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Meet the Former Pentagon Scientist Who Says Psychics Can Help American Spies

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Paper or plastic? How disposable bag bans, fees and taxes affect consumer behavior

Tatiana Homonoff, Cornell University

Last month, England became the latest government – and last among members of the UK – to pass a policy to combat the recent rise in the use of disposable plastic shopping bags, in its case a five-pence charge for each one.

While English newspapers warned that the new policy would create chaos, England is by no means the first to consider such a controversial policy. Several countries across the world and local governments have taken steps to address the environmental consequences of increased plastic bag use through regulation.

These regulations contain subtle but important design differences across different regions. Some banned their use; others just taxed them. In a few cases, companies began offering customers small bonuses for bringing their own bags.

Given the growing popularity of disposable bag regulations, this begs the question: have any successfully changed consumer behavior? And are all policies created equal?

Landfills are increasingly filled with plastic bags.

Impetus behind the bans

It’s obvious why cities, regions and countries want to reduce the use of disposable bags.

Americans, for example, go through 100 billion single-use plastic bags every year – or 325 per person – that end up in landfills, streams and lakes, where they take 10 to 20 years to degrade. The bags cost retail stores about three cents a piece, and since it’s normally incorporated into the price of everything else, consumers don’t see it and thus have no incentive to reduce their use.

Plastic bags made up almost half of the trash in Washington, DC’s tributaries, according to a 2008 study, while a look at the budgets of six major cities showed that they spent 3.2 to 7.9 cents per bag on litter control, which suggests total spending across the US could tally US$3.2 billion to $7.9 billion a year.

And even when the bags are recycled, they present problems by clogging up the machines.

Varying approaches

Bangladesh became the first country to regulate disposable bag use when the government banned single-use plastic bags in 2002. Shortly after, Ireland implemented an alternative regulation, a €0.17 tax per plastic bag (later raised to €0.33) called the “Plastax.”

The varying approaches don’t end there. Like England, China and South Africa do not levy a tax on disposable bags, but require that store owners charge a fee for bag use. Rwanda banned plastic bags in 2008, and agents at the airport not only confiscate any they find but also cut the plastic wrapping off of suitcases.

Similar variation exists across the US. In 2010, Washington, DC became the first American city to charge customers for the use of disposable bags when the City Council passed a five-cent tax on both paper and plastic bags. And last year, California became the first state to pass such legislation, which coupled a tax on paper bag with a ban on plastic, but that policy won’t take effect until voters approve it in a referendum next year.

Government regulations are not the only policies aimed at curbing disposable bag use. Several grocery store chains offer their own incentives to curb disposable bag use, such as financial rewards for customers who bring their own bags. For example, Whole Foods rewards customers with a ten-cent bonus for each reusable bag.

What works best to reduce bag use: a fee, tax or incentive?

Which ones work

In a recent study, I examined the relative effectiveness of two policies in the Washington, DC metropolitan area: a five-cent tax on paper and plastic disposable bags use and a five-cent bonus for reusable bag use.

If disposable and reusable bags are substitutes, the two policies are financially equivalent – each policy provides customers a five-cent incentive for using a reusable bag instead of a disposable bag. Standard economic theory tells us that individuals should have a similar response to the two types of incentives given that they are of the same monetary amount.

However, evidence from behavioral economics suggests that individuals are “loss averse,” meaning that they perceive losses more strongly than gains. If this is the case, then the tax may be more effective at changing behavior than a bonus.

My results showed just that. While 82% of customers used disposable bags prior to the tax, this fraction declined to 40% after the tax was implemented.

In contrast to the overwhelming impact of the tax, a five-cent bonus for reusable bag use had almost no impact on disposable bag use, evidence consistent with a model of loss aversion.

A related study found similar results after evaluating the impact of a policy in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The metro area that year imposed a ban on plastic bags in addition to a varying charge on paper bags. The study found that while the policy eliminated the use of plastic bags, it also generated an increase in the use of paper bags. This suggests that banning one type of disposable bag while leaving another type largely unregulated may lead to unintended consequences.

However, the effect of the policy on total disposable bag use (paper and plastic bags combined) was still quite effective – the proportion of customers using any type of disposable bag decreased by roughly 50%.

A federal solution?

Should the United States consider taxing or banning disposable bags?

