WBEZ | Science http://www.wbez.org/news/science Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en How do you talk about a gunman who wants to go viral (and knows how)? http://www.wbez.org/programs/world/2015-08-27/how-do-you-talk-about-gunman-who-wants-go-viral-and-knows-how-112753 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/SlainVAjournalists.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>On Wednesday morning, Vester Lee Flanagan shot and killed Alison Parker and Adam Ward, two reporters from&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wdbj7.com/" target="_blank">WDBJ7</a>, a CNN affiliate. The shooting was captured on film because Parker was filming a live interview, but a second video surfaced shortly after &mdash; recorded and posted by Flanagan himself.</p><p>Shortly after the attack,&nbsp;Flanagan &mdash; who was known by his colleagues as Bryce Williams &mdash; faxed a rambling 23-page manifesto to&nbsp;<a href="http://abcnews.go.com/US/shooting-alleged-gunman-details-grievances-suicide-notes/story?id=33336339" target="_blank">ABC News</a>&nbsp;that&nbsp;all but pitched&nbsp;his attack as a news story. He also&nbsp;posted the video on his personal Twitter and Facebook accounts, along with negative comments about the two victims.&nbsp;</p><p>Flanagan&rsquo;s accounts were deleted soon after he posted the video, but the incident has raised questions about the role social media plays in these tragedies, as well as society&rsquo;s response to them.</p><p>Zeynep Tufekci is a professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill who&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/27/opinion/the-virginia-shooter-wanted-fame-lets-not-give-it-to-him.html?gwh=4CDE10D20FEA38B7B355BCB35FA33411&amp;gwt=pay&amp;assetType=opinion" target="_blank">writes about the internet and society</a>. She says there are definitely parallels between how Flanagan used social media to broadcast the shooting and how ISIS uses it.</p><p>When the first ISIS beheading video surfaced, it was all over social media, she says. But then there was a backlash.</p><p>&ldquo;A lot of us said, &lsquo;They&#39;re killing for publicity, and we&#39;re giving them publicity.&#39;&nbsp;The next time it happened, I got a lot of warnings from my friends. I gave some myself. I said, &lsquo;Let&#39;s not share this. Let&#39;s instead share pictures of the victims.&rsquo; Mass media also adopted a lot of this attitude, and now when ISIS does a ghastly murder on video it doesn&#39;t go viral on my social media,&quot; she says.</p><p>Tufekci says these types of videos are meant to sensationalize the murders in the hopes of getting other troubled people to join or copy them.&nbsp;</p><p>And the limited research available suggests that it may work. A 2002 survey of 81 juvenile offenders in Florida found that more than a quarter of them had committed a &lsquo;copycat crime,&rsquo; inspired by something they had seen in the media.&nbsp;</p><p>Recognizing this motivation just might put the power back in the social media users&rsquo; hands.</p><p>&ldquo;We can really approach it differently, and learn from how we learned to react to ISIS,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;If somebody is killing for publicity, denying them that publicity is a crucial component of trying to dampen that effect.&rdquo;</p><p>Many prominent Twitter users seem to agree with that sentiment.</p><p>Guardian Columnist&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/JessicaValenti/status/636559476162756608" target="_blank">Jessica Valenti tweeted</a>&nbsp;&ldquo;Please do not tweet the shooter&rsquo;s name or link to his social media profiles. Yes, he taped the murders. No, no one should watch it.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p><a href="https://twitter.com/attackerman/status/636559764537872384?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw" target="_blank">Spencer Ackerman</a>, another Guardian reporter, tweeted, &ldquo;If you don&rsquo;t have a professional reason to watch a snuff video, I encourage you to neither view it nor share it.&rdquo;</p><p>Even Brent Watts, a meteorologist at WDBJ7, chimed in.</p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p dir="ltr" lang="en">Our <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WDBJ?src=hash">#WDBJ</a> crew was literally ambushed this morning. Please DO NOT share, or post the video.</p>&mdash; Brent Watts (@wattsupbrent) <a href="https://twitter.com/wattsupbrent/status/636562587807817728">August 26, 2015</a></blockquote><p>Obviously, people who want to see these types of videos can find them. It is the internet, after all.&nbsp;But&nbsp;Tufekci says it&#39;s still important not to post them.</p><p>&quot;There&#39;s a very different effect between something existing on a seedy corner of the internet for somebody already troubled, versus mainstream attention, which is what the next troubled person is seeking and will be inspired by,&quot; she says.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-08-27/how-do-you-talk-about-gunman-who-wants-go-viral-and-knows-how" target="_blank"><em>The World</em></a></p></p> Thu, 27 Aug 2015 17:45:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/world/2015-08-27/how-do-you-talk-about-gunman-who-wants-go-viral-and-knows-how-112753 Tax on sugary drinks gets pushback http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/tax-sugary-drinks-gets-pushback-112752 <p><p dir="ltr">Just weeks after Chicago Ald. George Cardenas&rsquo; proposed a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks, the soda industry shot back with a battery of testimonials.</p><p dir="ltr">They came from an industry funded group called the<a href="http://illinoisbeverage.org/chicago-coalition-against-beverage-taxes-launches-opposition-to-discriminatory-beverage-tax/"> Chicago Coaltion Against Beverage Taxes</a>. And among its members is the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Omar Duque leads the chamber and says its members would be &ldquo;adversely affected by the tax&rdquo; because it would drive soda sales down.</p><p dir="ltr">But that&rsquo;s exactly why Esther Sciammerella of the Chicago Hispanic Health Coalition supports a tax.