Yemen’s warring sides said to agree on prisoner swap
By DAVID KEYTON and SAMY MAGDY
Tuesday, December 11
RIMBO, Sweden (AP) — Both sides in Yemen’s civil war agreed Tuesday to exchange more than 15,000 prisoners by Jan. 20, a member of the rebel delegation said, in what could be the first major breakthrough in the 4-year-old conflict that has killed thousands of people and left millions more facing hunger.
Delegations from the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Iran-backed Shiite rebels said at news conferences in Sweden that they have exchanged prisoner lists. The lists will be reviewed over four weeks, ahead of a final swap to be facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the representatives said.
The move is a crucial step in implementing an agreement reached earlier this month on the exchange of all prisoners held by both sides.
The government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition, said it has provided U.N. mediators with an initial list of 8,200 prisoners allegedly held by the rebels, known as Houthis.
The government list included members of the family of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was killed by the Houthis in December 2017. It also included more than 300 children and 88 women.
The rebel delegation said it has provided its own list of prisoners held by the government.
“The Houthis provided a list of 7,487 captives and detainees. We provided a (list) of 8,576 detainees,” said Askar Zouail of the government delegation. “But the number of detainees (held by the rebels) exceeds 18,000 detainees since the beginning of the war” in March 2015.
While U.N. officials at the talks called the exchange of prisoner lists “very impressive,” the sheer size of the swap could potentially delay the process beyond the Jan. 20 deadline and hinder implementation of the deal.
Othman Mujali, who is agriculture minister in the Hadi government, said both sides are considering a mechanism for implementing the swap.
“We hope the other side is serious. For us, we are serious and ready at the moment,” he said.
Houthi representative Abdul-Qader el-Murtaza said the government list includes prisoners from member countries in the coalition, such as Sudan and the United Arab Emirates.
He said Jan. 20 was set a final date for the prisoner swap overseen by the Red Cross.
A period of four weeks was set for any questions and for verification of the prisoners’ names, “then there will be 10 days for the Red Cross to prepare logistic and technical matters for the transfer and exchange of the prisoners,” el-Murtaza said.
The U.N. is hopeful that details of the prisoner release will be worked out and “we can handle the logistics” with partners, said U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq.
“If this can be achieved, that certainly is a positive step forward,” he told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York. “Any measures that involve increasing the amount of trust and confidence that’s built up can, we believe, help achieve a lasting resolution to this conflict.”
Martin Griffiths, the U.N.’s Yemen envoy, told reporters in Sweden on Monday that he was encouraged by “the positive and serious spirit” both sides have demonstrated in the current round of talks.
The Shiite rebels seized the capital of Sanaa in 2014. The Saudis intervened the following year. The civil war has killed at least 10,000 people, though the figure is believed to be higher, and turned Yemen into one of world’s worst humanitarian crises with 22 million of its 29 million people in need of aid, according to the U.N.
While the prisoner agreement created a measure of goodwill between the warring sides, an agreement to reduce violence in the strategic port city of Hodeida would create a climate more conducive toward seeking a settlement to the conflict.
Rebel delegation member Gamal Amer said both sides are discussing initial draft proposals for Hodeida. The proposals include a halt to all fighting, the withdrawal of troops to the city limits and later out of the province, while allowing U.N. oversight and setting up a local administration, Amer said in video comments.
An agreement on Hodeida is expected to be reached before heading to another future round of peace talks, Amer added, without elaborating.
About 70 percent of food aid and other imports are shipped through the port of Hodeida, and reducing restrictions on aid organizations and fuel imports are vitally needed.
U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said Monday that 20 million people, amounting to 70 percent of the population of Yemen, are hungry, adding that there has been “a significant, dramatic deterioration” of the humanitarian situation in the country.
Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed al-Jaber lauded the “positive atmosphere at the talks.
“We are optimistic progress can help with restoration of Yemeni state, security, and stability,” he tweeted on Tuesday.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also welcomed the initial agreements between the Yemeni parties in Sweden under U.N. supervision.
He tweeted that Iran “strongly supports continuation of talks to achieve final accords on all issues. It is well past time for foreign aggressors to end their airstrikes & crimes against humanity.” He was referring to the coalition, which is supported by the United States.
