The Anti-Abortion Violence in North America

The debate on abortion in America did not start with Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973, however, Supreme Court has been used as a catalyst since then, because the Court provided the justifications to the people who acted upon in their every attack against the abortion clinics.  In terms of scholarship, scant research exists concerning antiabortion violence. Moreover, with many of these studies conducted nearly a decade ago, little if any research addresses present day antiabortion extremism.

In this descriptive research, the objective is to present the basics of pro-choice modus operandi, basically the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) used by those anti-abortion extremists. Studying the trends and patterns among such groups can provide invaluable insight in helping to predict their operational strategies.  Therefore, in accordance to our data collection strategy, such anti-abortion violence data was gathered by my student assistant, Gary Stewart, from online open sources like websites, public databases as well as non-governmental institutions. Gary did a fantastic job for this unique data collection during this summer 2013. He looked at many database sources and was very successful to collect 392 incidents that have occurred in North America between 1977 and 2010.

Our research indicated that a big majority of these attacks were committed by lone wolf actors, who have no affiliation to any extremist or illegal organizations such as Army of God. The attacks have damaged the abortion clinics in significant amount of monetary values. Many individuals who work in those clinics have been constantly threatened, harassed and bullied by members of pro-life movement. To respond the increasing aggressive protests at clinics each day, the clinic managements have been installing complicated security systems and hiring security guards for protection. In conclusion, our research proved that the anti-abortion threat is real but on decline compared to past; however, it is not likely to ever stop completely.

The next stage of our research is to update and expand our data with more categorization and coding of violent and non-violent acts. We will be also looking at more complex correlation between many variables of our data such as the correlation between presidential eras and the type and frequency of attacks. We hope to present our findings on a Pace University research presentation platform as well as at the upcoming American Society of Criminology conference in Atlanta, GA. There will be publication coming out of this research as well.

Illegal Corporate Activities and Their Effect on Financial Statement Disclosures: How Forensic Accountants Can Help – End of Summer Report

Illegal Corporate Activities and Their Effect on Financial Statement Disclosures: How Forensic Accountants Can Help

Anthony L. Fanelli     

The purpose of this paper is to examine recent sanctions and legal actions taken against multi-national corporations in emerging markets by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other non-US regulatory agencies to develop an exploratory study to determine the effects of illegal activity on financial statement disclosures.  In order to determine if an illegal activity has occurred and if any financial statement disclosure is required the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and international security agencies, such as the SEC, must enforce security laws.  Based on the research findings it is proposed that Forensic Accountants can help the independent auditor and those in charge with corporate governance, to properly determine if an illegal act that has occurred should be disclosed.

It is evident that illegal corporate activities including corruption and bribery have increased as a result of the global economy expansion especially in emerging markets.  Bribery is the crime of giving or taking money or some other valuable item in order to influence a public official (any governmental employee) in the performance of his or her duties. Bribery can also involve corrupt dealing with the employees of a business competitor in order to secure an advantage.[i]   Exceptions include for the facilitation or to expedite the performance of a routine governmental action; where the payment was lawful under the laws and regulations of the foreign government where the gift took place; or where the giving of value was a reasonable and bona fide expenditure as, e.g., for travel and lodging expenses incurred by the foreign person for the purposes of the promotion, demonstration, or explanation of products or services, or for the execution of a contract with the said foreign person.

On March 18, 2010 the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Innospec, Inc., an American chemical company, with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by engaging in widespread bribery of foreign government officials in Iraq and Indonesia to obtain and retain business.  In their annual report, Innospec, disclosed that it had pled guilty to twelve count indictment in relation to illegal payments made to government officials in Iraq and Indonesia.  Innospec agreed to settle for $40.2 million with the Government Authorities to resolve all matter relating to the investigations. [ii]  This particular case involved government officials that accepted bribes from Innospec in a short time frame; the next example however shows how bribery can run undetected for a longer time frame while involving multiple levels of employees.

On March 26, 2012 the Securities and Exchange Commission charged medical device company Biomet with Foreign Bribery.  The SEC alleged that Biomet had paid bribes from 2000 to August 2008, and employees and managers at all levels were involved along with the distributors who sold Biomet’s products.  In their annual report Biomet disclosed that it had agreed to pay a monetary penalty of $17.3 million to resolve the charges and to additionally disgorge profits and pay prejudgment interest in the amount of $5.6 million.[iii]

In both cases the fraudulent activity was uncovered and later disclosed in the companies’ annual report.  However, if Forensic Accountants assisted auditors these fraudulent activities could have been detected earlier and not continued for 8 years like in the case with Biomet.  Auditors do not look to aim to detect fraud within companies; auditors check the companies’ math and applications of accounting rules.   Forensic Accountants are trained in forensic analysis, which analyzes financial documents for illegal activities.

Although there were times were the research did seem very repetitive and challenging it was a great experience.  Overall, I really enjoyed being a part of this research and I highly recommend others to conduct a research experiment of this type.

 

 

 

 


[i] “bribery.” Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary. Nolo.com. N.p., n.d. Web. Aug. 2013.

[ii] “Innospec, Inc.” Innospec, Inc. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Jul. 2013. <http://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2010/lr21454.htm>.

[iii] “SEC Charges Medical Device Company Biomet with Foreign Bribery.” SEC.gov. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2013. <http://www.sec.gov/News/PressRelease/Detail/PressRelease/1365171487958>.

The Perils of RNA Isolation

My summer work has unfortunately not yet led any publishable transcript profiles; however I have made tremendous progress towards my ultimate results through success in troubleshooting! Mycobacterium can prove to be stubbornly refractory to extract good-quality RNA from, due to their resistance to lysis. Consequently, the art of RNA extraction and purification has become all too familiar to me through day to day trial, error, and manipulation of published protocols. RNA isolation is the type of procedure that can be extremely finicky, and every scientist who works often with RNA each has his or her own special variations or preferences, which I have come to acquire as well!

I have been trying out protocols from several different manuals and articles which extract RNA through beadmilling and Trizol Reagent. As straightforward as these methods are, the first few attempts produced degraded RNA on a 2% agarose gel…as did the next 25+ samples. This prompted copious questions that pined over each point of the protocol that might needed to have been altered: Was the RNA not kept on ice properly? Was the problem the agarose gel? Were the reagents contaminated with RNases? Were the samples not immediately processed in RNA Stabilizing Reagent? Could the RNA Stabilizing Reagent even penetrate the thick layer of mycolic acids? Was the sample size too small? Too large? The list went on and on… Each day I came in to the lab, picked a new possible solution and made one single alteration or addition each day…until it worked!

