TIME Research

Gun Fatality Rates Vary Wildly By State, Study Finds

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg with Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y. at a photo op in the Cannon House Office Building with mayors from around the country participating in the 2007 National Summit of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg with Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y. at a photo op in the Cannon House Office Building with mayors from around the country participating in the 2007 National Summit of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Scott J. Ferrell—CQ-Roll Call,Inc./Getty Images

While the national mortality rate stayed level between 2000 and 2010, death rates rose in Massachusetts and Florida and declined in states like California

The rate of death by firearm remained constant in the United States over the 2000s, according to a new study in health journal BMJ — but the situation varied dramatically between states.

Research found that the rates of gun fatalities rose in Massachusetts and Florida between 2000 and 2010 and declined in states like California, North Carolina and Arizona.

“We showed no change in national firearm mortality rates during 2000–2010, but showed distinct state-specific patterns with racial and ethnic variation and by intent,” the study reads.

State gun restrictions appeared to have a varying effect on gun fatality rates, according to the study. California, for instance, has some of the most stringent laws regarding gun ownership and saw a decline in violence. But Massachusetts enacted tough gun laws in 1998, just before the beginning of the study, and still saw an increase in the rate of gun deaths. The study suggests that the increase can be attributed to an influx in firearms from surrounding states.

Looking at the overall numbers over the 11-year period, the chance of dying from a firearm varied dramatically between states, from a death rate of 3 per 100,000 in Hawaii to more than 18 per 100,000 in Louisiana.

The study also found that racial disparities persist across the country. African Americans are twice as likely to die of a gun death than their white counterparts.

TIME psychology

Brains Get a Performance Boost From Believing Effort Trumps Genetics

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PASIEKA—Brand X/Getty Images

David Disalvo is the author of Brain Changer: How Harnessing Your Brain's Power to Adapt Can Change Your Life.

It's all about your state of mind

How much of our intelligence is a genetic gift or the product of hard work is difficult, perhaps impossible, to know for sure. But for our brains to perform their best, new research suggests, it’s better to believe that effort trumps heredity.

Researchers publishing in the journal Biological Psychology wanted to know what happens in the brain when people receive the message that their performance is the result of native intelligence versus the fruits of hard work. Previous studies have found that the latter seems to prompt people to work even harder the next time, while the former has a dampening effect on performance. But it’s unclear what either message triggers in the brain to cause those outcomes.

This time around, two groups of study participants were outfitted with electroencephalogram (EEG) headgear and asked to read two different articles about intelligence. One article conveyed the message that intelligence is solidly genetic; the other that brilliance is born of a challenging environment with very little genetic influence.

The study participants were then told to complete a computer task while their brain activity was recorded.

The EEG results revealed that the group given the article supporting a genetic basis for intelligence showed the highest levels of attention paid to their responses on the task, indicating an especially high concern for performance. But members of this group didn’t recover well from errors, indicating that their elevated attention upfront didn’t translate into consistently applied attention when the going got rough.

In contrast, the group given the article arguing that genetics play a minor role in intelligence showed the highest levels of attention after each error, and their recovery from mistakes became increasingly more efficient as the task went on.

The researchers think that by coloring the participants’ mindsets about intelligence, they changed how their brains responded to challenges. Believing that intelligence is hardwired seemed to elevate a concern for performance, but did nothing to boost actual performance when the task became harder. Believing that intelligence is forged through difficulty, on the other hand, seemed to increase attention paid to mistakes, with the result of improving performance.

The takeaway: How we’re predisposed to think about problems changes the way our brains handle them. Beyond the abilities we’ve inherited, the most important factor in achievement may be believing that it’s within reach.

David Disalvo is the author of Brain Changer: How Harnessing Your Brain’s Power to Adapt Can Change Your Life and the best-selling What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite, which has been published in 10 languages. His work has appeared in Scientific American Mind, Forbes, Psychology Today, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, Salon, Esquire, Mental Floss and other publications.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Infectious Disease

Health Experts Urge Flu Vaccination

Pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable

“We can’t predict what this year’s flu season will be like,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden at a National Foundation for Infectious Diseases press conference Thursday. “But we can predict that the best way to protect yourself against the flu is to get a flu vaccination.”

