Sunday, August 27, 2023

Social media algorithms warp how people learn from each other, research shows

Social media pushes evolutionary buttons. AP Photo/Manish Swarup
William Brady, Northwestern University

People’s daily interactions with online algorithms affect how they learn from others, with negative consequences including social misperceptions, conflict and the spread of misinformation, my colleagues and I have found.

People are increasingly interacting with others in social media environments where algorithms control the flow of social information they see. Algorithms determine in part which messages, which people and which ideas social media users see.

On social media platforms, algorithms are mainly designed to amplify information that sustains engagement, meaning they keep people clicking on content and coming back to the platforms. I’m a social psychologist, and my colleagues and I have found evidence suggesting that a side effect of this design is that algorithms amplify information people are strongly biased to learn from. We call this information “PRIME,” for prestigious, in-group, moral and emotional information.

In our evolutionary past, biases to learn from PRIME information were very advantageous: Learning from prestigious individuals is efficient because these people are successful and their behavior can be copied. Paying attention to people who violate moral norms is important because sanctioning them helps the community maintain cooperation.

But what happens when PRIME information becomes amplified by algorithms and some people exploit algorithm amplification to promote themselves? Prestige becomes a poor signal of success because people can fake prestige on social media. Newsfeeds become oversaturated with negative and moral information so that there is conflict rather than cooperation.

The interaction of human psychology and algorithm amplification leads to dysfunction because social learning supports cooperation and problem-solving, but social media algorithms are designed to increase engagement. We call this mismatch functional misalignment.

Why it matters

One of the key outcomes of functional misalignment in algorithm-mediated social learning is that people start to form incorrect perceptions of their social world. For example, recent research suggests that when algorithms selectively amplify more extreme political views, people begin to think that their political in-group and out-group are more sharply divided than they really are. Such “false polarization” might be an important source of greater political conflict.

Social media algorithms amplify extreme political views.

Functional misalignment can also lead to greater spread of misinformation. A recent study suggests that people who are spreading political misinformation leverage moral and emotional information – for example, posts that provoke moral outrage – in order to get people to share it more. When algorithms amplify moral and emotional information, misinformation gets included in the amplification.

What other research is being done

In general, research on this topic is in its infancy, but there are new studies emerging that examine key components of algorithm-mediated social learning. Some studies have demonstrated that social media algorithms clearly amplify PRIME information.

Whether this amplification leads to offline polarization is hotly contested at the moment. A recent experiment found evidence that Meta’s newsfeed increases polarization, but another experiment that involved a collaboration with Meta found no evidence of polarization increasing due to exposure to their algorithmic Facebook newsfeed.

More research is needed to fully understand the outcomes that emerge when humans and algorithms interact in feedback loops of social learning. Social media companies have most of the needed data, and I believe that they should give academic researchers access to it while also balancing ethical concerns such as privacy.

What’s next

A key question is what can be done to make algorithms foster accurate human social learning rather than exploit social learning biases. My research team is working on new algorithm designs that increase engagement while also penalizing PRIME information. We argue that this might maintain user activity that social media platforms seek, but also make people’s social perceptions more accurate.

The Research Brief is a short take on interesting academic work.

William Brady, Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations, Northwestern University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

India’s Chandrayaan-3 landed on the south pole of the Moon − a space policy expert explains what this means for India and the global race to the Moon

India’s Chandrayaan-3 lander successfully touched down on the south pole of the Moon on Aug. 23, 2023, sparking celebrations across the country. AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi
Mariel Borowitz, Georgia Institute of Technology

India made history as the first country to land near the south pole of the Moon with its Chandrayaan-3 lander on Aug. 23, 2023. This also makes it the first country to land on the Moon since China in 2020.

India is one of several countries — including the U.S. with its Artemis program — endeavoring to land on the Moon. The south pole of the Moon is of particular interest, as its surface, marked by craters, trenches and pockets of ancient ice, hasn’t been visited until now.

The Conversation U.S. asked international affairs expert Mariel Borowitz about this Moon landing’s implications for both science and the global community.

People all across India watched the broadcast of the landing.

Why are countries like India looking to go to the Moon?

Countries are interested in going to the Moon because it can inspire people, test the limits of human technical capabilities and allow us to discover more about our solar system.

The Moon has a historical and cultural significance that really seems to resonate with people – anyone in the world can look up at the night sky, see the Moon and understand how amazing it is that a spacecraft built by humans is roaming around the surface.

The Moon also presents a unique opportunity to engage in both international cooperation and competition in a peaceful, but highly visible, way.

The fact that so many nations – the United States, Russia, China, India, Israel – and even commercial entities are interested in landing on the Moon means that there are many opportunities to forge new partnerships.

These partnerships can allow nations to do more in space by pooling resources, and they encourage more peaceful cooperation here on Earth by connecting individual researchers and organizations.

There are some people who also believe that exploration of the Moon can provide economic benefits. In the near term, this might include the emergence of startup companies working on space technology and contributing to these missions. India has seen a surge in space startups recently.

Eventually, the Moon may provide economic benefits based on the natural resources that can be found there, such as water, helium-3 and rare Earth elements.

Are we seeing new global interest in space?

Over the last few decades, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of nations involved in space activity. This is very apparent when it comes to satellites that collect imagery or data about the Earth, for example. More than 60 nations have been involved in these types of satellite missions. Now we’re seeing this trend expand to space exploration, and particularly the Moon.

A group of cheering, smiling people hold signs depicting the Chandrayaan-3 lander.
The successful landing prompted celebrations across the country, like this one in Mumbai. AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade

In some ways, the interest in the Moon is driven by similar goals as in the first space race in the 1960s – demonstrating technological capabilities and inspiring young people and the general public. However, this time it’s not just two superpowers competing in a race. Now we have many participants, and while there is still a competitive element, there is also an opportunity for cooperation and forging new international partnerships to explore space.

