Category: Science

Cabin Fever: What it is, and How You Can Avoid It

Beatrice L., Journalist

As millions of Americans stay at home because of the Covid-19 pandemic, you might have noticed that you’ve developed feelings of isolation, whether the longing for interaction, feeling bored or unmotivated, or even feeling yourself losing touch with reality. What you might not realize is that these feelings have a name. What you’re experiencing is an age-old phenomenon known as cabin fever.  

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The Arecibo Telescope and The Legacy That Remains

Valene M., journalist

Guarded by three concrete towers, admired by the 900-ton observatory that hung so precariously over it, and equipped with shining aluminum panels to stretch its 1,000ft diameter, the Arecibo Telescope was a colossal structure, both in physical size and historical significance. For 57 years, this giant, which was the world’s largest radio telescope until recently, proved itself an invaluable center for radio astronomy as it mapped planets, guided spacecrafts, tracked asteroids, and searched for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. This last August, its end began when one of 18 cables suspending its hovering observatory slipped and crashed into the panels at the edge of the dish. The damage then was not irreparable, but on November 6th, another cable snapped in half and gouged the center of the dish. With two cables out of commission, the platform above it was in danger of falling at any moment, making repair too dangerous to attempt. The National Science Foundation closed the dish permanently and prepared for its controlled demolition. Then on December 1st, the platform and the 900 tons of instruments that it held came crashing down, sealing the telescope’s fate.

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Enigmatic Monolith in Utah Desert Conjures Theories

Paige P., journalist

Shortly after its mysterious appearance, a twelve-foot-metal structure found in a remote area of the desert in Utah has already disappeared, just as quickly as it came. Members of the Utah Department of Public Safety were flying over the desert on November 18th in search of bighorn sheep. In addition to sheep, they came across a triangular, hollow monolith sticking out of the red rock. By the night of November 27th, the structure, composed of three sheets of stainless-steel, had already been removed by an individual or group of people just over a week after it was originally spotted. At the moment, there is no solid evidence pointing to who created the monolith, how it got there, how long it has been there, or how it disappeared.

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Covid Vaccine

Ben K., journalist

A new vaccine for the virus sweeping the country, COVID-19, is in place and may be distributed through pharmacies and grocery stores alike. For many months now, COVID has been affecting everyone in some way, no matter who you are or what country you live in. According to the Associated Press, Moderna, an American biotechnology company, has released news that the tests have yielded very good news, despite the current state of the virus now, and how the future would look very grim without the vaccine. The vaccine has appeared to be 94.5% effective, which is a huge step in dealing with the virus and will be very effective if distributed soon. Many companies are in a race for the vaccine, but only a few have been very successful. While Americans brace heavily for the next possible wave of COVID coming to us all, there is a light at the end of a tunnel for us all.

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Important Updates on the Coronavirus Vaccine

Claire Douglas, journalist

COVID-19 was officially recognized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Mar. 11, 2020, and America is currently still battling for control as cases continue to rise. The month of November, however, has taken a turn for the better with newly released advancements regarding a Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. In collaboration with Operation Warp Speed (OWS), a Pfizer vaccine is expected to begin distribution by mid-December, assuming that their vaccine gains FDA approval, and OWS is expecting widespread vaccination in America to be completed by spring of 2021. 

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Identity, Consciousness, and the Mind-Body Debate

Maya Tuckman, GW Chronicle Journalist

The mind and body debate encompasses a multitude of different theories that contribute to scientists’ understanding of human consciousness. It leads biologists and philosophers to question the extent to which our genetic predisposition influences our conscious and subconscious decisions through its critical reexamination of the mental and physical properties behind our actions.  

How does the metaphysical idea of the “mind” depend on the biological processes of the brain? How does this connection influence human behavior? How do physical changes in the brain alter a person’s mental state? How does consciousness alienate humankind from other species? These are all questions that branch out from the mind-body debate and lead to a much broader discussion of psychological identity, genetics and behaviorism, and nature versus nurture. The mind and body debate plays a fundamental role in examining these areas because it provides a structure to explore these questions further.

