Tag Archives: columbia university

Abusive mothers’ DNA and the economy could share the blame with Florida DCF for recent child deaths

6 Aug

The Florida Department of Children and Families has been under fire for the past couple of years for failing to stop child abuse and neglect, resulting in the deaths of seven children who the department said were in “no immediate danger.”

The most recent example of this was the case of Dakota Stiles, a 3-year-old who drowned last month in the pool of an Indian River home. Two weeks before his death, DCF was called because his mother, Summer Stiles had no idea her toddler was missing when deputies returned him, saying he had been in a neighbor’s yard for an hour.

After visiting the filthy home, DCF concluded that the child was safe and there was nothing to worry about.

But, results from a new study show that DCF may be able to pass some of the blame along to the economy and DNA of the abusive and neglectful mothers like Stiles.

The study, conducted by researchers at New York University, Columbia University, Princeton University, and Pennsylvania State University’s College of Medicine showed that economic hardship, both personal and societal, lead mothers to engage in harsh parenting.

“It’s commonly thought that economic hardship within families leads to stress, which, in turn, leads to deterioration of parenting quality,” Dohoon Lee, an assistant professor of sociology at NYU and lead author of the paper, said. “But these findings show that an economic downturn in the larger community can adversely affect parenting — regardless of the conditions individual families face.”

But, the study had another twist.

Only mothers with what scientists call the “sensitive” allele, or variation, of the DRD2 Taq1A genotype (which controls the synthesis of dopamine, a behavior-regulating chemical in the brain) are affected by economic downturn.

Mothers who didn’t have this allele were not affected by tight wallets.

“This finding provides further evidence in favor of the orchid-dandelion hypothesis that humans with sensitive genes, like orchids, wilt or die in poor environments, but flourish in rich environments, whereas dandelions survive in poor and rich environments,” Irwin Garfinkel, a co-author of the paper and a professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work, said.

Perhaps Destene Simmons, a Coral Springs mother who is suspected to have killed her four-year-old son, Antwan Hope, Jr. has this allele in her DNA. Of course, there could be a myriad of other factors to blame, but this study gives scientists a clue to one possible culprit of this tragedy and others like it.

The study used data from a population-based study of 5,000 children who were born between 1998 and 2000 in 20 large American cities. Mothers were interviewed at different times in the child’s life and data was collected on parenting behavior.

“Harsh” parenting was described at worst as spanking and slapping. Although their definition of harsh isn’t as bad as the extreme abuse examples I’ve highlighted above, it would still be interesting to research further into this link.

The parenting behavior data was then compared to yearly economic reports of the cities in which the mother’s lived. Harsh parenting behaviors were specifically linked to high unemployment rates and uncertainty with the economy.

“People can adjust to difficult circumstances once they know what to expect, whereas fear or uncertainty about the future is more difficult to deal with,” Sara McLanahan, Princeton’s William S. Tod Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs and a co-author of the paper, said.

In conclusion, I do believe DCF is very much to blame for not closely monitoring at-risk children, but perhaps recently resigned secretary David Wilkins can defend his decision to leave amidst the pressure by blaming the economy and sensitive mothers.

When it comes to climate change, uncertainty is the enemy

16 Oct

Uncertainty is a common word when it comes to scientific research and, in many cases, unavoidable. But, the public doesn’t like this word and in politics it poses an opportunity for debate and polarization. The science related to climate change demonstrates this perfectly.

According to new research at the University of Gothenberg and Columbia University, the current climate threshold that states an increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius, is not helping combat the problem. In fact, it may be having an adverse effect.

The problem is that the threshold number doesn’t stem from pure science, but instead is determined by Nature.

The research showed that if this number was proven without any uncertainty, then negotiations would go smoothly and countries would be happy to participate in collective efforts toward a greener and cooler planet. The problem is however, that this “certain” number that is being looked for does not exist. There will always be uncertainty.

“Climate negotiations are more complex that the game played by the participants in our experiment. The basic incentive problem, however, is the same and our research shows that scientific uncertainty about the dangerous threshold changes behavior dramatically,” Astrid Dannenberg, Postdoc researcher at the Environmental Economics Unit, said in a press release.

It may be for this reason that the UN centered the negotiations around the 2 degree celsius mark, but according to Professor Scott Barrett, Columbia University, the outlook looks dim. He suggests alternatives for negotiations that do not depend on an uncertain threshold.

“We will not know until 2020 if the Copenhagen Accord pledges will be met, but if our results are a reliable guide, countries may end up emitting even more than they pledged – with potentially profound and possibly irreversible consequences. Our research suggests that negotiators should focus their attention on alternative strategies for collective action, such as trade restrictions or technology standards,” Barrett said in a press release.