Also, with all these new actors and the technical advances of the last 60 years, there is the potential to engage in more sustainable exploration. This could include building Moon bases, developing ways to use lunar resources and eventually engaging in economic activities on the Moon based on natural resources or tourism.

How does India’s mission compare with Moon missions in other countries?

India’s accomplishment is the first of its kind and very exciting, but it’s worth noting that it’s one of seven missions currently operating on and around the Moon.

Young people sitting on a rug in a classroom hold flags and signs reading
Students in India prayed for the safe landing of Chandrayaan-3 on Wednesday. AP Photo/Ajit Solanki

In addition to India’s Chandrayaan-3 rover near the south pole, there is also South Korea’s Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, which is studying the Moon’s surface to identify future landing sites; the NASA-funded CAPSTONE spacecraft, which was developed by a space startup company; and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The CAPSTONE craft is studying the stability of a unique orbit around the Moon, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is collecting data about the Moon and mapping sites for future missions.

Also, while India’s Chandrayaan-2 rover crashed, the accompanying orbiter is still operational. China’s Chang’e-4 and Chang’e-5 landers are still operating on the Moon as well.

Other nations and commercial entities are working to join in. Russia’s Luna-25 mission crashed into the Moon three days before the Chandrayaan-3 landed, but the fact that Russia developed the rover and got so close is still a significant achievement.

The same could be said for the lunar lander built by the private Japanese space company ispace. The lander crashed into the Moon in April 2023.

Why choose to explore the south pole of the Moon?

The south pole of the Moon is the area where nations are focused for future exploration. All of NASA’s 13 candidate landing locations for the Artemis program are located near the south pole.

This area offers the greatest potential to find water ice, which could be used to support astronauts and to make rocket fuel. It also has peaks that are in constant or near-constant sunlight, which creates excellent opportunities for generating power to support lunar activities.

Mariel Borowitz, Associate Professor of International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

Trump’s classified-documents indictment does more than allege crimes − it tells a compelling story

The indictment of Donald Trump and an aide was ‘laced with rhetorical and narrative techniques.’ Photo Illustration by Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Derek H. Kiernan-Johnson, University of Colorado Boulder

When special counsel Jack Smith announced the charges he was bringing against former President Donald Trump for retaining government documents, he did something unusual: He invited the public to read the formal legal document, known as an indictment, detailing the allegations.

And many did – concluding not only that the indictment was well-written but engaging.

I study the ethics of using narrative and rhetoric in legal persuasion. I am also a lawyer. I know that nothing required Smith and his team at the Department of Justice to write this way. Although legal scholars have called for a more stringent standard, the law requires only that a federal indictment include a “plain, concise, and definite” outline of the “essential facts” of the case – just enough to help the defense attorney understand what the client faces. Prosecutors could have cleared this hurdle by writing a technocratic document intelligible only to other criminal law insiders.

Instead, they wrote what in legal circles is called a “speaking” indictment. This indictment told a story. And not just any story – one laced with rhetorical and narrative techniques to not just help the public understand the case, but more, to persuade readers that the prosecution is justified.

‘I invite everyone to read it in full,’ said special counsel Jack Smith of the indictment against Trump.

Show, don’t tell

Here are some examples of how the indictment tells a story aimed at persuading readers:

The storage boxes: Trump’s now famous boxes are introduced by, first, the use of selective detail to paint a sentimental scrapbooking scene: We imagine Trump gathering what are described as “newspapers, press clippings, letters, notes, cards, photographs, official documents, and other materials in cardboard boxes.” Yet among this image of keepsakes, notes the next paragraph, were documents about “defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries; United States nuclear programs; [and] potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack.”

Mar-a-Lago: These boxes didn’t remain at the White House; after Trump’s presidency ended, he took them to Mar-a-Lago. Prosecutors could have just referred to Trump’s “Florida residence” or listed a street address. But doing so might not only be boring but also leave readers with their own stock sense of what a “residence” is.

So they brought Mar-a-Lago to life, describing it as an “active social club” with “more than 25 guest rooms, two ballrooms, a spa, [and] a gift store” that, in the relevant period, hosted “150 social events, including weddings, movie premieres, and fundraisers that together drew tens of thousands of guests.” It was into this Gatsbyesque scene that Trump brought his boxes.

True, Mar-a-Lago does have a “storage room” where many boxes were put. But here, too, indictment authors counter readers’ image of what that might mean. This isn’t a room in a quiet basement corner, but rather one in a hallway with “multiple outside entrances,” near high-traffic areas like a “liquor supply closet” and “linen room.” In a moment of almost Shakespearean comedy, the indictment shows Trump employees in this setting chancing upon confidential documents spilled out on the floor. One texts, “I opened the door and found this…” to which the other replies, “Oh no oh no.”

The photos: Readers are not merely told that Trump stored highly sensitive intelligence materials at less-than-secure locations throughout Mar-a-Lago, they are shown photos of boxes on a stage and in a bathroom.

Boxes piled on a stage in a fancy room.
Boxes at former U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., in a photo included by the Justice Department in its indictment of Trump for hoarding government documents. U.S. Department of Justice via Getty Images
Boxes stacked in a bathroom.
In this handout photo provided by the Justice Department, stacks of boxes are stored in a bathroom and shower at former U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla. Photo by U.S. Department of Justice via Getty Images

These images not only keep readers engaged by breaking up the text but also reinforce the Department of Justice’s written allegations. And because viewers assume images to be true without reflection, including this photographic evidence as visual allegations is especially effective.

Plot inferences: As with any nonfiction story, the indictment has gaps. Readers know that phone calls occurred but not what was said. Readers know that actions took place one after another but not that the first caused the second. But through careful arrangement, the authors prime readers to fill in these gaps.