Science doesn’t always happen how you want it to. After spending weeks perfecting techniques on obtaining good quality RNA, I noted that I was only achieving a yield of approximately 1ug/sample (appropriate for my sample size), whereas I need AT LEAST 1.5ug! Therefore, to ensure that not only half of my samples yielded enough RNA, my future work with this project will continue onward into the fall with new trials consisting of significantly scaled-up culture sizes.

Antioxidant Mechanisms of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA): Research, Analysis, and Reflection – Blog 2

This summer, Dr. Upmacis and I have sought to understand the antioxidant potential of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) by examining its interaction with oxygen.  Since a structurally similar polyunsaturated fatty acid known as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) has been shown to progressively oxidize in the presence of air, we expected DHA to behave in much the same way when subjected to the same circumstances.  In my last blog post, I described our use of mass spectrometry to test this hypothesis.  Dr. Upmacis and I dissolved DHA separately in water and ethanol, then left both samples exposed to air for a period of five days.  Each day, we processed both samples in the mass spectrometer several times in order to glean a consistent picture of each sample’s chemical constituents.  Our first three daily trials collected intensity data at 0.1 mass-to-charge (m/z) increments[1] ranging from 50 m/z to 650 m/z. We also conducted two additional daily trials, expanding our scope of measurement beyond 650 m/z in order to hunt for even larger molecules.  The final result was five days worth of detailed atomic mass spectra consisting of multiple trials per sample per day.

 

The configuration of our atomic mass spectra has raised some interesting questions and curiosities, which we have attempted to rationalize.  In our primary trials, we noted that the most prominent base peaks usually occurred at about 327.4 m/z and 328.4 m/z; we think these peaks correspond to the molar mass of the deprotonated and protonated forms of DHA respectively.  Similarly, we believe a hydrogen ion (proton) is responsible for single unit gaps between twin peaks that occur elsewhere in our spectra.  We also noted a rhythm of peaks occurring at regular intervals of 16 m/z beyond the main peak.  As the sample aged, the main peak declined, while the series peaks that followed grew in intensity.  This finding appears to be consistent with our hypothesis that DHA takes on one or more oxygen – an atom weighing 16 amu – when progressively exposed to air.  Our additional trials on extended m/z ranges revealed another fascinating discovery: the emergence of an additional prominent peak at 654.8 m/z.  We noted this peak to be precisely double the m/z of the main base peak but roughly half the intensity.  We suspect this phenomenon provides evidence for the dimerization of the initial DHA compound.  A rhythmic succession of peaks also followed the 654.8 m/z peak at regular intervals of 16 m/z (corresponding to the size of an oxygen atom) and at 32 m/z (corresponding to the size of a pair of oxygen atoms, which might join to the possible dimer).  Finally, we turned our attention back to earlier ranges of the spectra, where we found another rhythmic succession of peaks.  Curiously, this series actually preceded the 327.4 m/z main base peak, which initially puzzled us.  However, we now postulate that these peaks actually represent an “echo” of larger molecules that have become doubly charged.  The double charge sets the m/z denominator (z) = 2, rendering an m/z value corresponding to half the given molecule’s true size.

 

The majority of time since my last blog post has been spent analyzing and making sense of our empirical data.  Because we conducted five trials for each sample over five days, we amassed an enormous cache of data.   Furthermore, each trial reported m/z values in 0.1 increments, and in some trials, values ranged upwards of 1800 m/z.  This culminated in a grand yield of a quarter-million distinct data-points across the entire project!  To complicate matters, it was necessary to align the data so that m/z values from one day could be meaningfully compared with those of the next day.  Initially, I attempted this task manually, by placing tabular data sets side-by-side in Microsoft Excel and moving misaligned records into position.  Ultimately, I found this method impractical and tedious, and so I abandoned it in favor of an automated approach.  I therefore attempted to construct an Excel macro that would align the data automatically, consulting an external Excel expert to assist me with portions of Visual Basic software coding, programming syntax, and debugging.  After weeks of continued development and thorough testing, our macro evolved from a simple data-aligning routine to an intelligent, sophisticated program capable of retrieving whole datasets from multiple source files, initiating user-driven comparisons, and assembling graphical overlays so as to highlight changes occurring in our samples from one day to the next.

 

In order to more fully understand the detailed patterns and relationships inherent in the data, I am currently zooming into local areas of each trial’s graph and labeling each peak.  I am noticing that some day-to-day peaks grow, some decline, and others do not seem to conform to any recognizable pattern at all.  Nevertheless, I anticipate this careful examination of peaks under magnification will uncover even more numerical patterns within our atomic mass spectra.  We hope an understanding of these patterns will help unlock the mysteries behind the chemistry of DHA, particularly with respect to our original hypotheses.

 

Next week, Dr. Upmacis and I plan to simulate DHA’s antioxidant mechanisms as they realistically occur within the body.  We will observe the reactions between DHA and several nitric oxide (NO)-releasing compounds, including S-Nitroso-N-acetylpenicillamine (SNAP) and S-Nitrosoglutathione (GSNO).  NO is a radical species important in many physiological and pathological processes.  We expect DHA to scavenge NO and couple with NO’s unpaired electron.  If these tests are successful, we will be one step closer to painting a more complete picture of the antioxidant potential inherent in DHA.

 

This project has certainly presented its own set of challenges, but I felt rewarded by the satisfaction earned by overcoming them.  My first obstacle lay in the alignment of my datasets.  I felt overwhelmed by the prospect of tediously combing through tens of thousands of data records, one by one.  Moreover, I realized such a manual approach was vulnerable to human error.  I knew there had to be a more efficient method, so I began to envision a program that would automate the task.  This gave rise to my next challenge: designing and testing the Excel macro.  Many steps were taken to ensure the macro sorted the data correctly.  A new round of thorough testing accompanied each additional feature or level of complexity.  This process required a significant investment of time.  However, the result was well worth the effort because it yielded a flexible, self-sufficient program capable of sorting and analyzing data under varying conditions.  I am hopeful that this macro will also improve the repeatability of our experiment, should a future study necessitate a similar data analysis.  In this way, the investment of time and effort here will continue to pay off in the future.  Unfortunately, the amount of time spent in research and analysis initially left me feeling rushed to produce more results by summer’s end.  This brings me to my final challenge – the time constraints of this project.  Many studies often take many months or years to come to fruition, so I initially felt rushed to complete my work before the end of the initiative.  I’m now learning that the research and analysis process requires the time that proper diligence and care demand.  Therefore, it may be unrealistic to expect that ambitious research undertakings will be completed within a relatively short time frame.

 

That said, Dr. Upmacis and I will be starting a new project in the fall, but we will continue our work with the current one as well.  Once the numerical patterns behind our mass spectra peaks are more fully elucidated, we will assemble a cohesive narrative to explain the chemistry of DHA in terms of the changing relationships in our data set.  This story will form the backbone of our manuscript, which we may submit for publication.

