Saturday, 27 April 2019

Decoding the Sri Lanka Massacre, Why it Happened - What it Means for Future?
By Greg Barton, Deakin University

In the wake of any tragedy, it should be enough to grieve and stand in solidarity with those who mourn. With a massive toll – about 250 dead, according to revised government figures – it feels disrespectful to the people of Sri Lanka to be dissecting what went wrong even as the dead are being buried.

Image by Dhamma Medicine from Pixabay

But the reality is that most, if not all, of these lives need not have been taken. We owe it to them and their loved ones to make sense of what happened and work towards doing all that can be done to ensure it does not happen again.

The Easter attacks represent one of the most lethal and serious terrorist operations since the September 11 attacks in the US, outside of attacks within active conflict zones. And this in a now peaceful country, which for all its history of civil war and ethno-nationalist terrorism in decades past has never had a problem with jihadi radical Islamist terrorism.

A Return To Deadlier, More Coordinated Strikes


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The long-anticipated claim of responsibility for the attacks was made by the Islamic State (IS) on Tuesday night. This could help explain how one local cell based around a single extended family circle of hateful extremists not previously known for terrorism could execute such a massive attack. It was larger even than IS’s previous truck-bomb attacks in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The attacks follow a familiar, if now rarely seen, IS operandi of coordinated suicide bombings. The targeting of Catholic churches, which made little sense initially in the context of the domestic social issues at the heart of the country’s recent civil war, fit an all-too-familiar pattern of IS attacks on Christians, along with fellow Muslims.

The fact that 40 or more Sri Lankans travelled to Syria to fight with IS could help explain how the terror network was able to build vital personal links in the very small community of Sri Lankan Islamist extremists so it could subcontract its attack plans to them. At this point, the precise involvement of returnees from Syria and foreign IS supporters in the bombings remains under investigation.

The Easter weekend attacks more resemble the al-Qaeda attacks of the 2000s than they do recent attacks of IS. Like the 2000 attack of the USS Cole in Yemen, the September attacks in New York and Washington, the 2002 bombings in Bali, the 2003 truck bombs in Istanbul, the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, the 2005 tube and bus bombings in London, the Sri Lanka bombings involved multiple attackers acting in concert. With the exception of September 11, all of these also involved improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The Sri Lanka bombings exceeded all but the September 11 attacks in sophistication and deadliness, despite the fact the perpetrators were previously known only for acts of hateful vandalism.

Over the past decade, al-Qaeda has been unable to carry out significant attacks outside of conflict zones. It has also become increasingly focused on “reputation management” and has tended to avoid indiscriminate mass killings, all the whilst growing its global network of affiliates.

The emergence of IS saw the tempo and scale of terrorist attacks transformed. Most attacks took place in conflict zones (Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, southern Philippines).

A number of significant attacks were conducted well beyond the battlefield. There were at least four such attacks in 2014, 16 in 2015, 22 in 2016, 18 in 2017, and 10 in 2018. The vast majority of these attacks were conducted by lone actors.

Why was it that, outside of conflict zones, not just al-Qaeda but even IS at the height of its powers focused largely on lone-actor attacks?

It is probably not for want of trying. The reason is that most larger, more ambitious plots were tripped-up by intelligence intercepts. This is especially the case in stable democracies, including our neighbours Indonesia and Malaysia.

Why Sri Lanka?


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The other big question is how one of the deadliest terrorist attacks ever was able to be executed in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka was a soft target. Having successfully defeated the Tamil Tiger rebel group a decade ago through military might, Sri Lanka has become complacent. It has not seen a pressing need to develop police and non-military intelligence capacity to counter terrorism.

At the same time, it has struggled with good governance and political stability. Just six months ago, it faced a major constitutional crisis when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked his deputy, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and attempted to replace him with the former prime minister and president Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The attempt failed, but in the stand-off that ensued, Wickremesinghe, and ministers loyal to him, were excluded from intelligence briefings. In particular, they say that they were left unaware of the multiple warnings issued by the Indian intelligence service, RAW, to the authorities in Colombo about the extremist figures who played a key role in the Easter attacks.

Thus, despite several discoveries earlier this year of large amounts of explosives stored in remote rural locations on the island, and multiple warnings from the Indians, including final alerts just hours before Sunday’s attacks, the government and security community were left distracted and caught off-guard.

Between “fighting the last war” and fighting each other, they deluded themselves that there was no imminent terrorist threat.


What Other Countries Are Vulnerable?


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If the massive attacks in Sri Lanka over Easter serve to remind us that IS is very far from being a spent force, the question is where this energetic and well-resourced network will strike next.

For all that it achieved in Sri Lanka, IS is unlikely to be able to build an enduring presence there. So long as the Sri Lankan government and people emerge from this trauma with renewed commitment to unity – and with elections at the end of the year, this is far from certain – the “perfect storm” conditions exploited by IS are unlikely to be repeated.

So where else is IS likely to find opportunity? India and Bangladesh continue to present opportunities, as does much of Central Asia. In our region, it is Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines that we should be most worried about.

Malaysia has emerged stronger and more stable from its swing-back to democracy but continues to be worryingly in denial about the extent to which it is vulnerable to terrorist attacks, downplaying the very good work done over many years by the Special Branch of the Royal National Malaysian Police.  

Thailand and the Philippines remain less politically stable, and rather more brittle than they care too acknowledge. And both tend to delude themselves into thinking that the problems of their southern extremes will never manifest in a terror attack in Bangkok or Manila, respectively.

The people of Sri Lanka have paid far too high price for the lessons of the Easter weekend attacks to be ignored or forgotten.

Greg Barton, Chair in Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University.  This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Monday, 25 March 2019

How Brands Influence Our Consumption Patterns

Imagine yourself in your local supermarket, doing your usual grocery run. In aisle after aisle, countless brands vie for your dollars and attention. Colgate, Crest and Aquafresh toothpaste. Smucker’s, Welch’s and Dickinson’s strawberry jam. Coke, Pepsi and RC Cola soft drinks.




Like most consumers, you probably prefer one over another in dozens of categories that are collectively called consumer packaged goods. This class of goods includes things with a relatively short life cycle such as food, drinks, cosmetics and cleaning products. These items are used and replaced quickly, compared with durable goods like appliances and cars. True product innovations in this realm are rare, and actual distinctions between brands are typically slim. Yet reaching for your go-tos is almost automatic, and economists have long tried to determine why.

It’s especially curious because, as research has repeatedly shown, consumers in blind taste tests routinely fail to pick out their preferred brands. And they will happily purchase name-brand products such as Advil even when identical generic products sit right next to them on the shelf for a fraction of the cost.