Using Trump’s own words, the indictment encourages readers to imagine him, to hear him, thinking out loud: “I don’t want anybody looking through my boxes … wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here? … isn’t it better if there are no documents?” Then, starting a page later, readers twice see Trump speak to an employee for less than half a minute. They don’t know what’s said, but in both cases the next sentence after each phone call shows that employee moving boxes in, and then out, of the storage room.

Readers could infer what’s going on: Trump ordered that the boxes be moved and did so to conceal their contents. Without even realizing it, readers complete the story, giving content to the phone calls and meaning to the actions that followed them.

Throughout the indictment, writing techniques such as these transport readers through a story portal so that they see Mar-a-Lago, hear Trump barking orders and feel his motivations; the case’s disparate facts cohere into a vivid, engaging story.

‘It’s only one side’

A bare-bones, legalistic indictment would do none of these things. Nonexpert readers would gloss over it. The public would be left with just Trump’s claims about what the case was about. In contrast, Smith’s approach helps the public understand this historic prosecution.

So maybe more prosecutors should write this way.

But not every defendant has Trump’s power or influence. Not every defendant can broadcast a story for an indictment to then counter. Instead, an indictment full of persuasive storytelling techniques might frame the public’s first, and sometimes only, impressions.

Unlike in a Supreme Court case, where both sides get to share their story of what happened and should happen next, at the indictment stage the prosecutor is the only one speaking. If such a case settles before trial through a plea agreement, or if after trial the case isn’t appealed, then the defendant may never have a chance to present a public, written story.

Prosecutors wield incredible power. This includes the power to persuade through storytelling. While admiring the writing of Smith and his team here, readers should also be aware: It’s only one side of the story.

Derek H. Kiernan-Johnson, Teaching Professor of Law, University of Colorado Boulder

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

Understanding 'Warning Strokes': What to expect if you experience stroke symptoms, even if they disappear

Diagnosing a transient ischemic attack (TIA), sometimes called a “warning stroke,” can be challenging because symptoms often disappear within an hour. However, it’s important to seek emergency assessment to help prevent a full-blown stroke.

While a TIA, which is a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain, doesn’t cause permanent damage, nearly 1 in 5 people who have a suspected TIA will have a stroke within three months, according to a scientific statement published in the American Heart Association journal “Stroke.” Additionally, almost half will occur within two days – which is why TIAs are often described as warning strokes.

People with cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and smoking, are at high risk for stroke and TIA. Other conditions that increase risk include peripheral artery disease, atrial fibrillation, obstructive sleep apnea and coronary artery disease. In addition, a person who has had a prior stroke is at high risk for TIA.

TIA symptoms are the same as stroke symptoms, only temporary. They begin suddenly and may have any or all these characteristics:

  • Symptoms begin strong then fade
  • Symptoms typically last less than an hour
  • Facial droop
  • Weakness or numbness on one side of the body
  • Trouble finding the right words or slurred speech
  • Dizziness, vision loss or trouble walking

The F.A.S.T. acronym for stroke symptoms can also be used to identify a TIA: F – face drooping or numbness; A – arm weakness; S – speech difficulty; T – time to call 9-1-1, even if the symptoms go away.

Given the appropriate scan, 2 in 5 people will learn they actually had a stroke rather than a TIA, according to the scientific statement, which highlights the importance of seeking prompt medical attention. Upon arrival to the emergency room, a series of tests may be completed after assessing symptoms and medical history, including a CT scan, MRI and blood tests.

  • CT Scan – a non-contrast scan used to look at the blood vessels in the head and neck to rule out brain bleeding and TIA mimics (conditions that share some signs with TIAs but are due to other medical conditions such as low blood sugar, seizure or migraine). A CT scan may also be used to assess the neck arteries; nearly half of people with TIA symptoms have narrowing of the large arteries leading to the brain.
  • MRI – The preferred way to rule out a brain injury, such as a stroke, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is typically done within 24 hours of symptoms beginning. Because some emergency rooms may not have access to an MRI scanner, patients may be admitted to the hospital or transferred to a center. About 40% of patients who go to the emergency room with TIA symptoms are diagnosed with a stroke based on MRI results.
  • Blood Tests – Blood work will typically be completed to rule out conditions that may cause TIA-like symptoms, such as low blood sugar or infection, and check for cardiovascular risk factors like diabetes and high cholesterol.

Once a TIA is diagnosed, a cardiac checkup should be completed within a week of having a TIA, if not done in the emergency room. Consultation with a neurologist should also be completed within 48 hours (no longer than one week) after experiencing a TIA, as early consultation with a brain specialist is associated with lower death rates after a TIA.

To learn more and find additional resources, visit

American Heart Association

Bring Back Family Bonding This Fall: 3 ways to free up busy schedules to spend time with loved ones

Busy fall schedules often leave little time for the things that matter most – sharing special moments with those you love. This year, as time seems to speed up during another school year, making family bonding a priority in your household can start with a few simple tricks.

Connect with your loved ones this fall while juggling hectic routines with this advice:

Schedule Family Nights
Desiring evenings spent with your nearest and dearest and actually making them happen are two separate things entirely. It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season with days that feel too long and evenings that are often too short. Putting dedicated family nights on the calendar is a good way to avoid last-minute commitments that take away from important bonding time. Incorporate some favorite activities, whether your loved ones are board game enthusiasts or movie buffs, to give everyone something exciting to look forward to.

Make Cooking Together a Family Activity
Making dinner for the family shouldn’t take up valuable time that could be used for quality moments together. Seeking out quick and easy recipes leaves more hours in the day to spend with family members – or you can even make preparing dinner a family activity.

