Author Archives: William Joseph Robbins-cole

Lasting Effects of Marijuana

Coming from Massachusetts this election did not only elect the controversial Donald Trump to office, but it also legalized the ever controversial plant: Marijuana. This is a topic that deeply divides people and I believe that it divides people because there are a distinct lack of facts. This blog explores whether there are any lasting effects of Marijuana use from a factual scientific position.


To explore this topic I used two meta-analyses that researched the physiological effects of marijuana on young people as well as one that researched whether Cannabis use can lead to psychotic or affective symptoms that last beyond initial intoxication.

The first study, conducted by Dr. John Macleod, gathered data collected by 16 other previous studies. Macleod set out with the hypothesis that drug use creates psychological health problems, use of other illegal drugs, reduced educational attainment, and antisocial behaviour. Along with the hypothesis, the study recognized that findings could be directly linked to reverse causation, where drug use is a consequence of the behaviors, as well as the possibility of a null hypothesis that neither of these hypotheses could be true.

The study found a mixture of results due to the large amount of confounding data.  The study was able to find consistent associations between marijuana use and lower educational attainment as well as an increase in reported use of other drugs. The study also found that while there is evidence between young people and psychological harm the extent of this connection is not as strong as previously believed, but a possibility that there is a connection can not be expelled. They also found that there is no strong evidence that marijuana has consequences on social health.


The second study, published by The Lancet, had conflicting data from Dr Macleod. The second study was a meta-analysis of 35 longitudinal population based studies. The hypothesis of this study was that marijuana use can lead to psychotic or affective symptoms.  Unlike in Macleod’s study, it was found that marijuana use led to an increased risk of psychotic outcomes.

After reading the results of these two meta-analyses, I came to the hypothesis that marijuana use, much like alcohol, creates personal effects for different people and therefore may not directly lead to physiological effect, but potentially exacerbates pre-existing conditions. My hypothesis is supported by Macleod’s study when it suggests that rather than marijuana use causing the problems, it is reverse causation and psychosocial problems might be more a cause than a consequence of marijuana use.


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Macleod, John, PhD. “Psychological and Social Sequelae of Cannabis and Other Illicit Drug Use by Young People: A Systematic Review of Longitudinal, General Population Studies.” ScienceDirect. The Lancet, 15 May 2004. Web. 2 Dec. 2016.

Moore, Theresa HM. “Cannabis Use and Risk of Psychotic or Affective Mental Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review.” Cannabis Use and Risk of Psychotic or Affective Mental Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review. The Lancet, Aug. 2007. Web. 2 Dec. 2016.

Social Media and Depression

When people think of our generation one of the first things that is mentioned is our addiction to technology, and in particular our addiction to social media. I do not think anyone here can really claim that they are not addicted to social media. My mother is constantly telling me to get off my phone, or that I am too addicted to snapchat and instagram.  All someone needs to do to see the pervasiveness of this epidemic is to look around at the mobs of people walking to class with their faces buried in their phones. While this addiction maybe keeping our parents up at night, there is another even more worrying trend among this country’s population, and that is depression.

Young man sitting looking upset


Depression affects more than 27 million Americans and is believed to be responsible for the more than 30,000 suicides each year. This illness makes up more disability claims than all other mental health disorders. By the year 2030 depression is predicted to become the leading cause of disability in first world countries.

Could these two trends potentially be related? Social media, such as facebook and twitter allow individuals to share their thoughts and emotions around a variety of happenings in everyday life. Social media is a platform that can become a remarkably powerful tool for people to share their beliefs. Uses such as these can allow social media to become a greater force for good, but conversely the emotional connection people feel towards their social media, be it a release or a constant competition to have more and more likes; creating an artificial sense of connection detracting from real world connections that can be made in person with real people.

Kiev, Ukraine - October 17, 2012 - A logotype collection of well-known social media brand's printed on paper. Include Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Vimeo, Flickr, Myspace, Tumblr, Livejournal, Foursquare and more other logos.

To test the hypothesis that social media is a cause of depression I looked into two different studies. The first used a sample size of 193 college students. The method used by this study included students being sent 43 surveys consisting of 9 questions over the course of 7 days. The questions focused on the amount of time spent on social media and depression. The result of this study came to the conclusion that there was no significant association observed between the use of social media and the probability of reporting any depression.

