Earl Lewis: Here's Why the Smartest Scientists Work with Humanists
Through an incredible anecdote, Earl Lewis demonstrates why STEM can't do it alone. Scientists and humanists needs each other, and institutions have a responsibility to continue to fund and nurture the humanities.
Earl Lewis became the sixth President of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in March 2013. Under his guidance, the Foundation has reaffirmed its commitment to the humanities, the arts, and higher education by emphasizing the importance of continuity and change. A noted social historian, Mr. Lewis has held faculty appointments at the University of California at Berkeley (1984–89), and the University of Michigan (1989–2004). He has championed the importance of diversifying the academy, enhancing graduate education, re-visioning the liberal arts, exploring the role of digital tools for learning, and connecting universities to their communities. Prior to joining The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Mr. Lewis served as Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of History and African American Studies at Emory University. As Provost, Lewis led academic affairs and academic priority setting for the university. Lewis is the author and co-editor of seven books, including “The African American Urban Experience: Perspectives from the Colonial Period to the Present”; “Defending Diversity: Affirmative Action at the University of Michigan”; the award-winning “To Make Our World Anew: A History of African Americans”; and the heralded book series “American Crossroads.” A native of Tidewater, Virginia, Mr. Lewis earned an undergraduate degree in history and psychology from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He has been a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2008. In 2016, Mr. Lewis was named an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Carnegie Mellon University. He was previously awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Rutgers University-Newark and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Dartmouth College in 2015; he also received an honorary Doctor of Humanities from Concordia College in 2002; Outstanding Achievement Award from the University of Minnesota in 2001; and the Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Award from the University of Michigan in 1999.
Earl Lewis became the sixth President of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in March 2013. Under his guidance, the Foundation has reaffirmed its commitment to the humanities, the arts, and higher education by emphasizing the importance of continuity and change.
A noted social historian, Mr. Lewis has held faculty appointments at the University of California at Berkeley (1984–89), and the University of Michigan (1989–2004). He has championed the importance of diversifying the academy, enhancing graduate education, re-visioning the liberal arts, exploring the role of digital tools for learning, and connecting universities to their communities. Prior to joining The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Mr. Lewis served as Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of History and African American Studies at Emory University. As Provost, Lewis led academic affairs and academic priority setting for the university.
Lewis is the author and co-editor of seven books, including “The African American Urban Experience: Perspectives from the Colonial Period to the Present”; “Defending Diversity: Affirmative Action at the University of Michigan”; the award-winning “To Make Our World Anew: A History of African Americans”; and the heralded book series “American Crossroads.”
A native of Tidewater, Virginia, Mr. Lewis earned an undergraduate degree in history and psychology from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He has been a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2008. In 2016, Mr. Lewis was named an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Carnegie Mellon University. He was previously awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Rutgers University-Newark and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Dartmouth College in 2015; he also received an honorary Doctor of Humanities from Concordia College in 2002; Outstanding Achievement Award from the University of Minnesota in 2001; and the Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Award from the University of Michigan in 1999.
Earl Lewis: A number of commentators over the last decade maybe two decades have talked about what I think of as skills development meaning do you have the requisite skills to be able to enter your first job. Can you read well? Can you write well? Do you have the ability to code, et cetera? I actually think we often times confused skills and skills development with education. An education is actually designed to actually encourage the individual to consider questions they hadn't considered before, to actually be able to assemble a vast array of information and then to synthesize that information and to come up with perhaps what one would think of as new answers. It's not about learning the most recent technique. And the challenge is is that if you only talk about skills development the way knowledge is produced these days a generation is 18 months. And so that means by the time you've actually finish school often times you're already behind the curve and some of that information is obsolete. If you're really truly educated you then learn and you know how to go about pursuing the new acquisition of information and that information that you can then synthesize and apply to what you already know means then that you're not behind the curve, you're keeping pace with the change that's always occurring in both technology and other aspects of American life.