More than 90 percent of doctors and nurses receive a flu vaccination, experts said. They stressed that pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable and should prioritize taking the vaccine. Flu-related complications can lead to early labor in pregnant women, said Laura Riley, director of labor and delivery at Massachusetts General Hospital.

A lack of understanding of the risks of the and a belief in “scientifically unfounded views” were the most common reasons people decided against taking the vaccine, according to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia infectious disease expert Paul A. Offit.

“The riskiest thing about vaccines is driving to the office to get them,” he said.

Last year 10 million people in the United States caught the flu, causing thousands of deaths. More than 100 children died, 90 percent of whom didn’t take a flu shot.

TIME Research

Quiz: Can You Answer 5th-Grade Science Questions?

Most Americans lack a basic understanding of science

A new survey on scientific literacy from the Center for Accountability in Science found that most respondents failed to correctly answer questions designed for a fifth-grade science class.

“Most Americans are not armed with the basic facts about science,” said Dr. Joseph Perrone, chief science officer at the Center for Accountability in Science, in a statement. “This alarming lack of scientific literacy makes it easier for the public to be duped by the scary headlines and junk science.” You can get the results of the survey here.

Take our quiz to see if you can answer fifth-grade-level science questions.

TIME Research

This Could Be the Most Secure Password Ever

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Gen Nishino—Getty Images

Scientists are using your heart as a security authenticator

In the wake of serious security breaches in the last year, from the pilfering of Target customers’ credit card information to the celebrity iCloud selfie-hack, it’s easy to feel digitally naked. Your current best options—like making your password something along the lines of “**_^XBE47>>” or using two-step verification—also have their shortcomings, which has inspired a crop of enterprising scientists to come up with what must be the oddest, and possibly most secure, password yet: the rhythm of your heart.

A team of Toronto scientists has developed a wristband that can use your own heart rhythm, as measured by electrocardiograms (ECG), as an authenticator for everything from accessing email to unlocking cell phones and other gadgets. In a recent talk at the TEDMED conference in Washington and San Francisco, biometric security engineer Foteini Agrafioti told audiences that because our hearts are so unique—from their size to their orientation in the chest to how they pump our blood—they may be the perfect security “password.” The ECG-authenticating wristband, Nymi, is available for preorder on the company’s website for $79.

“We want to make authentication easy and for it to melt into the background,” says Karl Martin, CEO and founder of Nymi’s parent company Bionym. That’s what sets it apart from, say, Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint authenticator, which requires a person to prove themselves with every transaction, instead of being constantly read.

The company is now working on partnerships with password platforms, payment systems and travel companies with the hopes that this kind of ECG reading might soon be seamlessly adopted.

Biometrics are still not perfect, but the possibilities are vast. In her TEDMED speech, Agrafioti said she believes the future of security lies in the parts of our bodies that are difficult to steal and biologically exclusive. Think lip prints, tongue prints, nose pores, and even the acoustic emissions our ears make. “Don’t be surprised if we have managed to embed tiny microphones into earphones so your music player only unlocks in your own ears,” said Agrafioti.

“You look at the way we prove our identities and it’s archaic. Technology has advanced so much and still if we want to prove who we are, it’s usually with a password or a pin,” says Martin. “A lot of what we are focusing on for the future is not even directly security-related. It’s about hyper-personalization. How can you have a different experience if devices or smart things around you knew who you were and knew your preferences? In smart environments, like a smart home, you shouldn’t have to put in your password on a wall—it should just know it’s you.”

Agrafioti said we need to be willing to think outside the box to keep our information safe: “Passwords are broken because hackers are sophisticated but also because we as humans are just not up to taking ridiculous precautions to maintain our security.”

If their predictions are correct, one day it won’t be “ridiculous” to use your heart rhythms as a password—it will be ridiculous not to.

TIME Research

Bumpy, Shark-Like Surfaces Could Lessen Disease Transmission

Bacteria doesn't stick to the sharky material

A surface that imitates the scaly, bumpy skin of sharks could reduce the transmission of bacteria in hospitals, according to a new study in the journal Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control.