On the backing of this study alone I believe that more research is necessary due to the relatively small sample size, as well as the very short length of time that this study was conducted for. In response to this study, I decided to look for a larger longitudinal study that I believed would be able to produce stronger evidence to support either the hypothesis that social media is a cause of depression, or to verify the null hypothesis that this study found stating that in fact social media has no causal relation to depression.

The second study I found used a much larger sample size of 1,787 adults ranging from 19-32. This study in contrast to the last was carried out in the course of two months. While this study still did not provide the time length I was looking for it was certainly better than the last.  Similarly to the last study this one assessed depression and social media use by asking participant to fill out a 4 point scale on the frequency and strength of depression they felt, as well as asking how long they used social media and which sites they used. Unlike the last study this one found a linear association between social media use and depression.

While there may be some unknown mechanisms that might explain the finding that social media leads to depression. I believe that it may be that individuals with depression may tend to use social media more frequently than the general population. This ties into my theory that people with depression may turn to the artificial community that is social media for a sense of validation and self-worth.Another reason that people with depression may turn to social media, is that it allows for individuals with depression interactions that could lead to a feeling of connection without the social pressures of face-to-face interactions.

In conclusion, I believe that for a definitive answer to be found on this topic, a large longitudinal study that spans over the course of multiple months, or even years is needed. This could allow for researchers to observe whether there are long term effects of social media on depression. A study such as this would collect more data and could have a more conclusive answer than the current short term studies.

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Lin, Liu Yi. “SSOCIATION BETWEEN SOCIAL MEDIA USEAND DEPRESSION AMONG U.S. YOUNG ADULTS.” Wiley Online Library. Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2016. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.

Jelenchick, Lauren A. ““Facebook Depression?” Social Networking Site Use and Depression in Older Adolescents.” ScienceDirect. Journal of Adolescent Health, Jan. 2013. Web. 2 Dec. 2016.

Eating with our eyes

The United States is plagued with an obesity problem, but what is the cause of this issue? Is it the availability of unhealthy food options? Is it the absurd portions offered in the United States? Is it a combination of all of these?

Growing up the idea of finishing what is on our plates is ingrained within us. Children are constantly being rewarded with eating more through sayings such as being a “clean plate ranger”. These reinforcements do not go away as we grow up. I am sure everyone has heard someone tell them “are you not going to finish that? Come on there are starving kids in Africa you can’t just leave it”. Are these mantras goals that we should really strive for?

Dr. Brian Wansink is a scientist from Cornell who is very interested in this topic. I looked at two of his studies. The first investigates visuals cues and how they affect our eating habits. The second looks into whether the size of vessel the food is presented in makes a difference in food consumption.


The first study takes a sample size of 54 participants who eat in groups of four. These groups are presented with four bowls, two of the bowls are 18 oz and the other two hold 12. Of these four bowls two slowly refill themselves. This investigates whether the reinforcement of finish what is put in front of you creates visual cues which trick the mind into thinking that it is full when the food is gone rather than the actual intake of calories. After a timed 20 minute meal is finished the participants are asked how much food they ate and how full they feel. The post meal questionnaire showed that the participant who ate from the refilling bowl was unable to accurately identify how much they had eaten. The experiment found that participants with refilling bowls ate on average 73% more soup than their counterparts. Interestingly although two of the participants ate more than the other two both sets reported the same rating of fullness.

This shows that the mantra of eating till it is all gone changes people’s perception of food eaten. These results were consistent with the hypothesis that visual cues have become our consumption norm. We rely on our eyes and perception of a serving size to tell us how full we are.


The second study takes this experiment one step further by introducing the variable of taste. In the first experiment participants were given the exact same soup in this experiment a single blind randomized trial was done on moviegoers.  Participants were randomly given large and medium sized popcorns to eat during a movie. On top of the size of the popcorn 14 day old stale popcorn was given in some of the buckets and fresh popcorn was given in others. The results of this experiment found the people with fresh popcorn are 45.3% more popcorn than other participants with smaller sized  fresh popcorn. The visual cues are so ingrained in us that subjects with stale popcorn still ate 33.6% more popcorn from large containers even though in a post study questionnaire they complained about the taste of it.