I love STEM: science, technology, engineering and math. I actually can remember circa 1998 being at a meeting at the National Science Foundation and it wasn't even STEM yet, it was SMET: science, math, engineering and technology. And we were all sitting there going are you sure you want to call it SMET? And we came back a year later and it turned from being SMET to STEM and we go why is it now STEM and not SMET? And they said well, believe it or not we were up on Capitol Hill asking for money for SMET and one congress person's aid goes, "Why do we want money for smut?" Misunderstanding and miss hearing what was being said and they realized at that point that they need to re-order the alphabet. And so hence was born STEM.
The long story is that actually it still took another six or seven years for STEM to actually gain some traction because a lot of both public policy makers and others thought of STEM as related to stem cell research and they were hesitant to get into the political cultural wars over stem cell and stem cell research. My colleagues in the sciences persevered and we now hear all over the place we need to make investments in science, technology, engineering and math. While I actually believe we need to do so, I also realize that what I think of are these grand challenges in the world, these gnarly problems that require us to really mobilize a whole array of talent and research, we can't answer those questions only by asking what a scientist would think of it or an engineer. The example I give is one of my favorite examples. I was in a meeting in Atlanta some years ago when I was still at Emory University and we were over at Georgia Tech and our friends at Georgia Tech and colleagues from Emory and former officials from the CDC were sitting in the room talking about water and the need to come up with a solution to clean water.
And they were telling a story about a West African village. And in this West African village there was a need for clean water. The women would trek every day down to the river that was contaminated and that was actually leading to all kinds of infections that could be prevented. So one of the international agencies provided research and dollars for them to then drill a well. The engineers came in and did their survey and drilled the well right in the middle of the village. To their surprise the women walked past the well and kept going to the contaminated river. And the engineers were mystified. Finally the engineers thought well maybe we should bring in some anthropologist and gender experts to talk to the women. They finally did and they asked the women a simple question, "Why are you walking past a well and perfectly clean water to go to the river with the contaminated water?"
And the women said look, we understand that this water is better here, but you don't understand why we walk to the water. It's not only a utilitarian function of retrieving water, it's a way for us to get away from the menfolk in the village, from the children, to break up the routine of the domestic household. For us to have this well right there actually doesn't serve our purposes. So they actually moved the well, they drilled it farther away to both assist the women and allow them to have their cultural practices maintained and to also provide clean water. But it's a case where in this case the scientists need a humanist and the humanists need a scientist. And as I think about the kind of problems that we craft and the ones that we identify, it's really about what is the question being posed? Who are the best interlocutors to be par t of answering that question? And how do we go about assembling the team?
And so for me at the very list least STEM is important, but all over the place when we look at those grand challenges, those gnarly problems, I do come away thinking scientists need humanists and humanists need scientists and we need both to help us solve these problems.
Earl Lewis, President of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, believes we have two important terms confused: skills development and education. The first is all the practical abilities that will equip a person for their first job – can you read and write, can you code, do you know the most current techniques of your field? The latter is much harder to quantify and teach: can you think autonomously, and go down a path where the endpoint hasn’t been set out for you? Can you pore through a vast array of information and come up with a new answer, entirely your own?
Lewis was around to see the birth of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and tells an amazing anecdote about a few stumbles in the making of that acronym. He then tells a second story, to illustrate that while STEM certainly feels like a priority over other disciplines and trades in the U.S. right now, it’s pivotal that institutions continue to fund and nurture the humanities and that it too holds esteem in public perception.
Lewis tells of a village in West Africa, where contaminated river water was a big problem for the locals. Women would trek down to the river each day and bring preventable infections back with them in their vessels. To remedy this danger, an international agency funded and drilled a well in the center of the village – everyone now had access to safe, clean water. Only the women walked right past the well every day and continued to go to the river bank and bring back contaminated water. The engineers couldn’t understand it, so they brought in anthropologists and gender experts to talk to the women and ask them why they were ignoring this perfect, accessible water?
It turns out the women knew the well water was safer, but it was an important daily ritual for them to be able to walk to the river; to them it was valuable time away from the men and children in the village, and was a scenic and social break from their otherwise domestic existence. On paper, the engineers had put the well in the perfect place, but in practice, they had not understood the complexity of these women’s needs.
