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Insects' Influence Behind the Iron Curtain
Hugh Raffles grew up in London, England. He has been an ambulance driver, a nightclub DJ, a theater technician, a busboy, a cleaner, and a scrap metal yard worker. Currently, he lives in New York City where he teaches anthropology at The New School.
Hugh's writing has appeared in academic journals and more popular venues such as Granta, Natural History, and The Best American Essays. His first book, "In Amazonia: A Natural History" (Princeton University Press, 2002) was awarded the Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing and selected by the American Library Association as an Outstanding Academic Title. In 2009, he received a Whiting Writers' Award. His new book "Insectopedia" was published by Pantheon in 2010.
Hugh Raffles: Well, when I first started doing this research and writing this book, I didn’t really know very much about insects. That was actually part of the reason why I wanted to do it. So, I wasn’t one of those kids who spent all their time just running around in nature. I’ve always been really a city person. But, I’m very curious about things, so I really was very interested in trying to find out something about them. So, it was sort of amazing to me to just discover more and more about these animal’s capacities and actually to start thinking about them as animals, because people tend not even to think about insects as animals, at least not in the same category as other animals.
So, there was just so many - there's just so much that’s really amazing about them, about their behavior, about their capacities. I mean, they can do such incredible things. So, there was that whole side of it. There was the way that - now I’m going blank trying to think of things - particular things that are so interesting. Well, one thing, which I talk about in the book is how there are these studies done in the 20’s, which I think were still being done in the 70’s actually, where people tried to figure out how many insects there were in the air and they were figuring this out. They were interested in this because they were trying to track the movement of insect pests, particularly ones that were attacking cotton fields in the south of the US.
So, they sent planes up just to try to count. They have these little traps under the wings and they were trying to count the insects and what they found was that there were just these vast numbers of them in the air and that they were at really high altitudes too. They were at 10,000 feet, 15,000 feet and what they figured out over the decades, they didn’t really realize then, at that time, they just felt that they were - they’d been sort of wrenched off by the air and were just floating around. Well, they figured more recently, probably from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, was that the insects were actually deliberately getting themselves carried away. Often took off and then found air currents and then were also able to bring themselves down. So, even tiny, tiny, tiny insects that can’t actually fly would get themselves up into the air and would take themselves off places where they’d have more of the resources that they wanted or just a place that they preferred.
And when they first did these studies over Louisiana they found that in a square mile, like a column of air, a square mile, there were something like between 25 and 35 million insects, depending on the time of day and time of year. So, it’s a huge, huge amount and so I often think about that. When you look out of the window that the air is just full of these things that you can’t say and that they’re all going somewhere and that they sort of - I think many of them, they know where they're going. They're going deliberately. And it’s just like this completely different world that’s going around us that we’re almost - most of us are just unaware of.
Question: What do others find surprising about insects?
Hugh Raffles: I think what people are surprised about is that - are the cognitive abilities of social insects. So, people know that they have these very - well, people tend to think that they have - people know they have very developed social organization. They tend to think of it as very rigid and I think that’s partly because insect social organization, particularly bees and ants, were - they were used during the Cold War as - what’s the word - sort of like as an example - as metaphors for socialist society or communist societies. They’re often worker bees and worker ants and faceless non-individuals in comparison to all us individuals west.
So, people tend to think of them as very rigid societies and that actually doesn’t seem to be particularly true. Bees anyway and I think it’s the same with ants. I don’t know that much about ants, but bees are actually very flexible. So, although they're in what biologists have often called castes, like the workers bees and whatever, they're very flexible in terms of the tasks that they do, very adaptive. So, they - actually, and they’ll - like many animals do, particularly fish, they’ll change their physical characteristics depending on environmental conditions.
So, they’re really very flexible animals and their behavior is also quite flexible. So, there seems to be something like 40 percent of their time which is completely unaccounted for. So, they’ll spend - they’ll be doing other things that we think of as busy bees a lot of the time, but then they’ll also be - there's this large almost half the time when they’re basically just hanging around. Nobody’s quite sure what they're doing. At least nobody I’ve talked to is quite sure what they’re doing. Their just in their hives in the dark and they’re just sort of like hanging out with each other doing stuff and it’s not quite clear what they’re doing. They’re doing a lot of touching. They’re doing a lot of exchanging substances with each other. A lot of social things, but nothing that seems necessarily to have any particular function, just like most of what we do doesn’t have any particular function. They’re just doing stuff or doing nothing. Maybe they're resting or they’re just hanging out with each other.
And that’s the stuff that I think people are less aware of because we have these very strong stereotypes of these rigid societies and this constant activity and I’m sure it’s quite like that.
Recorded on March 22, 2010
People tend to think of insects as having very rigid and well-developed social organization. During the Cold War, insect colonies were considered examples for how communist social systems should work.
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- 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>
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