Container size is so deceptive to our minds and stomachs that the supersizing of american food has created larger consumption norms in our population. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute serving sizes over the past 20 years have doubled or even tripled. I believe that obesity is such an issue in our culture that there should be moves to create legislation to reverse the trend towards supersizing and try to change america’s portion size within restaurants to smaller portions much like in Europe to try and save our country’s future health.   


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Wansink, Brian. “Bad Popcorn in Big Buckets: Portion Size Can Influence Intake as Much as Taste.” Bad Popcorn in Big Buckets: Portion Size Can Influence Intake as Much as Taste. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Sept. 2005. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.

Wansink, Brian. “Bottomless Bowls: Why Visual Cues of Portion Size May Influence Intake.” Wiley Online Library. N.p., Jan. 2005. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.

South Korean Controversy

Recent headlines have condemned Korean President Park Geun-hye for purchasing viagra for members of her staff to allegedly help with altitude sickness. When I first heard this it had to be the strangest thing I had ever heard of a politician doing. Until today this has bemused me. I wondered if Viagra could really help.


To try and debunk the Korean president, I found two studies that tested Sildenafil as a possible preventative medication for High Altitude Pulmonary Edema or HAPE for short. HAPE is the accumulation of liquid in lungs in high altitudes. The first study, published by Pacific University Oregon, was a meta-analysis of five separate studies testing the effects of sildenafil on athletic performance at high altitudes. The hypothesis being that it would help, and the null hypothesis being that Sildenafil made no difference to the performance in the activities.  The studies found that Sildenafil helped the participants in numerous ways, including: maintaining oxygen levels in blood, decreasing blood pressure in the heart and pulmonary artery, as well as increased cardiac output.


The first experiment was helpful, in that it proved the uses of Sildenafil in places of high altitude, but fell short of explaining President Park’s situation due to its focus on athletic performance rather than general wellbeing. The second study, published by the American Thoracic Society, used a double-blind placebo trial in which 12 participants were taken to different altitudes starting at sea level and slowly rising until a top altitude of 4350 meters was reached. The participants were either given Sildenafil or a placebo pill. The hypothesis of this study was that Sildenafil would reduce or prevent the effects of altitude sickness. Participants would be given a daily questionnaire three times a day to self-report symptoms as well as being monitored by two observers. The trial found that Sildenafil was successful, mainly due to the suppression of increased oxygen levels.

While these studies did find that Sildenafil would help with altitude sickness, as of now the preferred preventative measure to reduce sickness is a drug called nifedipine, which produces the same results as Sildenafil. While I am not going to campaign for the impeachment of Park, I am also unwilling to campaign. These studies have shown that there are other viable, and in fact more common altitude sickness medicines on the market. All I will say is that I am skeptical of President Park’s excuse.

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Richalet, Jean-Paul. “American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.” Sildenafil Inhibits Altitude-induced Hypoxemia and Pulmonary Hypertension: American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine: Vol 171, No 3. American Thoracic Society, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.

Van Peursem, Philip. “”Viagra Helps Mountaineers Perform at Altitude” by Philip Van Peursem.” Site. Pacific University Oregon, 11 Dec. 2012. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.

How Detrimental is Cell Phone Use?

We have all been there, sitting in a lecture hall surrounded by 300 other students and the professor just seems so far away. Their voice is just getting impossible to listen to and then it happens you feel the buzz. What do you do? Do you reach in your pocket and grab your phone? Do you ignore it? From my experience I would guess that around 80% of us would reach for that phone. We all know it is a mistake. We know it is trap, but we do it anyway. This blog is going to explore just how detrimental this mistake is to our grades.

Of the numerous studies I found on the internet, the one I found most powerful was a study done by the University of Colorado. The reason I like this study the best is that it was done in 2012, which to put into context was right around the time of the iPhone 4s and the beginning of the 5. A time that, I would say, was about the time that smart phones became commonplace among students. With that in mind we must assume that over the last four years the problem has grown, due to the huge advancements in cell phones and their distracting powers.