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We see the increases in obesity in children and adults in the Hispanic community, and the issue of diabetes and metabolic syndrome has become epidemic,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;So we advocate drinking water, not soda.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="The proposed tax on sugary drinks would fund obesity prevention programs, but the Chicago Coalition Against Beverage Taxes says soda taxes don't better public health. (WBEZ/Monica Eng)" src="https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/HKNfY0sCT1cBDGupbjiw643iZ_PT5_P6HVlAG1TU2CQh3aMsZruWsf9-2AmnRNTlPjR3i2vOIuZb4Id3RDqEgi3-KRaYMH-pwn76XmRpVefHSeBk3Rq3XkVG2CT99CUK1MzvMyw" style="text-align: center; font-family: Arial; font-size: 14.6666669845581px; white-space: pre-wrap; border: none; transform: rotate(0rad); height: 241px; width: 300px; float: left; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;" title="The proposed tax on sugary drinks would fund obesity prevention programs, but the Chicago Coalition Against Beverage Taxes says soda taxes don't better public health. (WBEZ/Monica Eng)" /></p><p dir="ltr">Duque says he recognizes that Latinos suffer from high levels of sugar-related disease. &nbsp;But he doesn&rsquo;t think a local soda tax--that builds on sugar taxes already in place--would help.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Our particular opposition is specifically focused around the fact that studies show that punitive taxes around this don&rsquo;t solve the issue,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;An excise tax on sugared beverages would drive down product sales, but it would not really push the needle to reduce obesity.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">As evidence, he cites taxes on sugary beverages in Arkansas and West Virginia, which have some of the highest obesity rates in the nation. But Elissa Bassler of the Illinois Public Health Institute--which is also backing a<a href="http://iphionline.org/2015/03/heal-act-reintroduced-makes-a-splash/"> state soda tax</a> to fund Medicaid--believes the comparison is inappropriate.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The [soda] taxes in those states are much much lower and they don&rsquo;t go to fund prevention programs like the proposals in Chicago and Illinois&rsquo;,&rdquo; she said. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The proposed city soda tax would fund health programs in Chicago Public Schools. And supporters of the state tax say it could raise $600 million for Medicaid and obesity prevention each year.</p><p dir="ltr">For many, soda taxes are complicated issues in low-income minority communities. According to <a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/163997/regular-soda-popular-young-nonwhite-low-income.aspx">2013 Gallup data,</a> whites drink sugary soda only about half as often as minorities. &nbsp;And those who make more than $75,000 a year are half as likely to drink regular soda as those who make less than $30,000 a year.</p><p dir="ltr">So Bassler concedes that the excise tax could affect the pocketbook of low-income minorities more than others.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;But we need to remember [minorities] are also disproportionately targeted by the marketers for sugary drinks,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;And those are the communities that are most impacted by the health problems attributable to excess consumption of sugary drinks.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The Chicago Coalition Against Beverage Taxes is not the first such coalition funded by the soda industry. Similar groups crop up in most places taxes are proposed. A <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/13/nyregion/behind-soda-industrys-win-a-phalanx-of-sponsored-minority-groups.html?_r=0">2013 New York Times investigation</a> also detailed millions in soda industry funding to minority groups who would later come out vocally against soda taxes.</p><p dir="ltr">Duque says Coca-Cola is, and has been a dues-paying member of his organization for around 20 years. But he says that has nothing to do with his opposition to the tax.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We are not being paid off to be part of this,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We represent businesses in our community, that hire people and have a positive impact in the communities in which they operate and their employees live. They&rsquo;re telling us that they would be adversely affected by this tax. The more we can help these business to continue to operate and be profitable, the more of an impact we&rsquo;re going to have on our economy.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Still, Sciammerella of the Chicago Hispanic Health Coalition questions those priorities.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;What is the positive role of businesses who are not helping the health of the community?&rdquo; she asks. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m pro-health and helping people to be less sick. What good are profits if they come with the consequence of increased illness in the community?&rdquo;</p><p><br /><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the Chewing The Fat podcast. Follow her at<a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng">@monicaeng</a>&nbsp;or write to her at meng@wbez.org</em><br /><br />&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 27 Aug 2015 15:21:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/tax-sugary-drinks-gets-pushback-112752 Stephen Hawking: Black holes 'are not the eternal prisons' we once thought http://www.wbez.org/news/science/stephen-hawking-black-holes-are-not-eternal-prisons-we-once-thought-112742 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/ap_587171488358_custom-5dfc3b6be479588db70b677c360d2a44daa8037f-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Stephen Hawking, who once stunned the scientific community by saying that black holes emit radiation, expounded on another groundbreaking theory on Tuesday.