Focus on research: Poll reveals 3 types of Independents

By Michael Berkman

Political conventions focus attention on strong partisans. But not all Americans call themselves Democrats or Republicans, or for that matter Libertarians or Greens. Many prefer to think of themselves as Independents.

With the McCourtney “Mood of the Nation Poll,” we can look at these Independents in a unique way. The poll is a scientific survey that allows ordinary citizens to tell us what is on their minds, without being restricted to a small number of predetermined answers. It also includes standard polling questions such as party identification, allowing us to see who these independents are and what they are thinking about this campaign. The most recent poll posed a series of open-ended questions to a representative sample of 1,000 Americans between June 15-22.

Determining who is an Independent is not straightforward. CNN, in its post-convention survey, reports that “28 percent described themselves as Democrats, 24 percent described themselves as Republicans, and 48 percent described themselves as independents or members of another party.” This is not far from our survey. Our breakdown shows a greater number of Independents (35 percent) than Republicans or Democrats.

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Did smoke kill the Neandertals?

Somewhere along our evolutionary path, humans developed the ability to tolerate smoke — which can be full of toxic chemicals.

This genetic mutation may have given early humans a few advantages for survival, says Gary Perdew, the John T. and Paige S. Smith Professor in Agricultural Sciences. Cooking food on a campfire in a cave or heating a shelter with fire could have been fatal without this adaptation, for instance.

On a recent episode of the Naked Scientists (listen to the excerpt above), Perdew discussed this genetic change, as well as how he and his team found that Neandertals didn’t have similar protection. Perdew suggests that this could be one reason that human civilization flourished and the Neandertals, well… went up in smoke.

You can read the transcript of the interview here and listen to the entire episode here, on the Naked Scientists, University of Cambridge website.

Members of the news media interested in talking to Perdew should contact Matt Swayne at 814-865-5774 or mls29@psu.edu.

Featured image: rahul rekapalli, via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The lessons Rio could have learned from Amazon, Marine Corps

By Robert Novack

What do the Rio Olympics, the United States Marine Corps, and Amazon.com have in common?  All need an efficient and effective infrastructure in order to accomplish their objectives.

This infrastructure includes buildings, transportation, inventory, and all related services needed to sustain and/or serve thousands of “customers” in a timely manner.

Reports coming out of Rio suggest that parts of this infrastructure were not well executed. One report cited the lack of electrical outlets in the living quarters for some of the athletes.

Recent news stories also have cited the lack of sewage treatment capacity, allowing thousands of gallons of raw sewage to pour into the waters used by the athletes. Rio did not develop the pipeline infrastructure to divert the sewage to sewage treatment facilities, despite receiving funds to build them.

These are infrastructure issues. Are these instances an oversight or poor execution? In my opinion, they are both.

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The dangerous allure of performance-enhancing drugs

By Scott Gilbert

Imagine you dedicate your whole life to becoming the best in your chosen sport. You put in the work, make big sacrifices, and finally make the Olympic team. You have a shot at a medal — and all the money, fame, and influence that comes with it.

Then, someone offers you a magic pill with two guarantees — that you won’t get caught and that you’ll win everything. There’s just one catch: you’ll be dead within five years from the pill’s side effects.

Would you take it?

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Don’t run (and don’t laugh): The little-known history of racewalking

By John Affleck

While it was a huge sporting event in the United States in the years after the Civil War and was an early Olympic event, racewalking has been regarded for decades as something of a joke – at least in America. An episode of the sitcom “Malcolm in the Middle” was devoted to poking fun at it. The NCAA doesn’t hold a racewalking championship. Sports broadcaster Bob Costas once compared it to a contest to see who could whisper the loudest.

Still, racewalking is an Olympic event, with three medal events held at every Summer Games – and each of the golds counting just as much as the ones that adorn the neck of Michael Phelps.

Today, the races contested at the Olympics are 20 kilometers for both men and women and a 50-kilometer race just for men. The 20-kilometer men’s race was won on August 12 by China’s Wang Zhen with a time of 1 hour, 19 minutes, 14 seconds – a 6:20 mile pace that would win a fair number of 5-kilometer running races in the United States. The other two events take place August 19.

It may look odd, but racewalking has an interesting past and a controversial present, along with quirky rules that make it unique among track and field events.

Continue reading Don’t run (and don’t laugh): The little-known history of racewalking

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