The results from the two studies above suggest that while a small tax on disposable bags has a substantial impact on bag use, roughly 40% of shoppers continue to use disposable bags anyway. If the policy goal is to eliminate disposable bag use altogether, these results suggest a need for a stricter regulation.

But in spite of environmental concerns, it is not obvious that the optimal policy is to reduce disposable bag consumption to zero, through a ban. The environmental costs may not always outweigh the benefits some shoppers receive from the convenience of getting a disposable bag at the store. If they are willing to pay a higher tax or fee in exchange for that convenience, it could offset the costs to the environment.

So while a ban or a larger tax may be successful at reducing disposable bag use even further, policymakers should carefully weigh the benefits of that reduction against the burden shoppers would face from the inconvenience or financial costs of the policy. In contrast, less restrictive policies, such as nominal fees for bag use, change the behavior of only those customers who are almost indifferent between using a disposable bag or not.

A tiny tax had an impressive impact on behavior, suggesting that a policy that focuses on consumers on the margin could still have a lot of bite. And maybe that is a good place for policymakers to start.

The Conversation

Tatiana Homonoff, Assistant Professor of Policy Analysis and Management, Cornell University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Hindus concerned at Hindu temple vandalism in Ontario

Radha (right) - Krishna (left), surrounded by ...

Radha (right) – Krishna (left), surrounded by gopis, in Mayapur Chandradoya Mandir, 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Hindus are highly concerned after reports of vandalism of Shri Ram Dham Hindu Temple in Kitchener in Ontario (Canada).

There were reports of smashing of windows of Shri Ram Dham Hindu Temple on November 15 night by vandals with large rocks.

Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, said that it was shocking for the hard-working, harmonious and peaceful Hindu community of Canada and worldwide; who had made lot of contributions to Canada and the world; to receive such signals of hatred and anger.

Rajan Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, urged administration for swift action; and Ontario Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to contact the Kitchener area Hindu community to reassure them.

Shri Ram Dham Hindu Temple, whose tagline is “Wisdom Love Service”, opens and conducts two aartis daily, has services on Sundays-Tuesdays-Thursdays and organizes festivals-kirtan-discourses-special services year round. It contains the murtis of Hindu deities of Sita Ram, Radha Krishna, Shiv Parvati, Durgaa Maa, Ganesh and Hanuman. It offers classes in yoga, Sanskrit, Bharatnatyam and vegetarian cooking; Hindu culture course and yoga camp for kids; and consultation on spiritual-religious issues and rituals. Chaitanya Jyoti and Haripriya Parivrajika are Head Preacher and Preacher respectively.


Is Islam incompatible with modernity?

Asma Afsaruddin, Indiana University, Bloomington

In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, political leaders have lined up to denounce the acts as inhuman and uncivilized, unworthy of our day and age.

French President Francois Hollande denounced them as “a barbaric act,” while President Obama called them “an attack on the civilized world.”

Unfortunately, the horrific actions of ISIS – done in the name of Islam – often get attributed to Muslims as a whole. There is the underlying assumption that there must be some core aspect of the religion that is at fault, that the religion is incompatible with modernity.

It hasn’t helped that some non-Muslim thinkers have conflated ISIS with mainstream Islam. They’ll often point to ISIS’ desire to return civilization to the seventh century as further proof that Islam – and its followers – are backwards.

Yet many leading Muslim thinkers are going to some of Islam’s earliest texts to actually promote reform. Contained within these texts are ideas many consider progressive: peaceful coexistence, the acceptance of other religions, democratic governance and women’s rights.

Indeed, Islam and modernization need not be at odds with one another. And in the aftermath of tragedy, it’s important to not lose sight of this.

A single model of modernity?

The question is posed, time and again: will Muslims ever be able to reform and modernize and join the 21st century?

Yet the subtext is almost always that the Western paradigm of modernity – the one that developed in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation, that firmly embraced secularism and the (sometimes ferocious) marginalization of religion – is the only one worthy of emulation. Muslims, the thinking goes, have no choice but to adopt it themselves.

However some scholars have increasingly challenged the notion of a single model of modernity. According to them, there’s no reason that religion and modernization must inevitably be at odds with one another for all societies and for all time.

In 16th-century Europe, the priesthood had achieved considerable wealth and political power by often allying themselves with local kings and rulers. The Protestant reformers, therefore, regarded the Church as an impediment to political empowerment.

But Muslims, due to their unique religious history, continue to view their religion as an ally in their attempts to come to terms with the changed circumstances of the modern world.