People’s brand preferences are deep-seated and long-lasting. It’s not as simple as one brand being most popular across the board, though. Different brands dominate market shares in different geographic regions. In some cases, these market shares have generally been considered to remain stable over remarkably long periods of time, including those of Coca-Cola, Wrigley chewing gum and Gillette razors. Among food and beverage brands, nearly 50 percent of those that were dominant in the US in 1923 were still among the top five in 1997.

Precisely why people form lasting brand attachments to more or less  indistinguishable products is a challenging question, says Stanford marketing professor Bart Bronnenberg. Psychology, geography, childhood experiences and advertising all exert some influences, concluded a 2017 paper in the Annual Review of Economics by Bronnenberg and Jean-Pierre Dubé, a marketing professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. But, they note, finding definitive answers is made harder by the fact that long-term, multi-decade purchasing data for individuals and households are difficult or impossible to obtain.

“We’re just scratching the surface here,” Bronnenberg says. “I think the exact mechanism through which this stickiness comes about is still unknown, but people are researching it, and we have several good answers.”

And while researchers have gained insight into how brand loyalties are formed and persist in the brick-and-mortar marketplace, the shopping landscape is changing rapidly. How consumer buying habits may change — and brand loyalties along with them — in the age of online shopping may pose even trickier questions.

Here are some of the best explanations researchers have for why you reach again and again for Crest, Smucker’s or Tide. And how those habits may change as shopping gets smarter and more connected.


“Consuming” The Brand


Brands were originally used as symbols of quality. They communicated to consumers that this cow was raised by a reputable farmer, that this beer was brewed with untainted water, or that this loaf of bread was free from sawdust and other fillers.

“A century ago, as branding was really emerging, pundits tended to think of the brand as a means to identify the supplier of a commodity,” Dubé says. “But we have subsequently learned that consumers derive other benefits from the brand.”

In a classic study conducted in 1964, hundreds of participants were asked to rate different kinds of beer. With labels on the beers, the participants rated their go-to brand higher than the others. But when the brews were unlabeled, participants showed no preference. In other words, the brand alone made the beer seem to taste better. “It’s as if the brand is a complement to the product itself,” Bronnenberg says. “It adds value, or adds to the enjoyment.”

This added value can extend from psychological effects to physiological ones, too. For instance, in a 2013 study, the antihistamine Claritin proved more effective at relieving symptoms in participants who took the drug and were then shown a Claritin advertisement, versus those who took Claritin and were shown a Zyrtec commercial. Here, Dubé says, is evidence that “buying the brand makes me ‘feel better.’ I literally consume the brand itself.”



The “Cognitive Miser”


In other cases, brand selection may merely be a matter of convenience. When you’re in the grocery store searching for all of the items on your shopping list, the kids are begging for lollipops and you’re trying to plan dinner ideas for the upcoming week, how much mental bandwidth do you have to spare?

People are, as psychologists say, “cognitive misers.” We tend to think and solve problems in the simplest possible ways. To help make choices, we form heuristics, or mental shortcuts.

“In the grocery store, you're making choices for sometimes 40 or 50 categories, each of which have like 40 or 50 alternatives,” Bronnenberg says. “It’s impossible to do this in a timely fashion unless you have these shortcuts like brands.” When it comes to choosing toilet paper or bottled water, the quickest way to make a decision might simply be to buy the brand you recognize, or the one you purchased last time. Here, Dubé says, the brand acts as a beacon, steering you toward things you’ve bought before. 

And one snap decision may well turn into a behavioral pattern. As long as the product doesn’t let you down, that’s probably enough to earn your loyalty. Or, more accurately, you can’t be bothered to not be loyal. “You tried a brand and it worked,” Dubé says. “Why waste time finding something else?”

Home Is Where The Brand Is


Another possibility, raised in a 2009 study by Bronnenberg, Dubé and Sanjay Dhar, is that brand preference can stem from where you live. The team studied which brands dominate market shares in different regions, tracing each brand’s city of origin and the timing of its entry into other markets.

Bronnenberg and colleagues found that the dominant brand in a given region often reflects which brand hit the shelves there first, even if that occurred more than a century ago. In fact, a brand’s market share in its city of origin is approximately 20 percent higher than in a city 2,500 miles away.

And while this advantage erodes with distance from the city of origin, it does so only gradually. For example, Portlanders prefer Folgers coffee, first sold just down the coast in San Francisco in 1872, while Clevelanders prefer Maxwell House, which launched in nearby Nashville in 1892. This pattern held true across dozens of different categories of consumer packaged goods, from ketchup and mustard to bagels and breakfast sausages.

But what about someone who moves from a Maxwell House town to a Folgers town? A follow-up study in 2012, by Bronnenberg, Dubé and Matthew Gentzkow, revealed how brand preferences evolve when people migrate. That work also explored the “stickiness” of these preferences throughout a consumer’s lifetime.

“Moving from LA to New York, for instance, creates a shock on your shopping environment, on your media environment, on what gets a lot of shelf space and what gets a little shelf space,” Bronnenberg says. “And so you quickly change some of your preferences.” About 60 percent of participants’ preferences quickly shifted toward items more popular in their new home. But the other 40 percent of preferences remained consistent with participants’ cities or states of origin, even for people who had moved decades ago. And while that 40 percent erodes over time, Bronnenberg says, it does so “very, very slowly.”

The particular preferences people stand by tend to be very idiosyncratic, Bronnenberg notes. “It’s not that all consumers stick with their coffee preferences but migrate their preferences for sugar or pasta sauce,” he says. “I think it’s that you have some favorite things that you yourself find important, and you stick with those preferences, and others you don’t.” A certain kind of pancake mix may be nearer and dearer to your heart than, say, the kind of syrup you squirt on top of it.


All In The Family


That people can hold onto their original brand preferences for decades illustrates the importance of branding, Bronnenberg says. “If these effects are so sticky, if you could get people to buy your brand early on in their life, that turns out to be quite valuable.”

There is evidence that some brand preferences may develop in early childhood and last into adulthood.

“If you get consumers who haven't consumed yet, their preference is like a blank canvas,” Bronnenberg says. “As a child, the first thing you got exposed to when you didn’t know any of the brands was this brand, and that occupies your mind space about this category.” Did you grow up in a house where Tide was always next to the washing machine, and not Gain? Were your PB&Js made with Welch’s jam and never Smucker’s? If so, you might simply come to associate the whole category — laundry detergent or jam — with the brand you encountered first.

The preferences of parents, too, often have an outsize impact on the preferences of their children, even later in life. One study found a strong correlation between the brand of cars purchased by parents and those purchased by their adult children. While cars are very different than breakfast cereals, this evidence suggests that brand preferences can be inherited, or at least trickle down the family tree.