U.N. officials have sought to manage expectations in the talks, saying they don’t foresee rapid progress toward a political settlement but hope for at least some minor steps that would help the worsening humanitarian crisis and prepare a framework for further negotiations.
An Associated Press investigation has revealed evidence of torture at detention sites run by the Houthi rebels. There has also been international outrage over abuses by the coalition. The AP has previously exposed torture at secret prisons run by the UAE, a coalition member, and Yemeni allies. It has documented the deaths of civilians from drone strikes by the U.S. in its campaign against al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen.
Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.
Countering misinformation about flu vaccine is harder than it seems
December 6, 2018
Postdoctoral Fellow in the Science of Science Communication, University of Pennsylvania
Postdoctoral Fellow at the Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Pennsylvania
Dominik Stecula receives funding from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada for part of his research on misinformation.
Kathryn Haglin and Matthew Motta do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Many Americans hold beliefs about the flu vaccine that are at odds with the best available scientific evidence. For example, a recent study found that more than two-fifths, or 43 percent, of Americans believe that the seasonal flu vaccine can give us the flu. Scientific research strongly suggests that this is not true. Because modern flu vaccines do not contain a live virus, the shot itself simply cannot get us sick.
Widespread misinformation about flu vaccine safety is an important public health problem, because people who believe that the flu vaccine can make us sick may be less likely to vaccinate themselves. In 2017, and in every flu cycle since 2010, less than half of American adults chose to vaccinate themselves against the flu.
Low flu vaccine uptake is especially concerning this year. Recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates suggest that the most recent flu cycle was one of the deadliest ever – as nearly 80,000 Americans died from the flu and flu-related complications in 2017. That’s more than double the number of Americans who die in traffic collisions, in a typical year.
Consequently, figuring out how public health professionals can most effectively combat misinformation about the flu vaccine is a critically important question for public health research. Looking at the latest research, we review the effectiveness of several communication strategies designed to reduce misinformation about the flu – and childhood – vaccines.
Strategy No. 1: Just the facts
One way that public health researchers and professionals attempt to correct misinformation about the flu is by attempting to educate people about its causes and severity, and to provide them with information about flu vaccine safety.
In general, the “just the facts” approach has limited effectiveness. For example, a recent study found that providing people with information about the health risks posed by seasonal influenza neither improved their likelihood of getting the flu vaccine nor decreased misinformation about flu vaccine safety. Scholars have found a similar pattern of results when attempting to provide people with information about the health risks posed by other diseases as well.
Providing people with information about flu vaccine safety specifically may be somewhat more effective – at least at reducing misinformation. Recent academic studies have shown that presenting survey respondents with facts about vaccine safety can decrease the extent to which survey respondents believe that vaccines are unsafe.
But, there’s a catch. People who become less likely to believe misinformation about vaccine safety are not necessarily more likely to get vaccinated, due to something scholars call the “backfire effect.”
The backfire effect occurs when efforts to provide people with information which challenges their prior beliefs can actually make them more resistant to taking action based on that information. For example, one study found that people who were told that the flu vaccine does not contain a live virus – and therefore cannot give one the flu – were more likely to report thinking that vaccines were safe. But they were also less likely to consider getting vaccinated themselves.
Strategy No. 2: Bust the myths
A second strategy that public health researchers and professionals use to correct misinformation about the flu involves tackling the myths directly by engaging in “myth busting.” This is closely tied to the first approach, except that it frequently involves exposing people to a piece of misinformation about the flu vaccine in an effort to discredit it.
That of course, is problematic, given that repeating the myth might increase the odds of people believe in it. And correcting misinformation is very difficult task, primarily because misinformation tends to be “sticky.” Therefore, even when “myth busting” works, the effects might not last a very long time. One study, for example, looked at people’s misperceptions about basic science questions, provided them with corrections, and then reinterviewed them a week later. The result? Even those for whom the correction worked in the beginning returned to hold the initial, misinformed opinion.
While this may sound pretty bleak, scholars studying this topic did find that certain approaches to “myth busting” might work. A worthwhile approach, for example, avoids repeating misinformation (such as saying that the flu vaccine includes a live virus) first to then “debunk” it. Instead, the focus should be on presenting people with the myth correcting information prior to the misinformation.
Scholars also suggest that making “myth busting” information as interesting and engaging as the myth itself, to ensure that it is memorable. That approach is not ideal, but it has been found to reduce the negative effects of misinformation on intention to vaccinate. It also reduces the opportunity for the correction to backfire, at least in some contexts.
