Meet the world’s deadliest duo

January 3, 2017
Stephenie Livingston

Turns out the cannibal snail that invaded tropical islands worldwide has a partner in crime

It’s like something straight out of a 1950s horror flick—a killer snail that devours its own kind by tracking their slime trails with its handlebar moustache-shaped sensors.

Wait, what?

That’s right, the 3-inch “rosy wolf snail” from Florida has redefined the expression “at a snail’s pace” by quickly decimating its relatives in Hawaii and on many other islands over the last 60 years.

Cue dramatic music.

The shelled terror has earned recognition as one of the deadliest animals in the world—responsible, in part, for more than one-third of all animal extinctions since the Middle Ages. In a strange turn of events, University of Florida malacologist John Slapcinsky and colleagues at Pomona College, University of Hawaii and Howard University have found there’s actually two lethal gastropod species on the loose. What snail will be next? Slapcinsky says a species he recently discovered from a highly endangered group on the Pacific island of Palau may be its next victim. 

The slimy menace is easily identified by two sensory appendages called oral lappets, which extend from the sides of its mouth like a handlebar moustache.

The predatory snail uses moustache-shaped sensory organs around its mouth, pictured here, to track its prey.

The predatory snail uses moustache-shaped sensory organs around its mouth, pictured here, to track its prey.

Slapcinsky said the secret to the rosy wolf snail’s (Euglandina rosea) fast takeover may be that the two species (the newest species isn’t named yet) each have their own special adaptations. These adaptations may allow each of the species to dominate different habitats, from up in the trees to down in the ground, covering more habitats and causing more devastation than a single species could, Slapcinsky said.

“It’s so widespread that nobody has been able figure out a way to get rid of it that wouldn’t harm native snail species,” said Slapcinsky, malacology collections manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “Two different species were introduced to Hawaii as pest control, but what’s most depressing is each individual species has their own ecology. So by introducing two of these, you’re covering more ground and impacting more native species than you would with just one.“

John Slapcinsky photographs snails in Gulf Hammock, Florida.  Photo courtesy of Robert Lasley

John Slapcinsky photographs snails in Gulf Hammock, Florida. Photo courtesy of Robert Lasley

While the new discovery detailed in the journal Biological Invasions will serve as a warning against uninformed future introductions of non-native species as pest control, Slapcinsky said there is little scientists can do to stop the predatory snail and its attack in places where it is already introduced.

But we can prevent introductions to other Pacific Islands like Palau where Slapcinsky discovered the new genus and species Sphendone insolita in the highly endangered snail family Partulidae.  

Slapcinsky was surprised to find the new snail from Palau in a group of tree snails belonging to the family Partulidae, an endangered group suffering some of the highest extinction rates of all animals. These extinctions were, in part, the result of the deliberate introduction of the predatory wolf snail from Florida, Slapcinsky said. 

The fate of S. insolita depends on whether or not other scientists and governments ensure that species used as pest control are scientifically proven to only impact target species.

Otherwise, we face very serious consequences. While Euglandina’s impact on Hawaii, where 65-90 percent of the nearly 800 native snails are extinct, has been especially severe, the snail has also ravaged species in Bermuda, Samoan Islands and Society Islands.

Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture introduced Euglandina from Leesburg, Florida, during the 1950s in an attempt to exterminate a large African snail that smuggled itself onto the island, possibly on WWII equipment after the war. It proceeded to wreak havoc on agricultural crops, leading to the introduction of biocontrol species, including the predatory wolf snail.

for inside story

Illustration by Michael McAleer

But instead of attacking the pest, the wolf snail attacked native snail species that were not adapted to Euglandina as a predators, hence leading to the extinction or endangerment of hundreds of native snails. Unlike their Pacific counterparts, Florida’s snails have developed adaptations for living with the predatory snail.

“The problem with using snails to control other introduced snails is that predatory snails are not very specific. They will eat almost any fellow snail,” Slapcinsky said by phone from Hawaii. “Euglandina is still here, and there are many areas where you cannot find any native species of snail—places where you used to be able to find diverse native fauna.”

Whenever entire groups are wiped out, it is inevitable that there are consequences. Snails, for example, eat algae and fungus on leaves, removing cruddy materials that might interfere with plant growth. What happens when they are removed? The full extent of what impact the removal of native snails has on local ecosystems is not clear, but Slapcinsky said little known species that become extinct may have had important benefits for the environment.

“When you discover a new species, you discover a little bit more of the variation of nature,” Slapcinsky said. “We’re losing this variation before ever discovering it.”

Global Impact

New facility offers skills, supplies for outdoor fun

January 5, 2017
Gabrielle Calise

From paddling down serene rivers to backpacking through state and national parks, UF students can explore the outdoors through RecSports’ outdoor TRiP Programs. The opening of the Center for Outdoor Recreation & Education building this fall has tripled the amount of outdoor rental equipment available to the UF community – meaning more adventures for everyone.

Located on Bledsoe Drive north of the Southwest Recreation Center, the 6,000-square-foot facility features a warehouse full of gear that UF students, faculty and staff can rent, from sleeping bags and backpacks to kayaks and stand up paddleboards.

Students can visit CORE to sign up for a RecSports-led outdoor TRiP. The CORE building will also host workshops to teach skills such as knot-tying and campfire cooking.

The project was made possible through collaboration between UF Student Government and RecSports. During a grand opening celebration on Sept. 16, students toured the CORE building, where they could try on a stuffed backpack, sit in a kayak, view tents and see all CORE has to offer.

“We rent a lot of equipment,” said RecSports marketing program assistant Kisa Mugwanya. “They can actually see it and how it works.”

For some UF students, the wilderness is the perfect place to escape the stress of classes, quizzes and other obligations.

“What this program brings is peace and quiet,” said CORE program assistant Austin Schmitz in a speech at the grand opening. “Instead of a bleep or an email, you hear the sound of the wind in trees. You smell the spruce in the air.”

Annika Goldman, a fourth year behavioral and cognitive neuroscience student, checked out the new building during the grand opening. Goldman, 21, is currently planning on attending a backpacking trip – her third excursion with RecSports. In the past, she canoed at South Carolina’s Lake Jocassee and went rock climbing in Sand Rock, Alabama.

“That was the first time I’ve ever been outdoor rock climbing or canoeing and they were really accommodating to beginners,” Goldman said. “I was really scared the first time I went, but everyone was really inclusive.”

During her travels, Goldman enjoyed meeting other students and dining on warm cinnamon rolls cooked by the campfire.

“I would definitely recommend going on a TRiP before you graduate,” she said.

For more information, visit http://recsports.ufl.edu/outdoors-adventure/core.

Wondering what kind of adventures you can have with equipment from CORE? UF News intern Gabrielle Calise tried out an inflatable stand-up paddleboard at Ichetucknee Springs State Park near Gainesville. Watch her Instagram Story to see what happened:

Campus Life

Searching for red pandas in an elephant graveyard

January 30, 2017
Stephenie Livingston
Florida Museum of Natural History

Thousands of fossils have been unearthed at the Florida Museum’s new dig site in Levy County. Elephant-like tusks. A toe bone of an ancient condor. Even a snapping turtle with a smaller turtle coming out of its nose. But one of the animals museum paleontologists hope to find remains elusive—the red panda.

screenshot of story on Atavist

Science & Wellness

Why better choices depend on ‘libertarian paternalism’

January 11, 2017
Milenko Martinovich

Nudging people toward better behavior through policy can be effective, but can face resistance if people feel their autonomy is threatened. 

