Science and Journalism in Society

Brandeis University JOUR 130B

Author: maddyr

Flint on the Media

Here’s the story:


For Families in Flint, a Daily Struggle to Avoid Tap Water


And on the media…

NYT Well and Twitter


On instagram


Early last month, Christina Murphy rested her hands on her pregnant belly while watching her children brush their teeth using bottled water. Like many parents in in #Flint, Michigan, Christina spends an inordinate amount of time emptying bottles of water into pots and bowls, where it can be boiled or microwaved for bathing, washing dishes and cooking for her 5 children. “It’s like living in the 1800s,” she told @nytimes. 6 months have passed since families in Flint first learned their water supply was heavily contaminated with lead, and the crisis continues to exact an exhausting daily toll on family life. Local fire stations stock the water, but residents have to pick it up and cart it home every day or every other day. In a 24-hour-period, a family of 4 can easily use up a case of 40 16.9-fluid-ounce water bottles — just for drinking and cooking. @brittanygreeson took this photo of Christina, 35, while on #nytassignment in Flint.

A photo posted by The New York Times (@nytimes) on





And maybe because it wasn’t well covered, someone felt the need to make a carbon copy of the article on a different website…

For Families in Flint, a Daily Struggle to Avoid Tap Water

Loneliness, A Stealthy Contagion

Since you already have your phone out or computer screen up, take a moment and check how many Facebook friends, Twitter and Instagram followers, and whatever other social media connections you have.


Now, how many of those individuals would you consider a close confidant?  After posing this question to in a recent American study, Professor John Cacioppo found that 25% of the participants said they had “no one at all.”


Cacioppo, a Professor at the University of Chicago, has been investigating loneliness pathology and its public health consequences for over two decades.  In the early 1990s Cacioppo introduced the scientific community to a new field, social neuroscience, and has since demonstrated the importance of understanding and analyzing the need for stable bonds within social species, namely the human race.


Seemingly counter-intuitive, Cacioppo has found that “often times, fewer is better” when it comes to the quantity of one’s connections.  Some people have countless networks yet feel lonely because of the increased likelihood that motivations (of material gain, for instance) can impede true connection.


Such large and ultimately fruitless social systems lend themselves to the contagious quality of loneliness.  “I have become lonely for some reason and you are my friend,” Cacioppo illustrates.  “As a suddenly lonely person I am now more likely to deal with you cautiously, defensively, as a potential threat to me [because you might leave and add to my pain].”  Consequently, more negative social reactions will burgeon and rot the relationship, “so that is one less confidant for both of us.”


Cacioppo’s findings have could advocate for public health and policy reform.   The incidence rate of loneliness is high: one in four people regularly feel lonely.  Early death by factors related to chronic loneliness is increased by 20%, the same rate as those fatal factors related to obesity.  Though a direct cause-effect relationship between loneliness and heart disease and cancer can’t be drawn, there are serious health implications including sleep fragmentation and poor immune system function.


What does this research mean in the context of mounting social media use?  Roughly two-thirds (65%) of American adults use social networking sites.  Both the 18-29 and the 30-49 age brackets have seen increases.  The latter group has increased from 8% to 77% social media users since 2005, and compared with a mere 12% in 2005, 90% of young adults are on social media.  What could this mean for the prevalence of loneliness and related health consequences?  Is there a decrease in confidant quality associated with a growth in social media?

Perhaps the use of  “social” as a modifier for media is as ironic as your friend’s Facebook post of a “Forever Alone” meme.



Vitamin Supplements: The Ongoing Debate Between the Yaba-daba Doers and Disbelievers

Despite the hundreds of miles separating us, her voice rang with such clarity in my head that she may as well have been in the same room as me.

“You sound like you’re getting a cold, Madeline.  Take some extra Vitamin C’s and drink plenty of fluids.”

And as I have for the last two decades, I took the extra vitamins–not the awesome Flinstone ones of cushy elementary school days past, but the chewable ones labeled “Adult.”  This isn’t because it’s corroborated medical advice, or because I’m afraid to lie to my mom (if you’re reading this, mom, I would never lie to you).  It’s an engrained behavioral response—I have always followed a daily supplement routine and up the dosage at the tickle of a sore throat or onset of a stuffy nose.

Recently, however, vitamin supplements have been accruing more rants than raves from the scientific community.  The latest medical findings are challenging the alleged immunity boost previously believed to be acquired from taking dietary supplements.

The immune system is comprised of two components, the innate and the acquired response.  The innate response identifies that there is an intrusion, and the acquired response eliminates the foreign bodies.  Charles Bangham, a professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Imperial College London, says that there is no place for vitamins in this equation.  The only way to speed up the process and boost immunity is through vaccination; otherwise, what manufacturers are doing “is implying that if someone on a normal diet takes [vitamins] they will improve immune function, which is plain wrong.”

Tim Ballard, vice-chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, cites “methodological weaknesses” and the inimitable quality of findings in studies that demonstrate the benefit of vitamins.  He says there isn’t much one can do to combat disease “other than a healthy diet and regular light exercise.”

But medical professionals’ opposition to vitamin supplements have yet to influence consumers. In 2014, consumers spent $14.3 billion on all vitamin- and mineral-containing supplements, $5.7 billion of which went into the multivitamin/mineral supplement sector.  According to the National Institutes of Health, more than one-third of all Americans take my mom’s advice.

Is this a problem of miscommunication between the medical realm and the public?  Or is it simply that old habits die hard?  Are advertising companies really good at what they do, or will there always be a cohort that will take their mothers’ advice over the cold embrace of statistics and scientific findings?  Whether you’re a superstitious supplement user or a vitamin virgin, there are still two persistent sides to the debate.



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