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By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Jan. 21, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Many older Americans are unnecessarily screened for breast and prostate cancer, which can lead to treatments they don't need, a new study contends.

The practice may also be costing the U.S. health care system $1.2 billion a year, the researchers added.

Almost 16 percent of those 65 and older are being screened for breast or prostate cancer even though they may have less than 10 years to live, the study found. A 10-year life expectancy is a benchmark for deciding whether to screen or not. And guidelines recommend against screening for these cancers in people with a life expectancy less than 10 years, the researchers said.

"Physicians, as well as patients, should consider life expectancy when deciding the necessity of prostate cancer or breast cancer screening," said lead researcher Dr. Firas Abdollah, of the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.

"To achieve this goal, we need to overcome many hurdles," he said, which include the lack of easy-to-use and accurate life expectancy calculators to guide doctors in making screening recommendations.

Also, busy doctors may find it hard to explain the concept of life expectancy and why screening is not recommended for certain individuals, he added.

Robert Smith, vice president for cancer screening at the American Cancer Society, said: "This can be a hard conversation for doctors to have with patients. If a patient shows some enthusiasm for getting these tests, it's just easier to do the test than it is to have that conversation, especially if you're not that good at doing it."

In addition, it's difficult to estimate whether somebody has 10 years to live, Smith said.

The report was published online Jan. 21 in the journal JAMA Oncology.

Smith said that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends mammograms for women up to age 74. The task force does not recommend screening for prostate cancer at all, he said.

Using 10-year longevity as a benchmark for screening is the American Cancer Society's guideline, Smith said.

"We recommend that men should not be offered prostate cancer screening if they don't have 10 years of life left," he said. "Our breast cancer guideline is the same."

Abdollah said cancer screening aims to detect tumors early, before symptoms appear. "Evidence suggests that detection and treatment of early stage tumors may reduce cancer mortality among screened individuals," he said.

Despite this benefit, screening may also cause harm, he said. Screening may identify low-risk tumors that would never become life-threatening, but subject patients to the harms of unnecessary treatment, such as side effects of therapy and a reduced quality of life, he added.

For the report, Abdollah and his colleagues collected data on nearly 150,000 people 65 and older who responded to the Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System survey in 2012.

Among these people, 51 percent had had a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test or mammography in the past year. Of those who were screened, almost 31 percent had a life expectancy of less than 10 years. The rate of non-recommended screening was 15.7 percent, Abdollah said.

This rate varied across the country, from 11.6 percent in Colorado to just over 20 percent in Georgia, the researchers found. States with a high rate of non-recommended screening for prostate cancer also had a high rate of non-recommended screening for breast cancer.

Smith said the other side of the coin is that many doctors fail to recommend screening for patients who clearly have 10 years to live or more.

About one-third of women who die from breast cancer each year are over 70, Smith said. "That means there is a significant fraction of these deaths that could be avoided if women had been screened," he said.

Smith added that many doctors aren't aware of the tools available to predict longevity and many who are aware don't use them. "Doctors need to be better prepared to estimate longevity, and have conversations with patients about cancer screening," he said.

Smith did note that as patients get older they tend to lose interest in screening.

"There is a natural attrition as you get older -- patients lose interest in prevention and doctors become preoccupied with managing life-limiting conditions," he explained.

More information

Visit the American Cancer Society for more on cancer screening.

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Aerie has done it again. While looking at their latest rollout of products on American Eagle’s site, 20-year-old Abby Sams noticed a familiar face—her own. In a tweet that has since gone viral, Sams shared the news.

RELATED: These 13 Women Prove Every Body Is a Bikini Body

“@Aerie just sneakily released some of my photos!” wrote Sams, who is shown modeling in her wheelchair. “Look at this disability representation people!!! Also look at me because I [can’t] believe it's actually me so yeah.”

Sams also shared the series on Instagram, and she ended her post with the kind of amazing positivity we can't get enough of. “Beautiful with mobility aids. Beautiful in a wheelchair. Beautiful with an invisible illness. Beautiful, not despite those things, but because of them.”