Muslim religious scholars (ulama) never enjoyed the kind of centralized and institutionalized authority that the medieval European church and its elders did. The ulama – from the eighth century’s al-Hasan al-Basri to the 20th century’s Ayatullah Khomeini – traditionally distanced themselves from political rulers, intervening on behalf of the populace to ensure social and political justice.

Such an oppositional role to government prevented the emergence of a general popular animosity directed at them, and by extension, toward Islam.

For this reason, today’s Muslim thinkers feel no imperative to distance themselves from their religious tradition. On the contrary, they are plumbing it to find resources therein to not only adapt to the modern world, but also to shape it.

Islam turned on its head

Yet 21st-century Muslim religious scholars have a challenging task. How can they exhume and popularize principles and practices that allowed Muslims in the past to coexist with others, in peace and on equal terms, regardless of religious affiliation?

Such a project is made more urgent by the fact that extremists in Muslim-majority societies (ISIS leaders currently foremost among them) vociferously reject this as impossible. Islam, they declare, posits the superiority of Muslims over everyone else. Muslims must convert non-Muslims or politically subjugate them.

As a result, many have accused these extremists of trying to return Muslim-majority societies to the seventh century.

If only that were true!

If these extremists could actually be transported miraculously back to the seventh century, they would learn a thing or two about the religion they claim to be their own.

For starters, they would learn to their chagrin that seventh-century Medina accepted Jews as equal members of the community (umma) under the Constitution of Medina drawn up by the prophet Muhammad in 622 CE. They would also learn that seventh-century Muslims took seriously the Qur’anic injunction (2:256) that there is to be no compulsion in religion and that specific Qur’anic verses (2:62 and 5:69) recognize goodness in righteous Christians and Jews.

Most importantly, fire-breathing extremists would learn that peaceful non-Muslim communities cannot be militarily attacked simply because they are not Muslim. They would be reminded that only after 12 years of nonviolent resistance would the Prophet Muhammad and his companions resort to armed combat or the military jihad. And even then it would only be to defend themselves against aggression.

The Qur’an, after all, unambiguously forbids Muslims from initiating combat. Qur’an 2:190 states, “Do not commit aggression,” while Qur’an 60:8 specifically asserts:

God does not forbid you from being kind and equitable to those who have neither made war on you on account of your religion nor driven you from your homes; indeed God loves those who are equitable.

Extremist groups like ISIS are often accused of being scriptural literalists and therefore prone to intolerance and violence. But when it comes to specific Qur’anic verses like 2:256; 60:8 and others, it’s clear that they cherry-pick which passages to “strictly” interpret.

Going to the source

Not surprisingly, Muslim reformers are returning to their earliest religious sources and history – the Qur’an and its commentaries, reliable sayings of Muhammad, early historical chronicles – for valuable guidance during these troubled times.

And much of what we regard as “modern, progressive values” – among them religious tolerance, the empowerment of women, and accountable, consultative modes of governance – can actually be found in this strand of Muslims’ collective history.

Like 16th-century Christian reformers, Muslim reformers are returning to their foundational texts and mining them for certain moral guidelines and ethical prescriptions. For one reason or another – political upheaval, war, ideological movements – many had been cast aside. But today they retain particular relevance.

As a result, the reformers are distinguishing between “normative Islam” and “historical Islam,” as the famous Islam scholar Fazlur Rahman has phrased it.

But unlike the earlier Christian reformers, Muslim reformers are hardly ever left alone to conduct their project of reform. Their efforts are constantly stymied by intrusive outsiders, particularly non-Muslim Western cultural warriors who encroach on the Muslim heartlands – militarily, culturally and, above all, intellectually.

Such a multipronged assault was particularly evident during George W Bush’s presidency, during which the neoconservatives championed a “clash of civilizations” between the West and the Islamic world, a theory popularized by political scientist Samuel Huntington.

Western Muslim reformers are not immune to this onslaught, either. They are frequently derided by self-styled “expert” outsiders for subscribing to what they characterize as newfangled beliefs like democracy, religious tolerance and women’s rights. According to these “experts,” there is supposedly no grounding or room for these beliefs in their religious texts and tradition.

One wonders how effective Martin Luther would have been in 16th-century Europe if he had to constantly deal with non-Christian “experts” lecturing him about Christianity’s true nature.

