Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Rats, roaches, mold: The expensive cost of the most common—and feared—home infestations

red and green tent covering home being fumigated
Unwind // Shutterstock

Years ago, Kyle Selbach was visiting a home to talk to its owner about pest control services. "He had two roaches on the bill of his hat," recalled Selbach, director of operations at All "U" Need Pest Control in Fort Myers, Florida. "I was losing my mind." 

After continuing the conversation for a little while, Selbach finally interrupted and told the man what he was seeing. The man took off his hat, but then "he just flung the roaches off and put the hat right back on," said Selbach, still surprised all this time later.

But ignoring a pest problem won't make it go away — and might just make it worse.

The ConsumerAffairs Research Team sought to determine how common various pests are in American homes, and what people have done — and are willing to do — about them. The team analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Housing Survey, collected every two years, from 2015 to 2021, and conducted a survey of a nationally representative sample of 2,000 people on related issues in February 2024. The survey found that, despite apathy and resistance from residents to spending money on home infestations, those who have dealt with pest issues have faced high expenses and unintended consequences. 

Homeowners fighting pests most often battled rodents and roaches

The survey found that an estimated one-third of people who spent money in the past year to fight pests in their homes spent more than $1,000. Infestations can also lead people to throw out damaged or soiled items, renovate their homes or, in extreme cases, move out of their homes entirely. Health issues are another risk — 16% of Americans report experiencing health issues as a result of pest infestations, ConsumerAffairs found.

Making matters worse, 17% of Americans say they have been judged by friends or family for having pests in their homes, according to the ConsumerAffairs survey.

Despite the potential for serious consequences, an estimated 12% of people say they would not be willing to spend any money to fight a pest infestation. And when faced with an actual problem, 17% of people say they take no action at all.

"Some people — believe it or not — literally don't care," Selbach said.

Harrowing experience

In general, the data shows that rats and mice are most common in U.S. homes, closely followed by cockroaches. Much less prevalent is mold, and even rarer are bedbugs. But bedbugs spark the most fear among residents, followed by rats, mold, cockroaches and mice, in that order.

Having pests in the home can be disruptive, embarrassing and unhealthy. Selbach said some treatment processes, such as fumigation, can be unpleasant for people to be around. Even when placing baits and traps around a home, he tells customers, "It's going to get worse before it gets better because we're stirring them up."  

According to the ConsumerAffairs survey, 12% of Americans have had to move out of their homes temporarily because of a pest issue, and another 7% said they had to leave their homes for good. About 14% reported needing renovations to get their infestation under control.

Cockroaches and rodents can trigger allergies and asthma, and they spread germs that contaminate food, said Changlu Wang, an extension entomologist at Rutgers University. Mice and rats can also carry fleas and mites that spread disease.

Ignoring the pests can make the problem worse, Wang said. Many of the people he has surveyed over the years have had infestations for long periods before they took action. And in many cases, neighbors' homes were the sources of the pests.

In a 2018-2019 survey of low-income apartment residents in New Jersey, Wang and his colleagues found that 56% of homes had at least one pest. He recommends that renters tell their landlords so they can take care of the problem — and that landlords who get resident complaints about pests check with all the neighbors in the building — to prevent the spread of an infestation.

Fighting back

Usually people try to fight pests on their own, Selbach said, and sometimes those measures work. "What's driving [the pests into the home] is the humidity change," he explained. "They're usually looking for more moisture than is available outside but also some nearby dry surfaces to inhabit, and gravitate to rooms with heavy water usage." 

That lines up with the ConsumerAffairs survey, which found that about two-thirds of residents with mold problems find these fungal infestations in their kitchens or bathrooms. 

Once they're in the home, pests can find plenty of food that is easier to access than in outdoor settings, Selbach said, noting that even the cleanest homes have some crumbs on the floor. That's why the pests stick around.

People try different ways to get rid of the problem: 57% of those surveyed by ConsumerAffairs reported trying store-bought pest control products, and 30% tried various home remedies, which Selbach says can even include essential oils. 

By the time someone calls in an expert, Selbach said, they have likely tried a range of unsuccessful approaches. "Typically they're calling when they've thrown in the towel," he said.

