Tuesday, August 16, 2011

From High Tech to Highest Tech: The NSC Biology Program keeps students on the leading edge

By Dr. Robin Herlands, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology

Last week we had two representatives from the Amnis Corporation here on campus to give hands-on ImagestreamX training to NSC biology students and faculty participating in summer research. An ImagestreamX is an instrument that combines the high throughput cellular analysis of flow cytometry with the high resolution imagery of fluorescent microscopy. The ImagestreamX is the only instrument capable of this remarkable kind of data acquisition and analysis, and NSC is one of only 30 institutions in the U.S. that has such an instrument (and is certainly the only institution that focuses on undergraduate education). NSC faculty Dr. Robin Herlands and Dr. Andy Kuniyuki co-hosted the event with Ben Alderete and Scott Mordecai from Amnis. NSC students Anam Qadir, Jessica Cargill, Nick Puglia and Jason Koroghli were trained to run cell samples on the instrument and analyze images collected to quantify events like cell division, cell signaling, and cell shape.

In addition, we had two collaborators here from University of Nevada, Reno : Dr. Doug Redelman, an immunologist in charge of cytometry at UNR, and Dr. Jared Townsend, who runs one of the flow cytometers on the UNR campus. These UNR scientists are hoping to collaborate with Dr. Robin Herlands and her students in the use of the ImagestreamX to characterize cells of the mouse gastrointestinal tract that could play a role in regulating normal physiology and the immune system. Other interesting samples were sent via fed-ex down to NSC to run on the instrument, including cells from a potential collaborator at UNR who is studying lipid (and possible fuel) production and storage in algae. Our NSC students were able to run these samples on the ImagestreamX, collecting thousands of digital images of the unique cells. Of course, students ran cells from their own projects in insect immunity that they have ongoing with Dr. Herlands. On the final day of the week, we had two renowned speakers present their data and projects that involve the ImagestreamX:

• Dr. Henri van de Hyde, Ph.D., Staff Scientist, the La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology. Topic: Cellular Microparticle Analysis using Cytometry
• Dr. Jon Weidanz, Ph.D., Chief Scientist/Founder at Receptor Logic, Inc. & Associate Professor & Director, Center for Immunotherapeutic Research Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. Topic: Developing Immunotherapeutics for Treating Cancer and Infection

This was an incredible opportunity for some of our NSC students to hear from and interact with some of the top scientists in the field who are using the same instrumentation at their facilities as we have at NSC. The entire week was productive and rewarding, and we would like to particularly thank Amnis for sponsoring this special week of training on our campus!

Monday, August 1, 2011

"Missing White Woman Syndrome" and Fear of Crime

By Dr. Gwen Sharp, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology

Recently, National Public Radio ran a story about coverage of what they call “women-in-peril” stories—that is, stories that focus on crimes against young white women, particularly those involving abduction. Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart, both kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and held captive for long periods, were the focus of intense media attention. ABC News appears to be particularly emphasizing this type of coverage; they scored an exclusive interview with Dugard and have hired Smart as a contributor; her first appearance included a discussion of Dugard’s case.

Of course, no one would deny that both Dugard and Smart underwent horrifying ordeals, and it’s not surprising that their stories drew the public’s attention. However, the media frenzy over these cases reflects a focus that has gotten a name among media critics: Missing White Woman Syndrome. That is, media coverage tends to be higher when victims are young, White, conventionally-attractive women. Research indicates that crimes with white female victims do indeed receive disproportionate coverage. For instance, in a study of local newspaper coverage of 640 homicides in Columbus, Ohio, Richard Lundman found that murders involving a white female victim were more likely to be covered and received higher profile coverage, such as front-page stories. This pattern held even when he controlled for other factors that might influence newsworthiness, such as type of weapon used, age of those involved, neighborhood, and even how uncommon the murder is in terms of the gender, race, and social class of the victim and perpetrator.

The disproportionate coverage that crimes such as the abduction of Elizabeth Smart generate can lead to distortions in our perceptions of risk. While they are shocking, the crimes perpetrated against Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard are, in fact, quite rare. And middle-class white women are at very low risk of being the victims of violent crime in general.
But exposure to news coverage of these types of crimes may increase levels of fear among white women. Researchers at Florida State University looked at how TV coverage of the sexual assault and murder of two teenage girls in Houston affected viewers’ fear of crime, gathering their data in the immediate aftermath of the media frenzy about violent crime, gang violence, and related topics. They found that the only group whose fear of crime was influenced by watching TV stories about the murders was middle-aged white women. Non-white women, and all men, despite being objectively more likely to be victimized, did not become more fearful. The researchers suggest that white women substitute media coverage for direct experience of victimization. That is, generally research indicates that a person’s prior experience with crime (whether as a victim or knowledge of someone who was) is a strong predictor of their fear of becoming a victim; if you’ve been victimized once, it makes sense that you’d be more likely to think it could happen again. But white women who watch the news see a disproportionate number of white female victims, leading to a perception that white women are in much more danger than they actually are. The message here is that media coverage has real-world implications; the TV and print media stories we see can influence our perceptions of ourselves and the world around us. And insofar as white female victims are deemed most newsworthy, media coverage can skew our perceptions of how risky our lives are and which groups are most in need of increased protection from criminal behavior.
Chiricos, T., S. Eschholz, & M. Gertz. (1997). Crime, news and fear of crime: toward an identification of audience effects. Social Problems 44(3), 342-357.
Lundman, R.J. (2003). The newsworthiness and selection bias in news about murder: comparative and relative effects of novelty and race and gender typifications on newspaper coverage of homicide. Sociological Forum, 18(3), 357-386.