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The Conversation by Chris Brewin, Emeritus Professor Of.. - 3h ago
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Over the past couple of decades, there has been an explosion of research into “false memories”, showing that our memory can be subtly altered by a variety of internal and external factors. Many psychologists think the public is unaware of this and that people generally think memory is much more accurate than the evidence shows.

Of course it’s common sense to point out that memory can sometimes be in error. It has been shown in countless studies that memory is selective and we can sometimes believe strongly in something that never happened. But is it true that people hugely overestimate their memory? And do psychologists who argue this have science on their side?

One very popular claim among those who think the public have a bad understanding of memory is that as many as one in two people believe memory works like a video camera, accurately recording the events we see and hear so that we can review and inspect them later.

But these claims are based on answers to a single survey question. We have known for a long time that questions phrased in the positive are often answered differently to the same question phrased in the negative. In our new survey, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, people were much more likely to agree with the opposite statement, which was: “Human memory is not like a video camera because we cannot play back events exactly as they happened.” These results, along with answers to other questions, make it clear that people are well aware that memory is selective and that we sometimes misremember.

A memory can sometimes be a bit like a sequence of photos or a video. VH-studio/Shutterstock

Another argument made by many psychologists is that people wrongly believe that when they are confident about a memory, it means that memory is more likely to be correct – whereas some research has shown that confidence and accuracy are modestly related at best. But these conclusions came mainly from old studies of the confidence with which eyewitnesses correctly or incorrectly identified suspects in line-ups. Newer and more sophisticated methods have found that, across 15 experiments, suspect identifications made with high confidence were, on average, 97% accurate.

So it seems the sceptical psychologists have lost sight of the common sense conclusion that a confidently held memory is on average more likely to be right than one people are unsure of. What the research shows is that a memory is not guaranteed to be correct, just because it is believed strongly. There are many examples of witnesses who have confidently identified a defendant in court but have been wrong. But that doesn’t mean that confidence is generally of no, or little value.

For example, the Innocence Project in the US has identified a number of miscarriages of justice in which witnesses in court were very confident in their identification of the suspect, which turned out to be wrong. When they were first asked to make an identification by police they had expressed a lot of uncertainty. Only later did they become confident, perhaps because of seeing a picture of the suspect in another context. This illustrates how initially their lack of confidence was a good guide to the accuracy of their identification. And later, after external influences had altered their memory, their changed confidence proved to be a bad guide. Police and investigators should take note.

False memory

In the past 25 years, psychologists have carried out many experiments to demonstrate the fallibility of memory. Many of these studies involve finding clever ways to mislead people and trick them into misremembering. For example, using misleading questions that suggest to people they saw something that actually wasn’t there produces more wrong answers than when no misleading questions are used. But, however interesting the findings, it doesn’t mean memory is unreliable when people aren’t being tricked by psychologists.

Another thing much of the research ignores is that, when we remember, we have to balance accuracy (only describing what you’re really sure of) and completeness (describing everything you think you may remember, even if you’re not sure). In court, the emphasis is very much on accuracy – but this isn’t necessarily the case in psychology experiments where completeness is often encouraged at the expense of accuracy. This may make it problematic to generalise the results of psychology experiments to the behaviour of witnesses in the courts.

This matters because psychologists often try to “educate” the courts about memory research that is far from clear cut and even sometimes mistaken. But more importantly, the constant claims about the unreliability of memory leaking into print, broadcast and social media are creating a climate of scepticism in which witness memories may be disbelieved for no good reason.

For example, witnesses describing their memory as “like a video recorder” could have their evidence criticised as unreliable. Just as too much faith in memory can result in a miscarriage of justice, so too could too much scepticism.

Chris Brewin does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Junial Enterprises/Shutterstock

Over the past couple of decades, there has been an explosion of research into “false memories”, showing that our memory can be subtly altered by a variety of internal and external factors. Many psychologists think the public is unaware of this and that people generally think memory is much more accurate than the evidence shows.

Of course it’s common sense to point out that memory can sometimes be in error. It has been shown in countless studies that memory is selective and we can sometimes believe strongly in something that never happened. But is it true that people hugely overestimate their memory? And do psychologists who argue this have science on their side?

One very popular claim among those who think the public have a bad understanding of memory is that as many as one in two people believe memory works like a video camera, accurately recording the events we see and hear so that we can review and inspect them later.

But these claims are based on answers to a single survey question. We have known for a long time that questions phrased in the positive are often answered differently to the same question phrased in the negative. In our new survey, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, people were much more likely to agree with the opposite statement, which was: “Human memory is not like a video camera because we cannot play back events exactly as they happened.” These results, along with answers to other questions, make it clear that people are well aware that memory is selective and that we sometimes misremember.

A memory can sometimes be a bit like a sequence of photos or a video. VH-studio/Shutterstock

Another argument made by many psychologists is that people wrongly believe that when they are confident about a memory, it means that memory is more likely to be correct – whereas some research has shown that confidence and accuracy are modestly related at best. But these conclusions came mainly from old studies of the confidence with which eyewitnesses correctly or incorrectly identified suspects in line-ups. Newer and more sophisticated methods have found that, across 15 experiments, suspect identifications made with high confidence were, on average, 97% accurate.

So it seems the sceptical psychologists have lost sight of the common sense conclusion that a confidently held memory is on average more likely to be right than one people are unsure of. What the research shows is that a memory is not guaranteed to be correct, just because it is believed strongly. There are many examples of witnesses who have confidently identified a defendant in court but have been wrong. But that doesn’t mean that confidence is generally of no, or little value.