It’s the perfect example of how STEM and humanities depend on one another. To fix our world’s most challenging issues, Lewis says, we’re going to need a well-rounded stable of experts from all fields, working as a team.
Earl Lewis and Nancy Cantor recently edited Our Compelling Interests: The Value of Diversity for Democracy and a Prosperous Society.
Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET on Monday as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.
The Labour Economics study suggests two potential reasons for the increase: corruption and increased capacity.
Cool hand rebuke<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMTIyNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjY1NTYyOH0.0MCPKN3If94mYCNf3mMNrnTvJXjXN_bKLhgk9203EXk/img.jpg?width=917&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=453" id="1627b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6d76421ba1ea0de4b09956b97e80c384" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A chart showing prison population rates (per 100,000 people) in 2018. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
Who profits with for-profit prisons?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="97ac37e6c7f6f22ec130ea2d56871701"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/dB78NV2WpWc?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 Labour Economics study suggests that privately-run prisons do convicts a few favors at the moment of sentencing. However, proponents of private prisons often point to other benefits when making their case. Specifically, they argue that private prisons reduce operating costs, stimulate innovation in the correctional system, and reduce recidivism—the rate at which released prisoners are rearrested and return to prison.</p><p>In regard to recidivism, the research is mixed. <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0011128799045001002" target="_blank">One study</a> compared roughly 400 former prisoners from Florida, 200 released from private prisons and 200 from state-run facilities. It found the private-prison cohort maintained lower rates of recidivism. However, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1745-9133.2005.00006.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">another Florida study</a> found no significant rate differences. And two other studies—one from <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0011128799045001002" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Oklahoma</a> and another out of <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0734016813478823" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Minnesota</a>, both comparing much larger cohorts than the first Florida study— found that prisoners leaving private prisons had a greater risk of recidivism.</p><p>The research is also inconclusive regarding cost savings. <a href="https://www.hamiltonproject.org/assets/files/economics_of_private_prisons.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A Hamilton Project analysis</a> noted that such comparisons are difficult because private prisons, like all private companies, are not required to release operational details. In comparing what studies were available, the authors estimate the costs to be comparable and that "in practice the primary mechanism for cost saving in private prisons is lower salaries for correctional officers"—about $7,000 less than their public peers. They add that competition-driven innovation is lacking as the three largest firms control nearly the entire market.</p><p>"We aren't saying private prisons are bad," Galinato said. "But states need to be careful with them. If your state has previous and regular issues with corruption, I wouldn't be surprised to see laws being more skewed to give longer sentences, for example. If the goal is to reduce the number of incarcerated individuals, increasing the number of private prisons may not be the way to go."</p>
What exactly does "questions are the new answers" mean?
- Traditionally, intelligence has been viewed as having all the answers. When it comes to being innovative and forward-thinking, it turns out that being able to ask the right questions is an equally valuable skill.
- The difference between the right and wrong questions is not simply in the level of difficulty. In this video, geobiologist Hope Jahren, journalist Warren Berger, experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats, and investor Tim Ferriss discuss the power of creativity and the merit in asking naive and even "dumb" questions.
- "Very often the dumb question that is sitting right there that no one seems to be asking is the smartest question you can ask," Ferriss says, adding that "not only is it the smartest, most incisive, but if you want to ask it and you're reasonably smart, I guarantee you there are other people who want to ask it but are just embarrassed to do so."
A vertical map might better represent a world dominated by China and determined by shipping routes across the iceless Arctic.
- Europe has dominated cartography for so long that its central place on the world map seems normal.
- However, as the economic centre of gravity shifts east and the climate warms up, tomorrow's map may be very different.
- Focusing on both China and Arctic shipping lanes, this vertical representation could be the world map of the future.
The world, but not as we know it<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU1Nzg1NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTkwMjIyNn0.qmQfwUdjQka8JX6q4KGANagleiuucpWay5ytMenZxUU/img.jpg?width=980" id="b95e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ac088ec55c0585a93a9a310faab9a4c7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A Chinese 'vertical world map,' showing the world in a different perspective from the one we're used to.