Teaching kids how to make your favorite recipes creates great memories and can maximize time spent together. From making kid-approved lunchbox sliders together to preparing time-saving, weeknight-friendly sliders as a family after school, King’s Hawaiian Rolls and Slider Buns have the power to help unite busy parents and picky kids. Plus, they’re soft and fluffy with the right touch of sweetness, and sliders are customizable, easy, fun and always a crowd pleaser. These Ham and Swiss Sliders or Peanut Butter, Jelly and Banana Sliders offer ways kids can help, from layering meats and cheeses to spreading peanut butter. Everyone can lend a hand in the kitchen while enjoying quality time together.

Encourage Extracurricular Participation
Beyond those special moments at home, there are plenty of ways to connect with your kiddos. Encouraging them to participate in extracurriculars, like sports, band, theater, dance, choir or other activities, provides a great way to enjoy something together as you watch your children branch out and try new things. If they happen to try an activity you used to (or still do) participate in, it’s an easy way to make a unique connection by sharing your own memories, offering helpful tips or even passing down old equipment like sports gear or an instrument.

Find more inspiration for family bonding with delicious meals and snacks by visiting

Ham and Swiss Sliders

Total time: 25 minutes
Servings: 4-6

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 package (12 rolls) King's Hawaiian Original Hawaiian Sweet Rolls
  • 1 pound shaved deli ham
  • 1 pound thinly sliced Swiss cheese
  1. Heat oven to 350 F. Melt butter and set aside.
  2. Cut entire pack of rolls in half horizontally, keeping all top and bottom halves intact.
  3. In 9-by-13-inch pan, place bottom halves of rolls and cover with ham and cheese.
  4. Cover ham and cheese stacks with top halves of rolls. Drizzle butter mixture over tops of rolls.
  5. Bake, uncovered, 15-20 minutes. Separate rolls for serving.

Peanut Butter, Jelly and Banana Sliders

Prep time: 5 minutes
Servings: 4-6

  • 1 package (12 rolls) King's Hawaiian Original Sweet Rolls
  • 4 tablespoons salted peanut butter
  • 4 tablespoons strawberry jam
  • 2 bananas, sliced
  1. Cut entire pack of rolls in half horizontally, keeping all top and bottom halves intact.
  2. Spread peanut butter on bottom halves followed by strawberry jam. Top with banana slices then top halves of rolls.
King’s Hawaiian

Secrets of the Octopus Garden: Moms nest at thermal springs to give their young the best chance for survival

Female pearl octopus nest at the Octopus Garden off California. Credit: © 2019 MBARI
Amanda Kahn, San José State University and Jim Barry, San José State University

Two miles below the ocean surface off Monterey, California, warm water percolates from the seafloor at the base of an underwater mountain. It’s a magical place, especially if you’re an octopus.

In 2018, one of us, Amanda Kahn, was aboard the research vessel E/V Nautilus when scientists discovered the “Octopus Garden.” Thousands of pearl octopuses (Muusoctopus robustus) were curled up into individual balls in lines and clumps. As Nautilus Live streamed the expedition online, the world got to share the excitement of the discovery.

We now know why these amazing creatures gather at this and other underwater warm springs.

Scientists with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute take viewers on a journey to Davidson Seamount in a video narrated by Jim Barry, an author of this article. Credit: © MBARI.

In a new study involving scientists from several fields, we explain why octopuses migrate to the Octopus Garden. It’s both a mating site and a nursery where newborn octopuses develop faster than expected, giving them the best shot at survival in the deep, cold sea.

Life in the Octopus Garden

Female octopuses seek out rocky cracks and crevices where warm water seeps from the rocks. There, they vigilantly guard their broods. Subsisting off their energy reserves alone, these mothers will never eat again. Like most cephalopods, they make the ultimate sacrifice for their offspring and die after their eggs hatch.

The Octopus Garden, at the base of Davidson Seamount about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southwest of Monterey, California, is the largest of a handful of octopus nurseries recently discovered in the Eastern Pacific. Many have been found near hydrothermal springs where warm water seeps from the seafloor.

Map showing Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the location of the Octopus Garden near Davidson Seamount, an inactive volcano off the Central California coast, at a depth of approximately 2 miles (3,200 meters).
The Octopus Garden is about 2 miles deep near Davidson Seamount, an inactive volcano off the Central California coast. It is inside the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Illustration by Madeline Go/MBARI, basemap created via ArcGIS Online, sources: Esri, USGS | Esri, GEBCO, DeLorme, NaturalVue | California State Parks, Esri, HERE, Garmin, SafeGraph, FAO, METI/NASA, USGS, Bureau of Land Management, EPA, NPS

We wanted to know what makes these environments so appealing for nesting octopuses.

To solve this mystery, we assembled geologists, biologists and engineers. Using Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute’s deep-sea robots and sensors, we studied and mapped the Octopus Garden during several visits over three years to examine the links between thermal springs and breeding success for pearl octopuses. We found nearly 6,000 nests in a 6-acre (2.5-hectare) area, suggesting more than 20,000 octopuses occupy this site.

A time-lapse camera that kept watch over a group of nesting mothers for six months opened a window into the dynamic life in the Octopus Garden.

Photo taken underwater shows a female octopus in a depression in the surface with her tentacles around several oblong eggs.
A female pearl octopus brooding her eggs at the Octopus Garden. Credit: © 2020 MBARI

We witnessed male octopuses approaching and mating with females. We cheered for the successful emergence of hatchlings, which looked like translucent miniatures of their parents. And we mourned the deaths of mothers and their broods.

When a nest became empty, it was quickly filled by a different octopus mother. We saw that nothing went to waste at the Octopus Garden. Dead octopesus provided a vital food source for a host of scavengers, like sea anemones and snails.

Warmer water speeds up embryo development

A new generation of octopuses must overcome at least two hurdles before hatching.