For example, the Innocence Project in the US has identified a number of miscarriages of justice in which witnesses in court were very confident in their identification of the suspect, which turned out to be wrong. When they were first asked to make an identification by police they had expressed a lot of uncertainty. Only later did they become confident, perhaps because of seeing a picture of the suspect in another context. This illustrates how initially their lack of confidence was a good guide to the accuracy of their identification. And later, after external influences had altered their memory, their changed confidence proved to be a bad guide. Police and investigators should take note.

False memory

In the past 25 years, psychologists have carried out many experiments to demonstrate the fallibility of memory. Many of these studies involve finding clever ways to mislead people and trick them into misremembering. For example, using misleading questions that suggest to people they saw something that actually wasn’t there produces more wrong answers than when no misleading questions are used. But, however interesting the findings, it doesn’t mean memory is unreliable when people aren’t being tricked by psychologists.

Another thing much of the research ignores is that, when we remember, we have to balance accuracy (only describing what you’re really sure of) and completeness (describing everything you think you may remember, even if you’re not sure). In court, the emphasis is very much on accuracy – but this isn’t necessarily the case in psychology experiments where completeness is often encouraged at the expense of accuracy. This may make it problematic to generalise the results of psychology experiments to the behaviour of witnesses in the courts.

This matters because psychologists often try to “educate” the courts about memory research that is far from clear cut and even sometimes mistaken. But more importantly, the constant claims about the unreliability of memory leaking into print, broadcast and social media are creating a climate of scepticism in which witness memories may be disbelieved for no good reason.

For example, witnesses describing their memory as “like a video recorder” could have their evidence criticised as unreliable. Just as too much faith in memory can result in a miscarriage of justice, so too could too much scepticism.

Chris Brewin does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Junial Enterprises/Shutterstock

Over the past couple of decades, there has been an explosion of research into “false memories”, showing that our memory can be subtly altered by a variety of internal and external factors. Many psychologists think the public is unaware of this and that people generally think memory is much more accurate than the evidence shows.

Of course it’s common sense to point out that memory can sometimes be in error. It has been shown in countless studies that memory is selective and we can sometimes believe strongly in something that never happened. But is it true that people hugely overestimate their memory? And do psychologists who argue this have science on their side?

One very popular claim among those who think the public have a bad understanding of memory is that as many as one in two people believe memory works like a video camera, accurately recording the events we see and hear so that we can review and inspect them later.

But these claims are based on answers to a single survey question. We have known for a long time that questions phrased in the positive are often answered differently to the same question phrased in the negative. In our new survey, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, people were much more likely to agree with the opposite statement, which was: “Human memory is not like a video camera because we cannot play back events exactly as they happened.” These results, along with answers to other questions, make it clear that people are well aware that memory is selective and that we sometimes misremember.

A memory can sometimes be a bit like a sequence of photos or a video. VH-studio/Shutterstock

Another argument made by many psychologists is that people wrongly believe that when they are confident about a memory, it means that memory is more likely to be correct – whereas some research has shown that confidence and accuracy are modestly related at best. But these conclusions came mainly from old studies of the confidence with which eyewitnesses correctly or incorrectly identified suspects in line-ups. Newer and more sophisticated methods have found that, across 15 experiments, suspect identifications made with high confidence were, on average, 97% accurate.

So it seems the sceptical psychologists have lost sight of the common sense conclusion that a confidently held memory is on average more likely to be right than one people are unsure of. What the research shows is that a memory is not guaranteed to be correct, just because it is believed strongly. There are many examples of witnesses who have confidently identified a defendant in court but have been wrong. But that doesn’t mean that confidence is generally of no, or little value.

For example, the Innocence Project in the US has identified a number of miscarriages of justice in which witnesses in court were very confident in their identification of the suspect, which turned out to be wrong. When they were first asked to make an identification by police they had expressed a lot of uncertainty. Only later did they become confident, perhaps because of seeing a picture of the suspect in another context. This illustrates how initially their lack of confidence was a good guide to the accuracy of their identification. And later, after external influences had altered their memory, their changed confidence proved to be a bad guide. Police and investigators should take note.

False memory

In the past 25 years, psychologists have carried out many experiments to demonstrate the fallibility of memory. Many of these studies involve finding clever ways to mislead people and trick them into misremembering. For example, using misleading questions that suggest to people they saw something that actually wasn’t there produces more wrong answers than when no misleading questions are used. But, however interesting the findings, it doesn’t mean memory is unreliable when people aren’t being tricked by psychologists.

Another thing much of the research ignores is that, when we remember, we have to balance accuracy (only describing what you’re really sure of) and completeness (describing everything you think you may remember, even if you’re not sure). In court, the emphasis is very much on accuracy – but this isn’t necessarily the case in psychology experiments where completeness is often encouraged at the expense of accuracy. This may make it problematic to generalise the results of psychology experiments to the behaviour of witnesses in the courts.

This matters because psychologists often try to “educate” the courts about memory research that is far from clear cut and even sometimes mistaken. But more importantly, the constant claims about the unreliability of memory leaking into print, broadcast and social media are creating a climate of scepticism in which witness memories may be disbelieved for no good reason.

For example, witnesses describing their memory as “like a video recorder” could have their evidence criticised as unreliable. Just as too much faith in memory can result in a miscarriage of justice, so too could too much scepticism.