Hard Learning And Expertise


In some cases, our own brains can get in the way of understanding that there’s no difference in the objective quality between brands.

In 2008, Stijn van Osselaer, a consumer psychologist at Cornell University, documented a phenomenon he calls “blocking.” If you first learn about a brand like Tylenol before learning about its active ingredient, acetaminophen, van Osselaer says, your knowledge of the brand effectively blocks your understanding of the active ingredient. What happens, in short, is that you associate the outcome (no more headache) with the brand (Tylenol), which makes it harder to learn that it’s actually the acetaminophen doing the work.

This difficulty of learning is exacerbated by the fact that consumers rarely perform side-by-side tests of name-brand and generic products, van Osselaer says. Also, many products’ effects are long-term and therefore hard to ascertain, such as the cavity protection touted by toothpaste. As a result, we may have unjustifiably strong feelings in favor of a brand-name item based on emotions or experience, rather than information. And even if you suspect there’s little difference in quality between a name brand and a generic, just a sliver of uncertainty can be enough to convince you to pay the premium.

“Let’s say you think generic acetaminophen is just as good as Tylenol, but you’re not quite 100 percent sure,” van Osselaer says. “You have a throbbing headache, or your baby is crying and feverish. Do you run the risk of trying the generic?”

Probably not. In fact, consumer behavior research has shown that people rarely even go so far as to conduct in-store price comparisons. In a study from 1984, consumer psychologist Wayne Hoyer found that only 8 percent of consumers in a supermarket detergent aisle even looked at a price tag. A mere 3 percent of shoppers looked at more than one. And they pay the price for that. In a 2015 study, Bronnenberg and Dubé analyzed nearly 38,000 stores across more than 100 chains and found that American consumers would save $44 billion per year if they chose the store brand whenever possible.

That same study found that people in health-related occupations are substantially more likely to purchase a generic health-related product than the average consumer. They know it’s no less effective. Likewise, people with food-related jobs are more likely to buy unbranded pantry staples like sugar, salt and flour. Their own experience has shown them that these ingredients work just as well.

“Being an expert allows you to distinguish between true product characteristics and the brand signal,” Bronnenberg says. That expertise, however, doesn’t necessarily cross domains: The pharmacist isn’t any more likely to buy supermarket house-brand flour, and the chef isn’t more likely to buy CVS painkillers.

Advertising Effect


The thrill of advertising is trying to change all that. Through ads, brands can try to persuade consumers to form or change a product preference. Sometimes the target is practical: Ads simply inform potential buyers about the existence, price or location of a product. But some ads go for something more, seeking to layer the product with additional value such as social prestige.

For big purchases like cars or smartphones, where innovation is rapid and status reigns supreme, it’s easy to see the value of advertising to persuade consumers to be loyalists, inform them of new features and tap into their egos. But what about toilet paper or breakfast cereal? Most advertising for these types of consumer packaged goods centers on basic features — it’s soft, for example, or it’s part of a balanced breakfast — that all competitors share. And it’s hard to see Charmin or Special K ever becoming status symbols.

Here, advertising can help resolve consumer uncertainty about product quality, even when objective differences in quality don’t exist. Advertising, Bronnenberg says, can be a way for brands to publicly spend money, which becomes a sort of proxy for product reliability. Consumers, he says, may assume that only “good” brands would have the incentive to incur the costs of advertising. The shortcomings of an inferior brand, in contrast, would be easily discovered, causing consumers to quickly switch to another brand of toilet paper.

“Money-spending through advertising becomes a signal that consumers can use to replace or complement the fact that they really can't in advance tell quality,” Bronnenberg says. “As long as consumers understand that only the good products have an incentive to advertise their brand, then branding works.”


Hello, New World


While much of scholarly research on brand loyalty naturally looks back at the trends that have shaped the first century of consumer interactions with brands, it’s fair to wonder how much of what we know will remain intact over the next 100 years.

Despite their familiarity and deep roots, consumer packaged-goods brands are not immune to the digital reckoning that is upending so many other sectors of the economy. Just look at the millions in venture capital flooding the razor blade industry. And while packaged-goods brands are likely facing the greatest disruption since they started appearing a century ago, online shopping may finally provide the purchasing data that researchers have been looking for.

One of the central problems that researchers have faced is determining why people get attached to such inherently disposable and interchangeable goods. Tracking individual consumers’ buying behaviors for long enough to learn how their attachments are formed or discarded has always been impractical.

In the past, for example, it might have been possible to find household-level data for a couple of years, or at most a decade, Bronnenberg says. But that’s largely a limitation of tracking brick-and-mortar shopping. It’s not hard to imagine the Amazons of the future armed with precise histories of individual buying behaviors over decades — or a lifetime — in an increasingly e-commercialized world.

Will the mechanisms that historically led to brand attachment — whether they’re a product of heuristics, rooted in geography or passed down through families — survive as consumers do more and more of their restocking online rather than in-store? Or when people start deferring painkiller decisions to an AI-enabled health app and outsourcing bottled water replenishment entirely to a smart refrigerator?

A report by Cognizant states that while online sales represent only 5 percent of consumer packaged-goods business today, that could swell to 40 percent by 2025. It’s a shift that could spell doom for national and international brand names, says consumer branding expert Martin Lindstrom.

The next generation of consumers, he predicts, will have a very different relationship with brands.

“If you were among those kids who had Kellogg’s corn flakes on the breakfast table, drank a Coke from time to time, enjoyed your favorite Kit Kat, and, after you got a little older, have always used Tide, don’t expect the next generation to follow you,” Lindstrom wrote in a 2016 post titled “The End of Global Brands.”

He believes that supermarkets will de-emphasize national or international brands in favor of private-label products and regional brands that can’t be found more cheaply on Amazon. “They can’t compete on price and volume — they need to compete on something more emotional,” he says, such as engaging with local communities or connecting with a consumer’s sense of purpose. For instance, with the increased transparency afforded by the Internet, an item’s production methods, carbon footprint and ingredients can all be scrutinized by increasingly environmentally conscious consumers.

“This doesn’t mean that the Coca-Colas of the world will vanish overnight, but we should expect to notice fewer new global brands appearing on store shelves in the future,” Lindstrom predicts. “We’ll notice thousands of highly local, previously unknown, seasonal, topical, customized brands appearing.”

What this all adds up to as the next generation of consumers form their brand preferences in an online world is unclear, for now. But it’s something that should keep another generation of researchers as busy as ever.