First, they must develop from egg to hatchling. They start as opaque, sausage-shaped eggs cemented to the rocks. Over time, tiny black eyes, then eight little arms grow visible through the egg capsule. Second, crucially, they must not succumb to external threats, including predators, injuries and infections. The longer the incubation period, the greater the risk that an embryo might not survive to hatch.

A photo shows dozens of octopuses forming a line and clumps where heat seeps out.
A portion of a photomosaic produced following surveys of the Octopus Garden with MBARI’s remotely operated vehicle Doc Ricketts and the Low-Altitude Survey System sensor suite from the Seafloor Mapping Lab at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, or MBARI. The photo allowed researchers to count nests and estimate the total. Credit: © 2022 MBARI

For octopus species living in warm, shallow waters, brood periods are only days to weeks long. But a very different scenario plays out in the abyss. Near-freezing temperatures dramatically slow metabolic processes in coldblooded animals like octopuses. The longest-known brood period for any animal actually comes from another deep-sea octopus species, Graneledone pacifica, with a mother tending her nest for a remarkable 4½ years. An octopus nursery for this species was recently discovered off the west coast of Canada.

At Davidson Seamount, where ambient water temperatures are 35 degrees Fahrenheit (1.6 degrees Celsius), we would expect pearl octopus embryos to take five to 10 years, or possibly longer, to develop. Such an extended brooding period would be the longest known for any animal, exposing an embryo to exceptional risks.

Instead, temperature and oxygen sensors we were able to slip inside octopus nests documented a much warmer microenvironment around the eggs. On average, the temperature inside octopus nests was about 41 F (5.1 C), considerably warmer than the surrounding waters. We predicted that octopus embryos would develop faster in this warmer water.

A female pearl octopus brooding her eggs at the Octopus Garden.
Each octopus has distinctive markings that scientists quickly learned to identify. Credit: © 2022 MBARI

Distinctive marks and scars helped us identify individual mothers. Over repeat visits we tracked the development of their brood. Although we did expect faster growth in the warm water, we were stunned to find that eggs hatched in less than two years. Nesting in thermal springs clearly gives pearl octopuses a boost.

But nesting in thermal springs is a potentially risky strategy. Once eggs are laid, they’re cemented to the rock. We know little of the thermal tolerance of pearl octopuses or their embryos, but even a short exposure to overly warm waters could be lethal to developing embryos, wiping out any hope of successful reproduction for that mother. Indeed, one of the first recorded deep-sea octopus nurseries may have experienced unpredictable fluid flow.

Nurseries highlight risks to seafloor habitat

The thermal springs at the Octopus Garden are part of a ridge flank hydrothermal system. Here, water percolating beneath the seafloor picks up heat from Earth’s mantle before it’s channeled out from volcanic rock outcrops like Davidson Seamount. These systems have become an emerging focus in seafloor geology, though only a few have been discovered so far.

Unlike hydrothermal vents, which form at ridge crests and belch plumes of hot water that are detectable hundreds of meters above the bottom, thermal springs on ridge flanks are cryptic. These springs seep warm water that dissipates only meters above the bottom, making them exceedingly difficult to find and only visible by a slight shimmer in the water.

Our yearlong recordings from thermal springs at the Octopus Garden demonstrate these may be stable environments, with the potential to release warm fluids for thousands of years. Such stability benefits not only pearl octopus, but also the community of life that thrives alongside the nesting mothers.

A photo shows an octopus using its long arms to move across the seafloor.
A male octopus walks through the Octopus Garden. Credit: © 2019 MBARI

The recent discoveries of octopus nurseries off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, also near hydrothermal springs, suggests these areas may be more common than previously thought. It also highlights that hydrothermal springs may be vital biological hot spots.

The deep sea is the largest living space on Earth, and that expansive size can hide the importance of localized hot spots like these. Davidson Seamount and its Octopus Garden are protected as part of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, but many more biological treasures like thermal springs may be at risk, especially as deep-seabed mining proposes to scrape large understudied swaths of seafloor. We hope the octopus mothers we’ve met at this nursery inspire everyone to rethink stewardship for the yet-undiscovered hidden gems that may be lost.

Amanda Kahn, Assistant Professor of Invertebrate Ecology at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, San José State University and Jim Barry, Marine Ecologist, MBARI, San José State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

Tips for Encouraging Exploration and Learning in the Kitchen

Planning, preparing, serving and cleaning up after mealtimes are skills that can be beneficial to everyone. Yet when it comes to meal prep, many families find it easier to tell children to go play rather than bringing them into the kitchen to help create meals.

“One of the best ways to encourage children to try new foods or simply eat their vegetables is to allow them the opportunity to plan and prepare a meal,” said Emily Hicks, a registered dietitian nutritionist for KinderCare Learning Centers. “Involving children in meal planning, preparation and serving in age-appropriate ways helps give them some autonomy in a world in which they often feel they do not have many choices. This can help reduce stress and food fights at mealtime, creating a more peaceful and enjoyable experience for everyone.”

Meal preparation can also bring certain classroom lessons such as counting and fractions to life as children measure ingredients. It can also be an opportunity for an impromptu science lesson about the parts of plants and animals people eat and the nutritional benefits of healthy foods.