Despite advances in neuroscience and genetics that raise questions about the limitations of free will, people hold strongly to their sense of autonomy, according to a study by University of Florida marketing professor Joe Alba and post-doctoral student Yanmei Zheng.

Alba’s and Zheng’s work, co-authored with Cornell University professor and former UF marketing Ph.D. student Stijn van Osselaer, is not an analysis of whether free will exists, but rather an examination of our impressions of free will, and the implications of those impressions on opinions regarding policy.

“It’s a ripe question because developments in the sciences seem to throw more and more challenges to the notion that we have free will,” Alba said.

Alba and Zheng conducted a series of experiments in which participants were asked to gauge an individual’s personal control in a variety of situations. In one experiment, Alba and Zheng compared responses based on four behaviors: obesity, shoplifting, financial fraud, and drunk driving.

The study found that people were more likely to accept obesity as a consequence resulting outside the individual’s control (perhaps based on a poor metabolism) than the other three behaviors—despite the fact that the authors included similar genetic and environmental forces in each scenario.

Similar findings were present in the study’s other experiments. The study found, for the most part, that people believe free will—even in the face of significant physical constraints—would prevent them from engaging in unethical behavior.

“When we pose questions like, ‘Why wouldn’t you behave in this way under these physical constraints?’” said Alba, “they start to appeal to their nonphysical mind or to their superior soul. So they’ll have noncorporeal (non-physical) explanations of their decisions.”

The findings support the philosophy of libertarian paternalism, an idea that blends organizational intervention with people’s desire for freedom of choice, as a guide for policy makers. Considering the study’s findings of people’s steadfast belief in free will, Alba said policy makers must be careful to not threaten autonomy, even if it is for the public good. Alba cites New York City’s efforts to ban the sale of 16-plus-ounce sugary drinks in 2014. Although studies have linked sugary drinks to obesity, the ban was overturned by the New York State Court of Appeals.

“[Policy makers] want to create contingencies in the environment for people to behave in a better way,” Alba said. “But people don’t like being manipulated. So the dilemma for the policy maker is how do I get people to behave better without them feeling their autonomy is threatened? That’s a hard problem to solve. Because once people detect that you’re putting constraints on them—even though you’re doing it for their own good—they rebel against it.”

Alba said the subtle nudges of libertarian paternalism provide a potential solution to this dilemma. A classic example of libertarian paternalism is the “opt-in vs. opt-out” arrangement where, for example, a company enrolls an employee in its 401K program unless the employee expressly exempts himself or herself. The situation blends the company’s intention of doing what’s best for the employee while still allowing the employee the freedom to say no.

“When you cast doubts on the existence of free will, you shake people’s worldview,” Alba said. “The notion that we don’t have free will is not only counterintuitive but also threatening to people’s notions of their essence.”

The study, “Belief in Free Will: Implications for Practice and Policy,” appears in the December issue of the Journal of Marketing Research.

Society & Culture

Being rude to your child’s doctor could lead to worse care

January 12, 2017
Milenko Martinovich
Warrington College of Business

Emotions tend to run high in hospitals, and patients or patients’ loved ones can be rude to medical professionals when they perceive inadequate care.

But berating your child’s doctor could have harmful — even deadly — consequences, according to new research.

The findings by University of Florida management professor Amir Erez and doctoral student Trevor Foulk reinforce their prior research that rudeness has “devastating effects on medical performance,” Erez said.

A Johns Hopkins study estimated that more than 250,000 deaths are attributed to medical errors in the U.S. annually—which would rank as the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some errors could be explained by a doctor’s poor judgment due to a chronic lack of sleep. Those types of circumstances, according to prior research from Erez and Foulk, account for about 10 to 20 percent of the variance in practitioner performance.

The effects of rudeness, Erez said, account for more than 40 percent.

“[Rudeness] is actually affecting the cognitive system, which directly affects your ability to perform,” Erez said. “That tells us something very interesting. People may think that doctors should just ‘get over’ the insult and continue doing their job.  However, the study shows that even if doctors have the best intentions in mind, as they usually do, they cannot get over rudeness because it interferes with their cognitive functioning without an ability to control it.”

In a previous study, Erez and Foulk examined the effects of rudeness from a colleague or authority figure on individual medical professionals. This study analyzed team performance and the effects rudeness has when it comes from a patient’s family member. 

In the new study, 39 neonatal intensive care unit teams (two doctors and two nurses) from Israel simulated five scenarios where they treated infant medical mannequins for emergency situations such as severe respiratory distress or hypovolemic shock. An actress playing the baby’s mother scolded certain teams while the control groups experienced no rudeness.    

Erez and Foulk found that the teams that experienced rudeness performed poorly compared to the control groups. The teams that encountered rudeness were deficient in all 11 of the study’s measures, including diagnostic accuracy, information sharing, therapy plan, and communication, over the course of all five scenarios showing that the negative effects last the entire day.

To combat the effect of rudeness, the researchers included “interventions” for selected teams. Some teams participated in a pre-test intervention which consisted of a computer game based on a cognitive-behavioral attention modification method intended to raise the threshold of the participants’ sensitivities to anger and aggression. Other teams participated in the post-test intervention, which consisted of team members writing about the day’s experience from the perspective of the baby’s mother.

Erez and Foulk found no difference in the performances of the control groups and the teams that played the computer game. The teams recognized the mother’s rudeness —both midway and after the simulation — but were not affected by it.

“It’s really shocking how well it worked,” Erez said. “They were basically immunized from the effects of rudeness.”

Conversely, the post-test intervention, which research has shown to be extremely successful for victims of trauma, actually had a negative effect on teams.

“What is really concerning is that, at midday, these teams recognized the mother was rude to them,” Erez said. “But at the end of the day, they did not. So not only did it not work, but it caused them to not recognize rudeness later.”

Considering the researchers’ findings and the large number of deaths attributed to medical errors, teaching medical professionals to handle rudeness more effectively should be a priority for the medical community.

“In the medical field, I don’t think they take into account how social interactions affect them,” said Erez, “but it’s something they’re starting to pay attention to. The purpose of this research was to identify what’s going on here. Now that we’ve found serious effects, we need to find more realistic interventions.”

Dr. Arik Riskin, a professor of Neonatology at the Technion, Israel Institute of technology, and Peter Bamberger, a professor of management at Tel Aviv University in Israel, also collaborated on this research. The study, “Rudeness and Medical Team Performance,” appears in the January issue of Pediatrics.

Society & Culture

Can we delay or prevent dementia?

January 13, 2017
Tracy Gale

Adam Woods leads multi-university clinical trial

Walking across the University of Florida’s Health Science Center campus, Adam Woods cites a sobering statistic.

“By 2050, the U.S. population over the age of 65 will double,” he says. “We’re simply not set up as a society to house and treat an exponential growth of dementia patients.  Economically, our healthcare system is unable to absorb that impact.” 

Woods is an assistant professor of clinical and health psychology in the College of Public Health and Health Professions as well as the assistant director of UF’s Center for Cognitive Aging and Memory. He is looking at ways to delay the onset of dementia, or just preventing people from getting it all together.  Besides the obviously devastating diagnosis for a patient and their loved ones, there are the cold hard facts of caring for someone with dementia: the astronomical financial costs involved.

According to a 2015 report by the NIH’s National Institute on Aging, in the last five years of life, total health care spending for people with dementia was more than a quarter of a million dollars per person, 57 percent more than the costs associated with death from other diseases, including cancer and heart disease.

“Half the expenses of long-term care for dementia patients comes from the family, and the other half comes from taxpayers,” Woods said.  “If we can delay the onset of dementia by just one year, it would save the U.S. hundreds of millions of dollars annually.”