 

This project has taught me much about the research process.  I’m thankful for the chance to work with Dr. Upmacis, a phenomenal mentor, who has guided me through the journey of the scientific method.  I also feel empowered by the knowledge and technique that I’ve acquired in the lab.  I learned how to use the mass spectrometer, an important instrument in analytical chemistry.  Moreover, I gained valuable skills in critically evaluating data and drawing meaningful conclusions.  Helping this study come together has been a rewarding experience and will continue to be one as we approach our goal.

 

In addition to learning the ropes of research, this project has also enhanced my sense of patience and resolve.  There is rarely immediate gratification in the worthwhile endeavors of life; one has to be in it for the long haul.  It’s easy to become discouraged or frustrated when long hours produce slow results.  The key to success, however, is to stay engaged in the process, to pace oneself, and to never give up.  Give your best effort with the tools available to you at present, stay enthusiastic, and success will take care of itself.  This is a lesson that I will carry on through my life’s ventures and professional pursuits.

 


[1] Assuming the mass spectrometer singularly charges component molecules, then z = 1 and “m/z” directly represents the atomic mass units (amu) of the molecule.  Some molecules, however, inevitably become doubly charged; in this case, z = 2 and “m/z” represents half the amu of the molecule.  Thus, for accuracy, we report our data in terms of m/z units, rather than amu.

Alternative Spring Breaks

Researching Voluntourism this summer with Dr. Emily Welty has been a rewarding experience. Not only have I learned a great deal about myself and Alternative Spring Break, but I have also gained knowledge of how different and taxing it is to research and write for journal publication.

 

The experience has proved to be particularly useful in that I am researching with a professor in the field I plan to pursue. Because Peace and Justice Studies is interdisciplinary, the process of narrowing our focus for publication has been difficult and lengthy.

 

The journal article we are currently writing will focus only on Alternative Spring Break trips. Utilizing the preexisting research on Alternative Spring Breaks and transcripts from interviews conducted, we are arguing that there exists a gap in the ASB literature that needs to be filled. The outcome of our research will conclude with a set of best practices for ASB participants, leaders, and advisors to follow.

 

These best practices will minimize the risk of harmful discourse, incomplete or incorrect understanding of structures of power and privilege, and harm done on host communities. If these best practices are followed, our hope is that Alternative Spring Break trips will become beneficial not only to a student’s development, but also to their understanding of systems of power and privilege in place while also providing a positive impact on host communities.

 

My work on this research has included working on a literature review, compiling Alternative Spring Break testimonies, and completing an IRB proposal. In completing comprehensive research on literature that covers Alternative Spring Breaks, Dr. Welty and I have encountered a substantial gap in the literature. Most of the literature focuses on the effects ASB has on a student’s leadership skills and personal development, while the host community and a student’s understanding of an issue remain unaddressed.

 

My biggest task this summer has been to compile the body of literature, read it all, and begin a system of annotating to aid me in writing a literature. Although I am just beginning the literature review now, I have spent a great deal of time annotating the literature and categorizing it by theme. While this task has been both challenging and daunting at times, Dr. Welty has been immensely supportive by providing me with the resources to complete the research effectively. I have thus far learned a great deal about the intricacies of writing a literature review for a journal article.

 

I have also been able to complete our Internal Review Board proposal for interviewing ASB participants. Learning basic proposal writing skills from Dr. Welty has been invaluable, as I will most definitely need to write proposals in the future.

 

Although interviews have not yet begun, Dr. Welty has also spent a significant amount of time teaching me about conducting interviews and analyzing them. I have spent some of my time this summer thinking about interview techniques and formulating the interview questions for our upcoming interviews.

 

Although this process has been challenging and often stressful, it has provided great insight into life as an academic. I now know that I will thrive in a career in academia if I apply and fine-tune the skills that I have acquired throughout this process.

 

As I have been selected as a participant for the Fall/Spring Student and Faculty Research Initiative, I look forward to continuing my journey to publication with Dr. Emily Welty.

 

Antimicrobial Properties of Different Bee Propolis (Blog Post #2)

Now approaching the end of summer, I am very excited to share with you the results of my experiment. I tested 17 microorganisms, (8 Gram positive and 9 Gram negative) and was able to derive data from 10 of the organisms tested due to various problems that occurred.  E. faecalis and B. megaterium are Gram positive bacterias that did not show any signs of inhibition by the propolis samples. S. pneumoniae was the only Gram positive organism that displayed slight inhibition around propolis samples from Russia, Tayabas, Lativa and Australia.

P. vulgaris is a Gram negative bacteria that showed slight around propolis samples from Bico, Washington State, and California. P. aeriginosa (Gram negative)  also had slight inhibition around Australia, Lativa and Russia. S. typhimurium (Gram negative) had slight inhibition around the samples from Australia and California. E. aerogenes (Gram negative) had slight inhibition around the California sample. The D1 strain of S. marcesens (Gram negative) had inhibtion around the Bico sample. E. coli (Gram negative) showed no inhibition and S. flexneri (Gram negative) showed the most inhibition out of all the organisms tested. This bacteria was inhibited by samples from Tayabas, Lativa, California. Washington State, Bico, and Australia.

From the results obtained, it can be determined that the propolis is most effective against microorganisms that dwell in or infect the human body, which would explain why the propolis is known for its healing properties and used around the world for the treatment of various ailments.

Data could not be gathered for the following Gram positive bacterias: S. epidermidis, B. cereus, S. pyogenes, S. aureus, B. subitilis, and the following Gram Negative bacterias: the WCF and 933 strains of S. marcesens. Data for these organisms could not be gathered because the disks placed on the plates with the propolis samples somehow shifted positions, therefore I was unable to determine which disk belonged to which propolis sample. When attempting do another trial of the protocol, the bacteria used to inoculate the plates were contaminated and it was very difficult trying to remake new bacterial stocks because the samples were becoming contaminated as well.

Despite this issue, one major result still stood out to me throughout the whole experiment. Although I previously stated that I could not gather data for S. pyogenes, the plate did show amazing inhibition  of the bacteria for 2 of the propolis samples. However, the disks with the propolis samples shifted, therefore I could not tell where the two samples were from and the issues from remaking bacteria stock interrupted my search. But this particular result I found the most interesting because S. pyogenes is the cause of Strep Throat and in countries around the world, and even in my home, honey is ingested to ease the symptoms and somehow cure the infected throat after a few days. Therefore, I am extremely excited to continue this experiment to determine the results for the rest of the microorganisms to determine the efficacy of propolis against these bacteria.