Image: Prior Probability<p>Europe is tucked away in a corner, an appendage of Asia dwarfed by neighboring Africa. North America is stood on its head, facing the rest of the world from the top of the map — cut off from South America, which cuts a solitary figure at the bottom. Africa is justifiably huge, but equally eccentric. </p><p>The eye scouts elsewhere for a place to land: not the Indian Ocean, which dominates the middle of the map, but some terra firma. Antarctica and Australia are too small, mere stepping stones for the land mass of Asia. Ultimately our gaze is drawn toward China, the lynchpin of this unfamiliar world. </p><p>Managing to leave both poles intact, this "vertical" world map is about as far away as you can get from the classic Mercator projection – which slices up both, giving center stage to a puffed-up Europe. Perhaps this new map will become more familiar soon: It may do more justice to the world of the near future, dominated by China and determined by shipping routes across the iceless Arctic. <br></p>
China's 'ten-dash line'<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU1Nzg1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTI4MzQyNn0.sBe0oFTif4Jef1vWh1kAnUylU_QMPXT5xQjm-5aA3sA/img.jpg?width=980" id="a3b81" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="80fc6e4f5c9c1c978f698be2c8de5484" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
'China without any part left out': includes Taiwan and the islands and atolls in the South China Sea, surrounded by a ten-dash line
Image: Global Times<p>While there's no indication that this map represents the Chinese government's "official" worldview, it is no secret that China has a thing with maps – and more specifically, the country's representation on them. </p><p>In China, the country's current economic success is seen as a redress of the unequal treatment meted out by western superpowers in the 19th century. China's world dominance is a return to a more natural state of world affairs, many feel. Cartographic rectifications are a symbolically significant corollary of that sentiment.</p><p><a href="https://www.citylab.com/equity/2015/12/china-cracks-down-on-politcally-incorrect-maps/421032/" target="_blank">Fines are regularly imposed</a> on companies – domestic and foreign – that fail to represent China to the fullest extent of its external borders, disputed though they may be by others (e.g. India, Taiwan and any of the countries with claims overlapping China's in the South China Sea). But the People's Republic's cartographic obsession doesn't end at China's territory itself. It also includes the country's position on the world map. <br></p>
The Kingdom at the Middle of the World<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU1Nzg2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTkwODEzMX0.SGrAZBH6iJVggFYSaIahzv9GvfEh17y1SwUNINbVicQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="1774c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="99790d80a909d17a948f7c5d463d7d98" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Early Japanese color copy of Ricci's world map
Image: public domain<p>China's name for itself is <em>Zhōngguó</em>, which means 'Central State' or 'Middle Kingdom', reflecting its ancient self-image as the civilized center (<em>Huá</em>) of the world, with wild tribes (<em>Yí</em>) at the edge. That view is not unique to China. Vietnam, for example, at certain times also styled itself as the "central state" (<em>Trung Quóc</em>) – considering the Chinese in turn as the uncouth outsiders.</p><p>It may be surprising to recall, but Europeans themselves once considered their own continent a relative backwater, viewing Jerusalem as the true center of the world. That changed with the Age of Discovery, which placed Europe at the center of an ever-expanding world. Maps reflected that worldview, and largely continue to do so. That's why today's standard world map still has Europe at its center – with China off toward the periphery on the map's right-hand side. </p><p>The most notable feature of the very first major modern world map produced in China, the <em>Kunyu Wanguo Quantu</em> (1602), is that it places China firmly at the center of the world. Produced for the Chinese emperor by Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci, it was the first map ever to combine that perspective with modern western knowledge: it was the first Chinese map to show the Americas, for instance. </p><p>That representation may not have taken off elsewhere, but it will be instantly recognizable to Chinese students, as it's the standard format for world maps in China's schools today.<br></p>
America on its head<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU1Nzg2My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMzQ5NTc0MH0.EqadI2Yp-2dPwi3VccFZelIDK4V9t0ZOfTfHjdB6wVw/img.jpg?width=980" id="97104" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2b66e8de389b3d736bc28e019e445cd0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Upside down you turn me: North America on its head, in Chinese characters
Image: Prior Probability<p>For those used to "classic" Eurocentric world maps, Europe's marginalization may come across as a bit of an upset. America's new position on the horizontal Chinese world map is less jarring: It merely moves from the left- to the right-hand side of the picture. But then there's this vertical world map, which deals a similar blow to the American land mass: divided in two and pushed to the upper and lower edges of the map.</p><p>Unfamiliar? Sure. Shocking? Perhaps. Wrong? Not really. First off, no world map is totally right, since it's mathematically impossible to transfer the surface of a three-dimensional object onto a flat surface without some distortion. And since the world is a globe, where you center that map is a matter of purely subjective choice.<br></p><p>Those choices have historical reasons. Mercator's map was not specifically designed to put an inflated Europe at the center of the world. That was just a side effect; its main purpose was to aid shipping: Straight lines on the map correspond to straight lines sailed on the seas.</p>
By 2050, a completely melted Arctic could enable the Transpolar Passage, shortening trade routes between Asia and Europe and boosting business for Alaskan ports like Nome and Dutch Harbor.