Consider these tips to get kids more involved in mealtimes:

  1. Choose mealtimes when the family is typically together and make preparation a team effort. Allow children to pick out vegetables or other items at the grocery store (or from the fridge, freezer or pantry) to prepare. Alternatively, if you have a few meal options planned for the week, children can help decide what to make on which days. The key is to empower children to make choices, thus helping develop a sense of responsibility and encouraging variety in food choices.
  2. Allow children to help wash produce, stir food in mixing bowls, get tools like cutting boards from the cupboard and more. Children can help peel or chop foods or stir pots or pans with adult guidance. Even younger children can assist by using child-safe utensils to peel or chop food, sprinkle toppings, pour dressings or combine pre-measured meal components.
  3. Children can help place food on the table and serve themselves at young ages. Young children may find it easier to serve themselves by using measuring cups instead of serving utensils. Encourage children to try some of each food on the table but try not to push them to eat anything in particular. Instead, give them time and multiple opportunities to try different foods. If they are able, teach children how to pass food to others at the table and engage in conversation. Sharing at the table can help foster social development and family connections.
  4. After mealtime, children can help clean up and put things away. Even if they can’t reach the sink, children can help clear items from the table. They can also assist with putting dishes in the dishwasher or ferrying clean dishes to an adult to put back in cupboards and drawers. Additionally, they can help wipe up spills and crumbs, and push in chairs, too.

“The benefits of family mealtime go beyond health,” Hicks said. “Involving your children in your mealtime routines can bring food and fun to the table, creating a sense of belonging that will boost the whole family’s well-being. Remember, you don’t have to stick to a routine 100% of the time to be beneficial. Just do your best to keep routines when possible and practice balance.”

For more tips to help incorporate children into meal planning and preparation, visit


Waves of strikes rippling across the US seem big, but the total number of Americans walking off the job remains historically low

Striking members of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union in New York City in 1958. AP Photo
Judith Stepan-Norris, University of California, Irvine and Jasmine Kerrissey, UMass Amherst

More than 323,000 workers – including nurses, actors, screenwriters, hotel cleaners and restaurant servers – walked off their jobs during the first eight months of 2023. Hundreds of thousands of the employees of delivery giant UPS would have gone on strike, too, had they not reached a last-minute agreement. And nearly 150,000 autoworkers may go on a strike of historic proportions in mid-September if the United Autoworkers Union and General Motors, Ford and Stellantis – the company that includes Chrysler – don’t agree on a new contract soon.

This crescendo of labor actions follows a relative lull in U.S. strikes and a decline in union membership that began in the 1970s. Today’s strikes may seem unprecedented, especially if you’re under 50. While this wave constitutes a significant change following decades of unions’ losing ground, it’s far from unprecedented.

We’re sociologists who study the history of U.S. labor movements. In our new book, “Union Booms and Busts,” we explore the reasons for swings in the share of working Americans in unions between 1900 and 2015.

We see the rising number of strikes today as a sign that the balance of power between workers and employers, which has been tilted toward employers for nearly a half-century, is beginning to shift.

Workers at a rally carrying strike signs.
Maryam Rouillard puts her fist in the air on Aug. 8, 2023, while taking part in a one-day strike by Los Angeles municipal workers to protest contract negotiations. Apu Gomes/Getty Images

Millions on strike

The number of U.S. workers who go on strike in a given year varies greatly but generally follows broader trends. After World War II ended, through 1981, between 1 million and 4 million Americans went on strike annually. By 1990, that number had plummeted. In some years, it fell below 100,000.

Workers by that point were clearly on the defensive for several reasons.

One dramatic turning point was the showdown between President Ronald Reagan and the country’s air traffic controllers, which culminated in a 1981 strike by their union – the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization. Like many public workers, air traffic controllers did not have the right to strike, but they called one anyway because of safety concerns and other reasons. Reagan depicted the union as disloyal and ordered that all of PATCO’s striking members be fired. The government turned to supervisors and military controllers as their replacements and decertified the union.

That episode sent a strong message to employers that permanently replacing striking workers in certain situations would be tolerated.

There were also many court rulings and new laws that favored big business over labor rights. These included the passage of so-called right-to-work laws that provide union representation to nonunion members in union workplaces – without requiring the payment of union dues. Many conservative states, like South Dakota and Mississippi, have these laws on the books, along with states with more liberal voters – such as Wisconsin.

As union membership plunged from 34.2% of the labor force in 1945 to around 10% in 2010, workers became less likely to go on strike.

Wages kept up with productivity gains when unions were stronger than they are today. Wages increased 91.3% as productivity grew by 96.7% between 1948 and 1973. That changed once union membership began to tumble. Wages stagnated from 1973 to 2013, rising only 9.2% even as productivity grew by 74.4%.

Prime conditions

In general, strikes grow more common when economic conditions change in ways that empower workers. That’s especially true with the tight labor markets and high inflation seen in the U.S. in recent years.

When there are fewer candidates available for every open job and prices are rising, workers become bolder in their demands for higher wages and benefits.

Political and legal factors can play a role, too.

In the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal enhanced unions’ ability to organize. During World War II, unions agreed to a no-strike pledge – although some workers continued to go on strike.

The number of U.S. workers who went on strike peaked in 1946, a year after the war ended. Conditions were ripe for labor actions at that point for several reasons. The economy was no longer so dedicated to supplying the military, pro-union New Deal legislation was still intact and wartime strike restrictions were lifted.

In contrast, Reagan’s crushing of the PATCO strike gave employers a green light to permanently replace striking workers in situations in which doing that was legal.

Likewise, as we describe in our book, employers can take many steps to discourage strikes. But labor organizers can sometimes overcome management’s resistance with creative strategies.

New economic equations

Between 1983 and 2022, the share of U.S. workers who belonged to unions fell by half, from 20.1% to 10.1%. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t reverse that decline, but it did change the balance of power between employers and workers in other ways.

The “great resignation,” a surge in the number of workers quitting their jobs during the pandemic, now seems to be over, or at least cooling down. The number of unemployed people for every job opening reached 4.9 in April 2020, plummeted to 0.5 in December 2021, and has remained low ever since.

Meanwhile, many workers have become more dissatisfied with their wages. The strikes by teachers that ramped up in 2018 responded to that frustration. U.S. inflation, which soared to 8% in 2022, has eroded workers’ purchasing power while company profits and economic inequality have continued to soar.

Technological breakthroughs that leave workers behind are also contributing to today’s strikes, as they did in other periods.