From this experiment I have learned two very important facts of life.  The first is that nothing comes out the way that is planned. There are always going to be discrepancies and problems that arise with protocols and results. However, it is your job as the researcher to ask yourself why is this occurring and devise a solution to the problem. The second thing that I learned is that one must be able to connect two points in order to have that wonderful “lightbulb” moment where everything finally comes together and makes sense. This is how I felt after looking at the S. pyogenes plate and is one of the many things about my research that makes me very excited. I look forward to continuing my researching and being a part of Dr. Mojica’s team.

 

Blog #2 The Implications of Rising Waters

 

Our research project revolving around “The Implications of Rising Waters” has come a long way since the beginning. When starting this project, we had hopes of becoming knowledgeable about the severity of rising waters in Westchester County and determining which Westchester County municipalities were prepared or at least had some plans arranged to help minimize the impact of rising water levels. With thorough research, we were able to determine the projected sea level rise along the coast of New York and how these increased water levels will impact Westchester County. With our efforts to reach out to municipalities located along the Long Island Sound and the Hudson River, we were able to get good feedback regarding the issue. We initially contacted 16 different municipalities in hopes of finding out more about the plans being developed to help prepare for the very real threat that rising water poses for coastline communities. Although it was difficult to get responses from all sixteen of these municipalities, the ones we did get feedback from were quite interesting.

            Of the sixteen towns that we reached out to, ten did not respond back. Of the remaining six, three of the towns, Hastings-on-Hudson, Tarrytown, and Harrison did not have any plans prepared to take action against the threat of rising waters. The Village of Sleepy Hollow and Yonkers both had plans to incorporate concerns into the planning and building processes of their towns. The city of Yonkers has implemented a Green Building Policy for new construction and renovation of city-owned buildings, prohibiting them from being built in areas with an elevation at or below the 100-year floodplain. As for Sleepy Hollow, plans have been implemented for two new development sites on the Hudson River, where both projects will be built above the newly proposed guidelines for a 100-year flood. New Rochelle also has plans for the future threat of rising waters where the town is working to design FEMA approved sea walls, bulkheads, docks and sun deck rebuilds that will sustain future extreme tidal shifts and storms.

            In addition to the findings we were able to retrieve from the municipalities directly, there is further information we’ve obtained from careful research that leads us to believe other municipalities such as, Croton-on-Hudson, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, Port Chester, and Yonkers have begun to take the threat of rising waters into consideration, given they all have some sort of waterfront revitalization program in the works. Given these towns are focusing on their waterfronts, it may also mean they are considering the threat of rising waters.

            Given the data we have received, a couple of questions have come to mind. We are especially curious about the extent of these plans that several of the municipalities have claimed to be taking place. Some of these plans will not take place for another couple of years and by then, they may be modified. We are hoping that these coastline areas will develop even more plans or decide to enhance already existing ones. Our other question would be concerning the outcome of this project and if it will make the difference we hope it will. We also have plans to continue our research for this topic and to take it further into New York City.

            The greatest challenge that we encountered throughout the course of this research project would definitely be the lack of feedback from the municipalities. We anticipated that many of the towns may not respond, however we were hoping to get a few more, mainly so would could have a better estimate of how municipalities are preparing for potential rising waters. However, given the data we were able to collect, we were still able to make a good assumption of how prepared the Westchester County is for the danger rising waters pose, which is definitely a success. In addition, all of the feedback we received was very positive in which the municipalities that are involved in plans to help prevent damage from rising waters were all very eager to hear about the results of this research. This is a great sign because it means that many coastline communities understand how important this issue is and why being proactive about it is so serious.

            My learning experience throughout the course of this project has been quite beneficial. Working with Angelo Spillo was wonderful as he is a very ambitious and pleasant mentor to work with. Similar to myself, we are both devoted supporters of the environment and we wish to help others understand the importance of environmental issues, not only because it is important, but also because it will help us to live safer and healthier lives.  Throughout the course of the research I have come to the understanding that making a difference is hard and takes time, but I’ve also recognized that it is entirely possible, you just have to believe in what your doing.

            This research project has definitely impacted me in a positive way. Not only did I experience a hands on approach to performing a research project, but I’ve also gained skills that will be of great use to me in my future, especially for the continuing of this research project that will take place in the following semester. I have also found that working together with someone who believes in many of the same things as you, makes it a much better experience. We were able to collaborate effectively and therefore make our project that much stronger.

Blogs 2 – Marc Kowtko

Due to potential publication, the previous Blog 1 was removed until copyright procedures were completed.  Blog 1 is now being re-inserted along with Blog 2.  Copyright (c) 2013 Marc Kowtko.  All rights reserved.

 

Marc Kowtko Weekly Scholarly Blog

 

Week 1 – 06/10/2013:

 

AbstractTelehealth once derived from a simple patient to doctor consultation has now evolved into a multibillion dollar industry.  New technologies in the telehealth field can assist patients in their daily livings, from managing prescriptions to monitoring their vitals.  Telehealth continues to impact society and improve the quality of life for medical patients.  However, increased cyber-attacks and security breaches have caused a surge in awareness and implementation in information security, especially in the Telehealth sector.  Biometrics authentication is an evolving two factor authentication has been developed and implemented in the government and private sector.  Telehealth professionals have taken a special interest in biometric authentication.  As passwords become more complex for humans to remember as well as their inherent security vulnerabilities, many industries, including Telehealth, have turned to biometrics as a second form of authentication for its clients and employees.  Few industries, however, have introduced biometrics to their users. As more medical data records become available online, patients, especially older adults, will encounter new obstacles.  Older adults, including those with cognitive impairment, often cannot remember complex password metrics and are more likely to forget or choose insecure passwords that can be easily compromised.  How do older adult patients, ages 65 or older, create passwords?  As Telehealth begins the transition of implementing biometric authentication use to the patients, how will older adults especially with medical complications cope with the usability, enrollment, and authentication process?  This research will study the interaction between older adults (ages 65 or older) and passwords, as well as the accessibility of biometric authentication systems.

 

Introduction & What to expect for this research:

In recent times, cyber-attacks and cyber warfare have threatened network infrastructures from across the globe.  The world has reacted by increasing security measures through the use of stronger passwords, strict access control lists, and new authentication means; however, while these measures are designed to improve security and Information Assurance (IA), they may create accessibility challenges for older adults and people with disabilities.  Studies have shown the memory performance of older adults decline with age.  Therefore, it becomes increasingly difficult for older adults to remember random strings of characters or 12 characters or more in length passwords.  How are older adults challenged by security measures, e.g., passwords, CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart), etc., and how does this affect their accessibility to engage in online interactions, i.e., health insurance options, and mobile platforms?