Sams was sporting Aerie’s Boho Lace Bralette, and her candid shots were met with lots of cheers and excitement. One fan responded that this was the first time she saw herself represented in a model. Others were so thrilled, they couldn’t resist commenting in all caps.

Sams tells Health that the environment at the shoot was as fun as it appears in the photos. She was joined by several other models, some of whom had disabilities and conditions that are not usually represented in fashion spreads.

“There was always music playing and we were all dancing and making jokes while the photographer, Andrew Buda, was working his magic,” she says. “Most of the photos are candid and I love that. The crew was also always asking what they could do to make things accessible and make sure I could get around. They made sure not to do things for me but instead make them accessible enough for me to do myself which blew me away.”

She wasn’t the only one blown away by the photos. Sams says she woke up to more than 200 messages from people who had seen them.

“So many people are so excited that a major company is really going deep into representing diversity in all communities,” she says. “[People were] so happy to finally see someone like them in the media, totally unretouched and happy.”

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A infant from Iowa is making slow but steady progress in her recovery after being hit in the head by a softball.

As Lee Hovenga readied to play in a recreational game of softball on May 2, his wife Kassy Hovenga took a seat in the stands behind third base with their 7-week-old daughter, McKenna, according to a Facebook page set up by relatives and friends of the family.

Aside from check-ups and running errands, the game marked McKenna’s very first outing, a post in the group, Healing For McKenna, detailed.

When another pair of teams took the field, Lee took a break and helped Kassy cover herself with a blanket to breastfeed McKenna. But, with their attention diverted away from the field, the couple didn’t notice when a softball was launched over the fence in their direction.

While the softball hit Kassy in the bicep, the couple wasn’t aware that McKenna was impacted, too — until she started screaming a few seconds later and a large lump formed on her head.

According to the Facebook group, the infant was immediately taken to nearby Waverly Health Center in Waverly, Iowa, and was then flown to St. Mary’s Hospital at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Once in Minnesota, doctors placed McKenna on anti-seizure medications as they treated her for skull fractures and two brain bleeds.

RELATEDMom Speaks Out After Infant Suffers Brain Damage From Falling Off Bed: ‘He’s Not the Same’

In the hours and days after she was hit, baby McKenna suffered multiple seizures, some lasting almost 10 to 15 minutes long, with many of them coming back-to-back in clusters. McKenna was soon put in a “deep coma” and placed on a ventilator, according to Healing For McKenna.

On May 4, medical personnel performed a CT scan on McKenna and found one of the bleeds in her brain had grown larger. They soon ordered a blood transfusion, an update in the Facebook group said.

Another CT scan over the weekend showed McKenna was stable, but, according to Facebook, doctors remain unsure about any brain damage she could have suffered. The family won’t know the degree of it — or if she even has any damage — until she is further into her recovery. As of Sunday, a post on Healing For McKenna announced she had been seizure free for more than two days.

Lee and Kassy declined to comment when reached by PEOPLE, saying in a statement that they “want to focus our strength and time to the care and comfort of McKenna.”

The family has recently set up a YouCaring donation page to help with McKenna’s medical care. Supporters on the page have already raised some $35,000 of their $50,000 goal as of Tuesday, which the family said will only go toward McKenna’s present and future medical expenses.

The donations — no matter how small — may help the couple during one of their most difficult times.

“Lee and Kassy went through three rounds of in vitro to have McKenna on top of other infertility treatments,” Laura, a relative of the couple, told PEOPLE. “This has been especially crushing to them.”

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A doctor in Slovenia has reported on a case with a lesson you might want to remember. If you wind up with a brain implant at some point down the road—including the kind that might someday allow you to control computers with your mind—be sure you don’t try and charge it during a thunderstorm.

According to the report, published earlier this month and spotted by Ars Technica, a 66-year-old patient with a brain implant was in her apartment when it was struck by lightning. The strike was strong enough to “burn and destroy” electrical appliances in the apartment, including a television and air conditioner.

