WUSTL news editors picked 11 stories from 2011 — some new, some old — but all worth a second look as we head into 2012.
Topics include tips for paying off holiday debts; why your gift list should not include the Ozark’s endangered collared lizard; and why Waffle House is a model of preparedness for businesses facing severe winter weather.
2011’s best research news stories offer insight on why “being good this year” is the norm for most humans; how social work education is helping adults make mid-life career changes; and how doctors are working to ensure that memories of painful surgeries will not be among those recalled on New Year’s Eve.
The presents are purchased. The feasts have been bought. The tree is trimmed. Now comes the worst part of the holidays — the credit card bill. What’s the best way to pay it off? Pay down the loan with the highest interest rate. But consumers often take a slightly different approach, says a consumer behavior expert at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. Video included.
What can Waffle House teach about disaster preparedness and risk management as we brace for the logistical challenges of extreme winter weather? Plenty, says a supply chain expert at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. Video included.
Many websites and magazine articles offer ideas about how to lose weight over the holidays, but Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, says that people need to realize that weight loss during this time generally isn’t realistic. A little advance planning can ensure that, while people may not actually lose weight, they can keep weight gain in check.
Charitable donations and a general feeling of goodwill may increase during the holiday season, but research in the new book Origins of Altruism and Cooperation, edited by WUSTL professors Robert W. Sussman, PhD, and C. Robert Cloninger, MD, show that humans are by nature cooperative, altruistic and social all year long. The book’s authors argue that humans only revert to violence when stressed, abused, neglected or mentally ill.
The film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help — which has been nominated for numerous awards this month, including the Screen Actors Guild’s best film cast and best female actor — depicts a fictional slice of the 1960s Civil Rights movement. Washington University in St. Louis holds one of the largest archives of civil rights media in the United States, thanks to the Henry Hampton collection and Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965, a six-episode documentary on the American civil rights movement. Video included.
Biologist Alan R. Templeton, PhD, fell in love with the eastern collared lizard that lives in the hot, dry Ozark glades when he was 13. By the time he returned from postgraduate work, 75 percent of the lizard populations had vanished. Over the next 30 years, he reintroduced lizards to a few glades and then sought to establish the disturbance regime that had once sustained them by advocating for the highly controversial process of landscape-scale burning. The cover article in the September issue of Ecology celebrates the success of this prolonged effort. Slideshow included.
Last January, two amateur meteorite hunters dropped by the Washington University in St. Louis office of Randy Korotev, PhD, to show him their latest purchase: a 17-kilogram pallasite meteorite found in 2006 near Conception Junction (population 202) in northwest Missouri. Korotev, an expert in lunar meteorites, identified the stone as a piece of an asteroid. His lab also analyzed crystals within the rock to help identify its body of origin, eventually referring the meteorite hunters to UCLA for analysis of the metal in which the crystals are embedded. Video included.
An international team of scientists, led by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has decoded the DNA of a Sumatran orangutan. With this genome as a reference, the scientists then sequenced the genomes of five additional Sumatran and five Bornean orangutans, they report in the journal Nature. Video included.
Anesthesiology researchers have shown that a device to reduce the risk that patients will recall their surgery does not lower the risk of intraoperative awareness any more than a less expensive method. Unintended intraoperative awareness occurs when a patient becomes aware during surgery and later remembers being in pain or feeling distress during the operation. Video included.
Americans are remaining in the workforce longer and many are changing or advancing their careers well past age 40. The Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis decided to study the experiences of their students who came to get their MSW after the age of 40. The survey focuses on pathways to graduate school, their experience in the classroom as well as the field and their post-MSW careers. Nancy Morrow-Howell, PhD, professor of social work at the Brown School, says that these results can be applied to other graduate programs, particularly in fields that may face labor shortages in the future, such as education, health and social services. Video included.
HBO’s Big Love and TLC’s reality-TV offering Sister Wives have thrust polygamy into popular culture in the United States. Estimates are that somewhere between 50,000-100,000 families in this country are currently risking criminal prosecution by practicing plural marriage. “Putting aside whether you think polygamy is ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ it is important to look at whether U.S. law is up to regulating marital multiplicity,” says Adrienne Davis, JD, an expert on gender relations and the William M. Van Cleve Professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis. She proposes some default rules that might accommodate polygamy, while ensuring against some of its historic and ongoing abuses. Video included.