The serious fallout from information compression

It’s tempting to think that consumer ratings of the next item you buy online are a healthy guide to finding the best product, but the reality is different. The clustering of items rated 4.5 stars out of five may suggest a constellation of safer choices, but it is a false beacon, and has ramifications in an era when people increasingly make decisions from online information. A team of leading researchers in information systems and marketing has produced a theory about this phenomenon and discovered that, while the fallout of this for shoppers may just be a purchase that doesn’t work, the costs can be much more severe when ratings are applied elsewhere. What they’re proposing challenges some of the fundamental thinking among their peers.

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Should pre-anaesthesia consultations be done telephonically?

It’s tempting to think that a patient undergoing surgery has little to do to ensure the operation is a success – after all, they’re anaesthetised or sedated – but the reality is that a patient should be an active participant in the procedure. Whereas the focus may be on the surgeon during the operation, the most significant responsibility in ensuring the patient is best prepared for their role usually falls on the anaesthesiologist. One Austrian anaesthesiologist and critical care physician is drawing attention to an increasingly important part of patient preparation.

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FAME – the green revolution of conventional biodiesel

The global shift away from petrochemical production towards bio-based solutions has given a boost to conventional biodiesel producers. However, they’re facing a challenger ‘from the inside’ – renewable biodiesel. Undaunted, a team of chemists and engineers from Airable Research Lab in the USA, led by Dr Dylan Karis, has revealed that conventional biodiesel – or fatty acid methyl ester (FAME) – has remarkable properties. In a leap forward for green chemistry, the researchers found that FAME makes an excellent substitute for petrochemicals in a raft of applications beyond fuel.

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What’s driving the rise in dietary wheat sensitivity?

There are few components of the human lifestyle more susceptible to the vagaries of fashion than diet and nutrition. Popular media tout the latest ‘research’ suggesting what is healthy, and self-styled healthy-eating gurus promote their latest diets, usually at the expense of some or other ‘enemy’ of the human gut. Gluten is a current whipping boy, and the rise in numbers embarking on gluten-free diets is buoyed by claims that modern wheat variants are particularly villainous. Two specialists in cereals science have investigated what could be to blame for the increasing prevalence of dietary sensitivity to wheat.

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Taming the oil price

For the foreseeable future, the world will need oil, but its price volatility makes buying and selling it a challenge for producers and the myriad manufacturers who need it. For brokers who sit in the middle of such transactions, finding the optimal price and the number of clients to spread their risk is one of their biggest challenges. Belleh Fontem, a senior researcher in operations and information systems at the University of Massachusetts, USA, has designed a mathematical programme that embraces oil price volatility. The results could have far-reaching consequences.

One of the main benefits of a highly networked global economy is the sheer scale of access to products and services. On the flip side, being so interwoven, that network is at the mercy of impactful events anywhere within it. Witness the effects when the Ever Given, one of the world’s biggest container ships, blocked the

Genome Architecture Theory shakes up cancer research

It’s an inconvenient truth that after 50 years of concerted research and untold billions of dollars in funding every year, a cure for cancer remains elusive. Perhaps the problem sits with the conventional view of cancer. Henry H. Heng, a professor of molecular medicine at the Wayne State School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan, suggests we need to see the bigger picture and even rethink our understanding of evolution. His Genome Architecture Theory is telling and provocative, which is why it’s attracting interest from an unlikely collaborator who sees progress in disruption.

It’s probably true that every person who has lost a loved one to cancer has wondered at some point why there isn’t a cure. It’s a fair point, given the tens of thousands of scientists who have spent endless hours and billions of dollars in cancer research every year for over 50 years.

When children’s storytelling says so much more

We take for granted that our children tell stories. But what if they can’t? Oral storytelling is a bridge to literacy, yet many children do not develop this skill naturally. Research has shown that narrative skill at school entry predicts writing and reading comprehension up to ten years later. Narrative intervention is a form of language therapy and a classroom instructional approach that leverages personally and culturally relevant oral storytelling to promote school success. Drs Trina Spencer and Douglas Petersen in the US have developed ten principles of narrative intervention that can help guide practice.

There are few things more fascinating for a parent of a young child than listening to that child regaling a story in all its wide-eyed wondrousness. However, we underestimate the intricate interplay of cognitive and linguistic capabilities necessary for a child to structure and express a simple story. As such,

Understanding teaching excellence in STEM subjects

STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, maths – are undeniably important if we are to meet the needs of our increasingly globalised world. So knowing what encourages uptake of these subjects to the highest level is of the utmost importance. Good teaching might be an obvious answer, however we don’t fully understand what constitutes ‘teaching excellence’ in STEM subjects. Dr Alfred Thumser, at the University of Surrey, UK, decided to ask bioscience students what they thought. The results were illuminating.

One of the more significant developments in senior secondary and tertiary education over the last thirty years has been the increased importance of teaching STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – to meet the growing impacts of technological developments in an increasingly globalised world. However, for various reasons, the pace of change in the education of these subjects has been such that pedagogic

A simple solution where lives are at stake

A hospital’s emergency department triage unit is a high-pressured work environment where situations are often fluid and poor communication can have serious, tragic consequences. But hospitals, like any other extensive work system, demand compliance procedures that can be time-consuming and constraining for triage staff. So how can hospitals balance compliance with the realities of novel and evolving scenarios such as those at an emergency department? Professor Thierry Morineau of the University of Southern Brittany in France believes the answer lies in less compliance.

The image of a typical hospital emergency department (ED) – for those who’ve never worked in one or been lucky enough not to end up in one – is probably framed by popular hospital-themed TV series. An ED is an action-packed, seemingly chaotic environment with endless arrivals of ambulances filled with critically injured people, cared for by hurried staff exchanging calls of

Invoking human rights to stop ivory tower bullies

Higher education institutions are not immune to workplace bullying. In fact, research shows that they can be virulent breeding grounds for a particularly pernicious form of bullying – one cloaked in popular perceptions of civility. In higher education, bullying is even delegated to subordinates. However, because workplace bullying inhabits a grey legal area, prosecuting cases is challenging. Dr Leah P Hollis at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ suggests we should re-examine the social position of bullying from the perspective of the foremost authority on such matters: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For those caught in the continual loop of a typical office job, the hallowed halls of higher education may seem a genteel place to work. A life dedicated to learning and instruction carries images of safe spaces of quiet reflection and respectful repartee with peers and students. The reality is different. Academia is highly