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It was also strong enough to trigger a failsafe that shut off the woman’s brain implant, even though it wasn’t connected to the home’s wiring. The patient was being treated for involuntary neck spasms using a procedure called Deep Brain Stimulation, or DBS. It’s a well-established therapy that has been used for Parkinson’s disease for more than two decades, and was approved to treat severe obsessive-compulsive disorder in 2009. DBS treatment relies on an implant called a neurostimulator, in this case a unit from Medtronic, that sends electrical impulses to electrodes implanted in the brain.

The patient didn’t notice anything was wrong until an hour after the storm, when her spasms returned. She was able to get her implant reactivated and her tremors back under control quickly, and no damage to the implant was found.

But that outcome, according to the reporting doctor, could have been much worse if the implant had been plugged in to recharge during the lightning strike. Though the report doesn’t speculate on just how badly the patient could have been harmed, it does refer to “serious brain injury” in cases where patients with implants were exposed to strong electromagnetic fields. Electrical implants can be shut off or damaged when they get too close to generators, arc welders, or even medical equipment like MRI machines.

A medical neurostimulator isn’t precisely analogous to the kind of brain implants that entrepreneurs including Elon Musk want to develop. In fact, simple brain-computer interfaces have already been shown to work without any implant at all. But more sensitive versions of the technology probably will involve implants, so if you ever decide to literally hack your brain, be careful when you plug it in.

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Oregon health officials have confirmed this week that a teenage girl in Crook County, Oregon, has contracted the bubonic plague. The girl most likely caught the disease from a flea bite during a hunting trip in northern Oregon and is currently recovering in an intensive care unit at a local hospital.

The bubonic plague—yes, the same disease as the "Black Death" that crippled Europe in the Middle Ages—is an infection caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria carried by rodents like rats, squirrels, and chipmunks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Humans get it from being bitten by fleas, which contract it from feeding on infected rodents.

“Many people think of the plague as a disease of the past, but it’s still very much present in our environment, particularly among wildlife,” Emilio DeBess, a veterinarian in Oregon's Public Health Division, explained in a press release. “Fortunately, plague remains a rare disease, but people need to take appropriate precautions with wildlife and their pets to keep it that way.”

RELATED: Did One Gene Mutation Launch the Black Death?

To keep yourself and your loved ones safe, the CDC recommends avoiding sick or dead rodents, rabbits and squirrels, treating your pets for fleas, and cleaning up any areas near your house where rodents could live (think brush piles or abandoned vehicles).

Once bitten by a flea carrying the bacteria, symptoms usually develop two to six days after being bitten, and include sudden fever, headache, chills, and painful, swollen lymph nodes (known as buboes). Without immediate antibiotic treatment, the infection can spread to the bloodstream (septicemic plague) or to the lungs (pneumonic plague), both of which can be fatal.

Bubonic plague can also lead to gangrene in fingers and toes. In 2012, another Oregon patient lost fingers and toes after contracting the plague from handling a mouse his pet cat had caught, according to the Associated Press.

All of this sounds scary for sure, but the good news is that in addition to being rare in the United States, most of those who do contract the virus will recover with prompt antibiotic treatment.

While the infection is serious, the overall mortality rate for the plague today is 11%, versus 66% before antibiotics were invented.

RELATED: New York City Rats Carry Fleas Known to Transmit Plague

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If your company hasn’t launched a wellness program, this might be the year.

As benefits enrollment for 2016 approaches, more employers than ever are expected to nudge workers toward plans that screen them for risks, monitor their activity and encourage them to take the right pills, food and exercise.

This involves a huge collection of health data outside the established medical system, not only by wellness vendors such as Redbrick, Audax and Vitality but also by companies offering gym services, smartphone apps and devices that track steps and heartbeats. Such partners pass worker results to the wellness providers.

Standards to keep such information confidential have developed more slowly than the industry. That raises risks it could be abused for workplace discrimination, credit screening or marketing, consumer advocates say.

Here’s what to ask about your company’s plan.
Q. What information will my employer see?
Many employers get only anonymous, group data. The vendor reports how many workers are overweight or have high blood pressure, for example.