</p><p>&quot;The message of this lecture is that black holes ain&#39;t as black as they are painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought,&quot; Hawking told a meeting of experts,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn28090-stephen-hawking-says-he-has-a-way-to-escape-from-a-black-hole/">according to the New Scientist</a>. &quot;Things can get out of a black hole both on the outside and possibly come out in another universe.&quot;</p><p>This, of course, is not what you learned in physics class. What you learned is that once anything made it past a black hole&#39;s event horizon, the black hole&#39;s super strong gravitational force would suck it in forever. Any information particle sucked in by the hole would also disappear for good.</p><p><a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/stephen-hawking-offers-new-theory-on-how-information-might-escape-black-holes-1440513210">As The Wall Street Journal explains it</a>, this is also where one of physics&#39; big, unanswered questions &mdash; something called the &quot;information paradox&quot; &mdash; comes in:</p><blockquote><p>&quot;Quantum mechanics&mdash;a highly successful theory that describes physical phenomena at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles&mdash;says that information can never be lost, even when it falls into a black hole. It is widely believed to be an inviolable law of nature.</p><p>&quot;How to get around this so-called information paradox? Some physicists suggested that perhaps information did somehow escape a black hole. Prof. Hawking vociferously maintained that this could never happen. Then, some three decades later, he presented calculations that showed how information could leak out of a black hole, after all. The challenge has been to figure out how that might happen.&quot;</p></blockquote><p>During his talk on Tuesday at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Hawking proposed that the information of the particles sucked into a black hole eventually makes it out in the radiation that is emitted by a black hole.</p><p>The information emitted, however, is not usable.</p><p><a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2015/08/25/stephen-hawking-believes-hes-solved-a-huge-mystery-about-black-holes/?tid=sm_fb">The Washington Post reports</a>:</p><blockquote><p>&quot;At Monday&#39;s public lecture, he explained this jumbled return of information was like burning an encyclopedia: You wouldn&#39;t technically lose any information if you kept all of the ashes in one place, but you&#39;d have a hard time looking up the capital of Minnesota.&quot;</p></blockquote><p>The&nbsp;<em>Journal</em>&nbsp;notes that Gerard &#39;t Hooft of Utrecht University, winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in physics who was present at the conference, had presented a similar idea in 1996.</p><p>He said the problem was that his math did not add up.</p><p>&quot;I claim he is now where I was 20 years ago,&quot; he told the&nbsp;<em>Journal</em>. &quot;If he announces this as a new idea, I won&#39;t be thrilled.&quot;</p><p><em>&mdash; via <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/08/25/434627348/stephen-hawking-black-holes-are-not-the-eternal-prisons-we-once-thought">NPR News</a></em></p></p> Thu, 27 Aug 2015 10:41:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/science/stephen-hawking-black-holes-are-not-eternal-prisons-we-once-thought-112742 Despite the drought, California farms see record sales http://www.wbez.org/sections/water/despite-drought-california-farms-see-record-sales-112741 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/gettyimages-471006602-99705b6d250521f4014e8c84f29849326d342a59-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>While prolonged drought has put a strain on California agriculture, most of the state&#39;s farms, it seems, aren&#39;t just surviving it: They are prospering.</p><p>The environment, though, that&#39;s another story. We&#39;ll get to that.</p><p>But first, the prosperity. According to new&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/farm-income-and-wealth-statistics/annual-cash-receipts-by-commodity.aspx#P892cc423657a499584e30a89895d0f4d_2_16iT0R0x5">figures</a>&nbsp;from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2014, the year the drought really hit, California&#39;s farmers sold $54 billion worth of crops like almonds or grapes, and animal products like milk.</p><p>That&#39;s an all-time record, up 5 percent over the previous year, and an increase of 20 percent from 2012.</p><p>If you&#39;re surprised by this, you haven&#39;t been paying close attention, says&nbsp;<a href="http://are.ucdavis.edu/en/people/faculty/daniel-sumner/#pk_campaign=short-name-redirect&amp;pk_kwd=sumner">Daniel Sumner</a>, an agricultural economist at the University of California, Davis. It&#39;s been clear for some time, he says, that California&#39;s farmers did very well last year.</p><p>There are two keys to the record-breaking revenues. The first is prices. &quot;You have all-time high prices over the whole range of crops,&quot; says Richard Howitt, another economist at UC Davis.</p><p>Second, even though farmers didn&#39;t get their normal supply of water from rivers and reservoirs, they pumped it from underground aquifers instead. According to a&nbsp;<a href="https://watershed.ucdavis.edu/files/biblio/DroughtReport_23July2014_0.pdf">report</a>&nbsp;that Sumner and Howitt co-authored last year, farmers in 2014 replaced about 75 percent of their surface water deficit by draining their groundwater reserves.</p><p>James McFarlane, who grows almonds and citrus near Fresno, is one of those farmers. He says that drought has been &quot;beyond terrible&quot; for some farmers. But for him personally? &quot;It&#39;s been a good year. We&#39;ve been able to make some money, and you have to just count your blessings and call that a good year,&quot; he says.</p><p>McFarlane has received some irrigation water from Kings River, via the Fresno Irrigation District, but he is also pumping water from his wells. &quot;If it weren&#39;t for the wells, we couldn&#39;t have made it work,&quot; he says.