Meanwhile, there are a number of pundits who are eager to tie the actions of Islamist terrorists to mainstream religious doctrine.

Journalist Graeme Wood’s alarmist article in The Atlantic is a most recent example of such intrusive punditry.

“The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic,” he wrote. “…the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”

Caner Dagli, a well-known scholar of Islam, rejected Woods’ argument:

All of this puts Muslims in a double bind: If they just go about their lives, they stand condemned by those who demand that Muslims “speak out.” But if they do speak out, they can expect to be told that short of declaring their sacred texts invalid, they are fooling themselves or deceiving the rest of us.

Despite such formidable challenges, reformist efforts continue unabated in learned Muslim circles. Sometimes crises and the subsequent marshaling of moral and intellectual resources can bring out the best in an individual and in a community.

The Qur’an (94:6) promises that “Indeed with hardship comes ease.” Committed Muslim reformers who take the Qur’an’s injunctions seriously (unlike the extremists) are working toward the easing of current circumstances of hardship – and calling on others to help, not impede, them in this global human endeavor.

The Conversation

Asma Afsaruddin, Professor of Islamic Studies and former Chairperson, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Indiana University, Bloomington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


How computers broke science – and what we can do to fix it

Photo – US Army (click for more historic computer images)

Ben Marwick, University of Washington

Reproducibility is one of the cornerstones of science. Made popular by British scientist Robert Boyle in the 1660s, the idea is that a discovery should be reproducible before being accepted as scientific knowledge.

In essence, you should be able to produce the same results I did if you follow the method I describe when announcing my discovery in a scholarly publication. For example, if researchers can reproduce the effectiveness of a new drug at treating a disease, that’s a good sign it could work for all sufferers of the disease. If not, we’re left wondering what accident or mistake produced the original favorable result, and would doubt the drug’s usefulness.

For most of the history of science, researchers have reported their methods in a way that enabled independent reproduction of their results. But, since the introduction of the personal computer – and the point-and-click software programs that have evolved to make it more user-friendly – reproducibility of much research has become questionable, if not impossible. Too much of the research process is now shrouded by the opaque use of computers that many researchers have come to depend on. This makes it almost impossible for an outsider to recreate their results.

Recently, several groups have proposed similar solutions to this problem. Together they would break scientific data out of the black box of unrecorded computer manipulations so independent readers can again critically assess and reproduce results. Researchers, the public, and science itself would benefit.

Computers wrangle the data, but also obscure it

Statistician Victoria Stodden has described the unique place personal computers hold in the history of science. They’re not just an instrument – like a telescope or microscope – that enables new research. The computer is revolutionary in a different way; it’s a tiny factory for producing all kinds of new “scopes” to see new patterns in scientific data.

It’s hard to find a modern researcher who works without a computer, even in fields that aren’t intensely quantitative. Ecologists use computers to simulate the effect of disasters on animal populations. Biologists use computers to search massive amounts of DNA data. Astronomers use computers to control vast arrays of telescopes, and then process the collected data. Oceanographers use computers to combine data from satellites, ships and buoys to predict global climates. Social scientists use computers to discover and predict the effects of policy or to analyze interview transcripts. Computers help researchers in almost every discipline identify what’s interesting within their data.

Computers also tend to be personal instruments. We typically have exclusive use of our own, and the files and folders it contains are generally considered a private space, hidden from public view. Preparing data, analyzing it, visualizing the results – these are tasks done on the computer, in private. Only at the very end of the pipeline comes a publicly visible journal article summarizing all the private tasks.

The problem is that most modern science is so complicated, and most journal articles so brief, it’s impossible for the article to include details of many important methods and decisions made by the researcher as he analyzed his data on his computer. How, then, can another researcher judge the reliability of the results, or reproduce the analysis?

Good luck recreating the analysis.
US Army

How much transparency do scientists owe?

Stanford statisticians Jonathan Buckheit and David Donoho described this issue as early as 1995, when the personal computer was still a fairly new idea.

An article about computational science in a scientific publication is not the scholarship itself, it is merely advertising of the scholarship. The actual scholarship is the complete software development environment and the complete set of instructions which generated the figures.

They make a radical claim. It means all those private files on our personal computers, and the private analysis tasks we do as we work toward preparing for publication should be made public along with the journal article.