While username/password authentication, CAPTCHA, and security questions do provide adequate protection; they are still vulnerable to cyber-attacks.  Passwords can be compromised from brute force, dictionary, and social engineering style attacks.  CAPTCHA, a type of challenge-response test, was developed to ensure that user inputs were not manipulated by machine-based attacks.  Unfortunately, CAPTCHA is now being exploited by new vulnerabilities and exploits.  Insecure implementations through code or server interaction have circumvented CAPTCHA.  New viruses and malware now utilize character recognition as means to circumvent CAPTCHA [1][2].  Security questions, another challenge response test that attempts to authenticate users, can also be compromised through social engineering attacks and spyware.  Since these common security measures are increasingly being compromised, many security professionals are turning towards biometric authentication.   Biometric authentication is any form of human biological measurement or metric that can be used to identify and authenticate an authorized user of a secure system. Biometric authentication can include fingerprint, voice, iris, facial, keystroke, and hand geometry.  Biometric authentication is also less affected by traditional cyber-attacks [3].  However, is biometrics completely secure? This research will examine the security challenges and attacks that may risk the security of biometric authentication.

Recently, medical professionals in the Telehealth industry have begun to investigate the effectiveness of biometrics.  In the United States alone, the population of older adults has increased significantly.  Although people are living longer, that does not mean that they are living healthier.  Studies have shown the U.S. healthcare system is being inundated by older adults.  As security with the healthcare industry increases, many believe that biometric authentication is the answer.  However, there are potential problems; especially in the older adult population.  The largest problem is authentication of older adults with medical complications.  Cataracts, stroke, congestive heart failure, hard veins, and other ailments may challenge biometric authentication.  Since biometrics often utilize metrics and measurement between biological features, anyone of the following conditions and more could potentially affect the verification of users.  This research will analyze older adults and their impact of biometric authentication on the verification process.

 

Week 2 – 06/17/2013:

 

A.   General Overview of Cyber-Attacks in the Telehealth Industry:

 

As telehealth continues to grow in numbers and in size, the likelihood of being susceptible to a cyber-attack is more eminent.  In recent times, society, industries, and government have seen a spike in cyber-attacks.  These attacks have caused major outages, denial of service, security breaches, and the unauthorized access, distribution, and compromise to data.  The banking and finance industry has continued to be barged with cyber-attacks and security breaches.  These attacks and breaches have damaging effects in revenues, intellectual property, data protection, and brand reputation.  However, the effects of a successful cyber-attack against a medical organization or facility would be devastating; not only compromising patient data but also potential risking the health and well-being of patients.  Therefore, there is a strong emphasis on the information security and IA.

 

A.   General Overview of Information Security Concepts and Goals:

Accounts and personal data must be protected from unauthorized access. Whether that unauthorized access was caused through malicious attempts or through honest-mistakes, the implementation and policies of protecting data must be put into place.  Currently, there are laws in the US and abroad that protection data and the privacy of its owners [4].  In addition, many corporations and professional organizations have created compliances that address the policy implications when protecting data and privacy.  The compromise of this data caused by an incident or a breach can not only be legally devastating those who collect data, but also devastating to the owners of that data [5].

B.   Threat Environment

To have a better sense of Information Security and the threat towards information itself, one must understand the threat environment.  The threat environment is a term used to describe the potential threats that an entity (a computer network, or data) might expect.  “Know you enemy” is another way to describe the threat environment.  Companies and enterprises responsible for the protection of data must understand the potential attacks and attackers they will.  Failure to understand your threat environment will render the inability to defend the network and most importantly, data itself.

C.   Goals of Information Security:

 

In order for Information Security to become successful, security goals must be realistic and serve a purpose.   Currently, there are three standard security goals. Confidentiality refers to ability for data to remain confidential with persons given access only on a need to know basis.  Confidentiality also underlines the protection of data from unauthorized access and ensures that they cannot intercept that data over transmission on a computer network.  Integrity refers to the ability for data to remain intact while in transmission.  Integrity ensures that attacks cannot modify or destroy data while traveling across the network.  Should data be modified or destroyed in the process, the authorized recipients should be prompted of its lack of integrity.  Availability refers to the access of data to those with authorized access.  Recipients should not be denied access to the data they are to receive.  It is important to security and network professionals that availability of data is maintained across the network.

 

D.   Countermeasures of Cyber-attacks

Naturally, computer attacks and attacks themselves attempt to disrupt one or more, and sometimes, all of these security goals.  Security and network professional, fortunately, are armed with multiple countermeasures needed to thwart or mitigate cyber-attacks. These countermeasures are grouped in three categories.  Preventative countermeasures protect networks by preventing attacks for occurring and or succeeding.  Detective countermeasures protection networks by detecting threats which have attempted to exploit vulnerability, especially when those attacks are succeeding.  The faster the detection, the less damage is created and the greater the chance of mitigation. Corrective countermeasures are protections that incident response and disaster recovery methods.  These countermeasures ensure that compromised networks can recover and return back to normal functions.

 

Week 3 – 06/24/2013:

  1. A.      Overview of Access Control:

 

Securing computer networks will always require authorized users to authenticate themselves to the systems.  Access control is the means to protect computer systems by implementing policy controlling the access to computer systems and data.  Access control revolves around the three AAA’s – authentication, authorization, and auditing.  Authentication, the ability and assessment process of identifying and verifying a user’s identity and claimed permission to access that data.  Authorization refers to permission given to each authenticated user.  These permissions can vary from the privilege to read a file to re-modifying or executing an action from that requested file.    Auditing refers to analysis of collected data representing the history of access logs from within computer or network system.  For many users, accessing a user account requires a password which is a form of authentication.  Authentication determines three things, what you know (password), what you have (a smart card) and who you are (a fingerprint).  A secure computer system will often display two or more of these authentications.  Two-factor authentication requires two of the methods needed to authenticate a user.   However, passwords, the most common form of authentications carry its own problems. Passwords are vulnerable to password related attacks and the human factor.  Passwords can be compromised through brute-force attacks or dictionary-style attacks.  These attacks attempt to align the password syntax by either guessing a list of popular password combinations or by scaling down a list of dictionary words before the correct password and or it sequence emerges.  Passwords are also susceptible to social engineering.  In this case, social engineering can be seen as more sophisticated and cunning than computer based attacks.  Unlike brute-force and dictionary attacks in which a rainbow table (file containing a library of potential combinations) are used to compare and brute-force the correct password combination, social engineering almost always includes the human factor.  In social engineering, the attack will either directly or indirectly attempt to coerce the target recipient into giving up personal data, including passwords.  The key to social engineering is trust and power.  An attacker may try to impersonate a person of authority.  In this case the victim is persuading by an undue influence from another to hand over sensitive personal information.  The other is trust; the attacker is trying to win over trust from the target recipient.  In return, the recipient is more likely to release sensitive personal information to the supposedly trusted individual.  Biometric authentication is a possible alternative to this problem [6].

