from the world's big
Soon, You'll Know As Much About What You Buy As the Company That Made It
The term "Big Data" naturally conjures up images of Big Users, like the government or Google or Costco. It's easy to see why big enterprises crunch data to learn, for example, which groceries people want on the first day of a heat wave and which they want later on, or how warmed-up Scots buy different foods than people on a hot day in England, or how your recent Facebook activity hints that you're in the market for a new printer. But Big Data is now so abundant and accessible that it can also be used by us smallfolk. Case in point: Buycott, a new app for smartphones that scans a product code and tells you in an instant who will profit if you buy the thing. Don't want to help the Koch brothers make more money? Want to reward companies that took your preferred position on Internet freedom or marriage equality? Just scan and tap.
Ivan Pardo, a Los Angeles programmer, created Buycott to help people create and maintain campaigns. So, as Clare O'Connor explains here, people who want labels on products that use genetically modified foods can scan a box at the grocery store and immediately know if the maker (or its parent company, or parent company's parent company) is one of 36 firms that spend money to defeat labelling proposals. And as you boycott the bad guys, you can also "buycott"—make sure you help fill the coffers of companies you agree with. For instance, O'Connor points out, if you support marriage equality you can use Buycott to scan vodka bottles, and find one made by a company that is on the record in favor, like Absolut.
Buycott is also, of course, pretty interesting to non-boycotters and buycotters—it lifts a veil of ignorance between shoppers and the processes and substances that went into the stuff those shoppers are invited to buy. (So, Brawny Paper Towels are made by Georgia Pacific, which is owned by…Koch Industries. Maybe you knew that. I didn't.
Even if you did know it, I would bet a lot that you don't know all the companies that profit from your consumer choices, or what those companies are doing politically and economically. Who has the time to gather such data? Once it's possible to do so in an instant, on-demand, though, there is a qualitative change in the way people relate to the goods they consume.
In pre-industrial times, people had an almost personal relationship to their stuff. If they hadn't made it themselves, then they knew the craft-person who had, and they knew what he or she had used to make it. Industrial manufacturing drew a curtain between maker and user, and globalization made it more opaque. Labels tell me my son's toy was made in China, or my shirt in Bangladesh. Occasionally, when a disaster or a scandal exposes bad working conditions, we in the rich world ask ourselves about the hidden connections. Did child labor make these shoes? Did exploited workers assemble this phone? Are the rare earths in this tablet helping to support endless war in Congo?
The more data we can get about the making of our stuff, the more these general-sounding questions can get specific answers. This could well lead to major changes in how people see the goods they consume, and how they then behave.
For example: we know, as Paul Bloom writes here, that people easily feel empathy for individuals, but not for whole populations. (As the psychologist Paul Slovic has mordantly put it, the more who die, the less we care.) So how about an empathy-promoting app that shows you the name and photo of the person who assembled your new pants, or that new toy? Such software is, I suspect, well within the capacity of the systems that monitor the global supply chain. Or, consider another possibility: Right now, many Americans associate "Made in Bangladesh" with the Rana Plaza building collapse. Imagine, instead, being able to know for certain if a particular pair of pants was made in that notorious place—or, instead, in a safer factory.
In the longer term, this kind of detailed data, in the hands of consumers, would likely bring about vast changes in their behavior. People might well get used to targeting their spending so as to never put money in the pockets of companies they don't approve of. And what will become of advertising in a world where we can look behind the images of a computer to see the factory where it was made, the workers who assembled it, and the miners who dug the earth for its components?
Illustration: Buycott displays the corporate "family tree" of a scanned product.
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The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.
- In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
- The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
- The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
Gender and sexual minority populations are experiencing rising anxiety and depression rates during the pandemic.
- Anxiety and depression rates are spiking in the LGBTQ+ community, and especially in individuals who hadn't struggled with those issues in the past.
- Overall, depression increased by an average PHQ-9 score of 1.21 and anxiety increased by an average GAD-7 score of 3.11.
- The researchers recommended that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.