People most often turn to pest control products to control infestations

Wang said many of the sprays, bombs and ultrasonic repellers that are on the market don't actually work. He recommended people check with experts about what works, such as gel-based cockroach baits and standard snap traps for mice and rats. Wang himself uses snap traps to control the mice that periodically try to get into his garage and shed. They are cheap and reusable, he said, as long as you wear protective gloves while handling the traps.

Then again, according to the ConsumerAffairs survey, 17% of Americans say they take no action about the pests in their homes.

Wang said there are two reasons people might not act: "Either they financially cannot afford it, or they have lived with that environment from a young age, so they are less concerned about the presence of pests." 

It gets expensive

Pests can be costly — a lot more costly than people may hope. 

About two-thirds of the residents who have fought pests in their home in the past year paid up to $1,000 to address the problem. And another 30% spent between $1,001 and $5,000. 

Yet the ConsumerAffairs survey found 12% of people wouldn't be willing to spend anything to address a rat or mouse infestation, while 14% said the same for cockroaches and 12% said the same about mold.

"People are willing to spend on emotion," Selbach said. Once they're desperate, they'll have the mindset of 'I'll spend whatever to get rid of it,'" he said. 

Preventive measures can save you money—and headaches—in the long run

Selbach emphasizes, though, that preventive treatment is less expensive than removing an infestation. Many people first call to get rid of a problem and then sign up for periodic services to make sure it doesn't return.

He estimated that having an expert take care of roaches can cost $500, and rats about $1,000. Once the problem is gone — or if a homeowner is taking steps in advance of identifying a problem — an initial maintenance visit costs around $200, with quarterly visits costing another $120 or so, he said.

Wang said he has found people often go to extremes when it comes to pests, but not always for the best. 

"There are two extremes," he said. "One is they don't do anything and let the pests prosper. The other extreme is people get overprotective and use too many chemicals. Then you either waste money or contaminate the environment."

This story was produced by ConsumerAffairs and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media.

Monday, March 4, 2024

Supreme Court says only Congress can bar a candidate, like Trump, from the presidency for insurrection − 3 essential reads

Journalists set up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building on Feb. 8, 2024. Aaron Schwartz/Xinhua via Getty Images
Jeff Inglis, The Conversation

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, in a unanimous decision, that the state of Colorado cannot bar former President Donald Trump from appearing on Colorado’s presidential ballot under the provisions of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The text of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment states, in full:

“No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”

The ruling said states may decide who is eligible to hold state offices, but only Congress may decide who is eligible to hold federal offices.

Writing for The Conversation U.S. as far back as 2021, several scholars have explained aspects of this part of the Constitution, how it was intended, and the legal and political considerations surrounding its function. They give context to the court’s ruling and what it means for the country now.

Pelosi signs a document with four people standing behind her, and American flags
Then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi signs an article of impeachment against then-President Donald Trump on Jan. 13, 2021. Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

1. A relatively recent development

In early 2021, Gerard Magliocca, a law professor at Indiana University, pointed out that up until that time, “Section 3 of the 14th Amendment was an obscure part of the U.S. Constitution.”

But this provision had an important purpose, he wrote:

“It prohibits current or former military officers, along with many current and former federal and state public officials, from serving in a variety of government offices if they ‘shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion’ against the United States Constitution.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling did not decide whether Trump had or had not engaged in insurrection.

2. Justices focused on potential for national disarray

During oral arguments on Feb. 8, 2024, several members of the Supreme Court focused on the fact that this case was about a Colorado decision to bar Trump from the ballot, which suggested that other states might come to their own conclusions if the court didn’t deliver a clear message that would apply nationwide.

As Notre Dame election law scholar Derek Muller observed:

States are the ones who have the primary responsibility of running presidential elections. And Colorado was leaning very heavily into this authority they have over which candidates to list on the ballot and how that can vary from state to state. The pushback from the Supreme Court in this case was to say, in essence, you’re not dealing with local or state interests, you’re not dealing with these state-specific procedures for how you list candidates on the ballot. You are interpreting a provision of the U.S. Constitution, and then you are applying it in your own state in a way that could affect what happens in other states.”