How are Woods and his team at UF looking for ways to delay dementia?  By partnering with the University of Arizona and the University of Miami on research pertaining to Augmenting Cognitive Training in Older Adults, or more informally, the ACT Grant.  Woods is the principal investigator on the $6 million, multisite clinical trial.

“The primary goal is to evaluate how pairing a form of non-invasive electrical brain stimulation, known as transcranial direct current stimulation, with cognitive training may enhance the brain's neurocognitive function in our participants and potentially slow or prevent onset of dementia,” Woods said. “We teach the participants a series of ‘brain games’ while they undergo brain stimulation. Using state-of-the-art brain imaging methods, we look at how the participants’ brains are impacted by the training games and brain stimulation that we ask them to do over a three-month period.  The research question is, can this type of brain training and stimulation slow down the brain’s aging?

The study involves 360 participants. Researchers conduct a series of initial scans for a baseline image, again after three months, and finally after one year.  The question they’re trying to answer: Do our cognitive training therapies help delay the onset of dementia, or can we prevent a person from getting dementia altogether?

Woods and his team work closely with UF Research Computing, home of HiPerGator, the state of Florida’s first supercomputer.  At the start of the study, Woods purchased 100 cores on HiPerGator to process the participants’ brain scans and analyze the data. Handling all of three sites’ participant scans on the Gainesville campus makes sense for both ease of analysis and cost savings.

“In the ‘old’ days (five years ago) we used to process the data – all of these brain images – ourselves,” Woods said. “The costs involved, of tying up staff to handle the data processing, and of dedicating a computer for months on end, was staggering.  With HiPerGator, we can use the cores purchased to have multiple scans produced simultaneously.  Plus, doing all of the study sites' scans and data processing on our supercomputer means we have an efficient way to produce study findings at each stage of our research.”

Woods’ past sponsored research includes awards from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, with focuses on stroke, sarcopenia (loss of muscle tissue during the aging process), and preventing disabilities in older persons. 

“For me, this has always been about novel ways to help people,” Woods said. “Let’s figure out, at a mechanistic level, but then let’s use this knowledge and do some real good.  Aging is relevant to everyone.  Some diseases impact 1 percent of the population, others impact 5 percent.   But aging, God willing, affects all of us.  We start aging from the moment we are born … even before.”

Science & Wellness

Students find adventure along Nature Coast

January 19, 2017
Samantha Grenrock

Last summer, Cory Gillis found himself waking before dawn at the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, where he’d been assigned to track the breeding calls of the northern bobwhite quail as part of an internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But he wasn’t complaining.

“It was amazing to be out in the forest before sunrise in an area without any human influence, not even a sound,” said Gillis, now a senior in the University of Florida department of wildlife ecology and conservation.

Summer internships like Gillis’ are made possible by Nature Coast Biological Station, part of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Each year, the station selects a handful of students in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences for internships with various researchers, agencies and labs on Florida’s Nature Coast.

Cory Gillis and snake

Intern Cory Gillis holds a snake during his internship at the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of Cory Gillis.

Applications for 2017 summer internships will be open in February, said Savanna Barry, Florida Sea Grant regional specialized agent based at the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station. This winter, another group of students will intern with the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, where they will collect data on manatee-human interactions and assist with other duties around the busy manatee tourism season, Barry said.

 “The internship program is an important part of our mission because it helps us connect students with real world research and outreach opportunities,” she said.

Hannah Van Horn, a senior in the UF environmental science department, spent much of her summer internship boating or swimming in the Gulf of Mexico. She helped collect data on water quality, macro algae and seagrass for the St. Martins Marsh and Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserves.

“I grew up in Ohio and have only lived in Florida for college, so working in the Gulf was a new experience and a dream come true,” Van Horn said. “I had so many personal experiences with both flora and fauna. I was fascinated with dolphins growing up, and seeing them in the wild confirmed to me that I am pursuing a meaningful career path.”

Hannah van horn dolphins

Photo courtesy of Hannah Van Horn

Offering student internships through the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station has been a priority for Jack Payne, UF senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources, and Mike Allen, UF/IFAS NCBS director, Barry said.

“UF graduates need to be competitive on the job market, and we see these internships as one way to give students experiences that will make them stand out to potential employers,” she said.

In addition to work experience, interns also get practice communicating science to the public, Barry said.

“Interns write about their experiences on the UF/IFAS NCBS website and social media, and their enthusiasm about science can be contagious,” she said.

Julia Richter photo

Julia Richter is a senior in the UF department of agricultural and biological engineering specializing in land and water research. Here she collects data for her internship under the direction of Mark Clark, associate professor of soil and water sciences, at the Cedar Key Living Shoreline Demonstration. Photo courtesy of Julia Richter

Visit the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station website for internship applications and more information.

Campus Life

Study links prediabetes, diabetes in healthy weight adults to sedentary lifestyle

January 19, 2017
Jill Pease

Add one more to the long list of reasons to keep active: A new University of Florida study demonstrates that low levels of physical activity are associated with higher blood sugar among adults who are at a healthy weight.

The findings, which appear online ahead of print in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, may help explain why up to one-third of adults who are slender have prediabetes, a condition that puts them at risk for developing diabetes and other health problems.

“We have found that a lot of people who we would consider to be at healthy weight — they’re not overweight or obese — are not metabolically healthy,” said lead investigator Arch G. Mainous III, Ph.D., chair of the department of health services research, management and policy in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, part of UF Health.

These individuals may have healthy weight obesity, also known as normal weight obesity or “skinny fat.” The condition is characterized as having a body mass index within the normal range, but a high proportion of fat to lean muscle, typically more than 25 percent body fat in males and 35 percent in females. People with healthy weight obesity are more likely to develop metabolic syndrome, which includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar and abnormal cholesterol levels.

Because screening guidelines for prediabetes and diabetes typically focus on adults who are overweight or obese, individuals at a healthy weight who have high blood sugar levels may go undetected.

For the UF study, researchers set out to test the hypothesis that a sedentary lifestyle may contribute to metabolic changes that put people who have a healthy weight at risk for prediabetes or diabetes. The team analyzed data from the 2014 Health Survey for England, an annual survey that combines information from personal interviews with lab tests and physical measurements collected by a nurse. The researchers assessed more than 1,000 individuals age 20 and older who had a BMI within the healthy weight range of 18.5 to 24.9 and who did not have a diagnosis of diabetes.

Researchers found that participants who reported having a sedentary lifestyle were more likely than their more active counterparts to have a blood glucose level at or above 5.7, which the American Diabetes Association considers prediabetes. Among participants with low activity levels, about one-quarter of all participants and more than 40 percent of adults 45 and older met the criteria for prediabetes or diabetes.

“Our findings suggest that sedentary lifestyle is overlooked when we think in terms of healthy weight,” said Mainous, the Florida Blue endowed chair of health administration. “We shouldn’t focus only on calorie intake, weight or BMI at the expense of activity.”

Mainous said more research is needed to better understand the health implications of healthy weight obesity as well as how much and what type of activity, whether it is weight-bearing or resistance training, for example, may be most effective at combating metabolic syndrome.

The UF study adds to a growing body of research that illustrates the potential negative health effects of low levels of physical activity, Mainous said.

“Don’t focus solely on the scale and think you’re OK,” he said. “If you have a sedentary lifestyle, make sure you get up and move.”

Study co-authors included Stephen Anton, Ph.D., an associate professor and division chief in the UF College of Medicine’s department of aging and geriatric research and a member of the UF Institute on Aging; and from the department of health services research, management and policy: Rebecca Tanner, M.A., a research coordinator, Ara Jo, M.S., a doctoral student, and Maya Luetke, MSPH, a research coordinator.