Ian Chipman is a writer who explores academic research on topics ranging from political economics and consumer behavior to space exploration and clean-energy policy. This article was originally published on Knowable Magazine

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Documenting India’s Unreported Rape Cases, No Nation For Women
By Payal Mohta, Open Democracy

Priyanka Dubey, an award-winning journalist, spent six years researching and documenting India’s unreported rape cases for her new book, “No Nation For Women – Reporting On Rape From India, The World’s Largest Democracy”.

Released in India in December, the book is out in the UK and US as well, from 8 March, International Women’s Day. It includes eye-opening, investigative reportage from India’s hinterland, where national media, especially English language platforms, rarely set foot.

Image by akiragiulia on Pixabay

I recently spoke to Dubey by Skype, after her return from the serene hills of Uttrakhand in northern India, to her home in the country’s capital of New Delhi. It was the first vacation she had taken since starting work on the book she says “was waiting to be written”.

India is known as one of the world’s most dangerous places for women – with estimates that a woman is raped in the country every fifteen minutes. But while reports of rape increased by 873% between 1971 and 2011, as many as 99% still go unreported.

It’s true that the world knows the story of Jyoti Singh, the physiotherapy student who died after being brutally gang-raped on a New Delhi bus in 2012. Yet few people, including in India, have heard of the children Kavita and Ragini, in the city of Badaun, in the northern Uttar Pradesh state, who were raped, murdered, mutilated in 2014.

In her book Dubey describes with vivid detail how these children were left by their abusers “hanging from the mango tree – slowly swinging in the burning afternoon winds”.

Another case is that of a 17-year-old girl from West Bengal, whose body was found in 2013 by a canal, half-naked and cut with deep blade marks. Dubey recalls in the book how the girl’s mother said it was as if "someone had peeled her skin off like we peel onions at home".

No Nation for Women’s thirteen chapters explore the patriarchal circumstances that have contributed to such extreme levels of sexual violence in the country. But it isn’t these underexplored or brutal details that make this book groundbreaking.

Rather, it’s how Dubey dismantles notions of rape as a singular, common experience. When we spoke, she explained that “rape is multi-layered in India and it manifests itself differently in various social, geographical and cultural situations”.

She insisted: “To generalise rape in any way is to take the discourse backward”.

Dubey’s book documents ‘corrective rapes’ in the Bundelkhand region; girls burnt alive in the northern Madhya Pradesh state for resisting the advances of neighborhood men; ‘political rapes’ in the Tripura state, on the border with Bangladesh.

In West Bengal, “as women are being more educated and achieving an elevated standard of life, organised crimes against them is increasing”. Dubey describes this violence as a reflection of the desire to “put a woman in her place”.

Her reporting stands in stark contrast with that of India’s mainstream media, whose overage of rape often lacks context and seems to have desensitised people towards it.

Unlike this coverage, Dubey also pays needed attention to relationships between rape and India’s caste system, a 3,000-year-old hierarchical social system of Hinduism which divided communities into castes and their sub-castes, according to their professions.

The lower you were in this caste system, the more likely you were to be poor. Although India banned caste-based discrimination in 1950 soon after its independence from the UK, it remains significant, particularly in rural areas.

“In my experience of reporting, if you are lower caste woman in rural India, you are more likely to be raped”, Dubey told me, powerfully describing how “women’s bodies are used as a battleground to establish caste supremacy”.

One of the cases in her book is that of four underage Dalit girls, from the lowest category in the caste system, who were abducted in 2014 just 500 meters from their home in Bhagana, in the northern Haryana state, and gang-raped by upper caste ‘Jat’ men.

One of the rape survivors’ mother told Dubey that they came from a community of landless farmers on Jat fields, and “of course, the Jat owner thinks he has every right over the daughters and wives of his Dalit bonded labourer”.

“There have been many cases”, the woman continued, “when Jats enter the homes of Dalits on any given night and ask the man to step out, giving him such a task as watering the fields. Then they sleep with their women”.

“Women’s bodies are used as a battleground to establish caste supremacy”

The question for justice for victims and survivors of sexual violence is another point where India’s mainstream media usually loses interest.

While India established fast-track courts exclusively for such cases after the 2012 Delhi bus gang rape, it still had 133,000 cases pending last year.

Here, Dubey shows how caste-based privilege has enabled perpetrators to derail police investigations, describing a common strategy as trying “to make cases against them inconclusive so they can either get acquitted or drag on the case for decades”.

She looks at how police, doctors and even magistrates have refused to register rape cases; manipulated witnesses into being ‘hostile’ towards survivors; tampered with forensic evidence; and threatened women into withdrawing their cases.

The result is a total breakdown of law and order and “the death of justice”, Dubey writes, “the final defeat of democracy, the constitution and the kindness of the human spirit”.

Image by Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay

On top of the violence itself and the denial of justice, stigma looms large over survivors. The mother of a three-year-old girl who was raped in East Delhi confided in Dubey that neighbours branded the girl as ‘greedy’ because her rapists had lured her with sweets.

For every reported rape case, says No Nation For Women, dozens of others go unreported because of fear and shame. “Rape is the only crime in India for which the victim is blamed”, Dubey writes. “Everyone – right from the family, friends, to the police – views the victim with doubt. Her testimony is dismissed… [with] random questions on her character”.

“Rape is the only crime in India for which the victim is blamed”

The book paints a picture so bleak that hope for marginalised women in India seems like a distant and even ridiculous dream. Yet, it is this very darkness that is its strength.

Dubey has ditched the noise surrounding women’s empowerment and gender sensitivity in elite India. Instead, she has brought attention to the “parallel universe” of gruesome crime and injustice that has gone callously unacknowledged by the country.

How? By analysing heaps of legal paperwork, police files and post-mortem reports. Most importantly, Dubey listened to rape survivors and their families, for hours on end, to record the entirety of their truths, dreams, ambitions, loves and harrowing losses.

With the exception of the feminist writer and publisher Urvashi Bhutalia’s work, documenting violence against women during the Partition, Dubey said she “couldn’t find any long-form non-fiction on ground reportage of rape in India”.

She called her book one that “was waiting to be written. And I really wanted to write it”. Though doing so wasn’t easy, and it took a significant toll on Dubey.

She couldn’t always foresee danger when reporting from deeply patriarchal areas, for instance. In the very first chapter of her book, Dubey discloses that she was groped in the night by a group of men on a train when traveling for a story.

Working on this book was also “a soul-bruising experience”, she told me, recalling how she’d listen to tapes of survivors’ testimonies over and over again. “You don’t understand all the wounds those stories leave on you. You can never fully recover”.

A frugal lifestyle to self-finance the reporting in her book also impacte Dubey’s health. She struggled to make time for friends in her personal life while her family, in her conservative hometown of Bhopal, had long disapproved of her profession.