Image: The Maritime Executive<p>The vertical world map, showing the relative proximity of China (and the rest of Asia) to Europe and (even the East Coast of) North America, has a similarly maritime <em>raison d'être</em>, or it will have by mid-century. <a href="https://www.maritime-executive.com/editorials/the-arctic-shipping-route-no-one-s-talking-about" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Experts project</a> that by 2050 (if not sooner), the Arctic will be sufficiently ice-free to enable the so-called Transpolar Passage, i.e. shipping straight across the North Pole. </p><p>That would shave more than three weeks off a traditional sea voyage between Europe and Asia, via the Suez Canal – and even be significantly faster than other northern alternatives like the Northwest Passage (via Canada) or the Northern Sea Route (hugging the Siberian coast). Since ships would not need to go through locks or pass over shallow waters, it would also remove current restrictions on tonnage per ship. <br></p><p>The only country seriously preparing for such a future: China. None of the other Arctic powers is giving the Transpolar route any strategic thought. On the other hand, China's Arctic Policy document, released in January 2018, already matter-of-factly refers to the Transpolar route as the 'Central Passage' – one of several 'Polar Silk Roads' that China seems to want to develop. And they already have the world map to go with it.</p>
A large-scale study from King's College London explores the link between genetics and sun-seeking behaviors.
- There are a number of physical and mental health benefits to sun exposure, such as boosted vitamin D and serotonin levels and stronger bones.
- Addictions are multi-step conditions that, by definition, require exposure to the addictive agent and have also been proven to have a genetic factor. Countless people are exposed to addictive things, but not all become addicted. This is because of the genetic component of addiction.
- This large-scale study explores the link between sun-seeking behaviors and the genetic markers for addiction.
The benefits of sunlight<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMjI1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNzk0NDUxNH0.lbYbZidJkNXPUcWM6m8cucuzAFOANkqPaIVfJdqkJ4Q/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C52%2C0%2C52&height=700" id="d5fcd" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f44fcc9a31393c8102803eb50d01a19a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="woman sitting on dock in the sunlight" />
The mental and physical health benefits of sunlight have been heavily researched.