Strategy No. 3: ‘If you get vaccinated, I will too … ’
A third strategy that health researchers and professionals use to encourage people to get the flu vaccine attempts to appeal to people’s desire to reciprocate. This often takes the form of appeals to larger group behavior, or emphasizing the importance of getting vaccinated to protect others in the community, irrespective of whether or not people subscribe to scientific consensus on vaccine safety.
Some studies suggest that this approach can be effective, for some people. Recent work found that cultures that focus on collective benefits have higher rates of compliance with vaccines and communicating the concept of “herd immunity” improves an individual’s willingness to get vaccinated. Similarly, another study found that those who believe their network supports vaccination feel more positively towards vaccines and express stronger intent to vaccinate themselves.
While it seems like individuals might have an interest in protecting the health of others for some sense of the “greater good,” the benefits of appealing to this sentiment are limited. Studies find that this type of message often produces mixed results. For example, one study found that while an appeal to social identity and the behavior of others in their community may work for some groups, overall, appeals to join others getting vaccinated did not change behavioral intentions. Another study found that communications about social and community benefits were only effective when the costs of getting vaccinated were low. In other words, appeals to reciprocity may work for some individuals, but overall do not have a strong effect.
Where does this leave us?
Correcting misinformation about the flu vaccines is hard, and the academic literature provides mixed signals about approaches to tackling this problem. The best evidence suggests that a more effective way of dealing with misinformation is not spreading it in the first place. That means avoiding repeating various myths, even if you’re debunking them. Appealing to widely recognized and accepted societal norms may be also effective, under some circumstances. It also cautions us to be aware that correcting misinformation does not guarantee that people will pursue healthy behaviors.
This is, however, just a starting point. We encourage scholars, health professionals and science communicators to devise and test alternative approaches to correcting misinformation about vaccines. For example, appeals that discuss the deadly nature of the flu virus, compared to past years and other common causes of death, such as car crashes, may make the risks of getting the flu more tractable, in a way that encourages vaccination in the general population.
When scientists push people to their tipping point
We’re bad at knowing when we will fall – or when we’re upright
COLUMBUS, Ohio — You probably overestimate just how far someone can push you before you reach your tipping point, new research suggests.
No, we’re not talking about your emotional tipping point.
A new study examined how far people thought they could lean over backwards before they would actually fall to the ground. When study participants were put into a device that slowly and safely tilted them, most thought they reached their tipping point when they were tilted somewhere near 14 degrees from vertical (straight up and down).
But research suggests the actual tipping point for most people is nearer to 8 or 9 degrees, said Dennis Shaffer, lead author of the study and associate professor of psychology at The Ohio State University, Mansfield.
Study participants were even worse at estimating when they watched models being tilted backwards – in that case, they projected the tipping point would be nearly 45 degrees.
“That’s about 35 degrees off from reality,” Shaffer said.
As if that weren’t bad enough, the study found we can’t tell when we are standing straight up. And the miscalculations don’t end there.
“This study fits with other research we’ve done that shows people don’t do well estimating other kinds of angles, like the steepness of hills,” he said.
The study appears online in the journal Attention, Perception & Psychophysics and will be published in a future print edition.
A person’s tipping point can be calculated by knowing his or her height, weight and foot size. For nearly everybody, that point turns out to be less than 10 degrees, said study co-author Kirsten Greer, who works in Shaffer’s lab at Ohio State.
In this study, researchers conducted four experiments, each involving 42 to 60 college students, to see how well they could predict their own tipping point. In most cases, the researchers used a device called an inversion table.
Participants stood with their back against a flat board, were strapped in and then slowly tilted backward at their waist.
“They were instructed to tell us to stop when they felt they were at the point where they would no longer be able to stay upright and would fall over backward if they weren’t in this device,” Greer said.
For the average participant, that was near 14 degrees backward.
But an inversion table may not be the best way to measure our perceived tipping point. That’s because in most falls, people start falling from their feet and not their waist. So the researchers developed a different tilting apparatus, based on a hand truck, that would tilt people at their feet.
Even with this device, most people thought their tipping point was near 14 degrees, Greer said.
“Overall, people seem to have far less understanding about their body in space than they believe,” she said.