We’ve studied the role technology played in the printers’ strikes of the 1890s following the introduction of the linotype machine, which reduced the need for skilled workers, and the longshoremen strike of 1971, which was spurred by a drastic workforce reduction brought about by the introduction of shipping containers to transport cargo.

Those are among countless precedents for what’s happening now with actors and screenwriters. Their strikes hinge on the financial implications of streaming in film and television and artificial intelligence in the production of movies and shows.

Working conditions, including health and safety concerns and time off, have also been at the root of many recent strikes.

Health care workers, for example, are going on strike over safe staffing levels. In 2022, rail workers voted to strike over sick days and time off, they but were blocked from walking off the job by a U.S. Senate vote and President Joe Biden’s signature.

Time and again, when the conditions have been right, U.S. workers have gone on strike and won. Sometimes more strikes have followed, in waves that can transform workers’ lives. But it’s too early to know how big this wave will become.

Judith Stepan-Norris, Professor Emerita of Sociology, University of California, Irvine and Jasmine Kerrissey, Associate Professor of Sociology; Director of the Labor Center, UMass Amherst

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

Why have you read ‘The Great Gatsby’ but not Ursula Parrott’s ‘Ex-Wife’?

Writer Ursula Parrott, pictured with her son, Marc, in 1935. ACME Newspapers
Marsha Gordon, North Carolina State University

In 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald published “The Great Gatsby.” Four years later, Ursula Parrott published her first novel, “Ex-Wife.”

I probably read “The Great Gatsby” a dozen times between junior high school and my late 20s. But I had never even heard of Ursula Parrott or her 1929 bestseller until I stumbled across a screenplay adaption of one of Parrott’s short stories.

Fitzgerald, in fact, had been hired to write that screenplay. Even though “Infidelity” was never produced because it was deemed too risqué by Hollywood’s Production Code Administration, its very existence piqued my curiosity.

Why was the most famous author of the Jazz Age hired to adapt a story by a totally unknown writer? And who on earth was Ursula Parrott?

I acquired a used copy of “Ex-Wife” on eBay and soon realized that Ursula Parrott was not unknown; she was just forgotten.

In April 2023, I published a biography of Parrott. Since then, I’ve continued to try to understand just how and why she and her writing drifted into obscurity – how “The Great Gatsby” is required reading but few have heard of “Ex-Wife” or its author.

Greeted by mixed reviews

Both “Ex-Wife” and “The Great Gatsby” are modern novels of love and loss, money and (mostly bad) manners. They’re set in New York and saturated with the energy, language and spirit of the time. Both garnered mixed reviews, deemed by many critics as entertaining and of the moment but not great literature.

At first, “Ex-Wife” was far more successful than “Gatsby,” blasting through a dozen printings and selling over 100,000 copies. It was translated into multiple languages and reprinted in paperback editions through the late 1940s.

Meanwhile, “The Great Gatsby” went through a mere two printings totaling less than 24,000 copies, not all of which sold. By the time Fitzgerald died in 1940, the novel had essentially been forgotten.

“Ex-Wife” centers on a 24-year-old woman named Patricia whose husband is divorcing her. Supporting herself with a job in department store advertising, she learns to navigate life in Manhattan as a divorcée.

Whereas “The Great Gatsby” is largely a suburban novel with trips into the city, “Ex-Wife” is fully immersed in Manhattan, especially Greenwich Village, where Parrott herself lived after she married her first husband. The novel’s characters drink Clover Clubs, Alexanders, brandy flips and Manhattans while frequenting the Brevoort, the Waldorf, Delano’s and Dante’s.

“Ex-Wife” revels in the rhythms of the city: One chapter even includes musical bars from George Gershwin’s hit “Rhapsody in Blue” sprinkled between paragraphs.

Musical notes appear on a page underneath dialogue.
Chapter 12 of ‘Ex-Wife’ features bars from ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’ Marsha Gordon, CC BY-SA

But “Ex-Wife” is not all martinis and music. Parrott uses it to address, in unsparing directness, the challenges that women faced and the limited paths available to them. This alone sets it apart from the male protagonists of “The Great Gatsby” and the novel’s scant attention to the experiences of its female characters.

Parrott’s witty and biting novel was, in fact, concerned first and foremost with a generation of young women who had abandoned Victorian sensibilities: They got educations and jobs, drank, had premarital and extramarital sex, and cast aside pretensions of being the fairer, gentler sex.

But in shedding these mores, they also sacrificed protections. Patricia reflects on how men of their generation used women’s self-sufficiency and independence as an excuse to leave them to fend for themselves: “Freedom for women turned out to be God’s greatest gift to men.”

Book cover featuring drawing of a young, forlorn woman.
‘Ex-Wife’ sold four times as many copies as ‘The Great Gatsby’ in the 1920s and 1930s. Screen Splits

“Ex-Wife” depicts a culture in which women often suffer at the hands of men. At one point, Patricia is brutally raped. In another scene, her husband throws her through a glass window during a fight, a moment as harrowing for its rendering of domestic violence as it is for Pat’s nonchalant reaction to it. In one of the book’s most moving episodes, Pat is compelled to procure a risky abortion at her soon-to-be ex-husband’s insistence but at her financial, physical and psychological cost.

“One survives almost everything,” Patricia unhappily realizes.

She survives, however, thanks only to a streetwise female friend and mentor, her own ability to earn a living, practiced if not heartfelt flippancy, the numbing effects of alcohol and an acceptance that everything in her life is both transient and precarious.

Art imitates life

Ursula Parrott had a keen understanding of gender inequality and male privilege: Her own publisher made passes at her, her banker once proposed sexual favors in lieu of interest payments, and she experienced a rape not unlike the one she depicted in “Ex-Wife.”