Science & Wellness

What the Navajo can teach us about making

January 20, 2017
Steve Orlando

The majestic mesas and canyons of the Navajo Nation – an area mostly in northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico larger than the entire state of West Virginia – might seem an unlikely place to delve into robotics and computer code writing.

Dan Frank knows better.

For him, it’s the ideal location to exchange ideas about those topics and learn new ways of looking at them. The University of Florida mechanical engineering doctoral student spent the fall semester working with Navajo high school and college students as part of the research for his doctoral dissertation.

One of his main goals: to work with the community in developing a makerspace where the Navajo can promote science, technology, engineering and math education through making.

He describes it as “half research, half action.” Frank, 29, spends three days a week teaching a course on autonomous systems at Navajo Technical University, or NTU, in Crownpoint, New Mexico, and co-teaches robotics two days a week at St. Michael Indian School in St. Michaels, Arizona.

It is by no means a one-way experience. The Navajo, or Diné as they refer to themselves, have much to teach themselves.

“The Diné people's unique perspective in making allows them to add to the diversity of ideas that is required to solve the world's toughest problems,” Frank said. “A lot of students here have a very different yet equally valid approach to engineering. I’m learning, honestly, as much as they are.”

In addition to his teaching duties, Frank is working with a group of NTU students who are competing in NASA’s “Swarmathon” – a contest to create software for a swarm of robots that could one day explore Mars. The competition will be held at Kennedy Space Center in April.

Frank also spends time working with the robotics team he helped launch at St. Michael Indian School.

In a poignant nod to their heritage, the students chose to name their team the Navajo Code Writers in honor of the Navajo Code Talkers, a celebrated group of Native American U.S. Marines who used their language to create coded radio and telephone messages during World War II.

Window Rock with Navajo Code Talker Memorial

In December, the Navajo Code Writers went to their first robotics competition, the FIRST Tech Challenge, and came away with the Inspire Award.

As judges wrote, "The Inspire Award goes to a rookie team who never gave up even when things were breaking down. Their doors are always open to anyone, they're helping others prepare, and they truly embody Gracious Professionalism on and off the field.”

Shortly after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Lehigh University in 2009, Frank taught sixth grade at St. Michael Indian School. He soon realized the students weren’t as familiar with engineering as he thought they might be.

“There’s not a lot of industry out here,” he said, “so it’s not a profession that students get a lot of exposure to.”

Likewise for the idea of makerspace, although he knew the basic notion already existed in Navajo culture.

He just had to make sure the Navajo students knew that, too.

“The goal is to help the students to see engineering as something that’s inherent to their culture, rather than something that is foreign,” he said. “Makerspaces have been used around the world to help students learn STEM concepts through hands-on activities. While the idea of a makerspace may be a Western idea, the idea of making is not. That’s something that’s in all cultures. The Diné or Navajo people are some of the world's finest makers. As a result, making is a great candidate to help promote STEM education for the Navajo people on their own terms.”

Navajo robot photo

When he began working on his doctorate a few years later, he knew what he wanted to do and where he wanted to be.

That’s when the learning process began – for all involved.

“I am always amazed by how creative the people are in finding uses for things that many people would see as disposable,” Frank said.

For example, one student on the Navajo Code Writers team took apart an old fax machine and has been using parts of it to build a robot. When others would see a broken tray for feeding paper, that same student sees a low-friction Wiffle ball scooper.

Another student saw old soda cans and decided to build a foundry for the team. The foundry will both help promote recycling on the Navajo Nation and allow the team to cast aluminum parts for the robot.

The Navajo people’s relationship with nature is another source of wonderment for Frank.

“Not only do they possess a reverence for the environment, they see it as a source of inspiration,” Frank said.

A couple years ago, Frank performed an egg-drop activity with one of the schools on the Navajo Nation. The students had to design a device using only the materials in the classroom that would protect an egg from a fall at a designated height.

“In this type of activity, students will often make a parachute out of a plastic bag or make a container with squishy material to help it absorb the impact,” he said. “I had one student that came up with a solution that I had never seen before. Just like how a maple seed spins in order to slow its descent, he designed a device with a special geometry that caused it to spin as it fell. The faster it spun, the slower it fell, causing the egg to remain intact.”

Frank has already made a big impression.

“Dan has brought a youthful zeal for teaching with him. I think he's witnessed the great potential of the NTU students and hardships many students work through to pursue their education,” said Peter Romine, an associate professor of electrical engineering at NTU.

NTU student Conrad Begay, a 31-year-old electrical engineering major, agreed.

“Since Dan has been here, he has been energetic about helping students at NTU in any complications they have,” Begay said. “A helpful hand, but not one to really do it for you but lead you in the right way.”

Fifteen-year-old Kauy Bahe, a member of the St. Michael Indian School's robotics team, said working with Frank has given him a new take on his interest, especially when it comes to self-reliance.

“Dan has helped me in to many ways I can list,” he said. “My favorite thing about him is, he wants me to learn how to do things on my own, rather than rely on him to do things I cannot do.”

Frank said he expects to be in and out of the Navajo Nation this spring and summer as he completes his dissertation, but he believes the fire has already been lit.

“The goal is for the community to take ownership of the project so that it continues long after I leave,” he said. “Right now I’ve got two schools that can’t wait to learn what a makerspace designed with the Navajo Nation looks like so that they can build their own.”

Science & Wellness

Why each side of the partisan divide thinks the other is living in an alternate reality

January 20, 2017
Lauren Griffin and Amie Neimand

For many Clinton supporters, Trump’s swearing-in portends doom for the republic; to many Trump voters, it’s a crowning moment, one that will usher in an era of growth and optimism. It’s as if each side were living in a different country – and a different reality. UF’s Lauren Griffin and Annie Neimand explain how information avoidance creates a “reality gap” between each side of the political divide.

To some liberals, Donald Trump’s inauguration portends doom for the republic; to many conservatives, it’s a crowning moment for the nation that will usher in an era of growth and optimism.

It’s as if each side is living in a different country – and a different reality.

In fact, over the last few months, a handful of liberal-leaning sites have begun fixating on what they’ve dubbed the “reality gap”: the tendency of Donald Trump’s supporters to endorse misinformation about political and economic issues. Sixty-seven percent of Trump voters, for instance, believe that unemployment has gone up under President Obama’s administration. (It hasn’t.) Up to 52 percent believe that Trump won both the electoral college and the popular vote in the 2016 election. (He didn’t.) And 74 percent of Trump supporters believe that fewer people are insured now than before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. (More are.)

But this unfairly casts conservatives as being blind to reality. In fact, people across the political spectrum are susceptible. Consider that 54 percent of Democrats believe that Russia either “definitely” or “probably” changed voting tallies in the United States to get Trump elected. Although investigations are still ongoing, so far there’s been no evidence of direct tampering of voter records.

Many are at a loss when trying to explain these findings and have blamed a combination of “fake news,” politicians and slanted media.

Certainly misleading media reports and hyperpartisan social media users play a role in promoting misinformation, and politicians who repeat outright falsehoods don’t help. But research suggests something else may be going on, and it’s no less insidious just because it can’t be blamed on our partisan enemies. It’s called information avoidance.

‘I don’t want to hear it’

Social scientists have documented that all of us have a well-stocked mental toolkit to ward off any new information that makes us feel bad, obligates us to do something we don’t want to do or challenges our worldview.

These mental gymnastics take place when we avoid looking at our bank account after paying the bills or shirk scheduling that long overdue doctor’s appointment. The same goes for our political affiliation and beliefs: If we’re confronted with news or information that challenges them, we’ll often ignore it.