This would be a huge change in the way scientists work. We’d need to prepare from the start for everything we do on the computer to eventually be made available for others to see. For many researchers, that’s an overwhelming thought. Victoria Stodden has found the biggest objection to sharing files is the time it takes to prepare them by writing documentation and cleaning them up. The second biggest concern is the risk of not receiving credit for the files if someone else uses them.

A new toolbox to enhance reproducibility

What secrets are within the computer?
US Army

Recently, several different groups of scientists have converged on recommendations for tools and methods to make it easier to keep track of files and analyses done on computers. These groups include biologists, ecologists, nuclear engineers, neuroscientists, economists and political scientists. Manifesto-like papers lay out their recommendations. When researchers from such different fields converge on a common course of action, it’s a sign a major watershed in doing science might be under way.

One major recommendation: minimize and replace point-and-click procedures during data analysis as much as possible by using scripts that contain instructions for the computer to carry out. This solves the problem of recording ephemeral mouse movements that leave few traces, are difficult to communicate to other people, and hard to automate. They’re common during data cleaning and organizing tasks using a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel. A script, on the other hand, contains unambiguous instructions that can be read by its author far into the future (when the specific details have been forgotten) and by other researchers. It can also be included within a journal article, since they aren’t big files. And scripts can easily be adapted to automate research tasks, saving time and reducing the potential for human error.

We can see examples of this in microbiology, ecology, political science and archaeology. Instead of mousing around menus and buttons, manually editing cells in a spreadsheet and dragging files between several different software programs to obtain results, these researchers wrote scripts. Their scripts automate the movement of files, the cleaning of the data, the statistical analysis, and the creation of graphs, figures and tables. This saves a lot of time when checking the analysis and redoing it to explore different options. And by looking at the code in the script file, which becomes part of the publication, anyone can see the exact steps that produced the published results.

Other recommendations include the use of common, nonproprietary file formats for storing files (such as CSV, or comma separated variables, for tables of data) and simple rubrics for systematically organizing files into folders to make it easy for others to understand how the information is structured. They recommend free software that is available for all computer systems (eg. Windows, Mac, and Linux) for analyzing and visualizing data (such as R and Python). For collaboration, they recommend a free program called Git, that helps to track changes when many people are editing the same document.

Currently, these are the tools and methods of the avant-garde, and many midcareer and senior researchers have only a vague awareness of them. But many undergraduates are learning them now. Many graduate students, seeing personal advantages to getting organized, using open formats, free software and streamlined collaboration, are seeking out training and tools from volunteer organizations such as Software Carpentry, Data Carpentry and rOpenSci to fill the gaps in their formal training. My university recently created an eScience Institute, where we help researchers adopt these recommendations. Our institute is part of a bigger movement that includes similar institutes at Berkeley and New York University.

As students learning these skills graduate and progress into positions of influence, we’ll see these standards become the new normal in science. Scholarly journals will require code and data files to accompany publications. Funding agencies will require they be placed in publicly accessible online repositories.

Example of a script used to analyze data.
Author provided

Open formats and free software are a win/win

This change in the way researchers use computers will be beneficial for public engagement with science. As researchers become more comfortable sharing more of their files and methods, members of the public will have much better access to scientific research. For example, a high school teacher will be able to show students raw data from a recently published discovery and walk the students through the main parts of the analysis, because all of these files will be available with the journal article.

Similarly, as researchers increasingly use free software, members of the public will be able to use the same software to remix and extend results published in journal articles. Currently many researchers use expensive commercial software programs, the cost of which makes them inaccessible to people outside of universities or large corporations.

Of course, the personal computer is not the sole cause of problems with reproducibility in science. Poor experimental design, inappropriate statistical methods, a highly competitive research environment and the high value placed on novelty and publication in high-profile journals are all to blame.

What’s unique about the role of the computer is that we have a solution to the problem. We have clear recommendations for mature tools and well-tested methods borrowed from computer science research to improve the reproducibility of research done by any kind of scientist on a computer. With a small investment of time to learn these tools, we can help restore this cornerstone of science.

The Conversation

Ben Marwick, Associate Professor of Archaeology, University of Washington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


The dark side of creativity

Creativity is almost always viewed as an asset to individuals and organizations. But it can also lead to negative behaviors. Kraigsta/Wikimedia Commons

Lynne Vincent, Vanderbilt University

Creativity – the generation of novel and useful ideas, products, or solutions – is seen as a valuable trait for people and organizations to possess.