The study focuses on 8 different non-required introductory classes (much like SIOW) over the course of two semesters. In the first semester the study focused on computer use in class, while the second semester courses focused on cell phone use. This study used anonymous surveys to allow for students to self-report cell phone use. In these classes 75% of students reported cell phone use. What comes next is what I believe to be the most staggering number. The average grade difference between a cell phone user and a non cell phone user is a whooping .38 ± .08. To put that in context, phones can potentially drop a whole letter grade from a GPA. We must ask ourselves next time is that one text really worth this price? To make matters worse the study did not stop there, but also studied the effects of phone and computer use on classmates. The study found that the use of a phone distracts 32% of the class and the use of a computer distracts 46% of the class.

In conclusion, I do not believe that checking the text or snapchat is worth the penalty it has on academic performance, particularly because each course we take costs a staggering $4,400 for an out of state student like myself. If this is not enough to curb the temptation of the buzz think of the other people in the class that are affected. Resist the buzz!


(P.S. I am very guilty of all of this)






Duncan, Douglas K., Angel R. Hoekstra, and Bethany R. Wilcox. “Digital Devices, Distraction, and Student Performance: Does In-Class Cell Phone Use Reduce Learning?” Astronomy Education Review (2012): n. pag. 31 July 2012. Web. 15 Oct. 2016.

An Apple a Day Keeps The Doctor Away

Everyone has heard the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. As someone who hardly ever eats apples and has never had any serious health issues, I am fairly skeptical that 1. An apple by itself is the threshold to a healthy life and 2. That apples really help that much because I seem to be getting along just fine. After seeing a blog about the benefits of drinking a glass of milk every day, I decided to see if swallowing the weird texture would really help my chances of living a long and healthy life.


I set out with a null hypothesis that an apple wouldn’t make a difference either way, but presuming it might help a tad, but not enough for any sort of garden of eden medical magic. To prove my hypothesis I went to the fountain of all knowledge: The Ivy League. In a report by Dartmouth, Harvard, and University of Michigan they address whether an apple a day does in fact keep the doctor away. The study was conducted using a cross-sectional multistage probability interview survey. In this survey there were 12,755 participants all over the age of 18. These people were then split into two different groups; non-apple eaters and apple eaters. Over the course of a year the participants were interviewed and asked questions, such as, how many visits did they have to the hospital or any other health services including mental health care professionals and use of prescription drugs. After all the data was gathered, it was revealed that after necessary adjustments were made there were no significant differences between the two groups when it came to visits to the doctor, but apple eaters did have a sight advantage when it came to the need to take prescription drugs. The study humorously concludes that the saying would be more fitting if it was “an apple a day keeps the pharmacist away”.

Although an apple may help keep the pharmacist away I am currently not in need of a pharmacist and thus I maintain my belief in the null hypothesis. My belief was not disproven enough for me to start eating a fruit I do not particularly enjoy every day, but for those apple eaters I have good news you may have less visits to the pharmacy.






Davis, Matthew A., DC, MPH, PhD. “Association Between Apple Eaters and Physician Visits.” The JAMA Network. JAMA Internal Medicine, 01 May 2015. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.
“An Apple a Day May Not Keep the Doctor Away, but It’s a Healthy Choice Anyway – Harvard Health Blog.” Harvard Health Blog RSS. Harvard Health Publications, 02 Apr. 2015. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.

Remember That Time…

Has anyone ever asked you if you remember that time that we/you did… and you have a vague recollection of the memory, but the more they talk about it the more you remember? That might be because the event actually happened or you may have just had a false memory planted in your mind. I came across this problem while I was researching why we do not have memories from our infant years. As I read this article on infant memories, I happened upon the work of Elizabeth Loftus. Elizabeth loftus is famous for her work on memory planting, which is the act of inserting a memory into someone’s childhood and convincing them that it is true. I became intrigued and I wondered how this was possible. Loftus even went as far as to suggest that none of our memories may be real. After walking around in a state of confusion and doubt for the rest of the day I decided to learn exactly how one can do this and found that it is pretty simple.  


A big disclaimer, I am not advocating for people to go around doing this because people have gotten in serious trouble. For example, the reason that this phenomenon came to be in the public eye was a bout of famous cases in the mid 90s. These incidents involved numerous women who became convinced that they were involved in satanic cults or were victims of sexual abuse at the hands of their families. All of the women in these cases fell victim to memory planting during what was supposed to be therapy.