 

B.   An Introduction into Biometric Authentication

Biometric Authentication (BA) is an authentication method which uses biological characteristics and metrics (measurements) of the human body.  Face, fingerprint, iris, palm print, and voice are just some of the features on the human body that are used to authenticate users.  In addition, birth marks, tattoos, or other body modifications can also be used as an authenticate characteristic of a user. The key in BA is that the authentication is based on “who you are”.  No other human existing on earth will have the same exact features as another individual person.  The most common BA systems used in society are fingerprint, iris, and facial recognition.  A first time user must be enrolled into the system.

 

C.   Enrollment Process & Verification

When enrolling into a biometric authentication system, the users biological feature (e.g. fingerprint) will be scanned into the system.  This is known as the enrollment process.  The initial enrollment scan is designed to capture and extract as much details of the biological feature which is then stored into a template.  A second scan (supplement) filters out any other noise or anomalies that can alter the scan.    The system then rescans and compares the stored template to fresh scan.  Since every scan of the same biological feature is technically different, this step ensures that key details of the feature can be re-recognized.  To ensure further security and robustness of the system, templates are often encrypted or hashed (mathematical conversions).  Quarterly, a user is re-enrolled into the system.  The purpose for the re-enrollment is to update the user’s key features, especially when those key features may have been slightly modified due to injury, health, or age.  When a user wants to authenticate into a system (verification), their scan features is compare to the stored template.  Their acceptance or rejection is based on the decision criterion.  Decision criterion is defined as the comparison between the error and the value.  If the error is smaller to the value, there is a match resulting in an acceptance.  If the error is larger, the match results in denial [7].

 

D.   Accuracy & Rejection

Access control systems, in general, must be extremely accurate.  For sophisticated and accurate BA systems, their equal error rate (EER), false rejection rate (FAR), and False Rejection Rate (FRR) must be taken into account. In simple terms, EER, FAR, and FRR are statistical measures that determine the accuracy of the system.  If a biometric authentication system falsely rejects the right user at a high rate, the system is obsolete.  If the system falsely accepts the wrong user at a high rate, the system is inherently insecure.  The point in which both FAR and FRR meet is known as Equal Error Rate (EER).  When evaluating such systems, it is important to find a low threshold where the false rejection and false acceptance meet.  Another challenge with biometrics authentication is the inability to enroll into a system.  Whether the inability to enroll was caused by injury, health, or age the system generates another error, known as Failure to Enroll (FTE).

 

E.   Compromises & Countermeasures

 

Biometric Authentication is not free from deception.  Hackers can use a number of methods to bypass BA.  If a system requires a fingerprint to be scanned, a hacker can use a rubber latent print from the targeted user and attempt to use that print to authenticate. If a facial recognition is required, some hackers will recreate a dummy face of the target.  If the biometric authentication database is insecure, a hacker might attempt to crack the hashed or encrypted values of the templates stored.  Fortunately, there are countermeasures.  Liveliness countermeasures may require a user to blink or smile for facial recognition [8].  For fingerprint recognition, the system may attempt to search for a pulse, heat, or oxygen level of the user.  However, it is important to note that Biometric Systems should be utilized as a supplemental authentication.  It should not replace a smart card, username, or other credential that requires a user to either “have” or “know” something.

© Marc Kowtko 2013

References:

[1]    Burling, S. (2012, August 30). Those annoying CAPTCHAs are getting harder – The Buffalo News. BuffaloNews.com. Retrieved November 2, 2012, from http://www.buffalonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120830/BUSINESS01/120839557/1006

[2]    Kalra, G. S. (2012). Attacking CAPTCHAs for Fun and Profit. McAfee: An Intel Company. Retrieved from http://www.mcafee.com/us/resources/white-papers/foundstone/wp-attacking-captchas-for-fun-profit.pdf

[3]    Burr, B. (2005, September 20). Biometrics and Electronic Authentication. NIST. G. Retrieved June 29, 2013, from http://www.biometrics.org/bc2005/Presentations/Conference/2%20Tuesday%20September%2020/Tue_%20Ballroom%20E/BurrBiomConf05.pdf

[4]    Singer, N. (2013, February 2). Consumer Data Protection Laws, an Ocean Apart. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/03/technology/consumer-data-protection-laws-an-ocean-apart.html

[5]    Hobson, D. (n.d.). The real cost of a security breach. SC Magazine. Retrieved June 29, 2013, from http://www.scmagazine.com//the-real-cost-of-a-security-breach/article/113717/

[6]    Panko, R. (2010). Corporate Computer and Network Security (Second Edition.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

[7]    Jain, A. K., Bolle, R., & Pankanti, S. (1999). Biometrics: personal identification in networked society. Boston: Kluwer.

[8]    Huntington Ventures Ltd. (2006). Biometric Authentication. Biometric Authentication. Business Consulting Firm. Retrieved June 29, 2013, from http://www.authenticationworld.com/Authentication-Biometrics/

 

 

 

 

Blog 2:

Week 6/28/2013 – 07/05/2013:

 

  1. A.    Personal Preface

 

In late June, I began working at my internship with IBM.  As an intern at the IT Risk Office, I was responsible for the drafting and evaluation of new policies and conducting data analysis.  During my internship, I was introduced through a colleague to Nalini Ratha; a leading biometrics researcher at IBM TJ Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights.  During our meeting, I discussed my project plans and he advised me on how to proceed with identifying research variables and proper data collection.  As stated in the first blog, this research is intended to study the aging complications of older adults and their impact on the verification process within a biometric authentication system. 