A police officer standing behind a barricade and in front of a large, white columned building.
Police place a fence at the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 8, 2024, before justices heard arguments over whether Donald Trump is ineligible for the 2024 ballot. AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

3. The importance of consensus

The court appears to have taken pains to get to a unanimous decision. Muller anticipated such a move. He said it was likely because of the potential effect on elections:

This is a binary choice that either empowers the Republican candidate or prevents voters from choosing him. So when you have a choice in such stark, political and partisan terms, whatever the Supreme Court is doing is often going to be viewed through that lens by many voters. … (T)here will be as much effort as possible internally on the court to reach a consensus view to avoid that appearance of partisanship on the court, that appearance of division on the court. If there’s consensus, it’s harder for the public to … point the finger at one side or another.”

This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives.The Conversation

Jeff Inglis, Politics + Society Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

The best states for going solar in 2024

housing development with solar panels in Muller
RoschetzkylstockPhoto // Canva

The best states for going solar in 2024

This year began with major wake-up calls about the environment: extreme cold weather linked to climate change, winter weather advisories in every single state, and nearly half of Americans at risk of dangerous cold and wind — all within the first two weeks.

More Americans are looking for ways to reduce their climate impact. Installing rooftop solar panels is one way to cut dependence on fossil fuels, which are burned to generate more than 60% of the country's electricity.

There are financial benefits, too: In every state, homeowners can potentially generate significant proportions of their electricity from a rooftop solar system. It does depend in part on the property itself, such as which way the roof is aligned or how much tree cover it has. Of course, it also depends on how much sun the area gets. And how much of a financial return you can expect will be influenced by the state's retail electricity market and local solar initiatives.

The ConsumerAffairs Research Team analyzed data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Energy Information Administration, and the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency, along with other sources, to determine which states are the best for solar energy. A breakdown of all the solar data for each state can be found below, as well as a full methodology for more details on how we calculated each state's Solar Score.


Key insights

  • Hawaii tops our list of the best states to go solar, thanks to high retail electricity prices.
  • While Indiana, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama rank at the bottom of our list, federal solar incentives may still make it worthwhile for homeowners in these states to go solar.
  • Arizona, New Mexico, and California have the highest potential for solar energy of all states, meaning solar energy falls more intensely on those states than elsewhere.
  • Half of all states, plus Washington D.C., have no statewide programs that help homeowners afford rooftop solar installations.

Top five best states for going solar

Various factors help determine whether a state is a good place for homeowners to go solar with rooftop panels. Low installation costs and high retail energy prices can drive people to look for alternatives, and residents in states with more peak sunlight hours can produce more power with fewer panels. State laws and regulations can encourage people to go solar or discourage them.

We evaluated data in each of these categories and assigned points based on their relative importance to come up with each state's Solar Score. Along with the 50 states, we included Washington D.C., in our rankings.

1. Hawaii — Solar Score: 75.14 out of 100

High retail electricity prices are a key reason Hawaii is such a good place for people to install solar panels on their roofs. The potential savings are so clear that they more than make up for the state's limits on net metering eligibility and relatively low compensation rates for excess power generation. Through a program pairing rooftop solar with grid-connected batteries in customers' homes, Hawaii was able to shut down its last coal-fired power plant and replace the energy with solar power.

Hawaii has the nation's highest rate of existing rooftop solar capacity — far above that of California, which comes second in that category. The quick adoption rate has kept installation costs low — the 14th-lowest in the nation.

2. Nevada — Solar Score: 56.87 out of 100

Nevada is a pro-solar state in terms of both regulations and economics. As far back as 1997, the state allowed net metering for rooftop solar customers, but it dramatically cut back its payment rates and raised participation fees in 2015.

That didn't last long, though: In 2017, Nevada reinstated net metering under largely similar terms as before the 2015 changes. That long-term sustained support for solar energy has led to the state having more solar jobs per capita than any other.

The state is boosting rooftop solar in other ways, too. Consumer protection officials in Nevada are taking steps to protect customers who purchase residential rooftop solar systems against unscrupulous sales pitches, and a statewide nonprofit has applied for up to $250 million in federal Solar For All funding.

3. Delaware — Solar Score: 54.94 out of 100

Delaware has relatively low installation costs, reasonably competitive solar potential, and solar-friendly policies, including net metering and power purchase agreements. Its policies are also solar-friendly: In 2021, the state made it easier for people to support community solar projects. And in 2022, the state government launched a two-year program to give free solar panels to low-income homeowners.

But a major obstacle is in the technical details. One electric utility, the Delaware Electric Cooperative, which serves 20% of the state's residential customers, has blocked new rooftop solar installations from being connected to the electricity grid in large swaths of the state, saying its equipment can't handle any more incoming energy.

