The University Network

The News You Missed Over The Weekend

Blame local news for polarization; atmospheric spray as a method to limit global warming; superheroes inspire compassion; new insight to saving reefs.

Loss of local news responsible for political polarization

Local news is struggling to survive, and that has contributed to increased political polarization in the U.S., researchers from Louisiana State University (LSU) find.

With good reason, most of the blame for isolating the political parties has been placed on the rhetoric used by partisan mainstream news outlets.

But it isn’t just what people hear from opinion journalists on Fox News and CNN. It is what they don’t hear by not having access or paying attention to local news.

“It’s easy to put the blame for increasing polarization on partisan national news, and a lot of really good studies have found that the internet and cable news are behind some of that polarization. But we need to look at what’s disappearing, too,” Joshua Darr, an assistant professor at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

The researchers compared the amount of split ticket voters in counties that lost their local newspapers with those in counties that didn’t. They determined a 1.9 percent drop in the amount of split ticket voters in counties that had to rely solely on national news sources — a substantial figure in elections research.

Could atmospheric spray effectively limit global warming?

The idea of spraying sulphites up to 20 kilometers above the earth’s surface to reflect sunlight back into space has been considered as a way to limit global warming. But the cost and possibility of the technique had remained a question, until now.

A new study shows that the method, known as stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI), could work and be relatively cheap, if a purpose-built high-altitude aircraft were built.

“While we don’t make any judgement about the desirability of SAI, we do show that a hypothetical deployment program starting 15 years from now, while both highly uncertain and ambitious, would be technically possible strictly from an engineering perspective,” Gernot Wagner, a research associate from Harvard University’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

“It would also be remarkably inexpensive, at an average of around $2 to 2.5 billion per year over the first 15 years,” he continued.

Currently, however, no aircraft capable of conducting this task at a reasonable price exists. It would take the construction of a completely new plane designed specifically to carry out SAI.

Superheroes inspire compassion in people

The heroic stories of Spiderman, Superman and others, portrayed in comic books and movies, have entertained kids and adults for many years.

But a recent study suggests a favorite superhero can inspire more than just a Halloween costume.

The researchers found that showing people images of superheroes can increase their prosocial intentions and behaviors.

“Heroes come in many shapes and forms. Some are fictional and others are real-life role models. We decided to study the effect of well-known fictional heroes, such as Superman or Spiderman, as people may tend to be more motivated to emulate behaviors where there is little realism,” Jeffrey Green, an associate professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

In the first step of the study, the researchers showed 245 people either an image of a superhero or a common household item. Those who were shown superhero images claimed to be more willing to engage in prosocial behaviors and actions.

Because the first step relied on self-reporting, in the second step, the researchers used a poster on the wall (superhero versus bicycle) as a subtle prime. They invited an additional 123 individuals to help with an experimental, tedious task for no reward. Those primed with the image of Superman were much more likely to help than those who saw the bicycle image.

“These experiments highlight how even the subtle activation of heroic constructs through visual images of superheroes may influence intentions to help as well as actual helping behavior,” Green said in a statement.

Evolutionary finding provides clues to save coral reefs

Corals and their microbes have evolved simultaneously, which provides insight for how to preserve coral reefs, a new study shows.

“Many corals have gone extinct during industrialisation and many others are threatened with extinction,” Rebecca Vega Thurber, a microbiologist from Oregon State University and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

“If we see patterns of evolution between microbiomes and corals, that gives us an idea of which microbes to target: to learn what they do, how they help corals resist climate change and how they help to buffer against nutrient pollution,” she continued.

Coral microbiomes are made up of a complex mixture of dinoflagellates, fungi, bacteria and archaea. Changes in the composition of the microbiomes can severely impact the health of corals.

These findings will encourage researchers to look further in depth at the microbes to understand how they help or hurt the coral, Thurber explained.

Coral reefs are one of the most valuable ecosystems on earth. They hold one-fourth of the world’s fish, and 500 million people worldwide rely on them for food and income.

The preservation of coral reefs is imperative to sustaining the world both environmentally and economically, and these new findings provide much-needed hope.