Organizations harness it to develop innovative products, services, or processes, all of which promote profitability, long-term sustainability, and a competitive advantage. For the individual, research has shown that creativity is often associated with humor and altruism, more positive moods, and personal resiliency. Sharon Kim, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, Jack Goncalo, a professor at Cornell University, and I found that under certain conditions, creativity can help individuals rationalize and cope with the negative effects of social rejection.

Yet creativity isn’t always embraced – in fact, certain ideas can initially be viewed as so implausible that they are outright rejected. In the history of the Post-it note, several accidents and failures serendipitously came together to create an immensely successful product that revolutionized and redefined 3M.

In 1968 Spencer Silver, a scientist at 3M, was working on developing a strong and durable adhesive for building aircraft. At one point, he created a very weak adhesive. While it lacked the necessary strength, it had the remarkable qualities of leaving no residue and being reusable.

Nonetheless, 3M deemed the product useless, put it aside, and forgot about it.

Years later, Art Fry, a chemical engineer at 3M and church choir member, was frustrated about losing his place in his hymnal. Fry, who’d been aware of Silver’s invention, had an idea: he coated some paper with Silver’s failed adhesive, marked the hymnal pages with the pieces of paper, and then removed the paper after the church service without damaging the pages.

Seeing potential value in the product, Fry reintroduced it to his superiors. They panned the idea, and ordered that he cease working on the project.

Nonetheless, Fry defied those orders and continued with the project. He built a machine to produce the Post-it notes, distributing the prototypes to 3M’s secretaries, who loved them. Fry ignored his managers’ requests, used company property without permission, and bypassed the established protocols of the company – all to pursue his idea.

Tinkeringbell/Wikimedia Commons

Art Fry is credited with inventing the wildly successful Post-it note. However in order to create the product, he defied his bosses’ orders – and perhaps felt entitled to.

3M eventually saw the product’s value and manufactured it. Post-it notes became wildly successful and profitable: Fry had taken what was considered a useless product and applied it in a unique and useful way. But the story of the Post-it note demonstrates both the positive and the dark sides of creativity. On the one hand, a creative idea resulted in value and profit; on the other, an individual was willing to be intentionally dishonest in order to execute his idea.

It is this dark side of creativity – particularly the relationship between creativity and dishonesty – that has piqued the interest of researchers.

For example, Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard University, and Dan Ariely, a professor at Duke University, found that creative thinking allows individuals to justify their dishonesty (e.g. “I am not stealing this; I am just borrowing it”). It’s a slippery slope: as soon as a person can justify a behavior, he or she is more likely to engage in that behavior.

My research demonstrates that a dark side of creativity can surface in people who aren’t objectively creative, but simply think that they are. For example, people who view themselves as creative can develop a sense of entitlement – the belief that they’re more deserving than others. They view their ideas as unique, novel, and important, and, as a result, think they are entitled to either act in a certain way, or be rewarded for their efforts. For example, they may view stealing as a justified means of claiming something that they feel they deserve.

Returning to the story of the Post-it note, Art Fry may have believed that his product was so valuable and important that he was entitled to break the rules and be dishonest in order produce it.

The irony is that these negative behaviors may spur more creativity. Francesca Gino and Scott Wiltermuth, a professor at USC, found that being dishonest can actually promote creativity. In this study, participants who cheated on a math and logic task by looking at the answers performed better on a subsequent creativity task than participants who did not cheat. When someone is dishonest, it often requires he or she to break a set of rules; yet this rule-breaking may promote creativity because it allows people to flout convention and expectations. Again, in the story of the Post-it note, despite Art Fry’s disobedience and dishonesty, he ended up creating a wildly successful product.

Additionally, Emily Zitek, a professor at Cornell University, and I found that temporary feelings of entitlement can also promote creativity.

It’s like a self-fulfilling loop: while individuals who self-identify as creative may feel more entitled, it’s possible that this entitlement will cause them to take creative risks that they otherwise may have shied away from.

The Conversation

Lynne Vincent, Postdoctoral Research Scholar, Vanderbilt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Circumcision Bans Are Unhealthy, Unholy And Unwise For All Males

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

People who hate religion in general, or Islam and Judaism in particular, often attack circumcision as a cruel, barbaric ritual lacking any positive outcome. Others attack circumcision for hidden political reasons of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

And some attack circumcision on secular humane grounds as a needless, cruel procedure. For example, in September 2011 the Dutch Medical Association discouraged the practice of circumcision, calling it a “painful and harmful ritual.” (This advice as we shall soon see, was unwise medically.)