4. Arizona — Solar Score: 54.56 out of 100

Arizona has the highest average solar potential of any state and relatively low rooftop solar installation costs. It also has generally solar-friendly policies and a personal tax exemption to help defray the costs of installing rooftop solar systems. Along with legalized power purchase agreements, those circumstances have all helped make Arizona the state with the third-most rooftop solar capacity per capita in the country.

But some clouds may be on the horizon. In October 2023, the state's utility regulator, the Arizona Corporation Commission, reconsidered the rules under which homeowners are compensated for the excess electricity their solar panels generate. That's despite the fact that citizens, solar-industry companies, and even two of the three largest electric utilities in the state have supported keeping the existing rules in place. The process has not yet been completed.

5. California — Solar Score: 53.76 out of 100

California has relatively high retail electricity prices and great solar potential. Its rooftop solar rebate program has also been a factor in making California the state with the second-most rooftop solar installed per capita. The state has rules that prevent local or private restrictions on installing solar panels, as well as rules that protect homes from being shaded by neighbors.

But as with Arizona, the situation is shifting. New rules on how much credit homeowners can get for electricity produced on their roofs took effect in April 2023. Those changes have dramatically reduced the attractiveness of rooftop solar systems for homeowners and residents of multifamily and apartment dwellings. The solar installation industry projects that the current drop-off in installation numbers will continue. And in early January 2024, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed cutting climate-related funding, including incentives for rooftop solar installations.

The five worst states for going solar

The places where going solar can be most challenging for homeowners are states that tend to have relatively low electricity costs and few existing installations. The states at the bottom of the list either ban or do not have clear rules about power purchase agreements, which can help homeowners reduce or even eliminate the cost of installing solar panels.

Going solar in these states can still be worth the money and effort — and can certainly have a positive impact on the environment — but homeowners may find themselves in an uphill battle as they make the switch to rooftop solar.

1. Indiana — Solar Score: 15.88 out of 100

Indiana has the highest rooftop solar installation costs, and its lack of statewide rebates to help offset those costs makes the economics of going solar less attractive in Indiana than any other state. Solar advocates call July 1, 2022, "the day Indiana rooftop solar died" because that's when the state's net metering policy expired. It was replaced by a system in which homeowners were paid much less for the excess power their rooftop panels produced. Solar installations in the state are down 67% since then, advocates say.

In late 2023, Indiana's electric utilities asked for a steep hike in residential electricity rates. Though regulators reduced the size of that increase, Hoosiers are still on track to see higher power bills in 2024.

2. Kentucky — Solar Score: 18.97 out of 100

The state government and several large cities in Kentucky see the opportunity for rooftop solar: They are all looking for funds from the federal Solar For All program. And in July 2023, a utility-scale rooftop solar array began operating on the roof of an Amazon warehouse at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

But Kentucky has no statewide programs to help residents pay the up-front costs of installing rooftop solar systems. It also bans power purchase agreements, which can be another way to cover those expenses.

3. Arkansas — Solar Score: 21.48 out of 100

With comparatively low residential electricity prices, no statewide aid to help cover installation costs and a ban on power purchase agreements, Arkansas's economic circumstances aren't positioned for residents to take advantage of the state's strong solar potential.

And conditions aren't getting better: Arkansas lawmakers in 2023 reduced the rate at which homeowners with rooftop solar panels will be compensated for the additional electricity their systems generate.

4. Tennessee — Solar Score: 23.33 out of 100

Tennesseans have some of the lowest electricity prices in the nation, which is no doubt part of the reason so few of them have rooftop solar systems installed already. With no state rebates or other programs and a low reimbursement rate for excess power generation, there are more barriers than opportunities for homeowners to put solar systems on their roofs.

There is some bright news: Under a new program negotiated with the Tennessee Valley Authority, some Nashville residents will become newly eligible to get credit for excess electricity generated from rooftop solar systems.

5. Alabama — Solar Score: 23.43 out of 100

Alabama's per-capita installed capacity of rooftop solar is the lowest in the nation, according to the Energy Information Administration data analyzed in this report. Part of that is no doubt due to high rooftop solar installation costs. Government policies aren't helping: The state outlaws power purchase agreements, does not protect properties from neighbors' shade, allows homeowners associations to ban solar panels, and only allows excess power to be purchased at wholesale rates, rather than at retail prices.