One reason we avoid this sort of information is that it can make us feel bad, either about ourselves or more generally. For instance, one study found that people didn’t want to see the results of a test for implicit racial bias when they were told that they might subconsciously have racist views. Because these results challenged how they saw themselves – as not racist – they simply avoided them.

Another series of experiments suggested that we’re more likely to avoid threatening information when we feel like we don’t have the close relationships and support system in place to respond to new problems. Patients who felt like they lacked a supportive network were less likely to want to see medical test results that might reveal a bad diagnosis. Students who lacked a large friend group or strong family ties didn’t want to learn whether or not their peers disliked them. Feeling like we lack the support and resources to deal with bad things makes us retreat into our old, comforting worldviews.

No problem? No need for a solution

In other cases, people don’t want to acknowledge a problem, whether it’s gun violence or climate change, because they don’t agree with the proposed solutions.

For instance, in a series of experiments, social psychology scholars Troy Campbell and Aaron Kay found that people are politically divided over scientific evidence on climate change, environmental degradation, crime and attitudes toward guns because they dislike the potential solutions to these problems. Some don’t want to consider, say, government regulation of carbon dioxide, so they simply deny that climate change exists in the first place.

In the study, participants read a statement about climate change from experts paired with one of two policy solutions, either a market-based solution or a government regulatory scheme. Respondents were then asked how much they agreed with the scientific consensus that global temperatures are rising.

The researchers found that Republicans were more likely to agree that climate change is happening when presented with the market-based solution. Democrats tended to agree with the consensus regardless of the proposed solution. By framing the solution to climate change in terms that don’t go against Republican free-market ideology, the researchers suspect that Republicans will be more willing to accept the science.

In other words, people are more willing to accept politically polarizing information if it’s discussed in a way that doesn’t challenge how they view the world or force them to do something they don’t want to do.

Doubling down on a worldview

To return to Trump’s supporters: Many identify strongly with him and many see themselves as part of a new political movement. For this reason, they probably want to avoid new findings that suggest their movement isn’t as strong as it appears.

Remember those findings that many Trump supporters believe that he won the popular vote? Among Trump supporters, one poll suggests that 52 percent also believe that millions of votes were cast illegally in the 2016 election, a claim Trump himself made to explain his popular vote loss.

Accepting that their candidate lost the popular vote challenges deeply held beliefs that the nation has come together with a mandate for Trump’s presidency and policies. Information that conflicts with this view – that suggests a majority of Americans don’t support Trump, or that people protesting Trump are somehow either “fake” or paid agitators – poses a threat to these worldviews. As a result, his supporters avoid it.

Information avoidance doesn’t address why different people believe different things, how misinformation spreads and what can be done about it.

But ignoring the effects of information avoidance and discussing only ignorance and stubbornness does us all a disservice by framing the problem in partisan terms. When people on the left believe that only right wingers are at risk of changing the facts to suit their opinions, they become less skeptical of their own beliefs and more vulnerable to their own side’s misconceptions and misinformation.

Research suggests there are three ways to combat information avoidance. First, before asking people to listen to threatening information, affirmation – or making people feel good about themselves – has proven effective. Next, it’s important to make people feel in control over what they get to do with that information. And lastly, people are more open to information if it’s framed in a way that resonates with how they see the world, their values and their identities.

It’s crucial to recognize the all-too-human tendency to put our fingers in our ears when we hear something we don’t like. Only then can we move away from a media and cultural environment in which everyone is entitled to not just their own opinions but also their own facts.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Society & Culture

Why it’s so hard for women to break into the C-suite

January 24, 2017
Joyce E. Bono and Elisabeth Gilbert

Warrington College of Business professor Joyce E. Bono and Ph.D. student Elisabeth Gilbert write that while Hillary Clinton’s popular vote win shows progress toward gender equality, Trump’s nomination of just three women to his Cabinet is a reminder of how much work still needs to be done to overcome bias in management.

With the first U.S. presidential election featuring a major party female nominee in the rear-view mirror and her male rival about to take the presidential oath, now is a good time to examine the progress women have made toward gender equality.

First, the good news: While Clinton lost the election, she still won the popular vote – by almost three million votes, in fact. About 66 million Americans affirmed that a woman is fit to lead one of the world’s most powerful nations.

In addition, women now account for 51 percent of management, professional and other high-wage occupations in the U.S., and research shows they perform slightly better than men at work. Some analysts argue that once women’s career choices, such as taking time off or opting for flexible hours, are considered, the male-female pay gap disappears.

Does this mean the glass ceiling has been broken?

Well, not so fast. Now the bad news.

Fewer than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, while Donald Trump has nominated just three women to join his 15-member Cabinet. In addition, women who seek power are still met with skepticism – or worse – by many.

Clinton’s gender, for example, was seen as a barrier to her candidacy. When interviewed by PBS Newshour during the campaign, a 20-year-old clerk said, “With a man, you look for leadership and guidance. With a woman, you look for companionship and nurturing. A motherly role.”

Clearly, there’s more work to be done, as evidenced by the fact that hundreds of thousands of Americans plan to attend the Women’s March on Washington to advocate for the equitable treatment of women.

Our own recent research shows just how complicated perceptions of men and women can be. Using data from nearly 50,000 managers, we asked the question of whether organizations punish women who do not conform to expectations that they be nurturing, kind and communal. The results reveal one way that persistent gender stereotypes continue to hold back the careers of women.

Derailment risk

In our study, titled “Dropped on the Way to the Top: Gender and Managerial Derailment” and published in Personnel Psychology, we wanted to learn how gender biases affect managerial assessments.

To better understand this, we obtained ratings from managers’ bosses on their job performance. But we also looked at another type of rating: assessments of how likely it was that the managers would “derail” in the future.

In business, derailing means that someone has hit his or her ceiling in the organization but was expected to go higher. Picture someone who started on the executive fast track but stalls out as a middle manager and “doesn’t have what it takes” to get the next promotion.

Decades of research show that a key cause of derailment is problems with interpersonal relationships, so we also examined ratings of the managers’ interpersonal behaviors, provided by their coworkers, to determine how relationship skills influenced bosses’ perceptions of the managers’ future potential.

Our data showed that men’s and women’s performance ratings were equal and that women, as a group, were slightly more effective in their interpersonal behaviors than men. But when a female manager wasn’t so good with people, she was 17 percent more likely than a male manager with the same level of people skills to be evaluated as a derailment risk.

In other words, bosses viewed ineffective interpersonal behavior as a bigger problem for women than for men – big enough that it disproportionately limited their odds of getting ahead.

Jason and Jennifer

To see if gender was truly the cause of these effects, we conducted an experiment.

We created a managerial feedback report for a fictional manager named Jason, a generally effective midlevel manager who met his business goals but also had some difficulty getting along with others at work and needed to get better at building a team. We duplicated that report, keeping all the details exactly the same except the gender of the manager, now named Jennifer.

We gave these reports to real managers, who were randomly assigned to read and evaluate either Jennifer’s or Jason’s report. Our findings confirmed the original results: Jennifer and Jason were rated equally on their job performance, but Jennifer was rated as a significantly higher risk for derailment.

To better understand the consequences of derailment risk for managers, we conducted another experiment. We asked managers what they would do if Jennifer or Jason were their subordinate. Results showed that when a boss thinks a manager might derail, critical resources are withdrawn.

Bosses were less likely to coach or support managers at risk of derailing. Even worse, though, they were less willing to provide sponsorship – to use their influence to help the manager advance. This is especially harmful for women because they remain underrepresented in the C-suite, making a powerful sponsor even more important as they make their way up the career ladder.