 

 

  1. B.     Understanding Data Collection, Its Challenges, and Legal Process

 

During this meeting, data collection was a major topic. As with any research that involves the collection of data from a human population, risks and challenges become a major obstacle in obtaining the right amount of data.  One of those obstacles is having this particular research and data collection approved by an Institutional Review Board (IRB).  In any research project or initiative where the collection of data needed from a human subject, an IRB must review and approve the initiative and the collection of data.  Institutional Review Boards are regulated through Federal laws and regulations; in addition, all IRBs and study administrations must meet specific requirements when data collection or research is conducted on human subjects.  An important key role of an Institutional Review Board is ensuring that the research is ethical or is conforming to acceptable standards [1].  Some of the attributes evaluated by an IRB include the balance between risk of potential harm to a subject vs. the potential gain, moral principles, legalities, and determining long term benefits of the research conducted [2].  Data collection is also reviewed an IRB committee.  In my meeting with Nalini Ratha, data collection was a concern, particularly the amount of data needed.  Since the research is focusing on the impact of the verification process of a Biometric authentication system; several key details emerged.  It was important to determine the research variables and multi-mortalities.  Some of those variables included identifying the independent and dependent variables.  Independent variables are variables controlled or manipulated by the researcher.  In contract, dependent variables are observed as a result of the experiment [3].  The potential multi-mortalities of the research may include the age of patient, the medical complications and its impact on the human body, particular body part measurements, patient time and response.  For example, if a person is using fingerprint to authenticate, that person’s age, medical diagnostic, and finger measurements must be collected and compared to the hash value or biological details captured in the scanned template.  If that person’s medical complication includes an ailment (e.g. congestive heart failure) or other ailment that affects the heart or fluid retention of the body, further data must be collected.  This includes the bodily measurements of affected body parts as a result of the complication. In addition, data may have to be collected on a daily or hourly basis depending on the ailment and its classification.  Once these variables and multi-mortalities have been identified, data analysis models must be completed to evaluate the quality of the collected data.  Since this data includes biomedical data, privacy is a significant concern.  Therefore, it is important that purpose and scope of use has been identified and scrutinized to reduce potential legal and privacy risks. Worst case scenario can include collecting too much data resulting in a rejection of the IRB application.  Collecting too little information can compromise the value of the research and the results.  In this instance, a researcher or team conducting the research must resubmit an entire new application to an IRB committee.

 

  1. C.    Identifying other factors than can denounce or alter a hypothesis’s expected result

The key factor is using data collection to realize and determine the problem scope.   Are medical complications and its effects on the human body the sole contributor to potential inability or fail for a biometric system to verify a user, or do other issues play a role in determining the inability?  Ratha, however, pointed biometric systems are designed to handle compensation; meaning that as long as key features of the template can be identified, then perhaps medical complications are not compromising the system.  Other factors may contribute to the problem; for example, involuntary tremors.  If an older adult is tremors too much or is unable to mount their finger to a fingerprint scanner, a scanned template cannot be produced or the template may be inaccurate.

 

Week 07/12/2013 – 07/19/2013:

 

  1. D.    Challenges and Complications

 

While Biometric Authentication offers advantages including greater accessibility and ease of use, aging and medical complications can compromise those advantages.  Older adults will have social, physical, mental changes as they age; their surrounding can significantly impact those changes.  For the majority of older adults, the most significant change is mobility.  Increased arthritis, joint stiffness, and lack of exercise can lead to decreased movement and independence [4].  Additionally, cognitive function also may be impaired as the adult ages. As older adults continue to age and experience new or worsening medical complications, the challenges amongst continue to rise.

 

  1. E.     Heart Failure & Its Potential Effects on Biometric Authentication

 

Biometric authentication continues to increase in popularity and as an alternative to using passwords.  For biological conditions, the greatest compromise can be the inability to enroll, authentication, and be verified in a biometric authentication system.  Medical complications affecting the heart, lungs, and circulatory system may potential compromise the accessibility and ease of use for BA systems.  Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) is one the leading cause of hospitalization for older adults ages 65 and over.  CHF or Heart Failure (HF) can be caused by a multitude of ailments and other diseases including coronary artery disease, previous heart attack, obesity, ischemic heart disease, HIV, infection of the heart, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other conditions that overwork the heart.  In addition lifestyle habits including addiction, smoking, and the abuse of pharmaceutical drugs can cause heart failure.  Congestive Heart Failure is medically defined as the heart’s inability to properly pump blood to meet the demands of the body. Symptoms of HF and CHF include lung congestion, weakness, fatigue, nausea, change in blood pressure, and rapid or irregular heartbeat.  Fluid and water retention is a significant symptom related to heart failure.  Since the failing heart is unable to meet the demands of the body, other organs become affected as well.  In response to CHF and HF, the kidneys often respond by retaining fluid and salts in the body [5].  The most notable symptom is significant weight gain, chronic coughing due to fluid collection in the lungs, and swelling in the feet and ankles.  Additionally, the face, hands, and fingers can also swell with fluid. The increased fluid in the body puts additional strain on the heart.  While water retention can be treated with diuretics and increased exercising, the amount of water retained in the body can affect the body physically characteristics daily and sometimes on an hourly basis [6].  For, older adults who have this condition, the ability to be enrolled, authenticated, or verified into a BA system can be compromised.  The compromise can be caused by the body’s continually changing metrics (measurements).  Potential biometric authentications systems that can be affected include facial and fingerprint recognition.

 

Week 07/26/2013 – 08/02/2013:

 

  1. F.     Iris Patterns & Facial Recognition Complications

 

Other medical complications can also affect biometric authentication systems.  Cataracts and other iris diseases can affect biometric authentication systems.  In a study conducted by Brazilian researchers at the Federal University of Sao Paulo-Vision Institute and the University of Sao Paulo, researchers tested the BA verification process of 55 patients’ eyes before and after cataract surgery.  Their results concluded that eyes treated after cataract surgery proved more challenging for BA iris recognition systems to authenticate and verify enrolled users.  The significant change in the iris texture and pattern as a result to the surgery, led to an increase in false rejection of users.  Researchers further advised that individuals who underwent cataract or other iris surgeries re-enroll into the system as a new template will be created based on the new iris pattern [7].  Facial recognition could also be challenges as result of a stroke or hard veins in can affect the performance and verification of enrolled users.

 

  1. G.    Cost Complications

 

There are other challenges regarding biometrics.  Accessibility to these systems can prove challenging to older adults due to increased economic hardship.  On a low cost end, fingerprint scanners/readers can vary between $100 and $150 USD [8].  However, more sophisticated BA systems can cost well into the thousands of dollars.  For older individuals, even $100 USD can be expensive, especially if they received social security, subsidized compensation, or locked within a fixed budget.  Other expenses also contribute to the economic hardship; medical co-payments, housing fees, and prescriptions can affect an older adult’s monthly income.  In some cases, biometric authentication systems can be seen as unnecessary and unaffordable.  Facial recognition can be implemented through using a laptop or mobile tablet camera; however, the camera quality could affect the feasibility of facial recognition. It is not only the physical BA devices that can be costly; software, service, and technical support are also contributing to the rising costs.

 

Week 08/09/2013 – 08/16/2013:

 

  1. H.    Implementation Concerns?

 

Implementation and availability are additional concerns.  While the ownership and use of computers and mobile tablets are increasing, there is still a significant of older adults who do not own a computer or mobile device. With the inclusion of technology, one may think those tasks are easier, but that is incorrect. Computers and the Internet today may be simple to use for the average individual, but they differ for people with disabilities. Operating systems, Internet web pages, and other computer components often contain menus and navigations bars with many icons and other services. People with disabilities are intimidated by this, they would rather prefer simple menus, but unfortunately, the World Wide Web is dominated by difficult page organization and setup. Other problems within IT today, are the interaction with computer components. Mice and keyboards are shrinking, screens that are either large or small, often display text can be unclear, and buttons with unclear meanings often frustrate individuals. Currently, people cannot use technology components without referring to manuals, and yet, these manuals contain page after page of small print and sophisticated text [9].