“They thought it was disrespectful and unsafe”, Dubey said. “Where I come from, women did not become journalists. At least not at the time I was starting out”.

Against these odds, what kept Dubey, who now reports on gender issues for the BBC, going? “When people have trusted me enough to share their most intimate pain with me, I have to tell their story”, she told me. “My first accountability lies with my story. Always”.

Priyanka Dubey has reported on gender-based violence for years. Her new book is out in the UK and US on 8 March, International Women’s Day. Payal Mohta is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai, India. She covers stories relating to gender, identity and communities. Her work has been published in The Guardian, Vice Media, UK and various other magazines and newspapers. This article was originally published on Open Democracy.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Are We Looking At A Nuclear Arms Race In The Gulf?
By Bill Law, Gulf House

With both the US and Russia withdrawing from the INF, a nuclear stand-off in the Gulf could be closer than you think.



One of the many challenges of covering the impact of Donald Trump’s presidency on global affairs is that, in the constant churn of stories generated by his Twitter outbursts and the abrupt policy decisions he makes, really important stories get lost in the storm. One of those lost stories happened the weekend before the US president’s delayed State of the Union address, which he finally delivered on February 5.

On the preceding Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he was following in Trump’s footsteps and pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). In what he called a “symmetrical response,” Putin signaled that a new nuclear arms race was under way: “Our American partners announced that they are suspending their participation in the INF Treaty, and we are suspending it too. They said that they are engaged in research, development and design work, and we will do the same.”

It was a clever response, with Putin able to say that Russia was against the destruction of the treaty, but if that was what the US was going to do by walking away, then his country would mirror American actions step by step. You develop and build new nuclear weapons, we will too.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the world was striving to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. All of those Cold War decades of delicate and exquisitely challenging negotiations designed to stave off nuclear annihilation now seem somehow quaintly old-fashioned. In the macho world of the new authoritarians, led by President Trump, the bigger the weapons and the more you have, the tougher you are.

Trump’s reason for pulling out of the INF was that the Russians were non-compliant and were using the agreement as cover to get a leg up on America. That is undoubtedly the case but the treaty, even in violation, acted as a constraint. So, why would what is still the world’s greatest military superpower enable the Russians by walking away? And what are the implications for the Gulf and the wider Middle East as a new nuclear arms race emerges from Trump’s decision?

Nuclear Weapons In The Gulf


To the first question, one can only speculate, given the strange and troubling relationship that Trump has with what has been America’s greatest enemy: Russia. It is the second question, however, that should be of most concern. As the war rhetoric against Iran ratchets up, and as the nonproliferation environment weakens, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may push to arm Saudi Arabia with nuclear weapons.

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Though he dismisses the Iranian military capacity in public, in private he must know that in any conventional war scenario, the battle-hardened Iranians would prevail on the ground. The Saudis may have sharpened their air expertise in Yemen at the expense of both the civilian population and the rebel Houthis, but it is ground forces that would ultimately decide the outcome. As the Yemen conflict has shown, Saudi Arabia’s ground troops are an incompetent and ill-prepared fighting force, hence the reliance on the air war to try subdue the Houthis.

In a conventional war, the Iranians would use Iraq as the pathway to attack Saudi Arabia along its northern border. They could be in the capital Riyadh in a matter of days. That is a sobering thought and one that could serve as a catalyst for securing the bomb. The logical place to turn to is Pakistan, which has possessed nuclear weapons since the mid-1980s. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is much beholden to the Saudis, even more so than his predecessors. Indeed, he came to the so-called “Davos in the Desert” in October 2018 with a begging bowl in hand, one the Saudis were happy to fill.

If Saudi Arabia acquired nuclear weapons, then it follows that Iran would do so as well. Indeed there are forces within Iran, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who have long advocated that to preserve and protect the revolution, their nation must have the bomb.

And here we come to the extraordinarily reckless and dangerous game that President Trump, National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are playing. Bolton, in particular, has long advocated for regime change in Iran. The harsh sanctions that America is imposing on the Iranians and demanding that the rest of the world follow are intended not so much to effect regime change in and of themselves, but rather to prevent the Iranians for a time from securing nuclear firepower.

The Saudis, in the meantime, will have picked up, off the shelve, nuclear weapons from Pakistan. Backed by a nuclear-armed Israel that shares the Saudi fear of Iran and with whom Mohammed bin Salman has forged a close relationship, the two together with other Gulf states will be the ones to force regime change backed by the nuclear muscle that Iran lacks. They and not the Americans. So the thinking goes.

That scenario is useful for Trump because the last thing his base wants is any more engagements in foreign places — and that is especially true of the Middle East. Hence, his oft-repeated and ill-thought-out vows to withdraw American troops. These are gambits, designed to shore up his support as he heads into what will undoubtedly prove for him a bruising and difficult re-election bid in 2020.

The Iranians, however, will not succumb. Indeed, such naked threats will only serve to pull the country’s often battling factions together. Iran will do whatever is necessary to acquire a nuclear counter-punch. And Vladimir Putin, burnishing his already significant power in the region, may be very happy to oblige.

A nuclear stand-off in the Gulf, with all that that implies, could be far closer than any of us realizes.

Bill Law is a Sony award-winning journalist. He joined the BBC in 1995 and since 2002 has reported extensively from the Middle East. In 2003, he was one of the first journalists to cover the beginnings of the insurgency that engulfed Iraq. His documentary, “The Gulf: Armed & Dangerous,” which aired in late 2010, anticipated the revolutions that became the Arab Spring. He then covered the uprisings in Egypt, Libya and Bahrain. He has also reported from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Before leaving the BBC in 2014, Law was the corporation’s Gulf analyst. He now works as a freelance journalist focusing on the Gulf, and he is a regular contributor to The Independent, Middle East Eye, Monocle Radio, Gulf States News, the BBC and The New Arab. He also runs TheGulfMatters.com. This article was originally published by Gulf House and re-published by Fair Observer.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Potential Effect of India and Pakistan's Escalating Conflict On India's 2019 General  Elections
By Sita Bali, Staffordshire University


Tensions in the Kashmir region were already building after more than 40 Indian troops were recently killed by a suicide bomber. India’s “pre-emptive strike” over the disputed border on Tuesday – the first of its kind by India since it went to war with Pakistan in 1971 – has escalated the situation further. India said it had targeted a terrorist training camp and accused Pakistan of violating a 2003 ceasefire, while Pakistan now claims to have shot down two Indian fighter jets.