</p><p>Howitt says that there are two contrasting realities in California agriculture these days. &quot;Some people just don&#39;t have the underground water. You meet these people and they really are in poor shape,&quot; he says. But where there is water, &quot;you have investors pouring money into planting these almond trees at a rate that they&#39;ve never seen before.&quot;</p><p>But this is also where the environmental damage comes in. Those underground reserves are getting depleted, wells are going dry, and in many locations, the land is sinking as water is drawn out. When this happens, it permanently reduces the soil&#39;s ability to absorb and store water in the future.</p><p>California has enacted new rules that eventually should stop farmers from pumping so much groundwater, but for now, it continues. This year, California&#39;s farmers are still pumping enough groundwater to replace about 70 percent of the shortfall in surface water, according to a new UC Davis&nbsp;<a href="https://watershed.ucdavis.edu/files/biblio/Final_Drought%20Report_08182015_Full_Report_WithAppendices.pdf">report</a>.</p><p>Such massive use of groundwater can&#39;t continue forever, and high commodity prices probably won&#39;t, either. Milk prices already have fallen, and if China stops buying so much of California&#39;s nut production, those prices may crash as well.</p><p>On the good side, though, maybe rain and snow will return, filling the reservoirs again.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/08/27/434649587/despite-the-drought-california-farms-see-record-sales?ft=nprml&amp;f=434649587" target="_blank"><em>NPR&#39;s The Salt</em></a></p></p> Thu, 27 Aug 2015 05:08:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/sections/water/despite-drought-california-farms-see-record-sales-112741 Here's why they call this the corpse flower http://www.wbez.org/science-friday/2015-08-27/heres-why-they-call-corpse-flower-112750 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/corpseflower.jpg" alt="" /><p><div>A rotten stench has been wafting through a greenhouse at the Denver Botanic Gardens &mdash; and visitors are all too eager to breathe it in. Who knows if they&rsquo;ll ever get a second chance?&nbsp;</div><div style="text-align: center;"><img alt="This corpse flower in Denver has now died, but another in Chicago is about to bloom. " src="http://cdn1.pri.org/sites/default/files/styles/original_image/public/13465-v1-480x.JPG?itok=m5MCplbT" style="text-align: center; margin-top: 5px; margin-bottom: 5px;" title="This corpse flower in Denver has now died, but another in Chicago is about to bloom. (Scott Dressel-Martin)" /></div><div>The odiferous offender is a plant native to the Indonesian island of Sumatra and known commonly as the &quot;corpse flower&quot; &mdash; for reasons that are pungently apparent when it starts blooming. At that point, it becomes a botanical stink bomb, emitting a noisome odor evolved to attract certain beetles and flies, which unwittingly spread the plant&rsquo;s pollen. All told, the blooming process can take about 36 hours and won&#39;t happen again for years &mdash; if ever.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s something that is potentially a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see,&rdquo; says Nick Snakenberg, curator of tropical plants at the Denver Botanic Gardens. &ldquo;We made the mistake of saying it might bloom on [August] 16th, and we had people lined up at the gate.&rdquo; The garden has several corpse flowers, but this is this particular flower&#39;s debut bloom. The process started on Tuesday evening and finished on Thursday. This week, a corpse flower is expected to bloom in Chicago.</div><div>The corpse flower belongs to the same family as common houseplants such as philodendrons and peace lilies. But unlike its more domestic cousins, the place you&rsquo;ll most likely find this tropical species &mdash; which can reach 15 to 20 feet in its vegetative state, according to Snakenberg &mdash; is in university and botanical garden collections. In the floral stage, the plant is shorter.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>It takes a lot of energy, and a long time, to build up a bloom. When a corpse flower finally starts the process &mdash; the Denver specimen is an estimated 12 or 13 years old &mdash; a leaf-like sheath called a spathe unfurls, revealing a ruffly, burgundy interior that starkly contrasts with the plant&rsquo;s green exterior. In its fanciful shape and two-toned hues, the structure is reminiscent of a weird hat you might see in a Tim Burton film.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But the plant&rsquo;s true centerpiece is a fleshy, protruding structure called the spadix, which inspired its scientific name, Amorphophallus titanum. Translation? &ldquo;The giant misshapen phallus,&rdquo; says Snakenberg. The spadix also heats up, probably as a way to better waft the stench to would-be pollinators.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Out of sight at the base of the spadix hides the actual flower &mdash; or flowers, to be more precise. In fact, the corpse flower is the largest unbranched inflorescence, or collection of individual flowers, on earth. The female flowers mature first, followed by the male ones, which produce the pollen that the insects collect.</div><p><img alt="The corpse flower draws crowds eager to smell it's awful odor" src="http://cdn1.pri.org/sites/default/files/styles/original_image/public/13466-v1-250x.JPG?itok=OyLOUZew" style="float: left; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;" title="The corpse flower draws crowds eager to smell it's awful odor. (Scott Dressel-Martin)" /></p><div>The odor that emanates from the flowers is a putrid potpourri of chemicals, explains Todd Brethauer, a science education volunteer at the United States Botanic Garden, in a video produced by the American Chemical Society. Characteristic molecules include dimethyl trisulfide, &ldquo;which you can sort of describe as the smell of rotting onions or rotting cabbage,&rdquo; says Brethauer, as well as trimethylamine, &ldquo;which is the essence of rotting fish,&rdquo; and isovaleric acid &mdash; &ldquo;essentially the smell of old sweat socks.