Study findings<p>For the study, <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05970-4" target="_blank">published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine</a><em>, </em>Flentje and her team evaluated survey responses from nearly 2,300 individuals who identified as being in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. Most of the participants were white, while nearly 19 percent identified as a racial or ethnic minority. Multiple genders were represented with cisgender women (27.2 percent) and men (24.6 percent) making up a majority of the participants. Sixty-three percent had been assigned female at birth. For the most part, participants identified their sexual orientations as queer (40.3 percent), gay (36.5 percent), and bisexual (30.3 percent).</p><p>The JGIM study participants were recruited from the 18,000-participant <a href="https://pridestudy.org/" target="_blank">PRIDE Study</a> (Population Research in Identity and Disparities for Equality), which is the first large-scale, long-term national study focusing on American adults who identify as LGBTQ+. It conducts annual questionnaires to understand factors related to health and disease in this population. </p><p>Participants filled out an annual questionnaire (starting in June 2019) and a COVID-19 impact survey this past spring. Flentje noted that on an individual level, some people may not have experienced a big change in anxiety or depression levels, but for others there was. Overall, depression increased by a <a href="https://patient.info/doctor/patient-health-questionnaire-phq-9" target="_blank">PHQ-9 score</a> of 1.21, putting it at 8.31 on average. Anxiety went up by a <a href="https://www.mdcalc.com/gad-7-general-anxiety-disorder-7" target="_blank">GAD-7</a> score of 3.11 to an average of 8.89. Interestingly, the average PHQ-9 scores for those who screened positive for depression at the first 2019 survey decreased by 1.08. Those who screened negative for depression saw their PHQ-9 scores increase by 2.17 on average. As for anxiety, researchers detected no GAD-7 change among the study participants who screened positive for anxiety in the first survey, but did see an overall increase of 3.93 among those who had initially been evaluated as negative for the disorder. </p>
Risks among gender and sexual minorities<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fc3fd1ae68b77bbbf58a6995638d6d65"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EnUqDjCqg0A?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The LGBTQ+ community is a vulnerable population to mental health concerns because of their fear of stigmatization and previous discriminatory experiences.</p> <p>Previous research by the Human Rights Campaign has found "that LGBTQ Americans are more likely than the <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/general+population/" target="_blank">general population</a> to live in poverty and lack access to adequate medical care, paid <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/medical+leave/" target="_blank">medical leave</a>, and basic necessities during the pandemic," said researcher Tari Hanneman, director of the health and aging program at the campaign.</p> <p>"Therefore, it is not surprising to see this increase in anxiety and depression among this population," Hanneman said in the release. "This study highlights the need for <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/health+care+professionals/" target="_blank">health care professionals</a> to support, affirm and provide <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/critical+care/" target="_blank">critical care</a> for the LGBTQ community to manage and maintain their mental health, as well as their physical health, during this pandemic."</p>
What should health care providers do?<p>The authors of the study recommend that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders in members of that community—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.</p><p>As cases of COVID-19 continue to mount, the sustained social distancing, potential isolation, economic precariousness, and personal illness, grief, and loss are bound to have increased and varied impacts on mental health. Effective treatments may include individual therapy and medications as well as more large-scale coronavirus support programs like peer-led groups and mindfulness practices. </p><p>"It will be important to find out what happens over time and to identify who is most at risk, so we can be sure to roll out public health interventions to support the mental health of our communities in the best and most effective ways," said Flentje.</p>
What we know about black holes is both fascinating and scary.
- When it comes to black holes, science simultaneously knows so much and so little, which is why they are so fascinating. Focusing on what we do know, this group of astronomers, educators, and physicists share some of the most incredible facts about the powerful and mysterious objects.
- A black hole is so massive that light (and anything else it swallows) can't escape, says Bill Nye. You can't see a black hole, theoretical physicists Michio Kaku and Christophe Galfard explain, because it is too dark. What you can see, however, is the distortion of light around it caused by its extreme gravity.
- Explaining one unsettling concept from astrophysics called spaghettification, astronomer Michelle Thaller says that "If you got close to a black hole there would be tides over your body that small that would rip you apart into basically a strand of spaghetti that would fall down the black hole."