Scientists’ understanding of the mind and body debate of human consciousness is linked to identity, not in the ways we explicitly choose to identify, but because it describes the biological and mental characteristics we involuntarily possess as intelligent beings that comprise our personalities and behaviors. It relates to both the idea of who we are as individuals and what we are as the human race since the relationship between the mind and body dictate every thought, memory, or emotion we experience. This concept makes each argument compelling, and the debate, itself, demonstrates the complexity of human self-awareness.

Behaviorists, biologists, and humanists all have different insights as to how human consciousness operates. These perspectives conflict with each other over whether the mind or body are the same or separate entities. Neurobiologists may argue from a more materialistic outlook. They would say the mind doesn’t exist at all, and mental processes are characterized by the brain’s physical structure. This would mean that everything we feel, think, or experience is a direct result of brain activity. The other extreme is phenomenalism, which asserts that physical objects are manifestations of the mind’s perceptions and only mental objects exist. This suggests that the body is an illusion of the mind and an extension of our complex conscious thought.

Materialism and phenomenalism fall under the category of monism because they describe a scenario in which only the mind OR body exists. On the other hand, according to substance dualism, the mind and body both exist, separate and distinct from one another. Substance dualists believe in a division between the mental and physical elements; therefore, they reject the biological notion that the brain and mind are one physical system.

Behaviorists believe stimulus and response should dictate psychology in another branch of thought, while humanists believe people’s subjective perceptions are equally as significant when it comes to interpreting someone’s actions. Like how “a schizophrenic might not define their actions as ill, rather they would believe they had insight into some occurrence that no one else had.”

Though these numerous points of view offer interesting theories behind psychological processes, their conflicting natures reveal how little we know about them. There are countless studies to evidence each argument, but this only attests to the debate’s paradoxicality. Despite this, the mind and body debate supports further research and provides an interesting bridge between psychology and philosophy.

COVID-19: What Do We Do Now?

David Nicholls, journalist

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is rising by more than 100,000 per day. Earlier in the year, it looked like the virus was almost under control. Then fall hit. Can we get back on track? Can we reverse the course?

Dr. Hayden Bosworth is a professor at Duke University in North Carolina. He specializes in health policy and public health research and may have some of the answers we’re all looking for right now. Here are edited excerpts from my conversation with him.

So my first question is kind of like, why aren’t people wearing masks?

Why are people not wearing masks? Couple of reasons, I think. One is a lack of consistent communication on the risks and the benefits of wearing a mask. Having variations between state and federal, I think, creates more confusion. So if there was a consistent policy–I think that’s it, too, is that we as researchers are not the best communicators–so, as the data was coming in from March through May and June, our understanding of masks changed. We went from it not being clear that masks were necessary to knowing that masks help ensure that other people don’t get infected. Now, knowing masks not only help other people not get infected but actually prevent you as the individual wearing the mask from getting infected as well. I also think; unfortunately, it’s gotten politicized. And that also has made it a political stance for some people where it really should just simply be a public health perspective that’s driven by data which has clearly demonstrated multiple benefits of wearing masks. So at the end of the day, if the people in leadership are not wary of their status as role models for a lot of people, it doesn’t send a very clear message for everybody.

Can we change their behavior, though? It’s been politicized–so the people that aren’t wearing masks, is there a way to have them start wearing masks again? Or do you think that the misrepresentation is just too much and it’s too late?

I hope it’s not too late because I really don’t want to see another, probably estimated another 10-15,000 people dying–by probably mid-February and by the time we start really rolling out vaccinations–completely unnecessarily. I think there are examples of situations where we have good evidence of how we communicate clearly and honestly about the risk and the benefit. Seatbelts, you’re probably too young, but when seatbelts were implemented, there was a lot of the same discussion; ‘Why should I wear seatbelts? It’s my personal freedom.’ It also was: ‘if there’s an accident, I need to be able to get out quickly.’ And frankly, there were also penalties associated with that too, that eventually between the penalties and clear communication about what the benefits are, we changed the perspective. I don’t know about you, but I can’t recall any time recently I’ve ever been in a car where people weren’t wearing a seatbelt. So, the question I think is more: ‘How rapidly can we change this messaging to convince others to wear the mask sooner than later?’

So, do you think that seatbelts are a precedent for a situation where eventually, the safe thing prevails? Is there maybe another example of sort of a shift in behavior for public health?