“The [pattern] consistently demonstrated a reduction in microbial attachment, transference, and survival following simulated real-world inoculation methods,” the study said of the micropattern tested, called Sharklet. “When adopted into real-world use, application of the [micropattern] onto high-touch surfaces in hospitals or shared public spaces is expected to limit environmental contamination of infectious microorganisms.”

Bacteria struggles to attach itself to the textured surface of the Sharklet micropattern. The study found that surfaces with the micropattern retained 94% less antibiotic resistant bacteria than an ordinary smooth surface.

In the past, health officials have considered installing copper surfaces, which kills some bacteria. The study found that copper surfaces reduced bacteria by 80%.

In a press release, Ethan Mann, a researcher for the maker of the product, said the micropattern would be manufactured as a part of typical plastic surfaces in hospitals including “environmental surfaces” and “medical devices.”

“Sharklet does not introduce new materials or coatings – it simply alters the shape and texture of existing materials to create surface properties that are unfavorable for bacterial contamination,” he said.

TIME Research

Plastic Chemicals During Pregnancy Linked to 70% Increased Asthma Risk

Silhouette of Pregnancy
Getty Images

You won’t easily find the word “phthalate” on a label, but the group of sticky chemicals that help make plastic flexible (and help make fragrances “stick” to your hair, face, or skin) may have unintended health consequences, finds a new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

A research team from Columbia University followed a group of 300 moms and children in New York’s inner city for several years. Researchers compared the urine tests of the mothers’ during pregnancy—testing for concentrations of phthalates—to whether their children had asthma at ages 5-11.

“Virtually everyone in the U.S. is exposed to phthalates,” says study author Robin Whyatt, professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. So in the absence of a true control, the researchers had to compare women with the lowest levels of exposure to women with the highest.

Children of women with higher levels of two types of phthalates—butylbenzyl phthalate (BBP) and di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP)—in their urine while pregnant had a 72% and 78% increase in the risk of asthma. And every single woman in the cohort had metabolites of both kinds of phthalates in their urine.

MORE: What Is A Phthalate?

Phthalates are everywhere, from school supplies and nail polish to designer denim. They lurk in plastic and home materials, and since they hold scent, they’re extremely popular in all kinds of personal care products. In the study, researchers found a strong association between phthalate concentration and perfume, as well as vinyl flooring. “They’re volatile, so they get into the air,” Whyatt says. “Our data indicates that inhalation is a significant route of exposure.” Fetuses seems to be especially at risk; since their lungs develop so rapidly, they’re more susceptible to environmental exposures, she says. And phthalates are endocrine disruptors, meaning they mess with the body’s natural hormone system, which Whyatt says are key to fetal development.

Studies have linked phthalates to early-onset eczema, hormonal imbalances and respiratory problems.

Eliminating your exposure altogether is impossible, and limiting it is difficult, Whyatt says. But she and her fellow researchers have adopted some phthalate-reducing recommendations, like storing food in glass containers instead of plastic, never microwaving food in plastic, avoiding air fresheners and all scented products (look for ‘fragrance” or “parfum” on the label), buying scent-free laundry detergent and dishwashing soap, and avoiding use of plastic with recycling codes #3 and #7 (you can tell by the number in the triangle).

“We feel we have a real burden, particularly to the women in our cohort,” Whyatt says, some of whom she’s been following for 16 years. But you can only cut down exposure so much. “Because they’re so widespread and in so many different products, addressing this is up to the regulators.”

Illustration by Heather Jones for TIME
TIME Aging

New Insight On Alzheimer’s: What Increases Your Risk

The two seemingly unrelated conditions may be driven by similar unhealthy states, including high blood pressure and diabetes.

The risk factors for the neurodegenerative disease affecting more than 5 million Americans aren’t all in the brain. And a new report from Alzheimer’s Disease International highlights the connection between the disease of the brain and heart disease, says Heather Snyder, PhD, director of medical and scientific operations for the Alzheimer’s Association. In the report, blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking are highlighted as risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, which strike women far more than men. There’s other evidence that obesity and sedentary behavior might play a part.