But sometimes employers can see individual results, setting the stage for potential discrimination against those with disabilities or chronic illness. Or they can guess them. Discrimination based on disability and illness is illegal but hard to prove.

Workers should ask exactly what information will get back to their company and whether it will identify them.
Q. Is the program covered under the HIPAA privacy law?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act restricts sharing of certain medical information to doctors, health insurers and other authorized users. Asking whether a wellness plan is covered by HIPAA is a good, first attempt at judging confidentiality.

Workplace wellness programs offered separately from an employer’s group health insurance plan are not protected by HIPAA. Other privacy laws might apply. But often it’s often impossible for employees to tell without asking.

Even in HIPAA-covered programs, a few, designated managers at your workplace can see health reports including identities, although they’re supposed to keep them confidential.
Q. I don’t understand the privacy policy. Did I give up my HIPAA rights when I filled out my health assessment on the wellness site?
Use of a wellness portal often gives the vendor permission to share personal data with unidentified “third parties.” Those would be insurers, data-storage firms and other partners necessary to the program, vendors say. They’ll protect the information as well as anybody, they say.

But the open-ended nature of the permission gives consumer advocates the creeps. Read the privacy and terms-of-use disclosures. Ask questions if you’re uncomfortable.
Q. My employer says it sees only group results. Does that guarantee privacy?
At smaller firms it’s sometimes easy for managers to match worker identities with results from group reports. The same goes for large companies when wellness data is disclosed by team or division.

Ask how far the results will be broken down.
Q. How many other companies see my wellness data?
Workplace wellness often involves multiple firms gathering or sharing your information. The main wellness provider might work with labs, app publishers, fitness device makers, gyms, rewards fulfillment companies and others — each with its own confusing privacy policy.

Employees deserve a clear explanation of which companies get their data, what form it takes, how recipients will use it and how it is protected, privacy advocates say.
Q. What privacy policies do subcontractors and other third parties have to follow?
One privacy standard for wellness contractors, set by the National Committee for Quality Assurance, requires the primary wellness vendor as well as third-party partners to conform to HIPAA.

But that kind of policy is not universal. NCQA recognizes only a few dozen out of hundreds of wellness companies. And NCQA standards are voluntary and don’t confer consumer rights.
Q. Could somebody try to identify individuals in the group results shared by my wellness plan?
Wellness privacy policies often give vendors broad room to share data stripped of names, addresses and other identifying features. Such information is not protected under HIPAA.

Experts have shown that such results can be re-identified by combining them with public databases. As an extra protection, wellness vendor Limeade and wearable device maker Fitbit prohibit third-party partners from attempting to re-identify the information they share.

But not all vendors do the same.
This article originally appeared on www.khn.org
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Jawbones and Fitbits are fine, but there are still some health insights that your own brain figures out better. Like this one: How did you sleep last night? In a recent Reddit AMA, Ying-Hui Fui, a sleep scientist at the University of California, San Francisco, explained that while wearables do a good job of measuring movement and heart rate while you sleep, they aren't going to provide an accurate picture of the quality of your night's rest.

"To really know the quality of sleep, we have to be able to measure EEG during sleep," said Fui, meaning the brain's electrical activity. "Most EEG devices are difficult to use and expensive." In other words, they don't retail for $99 and clip neatly to your clothing. The best way to track your own sleep, then, is the old-fashioned way, Fui said. More on that:
I think that right now, the best way is still to listen to your body and figure out what is the best schedule and duration for yourself. For example, when you are on vacation and have no social responsibilities and no other external influences, what is your body telling you to do and how do you feel? What makes you feel the best most of the day? Although it sounds primitive, it's still the most accurate way. You can use fitbit or whatever to measure your sleep duration, but if you don't feel good, it still has no benefit to help you with your sleep.

You still know yourself better than your Fitbit does.