This hits women with a “double whammy”: They’re more likely than men to be perceived as derailment risks, and they’re hit harder than men by the consequences of these perceptions.

Gender stereotypes

Why are poor people skills such a killer for female managers?

It is because expectations for effective interpersonal behaviors differ for men and women, based on stereotypes in our society about how women should behave. Women have historically taken on nurturing and care-giving roles, including working in service professions and raising children. This division of labor leads to stereotypes that women are more kind and nurturing than men. When they morph into prescriptions of how women should behave, they become particularly problematic.

People often see work conflicts between men as normal. When a female manager has conflict, though, the same people may worry that she has trouble getting along with others. And when bosses rely on “gut feelings” to make judgments about whether or not an employee might detail in the future, they are left vulnerable to these biases.

One step forward, two steps back: President Obama’s final term in office boasted eight women out of 23 Cabinet or Cabinet-level positions. That may be more than Trump has nominated but still far short of women’s share of the population.

How to battle our biases

The reason stereotypes are so insidious and challenging to address is that they operate subconsciously. Chances are good that few, if any, of the bosses in our studies were overtly sexist – indeed, most would likely be shocked and dismayed to learn that their decisions were biased.

Even decision-makers who are committed to treating women fairly may not be able to stop their brains from raising a red flag when they see a woman engaging in behavior that violates societal beliefs that women should be nice and nurturing.

So what can be done to stop bias and discrimination toward women?

Research shows that one of the most important steps people can take is increasing awareness about how implicit biases can influence their thinking. Colleagues can talk, coach and engage each other in conversation. When organizational leaders observe high-potential managers struggling, they can step up to help, rather than “dropping” them – something that will benefit managers regardless of their gender.

The fight to help women achieve high-level leadership positions must continue until powerful women are so commonplace that stereotypes begin to change. But as long as men and women fill different social roles – at home and at work – we may never be able to fully eliminate gender stereotypes from our minds.

Perhaps a silver lining in the cloud of sexism that arose during the recent presidential election is that Americans are now talking openly about gender bias. Author Kate Harding wrote, “My country hates women, which is bad enough, and it pretends it doesn’t, which is worse.”

Our research doesn’t go that far, but it does suggest that we hold men and women to different standards of behavior. To make progress, we must acknowledge the prevalence and insidious nature of gender stereotypes and admit that they affect our attitudes and behavior, even when we don’t want them to.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Society & Culture

Global shark attacks drop to recent average in 2016

January 24, 2017
Natalie van Hoose
Florida Museum of Natural History

After 2015’s record-busting 98 shark attacks, calmer waters prevailed in 2016. The University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File reported 81 unprovoked attacks worldwide, in line with the five-year average of about 82 incidents annually.

Four of the attacks were fatal, a drop from six total fatalities the previous year. While the U.S. had no fatal attacks in 2016, it topped the leaderboard for the most attacks globally, with 53.

Global attacks remain on a slow upward trend as the human population grows and aquatic sports become more popular, said George Burgess, curator of the file, housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus

“A shark attack is a human phenomenon,” said Burgess, who explained that 2015’s spike in attacks was influenced by warmer waters produced by El Niño. “Sharks are a natural part of the ecosystem. The ocean is a foreign environment to humans, and when we enter the sea, we’re entering a wilderness.”

photo of George Burgess

South Africa had fewer incidents than normal, with only a single, non-fatal attack. Australia, another shark attack hotspot, had 15, including two fatalities. In the South Pacific, the French territory of New Caledonia has emerged as “an area of concern” with four attacks in 2016, including two fatalities, Burgess said.

In the U.S., Florida had the greatest number of attacks—32—accounting for about 60 percent of attacks in North America and about 40 percent of the global total. With 15 incidents, Volusia County accounted for nearly half of Florida’s total attacks. Hawaii had 10 attacks, followed by California with four, North Carolina with three, South Carolina with two and single attacks in Texas and Oregon.

The database, which tracks shark attacks globally, defines unprovoked shark attacks as those initiated by a shark in its natural habitat. Burgess said that many of these incidents might be more accurately called “human-shark interactions,” as not all attacks cause injury, and they can include a rough bump from a shark or a bite on a surfboard.

Fifty-eight percent of the attacks worldwide involved board sports. Surfing, boogie boarding and paddle boarding produce kicking and splashing—the kind of water disturbance that can draw a shark, Burgess said.

“Sharks are attracted to irregular activity, especially with the inevitable wipeout and the big splash that follows,” he said. “If you have a shark trailing, that’s often when it will strike.” 

Although shark attacks have gradually increased, the number of fatal attacks has consistently fallen over the past century, said Lindsay French, database manager for the Florida Program for Shark Research and the attack file. She and Burgess attribute this decline to improved safety practices on beaches, better medical treatment and growing public awareness of how to avoid potentially dangerous situations.

While the chances of being injured or killed by a shark are “infinitesimal,” Burgess said, the ISAF offers recommendations for how to lower the risk of a shark attack or fend off an attacking shark.

He and French noted that while the human population is skyrocketing, many shark species are on the decline. Threatened by overfishing and loss of habitat, sharks’ complex life history makes it difficult for them to rebound quickly, Burgess said. As major predators, their numbers are inherently low compared with other smaller marine species, and their slow sexual maturation process, year-long pregnancies and long lifespans compound the obstacles to rebuilding populations.

“Once shark populations are down, recovery takes a long, long time,” he said. “They hold a special place in their ecosystem, and a loss at one node in the web of marine life is going to have an effect on the overall system.”

Global Impact

Indian tribesmen help scientists catch Everglades pythons

January 24, 2017
Beverly James

Two University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural wildlife biologists are using tribesmen from India and Labrador Retrievers to help the state remove Burmese pythons from the Florida Everglades.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reached out to Frank Mazzotti, a professor of wildlife ecology and Christina Romagosa, an assistant research professor to help find and eradicate Burmese python in the southern part of the state. Mazzotti and Romagosa, both in the UF/IFAS department of wildlife ecology and conservation, decided to team up using unique methods to rid the state of the invasive pest.

“The Irula tribesmen, located in southern India, are world renowned for their ability to catch snakes,” Mazzotti said. “I heard about them through an acquaintance, Rom Whitaker, who lives in India and works with the tribesmen. He recommended that I work with the Irula to find the Burmese python in the Everglades, and five years later we finally made it happen.”

Two Irula tribesmen will spend two months in Florida, living in a private home, Mazzotti said. Whitaker and a colleague from India are translating for the tribesmen, he said.

“The job of the tribesmen is to find the snakes, catch them and teach us how to do it better,” Mazzotti said. “They are better at finding snakes than anybody else in the world. And when they catch the snakes they don’t let go, no matter what refuge the python might seek.”

Meanwhile, Romagosa leads a team that uses canines provided by the Auburn University Canine Performance Sciences program to detect the Burmese pythons in the greater Everglades. Recently, Romagosa, who is an expert on invasive species, used the dogs in North Key Largo to find python. She then turned to Mazzotti for help in capturing them.

“We were in Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge and the dogs indicated that there was python activity in that area. The dogs sat around the bunker, but they couldn’t exactly pinpoint where the odor was coming from,” Romagosa said. “The next day, The Irula came to the bunker and went into a shaft at least 10 feet down into the ground. The tribesmen found a 16-foot female Burmese python with two smaller males, and another male snake in a nearby location.

 “This is a great example of my team being able to locate the snakes, and Dr. Mazzotti’s team removing the python. These techniques help us to target our searches better.”

The partnership has proven invaluable, said Kristen Sommers, section leader of FWC.