Many people view Alzheimer’s as a disease over which they have no control. But while factors like age and genetics do contribute to its development, the latest data indicate that other factors, which can be modified, may also be important. For example, hypertension in middle age may increase dementia risk, and mid-to-late-life diabetes is also associated with increased risk for all kinds of dementia. Both can be avoided with changes in lifestyle and, if needed, medications.

“The best evidence right now for lifestyle factors that may reduce risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias is for regular physical activity in combination with social and mental stimulation, and quitting smoking,” said Maria Carrillo, Alzheimer’s Association vice president of medical and scientific relations, in a statement. “Other lifestyle aspects that may contribute to healthy-brain aging are eating a brain-healthy diet, being mentally active, and being socially engaged.”

And more research may likely identify other risk factors as well. “It’s a complex disease,” Snyder says. “It’s the sixth leading cause of death–and the only cause of death [for which] we currently don’t have a way to stop or slow its progression.” Understanding Alzheimer’s connections to conditions like heart disease could be a first step in addressing that gap.

TIME Research

Urine Tests Can Diagnose HPV

A representation of the Papilloma Virus(HPV) based on an electronic microscope magnification At 300000X.
A representation of the human papillomavirus (HPV) BSIP/UIG/Getty Images

They're not here yet, but urine tests could be game changing

Time for some cold hard facts: if you’re sexually active, there’s a very high likelihood that you have HPV, an infection “so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says. While the vast majority of HPV infections go away on their own, specific high-risk strains can cause cervical cancer.

That’s why women get Pap smears, a procedure that tests for cervical cancer among women. Part of the procedure is collecting cells that are then tested for strains of HPV (as well as many other things). It’s not exactly pleasant or popular, and some women avoid them altogether. But there may be an alternative, according to a new meta-analysis published in the BMJ.

The analysis looked at 14 studies suggesting the possibility of diagnosing HPV by identifying HPV DNA sequences. The research showed that urine HPV tests had an overall sensitivity — the proportion of positive results identified — of 87%. Urine tests were also 94% correct in identifying negative tests. Compared with cervical samples collected during a Pap, urine tests had a 73% overall sensitivity in correctly identifying positive high-risk HPV strains 16 and 18 and had a 98% specificity for identifying negative test results.

The results don’t yet offer bottom-line advice; since each study was relatively different, the authors suggest that urine tests may be an option for women who do not partake in consistent cervical screening or who live in countries where self-sampling may be simpler and more cost effective.

Researchers concluded from the studies they analyzed that urine tests for HPV have good accuracy, though more research is needed to confirm how they could be used in clinical settings.

TIME Research

Chin-Powered Energy Is Now Possible, Say Scientists

Can’t you just see the infomercial?

“Darn it, that hearing-aid battery went out again!”

“Never happens to me, Fred. Because I have this.” (Pulls out strap, buckles around top of head and under chin. Pops a stick of gum in mouth. Starts chewing.) “Yep, I have all the power I need, right here.” (Points to chin. Fred looks on with a mix of awe and envy.)

It sounds like an Onion piece but it’s real—and it’s really, really peculiar. A new report in the journal Smart Materials and Structures lays it out: engineers at Montreal’s École de Technologie Supérieure have created a prototype of the energy-generating chin strap and proven that it works in the lab, putting out 18 microwatts of electricity.

“Given that the average power available from chewing is around seven milliwatts, we still have a long way to go before we perfect the performance of the device,” writes study co-author Aidin Delnavaz, in a press release—which is a bit of an understatement, since that would be about a thousandfold increase in performance.

The technology behind the chinstrap power source isn’t new, mind you: it involves piezoelectric materials, which generate electricity simply by being squeezed or flexed. They’ve been used to create energy-producing kneepads (“not that pleasant” to wear, says its inventor) and boots (not that fashionable).

But the chinstrap is evidently the new state of the art. Once the engineers get the kinks out, which could take a few years, it could become commercially available, at which point, said Delnavaz, “the device could substantially decrease the environmental impact of batteries and bring more comfort to users.”

This depends on your definition of “comfort,” though. If you think strapping a contraption around your head every time you sit down to dinner and chewing against resistance is likely to be comfortable, either physically or socially, this item is for you.

 

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