More from Science of Us:

The More Money You Make, the More Sleep You Get

What's Happening in Your Brain When You Can't Stay Awake

A Composer Hopes His Music Will Put You to Sleep

How to Recover From an All-Nighter

There's a Bright Side to Bad Dreams

How Your Feet Can Help You Sleep
This article originally appeared on nymag.com
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Something introverts really like to do, it seems, is read and talk about their own introversion. A commenter on a recent Science of Us post on the four kinds of introversion summed matters up quite nicely: "Gosh, introverts are just so FASCINATING! — Introverts." This tendency, you could argue, may arise simply because introverts like spending a lot of time in deep reflection, getting lost in their own thoughts — and some of those thoughts, naturally, are going to be about themselves.

But at what point does self-reflection cross the line into self-preoccupation? As it turns out, there are some striking similarities between the popular understanding of introversion and a psychological characteristic called covert narcissism: It's all the entitlement and grandiosity most people associate with narcissism, minus the bluster. Maybe you know someone like this: They tend to believe they're being underestimated or overlooked, like their amazing qualities are forever going unnoticed by everyone else. They often take things too personally, especially criticism, and sometimes feel a little resentful when other people bother them with their problems.

Take a look at some of the items on a scale to measure covert narcissism, designed by psychologist Jonathan Cheek:

I easily become wrapped up in my own interests and forget the existence of others.
I feel that I am temperamentally different from most people.
When I enter a room, I often become self-conscious and feel that the eyes of others are upon me.
Of that last one, Cheek quipped to me: "Who are you, who everybody's looking at you? That's a narcissistic fantasy. It's assuming that the world is paying a lot of attention to you." (Scroll down to the bottom of this post, by the way, if you'd like to see how you rank on Cheek's quiz.) Taken together, many of the items on Cheek's scale sound an awful lot like the way most people understand introversion, and that's no coincidence. Covert narcissism correlates strongly with introversion, Cheek explained — if you have one, you're more likely to have the other, though there are plenty of introverts who don't also have narcissistic tendencies. "Covert narcissism is sort of a dark side of introversion," he said. "Just like overt narcissism is kind of a dark side of extroversion." Put another way: Not all introverts are covert narcissists — but covert narcissists are almost certainly introverts.

Covert narcissism is called many names in the scientific literature: closet narcissism, hypersensitive narcissism, and vulnerable narcissism, to name a few. Here, I'll mostly be using the term covert narcissism, and its opposite — overt narcissism, which is the usual way we think of narcissism: that is to say, as Trump-ish. But whatever you want to call it, it's not by any means a new insight into human behavior, even though it's still not very widely known outside of academia. As far back as the late 1930s, researchers published their observations of this quieter form of narcissism, according to the psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, who once wrote about the subject for Scientific American. The University of California, Berkeley, psychologist Paul Wink addressed the "two faces of narcissism" again in the early 1990s, and later that decade, Cheek published the first version of his scale.

But covert narcissism is understudied in comparison to its louder sibling, mostly because the trait is a tricky one to observe in human nature, let alone in a laboratory setting, explained W. Keith Campbell, a psychologist at the University of Georgia. "It's not somebody with a big personality," Campbell said. "It's somebody who's a little paranoid, who thinks they're not being treated fairly. They're a little suspicious, entitled." (When he does presentations on the subject, the pop-culture figure who often pops up on his slides to illustrate the vulnerable narcissist is George Costanza.)

Because the trait is so closely associated with introversion, there are few outward signs of this version of narcissism — instead of bragging aloud, for example, covert narcissists mostly keep their sky-high opinions of themselves locked inside their own heads, leaving them feeling misunderstood and overlooked. Zooey Deschanel, for example may or may not be an introvert and she may or may not be a narcissist, but back in 2012 she gave an interview to Allure that includes a quote about her college experience, and it's a pretty great articulation of this state of mind. "I went to Northwestern because I had gone to a really nontraditional high school. I was like, 'It'd be cool to have a traditional college experience,'" she told the magazine. "Then I was like, 'Oh, but none of these people understand what's cool about me. My specialness is not appreciated in this place.'"