But it seems state officials and energy companies are interested in taking advantage of the state's high solar potential: They are exploring opportunities for large-scale solar projects.

See how your state stacks up

A breakdown of the factors used to calculate each state's Solar Score can be found here, showing how each state compares with others on residential electricity price, solar installation costs, solar potential and solar-friendly policies.

Going solar can be a good investment in any state. There's enough sunlight coming down everywhere in the U.S. to make rooftop-generated electricity cheaper, more reliable, and more climate-friendly than getting electricity from the grid. But navigating the maze of changing solar policies, incentives and costs can be complicated.

One particularly thorny solar policy, net metering, is being phased out in some states under pressure from utility companies that don't want to pay homeowners for the excess electricity they generate on their rooftops.

"As states develop successors to net metering, it's getting increasingly complicated," said Brian Lips, who manages the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency. State incentives for rooftop solar typically get lower and less available over time, he observed.

Federal incentives can also help encourage the switch to solar rooftops, but they, too, are changing quickly. Homeowners who install rooftop solar systems between now and the end of 2032 can claim a federal income tax credit of 30% of the system's cost. And recent federal laws have allocated $7 billion in funding for the Solar For All program to help pay for residential solar installs in disadvantaged communities. The funds will be distributed starting in late 2024.

Installing solar panels is a common way for homeowners to generate clean energy, but it isn't the only way. Some people buy solar-only electricity, or solar power along with a combination of other renewable sources through their existing power companies, third-party electricity providers or community solar projects.

The bottom line is this: There are lots of ways and plenty of reasons to go solar, but staying updated on the most recent solar regulations, policies and incentives can help you make the most of your green energy transition.


The ranking incorporates data on state electricity prices, installation costs, potential solar energy, existing solar capacity, and solar policies.

However, ConsmerAffairs did not factor in the cost of buying and installing a solar storage battery, which is a common add-on that allows residents to store extra energy the panels generate for use at night or during power outages.

Each state's Solar Score could reach a maximum of 100 points, with points assigned by the categories below.

Retail prices of residential electricity: 0 to 25 points
States' average retail prices of residential electricity for October 2023, according to the Energy Information Administration, were scored based on how close they were to the highest state's price. High retail electricity prices encourage people to seek other sources of energy.

Per-watt installation costs: 0 to 20 points
States' average per-watt installation costs for residential rooftop solar, according to and, were scored based on how close they were to the lowest state's price. Low installation costs reduce a barrier to installing rooftop solar. The data was collected by ConsumerAffairs in January 2024.

Potential solar energy: 0 to 10 points
States' average potential solar energy capture in kilowatt-hours per square meter per day were calculated based on annual average Global Horizontal Irradiance data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Solar potential as of 2018, averaged across each state's area according to the U.S. Census Bureau's Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing system. States' averages were scored based on how close they were to the highest state's average. Higher potential solar energy makes more energy available to capture from a given rooftop area. (In Alaska, NREL only measures solar potential in the southernmost parts of the state.)

Existing residential solar capacity: 0 to 5 points
States' existing residential solar capacity per capita was calculated based on the Energy Information Administration's October 2023 estimates, except in Alabama, where the most recently available data was from the EIA's 2022 data for December 2022 — and on the U.S. Census Bureau's 2023 population data for each state. States were scored based on how close they were to the highest state's per-capita installed capacity. This information indicates where consumers have found policies, market forces, and other factors favorable for rooftop solar in the past.

Financial programs: 0 to 15 points
States' rebates, grants, loans, tax credits, and deductions were determined from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) maintained by the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center. States got 3 points for each type of program, of which there were five. (A sixth type mentioned by DSIRE, a personal tax exemption, is not in place in any state.) These programs reduce the upfront cost of installing rooftop solar systems. DSIRE data was updated in November and December 2023.

Residential power purchase agreements: -10 to 10 points
States' laws and rules on residential power purchase agreements were determined from DSIRE data from November 2023. States got 10 points for allowing them and lost 10 points for banning them. States whose policies DSIRE had not identified or evaluated were given 0 points. These agreements can reduce or eliminate homeowners' up-front costs of installing rooftop solar systems.