Chris Brewin does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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In 2017, the Syrian refugee Abu Marwan killed his ex-wife on the streets in southern Germany in 2018 after she had obtained a divorce from him, was granted custody for her three children and married another man. Afterwards, he wrote on Facebook:

Ya niswan ya suriyat, hay nihayitkun: This is a message to all women who play with their husbands. This is the fate of every woman who thinks she can come to Europe, divorce her husband and take away his children.

Sexual and gender-based violence has become a phenomenon within refugee families. This violence is deeply rooted in power inequalities between women and men which is very often linked to socioeconomic responsibilities and religious obligations.

My own research indicates that the rupture caused by migration leads women to rethink and redefine their roles within their families. In their home countries – and in the cases of refugees from Syria and Iraq, before the outbreak of the civil wars in their home countries – they would not necessarily have worked outside of their homes. Now, they find themselves forced to work to care for their children.

Art produced by a Syrian refugee in collaboration with the artist Rachel Gadsden. © Yafa Shanneik, Author provided

One Syrian woman in the UK told me: “I am of a very well-off family. I had everything and I never had to work. Now I know if I do not work, my children will not have food on the table. Things changed.” Refugees have lost their homes, are forced to pay rent and cope with higher living expenses.

International humanitarian organisations and international NGOs support refugees but they tend to focus on women because they see it as their obligation to “rescue the suppressed Muslim woman”. The support is very often shaped by western perceptions and assumptions of the problems these refugees face. These organisations then implement their own desired solutions and interventions, which tend to be based on western liberal models.

This can be problematic because they lack understanding of – and sensitivity to – women’s lived realities. Changes in gender roles need to be gradually implemented in order to avoid sudden changes, as these can expose refugee women in particular to new forms of vulnerabilities, cause a breakdown of their marriages and – in extreme cases – to violence. Sustainability in gender role changes can only be achieved when programmes are developed towards the support of a particular group that consider their specific needs.

Before implementing any interventions, it is crucial to pay attention to the existing beliefs, ways of life and values of families. In order to avoid new forms of vulnerabilities, one needs to pay attention to people’s needs on the ground and use their own language, in a religiously and culturally sensitive way, if current values and norms around gender roles are to be successfully adapted for their new environment.

Shaking things up

I am currently investigating the impact of the refugee experience on marital relationships and family structures among both Iraqi and Syrian refugees. My research so far has shown that, as intended by these NGOs, these opportunities facilitate women’s economic empowerment and independence. This is obviously something to be welcomed.

But in doing so, they cause significant disruption on power relations within the family unit: in the past men were the main breadwinner of the family. Now in the refugee context, women are very often the only earners. Men on the other side are left with very little support in finding jobs, leaving them feeling disappointed, desperate and frustrated. This frustration negatively affects their marital relationship, leading to an increase in sexual and gender-based violence in certain extreme cases.

The change in women and men’s roles within the family is happening very rapidly. One refugee woman now living in Jordan told me: “The man is not a man anymore and the woman is not a woman anymore.” Some are able to accept these sudden changes to traditional gender roles and built a new lifestyle, but others are not able to cope with the new situation.

Men tend to be the ones who suffer most from this change. As one Syrian man in the UK asked me: “What is a man worth if he is not able to provide for this family? He is not a man.” Within refugee families in Jordan, for example, women have taken work opportunities that were traditionally preserved for men, such as going out in the early hours of the day to work in a bakery or working as a driver. Although this is positive and empowering, it leaves men without jobs.

Another way

This is not to suggest that women should not work or that men’s aggression and violence towards women is justified. But it is important to understand the roots of this aggression in order to tackle and find solutions for it.

Interventions by international organisations have provided women with economic independence. Yet, they have not taught either women or men how to deal with these sudden changes. One Iraqi woman in Germany, for example, explained to me: “I have my own money now and I have the whole world on my side because I am a woman. No man dares now to control me. He needs to follow what I say.”

Mutual recognition of responsibilities in the families as a form of partnership in which gender equality is at the centre needs to be learned, as one Syrian refugee women in the UK explains: “We need to move away from controlling each other. It is not about power. It is about sharing responsibilities.”

Yafa Shanneik receives funding from the British Academy. The research discussed in this article forms the topic of an exhibit at the British Academy's Summer Showcase, June 21-22 2019.

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agsandrew/Shutterstock

Dreams can often be confusing and blurry experiences. Reduced critical thinking, little to no access to our true memories and heightened impulsivity and emotions during normal dream states often make for head-scratching moments when our eyes first open in the morning.

But dreams don’t always play out this way. More than half of us have at least once in their lifetime experienced awareness of dreaming in the moment and, in some cases, the ability to direct a dream like a sleepy Steven Spielberg. Nearly a quarter of us report lucid dreaming once a month or more.

Two key changes in the brain appear responsible for these states. The frontotemporal cortex, which controls our higher cognitive abilities and is inhibited during normal dreams, shows higher activation during lucid dreams. Researchers also observe an increase in gamma waves, synchronised firing by groups of neurons at a frequency implicated with conscious awareness and executive functions such as voluntary action and decision-making.

Scientists are interested in how to influence the brain to enter into these states – and not just for the fun of it. They hope that lucid dreaming will provide valuable insight into how consciousness is formed, as well as being of practical use in many settings.

For example, lucid dreaming therapy holds great potential as a treatment for sufferers of chronic nightmares and Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). People afflicted with PTSD usually experience recurrent nightmares which are usually centred around a single traumatic event. These recurrent nightmares are so terrifying that they cause anxiety, insomnia and disturbed sleep, which then negatively impacts daytime functioning. With lucidity, nightmare sufferers can realise that what they are experiencing is not real and subsequently turn the nightmare into a positive or a neutral dream.