The origins of the Kashmir conflict lie in British imperial disengagement from the subcontinent. At independence in 1947, the unpopular Hindu Maharaja of Kashmir was faced with invasion by Pakistani tribesmen. He turned to India for help, signing the treaty of accession that took Kashmir into the Indian Union. India sent troops to Kashmir and so began the first war between India and Pakistan.

The Pakistanis were held off by Indian troops after they occupied one-third of Kashmir in 1948. Today, Pakistan continues to occupy that third and India holds the remaining two-thirds including the Kashmir Valley. The border between these two areas in Kashmir is demarcated by the Line of Control (LoC), established after fighting in 1947-48. This demarcation has changed little in all the conflicts of the subsequent years.

Disputed territory: green is Kashmiri region under Pakistani control; dark-brown is Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir; striped is Aksai Chin under Chinese control. CIA World Factbook/Wikipedia Commons
Maharaja Hari Singh’s move to join India was supported by the popular secular Kashmiri political movement - the National Conference, led by Sheikh Abdullah. Particularly so, as India agreed a special status for Kashmir within the Indian Union – spelled out in Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. A further article in the constitution prohibits people from outside Kashmir from buying land and property in the state, allowing Kashmir to preserve the balance of its ethnic and religiously mixed population (60% Muslim, 35% Hindu and 5% Buddhist).


Ladakh: a mountainous region in the disputed north-west of Jammu and Kashmir in northern India. Phuong D. Nguyen/Shutterstock


Pakistan has always maintained that, in accordance with the logic of partition, Kashmir should have been integrated with it. It attempted to take Kashmir by force in 1947-48 and again in 1965, with no success. The Kargil conflict in 1999 was the last substantial direct confrontation between the two militaries.

Since then there have been regular terrorist attacks on mostly military, paramilitary or government targets in Kashmir. Successive Indian governments have held the Pakistan military and their Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) responsible for training and aiding the terrorists involved, which Pakistan denies.

After this latest suicide attack, claimed by the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) terror group, the debate now rests on whether the wider apparatus of the Pakistani state was aware of, and can be held responsible for, the actions of a terrorist group based in their country and with supposed links to the ISI.

Modi Operandi


The suicide attack that killed Indian paramilitary personnel takes on added significance because it occurred in the context of the looming general election in India in which the BJP, led by Narendra Modi, is trying to retain its grip on power. Modi and his BJP came to power with a thumping majority in May 2014, promising competent, clean government and economic development.

However, things have not gone well for the government in recent months. The Indian economy is suffering from the long-term effects of the decision to demonetise in 2016 and the inability to generate new jobs. The BJP was also defeated in five state elections in 2018, including key states of the Hindi belt such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.


India’s Narendra Modi. Escalation of tensions with Pakistan could play into BJP plans ahead of Indian elections. By Madhuram Paliwal/Shutterstock

With Modi’s supposed record of economic competence and good governance under challenge, he has increasingly relied on his party’s version of extreme nationalism to keep people’s support. The BJP’s Hindutva ideology sees India as a Hindu country and believes all Indian Muslims should have been forced to move to Pakistan in 1947, and now constitute a fifth column in the country. So an attack such as the recent suicide bombing – whether or not it was actually instigated by Pakistan – plays into Modi’s narrative.

That the attack was carried out by a young man from Indian Kashmir also serves to illustrate the failure of the Modi government in dealing with the Kashmir problem. For more than three years the BJP was itself part of the government of Kashmir in alliance with the People’s Democratic Party of Mohammed and Mehbooba Mufti. This alliance fell apart in 2018, mostly over disagreements between the two parties about how to handle the increase in violence in Kashmir and the radicalisation of young Kashmiris, who were once again taking up arms against India.

The Jaish-e-Mohammad terror group, unusually, took immediate responsibility for the attack. Equally, the Indian response to the attack was a first, in that India has never before responded to terrorism within its borders by attacking Pakistan. India’s airstrike is considered the first major use of air power against Pakistan since 1971.

At this stage there are claims and counter claims from both sides about what the Indian bombing raids achieved. Pakistan is threatening an appropriate response, so there is potential for an escalation of this volatile situation between two nuclear armed countries.

Amid an intensifying war of words and action between the two, the only beneficiary will be the BJP. As jingoistic fervour rises in India, they hope they will be swept back to office on the crest of that wave.

Sita Bali, Head of department, Staffordshire University. This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Scientists Open A New Window Into Space With Discovery Of A New Source Of Neutrinos
By Simon Peeters, University of Sussex

Neutrinos – extremely light, ghostly particles that barely interact with matter – have so far only been observed originating from supernovae (exploding stars) and the sun. Now a giant detector at the South Pole has discovered that a “blazar”, a galaxy with a supermassive black hole at its centre, also produces neutrinos.

Artist’s impression based on real picture of Icecube lab. IceCube/NSF

This is the first time a source of neutrinos in space has been discovered in more than 30 years. What’s more, it’s the first time scientists have observed a neutrino particle with high energy associated with an astrophysical event. This is really exciting news. The observation, just published in Science, opens a completely new chapter in neutrino astronomy.

Neutrinos are fundamental matter particles. The ordinary matter that we are all familiar with is made out of electrons and quarks. We do not observe neutrinos in daily life as they are extremely hard to detect. Theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli suggested their existence in 1930, but it took until 1956 before they were first seen by experimental physicists coming from a nuclear reactor.

The reason that they are so hard to detect is because they only weakly interact with ordinary matter. Most neutrinos fly straight through the Earth: they do not interact at all. They do, however, play a very important role in the universe.

For example, when a heavy star explodes at the end of its life, it is known as a supernova – as it shows up as an extremely bright and seemingly new star in the sky. We now know that supernovae emit many more neutrinos than photons (light particles), which we cannot see by eye. Scientists detected the first neutrinos from a supernova in 1987 when a star collapsed just outside our Milky Way. This unique observation has given us a better understanding of supernovae, as well as the properties of neutrinos themselves.

This event marked the birth of what we call neutrino astronomy. Powerful neutrino telescopes were built soon after. One of them was the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO). Physicist Art McDonald received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2015 for the detailed studies of solar neutrinos that he and his team did using this observatory, and the insights this gave us into the properties of the neutrino particles.

Arctic Analysis


Another telescope has now grown to be the largest of them all. The IceCube experiment at the South Pole is a cubic kilometre in size and uses deep arctic ice as a target for the neutrinos. Although neutrinos typically don’t interact with anything, they can produce a charged particle when they occasionally do interact with the fundamental particles that make up ice. In IceCube, this resulting particle travels through the ice and produces a trail of faint light.