Yeah, definitely. I mean, for whatever reason, we’re still arguing and discussing vaccines, so that’s probably not the best model there. I think there are other examples like cigarette smoking, in terms of secondary smoke. In the past, there was more push for limits on where people were able to smoke. And that was incremental legislation. I think there are presidents with legislation. I do think that it’s still going to be a long, arduous process. We really, just at this moment, need a consistent model, and then I think there has to be frank conversation. People that are trusted within the communities need to have these conversations, and it could be on the local levels through the churches and the synagogues and the mosques, but right now, I’m not sure who people trust and who they don’t. And I think if we demonstrated and clearly showed the data, it would help facilitate the conversation. But there will always be people that don’t mask. I do think one thing will change, though. I think, frankly, if we’re having, you know, close to 200,000 people infected a day it’s gotten to the point where most people at this point know somebody who’s been affected by COVID, so this is no longer something that’s kind of esoteric–that’s ‘out there.’ It’s directly impacting. It’s also impacting a lot of people in rural communities now. So, a good example is the governor of Iowa, who made fun of people for wearing masks now has actually put mask-wearing into Iowa as mandatory. So I think there are examples, but it just goes back to the fundamentals of public health: having clear communication with clear data, having transparent conversations, and alleviating concerns. You can’t argue with somebody. That’s not going to work. It’s just presenting it to them; peer pressure and external forces like fines eventually will help change behavior, but those are going to be long term.

So, other than masks, what else needs to happen? Is another shutdown inevitable? Is another shutdown definitely going to happen?

I think shutdowns are happening now. New York school systems are shutting down. If it was me, I’d make different decisions. I think elementary schools should be open, but I think that bars and restaurants should be properly closing, and again, all that is based upon data. The latest data I saw was that of the most recent infections out of eight out of ten are as a result of actually eating inside and/or going to a gym. So, it clearly indicates where the infections are coming from or where the majority is. It’s not coming from the school system. So if we’re proceeding as we are with that, people, specifically not wearing masks despite them working well, and we’re not social-distancing, and people are choosing to still engage in restaurants and go to the gym, this is going to continue until we hit a point where, unfortunately, more people die.

And you also think we need consistent messaging for that lockdown so that more people follow it, right?

Maybe it’s even the terminologies. Is it locked down, or is it, you know, trying to provide safety? It’s also understanding that people’s livelihoods are in the balance here too, so it’s not to shut it down, so people go unemployed, and no longer can eat and drink. And that’s why, you know, it’s a balance and so is there ways that we can financially support these individuals so they can make the informed decisions, and choose to either you know not have to go to work and work in a bar or a restaurant to pay the bills, you know, I don’t blame them if they have to do that, but, you know, I do think there’s two sides to the story. It’s communicating that and trying to come to a compromise, but also tracking the data. If there’s certain points that the infection rates hit, you’re clear on what you’re going to do ahead of time. We don’t know when the governor is going to make changes here in North Carolina. And so I think, trying to plot that out so that we can see what the milestones are. When New York hit a 3% infection rate, that was when the governor said we’re gonna close the schools. I’m not sure that was the right decision, but on the other hand, having clear milestones for people to see and know, so it’s transparent may help facilitate.

What about the long term effects of remote learning? That seems like a worry for you.

Yeah, I do. I think the quality isn’t there; I have a son who’s a senior in high school. I think that it sucks that he’s trying to apply to schools right now, and it has a direct impact on that. My wife is a preschool teacher who’s not teaching this year for the first year because there’s no way you can do virtual preschool. So, I think again in terms of the emphasis on where we’re putting our energies–I don’t know if it’s necessarily the right place. Data right now suggests that preschool and elementary schools have low infection rates. I would rather see those open than restaurants. That’s not to say that all restaurants should be closed. I do think virtual education is better than it was back in the spring. But I think that what it is doing is exacerbating disparities, that certain groups of people are getting left behind. In New York, they’re saying that 60,000 kids still don’t have access to computers, so they’re just getting packets. We know that that’s going to make things worse for them. So, blanket rules, without being a little flexible, are going to be problematic. But yes, I think virtual learning is not ideal, and I think we’ll see the ramifications in probably another year or two. Things like child abuse, I think, are going on, and we’re just not catching them. The kids aren’t coming into schools. 