Black and white photograph of woman sitting on balcony smiling and using a typewriter.
Ursula Parrott in California in 1931, two years after the publication of ‘Ex-Wife.’ AP Photos

Before she became a novelist, Parrott, who earned a degree in English from Radcliffe, had desperately wanted a career in journalism. However, she was barred from employment at all New York newspapers because her ex-husband, reporter Lindesay Parrott, marked his professional territory by warning the city’s editors – all male, of course – not to hire her.

There is a similar form of male chauvinism at work in the way that Parrott’s writing was often treated by critics during her lifetime. Many described her books and short stories as romantic or melodramatic, fit only for consumption by women.

“Melodramatic,” Parrott once smartly observed in a letter, is “just a word men use to describe any agony that might otherwise make them feel uncomfortable.”

Gatsby’s boosters

I am convinced that “Ex-Wife” deserves a place alongside Fitzgerald’s novel in classrooms and in the hands of a new generation of readers based on the merits of its style and contents.

But more importantly, I’m convinced that the reason Fitzgerald’s novel is so ingrained in American life and letters has little to do with its originality, craft or quality and everything to do with the way books were marketed and promoted over the arc of the 20th century.

“The Great Gatsby” owes its resuscitation from obscurity in the 1940s to the efforts of prominent male critics and scholars – and even to the American military.

Fitzgerald had important friends and admirers, among them the esteemed literary critic Edmund Wilson, who was instrumental in the republication of “Gatsby” in 1941. Thanks to Wilson’s efforts, Fitzgerald’s novel could be taken up by other well-regarded and influential scholars like Lionel Trilling, who wrote admiringly about Fitzgerald in The Nation in 1945, and Malcolm Cowley, who edited collections of Fitzgerald’s short stories and celebrated his literary gifts.

Seated man in suit holding a cigarette and looking out a window.
Critics like Lionel Trilling rescued ‘The Great Gatsby’ from obscurity. Bettmann/Getty Images

After Trilling, a parade of writers took up Gatsby’s cause, praising it for precisely the same traits that might also have been found in “Ex-Wife,” had anyone bothered to look: its use of contemporary language, its critique of hedonistic behavior, its rich attention to period detail and its depressing portrayal of aimless, unmoored characters trying and failing to find meaning in modern America.

Consider just one instance of differential legacy-tending: during World War II, the American military provided over 150,000 free copies of “The Great Gatsby” to American soldiers – ensuring a readership that well exceeded the number of people who had, to date, actually bought the book.

But when the Victory Book Campaign started its drive to collect novels for overseas servicemen, it explicitly warned potential donors to desist from handing over any “women’s love stories,” specifically naming Ursula Parrott among the authors whose books they would not be putting in soldiers’ hands.

Making the case for ‘Ex-Wife’

There are, of course, many other factors at play here. There’s the tendency to romanticize the tragic lives of male authors who drink heavily, spend recklessly and make bad decisions – departments in which Fitzgerald and Parrott seem pretty equally matched.

Newspaper clipping suggesting authors to avoid when sending troops books.
Book donors were discouraged from sending ‘women’s love stories’ to troops during World War II. Moberly, Missouri Monitor

There’s also what can only be described as a collective refusal to categorize “The Great Gatsby” as a romance novel, a category that has historically been used to diminish women’s writing.

“The Great Gatsby”‘s ascension from obscurity to ubiquity is only one example of how Parrott’s book was passed over. “Ex-Wife” and William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” were marketed alongside each other by publishers Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith. Faulkner biographer Carl Rollyson observes that Faulkner’s book sold “less than a tenth” as many copies as Parrott’s. But Faulkner amassed critical praise in the right places, and Parrott, Rollyson concludes, “did not manage herself or her work the way writers like Faulkner did.”

But this is not merely a question of self-management. It is true that Parrott did not publish during the last, difficult decade of her life. After a series of public scandals, missed deadlines, ongoing battles with alcohol and financial missteps, she tried to write herself back into literary society, to no avail.

The real difference, in my view, is that Parrott had nobody to tend to her legacy – no Trilling or Wilson or Cowley in her corner to bring her writings back into circulation or make a case for her genius or her novel’s importance.

However, there is no reason to believe that the erasure of “Ex-Wife” from cultural memory is a fait accompli, or that “The Great Gatsby” will always be the go-to Jazz Age novel. Writer Glenway Wescott, in his February 1941 tribute to Fitzgerald, wrote of “The Great Gatsby”: “A masterpiece often seems a period-piece for a while; then comes down out of the attic, to function anew and to last.”

Consider this article a “better late than never” effort to make the case that “Ex-Wife” deserves to come out of the attic of America’s lost literary past to be read, discussed and taught as one of the important American novels of the 1920s.

After McNally Editions republished “Ex-Wife” in May 2023, reviewers remarked on the “freshness of its prose” and the “remarkable erotic freedom” it depicted, as The New York Times review put it; The Baffler described Parrott’s writing as “deftly crafted, wryly observed, and thoroughly unsettling.”

“The Great Gatsby” is a fantastic period piece. But “Ex-Wife” manages to be both that and to remain timely. Women’s lives and bodies continue to be subject to all manner of scrutiny, critique and legislation, which means that many of the things that Parrott wrote about in “Ex-Wife” – the double standard, women in the workplace, work-life balance, rape and even abortion – remain astonishingly relevant today.

In “Ex-Wife” – and in many of her 19 other books and over 100 stories – Parrott wrote from what amounts to Daisy Buchanan’s point of view rather than Nick Carraway’s, to use “The Great Gatsby” again as a reference point.

Imagine what a different story “Gatsby” would have been had the reader seen the world through Daisy’s eyes?

Or don’t imagine. Rather, give “Ex-Wife” a read.

Marsha Gordon, Professor of Film Studies, North Carolina State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.