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Given the plant&rsquo;s fetid scent, why do visitors come in droves to sniff and see? &ldquo;I think people have a similar reaction to this as they would to, say, a roller coaster ride or a haunted house or something like that,&rdquo; says Snakenberg. &ldquo;I think it&#39;s just wanting this sensory overload in a safe environment. A shock to the system.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But maybe those visceral thrills will translate into something with staying power &mdash; at least, that&rsquo;s what Snakenberg hopes, anyway.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In the way that big cats and bears excite zoo goers about the animal kingdom, &ldquo;I think having plants like the Amorphophallus titanum species in our collection is a real strong tool to excite people about plants,&rdquo; he says, &ldquo;and when we get excited about plants and about animals, we get excited about conserving them in the wild and protecting their environments. And when we protect the megaflora and the megafauna, just by default, we&rsquo;re protecting everything else that lives in those environments&rdquo; &mdash; the stinky, the sweet and all that&#39;s in between.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&mdash;<a href="http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-08-26/when-corpse-flowers-bloom-people-flock" target="_blank"><em>Science Friday</em></a></div></p> Wed, 26 Aug 2015 20:45:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/science-friday/2015-08-27/heres-why-they-call-corpse-flower-112750 On Yelp, doctors get reviewed like restaurants, and it rankles http://www.wbez.org/news/science/yelp-doctors-get-reviewed-restaurants-and-it-rankles-112577 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/yelp003edited_custom-d835fb4265fe59efb0ee078818f0355e42264a89-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Dental patients really don&#39;t like Western Dental. Not its Anaheim, Calif., clinic: &quot;I hate this place!!!&quot; one reviewer&nbsp;<a href="http://www.yelp.com/biz/western-dental-anaheim">wrote on the rating site Yelp</a>. Or one of its&nbsp;<a href="http://www.yelp.com/biz/western-dental-phoenix-2?hrid=pSSxXRfRf5nafh7DUfZDYw">locations in Phoenix</a>: &quot;Learn from my terrible experience and stay far, far away.&quot;</p><p>In fact, the chain of low-cost dental clinics, which has more Yelp reviews than any other health provider, has been repeatedly, often brutally, panned in some 3,000 online critiques &mdash; 379 include the word &quot;horrible.&quot; Its average rating: 1.8 out of 5 stars.</p><p>Patients on Yelp aren&#39;t fans of the ubiquitous lab testing company Quest Diagnostics, either. The word &quot;rude&quot; appeared in 13 percent of its 2,500 reviews (average 2.7 stars). &quot;It&#39;s like the seventh level of hell,&quot; one reviewer&nbsp;<a href="http://www.yelp.com/biz/quest-diagnostics-greenbrae?hrid=uvGKtlxe0lPvcxsV3igT1w">wrote of a Quest lab</a>&nbsp;in Greenbrae, Calif.</p><p data-pym-src="http://apps.npr.org/dailygraphics/graphics/table-yelp-ratings-20150805/child.html">&nbsp;</p><p>Indeed, doctors and health professionals everywhere could learn a valuable lesson from the archives of Yelp: Your officious personality or brusque office staff can sink your reputation even if your professional skills are just fine.</p><p>&quot;Rudest office staff ever. Also incompetent. I will settle for rude &amp; competent or polite &amp; incompetent. But both rude &amp; incompetent is unacceptable,&quot; wrote one Yelp reviewer of a New York internist.</p><p>ProPublica and Yelp recently agreed to a partnership that will allow information from ProPublica&#39;s interactive health databases to begin appearing on Yelp&#39;s health provider pages. In addition to reading about consumers&#39; experiences with hospitals, nursing homes and doctors, Yelp users will see objective data about how the providers&#39; practice patterns compare to their peers.</p><p>As part of the relationship, ProPublica gets an unprecedented peek inside Yelp&#39;s trove of 1.3 million health reviews. To search and sort, we used RevEx, a tool built for us by the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering.</p><p>Though Yelp has become synonymous with restaurant and store reviews, an analysis of its health profiles shows some interesting trends. On the whole people are happy &mdash; there are far more 5-star ratings than 1 star. But when they weren&#39;t, they let it be known. Providers with the most reviews generally had poorer ratings.</p><p data-pym-src="http://apps.npr.org/dailygraphics/graphics/yelp-ratings-distribution-20150805/child.html">&nbsp;</p><script src="http://apps.npr.org/dailygraphics/graphics/yelp-ratings-distribution-20150805/js/lib/pym.js" type="text/javascript"></script><p>Of the top 10 most-reviewed health providers, only Elements Massage, a national chain, and LaserAway, a tattoo and laser hair removal company with locations in California and Arizona, had an average rating of at least 4 stars.</p><p>Western Dental did not return phone calls and emails seeking comment.</p><p>Dennis Moynihan, a spokesman for Madison, N.J.-based Quest Diagnostics, said the company has more than 2,200 patient service centers around the country and had 51 million customer encounters last year. He said all feedback is valued.</p><p>&quot;While one negative customer experience is one too many, we don&#39;t believe the numbers presented are representative of the service that a vast majority of our customers receive every day,&quot; he said.</p><p>For years, doctors have lamented the proliferation of online rating websites, saying patients simply aren&#39;t equipped to review their quality and expertise. Some have gone so far as to threaten &mdash; or even sue &mdash; consumers who posted negative feedback.</p><p>But such reviews have only grown in popularity as consumers increasingly challenge the notion that doctor knows best about everything. Though Yelp&#39;s health reviews date back to 2004, more than half of them were written in the past two years. They get millions of page views every month on Yelp&#39;s site alone.