So it is good news for Jews and Muslims that on October 1. 2015 PACE-The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe nullified its earlier recommendation that European countries ban ritual circumcision, when it passed (73-6) a resolution on religious freedom.

PACE did not reverse its earlier recommendation due to recent scientific discoveries which explained the health benefit of circumcision; but due to the active political pressure of an alliance of Jewish and Muslim organizations.

Yet in the last two decades several major medical studies have shown the positive effect of circumcision; and this led the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support male circumcision procedures for male newborns and teenagers in the US, according to federal guidelines released 12/2/2014.

Clinical trials and observational studies have found that men who are circumcised are less likely than their uncircumcised peers to acquire sexually transmitted infections during vaginal sex. Being circumcised reduced the risk of infection with HIV from a female sexual partner by 50% to 60%. It also reduced the risk of getting genital herpes by up to 45% and of getting cancer-causing strains of human papilloma virus (HPV) by 30%.

Studies have also found that sex with circumcised men is safer for women. They are less likely to become infected with HPV, bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis, the CDC guidelines state.

The CDC also states that the risk of adverse events from circumcision is low, and that minor bleeding and inflammation are the biggest problems. The CDC also says minor complications arise in less than one-half of 1% of newborns and about 5% of adults. So being uncircumcised is unhealthy and unwise for all males.

As I stated above Muslims and Jews do not circumcise their children for medical health reasons. For Jews and Muslims ritual circumcision is a sign of communal loyalty and acceptance of God’s will. Christianity, Islam and Judaism all teach that circumcision was already practiced by Prophet Abraham, who is revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims to this day.

Christians do not believe circumcision is still a required observance. But, even during Medieval times, Christian governments never prohibited ritual circumcision for Jews and Muslims living under their rule. Equally, Jews and Muslims never tried to force Christians to circumcise their children.

Only pagan governments like the Greeks and the Romans, or anti-religious secular governments like Communist Russia, have done this.

These governments are led by people who believe that their own humanistic, rational philosophy is on a much higher level than what has been taught by traditional religions, which they do not believe in.

For Jews, the ritual dates back to God’s covenant with Abraham. The Torah declares:
(Genesis 17:7) “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you…

(17:8-11) “And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God. God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.

(17:12) “You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old,”

Jews have observed this commandment for almost 4,000 years. More than once, attempts to prevent Jews from circumcising their sons led to resistance. In 132 CE a revolt was started by Simon bar Kochba, when the Roman Emperor Hadrian forbade circumcision.

For Muslims, circumcision is connected to Allah commanding Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to follow the religion of Ibrahim (peace be upon him). When Allah says (Qur’an 16:123)  “Then We inspired you: ‘Follow the religion of Ibrahim, the upright in Faith’.” And part of the religion of Ibrahim is, as is evident from the verses cited above, to practice circumcision.

Abraham was an old man when he circumcised himself, thus becoming a good example that one is never to old to do God’s will. As a Hadith says: Prophet Muhammad said: ” Prophet Ibrahim circumcised himself when he was eighty years old and he circumcised himself with an axe.” (Related by Bukhari, Muslim & Ahmad.)

Prophet Muhammad himself selected the 7th day after birth to circumcise his own grandsons: Abdullah Ibn Jabir and Aisha both said: “The Prophet (peace be upon him) performed the Aqiqah of al-Hasan and al-Hussein (the prophets grandsons) circumcising them on the 7th day. Day.(Related in al-Bayhaq & Tabarani)

Another Hadith also demonstrates further the importance of male circumcision: The Prophet told a man who had just embraced Islam, “Remove the hairs from the time of disbelief from you and get yourself circumcised.” (Related by Ahmad and Abu Dawud)

Thus, for Jews circumcision is a sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham and his sons Ishmael and Isaac and their descendants for future generations. For Muslims it is a sign of their close connection to Abraham, which is also celebrated each year at the annual Hajj ceremonies.

For both Muslims and Jews, ritual circumcision is a sign that one who submits to God’s commandments and covenant cannot expect a life without some pain and suffering. But when endured for the right reasons, duty to God’s commandments always leads eventually to great spiritual, and even physical benefits. This is true wisdom.

Rabbi Maller’s web site is:


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