Lucid dreams can help relieve the trauma of recurring nightmares. TheVisualsYouNeed/Shutterstock

Lucid dreaming also offers opportunities to improve motor skills through visualisation. Using mental imagery to rehearse motor skills has been shown to improve the performance of sportspeople, medical practitioners and musicians, as well as aiding the rehabilitation of hand control and other motor tasks, for example after nervous system damage. The technique works because imagining performing a motor action activates almost the same neural structures as actually performing it – and the same goes for dreamed actions.

Becoming lucid

Various techniques have been developed and tested to induce lucid dreams in recent years, but as yet none are reliably and consistently successful across individuals. That’s not to say that they won’t work on you though – while research in this area is in its infancy, some techniques already hold real promise. Here are the techniques with the most potential, most of which you can try at home.

Cognitive techniques are activities that are performed during the day or while falling asleep. Thus far, this type of approach has been most successful at inducing lucid dreams. According to a recent study of 169 Australian participants, a combination of three techniques induce lucid dreams most successfully: reality testing, Mnemonic Induction Lucid Dreaming and Wake-Back-to-Bed.

The reality testing method involves habitually asking your waking self whether you’re dreaming, and performing an action that helps you to find out. The popular film Inception references this technique with a spinning top, which would normally eventually stop rotating but continues eternally when dreaming. If you don’t fancy keeping a spinning top in your pocket, you can hold your nose and perform the normally impossible task of breathing through it. Repeated checks throughout the day make you more likely to do the same checks while dreaming, and thus become lucid to the freer dreamworld in which you can breathe through a blocked nose.

Inception Ending Scene - Dream or reality ? - YouTube

In the Mnemonic Induction Lucid Dream (MILD) technique, one rehearses a dream and visualises becoming lucid while repeating a mantra expressing the same intention, such as: “Next time I’m dreaming I want to remember that I am dreaming.” For best results, it should be performed while returning to slumber during the Wake-Back-To-Bed (WBTB) technique, whereby one sets their alarm clock to one or two hours before their normal waking time, gets up for a few minutes, and then goes back to sleep.

This brief awakening is thought to increase cortical activation in the key brain areas implicated in lucid dreaming when one slips back into rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage during which vivid dreaming occurs. Unsurprisingly, pressing the snooze button multiple times before finally waking also appears to increase the chances of lucid dreaming.

Of course, these strategies require sustained effort to have an effect. In search of an easier route to lucid dreams, various wearable technology companies have developed contraptions that flash light, vibrate, or play sounds during REM sleep. The idea is that they’ll be incorporated into the dream content and thereby alert the dreamer that they are dreaming.

Rapid eye movement sleep stages progressively increase in duration after each sleep cycle. RazerM/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

But both the literature and my own experiences at the University of Essex’s sleep lab suggest that such external stimulation techniques need to be handled with care. If presented in the wrong way, stimuli will either not be incorporated into the dream – or worse, cause people to wake up. Some people are lighter sleepers than others, so the intensity of stimuli should be tailored to the specific threshold at which each individual wakes up. They should also be delivered in specific moments of REM sleep when the brain is most receptive. Current wearable technology does not take these factors into account, and research is yet to fully unravel how such stimuli can be effectively deployed.

Recent research suggests drug interventions may hold promise. For example, galantamine, an enzyme inhibitor that is typically used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, has been shown to significantly increase lucid dream induction rates when used in conjunction with the WBTB and MILD techniques. This prescription drug should be left alone by aspiring lucid dreamers though – research is in its early stages and the drug can have side effects.

Caution should also be exercised with other supplements and herbs that claim to increase dream lucidity – they are not backed by scientific evidence and, as with all drugs, there is the risk of allergic reactions and side-effects.

Our understanding of lucid dreams has advanced significantly in the last decade. There is still much work to be done, but it hopefully won’t be too long before we figure out how to reliably and consistently induce them. Watch this space.

Achilleas Pavlou receives PhD scholarship funding from A.G. Leventis Foundation.

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Endangered species. Kateryna Kon

A listeria outbreak in the UK has infected nine people and killed five of them in June 2019. The bacteria was transmitted via sandwiches and salads eaten in seven hospitals across England, supplied by the Good Food Chain, a company based in the Midlands. The outbreak came to light after samples from its meat supplier tested positive for the bacteria, which microbiologists refer to as L. monocytogenes.

People who contract listeria risk developing an infection called listeriosis, which can be dangerous to the likes of pregnant women, immunocompromised people and the elderly. The riskiest foods include soft cheeses, unpasteurised milk, salads and certain types of processed meat and fish.

Infection alert: Good Food Chain. Ascannio

This is the third significant outbreak around the world in the past several years. South Africa experienced the largest ever incidence in 2017-18, when more than 200 people died after eating a contaminated ready-to-eat sausage called polony. The outbreak led to product recalls from some 15 countries in the region.

Between 2015 and 2018, an outbreak in Europe killed ten people and infected more than 50. It was caused after a vegetable processing facility in Hungary contaminated frozen products being shipped to numerous countries, including the UK, Finland and Austria. The bacteria persisted despite the manufacturers following all the regulations on sanitation.

Disasters such as these could probably have been avoided if samples of these factory food products had been pre-tested using the latest genome sequencing technology. This has yet to filter down to industry – because the costs are still too high – so food manufacturers are still relying on standard laboratory bacteria tests. The good news for the future is that this is soon likely to change.