 

  1. I.       Moving Forward into the Future

 

The Research conducted during this semester along with the help and experience from IBM has given me a better stance at successfully collected and analyzing data with the potential of determining my hypothesis.  In the previous weeks, several modifications were made to the IRB and a new data analysis spreadsheet was formed to assist in the identifying of potential data to be collected.  In addition, this research will also be assisted by Pace faculty including a speech pathologist and experts in the biometrics field.  We are expected to resubmit the revised IRB with the data analysis model with the anticipation of approval.  We have already found community partners who are willing to work with this team and Pace University and provide us with a medical population needed to collect our results.  This research is intended to extend into Fall Semester with publication of our results in the following spring semester.  In addition, we are also working on creating a community web portal and intranet that will serve a communication point for our researchers and participants.  We look forward to the future and its endeavors.

 

 

References:

 

[1]   Hanover Regional Medical Center. (2013, August 15). What is an IRB and it’s purpose? Wilmington, North Carolina (NC) – New Hanover Regional Medical Center. What is an IRB and it’s purpose? Retrieved August 17, 2013, from http://www.nhrmc.org/what-is-an-irb

[2]    ASH. (1979, April 18). The Belmont Report. Retrieved August 17, 2013, from http://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/humansubjects/guidance/belmont.html

[3]    National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. (2013, August 15). Defining Research Variables (Operationalization) | National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. Retrieved August 17, 2013, from http://www.servicelearning.org/service-learning-research-primer/defining-research-variables-operationalization

[4]    Hooyman, N. R., & Kiyak, H. A. (2008). Social gerontology: A multidisciplinary perspective. Pearson Education.

[5]    WebMD. (2013, August 16). Congestive Heart Failure Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment. Retrieved August 17, 2013, from http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide-heart-failure

[6]    Heart Failure Society of America. (2010). Section 7: Heart Failure in Patients With Reduced Ejection Fraction. Retrieved August 17, 2013, from http://www.heartfailureguideline.org/diuretic_therapy/81

[7]    Roizenblatt, R., Schor, P., Dante, F., Roizenblatt, J., & Belfort, R. (2004). Iris recognition as a biometric method after cataract surgery. BioMedical Engineering OnLine, 3(1), 2. doi:10.1186/1475-925X-3-2

[8]    BIOMETRICS: Prepare to be scanned. (2003, December 4). The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/2246191

[9]    Kowtko, M. (2012). Open Source Assistive Technology Website. Columbia College Undergraduate Student Research Journal, 1-4 unpublished.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Marc Kowtko 2013

Articulatory clarity, vocal pitch and dominance-judgments of male speech

 

I have been reviewing a few papers in detail. Based on these papers, I have understood that variables related to the tone of male voice influence the perception of social and physical dominance and the capacity for leadership ability. Research has revealed that both men’s voice pitch and competitive dispositions are related to testosterone. Most listeners’ evaluations agree with one another. A recent study aimed to examine whether, and to what extent, a deep voice is associated with labor market success among public company Chief Executive Officers (CEOs).  This study found that deep voiced males oversee larger firms, receive more compensation, and are retained longer suggesting that voice pitch matters in leadership selection.  I am beginning to appreciate the fact that social evaluations are partly but significantly influenced by biological factors, and that it is important to look into all aspects of our nature unabashedly.

In our study, we plan to examine links between articulation and social evaluations from a biological perspective. Speech is possible because of our ability to articulate or produce sounds. Individual differences in articulation may be due to anatomical, physiological and psychosocial factors. With regard to the review of literature on these areas, we have been looking around for precise ways to define and measure articulatory clarity. Explanations regarding the articulation of sounds such as /p/ and /b/– the ones we will be using in our study as stimuli to be judged by listeners–seem to be in terms of the force of sound production or in terms of a timing factor related to lip opening and vocal fold activation during sound production. The latter is a widely used measure and is easy to obtain. I look forward to studying more about the measurement procedure in the speech science class that I will be taking in fall. Sethu and I have been discussing the various steps involved in our research project. We have discussed the design of the study as well as the test materials to be used. We have been talking about participant recruitment methods, informed consent and confidentiality issues, rating scale and stimuli preparations, the number of participants, organizing the data. I am looking forward to carrying out the research as soon as we get the IRB application approved.

Civic Participation Part 2: Honesty vs Politeness

When we began our research our goal was to determine if citizens engage in civic participation out of genuine interest and understood knowledge or do they take literature, answer polls and even vote out of politeness or a perceived requirement. We planned to generate these results through diverse contact methods such as candidate literature, polls, personal interviews, phone calls and a double blind test to ensure the validity of survey candidate answers.

 

The sample group was created using nine different area codes located in the Northeast neighborhoods of Queens.  The total sample group was originally contacted to agree to sign a petition to support a specific candidate throughout the month of July.  The control group was made up of 150 people who were contacted face to face to sign a petition for a particular candidate.  The experimental group consisted of 300 people who were also contacted face to face to sign petitions for two different candidates.  All three candidates are competing in the 2013 New York City Mayoral election in the same party line.

 

Over the course of three weeks in August I have had several volunteers follow a specific script (included in the footnote) in an effort to collect data.  Three separate attempts were made to contact the same people to determine their honesty and politeness in participating in the poll. Using the control group of 300 we called each person to see if they would support the same candidate who they had previously signed a petition for in the last month if they thought we were an independent research group.  The second call to the same person was from the campaign of the candidate who they had signed the petition for. The third call was from the campaign of a candidate whose petition they had not signed.

 

As of today, our results are incomplete as we are planning to continue to collect data after the September 10th Primary election and also the November 5th General election because our project has been extended to the full academic year.  The initial data we have collected has been exceedingly hard to obtain, since the people who actually participate are a self-selecting group who are willing to share their thoughts. We have faced the challenge of getting people to participate in the poll and  are still working to produce results by making  another round of phone calls that will be included in the final report.

 

Throughout this research multiple questions have been raised.  How do you get people to be honest with you on how they feel about civic engagement? How much time can you take up from people to see how they feel? How accurate can a poll really be on how people feel? Is a poll an accurate snapshot of how a voter feels at that particular time? And how do we know people won’t change their mind unless we follow them over a longer period of time? I hope to answer all of these questions by continuing the research and analysis throughout the entire academic year.