</p><p>In many ways, consumers on Yelp rate health providers in the same way they do restaurants: on how they feel they&#39;ve been treated. Instead of calling out a doctor over botched care or a possible misdiagnosis (these certainly do happen), patients are far more likely to object to long wait times, the difficulty of securing an appointment, billing errors, a doctor&#39;s chilly bedside manner or the unprofessionalism of the office staff.</p><p>Health providers as a whole earned an average of 4 stars.</p><p>But sort by profession and the greater dissatisfaction with doctors stands out.</p><p>Doctors earned a lower proportion of 5-star reviews than other health professionals, pushing their average review to the lowest of any large health profession, at 3.6. Acupuncturists, chiropractors and massage therapists did far better, with average ratings of 4.5 to 4.6.</p><p>Other providers, like dentists and physical therapists, are &quot;actively seeking out customers to review them, whereas doctors have a lot of antipathy toward reviews and as a result have been trying to suppress reviews for many years,&quot; said Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and co-director of its High Tech Law Institute. He has written extensively about physician review websites and physician arguments against them, but did not review the Yelp data.</p><p>Doctor visits also tend to be more complex than visits to the dentist or chiropractor. A typical dental visit is for a specific service &mdash; a teeth cleaning, a cavity filled or a root canal. In general, expectations are clear, and ways to gauge success are easier than with a doctor visit.</p><p>Healthgrades, a site which focuses solely on health providers, also sees slightly lower ratings for doctors than for dentists and other health providers, though the differences are smaller than those on Yelp.</p><p>Unlike Yelp,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.healthgrades.com/">Healthgrades</a>, which says it has 6 million survey scores, has not allowed consumers to post comments. But Evan Marks, Healthgrades&#39; chief strategy officer, said the health rating systems are in their infancy. Soon, he said, patients could see different questions based on the type of doctor they see to provide far more useful feedback to those searching the site.</p><p>None of this has yet gained favor with physicians. The American Medical Association encourages patients to talk to their doctors if they have concerns, not post views anonymously. And those looking for doctors should be similarly skeptical, the group says in a statement. &quot;Choosing a physician is more complicated than choosing a good restaurant, and patients owe it to themselves to use the best available resources when making this important decision.&quot;</p><p>The AMA has called on all those who profile physicians to give the doctors &quot;the right to review and certify adequacy of the information prior to the profile being distributed, including being placed on the Internet.&quot;</p><p>In 2012, the group partnered with a company called Reputation.com to offer discounts to doctors for a service that monitors their online presence and tries to combat negative reviews.</p><p>Western Dental&#39;s average rating of 1.8 stars on Yelp is well below the average of 4 for all dentists nationwide. About 1,250 of its 3,000 reviews used the words &quot;wait&quot; or &quot;waiting&quot; and about 15 percent of them, the word &quot;worst.&quot;</p><p>When patients leave angry comments, the chain&#39;s &quot;social media response team&quot; often replies, inviting patients to call or email and citing a federal patient privacy law known as HIPAA for not responding in more detail. &quot;Thank you for reaching out and providing the opportunity to improve our services. We hope to speak with you soon,&quot; the notes say.</p><p>At least one patient gave a Yelp follow-up review of the social media response team&#39;s performance: &quot;I responded to the info in their response twice and got no reply at all ... they are just attempting to minimize the PR damage caused by undertrained and rude, lazy staff.&quot;</p><p>Periodically doctors, dentists and other providers threaten or even file lawsuits against people who post negative reviews on Yelp or against Yelp itself. Their track record is poor: Courts have ruled in favor of the company and various consumers.</p><p>In June, New Jersey resident Christina Lipsky complained in a 1-star review on Yelp that Brighter Dental Care had recommended $6,000 worth of work that a another dentist subsequently determined was unnecessary.</p><p>Within days, she received a letter from a lawyer who said he was retained by Brighter Dental &quot;to pursue legal action against you and all others acting in concert with you.&quot; The letter was signed by Scott J. Singer, an attorney whose office is in the same building as a Brighter Dental clinic. A man named Scott Singer was also listed in 2012 as the non-clinical chief executive officer of Brighter Dental. Singer did not return a call or email seeking comment.</p><p>After Lipsky took her story to local media, Singer sent her a letter saying Brighter Dental was dropping its legal pursuit. In an email to ProPublica, Lipsky said &quot;People put a lot of trust into their health care providers, and if my review could help others make an informed decision regarding their treatment, then it was worth it.&quot;</p><p><em>Charles Ornstein is a senior reporter at</em>&nbsp;<em><a href="https://www.propublica.org/">ProPublica</a>, an independent nonprofit newsroom.</em></p><p><em>&mdash; via <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/08/06/429624187/on-yelp-doctors-get-reviewed-like-restaurants-and-it-rankles">NPR News</a></em></p></p> Thu, 06 Aug 2015 08:47:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/science/yelp-doctors-get-reviewed-restaurants-and-it-rankles-112577 Congress weighing stronger FDA regs on e-cigs http://www.wbez.org/news/congress-weighing-stronger-fda-regs-e-cigs-112567 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/GettyImages-486477923.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>An Agriculture appropriations bill under consideration in Congress includes a special exemption from FDA review for certain tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes. Congress, the FDA, and the courts have been debating for years just how &quot;e-cigs&quot; should be regulated.