How Listeria spreads

L. monocytogenes lives in soil, water courses and plants as an organism known as a saprophyte, which lives off dead and decaying matter. It also exists in the gut of animals – including humans – often causing no symptoms and then being passed out in faeces. Because fresh vegetables are grown in tight spaces, it is difficult to prevent them being contaminated from these sources – due to the likes of soil splash and interactions with wild animals in the field.

To become a problem for the food industry, there usually needs to be a contaminated “pinch point” in the manufacturing process that can spread bacteria to a large volume of products. In the Hungary outbreak, for instance, L. monocytogenes matching the culprit strain were traced to the floor drain of the processing factory and to spinach from a vegetable grinder.

One reason why listeria bacteria are so good at surviving in the food supply chain is because they form bacterial biofilms, in which the microorganisms stick together in a matrix of polymeric substances that they secrete from their bodies. These biofilms are resilient enough to survive a fair amount of antibacterial punishment, even on man-made surfaces such as stainless steel or polystyrene.

Film industry. lenwaree

At the same time, recent evidence suggests that L. monocytogenes enter a protective state under stress, such as when a different detergent is used against them. In this state it is harder to eradicate them. They are also able to tolerate fridge temperatures remarkably well. In all, they are much hardier survivors than other bacteria such as E. coli or Salmonella and demand greater cleaning and sanitation in food factories to keep them at bay.

The testing regime

By law, food manufacturers in the UK and many other countries currently have to send food and environmental samples for microbial analysis. If they supply a major supermarket or high street restaurant chain they are probably required to exceed minimum requirements and send more samples to meet more stringent safety policies.

These tests will flag up bacterial contamination, but they are of limited value in relation to listeria. Because listeria is able to live almost anywhere, you can expect to find a certain low level of L. monocytogenes. It only becomes a cause for concern when the level increases over a short period of time.

Yet these standard microbial tests are a hit and miss method of spotting contaminations. The trouble is that it can often be difficult to see whether there is a problem without looking at the genetics of the bacteria: in “safe” food samples, the listeria will be genetically diverse, whereas in an outbreak they will be predominantly the same subtype. Standard tests only tell you whether you have L. monocytogenes or not – to get the genetic information, you need genome sequencing.

Laboratory limitations. gan chaonan

Standard lab tests also don’t give you any information about the source of the bacteria. For this reason, investigators have already started using genome sequencing during outbreaks including the ones I mentioned earlier. In a situation such as the pan-European outbreak of 2015-18, without genome sequencing the food suppliers may have had to shut down many more units for intensive cleaning before they could operate again, losing much more money in the process.

Unfortunately, genome sequencing tests can cost something like five times the current going rate for standard tests. This effectively prohibits its use in pretesting – all the more so for small suppliers with shallower pockets.

Ten years from now it could be a very different situation. We have already seen the way that the price to generate the raw data for a bacterial genome has fallen from US$50,000 to US$1 (£39,735 to £0.79) in the past decade. The technology has already become standard for the likes of researchers, which is usually a sign that it will reach industry a few years later. In the meantime, standards are rising anyway – operators in the supply chain are constantly reviewing their safety practices with a focus on consumer safety. These include increased microbial sampling and more sanitation and disinfection programmes.

So while listeria is a tough opponent for the food manufacturing industry, its days as a serious threat could well be numbered. Fairly soon, food manufacturers and their retailers are going to face a choice: pay for genome sequencing technology or save money and risk an outbreak, the result of which is a catastrophic effect on public health and the possible end of your company. In the end, they probably won’t need to think about it for very long.

Alva Smith does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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The blueprints. Sean Peacock, Author provided

Air pollution has a particularly damaging effect on children. They’re still growing and breathe faster than adults do. They also live closer to the ground, where the most polluting gases from vehicles accumulate. Pollution from traffic has been linked to problems with brain development, stunted growth, respiratory conditions, cancers and 300,000 child deaths worldwide.

Children themselves are far from oblivious to all this. The school climate strikes show that young people are forcing air pollution and the climate crisis to the top of the political agenda. The strikes tell us that children demand a platform to challenge pollution in their environment. Unable to voice their concerns in school, they are forced to take radical action. What if instead there was a way to work with children in tackling air pollution and climate change?

Through my research, I look for ways that we can give children the tools, the skills and the confidence to affect change in the cities they live in. With the help of teachers and my colleagues in Open Lab – a research group at Newcastle University – we’ve come up with Sense Explorers, a series of lessons to run in primary schools.

Smog on the Tyne

Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK has a population of just over 260,000. It’s relatively small, but several areas of the city have illegal levels of air pollution. The culprit? Cars, buses and lorries, all emitting harmful concentrations of polluting gases such as nitrogen dioxide in built-up areas.

Read more: Why air pollution in schools is such a big deal – and what to do about it

The children I talked to care about the environment and wanted to see it change for the better – but they have few means to influence that change. In our lessons, we didn’t simply teach school children about environmental issues – we allowed them to learn for themselves what they can do to improve their local environment.

First, we took them to streets in their neighbourhood. With the help of some digital tools, including a basic kit we built ourselves, we collected data about air pollution.

In our pilot lessons, we gave them a tool that professionals use called the Fidas Frog, a handheld device that monitors fine dust in the air. But when we found this wasn’t so fun or easy for children, we created the Sensor Pi. Using low-cost sensors connected to a Raspberry Pi computer, they could get a rough air pollution reading at the press of a button.