Net metering: 0 to 10 points
States' laws and rules on net metering were determined from DSIRE data from November 2023. States with no rules got 0 points. States that required at least some utilities to use net metering got 10 points. States that required at least some utilities to use other methods to compensate customers for the energy their panels produced got 3 points. States whose regulations are in transition between net metering and other compensation got 7 points. These rules affect the amounts by which ongoing energy production can reduce homeowners' electricity bills.

Excess power payment rates: 0 to 3 points
States' laws and rules on excess power payment rates were determined from DSIRE data from November 2023. States that guaranteed payment at retail rates got 3 points. States that guaranteed payment at wholesale rates got 1 point. States that had a rate between retail and wholesale got 2 points. States that had no guaranteed rate got 0 points. These rules affect the amounts by which ongoing energy production can reduce homeowners' electricity bills or earn them additional money.

Solar access and solar easements: 0 to 2 points
States' laws on solar access and solar easements were determined from DSIRE data from November 2023. States that prevent local or private restrictions on installations of solar panels — called solar access laws — got 1 point. States that allow homeowners to seek protections of their property from being shaded by neighboring property — called solar easements — got 1 point. States that have both provisions got 2 points. States with neither got 0 points 

This story was produced by ConsumerAffairs and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Candidates’ aging brains are factors in the presidential race − 4 essential reads

Joe Biden and Donald Trump are two of the three oldest people ever to serve as president. AP Photo
Jeff Inglis, The Conversation

The leading contenders in the 2024 presidential election are two of the three oldest people ever to serve as president. President Joe Biden is 81. Former President Donald Trump is 77. Ronald Reagan took office at 69 and left it at age 77.

Both Biden and Trump have faced criticism about what can appear to be obvious signs of aging, including questions about their memory and cognitive abilities.

Scholars writing for The Conversation U.S. have discussed various aspects of how aging affects people’s brains. Here we spotlight four articles that collectively explain why there is cause for concern, why there is no clear statement to be made about any specific person’s cognitive power as they age, and ways people can preserve their brain power into their golden years.

1. Decline in thinking can come with age

Brandeis psychology professor Angela Gutchess, who studies brain activity to understand human thought, said there is a body of work documenting a cognitive decline in aging people:

Past behavioral data largely pointed to loss in cognitive – that is, thinking – abilities with age, including poorer memory and greater distractibility.”

But her work has also found that “aging brains can reorganize and change, and not necessarily for the worse.”

2. Some people age faster than others

Aging is an individual experience, explained Aditi Gurkar, a geriatric medicine scholar at the University of Pittsburgh:

Although age is the principal risk factor for several chronic diseases, it is an unreliable indicator of how quickly your body will decline or how susceptible you are to age-related disease. This is because there is a difference between your chronological age, or the number of years you’ve been alive, and your biological age – your physical and functional ability.”

Gurkar’s work has been focused on the latter, noting that some people with the same chronological ages can have very different cognitive and physical abilities. Key factors include the strength of a person’s social connections, as well as their sleeping habits, water consumption, exercise and diet.

As University of Pittsburgh geriatric scholar Aditi Gurkar notes in her TED Talk, aging is not just a number.

3. Even cells age differently inside the body

Ellen Quarles, who teaches cellular and molecular biology of aging at the University of Michigan, explained that aging is so individualized that it varies even at the cellular level:

There is no single cause of aging. No two people age the same way, and indeed, neither do any two cells. There are countless ways for your basic biology to go wrong over time, and these add up to create a unique network of aging-related factors for each person that make finding a one-size-fits-all anti-aging treatment extremely challenging.”

4. There is a way to preserve abilities

Brian Ho and Ronald Cohen, University of Florida scholars who study brain health in aging people, have found that physical activity makes a real difference in cognition:

People in the oldest stage of life who regularly engage in aerobic activities and strength training exercises perform better on cognitive tests than those who are either sedentary or participate only in aerobic exercise.”

Specifically, they found:

“(T)hose who incorporated both aerobic exercises, such as swimming and cycling, and strength exercises like weightlifting into their routines – regardless of intensity and duration – had better mental agility, quicker thinking and greater ability to shift or adapt their thinking.”

Whether it’s for Biden and Trump or anyone else, these scholars advise staying active, deepening connections with family and friends and recognizing that not everyone ages the same way.