</p><p>The bill, as it currently stands, would limit the FDA&#39;s ability to review certain tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, before they hit the market.</p><p>Thomas Kiklas, co-founder of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association says granting the FDA such &quot;pre-market review&quot; authority over e-cigs would be useless, since there are already thousands of e-cig and &quot;vaping&quot; products on the market. He says not only would the influx of applications swamp the already-stretched FDA, but it might force e-cig companies to take their products off the market while they wait for approval.</p><p>While the federal government works out how it will handle e-cigs, several communities all over the country are moving ahead with their own policies.</p><p>&ldquo;I think we could wait a long time for the federal government to decide,&quot; says Esther Manheimer, mayor of Asheville, North Carolina, &quot;but I think our community had already decided.&rdquo;</p><p>Asheville&#39;s city council voted earlier this year to ban e-cigs from public buildings, parks, and buses.</p><p>For those using e-cigs to help them quit traditional smoking, Manheimer suggests &ldquo;they can try to quit smoking not in a park.&rdquo;</p><p>Asheville parks join universities, restaurants, and several other cities all over the country which have banned e-cigs. The federal government&#39;s position is clearer in the Department of Transportation, which banned e-cigs on planes back in 2011.</p></p> Wed, 05 Aug 2015 11:05:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/congress-weighing-stronger-fda-regs-e-cigs-112567 Ebola vaccine hailed as 'Game Changer' in fight against the virus http://www.wbez.org/news/ebola-vaccine-hailed-game-changer-fight-against-virus-112536 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/gettyimages-465767054-22_custom-ac47fdbbb7bce665fbab3fe81bb9cc874c66ebde-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Doctors Without Borders is calling it a &quot;champagne moment.&quot; The World Health Organization says it&#39;s a &quot;game changer.&quot;</p><p>In a small trial, an experimental vaccine protected 100 percent of participants who were at high risk for the virus. Although the results are preliminary, they offer new hope of finally stamping out the virus in West Africa &mdash; and preventing the next epidemic.</p><p>&quot;There was nothing, nothing against Ebola that could protect people,&quot; says Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, an assistant director general at the World Health Organization, who helped to lead the trial. &quot;This is the very first intervention against Ebola.&quot;</p><div class="bucketwrap internallink insettwocolumn inset2col " id="res428079008"><div class="bucket img"><div class="bucketblock">&nbsp;</div></div></div><p>The vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, was developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada. Previous studies showed it was safe. In April, WHO and Doctors Without Borders started testing its effectiveness in Guinea. The trial is ongoing, but the team published initial results Thursday in <em>The Lancet</em>.</p><p>The vaccine stops Ebola in its tracks, Kieny says.</p><p>&quot;When we talked with our colleagues who are responding to Ebola [cases], they told us, &#39;It&#39;s strange. There are many cases in a community. And we vaccinate, and the cases seem to disappear.&#39; &quot;</p><p>In fact, there are so few cases in Guinea right now that Kieny and her team couldn&#39;t use the standard method for testing a vaccine. The team had to come up with a whole new design for the trial. The strategy uses what&#39;s called ring vaccination.</p><div class="bucketwrap internallink insettwocolumn inset2col " id="res428173999"><div class="bucket img"><div class="bucketblock">&nbsp;</div></div></div><p>When a case crops up, the team rushes to the person&#39;s home. Then&nbsp;they give the vaccine to the people are at very high risk of getting Ebola &mdash; those who are close to the sick person.</p><p>&quot;So this can be the neighbors, the family, the coworkers,&quot; Kieny says. &quot;This forms what is called a ring. These are the people that form the community around the case.&quot;</p><p>Over the past few months, Kieny and her team identified about 4,000 people in these so-called rings who were eligible for the vaccination. They divided them up into groups. Half got vaccinated immediately, and the others had to wait three weeks for the shot.</p><p>The results were striking. In the group that got the vaccine immediately, no one got Ebola.</p><p>&quot;No cases anymore. Finished zero,&quot; Kieny says. &quot;So this provides an estimate of efficacy, of course, of 100 percent.&quot;</p><p>That sounds amazing &mdash; even unbelievable. And it actually is, Kieny says.</p><p>The problem is there were only 16 cases of Ebola<strong> </strong>in the group that didn&#39;t get the vaccine immediately. That&#39;s way too small of a number to say how well the vaccine works, she says.</p><p>But statistical analysis suggest the vaccine&#39;s efficacy is at least 70 percent, Kieny says. That protection level is still good enough to stop the spread of the disease.</p><p>&quot;I think it is very encouraging to see these very positive, preliminary results of this vaccine trail from Guinea,&quot; says Dr. Jesse Goodman, infectious disease specialist at Georgetown University, who once lead vaccine development at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.</p><p>Goodman says we need to be cautious about the study. More data are needed to nail down the vaccine&#39;s efficacy. And there were a few issues with the design of the experiment that could have skewed the results.</p><p>&quot;But nonetheless,&quot; he says, &quot;the strength of the difference between the groups that were vaccinated early and late suggests strongly to me that this vaccine is working.