Using the Sensor Pi. Dan Richardson

We didn’t just rely on technology – we asked the children to think about what their own five senses were telling them about the street. Could they see or hear what may be causing pollution?

We compiled the data they collected and showed it back to them alongside official data. Adults might not expect children to be able to interpret air pollution data, but when we asked them to explain what might be causing peaks in the graphs, they suggested parents in their idling cars, rush-hour traffic and the fumes from local factories.

We then asked: if you were in charge of the city, how would you make the situation better?

Some ideas for cutting air pollution. Sean Peacock The city of tomorrow

The children proposed many things, including solar-powered cars, separate bridges for people and vehicles, tunnels to keep traffic underground and even electric travelators to replace roads and cars altogether. Many of their ideas to combat pollution could be implemented right now – slowing vehicles down or removing them from the road, providing electric car charging points, filtering the air and getting more people to walk and cycle.

These ideas won’t just linger in a teacher’s drawer or decorate a display wall. We’ve worked with four classes in three different schools, and local politicians came to meet all of them to listen and commit to action on their ideas.

A local councillor taking questions from the children. Sean Peacock

Schools are the perfect places to encourage children to become environmental activists. It’s where children learn about the future, what it holds for them, and how they can make it better. We should be showing them what they can – and should – do to to make their cities less polluted places.

Urban planners and politicians are often hesitant to work with children, but they shouldn’t be – we need to embrace their creativity and passion to take radical action on air pollution and climate change. More now than ever, we need the original ideas that only children can bring.

Click here to subscribe to our climate action newsletter. Climate change is inevitable. Our response to it isn’t.

Sean Peacock receives funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) through the Centre for Doctoral Training in Digital Civics. He is a board trustee of A Place in Childhood, a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation, and a member of the Labour Party.

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The Conversation by Ellen Turner, Senior Lecturer In En.. - 16h ago
BBC/Sid Gentle/Steve Schofield

SPOILER ALERT: this article contains plot references to episodes from both series one and two.

Killing Eve, the much-praised BBC America thriller, is remarkable for the way it which it uproots and challenges many of the male-centric conventions of the spy thriller genre. And though watching the show might make you hungry with the sheer amount of food and eating on screen, what might be less obvious, is that these food choices are political.

Particularly noteworthy at a time in which veganism is growing and where we are constantly being reminded that our carnivorous tendencies are killing the planet, is the prevalence of meat in the show.

In the first season, it’s “sausages galore” – with series creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge admitting to “some kind of subliminal sausaging going on”. The pervasiveness of the sausage is difficult to ignore with IndieWire’s Hanh Nguyen pointing out that, in half of the eight episodes in season one, “ground meat in casings” crop up at some point or another.

In episode four, for instance, one of the show’s protagonists – MI5 operative Eve Polastri – rendezvouses with MI6’s head of Russia desk, Carolyn Martens, in a butcher’s shop. As Eve enters, the camera pans in on the gaudy model sheep out the front of the shop to find Carolyn inspecting the sausages. Carolyn directs Eve to “take a minute” and “look at the sausages”, to which Eve replies “Okay. So … Wow, that’s a lot of sausages” as the camera gazes at the two women through the glass of the meat counter while nestled among sausages.

Meat is murder.

In episode five, after Eve’s nemesis-cum-object of obsession, Villanelle, dismembers one of her victims, MI5 boss Frank Haleton, the camera pans to frying sausages which the assassin is preparing in her apartment. The phallic symbolism of the meat product is only enhanced by the butchering nature of the kill. As Eve declares: “She chopped his knob off.” Villanelle poignantly labels Frank “squealer” which, as well as being slang for an informer, also might be an allusion to George Orwell’s manipulative pig minister of propaganda in the novel Animal Farm. Frank is meat for Villanelle in more ways than one.

As critic Priscilla Frank pointed out in Huffington Post, Villanelle objectifies her kill by dressing the dead body provocatively in a cocktail dress and laying him out on the bed of the (not so) safe house in which he is staying. Frank notes that Killing Eve subverts trends in pop culture where “body counts tend to skew female” and one of the few guises in which females are over-represented are as corpses. While Villanelle has victims of both sexes, typically it is the man who is butchered.

On the slab

Though the “sausage gags” – which were, apparently, “a Phoebe thing” – dry up in the second season of Killing Eve (where Emerald Fennell has taken over as head writer from Waller-Bridges), meat continues to play a prominent role. In the first episode of the second season, Eve feels a little queasy when confronted by a body in the morgue. After being offered water or whisky, Eve plumps for a burger: “That’s the formaldehyde. The smell of the bodies makes you crave meat.”

The next shot sees Eve and Carolyn finishing off their fast food meal in front of the body on the slab. And when Eve asks Carolyn how she always looks so good on so little sleep, Carolyn admits to using a moisturiser made of “pig’s placenta” that “smells like arse”.

However, the climax of the meat theme occurs in episode four. Villanelle, in her attempt to win back Eve’s attention, finds inspiration for her next “exciting” assassination in Jan de Baen’s painting, The Corpses of the De Witt Brothers at The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

The Corpses of the De Witt Brothers, Jan de Baen (attributed to), c.1672-1675. Rijksmuseum

Johan de Wit, Grand Pensionary of the Dutch Republic, along with his brother, were allegedly killed and eaten by an angry mob. Connoisseur as she is, the work of art makes Villanelle think of bacon. Fittingly disguised in a cartoon fluffy pig head and pink Bavarian-style dress, Villanelle leads her victim with a penchant for animal fetish, into a window brothel in Amsterdam’s red light district. Here she proceeds, in a very public performance – with his wife watching from the street – to string him up upside down like a pig on a butchers hook and slit his torso with a knife. Carolyn later describes the scene as: “A bit of a butcher shop, apparently.”