Elizabeth Lotus began studying “memory distortion” in the 1970s. By september of 1997 Loftus had conducted 200 studies with a total of 20,000 subjects. Loftus’ study that intrigued me the most was one in which she was able to convince people that at the age of 5 they had gotten lost in a shopping mall. To conduct this experiment she used 24 subjects varying in age between 18-53. She then gave each subject a book with 4 paragraphs; each a different childhood story supplied by the parents except 1 which was the story about being lost in the shopping mall. After reading these the subjects were asked to record how well they remembered each memory. The subjects were then asked to return for two follow up interviews in which they were asked to recall their memories. By the time of the second interview 6 of the 24 subjects claimed to have remembered the fictitious event. These results have been repeated numerous times which can be read about here conducted by many other scientists. Although it was clear that memories could be planted in a person’s mind through the power of persuasion there was no known mechanism, that is until 2013.

In 2013 MIT was able to make the first steps towards discovering exactly what happens when a memory is planted. They did this in a study of mice, in which they manipulated the brain cells in the hippocampus of the mice. The method of doing this was through creating a powerful memory by shocking the mice every time a certain light went off. By instilling this correlation between the light and the shock they were able to create a link in the brain cells that associated the light with pain. Although this is not exactly the same as memory planting MIT was able to create a fearful memory with artificial means. While this may not seem related it is our first step towards explaining why our memories are so malleable.

Although I did not find a concrete scientific explanation as to how memory planting works I will be certain to be skeptical of events that people try to remind me of that I cannot remember.






Creating a False Memory in the Hippocampus, Steve Ramirez, Xu Liu, Pei-Ann Lin, Junghyup Suh, Michele Pignatelli, Roger L. Redondo, Tomás J.Ryan and Susumu Tonegawa (July 25, 2013)


Gorvett 26 July 2016, Zaria. “The Mystery of Why You Can’t Remember Being a Baby.” BBC. BBC Online, 26 July 2016. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
Loftus, Elizabeth F. “Creating False Memories.” Creating False Memories. Scientific American, Sept. 1997. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.

Happiest Countries in World


As I was sitting in my econ class I began to daydream about summer vacation. In the midst of my phantasm I was struck by a memory of a debate I had done in my high school global economics course. The debate was on which form of economy (capitalism, socialism, or communism) was better in the areas of health care and education. While researching this paper I came across the Global Happiness Report. This stuck in my head because I was tasked with studying socialism, and the ranking reported Northern European socialist countries as the happiest. In this Blog I will be exploring exactly what makes a country happy, and why the Northern European countries tend to be ranked higher.

The first step on my quest to find the happiest country was to return to the place I had first encountered this ranking, and much to my pleasure I discovered that the World Happiness Report 2016 had been updated in between my my last viewing and now. Again I found that the Northern European Countries still dominated the top 10 list. With my source sorted out, it was time to discover why these countries consistently do so well. The World Happiness Report bases its data on an observational experiment gathered over 2013-2015. This data takes the form of a self evaluation known as a Cantril Ladder. The research is conducted by asking roughly 3000 people from each country to fill in the Cantril ladder on a basis of 0-10. In this study 0 is a fabricated dystopia made by the researchers and 10 being the best possible life. At a glance this may make the rankings seem like a silly doctors office pain ranking, but the report is also made up of six other factors which are then added to the responses of the 3000 participants. These variables are: levels of GDP, life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom, and corruption. Below is the graph in which all the variables are represented.


I know at first this graph is very confusing, but I will do my best to explain it. All the different colors in the graphs represent the different variables transformed into numerical form. The vast majority of the bars are made up of three factors in particular: GDP, social support, and the responses from the Cantril Ladder. At the end of the bars hovering over dystopia is a number line called the 95% confidence interval. This represents where 95% of the mean population is likely to be located.  

After finding out how they found the data, I searched for a definite reason why the top ten where the top ten to no avail. From studying the graph I do not believe that there is one single category in which any of the happiest countries run away with a particularly strong statistic, rather it appears that they have an overall better performance in all of the categories which allows them to edge out the competition.  

In conclusion, I could not tell exactly what makes these countries the happiest, so naturally I will have to continue my research by applying and receiving a grant from the university to allow me to travel the world and report my own findings.




Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2016). World Happiness Report 2016, Update (Vol. I). New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Nature Vs Nurture

There has long been a debate about whether a person’s traits are gained through hereditary means (nature), or from the environment (nurture) that they grew up in. While I knew that a person does not get eye color or height from whether or not their parents took them to church, I found myself in the section of the population that believed that someone is who they  are due to one’s experiences rather than a form of genetic predestination. Armed with my hypothesis I set out on a google adventure to see what science had to say…I found out that science disagrees.

I found two studies that powerfully refuted my belief: the first being the famous Minnesota Twin Family Study and a very compelling meta-analysis. This blog is going to focus mainly on the Meta-analysis due to its thorough process. The Meta-analysis was created by a collaboration of experts in the fields of neurology and gene speciality. The data was collected by taking 2,748 twin studies, published between 1958 and 2012, looking at 14,558,903 partially dependent twin pairs. The majority of these studies came from the United States, but studies were also taken from 38 other countries to insure punctiliousness. As well as ensuring variation in location of the studies, the twin pairings ranged in ages, but mostly focused upon twins between 18-64. These studies examined a total of 17,804 traits. The majority of these traits were categorized under 28 general traits. Out of these 28, ten were investigated: temperament and personality functions, weight maintenance functions, general metabolic functions, depressive episode, higher-level cognitive functions, conduct disorders, mental and behavioral disorders (due to use of alcohol), anxiety disorders, height, and mental and behavioral disorders (due to use of tobacco). The study found that while genes were not the sole cause of all traits, there was not a single trait studied that genes did not affect in someway. The amount that the genes controlled traits varied from case to case, but on the whole it was found that traits either influence, or completely control each trait. While this study alone showed me that my beliefs were wrong, I continued to search for a different study to investigate where normal behaviors come from, rather than disorders and complex traits. In my search I found The Minnesota Twin Family Study.


This study was a longitudinal study done on twins and parents that were separated at birth. To my relief, an interview with one of the scientists involved in the study, Nancy Segal, admitted to originally believing some traits, such as religious beliefs and social attitudes, would be effected by nature not genetic influence at the get go of the experiment. Unfortunately for both of us, through the study, the findings show that genes in fact do play a role in behaviors such as these. Although this study again proves that I was wrong. With Andrews lecture on the Texas Sharpshooter problem and the file draw problem fresh in my mind I began to become skeptical the more I read. As I read the articles and results they seemed to focus on amazing accounts of twins that were separated at birth and still had amazing parallels between their lives, for example: two twins who had the same names, same habits, drove the same car, and went on vacations to the same beach. The articles only talked about incredible cases, and in my mind I could not shake the thought of where all the boring, or normal studies were. While I had these doubts the evidence provided by these two studies could not be proven wrong.

In conclusion, these studies showed me, with overwhelming evidence, that my hypothesis was wrong. The evidence of 14 million twins proved to me that it is in fact nature that prevails when it comes to personality traits, not nurture as I once believed.






Lewis, Tanya. “Twins Separated at Birth Reveal Staggering Influence of Genetics.” LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 11 Aug. 2014. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Miller, Peter. “A Thing or Two about a Thing or Two, A.k.a. Science.” National Geographic 24 (2013): 59-62. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Polderman, Tinca C J, Beben Benyamin, Christiaan A. De Leeuw, Patrick F. Sullivan, Arjen Van Bochoven, and Peter M. Visscher. “Meta-analysis of the Heritability of Human Traits Based on Fifty Years of Twin Studies.”Nature Genetics. Nature Publishing Group, 18 May 2015. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Health Benefits of Playing Rugby

Rugby is one of the most misunderstood sports in the United States. Although the popularity of playing rugby is increasing in the US, the game still remains an enigma to many people. So when I tell people I play Rugby I usually get a lot of questions. The two most common questions I get are “Isn’t Rugby like football without pads?” and “How many injuries and concussions have you gotten”. This blog is mostly going to focus on the latter of the two questions. However, to address the first question briefly, the two games are not similar         except for the fact that there is tackling involved. If you have never seen rugby here is a highlight video.