&quot;</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2015/07/31/428017319/ebola-vaccine-hailed-as-game-changer-in-fight-against-the-virus?ft=nprml&amp;f=428017319" target="_blank"><em>via NPR</em></a></p></p> Fri, 31 Jul 2015 17:02:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/ebola-vaccine-hailed-game-changer-fight-against-virus-112536 Chicago's plastic bag ban is full of holes http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-07-31/chicagos-plastic-bag-ban-full-holes-112530 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/plastic bagsDay Donaldson.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>On August 1, Chicago joins the more than 130 cities and counties in the US with bans on plastic bags.</p><p>Chain stores more than 10,000 square feet in size will no longer be able to offer customers those flimsy plastic bags we&rsquo;re all used to.</p><p>There are three types of bags that are OK under the new law and two of them are technically plastic. So, what&rsquo;s going on here?</p><p>Joining us to sift through what&rsquo;s under the ban &mdash; and whether the new law is good to begin with &mdash; are two people on opposite ends. Jordan Parker is an environmentalist and executive director of Bring Your Bag Chicago and Jonathan Perman represents the American Progressive Bag Alliance, the trade association for manufacturers and recyclers of plastic bags and plastic film.</p></p> Fri, 31 Jul 2015 11:08:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-07-31/chicagos-plastic-bag-ban-full-holes-112530 #TheEmptyChair amplifies conversation about sexual assault http://www.wbez.org/sections/media/theemptychair-amplifies-conversation-about-sexual-assault-112522 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/CK9bKN8WUAE47aV.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The <a href="http://nymag.com/thecut/2015/07/35-women-and-theemptychair.html">cover story</a> of this week&#39;s <em>New York</em> magazine is getting a lot of attention.</p><p>It features 35 women seated in chairs and one empty chair. The women are all dressed in black, looking straight ahead with both hands resting on their knees. It is a stark image, and all the more compelling because each of them is openly and by name accusing Bill Cosby of horrendous acts. Some say they were drugged and raped; others recount stories of narrowly escaping sexual assault.</p><p>But what has really hit a nerve is the empty chair in the photo. The chair has sparked a powerful conversation online, including a viral hashtag <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%23TheEmptyChair&amp;src=tyah">#TheEmptyChair</a>.<br /><br />NPR&#39;s Renee Montagne spoke to <a href="http://www.npr.org/books/authors/137975988/hanna-rosin">Hanna Rosin</a>, author of <em>The End of Men: And The Rise of Women</em>, about the significance of the hashtag and how it&#39;s shedding light on a movement of people speaking publicly and frankly about experiences with sexual assault.</p><div><hr /></div><p><strong><span style="font-size:24px;">Interview Highlights</span></strong></p><p><strong>On the symbolism of the empty chair</strong></p><p>It serves so many purposes. First, it&#39;s a rebuke, like a classic rebuke. You know, here ... history, America, the patriarchy, whatever you want to call it, has made it difficult for women to speak their truth. So there&#39;s a chair that represents silence, something that didn&#39;t happen. It&#39;s also the opposite of that, which is an invitation, you know: &quot;Come sit in this chair.&quot; ... Social media, the hashtag &quot;EmptyChair&quot; basically is saying, &quot;All of you, it&#39;s time to speak up now. Walk up to this chair, sit down like the rest of us. There&#39;s a sisterhood here, waiting to greet you and share your stories.&quot;</p><p><strong>On the visual effect of the cover</strong></p><p>This is technically a story about Bill Cosby, but when you look at the cover, visually it transmits something different. There are women of all ages, ranging from 40 to 80; there are women of all races on this cover. There are women of all visual styles; they&#39;re all wearing black, but they&#39;re not wearing the same dress. ... So what this is saying is assault can happen to anyone. Here&#39;s a historical archive, not just of Bill Cosby&#39;s actions, but of women who have been assaulted generally.</p><p><strong>On what struck her about the hashtag</strong></p><p>I guess what struck me is the phenomenon that you can trace people&#39;s stories back to them. You know, Twitter is completely public. This is not a private forum for women to gather together. This is not one woman sort of clearing her throat and bravely coming forward. This is people under their own names, under their Twitter handles, saying this happened to me or a version of this happened to me or even just cheering the women on.</p><p><strong>On whether #TheEmptyChair moment will last</strong></p><p>I think this moment is going to last. ... [It] is unresolved and very interesting and, right now, intention. I&#39;m not talking about the Bill Cosby story anymore. ... The way this story has come out, apart from the Cosby story, is sexual assault on campus. And right now I think you have this moment where woman feel simultaneously very vulnerable. ... There&#39;s been so much news about sexual assault on campus. That&#39;s a story that really has invigorated the feminist movement in the last couple of years. On the other hand, women also feel empowered. ... The best <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/columbia-student-who-carried-mattress-everywhere-ends-protest/">example of this is Emma Sulkowitz</a>, a recent graduate of Columbia University. ... She wants people to pay attention to her abuse. ... She&#39;s also owning her abuse, turning it into art, really identifying herself with it and using it to make a statement.</p><p><strong>On how #TheEmptyChair connects to issues of sexual assault on campus</strong></p><p>The cover and the empty chair tie this whole story together. Because the cover is historical &mdash; you see that the women are a bit older. And then the empty chair ties into social media &mdash; that taps into the sexual assault on campus movement. So you&#39;ve got ... a kind of feminist history put together from beginning to right now.</p></p> Thu, 30 Jul 2015 13:39:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/sections/media/theemptychair-amplifies-conversation-about-sexual-assault-112522