IceCube drilling tower and hose reel in December 2009. Amble/wikipedia, CC BY-SA

This trail is captured by a large array of sensitive photodetectors that are mounted up to three kilometres deep into the ice. With this information, IceCube can detect high energy neutrinos, measure their energy and determine where they came from. Other cosmic particles only travel a few kilometres through the Earth, at most. So, if the particle is seen to come up from below, it must have been produced by a neutrino interaction, as it is the only particle that can travel such a large distance through the planet.

The neutrino that was observed by IceCube in September 2017 is very special. This neutrino must have had an extremely high energy – IceCube scientists estimate between 183 and 290 trillion electron volts (a unit of energy). That is 28-45 times more energy than the particles in the beam of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator.


Sensors below the ice detected the neutrino, which was registered by computers in the IceCube building. IceCube/NSF

However, neutrinos with even higher energies have been observed by IceCube before. The exciting thing about the new discovery is that it has been shown to come from a blazar, which has been observed by other experiments, such as the FermiLAT satellite and the MAGIC telescope. In a blazar, it is thought that the supermassive black hole at the centre absorbs matter to produce two extremely powerful jets of radiation. These jets could act as powerful particle accelerators.

Blazars were long suspected as a possible source of very high energy neutrinos in the universe, but we now have firm evidence. Together with IceCube, observations of this blazar have been made using telescopes that are sensitive to different types of electromagnetic radiation: radio, optical, gamma ray, and X-ray.

With this observation, IceCube has made a significant step forward in neutrino astronomy. Its neutrino adds new information to the observation of the blazar, helping us to understand these fascinating objects better. It can tell us about the mechanism of particle acceleration in blazars and more about how blazars produce such tremendous amounts of energy. We may even learn something new about the universe, or neutrinos, that we didn’t expect.

Simon Peeters, Reader (Physics and Astronomy), University of Sussex. This article was originally published on The Conversation

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Can A Three Page Document On Brexit Bring Down The British Government?
Written by Nikos Skoutaris, University of East Anglia

Two years after the referendum, the UK government briefly appeared to agree on its vision for the future UK-EU relationship. A three page document, outlining the UK position, was published following a long meeting of cabinet ministers at the prime minister’s country retreat of Chequers on July 6.



The new position aims to address the Irish border issue and potentially offers a softer version of Brexit than was previously talked about. It has prompted the resignation of three ministers. The Brexit secretary, David Davis, and his number two at the Department for Exiting the EU, Steve Baker, stepped down just 50 hours after the publication of the three-page document. This was followed by foreign secretary, Boris Johnson. Such dramatic developments raise serious questions for the UK’s Brexit strategy and the future of the government itself.

So what was agreed to at Chequers and why has it led to these resignations? Davis stepped down because he felt the new plan cedes too much control to the EU. Notwithstanding, the new plan should be understood as only the starting point of negotiations over the future UK-EU relationship. In that sense, we should expect the UK position to further evolve in the months to come.

Previous Proposals


The government’s new position has substantially evolved from its previous proposals for the UK’s future economic relationship with the EU. It has been dubbed a “third way” between the two proposals that the government published in August 2017.

The first was a highly streamlined customs arrangement that came to be known as “max-fac” (short for maximum facilitation). It aimed to simplify the UK’s customs arrangement with the EU by using a variety of IT solutions to avoid a customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Jon Thompson, head of HM Revenue and Customs estimated that the cost of building the necessary infrastructure for this option would be about £20 billion.

According to the second model, a new customs partnership, the UK would mirror “the EU’s requirements for imports from the rest of the world” as if the UK was still a member of the EU’s customs union. The UK, under this model, would still be free to pursue its independent trade policy.

This could potentially lead to differences in its tariffs with the EU ones. To deal with this problem, an unprecedented and untested repayment mechanism was proposed. According to it, imports to the UK would pay whichever was the higher of the UK’s or the EU’s tariff rates and traders would claim “a refund for the difference between the two when the goods were sold to an end user in the country charging lower tariffs”.

Apart from the cost and the feasibility, the biggest problem of the previous two proposals was that neither of them addressed effectively the Irish border conundrum. Neither could secure a frictionless, invisible border, given that the UK’s intention is to leave the single market and the customs union after Brexit.

The New Proposal


As the UK government had previously conceded, upholding its Irish border commitments required regulatory alignment. Without the same regulatory standards on the two sides of the border, checks would be required on the various products that would be crossing it to ensure the integrity of the single market.

This is why the new plan proposes to establish a free trade area for goods between the UK and the EU where “a common rulebook for all goods including agri-food” will exist. The UK will commit, by international agreement, “to ongoing harmonisation with EU rules on goods”. This echoes the mechanism of the European Economic Area whose members have to adopt the new or reformed regulations that the EU institutions produce.

At the same time, the government contends that parliament can guard the UK legal order from future EU legislation in an arrangement that somehow resembles the EU’s relationship with Switzerland. Given the ongoing crisis in EU-Switzerland relations over the issue of free movement of people, the UK government is right to recognise that such action might lead to unforeseen consequences. At the same time, it effectively puts into question whether the UK parliament would have real power to diverge from EU regulations on goods.

The Starting Point of Negotiations


The proposal that came out of Chequers is not the definitive end state of the future UK-EU relationship, as some have suggested.

But even if the resignations of Britain’s main negotiator and the foreign secretary do not lead to a political crisis, the Chequers deal should be understood as the UK starting position in its negotiations with the EU.

The Chequers proposal does not sit comfortably with the models for the EU-UK relationship that the EU has already suggested. It is not a Canada-style free trade agreement with the Northern Ireland backstop option. Nor is it an economic relationship that allows the application of all four fundamental freedoms of movement, as the “Norway” option does.

Still, it is the first comprehensive position that the UK has put forward. So the UK will be hoping that the EU will consider it.

Even if the EU does not reject the UK position outright, the government should expect that issues such as its contribution to the new EU budget and the role of the European Court of Justice are raised and seriously considered in the months to come. This is still only the beginning of the process that will hopefully lead to an orderly Brexit and mutually beneficial future with the EU.

Dr Nikos Skoutaris received his Ph.D. in Law from the European University Institute (Florence, Italy) in 2009. Since then, he has worked as a Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of Tilburg, as an Assistant Professor at Maastricht University (The Netherlands) and as a Senior Research Fellow at the European Institute, LSE. Since October 2013, he is a Lecturer in EU law at the UEA Law School. This article was originally published on The Conversation

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Poor Sleep Is Linked To Cardiovascular Risk Across Ages
Written by Emily Underwood, Knowable Magazine

Emily Underwood interviewed one of the study authors, physician Susan Redline of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, to discuss sleep’s powerful influence on our hearts and other body systems, a subject Redline also wrote about in the 2015 Annual Review of Public Health. To reduce our society’s high rates of chronic disease, she says, we need to ensure children get better sleep, as well as other sleep-deprived groups such as minorities and shift workers.