To answer the second question I would like to start off  by giving you facts about rugby injuries before moving on to the benefits of playing rugby. When most people in America think of Rugby they presume that the concussion level is high, but to the contrary, this data supplied by American Association of Neurological Surgeons reports that number of visits to the emergency room with concussions in 2009 shows that Rugby comes 17th on the list with 5,794, while sports like football reported 47,000 cases which ranked second behind cycling.



Although injuries are a part of Rugby, like all other sports, what I think sets Rugby apart from other sports are the physical and mental benefits there are to gain from playing. Like all sports there are incredible physical benefits to gain from playing Rugby. Health Fitness Revolution lists off many broad benefits such as increased muscle strength, flexibility, an improved cardiovascular system, increased bone density, and the ability to develop greater speed and endurance. A further in depth study by the Rugby Football Union has shown that playing rugby reduces type 2 diabetes and colon cancer by 50%, heart disease and stroke by 35%, and early death, depression, and dementia by 30%. While all the physical benefits are important I believe that it is the mental development one gains from playing rugby is the most important.

As my coach in high school said to us before every game, Rugby is a thinking man’s game and if you are not prepared to think then you are not prepared to play. I think that this could not be truer. Rugby is a game based on quick thinking and discipline on the field, as well as a game of community and friendship off the field.


Returning to the study done by Health Fitness Revolution, playing rugby helps to develop increased self-confidence and self-respect, discipline, helps build mental toughness and resilience, and improves the overall mental state through camaraderie and a sense of purpose. While playing on the field each player needs to fight through physical exhaustion to stay disciplined and maintain tactics. Rugby though, does not end after the final whistle, but continues as the tradition is for the home team to host the away team to a meal. This tradition teaches sportsmanship and develops social skills, as well as furthering the sense of camaraderie within the rugby community.



“‘Rugby Is a Fantastic Sport for Children'” England Rugby. N.p., 02 Mar. 2016. Web. 11 Sept. 2016. <>

“The American Association of Neurological Surgeons.” AANS. N.p., Aug. 2014. Web. 11 Sept. 2016. <>

“Top 10 Health Benefits of Rugby • Health Fitness Revolution.” Health Fitness Revolution. N.p., 15 Mar. 2016. Web. 11 Sept. 2016.  <>


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There are More Than One Type of Giraffe!

This past week has rocked the world of zoology. what we once thought was an unequivocal record of the tallest animal held by the towering creature that is the giraffe has now been proven wrong. There is in fact, a four-way tie for the world’s tallest animal. It turns out that we have been living under false pretenses since the beginning of mankind. A recent study by Dr. Axel Janke, a geneticist at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, has proven that there are four different species of giraffes instead of the long-established belief that the giraffe was a solitary species.



According to an article from the BBC commenting on Dr. Janke’s work, these four different species of giraffes have not exchanged genetic material or cross-bred in the last 2 million years. Janke has described the difference between the different groups of Giraffes as the difference between polar bears and brown bears due to the discrepancies in DNA. The four different species of giraffes, the Northern, Southern, Masai giraffe and the Reticulated giraffes, according to Nature,  the differences between them most likely come from geographic separation probably due to rivers and geographic obstacles. This discovery, however exciting it for a record to be disproven is more important for conservational reasons.


The reason that this is so important is that even though we have known that giraffe populations have dropped in recent time giraffes have not received as much attention as other African Animals such as the elephant and rhinoceros according to McClatchy DC News. This new information will allow conservationists to concentrate their efforts. Before this discovery giraffes were listed as of least concern by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. This discovery will allow researchers to see how each species is fairing to help set up conservation strategies.


Fennessy, J. & Brown, D. 2010. Giraffa camelopardalis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2010: e.T9194A12968471. Downloaded on 12 September 2016.

Gill, Victoria. “Giraffe Genetic Secret: Four Species of Tallest Mammal Identified.” BBC News. N.p., 8 Sept. 2016. Web. 11 Sept. 2016. <>, By Teresa. “Giraffes May Be Endangered, New Discovery Reveals.” Mcclatchydc. N.p., 8 Sept. 2016. Web. 11 Sept. 2016. <>

Woolston, Chris. “DNA Reveals That Giraffes Are Four Species — Not One.” Nature Publishing Group, 8 Sept. 2016. Web. 11 Sept. 2016. <>

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This election has been known for its unique hostility and unprecedented style of commencement, the current presidential election is, uniformly agreed upon, as one of the most divisive political events of our time. The name Donald Trump conjures images of walls, immigration, and curt decisive statements. However, a much-overlooked issue when facing the behemoth that is Donald Trump is the environment.