“Without the partnership across public land managing agencies and researchers, we will not be successful in developing or enhancing effective techniques to remove pythons from the wild,” Sommers said. “The outcomes of these projects and partnerships will help us to identify and remove more pythons from the wild now and in the long-term.”

According to Mazzotti, there are no estimates for the number of Burmese python in the Everglades. Researchers believe the pythons were released into the Everglades or escaped pet owners.

“Hopefully, we can manage or eradicate an invasive species that is wreaking havoc on the ecosystem,” Mazzotti said.

Science & Wellness

Harn Museum joins Guggenheim, Met as recipient of Henry Luce Foundation grant

February 1, 2017
Tami Wroath
Harn Museum, Asian art, Henry Luce Foundation

The Henry Luce Foundation recently awarded more than $13 million in grants that will advance the Foundation’s commitments to the development of intellectual leaders and public dissemination of knowledge. The Harn Museum of Art was one of seven institutions to receive an award from the Asia Program which is dedicated to fostering cultural and intellectual exchanges between the United States and the countries of East and Southeast Asia. The Harn Museum of Art will receive $282,000 for creating scholarly and public resources for improved understanding of Asia in the United States.

The Henry Luce Foundation funding will support the Harn Museum of Art’s David A. Cofrin Manuscript Series over the next four years. Four peer-reviewed volumes have already been produced between 2012 and 2015 which include “Collectors, Collections, and Collecting the Arts of China,” which will be translated into Chinese, “Original Intentions: Essays on Production, Reproduction, and Interpretation in the Arts of China,” “Tokaido Texts and Tales,” which is a finalist for CAA’s 2017 Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award for smaller museums, and “The Landscape Painting of China,” which won the LoPresti Award in 2013-2014. This four-year period of support from 2016 to 2019 will include the production of four volumes on art in Korea, South Asia and Japan, as well as a volume on women in the arts and archaeology of Asia.

"With the support of the Henry Luce Foundation and being based at the University of Florida, a tier-one institution, this manuscript series is positioned for excellence in education, new research and peer-reviewed scholarship from an array of diverse, internationally recognized scholars," said Harn Director Rebecca Nagy. “It is an honor for this project to be supported and to be recognized in the company of other great institutions such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation.” 

The David A. Cofrin Asian Art Manuscript Series was established in 2008 and is co-edited by Jason Steuber, Cofrin Curator of Asian Art, and Allysa B. Peyton, Assistant Curator of Asian Art. Published by the University Press of Florida, the series is dedicated to Dr. David A. Cofrin (1923 – 2009) who supported the construction of the original Harn Museum building as well as the additions of a contemporary and Asian art wing which hold many of his gifts.

“The generous multi-year grant support by the Henry Luce Foundation ensures that the David A. Cofrin Asian Art Series will continue to produce peer-reviewed contributions to Asian art histories and canons,” said Steuber.

University of Florida President W. Kent Fuchs said, “The Samuel P Harn Museum of Art has grown over the last quarter century into a museum that is well known among international art scholars. The Harn’s talented curators have been crucial in building this reputation, as they have helped the museum reach beyond its doors through pivotal projects like this one.”

Global Impact

Team discovers key to restoring great tomato flavor

January 26, 2017
Brad Buck

What’s wrong with the supermarket tomato? Consumers say they lack flavor, so a University of Florida researcher led a global team on a mission to identify the important factors that have been lost and put them back into modern tomatoes.

In a study published today in the journal Science, Harry Klee, a professor of horticultural sciences with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, identifies the chemical combinations for better tomato flavor.

“We’re just fixing what has been damaged over the last half century to push them back to where they were a century ago, taste-wise,” said Klee, stressing that this technique involves classical genetics, not genetic modification. “We can make the supermarket tomato taste noticeably better.”

Step one was to find out which of the hundreds of chemicals in a tomato contribute the most to taste.

Modern tomatoes lack sufficient sugars and volatile chemicals critical to better flavor, Klee said. Those traits have been lost during the past 50 years because breeders have not had the tools to routinely screen for flavor, he said.

To help, researchers studied what they call “alleles,” the versions of DNA in a tomato gene that give it its specific traits. Klee likened the concept to DNA in humans. Everyone has the same number of genes in their DNA, but a particular version of each gene determines traits such as height, weight and hair color.

“We wanted to identify why modern tomato varieties are deficient in those flavor chemicals,” Klee said. “It’s because they have lost the more desirable alleles of a number of genes.”

Scientists then identified the locations of the good alleles in the tomato genome, he said. That required what’s called a genome-wide assessment study. There, scientists mapped genes that control synthesis of all the important chemicals. Once they found them, they used genetic analysis to replace bad alleles in modern tomato varieties with the good alleles, Klee said.

The U.S. is second only to China in worldwide tomato production, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Florida and California account for two-thirds to three-fourths of all commercially produced fresh-market tomatoes in the U.S. Florida growers produce 33,000 acres of tomatoes worth $437 million annually as of 2014, according to UF/IFAS economic research.

Because breeding takes time, and the scientists are studying five or more genes, Klee said the genetic traits from his latest study may take three to four years to produce in new tomato varieties.

Science & Wellness

For students, by students

January 30, 2017
UF News

Built in 1910 to house the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, Newell Hall is undergoing a transformation.  When it re-opens this spring, the third-oldest building on the UF campus will be reborn as the Newell Hall Learning Commons, a 21st-century study space where UF students can meet, socialize, dine, create and collaborate.

Campus Life

Donald Trump isn’t lying...

January 30, 2017
Lauren Griffin

Lauren Griffin from UF’s College of Journalism and Communications observes that Donald Trump’s sole goal is inflating his own grand persona – and he doesn’t care whether or not you believe him.

If you’ve been paying attention to the news over the past week or so, you know that over the weekend America was introduced to the concept of “alternative facts.” After Trump administration Press Secretary Sean Spicer rebuked the media for accurately reporting the relatively small crowds at President Donald Trump’s inauguration, senior White House aide Kellyanne Conway told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Spicer wasn’t lying; he was simply using “alternative facts.”

News outlets are still working through the process of figuring out what to call these mischaracterizations of reality. (“Alternative facts” seems to have been swiftly rejected.) Many outlets have upped their fact-checking game. The Washington Post, for instance, released a browser extension that fact-checks tweets by the president in near real-time.

Other outlets have resisted labeling Trump’s misstatements as lies. Earlier this year, for instance, the Wall Street Journal’s editor-in-chief Gerard Baker insisted that the Wall Street Journal wouldn’t label Trump’s false statements “lies.”

Baker argued that lying requires a “deliberate intention to mislead,” which couldn’t be proven in the case of Trump. Baker’s critics pushed back, raising valid and important points about the duty of the press to report what is true.

As important as discussions about the role of the press as fact-checkers are, in this case Baker’s critics are missing the point. Baker is right. Trump isn’t lying. He’s bullshitting. And that’s an important distinction to make.


Bullshitters, as philosopher Harry Frankfurt wrote in his 1986 essay “On Bullshit,” don’t care whether what they are saying is factually correct or not. Instead, bullshit is characterized by a “lack of connection to a concern with truth [and] indifference to how things really are.” Frankfurt explains that a bullshitter “does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”

In addition to being unconcerned about the truth (which liars do care about, since they are trying to conceal it), Frankfurt suggests that bullshitters don’t really care whether their audience believes what they are saying. Indeed, getting the audience to believe something is false isn’t the goal of bullshitting. Rather, bullshitters say what they do in an effort to change how the audience sees them, “to convey a certain impression” of themselves.