And then what about mental health? How do we solve for that? Is that even a valid concern?

Oh, it absolutely is. I think that’s part of what’s driving the uptake and probably what’s gonna cause the third wave. During Thanksgiving, people are not going to socially isolate. They’re going to go out for Thanksgiving for no other reason than mental health, particularly among nursing homes where they’re really isolated. But again, be mindful of that, and I think we have tools, but if we’re not using them, then the virus just gets neglected.

Why aren’t people also looking to reduce other risks than just COVID? Shouldn’t they also be trying to drive more safely and avoiding things like skateboarding and trying not to get hurt and go to the hospital? We’ve heard all this stuff about essential workers, and yet this hasn’t been a major point.

Well, I think this goes to the history of the US healthcare system and where we come from, and I mean historically, individual rights are more important than public rights, so it doesn’t surprise me that we’re having this problem. Right now, it’s; ‘It’s my right to wear a mask, yes or no.’ But, no consideration that if you choose not to wear a mask, it has implications for everybody else around you. And so, is it my right to use a skateboard or ride a motorcycle with a helmet? And there are many people who say it is my right; however, again, the shortsightedness of it is that if they have a brain injury, the healthcare system has to pick up that cost that comes to the emergency room. Somebody’s paying that million dollars for all the head injuries, or it just gets translated back into our increased health care costs for insurance. So you have your individual rights, and then also have this balance between individual rights and public health that has to be weighed in. So, I mean, I think the more relevant stuff going on now is that people are avoiding coming to the hospitals and clinics and not getting treated for chronic diseases. I think that they’re not getting procedures. And so they’re putting off things, and I think we’re going to see an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and an increased risk of people dying of cancer because they’re waiting to get treated. The healthcare system frankly also can’t manage everything either, so they’re prioritizing COVID. You may not get treated adequately for some of these chronic diseases at this moment. Without more resources, it’s a sinking Titanic. We’re just moving the chairs around.

At this point in the interview, Dr. Bosworth decided to ask me a question.

Do you wear a mask?

Yes.

Why do you wear a mask?

Because I don’t want to get COVID, and I don’t want to give COVID to my grandma.

I think that’s a good reason–it seems logical. I don’t know what your political perspectives are, but again politics shouldn’t be involved. This is just a public health issue, and it’s clear that if you wear a mask, you’re going to reduce the likelihood of your grandmother getting sick–and god forbid, something bad happens. I hope people look to the team–and that’s what I keep coming back to–just look at the data, don’t look at opinions or anything else but let data drive where things go and know that data is always changing–we’re always requiring more and more data–so it’s not unusual to have changes and decisions based upon increasing data so mostly, we’re only talking weeks or months before we see the end of all this.

The Effects of Fast Food

Jillian Haskin, Science Department Co-Editor

After a long day at sports practice, the red and yellow food sign that can be viewed from a car window can entice just about anyone. Quick, oily, and filled with loads of sodium, nothing can top the first bite of hot fries and a bacon cheeseburger. Though the feeling of satisfaction that comes from choosing something off of an illuminated food menu is something wondrous, the effects of consumption may do more harm than good. 

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The Downfall of Fast Fashion and the Rise of Sustainability

Kathryn L., journalist

Approximately 15.1 million tons of waste was created from textiles in 2013, but the numbers have continued to grow.  The textile industry produces a large mass of waste every year.  The fashion industry has created and perpetuates wasteful practices such as using low-quality materials, poor environmental practices, and unethical production.  This has become known as fast fashion.  Switching to sustainable fashion can help our environment, the working conditions of the producers, and our future.

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How Palforzia Can Change Lives

Katelan A., journalist

On January 31, 2020 the U.S. Food and Drug Association or FDA approved a new drug called Palforzia. Palforzia is a type of oral immunotherapy using peanut powder that lowers the risk of anaphylaxis in people with peanut allergies. Linda Herbert of Children’s National Health System states, “The stress and anxiety as a result of food allergies is comparable to that of other chronic illnesses.” With the FDA’s approval of Palforzia, some families’ stress and anxiety may be put at ease.

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