This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives.The Conversation

Jeff Inglis, Politics + Society Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Are you seeing news reports of voting problems? 4 essential reads on election disinformation

Published in The Conversation
A voter emerges from a voting booth in New Hampshire in January 2024. AP Photo/David Goldman
Jeff Inglis, The Conversation

In certain circles, the 2020 presidential election isn’t over – and that seems to be at least a little bit true. In recent weeks, official reviews of election records and processes from the 2020 presidential election have reported findings that might be used to spread rumors about voting integrity.

For instance, election officials in Virginia’s Prince William County announced on Jan. 11, 2024, that 4,000 votes from the 2020 presidential election had been miscounted. None of them changed the results. Those miscounts gave Donald Trump 2,327 more votes than he actually got, and Joe Biden 1,648 votes fewer. Errors in counting turned up in other races, too, with both parties’ candidates for U.S. Senate being given fewer votes than they actually received, and a Republican who won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives actually won by a slightly larger margin than previously reported.

An audit of South Carolina’s 2020 voting records released in mid-January found no fraud and no indication any election results could have been different with the errors that were identified. But the report did recommend election officials cross-check lists of registered voters with other state lists more frequently than they have done in the past. Death reports and prison inmate rolls can help them determine who should remain eligible to voter and who should be removed from voting lists, the report said.

The Conversation U.S. has published several articles about the systems protecting election integrity. Here are four examples from our archives.

A Trump campaign poll watcher films the counting of ballots at the Allegheny County, Pa., elections warehouse
A Trump campaign poll watcher films the counting of ballots at the Allegheny County, Penn., elections warehouse in 2020 in Pittsburgh. Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

1. Changing numbers are evidence of transparency, not fraud

The news reports of election audits came, originally, from election officials themselves, who specified they were below the small margins that would have triggered recounts. The reports also offered explanations for what had happened and how to fix it in the future – and included statements that at least some of the problems had already been fixed for upcoming elections.

That’s an example of what Kristin Kanthak, a political scientist at the University of Pittsburgh, was talking about when she explained that election results that change over time aren’t inherently a problem:

(T)his doesn’t mean the system is ‘rigged.’ Actually, it means the system is transparent to a fault,” she wrote.

2. Easier voting is not a threat to election integrity

Erecting obstacles to voting will not prevent the problems that do exist in the election system, for the simple reason that the flaws are not a result of easier voting methods, such as early voting and voting by mail.

Grinnell College political scientist Douglas R. Hess observed that the COVID-19 pandemic was a massive test of whether a secure election could be held with a lot of accommodations that made voting easier, and safer from the spread of disease.

As he wrote,

“(E)arly voting and voting by mail are targeted for restrictions in many states, even though both reforms are popular with the public, worked securely in 2020 and have been expanded in many states for years without increases in fraud. Likewise, the collection of absentee ballots – a necessity for some voters – can be implemented securely.”

3. It’s possible for election workers to be both partisan and fair-minded

For many years, elections have been run by people who were members of one political party or the other but behaved in good faith to run fair elections, wrote Thom Reilly, a scholar at Arizona State University’s School of Public Affairs.

But both the facts and the rhetoric have changed, he explained, noting that a significant share of the electorate is not a member of either party – so the people who supervise elections, who are typically party members, are “an increasingly partisan set of officials.”

Even so, many of them work hard to conduct fair elections. Yet, he wrote,

(W)idespread misinformation and disinformation on election administration is hobbling the ability of election officials to do their job and has created fertile ground for mistrust.”

A woman with gray hair helps a man with gray hair cast a ballot at a voting machine.
A poll worker helps a voter cast a ballot in the Kansas primary election at Merriam Christian Church on Aug. 2, 2022, in Merriam, Kan. Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

4. Beware those who aim to confuse or mislead

Political disinformation efforts are particularly intense around elections, warn scholars of information warfare Kate Starbird and Jevin West at the University of Washington and Renee DiResta at Stanford University.

Situations to watch out for are those in which “lack of understanding and certainty can fuel doubt, fan misinformation and provide opportunities for those seeking to delegitimize the results,” they wrote.

Specifically, look out for:

Politically motivated individuals (who) are likely to cherry-pick and assemble these pieces of digital "evidence” to fit narratives that seek to undermine trust in the results. Much of this evidence is likely to be derived from real events, though taken out of context and exaggerated.“

They provide a reminder to keep your wits about you and be sure to double-check any claims before believing or sharing them.

This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives.The Conversation

Jeff Inglis, Politics + Society Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.