Some psychologists, however, argue that all narcissists are, in reality, quite vulnerable or even needy, despite their outward boastfulness. "There are covert narcissist aspects to any kind of narcissist," said Craig Malkin, author of the new book Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad — and Surprising Good — About Feeling Special. "It's just a mess with all these different terms. At the common core, these are people who are addicted to feeling special. It's just that there are a lot of ways to do it." Others say that covert narcissism might not really be narcissism at all, but instead a form of neuroticism. (And in either case, by the way, we're talking here about trait narcissism, which is different from the personality disorder listed in the DSM-V. Many people's personalities would rate somewhere on the narcissistic spectrum; it's when the narcissism begins to intrude negatively into their lives, causing serious problems at work or home, that it starts to stray into disorder territory.)

Cheek, incidentally, recently completed some new research on the "common core" that unites both forms of the trait, which he presented earlier this year at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. In a study of more than 600 people, he found that both introverted and extroverted narcissists have two things in common: A sense of entitlement and fantasies of their own grandiosity. "You have to have a pretty grand sense of yourself, but you also have to feel like you are entitled to have that recognized by other people," Cheek said. "If you're overt, you're out there fighting for that recognition. But if you're covert, you're left in this kind of strange, introverted state, where you're having these thoughts like, I wonder why people aren't more appreciative of my good qualities. Nobody else seems to understand me."

Overt narcissism carries with it some good qualities — these sorts of people, for example, tend to make excellent leaders. On the other hand, "I can't see a lot of upsides to vulnerable narcissism," Campbell said. If you're seeing some of yourself in the definition of this kind of undercover egotism (and you would, you narcissist), there are some ways to tamp down the tendencies. "Practice caring and compassion for others," Campbell said. "Do things you are passionate about rather than make you look good, and take responsibility for your actions. Basically, practices that minimize the ego and increase connection with the world." Bonus: If you're the type of introvert who is prone to social anxiety, turning your attention outside of yourself has been shown to reduce those jittery feelings. Life gets easier — for any personality type — when you remind yourself every once in a while that it's not all about you.

You can take our quiz, adapted with permission from Cheek's ten-item scale, to see whether or not you are a covert narcissist.
Take the Quiz
More from Science of Us:

So Apparently There Are 4 Kinds of Introversion 

At a Neurological Level, Narcissists Are Needy

You Might Be an Ambivert, an Introvert-Extrovert Hybrid

When Introverts Should Avoid Coffee

The Health Perks of Being a Narcissist

Mindfulness Is Great, But Spacing Out Is Good for You, Too
This article originally appeared on nymag.com
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In this tutorial, John Campbell, an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, and a longtime Ashtanga yoga teacher and practitioner, presents a traditional yoga practice that will help you develop a strong core. The key to this sequence is to focus on balancing the breath, flexibility, and stability in order to create a greater level of strength and well-being. Listen as Campbell explains why yoga practice provides an excellent pathway to a strong and balanced body.

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An Expert Guide to Learn Crow Pose


Try a Free Online Yoga Class at Sonima


The Inquiry and Practice of Advanced Asana


This article originally appeared on www.sonima.com
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When this week began, chances are high that you’d never heard of Cecil the lion, the beloved big cat of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. But by now, you’ve likely heard of his death. Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist, paid about $55,000 for the (illegal) privilege of lion-hunting — though, after two days of tracking Cecil, it in the end wasn’t much of a hunt: Palmer and his guides reportedly used bait to lure the 13-year-old lion a half-mile outside of the protected park area. There, Palmer shot the animal with a bow and arrow, inflicting a severe wound that would lead to the animal’s death. The New York Times reports that Palmer had planned to mount Cecil’s head upon returning home.

Palmer has since expressed his regret over killing Cecil, claiming in a statement to the Star-Tribune on Tuesday that he did not realize that what he had done was not legal, or that Cecil was a famous and well-loved lion, or that the animal was the subject of an ongoing research project with Oxford University. But his words suggest that if Cecil hadn’t been famous, Palmer would regret nothing. He is, after all, a member of Safari Club International, a nonprofit “hunters’ rights” organization; the Safari Club website has a list of Palmer’s 43 kills, which include, among other things, a polar bear.