Getting the chop

In placing a woman at the top of the food chain, as the butcherer and consumer of her kill, Killing Eve is subversive. Historically, meat eating has been associated with power and masculinity. As Nick Fiddes asserted in his cultural history of meat: “Meat has long stood for man’s proverbial ‘muscle’ over the natural world.”

Meat is, according to Carol J. Adams, author of the feminist vegan bible The Sexual Politics of Meat, “a symbol of male dominance” with the act of butchering being the “quintessential enabling act for meat eating”. Enjoying meat has been naturalised in Westerb culture as an essentially masculine desire, and as The Sexual Politics of Meat would have it, this impulse simultaneously animalises and objectifies women, and feminises the meat product.

À lire aussi : Meat is masculine: how food advertising perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes

In the world of Killing Eve, being the apex predator is not only a matter of overturning traditional patriarchal structures of power, it is a matter of life or death.

Ellen Turner ne travaille pas, ne conseille pas, ne possède pas de parts, ne reçoit pas de fonds d'une organisation qui pourrait tirer profit de cet article, et n'a déclaré aucune autre affiliation que son poste universitaire.

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There has been a tendency in British public discourse since the 2016 referendum on EU membership to identify the residents of Northern England as the principal “culprits” of the Brexit vote.

Given that, in a direct, immediate sense, it appears that the North will be more negatively affected than most other parts of the UK (or certainly England) by departure from the EU’s economic zone, this narrative has fed a sense that Northerners have acted both selfishly and foolishly. The North, so the argument goes, has dragged the UK out of the EU against the wishes of most of its constituent regions and nations, and, in doing so, acted in contradiction of its own economic interests.

The Brexit vote has been interpreted in line with historical depictions of Northerners as unsophisticated and downtrodden, with the occasional bout of truculence. The North voted to leave the EU because it has been “left behind” by more prosperous metropolitan areas.

Co-opting the North

Nevertheless, the notion of the North as strongly pro-Brexit has been exploited by political elites, on both left and right.

The right-wing populism most closely associated with Nigel Farage and the Conservative Party’s ascendant ERG faction consistently claims support of “ordinary folk”. That enables them to add a flavour of anti-establishment sentiment to their elite-led and ultra-neoliberal pro-Brexit agenda.

Paradoxically, this notion is also central to the left-wing Brexit or “Lexit” imaginary, long upheld by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and some of his most loyal supporters. The notion that the North – a so-called Labour “heartland” – is strongly supportive of Leave is convenient to this perspective. But the main advocates of the Lexit argument are, like Corbyn, products of London-centred political communities. The ascendancy of this perspective on the left explains Labour’s timidity over supporting a second referendum.

The North’s Brexit preferences

But if you take a good look at the results of the 2016 referendum, it dramatically challenges the notion that support for Brexit is centred in the North. Turnout is lower in the region and the population smaller.

In fact, the South East had the highest percentage of Leave voters. This region accounted for 15% of the national Leave vote. The North West (the North’s most populous region) and East of England both delivered around 11%, closely followed by the South West and West Midlands (both 10%). There were as many Leave voters in London as Yorkshire (both 9%). The North East actually delivered fewer Leave votes (4%) than even Scotland (6%).

Regional composition of national Leave vote, 2016 referendum. See full report

Treating the three Northern regions, and London and the wider South East, as two mega-regions is also informative. While there were many more Remain voters in London and the South East in 2016 (around 4.7m, or 29% of the national Remain vote, versus 3.4m in the North, representing 21.1% of the national Remain vote), the differences in terms of the Leave vote are far less significant. There were 4.3m Leave voters in the North, versus 4.1m in London and the South East. This represents 24.9% and 23.4% of the national Leave vote, respectively.

My report for Future Economies, Brexit and the North: Not Our Problem, applies the same approach to the 2019 European election to determine regional support for either a “no-deal” Brexit, or the revocation of Article 50 (via a second referendum). Including only votes for parties explicitly promising (at the time of the election) to leave the EU without a withdrawal agreement, or explicitly promising revocation or a second referendum, a similar pattern emerges: the South East (15%), South West (11%), East of England (11%) and North West (11%) are the main regional drivers of the national “no-deal” vote.

Regional composition of national ‘no deal’ vote, 2019 EU election. See full report

While there were many more revocation/second referendum voters in London and the South East in 2019 (around 2.1m, or 18% of the national revocation/second referendum vote, versus 1.1m in the North, representing 10% of the national vote), the differences in terms of the no-deal vote are far less significant. There were just under 1.5m no-deal voters in the North, versus just over 1.4m in London and the South East – this represents 25% and 24% of the national no-deal vote, respectively.

The need for nuance

As such, the North generally supported Leave over Remain in 2016, and slightly more people expressed support for no deal over revocation and/or a second referendum in 2019. Yet not decisively so. This is not to suggest that there is not strong support for Brexit in some parts of the North – or indeed that the 2016 result should not be respected.

But we must avoid an absolutist interpretation of the Brexit vote – especially one that invokes a simplistic account of support for Brexit in the “left behind” North. Above all, the recent European election shows that support for a no-deal Brexit is very limited in the North (as everywhere else, with the partial exception of the South East).

