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A Little Perspective: Interesting news and notes from around the world

 
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 12:  A New York City police officer stands in Times Square on August 12, 2013 in New York City. The controversial policy employed by the New York Police Department (NYPD) in high crime neighborhoods known as stop and frisk, has been given a severe rebuke by a federal judge on Monday. U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin has appointed an independent monitor to oversee changes to the NYPD's stop and frisk tactic's after finding  that it intentionally discriminates based on race. Both New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 12: A New York City police officer stands in Times Square on August 12, 2013 in New York City. The controversial policy employed by the New York Police Department (NYPD) in high crime neighborhoods known as stop and frisk, has been given a severe rebuke by a federal judge on Monday. U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin has appointed an independent monitor to oversee changes to the NYPD's stop and frisk tactic's after finding that it intentionally discriminates based on race. Both New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Published March 9, 2018

How many times have you taken a selfie, only to hate how you looked? You aren't the only one. It's common problem, and some people are resorting to expensive surgery in hopes of snapping a better picture, according to a recent survey by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

But that might be a big mistake. A new study found that for many, the problem is not in the nose. It's in the distortion of the image created by the way they hold their smartphone cameras.

Selfies don't work like mirrors. Instead, they're completely distorted — especially when it comes to the nose, according to new research published in the medical journal JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery.

"Selfies make your nose look wider and thicker when it really isn't, and people like a smaller nose," Boris Paskhover, a facial plastics and reconstructive surgeon at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and the study's lead author, told CNN. "My fear is that the generation out there now doesn't know. All they know is the selfie."

The researchers looked specifically at selfies taken from 12 inches away — a common distance for someone snapping a selfie without the assistance of a selfie stick. In a selfie taken from that distance, men's noses appear 30 percent wider and women's noses appear 29 percent wider than they actually are. A photo taken from the standard portrait distance of 5 feet, meanwhile, has no discernible distortion.

Paskhover hopes this will give people pause when considering a nose job. The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery survey found that 55 percent of facial plastic surgeons treated patients who "want to look better in selfies" in 2017. And that's a 13 percent increase from 2016.

Travis M. Andrews, Washington Post

Being a tall guy is a great big asset — if you're a tall white guy. If you're a tall black guy, not so much. New research finds that the taller the African-American man, the more threatening he is perceived to be — by a majority-white audience, at least. That finding is at stark variance with a mountain of evidence that we really look up to men of physical stature. Americans tend to see taller men as more competent and intelligent. We're more willing to hire and promote them than we are shorter men, and more likely to elect them to high office. We like them more.

But those feelings largely reflect our perceptions of white men, said Neil Hester, a social psychology graduate student at the University of North Carolina. In about 15 studies that have tested and confirmed our admiration of tall men, virtually all of the people shown to experimental subjects were white guys.

So, along with UNC psychology professor Kurt Gray, Hester tested whether the racial bias that often operates beneath our level of consciousness would change these rules when it comes to evaluating tall black men. Their hypothesis was that it would.

Hester and Gray explored a trove of existing evidence and set up online experiments in which survey-takers evaluated how much they admired or feared a collection of men who varied in height and skin color. Their hypothesis was correct, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

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The new result sheds light on such stunning findings as the one that showed that black men — and scary men — are judged as taller than they really are. Our socialized minds have given us cognitive shortcuts that equate "the other" with danger. And our most primitive instincts recognize large size as a sign of a potential adversary's ability to subjugate us. In other words, when we see someone as an ally, their large size comforts. When we are primed to expect confrontation, large size is a menace.

On an online site for internet denizens willing to participate in experiments, they asked subjects to look at pictures of black men and white men who were positioned to look shorter or taller than they actually were. The subjects (the majority of them white) evaluated the men in the pictures on a number of qualities, and they took a test to gauge whether and how much they considered black people more threatening than white people.

Black men in the pictures were consistently ranked as more threatening than white men. That was especially true when the pictures made them appear taller — the black men were judged to be more menacing while the white men were judged to be more competent.

However, when study subjects did not reveal a fear of black people generally, they were more likely to impute greater competence to taller black men.

Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times

Anyone who's tried to kill a cockroach knows that they have some world-class evasive maneuvers. Cockroaches' agility may owe less to lightning-fast reflexes and fancy footwork than to their tough, shock-absorbent bodies. A new study says American cockroaches can run full-speed into walls because their exoskeletons allow them to recover quickly with hardly any loss in momentum.

"Their bodies are doing the computing, not their brains or complex sensors," said Kaushik Jayaram, a biologist at Harvard University and lead author of the study, which was published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. The findings, further validated by a cockroach-size robot, may influence the design of the next generation of robots that run, jump and fly.

Studies have shown American cockroaches to be among the world's fastest insects, reaching speeds of up to 3.4 mph (or about 50 body lengths per second). They can pivot quickly, scamper across ceilings and disappear into tiny crevices.

But they are also known to frequently collide with obstacles. Jayaram wanted to know whether those collisions counted as missteps or were part of a strategy that favored speed over accuracy. To find out, he and a team of researchers focused on one of the insect's signature moves: the transition from running along a floor to scaling a vertical wall.

Using high-speed videography, the researchers recorded 18 male American cockroaches repeatedly running across an acrylic track with only one climbable wall (other walls were coated with petroleum jelly). When they viewed the tapes in slow motion, the researchers were surprised to discover that 80 percent of the time, the insects were simply crashing headfirst into the wall at top speed before making the transition. Other times, they were angling their head upward and using their legs to slow down before reaching the wall.

It turns out the cautious approach wasn't necessary. The roaches that ran headlong into the wall could make the upward shift just as quickly — in about 75 milliseconds — the researchers found. Apparently, the roaches preferred to run full speed knowing their exoskeleton could take the hit.

If the current study is right, "small robots can be built with simple, robust, smart bodies to safely bump into obstacles instead of using complex and expensive sensing and control systems," he said.

Douglas Quenqua, New York Times

While the American Academy of Pediatrics has called for Congress to enact laws that ensure parents of new babies have access to at least 12 weeks of paid leave to help bond with and care for their children, many physicians in the United States don't themselves have access to the amount of leave their own colleagues recommend. And even if they have it, they don't take it, according to a new paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

A team of physicians and researchers led by Nicholas Riano tracked down the family leave policies at 12 of the top U.S. medical schools and discovered that birth parents are offered 8.6 weeks of leave on average and that non-birth parents — sometimes just including fathers, sometimes non-birth parents in same-sex couples, or families that gain children through adoption or surrogacy — were offered extremely variable leave, from two weeks to a year.

All evidence points to better outcomes when parents are able to take leave, including greater retention of female employees, leading to a more diverse workforce and better health outcomes for babies. "We're doctors — we know data. We like data," said Dr. Christina Mangurian, one of the study's authors. "Let's try to work together and use this data to help ourselves."

Mangurian says that the paper "shines a light" on areas that need improvement and that she fundamentally believes institutions want to improve. All health providers can step up by expanding access to the AAP-recommended 12 weeks paid leave for all parents and by changing the structures within their institutions to allow for more redundancy to accommodate the caregiving responsibilities that affect them just as much as they affect their patients and their families. Ultimately, doctors should be entitled to the same happy, healthy family lives they want for all of us.

Amanda Lenhart, Slate