The question, then, is why? What motivates Palmer and other trophy hunters, as they’re called, to fly thousands of miles and spend tens of thousands of dollars, all for the sake of killing an animal like Cecil? The answer is complex, but, largely, it can be thought of as a demonstration of power and prestige, says Amy Fitzgerald, a sociologist at the University of Windsor.

In 2003, Fitzgerald and Linda Kalof of Michigan State published research in the sociology journal Visual Studies in which they analyzed 792 “hero shots” — the post-kill photo of hunter and prey — published in 14 popular hunting magazines. Most of the shots, Fitzgerald recalls, seemed to be arranged to show the hunter’s dominance over the animal. “The hunter tended to be pictured above standing or sitting above the animals, which clearly demonstrated the power dynamic that was going on there,” Fitzgerald said. In the vast majority of photos she and Kalof examined, the animal had been cleaned up, blood scrubbed away and wounds carefully hidden from view, making the animal look almost alive — as if the hunter had somehow tamed this giant, wild creature into submission. “It seems like, with the large animals, they were positioning them as though they were alive as a way to confirm the contest that had gone on — that this was a large virile animal that had to be taken down,” Fitzgerald said.

Photo: Courtesy of Science of Us

A show of power via dominance over the animal kingdom is, of course, nothing new. “This is something that goes back to antiquity, when kings had fake hunts with captured lions released just to be shot from a chariot by the waiting king,” Kalof said in an email to Science of Us. These “hunts” were done in front of an audience, which was a way of publicly declaring and validating the king’s power, Kalof noted, adding that “the trophy hunt of today is similarly a display of power and control by wealthy men.” Indeed, what Kalof describes sounds similar to today’s so-called “canned hunting,” which takes place in an enclosed area in order to increase the likelihood that some rich — and, often, American — tourist will nab a kill. (Noted fans of the canned hunt include Donald Trump’s two sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr.)

Michael Gurven, an anthropologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, studies hunter-gatherer tribes in the Amazon and notes that, both in cultures where hunting is necessary for survival and in those where it is not, the skill certainly attracts attention, though for wildly different reasons. “There’s the element of conspicuous consumption,” Gurven said. “I study people who hunt for food because they have no other choice. And here is someone paying $50,000 — which, as an annual income, that would be well above the poverty line — to have the opportunity to put himself in potential danger in order to kill a lion.”

Another huge part of the draw for trophy hunters, of course, is the thrill, or the element of danger. But in Palmer’s specific case, this, too, ties back to the wealth element, Gurven argued. “When you’re paying $55,000 for something, it’s probably a sign that — if it’s not necessarily illegal, certainly the animal you’re hunting is rare,” Gurven said. “If you think about the danger of the actual hunt — sure, the animal itself is dangerous.” But with Cecil, at least, the lion’s familiarity with humans likely made him an easy target, Louis Muller, chairman of Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association, told the Telegraph. “But the potential illegality of it — I think that makes it dangerous for a different reason,” Gurven said. “How do you smuggle the head or whatever he was going to take back to the U.S.? Getting that animal head on the wall is another signal of strength.” (Of course, there are plenty of trophy hunters who pursue the sport they love legally — he’s not talking about them here, just this one specific case of the lion and the dentist.)

The argument trophy hunters themselves often give is that killing the animals is an unlikely act of charity, and that the massive amounts of money tourists fork over helps to fund conservation efforts. Cecil’s death has reignited debate over that argument, but some major mainstream organizations have previously backed it, including the World Wildlife Fund. In a 2009 profile of Palmer in the New York Times, the curator of a bow-hunting club called Pope and Young explains that, yes, part of the draw is the “personal achievement” factor. But there’s another part to it, Glen Hisey explained. “It is a way of honoring that animal for all time,” he told the Times. Put differently, it’s a way of immersing yourself in nature in a way that modern life doesn’t always allow. As the conservationist and writer Aldo Leopold once noted (as quoted in the magazine Montana Outdoors), “Poets sing and hunters scale the mountains primarily for one and the same reason — the thrill to beauty. Critics write and hunters outwit their game for one and the same reason — to reduce that beauty to possession.”

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This article originally appeared on nymag.com
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