Monthly Archives: June 2016

How to help the People of Somalia

In the midst of one of the most brutal civil conflicts the world has ever witnessed, the people of Somalia are starving. The worst drought in 60 years has decimated livestock and crops. More than 70 percent of the population is in crisis. More than 30 percent of the children are suffering from acute malnutrition. Those who can are fleeing the country, often walking hundreds of miles across the parched desert into Kenya and Ethiopia.

“To offer some perspective, the Kenyan refugee camps are located more than 50 miles from the Somalian border,” explains Ella Gudwin, vice president of emergency response for AmeriCares, one of the few relief organizations able to mobilize in the devastated region. “What breaks my heart are the not-uncommon stories of people leaving their dying children and elderly parents behind as they push forward in the crushing heat to save the rest of their families.”

In August, AmeriCares landed its first of several emergency aid air shipments to Mogadishu, the war-torn capital. These desperately needed airlifts are supplying nutritional supplements, basic medicines and medical supplies to the health clinics and mobile medical teams that have scrambled to treat the swelling refugee population in and around the capital. Your donation will help keep the food and medicine flowing to those who need them.

AmeriCares is unique in its ability to aid the Somali relief network. Hampered by ground violence, piracy and diplomatic red tape, the vast majority of non-governmental relief organizations have been limited in their efforts to deliver food and supplies. But thanks to a long-cultivated partnership network of established clinics and medical organizations, AmeriCares has been able to sidestep these obstacles and mobilize effectively.

Indeed, for the past three decades, AmeriCares has donated more than $11.5 million in aid to local partner organizations in Somalia, including more than $3 million in medicines, nutritional supplements and vitamins during the last major drought and food crisis in 2008 and 2009.

Follow-up shipments containing additional nutritional supplements, water purification kits and targeted medicines and supplies is already on track to depart within the next month.

Healthy trip advice

You’ve been looking forward to this vacation for months. You started packing weeks ago, spent days mapping out family activities, and arrived at the airport hours before departure. So now that you’re finally en route, why does it feel like you’ll never get there?

According to researchers (as well as frequent business travelers and wanderlusters), your reason for traveling doesn’t matter: The outward journey always seems to take longer than the trek back home.

What’s going on? A recent study from Tilburg University in the Netherlands found this “return trip effect” all boils down to our expectations. Before you head out on that initial voyage (Paris, here we come!), you tend to underestimate the time it will take, says researcher Niels van de Ven, PhD, an assistant professor of social psychology. Chalk it up to pre-trip excitement, but when you lowball your travel time, the journey ends up feeling a whole lot longer.

And it has an effect on the trip home, too. “Based on that feeling, the traveller expects the return journey to be long as well, and this then turns out to be shorter than expected,” van de Ven said in a press release. About 17 to 22 percent shorter, to be precise.

To determine this, the researchers tested a few different “return trip effect” theories. About 350 participants were questioned during a bus trip to a theme park, a bike trip, or while watching a video of someone riding a bike to and from a destination. In all scenarios, it was clear that the phenomenon existed — participants said that the initial trip felt longer than the return trip (even though the trips were of the same time and length). When the researchers dug deeper to understand why, signs pointed to this “violation of expectations.”

This research sheds new light on the phenomenon, which was previously thought to be related to route familiarity — a trip home would feel shorter because the course was better known and more predictable. But in this study, researchers found that the “return trip effect” persisted even when respondents took a different (but equal-length) path home.

Largely Rooted in the Genes

New research indicates that up to half of human intelligence can be explained by genetics, but this involves small contributions by many different genes and not one overarching “smart” gene.

“We found that approximately half of individual differences … in intelligence can be explained by genetics and across a great variety of genes,” said Peter Visscher, co-author of a paper appearing in the Aug. 12 issue of the journal Molecular Psychiatry. “[And] this is likely to be an underestimate because we could only detect variation that is correlated with common DNA markers.”

“There are huge numbers of genetic differences that make a difference to human intelligence,” added study co-author Dr. Ian Deary, a professor of differential psychology at University of Edinburgh in Scotland. “It’s like, along those huge stretches of DNA, there are many thousands of locations where there is a signal saying, ‘some genetic difference near me makes a small contribution to people’s thinking skills’.”

Scientists have known that intelligence (or lack thereof) tends to run in families but it hasn’t been clear how much of a role genetics plays. Nor has any single gene been strongly associated with “brains.”

These authors did a genome-wide analysis on 3,511 unrelated adults which involved scanning data on about 550,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs.

According to the Human Genome Project, SNPs are one-letter changes in a DNA sequence and account for 90 percent of all genetic variations among humans.

After testing participants’ skill on two types of intelligence — knowledge and problem-solving — researchers determined that 40 percent to 50 percent of the variation came from differences in genetic differences.

“This tells us that both genetic and environmental factors explain individual differences in intelligence, and roughly in equal quantities,” said Visscher, who is a professor of statistical genetics at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane, Australia.

Deary is also looking at how people’s intelligence stays the same or varies across the life span, from age 11 to 80.

“A lot of the research my team is devoted to is looking for the things that make people’s intelligence age better or worse over their life course and one of those things is genetics,” Deary said. “Genetic differences can be a cause of people’s different malleability in their thinking skills.”

While the research shows genes influence intelligence, genetic influence isn’t always “stable and determined,” Deary cautioned.

That leaves open the question of how much of a role educational opportunities and other environmental factors, such as parenting and teachers, may play in achievement, both in school and in life.