Before drawbridges are pulled up and guards raised, it would be very appreciated if an open mind was kept while reading this blog. I am not trying to write any sort of Pro-Hillary or Anti-Trump propaganda, but rather, address an issue many of us are directly involved in.

Anyway, back to the wall. When looking for possible solutions to certain issues it is important to consider all impacts the solution will have, both negative and positive. Trump’s solution to immigration is no different. The area surrounding both sides of the current wall and the proposed extension to the wall is home to some of North America’s richest ecosystems. According to Krista Schlyer, a reporter for the Rio Grande River Valley is a busy migration path for 500 different species of birds, home to 700 species of vertebrates, and many different species of plants. These plants and animals include the saguaro cactus, roadrunners, the endangered North American Jaguar, and Ocelot. Adele Conover of the Smithsonian was quoted as saying the once common ocelot’s population now hovers around 80-120 cats, 40 of which live in the region that the wall would cut in half. For more information, you can read more about this topic here.

Unsurprisingly, animals do not have much of a concept of political boundaries or international affairs. When choosing their habitats they do not much care for whether their hunting territory is in Mexico or United States. By creating physical boundaries, we break up ecosystems with potentially devastating consequences.



For example, the Black bear that lives primarily in Texas relies on mating with their cousins in Mexico. With the new wall that trump has estimated to be somewhere between 30-60 feet high and made of pure concrete, it is certainly unlikely that the black bears of the United States and the bears in Mexico will be able to find any way around to continue mating.

As well as the direct consequences a wall like this could have on the environment, there are many other indirect ramifications this may have. Some of these include the accidental destruction of habitats by redirection of watershed leading to flooding as well as psychological damages to the animals living in the area. In a BBC article written by Jonathan Sullivan on the topic, he tells a brief anecdote about the death of thousands of antelopes in the 1880s due to the construction of railroads. The antelopes were unable to cross the tracks and, as a result, more than 10,000 antelopes died. To think that something as small as a railroad track can kill thousands of animals it is hard to imagine the result of a 2,000-mile wall.

To conclude I believe decisions like the decision to build the Great Wall of Trump should not be taken lightly, and every outcome must be investigated. This possible repercussion is one that I do not believe has been given proper consideration, especially due to the fact that I had not heard of it until I typed science into the BBC website and it came up as a minor article. So next time you hear mention of the “the wall” think of all the animals it affects.



Conover, Adele. “Not a Lot of Ocelots.” Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian, June 2002. Web. 08 Sept. 2016. <>

Gaskill, Melissa. “The Environmental Impact of the U.S.-Mexico Border Wall.”Newsweek. 2016 NEWSWEEK LLC, 21 May 2016. Web. 08 Sept. 2016. <>

Sullivan, Jonathan. “What Would Trump’s Wall Mean for Wildlife?” BBC News. BBC Online, 1 Sept. 2016. Web. 08 Sept. 2016. <>

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Hey SC200,

My name is Will Robbins-Cole (I know its a mouth full). I am a freshman from Boston MA who is majoring in Marketing. In high school I was in an honors science class, but did not really love it. I found out that science really was not for me when I met my Chemistry teacher.

While outside of the classroom he was a really great guy! . He was the baseball coach, ran marathons, led a group of students who figured out how to clone orchids, and on top of that he is a Penn State graduate. (you can see here all the other cool things he has done by scrolling to him and clicking read bio) While he was really cool outside of class, after one week of sitting through his dull lectures on stuff I could just look up, or topics that I felt were completely irrelevant to what I want to do in my life, I knew science and I would never get along ever again.

Upon my arrival to Penn State the thought of taking another science class was really getting me down, until I saw the description of this class. Just to take a step back, I grew up listening to NPR on every car journey with my dad and through him I gained an appreciation, even a love, for current affairs and the happens in our ever changing world. Due to these interests SIOW: Certainty & Controversy instantly peaked my interest. So far with one week under my belt I have not been disappointed.

-Will Robbins-Cole