In Trump’s case, much of his rhetoric and speech seems designed to inflate his own grand persona. Hence the tweets about improving the record sales of artists performing at his inauguration and his claims that he “alone can fix” the problems in the country.

Likewise, his inaugural address contained much rhetoric about the “decayed” state of the country and rampant unemployment (a verifiably false statement). Trump then proceeded to claim that he was going to rid the country of these ailments. The image of Trump as a larger-than-life figure who will repair a broken country resonates with his audience, and it doesn’t work without first priming them with notions of widespread “carnage.”

A stinky, slippery slope

There are several problems with Trump adopting the bullshit style of communication.

First, misinformation is notoriously hard to correct once it’s out there, and social media, in particular, has a reputation for spreading factually inaccurate statements and conspiracy theories.

One study, for instance, examined five years of Facebook posts about conspiracy theories. The authors found that people tend to latch onto stories that fit their preexisting narratives about the world and share those stories with their social circle. The result is a “proliferation of biased narratives fomented by unsubstantiated rumors, mistrust, and paranoia.” Another study examined Twitter rumors following the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. These researchers explored how misinformation about the identity of a suspected terrorist abounded on the social media platform. They found that although corrections to the error eventually emerged, they didn’t have the same reach as the original misinformation.

Second, because Trump’s communication style relies heavily on anger, people who are predisposed to his message may become even less critical of potential bunk. Research suggests that when people are angry, they evaluate misinformation in a partisan way, typically accepting the misleading claims that favor their own political party. One study, for instance, primed participants by having them write essays that made them feel angry about a political issue. The authors then presented them with misinformation about the issue that either came from their own party or the opposing party. Participants who felt angry were more likely to believe their party’s misinformation than people who were primed to feel anxious or neutral.

Finally, a communications strategy based on bullshit inherently makes enemies of anyone who would seek to reinstate the truth and expose his statements as bunk. Journalists, scientists, experts and even government officials who disagree with him are subject to charges of ineptitude, partisanship or conspiracy. They’re then threatened with restrictions on funding, access and speech. We’ve already seen this happening with the suggestion that Environmental Protection Agency data may undergo review by political appointees before being made public.

In fairness, Trump may very well believe the things that he’s saying. He was recently quoted as saying “I don’t like to lie.” And people can convince themselves of things that aren’t true.

There’s some evidence, for instance, that he avoided information that Muslims in New Jersey didn’t actually celebrate the terrorist attacks on September 11th, as he claimed. Like all of us, Trump may be putting up psychological defenses to avoid accepting information that challenges his worldviews, as research suggests all of us do. So although he’s corrected frequently by journalists and on social media, it’s a very real possibility that he’s simply shut out anyone or any source of information that threatens his way of seeing things.

But this is of little comfort. Trump has an affinity for speaking mistruths with little consideration for their factual accuracy. Combine this with his relentless efforts to discredit anyone who challenges his declarations and his heavy use of social media – where posts and tweets can go viral with little context and no fact-checking – and it sets the stage for a dangerous turn in American political and civil discourse.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Society & Culture

Florida consumer sentiment continues upward climb

January 31, 2017
Colleen Porter

Consumer sentiment among Floridians in January ticked up another one-half point to 97.8 -- the highest reading since March 2002 -- from December’s record-breaking revised figure of 97.3, according to the latest University of Florida consumer survey.

Florida’s upward trend also tracks the national figures released last week by the University of Michigan, with the national consumer sentiment index at the highest level since February 2004.

Of the five components that make up the Florida index, three increased and two decreased.

Perceptions of one’s personal financial situation now compared with a year ago showed the greatest increase, rising 5.4 points from 82.8 to 88.2. With the exception of those 60 and older, this view is shared by all Floridians.

Opinions as to whether now is a good time to buy a big-ticket household item such as an appliance increased slightly from 101.2 to 102.3. 

“Perceptions of current conditions improved among Floridians in the last month as a result of the positive economic picture that prevailed in the state during the last year,” said Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “Floridians are optimistic about their own finances. The recent surge in the level of confidence comes from perceptions and expectations about Floridians’ individual financial situations.”

Expectations of personal finances a year from now rose 2.5 points, from 103.9 to 106.4. However, views on the future of the national economy were gloomier: Expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next year dropped 3.3 points, from 99.9 to 96.6, while anticipated U.S. economic conditions over the next five years decreased 2.7 points from 98.5 to 95.8.

Economic data in Florida continue to be generally positive. Although the December unemployment rate in Florida remained at 4.9 percent, the number of jobs added last year statewide was 251,400—a 3.1 percent increase compared with a year ago. The industry sector gaining most jobs was leisure and hospitality, followed by education and health services, then professional and business services.

“There is no doubt that the state’s economy is in better shape than it was several years ago,” Sandoval said. “However, both short- and long-run expectations about the national economic situation are pessimistic, particularly over the next year. These negative expectations are shared by most Floridians but are strongest among those with income under $50,000. These expectations may reflect uncertainty associated with the upcoming economic policy changes by the new U.S. administration. The next few months will be key to understanding these changes and assessing their potential impact on the economy.”

Conducted Jan. 1-26, the UF study reflects the responses of 449 individuals who were reached on cellphones, representing a demographic cross section of Florida.

The index used by UF researchers is benchmarked to 1966, which means a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence for that year. The lowest index possible is a 2, the highest is 150.

Details of this month’s survey can be found at http://www.bebr.ufl.edu/csi-data.

Society & Culture

Noted author, speaker to discuss famous 20th century trials

January 31, 2017
Shelby Taylor

Without question, the 20th century produced some of the most intense and highly publicized court battles the U.S. has ever seen, from the McMartin preschool sexual abuse case to the courtroom drama involving O.J. Simpson.

On Friday, the University of Florida Office of the President, the Bob Graham Center for Public Service and the Levin College of Law will present two talks by Cornell University Dean and American Studies Professor Glenn Altschuler, who will draw on his discussion of these and other trials in a just-published book, “Ten Great American Trials: Lessons in Advocacy.”

The book is co-authored by Faust Rossi, a law professor at Cornell.

Altschuler, the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies and dean of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions at Cornell, is a prolific writer who has authored 11 books – as well as thousands of essays, columns and reviews for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, NPR and other outlets.

He is also a noted speaker and a respected mentor and teacher at Cornell, where he was named a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow, Cornell’s most prestigious award for undergraduate teaching.  His survey course about U.S. popular culture is a perennial favorite among undergraduates on the Cornell campus.

“Glenn is a highly knowledgeable and entertaining speaker whose natural eloquence and skills as a storyteller never fail to delight and enthrall audiences,” said UF President Kent Fuchs, who was Altschuler’s colleague during the 12 years Fuchs spent at Cornell. “I’m thrilled he will speak at UF, and I know everyone who attends his talks will find them both engrossing and highly informative.”

At noon Friday, in the College of Law’s Holland Room 180, Altschuler will examine the McMartin sexual abuse case—the longest and most expensive criminal trial in American history.

At 6 p.m. in the Pugh Hall Ocora, Altschuler will present a talk entitled “The Future Belongs to Those Who Tell the Best Stories: Lessons in Trial Advocacy." The talk will draw on four of the 10 trials discussed in the book representing the “most highly publicized, intriguing and legendary court battles of the 20th century,” according to the American Bar Association, the book’s publisher.

Opening remarks for both talks will be made by Fuchs, who will also moderate audience question-and-answer sessions after Altschuler’s formal presentations.

Both talks are free and open to the public and parking is available. The 6 p.m. talk will be streamed live on the Bob Graham Center website at bobgrahamcenter.ufl.edu.

Campus Life