly compared the two schools. Asked afterward to estimate the distance from NYU to Columbia, people rated Columbia as closer than it actually is—if they were strongly identified with NYU. People with no particular feeling for NYU, on the other hand, guessed that Columbia was further than it is. Xiao and Van Bavel think this is the default for uninvolved people: any discussion of a difference between two groups will make them seem more different. That will make them feel more literally distant to people who don't have the personal stake in the comparison.
Now, you might have noticed that in both these experiments, the notion that people feel threatened (Yankees fans by the Red Sox, NYU folk by Columbia) was presumed rather than measured. So the authors did a third test, where they asked directly how people felt. They asked 329 NYU undergraduates some questions about their identity as Americans, and their views on immigration from Mexico. Then they asked them to estimate the distance as the crow flies from New York to Mexico City (and, for comparison) to Vancouver (part of that big, friendly country Americans aren't afraid of) and Los Angeles. Results: people who felt threatened by immigration thought Mexico City was closer.
Interestingly, though, this result only appeared among people who were strongly wrapped up in their American identity and who were worried about the cultural and psychological effects of immigration. That is, these were people who strongly agreed with statements like "I am proud to be an American" and statements like "Immigration from Mexico is undermining American culture." However, people whose fears were more practical and economic (sample statement: "Mexican immigration has increased tax burden on Americans") did not imagine that Mexico is closer than it is. It seems fear of dilution and disappearance—not rational dollars-and-cents concerns—is what makes it feel like the Other is too close for comfort.
Xiao YJ, & Van Bavel JJ (2012). See your friends close and your enemies closer: social identity and identity threat shape the representation of physical distance. Personality & social psychology bulletin, 38 (7), 959-72 PMID: 22510363
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It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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