Credit: eldar nurkovic on Shutterstock<p>The benefits of sunlight have been widely discussed for many years. In fact, there are a number of physical and mental health benefits to sun exposure.</p><p><strong>Sunshine (and the lack of) impacts your hormone levels. </strong></p><p>Sunlight (and alternatively, the lack of sunlight) triggers the release of certain hormones in your brain. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase serotonin, which is associated with boosting your mood and helping you feel calm and focused. </p><p>Alternatively, dark lighting triggers melatonin, a hormone that is helpful in allowing you to rest and fall asleep. Without enough sunlight, your serotonin levels can dip - and low serotonin levels have been associated with a higher risk of major depression with seasonal pattern (formerly known as seasonal affective disorder).</p><p><strong>Sunlight can build strong bones. </strong></p><p>Exposure to the ultraviolet-B radiation in the sun's rays can interact with your skin, causing it to create vitamin D. <a href="https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">According to NHS</a>, vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. A lack of vitamin D can lead to bone deformities or bone pain. <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2290997/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A 2008 study</a> has shown that even 30 minutes in sunlight (while wearing a bathing suit) can boost vitamin D levels. </p><p><strong>Can sunlight actually prevent cancer? </strong></p><p>Although heavy exposure to sunlight has been proven to contribute to certain skin cancers, a moderate amount of sunlight has actually been shown to have preventative benefits.</p><p><a href="https://cjasn.asnjournals.org/content/3/5/1548.full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">According to a 2008 study</a> from the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, those who live in areas with fewer daylight hours are more likely to have some specific cancers (including but not limited to colon cancer, ovarian cancer, and prostate cancer) than those who live in areas with increased daylight hours.</p><p><strong>Additionally, sunlight has been shown to help people with skin conditions such as psoriasis. </strong></p><p><a href="http://www.who.int/uv/faq/uvhealtfac/en/index1.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">According to the World Health Organization</a>, sun exposure may also be able to help treat skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, jaundice, and acne. <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/benefits-sunlight#benefits" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Some research</a> has also indicated the sun benefits people who struggle with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), systemic lupus erythematosus, and inflammatory bowel disease. </p>
Can you be addicted to the sun?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMjI1Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMzE5NTMwOX0.pHOWSr3FcIndYkBAVND1UsD8AheTQmxsePKRi3XvYTw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=31%2C0%2C32%2C0&height=700" id="93c87" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="384e08fdcd535ed2b792eef419af9e2c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="hands holding up the sun" />
The large-scale study examines the link between addiction and sunlight, with some surprising results...
Credit: KieferPix on Shutterstock<p>Addictions are multi-step conditions that, by definition, require exposure to the addictive agent. Due to the increase of serotonin (a chemical in the human body <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/serotonin" target="_blank">that has been proven</a> to help reduce depression, regulate anxiety, and maintain bone health), it's natural that being exposed to prolonged periods of sunlight could become somewhat addictive to the human body and mind. We crave things that make us feel good, and sometimes those cravings become something we depend on. This is the very nature of addiction.</p><p>Countless people are exposed to addictive things (substances, medications, and yes, even the sun), but not all become addicted. This is because of the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3506170/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">genetic component of addiction</a>. </p><p>A large-scale study from King's College in London examines more than 260,000 people to better understand how sun-seeking behavior in humans can be linked to genes involving addiction, behavior traits, and brain function. </p><p><strong>The study included two phases:</strong></p><p>Phase one suggested genetics play a role in sun-seeking behaviors and phase 2 helped pinpoint what those genetic markers are.</p><p>Phase 1: The researchers studied the detailed health information of 2,500 twins, including their sun-seeking behavior and their genetics. Identical twins in a pair were more likely to have similar sun-seeking behavior than non-identical twins, indicating that genetics plays a role here. </p><p>Phase 2: The team of researchers then were able to identify five key gene markers involved in this sun-seeking behavior from further analysis of 260,000 participants. Some of the genes indicated have been linked to behaviors traits that are associated with risk-taking and addiction (including smoking and alcohol consumption).</p><p><strong>What does this study really prove? </strong></p><p>Some may think it's natural to become addicted to something that makes you feel good. The physical and mental health benefits of the outdoors have been heavily studied...so what does this study really mean? </p><p>First and foremost, it means more research needs to be done to examine the link between human conditions and exposure to sunlight. Senior author Dr. Mario Falchi explains to the <a href="https://www.kcl.ac.uk/news/addicted-to-the-sun-its-in-your-genes" target="_blank">King's College London News Center</a>: "Our results suggest that tackling excessive sun exposure or use of tanning beds might be more challenging than expected, as it is influenced by genetic factors. It is important for the public to be aware of this predisposition, as it could make people more mindful of their behavior and the potential harms of excessive sun exposure."</p><p>Additionally, it could mean alternative treatments, and further research needs to be conducted in terms of how we treat certain conditions that are caused or heavily influenced by human exposure to sunlight. </p>