Did you sleep well last night? If not, you’re in good company. About a third of American adults don’t get the recommended seven hours of sleep per night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many people don’t get enough sleep or sleep poorly because of their jobs or hectic schedules — they work long shifts at night or have to rush to get their kids ready to catch a 6 a.m. school bus. Some 50 million to 70 million Americans have a chronic sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout the night.

Scientists still fiercely debate sleep’s fundamental biological purpose. In people, however, plentiful evidence suggests that sleep performs a range of vital functions, including restoring damaged tissues, boosting learning and memory, and flushing toxins from the brain. Sleeping too little can have serious long-term health consequences, increasing the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

A new study in Pediatrics highlights the importance of sleep for teenagers, who often struggle to get the recommended eight to nine hours per night of shut-eye. Out of the more than 800 adolescents in the study, only 2.2 percent got enough sleep, and less than half achieved desirable rates of “sleep efficiency” — the percentage of total time in bed actually spent asleep.

Teens short on sleep were more likely to be obese — a trend found in previous studies — and scored higher on several other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure and poor glucose metabolism. Those who slept longer and better tended to have less fat around their waists, lower systolic blood pressure and higher levels of “good” cholesterol — all signs of cardiovascular health.

Emily Underwood: How did you become interested in studying the health impacts of sleep?


Susan RedlineI was trained in pulmonary medicine in the mid-’80s, shortly after a new therapy for sleep apnea — the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device — had been developed. Prior to CPAP, patients had to undergo surgery and have tracheostomies and lose the function of their voices. It was very exciting to see a therapy that, literally overnight, could change a person from being very sleepy and having poorly controlled hypertension and even heart failure to someone who was functional.

I sought out training in epidemiology and observed how little we understood about the population prevalence and risk factors for sleep apnea. That's when I started developing epidemiologic studies to address those questions. I also became interested in other aspects of sleep, such as the genetics of sleep apnea, insomnia, sleep and children, and the impact of sleep on heart disease.

EU: How does poor sleep affect the heart and other aspects of health?


SR: Having an adequate quantity of sleep as well as quality of sleep is important for maintaining numerous body systems. Compared with people who get seven or eight hours of sleep per night, for example, short sleepers have a 10 percent to 30 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease.



Getting insufficient sleep — in general less than six hours a night for adults — may trigger the release of various proteins that cause inflammation in the blood and in the body, and cause dysregulation of the immune system. C-reactive protein, interleukin 6, and tumor necrosis factor are three commonly measured inflammatory markers that are increased in association with sleep problems. These inflammatory mediators may also make you less sensitive to insulin, which then will raise your blood sugar and can lead to diabetes.

A second problem is getting insufficient amounts of deep sleep, or restorative sleep. In one of the deepest stages, called slow-wave sleep, there is a drop in the level of catecholamine hormones that raise blood pressure, such as adrenaline. People with sleep disorders have what we call arousals — very brief periods of awakening. When you have fragmented sleep, high levels of these hormones can prevent blood pressure from going down. Over time, this can cause stiffening of the heart muscle.

EU: Your recent study in Pediatrics showed that lack of sleep increases risk factors for heart disease in adolescents. Do children and teenagers need to sleep the same amount as adults?


SR:  Infants typically need more than 12 hours of sleep, then by the time you’re an adolescent those needs are closer to eight or nine hours. An average adult needs between seven and eight.

What was really interesting about this recent study was that we were able to show that both insufficient sleep and misaligned sleep — sleep that isn’t in sync with a person’s circadian rhythm — are associated with metabolic parameters associated with increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, such as higher central body fat.

This study adds to evidence that improving both children’s sleep duration and making their sleep patterns more regular may, over time, protect children from developing metabolic problems.

EU: What are the most common sleep disorders? How can you tell if someone has a sleep disorder or is just staying up too late?


SR:  The two most common sleep disorders are sleep apnea and insomnia. Sleep apnea is when your throat closes during sleep for brief but repetitive periods of time, interfering with your ability to get oxygen into your body and to rid your body of waste products like carbon dioxide. Insomnia is a disorder where individuals have chronic problems falling asleep or maintaining their sleep. Another relatively common sleep disorder is called periodic limb movement disorder, where the individual has disrupted sleep because of involuntary kicking of their legs or arms that wakes them up.

Although there is a continuum of symptoms, usually a sign of a disorder is a persistent feeling of tiredness, sleepiness or unrefreshing sleep that isn't explained by another factor like being out all night at a party or working. It's the persistence of daytime symptoms without a clear explanation.

EU: Are some racial or ethnic groups more at risk of chronic disease as a result of poor or inadequate sleep?


SR:  In the US, the prevalence of short sleep and poor sleep quality is much higher in ethnic minorities than in the white population. Blacks are as much as five times as likely to report short durations of sleep than whites, for example. That doesn't seem to be completely explained by known sleep disorders, so it suggests there may be multiple social and environmental factors that influence poor sleep quality, such as living in disadvantaged neighborhoods.



One of my interests is in sleep apnea in children. African-American children have much higher rates of sleep apnea than white children, and they actually appear to respond less well to the usual surgery that's done, tonsillectomy, than white children. I've postulated that having sleep apnea at an early age, and going years with untreated sleep apnea, may be one reason that we see much higher rates of hypertension and early-onset hypertension in African-American communities, which is a huge risk factor for stroke and heart disease.

So far, we have shown in two different studies that children who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods have higher rates of sleep apnea than other children. Right now we're doing a study in Boston where we are going into the homes of children from diverse neighborhoods in the city and looking to see if there are actually excessive exposures to various allergens, irritants or poor air quality that may be triggering chronic inflammation of the nasal passages and the tonsils that might be contributing to sleep apnea.

EU: What are some things that can be done to improve sleep health?


SR: Institutionally, we could work harder to ensure that we don't require students or workers to follow unhealthy sleep habits. We could delay school start times so that students don’t have to get up to catch a school bus at 6 a.m., for example. I also work with a group of patient advocates who have suggested that everybody who gets a driver’s license be educated on sleep disorders and the impact of drowsy driving — and to consider including screening for sleep disorders as a part of applying for a license.

EU: What are the most compelling unanswered questions about sleep?


SR:  One question I’m interested in is the variation in susceptibility to sleep disorders — what factors may be inherited or otherwise. I think the question of why African-American children have much more severe sleep apnea than other children is really important, both as a mechanistic and a public health question.

Emily Underwood is a freelance science writer and contributing correspondent for Science magazine. She is based in Coloma, California. This article was originally published on Knowable Magazine.

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