We should see the North not as simply “left behind”, but rather deliberately subjugated, in the sense that centralised political structures and a finance-centred growth model inhibit economic development in the North. Many see leaving the EU as part of the solution, but many instead recognise an ultra-neoliberal Brexit agenda, anchored in the South East, as more of the same – neglecting economic activity in the North while pursuing a trade agenda which prioritises the globalised industries of London and the South East.

Better representation for the North in national debates (and policy-making processes) is an end in itself, but it might also help us to finally break the Brexit impasse and arrive at a consensual approach to withdrawal.

Craig Berry is a member of the Labour Party.

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Throughout history, people who have gained positions of power tend to be precisely the kind of people who should not be entrusted with it. A desire for power often correlates with negative personality traits: selfishness, greed and a lack of empathy. And the people who have the strongest desire for power tend to be the most ruthless and lacking in compassion.

Often those who attain power show traits of psychopathy and narcissism. In recent times, psychopathic leaders have been mostly found in less economically developed countries with poor infrastructures and insecure political and social institutions. People such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and Charles Taylor in Liberia.

But modern psychopaths generally don’t become leaders in affluent countries (where they are perhaps more likely to join multinational corporations). In these countries, as can be seen in the US and Russia, there has been a movement away from psychopathic to narcissistic leaders.

After all, what profession could be more suited to a narcissistic personality than politics, where the spotlight of attention is constant? Narcissists feel entitled to gain power because of their sense of superiority and self-importance.

Those with narcissistic personalities tend to crave attention and admiration and feel it is right that other people should be subservient to them. Their lack of empathy means they have no qualms about exploiting other people to attain or maintain their power.

Meanwhile, the kind of people who we might think are ideally suited to take on positions of power – people who are empathetic, fair minded, responsible and wise – are naturally disinclined to seek it. Empathetic people like to remain grounded and interact with others, rather than elevating themselves. They don’t desire control or authority, but connection, leaving those leadership roles vacant for those with more narcissistic and psychopathic character traits.

Different types of leader

Yet it would be misleading to say it is only psychopaths and narcissists who gain power. Instead, I would suggest that there are generally three types of leaders.

The first are accidental leaders who gain power without a large degree of conscious intention on their part, but due to privilege or merit (or a combination). Second are the idealistic and altruistic leaders, probably the rarest type. They feel impelled to gain power to improve the lives of other people – or to promote justice and equality, and try to become instruments of change. But the third are the narcissistic and psychopathic leaders, whose motivation for gaining power is purely self-serving.

This doesn’t just apply to politics, of course. It’s an issue in every organisation with a hierarchical structure. In any institution or company, there is a good chance that those who gain power are highly ambitious and ruthless, and lacking in empathy.

Narcissistic leaders may seem appealing because they are often charismatic (they cultivate charisma in order to attract attention and admiration). As leaders they can be confident and decisive and their lack of empathy can promote a single-mindedness which can, in some cases, lead to achievement. Ultimately though, any positive aspects are far outweighed by the chaos and suffering they create.

An anti-Trump demonstration in Washington DC. Shutterstock/bakdc

What is needed are checks to power – not just to limit the exercise of power, but to limit its attainment. Put simply, the kind of people who desire power the most should not be allowed to attain positions of authority.

Every potential leader should be assessed for their levels of empathy, narcissism or psychopathy to determine their suitability for power. At the same time, empathetic people – who generally lack the lust to gain power – should be encouraged to take positions of authority. Even if they don’t want to, they should feel a responsibility to do so – if only to get in the way of tyrants.

Models of society

This might sound absurd and impractical, but as I suggest in my book, The Fall, it has been done before. There are many tribal hunter-gatherer societies where great care is taken to ensure that unsuitable individuals don’t attain power.

Instead, anyone with a strong desire for power and wealth is barred from consideration as a leader. According to anthropologist Christopher Boehm, present-day foraging groups “apply techniques of social control in suppressing both dominant leadership and undue competitiveness”.

If a dominant male tries to take control of the group, they practise what Boehm calls “egalitarian sanctioning”. They team up against the domineering person, and ostracise or desert him. In this way, Boehm says, “the rank and file avoid being subordinated by vigilantly keeping alpha-type group members under their collective thumbs”.

Just as importantly, in many simple hunter-gatherer groups power is assigned to people, rather than being sought by them. People don’t put themselves forward to become leaders – other members of the group recommend them, because they are considered to be experienced and wise, or because their abilities suit particular situations.

In some societies, the role of leader is not fixed, but rotates according to different circumstances. As another anthropologist, Margaret Power, noted: “The leadership role is spontaneously assigned by the group, conferred on some members in some particular situation … One leader replaces another as needed.”

In this way, simple hunter-gatherer groups preserve stability and equality, and minimise the risk of conflict and violence.

It’s true that large modern societies are much more complex and more populous than hunter-gatherer groups. But it may be possible for us to adopt similar principles. At the very least, we should assess potential leaders for their levels of empathy, in order to stop ruthless and narcissistic people gaining power.

We could also try to identify narcissists and psychopaths who already hold positions of power and take measures to curtail their influence. Perhaps we could also ask communities to nominate wise and altruistic people who would take an advisory role in important political decisions.

No doubt all this would entail massive changes of personnel for most of the world’s governments, institutions and companies. But it might ensure that power is in the hands of people who are worthy of it, and so make the world a much less dangerous place.

Steve Taylor does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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