That point was shown again in one of the studies when people, after being tilted backward, were slowly brought back up to a standing position. They were asked to tell the researcher when they were perfectly vertical. Participants were asked to look straight ahead and not glance down during the experiment.
Average participants said they were straight up and down when they were still tilted backward about 6 degrees.
“People were shocked when they found out they weren’t standing straight up,” Greer said. “We didn’t have anyone who got to 0 degrees before telling us they were vertical.”
It’s not just issues involving the angle of human bodies that seem to perplex us, Shaffer said. In other research, he found that people overestimate the steepness of slopes, including staircases and escalators.
This new work could help inform research on preventing falls, which are a leading cause of injury and death in older Americans.
“It may be that as we age our perceived vertical becomes further away from true vertical, or we can no longer correct for the discrepancy between true vertical and what we perceive as vertical,” Shaffer said.
The perception of being vertical while actually tilted slightly backward also has implications for design of furniture and various types of seats, he said.
Other co-authors on the study, all from Ohio State, were Erica Bishop, Mara Hernandez, Cage Cramer, Jackson Schaffer, Brandon Short, Ky Mattingly, Meghan Burkhardt and Echoe Smith.
NEX Transport Expands Operations in Bellefontaine, Ohio; Invests More Than $1.4 Million
Columbus, Ohio – NEX Transport Inc., a one-stop business solution that connects people and companies through diverse logistics modes, has announced plans to add a new facility in Bellefontaine, Ohio, investing more than $1.4 million and creating 200 new jobs. Hiring will begin in late Q4 after the completion of the new facility.
NEX Transport has experienced steady growth, with existing and new customers driving the need to increase capacity and support their customer base more effectively. The company will partner with Thomas & Marker Construction to build and lease a new warehouse in Bellefontaine. Construction is scheduled to begin in summer 2019.
“The Columbus Region has played a key role in our company’s ongoing success and growth,” said Hiroki Matsuoka, NEX Transport president. “With this expansion NEX Transport will continue to make strides in its strategy to transform into a world class logistics provider.”
Established as a joint venture between worldwide logistics and freight forwarding company Nippon Express and packaging specialist company Nittsu Shoji, NEX Transport was created with both specialties in mind. Initially, the company provided warehousing services to automotive customers but has since grown to include kitting, sequencing, and component deliveries.
“NEX Transport is a critical employer for Logan County, and we’re delighted the company plans to expand and add more jobs in the area,” said Bellefontaine Mayor Ben Stahler. “Bellefontaine offers NEX Transport a central and cost competitive location to help fuel its success.”
With greater access to the U.S. market than any other major metro, the Columbus Region is a strategic location for the movement of goods. More than 4,400 logistics establishments employing over 83,000 employees thrive on the Columbus Region’s ultra-modern interstate highway system, third-party logistics companies and multiple rail terminals. Bellefontaine is located in Logan County, which is home to an estimated 45,325 residents.
“Ohio’s strategic role in the global supply chain continues to grow with NEX Transport’s plans to expand its operations in the Columbus Region,” said Ted Griffith, JobsOhio managing director for logistics and distribution. “Ohio has the competitive advantages to support NEX’s success, and we are excited to see it grow in Bellefontaine, where it will add 200 new jobs.”
About NEX Transport Inc.
What began as a warehousing operation servicing primarily the local automotive industry in East Liberty, Ohio, NEX has grown to include kitting, sequencing, and component deliveries. NEX serves as a one-stop business solution that connects people and companies beyond national and regional boundaries, through diverse logistics modes, integrating land, air, and marine transport. It now efficiently handles over four million components monthly and ships to 13 countries. Learn more at nextransportinc.com.
About Columbus 2020
As the economic development organization for the Columbus Region, Columbus 2020’s mission is to generate opportunity and build capacity for economic growth across 11 Central Ohio counties. In 2010, hundreds of business and community leaders developed the Columbus 2020 Regional Growth Strategy, and the Columbus Region is now experiencing the strongest decade of growth in its history. The Columbus 2020 team conducts business outreach, promotes the Columbus
Region to market-leading companies around the world, conducts customized research to better understand the Columbus Region’s competitiveness, and works to leverage public, private and institutional partnerships. Funding is received from more than 300 private organizations, local governments, academic institutions and JobsOhio. Learn more at ColumbusRegion.com.