Some College Costs Rise Almost 13% Over Inflation

Post-graduate educational costs are rising rapidly across the United States. It’s one of the primary reasons why students are pulling out loans at record rates. The average price of tuition has outpaced inflation by almost 4% between 2016-2019, while the overall expense to attend classes (including room and board) has gone up by nearly 13% in some states.

The increases in college costs are not even across the country, which means some students are bearing a more substantial burden on this issue than others. A handful of states have also seen their college costs decrease since 2014.

What the Data Tells Us About College Costs

If you want to attend a college or university to obtain a degree, then Nevada is the place where you want to be. A price decrease of 5.37% happened in the state since 2015, representing savings that occur after inflation costs get calculated.

Arizona saw a decrease of 2.66% during this period. Florida (1.4%), Utah (1.25%), and New Jersey (0.70%), also saw significant downward pressure on this expense.

Montana had the largest price increase in the country in college costs, with expenses surging by 12.93%. Alaska also saw a significant hike with expenses outpacing inflation by over 9.3%. Maryland, Louisiana, and Massachusetts all saw their prices rise by over 7% more than inflation.

Why Is Montana Struggling with College Costs?

Montana’s economy is driven by oil and coal pricing. Since the rest of the world is moving away from these energy resources, the state needs to diversify its income to ensure stability. Lower prices hurt revenue projections, which meant less money being available for higher education.

Financial support for colleges and universities in Montana fell 3.1% in 2017-2018. That’s why the cost for on-campus room and board rose by over 18%.

Alaska struggles with the same issue. Funding for higher education dropped by almost 14% since 2015, forcing students to take on a more substantial share of the cost burden.

Nevada is going in the other direction because it has more of a diverse economy. Although gambling supplies a significant portion of funds, multiple sectors contribute to the health of the state. That’s allowed funding to remain relatively stable, which means the pressures on price keeps it down compared to the rest of the country.

With the exception of Montana and Alaska, the most stable pricing for college in the United States is in the West and Upper Midwest. If you’re a student who is thinking about a postgraduate degree, then it becomes easier to choose where you want to go.

Over 6,000 Russian Academic Journals Face Increased Scrutiny

Russian academic journals retracted over 800 papers in January 2020 after the completion of a probe into unethical publication practices. The Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) appointed a commission to look into issues of self-plagiarism, gift authorship, and outright copying to allow academics to become co-authors without contributing anything to the published work.

Over 6,000 academic journals in Russia now face increased scrutiny because of the results of the commission’s findings. It also reinforces the suspicions from the rest of the world that the country isn’t going down the correct scientific path. The RAS is taking this step to begin the correction process.

Russian Academics Publish Far More in Domestic Journals

The RAS conducted a study in 2019 that found Russian academics publish domestically far more often than their counterparts in the region.

Dissernet discovered over 4,000 instances of plagiarism or questionable authorship in a 2018 study of Russian literature. That figure covered 1,500 journals and about 150,000 papers.

One of the most significant problems that the academic journals face is the tendency of authors to republish their work. Over 70,000 instances of double publication were found during the investigatory period of this issue. 

Some items received publication almost 20 times.

What Is the Reaction from the Russian Scientific Committee?

During the summer of 2019, the RAS requested over 540 journals to retract a total of 2,528 papers because of the issues. Out of that figure, 263 of them stated that they would remove every suspicious paper. Others said that they would retract the highlighted ones from the commission, but they wouldn’t pull others – including giving legitimate reasons to maintain them.

Eight of the journals explicitly refused to address the problems brought up by the commission. The report from the RAS recommends that five of them get removed from the Russian Science Citation Index because of their behavior.

This outcome followed an incident when the RAS recommended that 56 candidates not receive votes during membership elections because of their involvement in misbehavior – including plagiarism.

The levels of tension and conflict in Russia are high because of the recommendations provided by the RAS. The goal is to reduce distortions within the scientific community while removing publications that don’t contribute valuable data. Some journals didn’t know about the internationally accepted standards of ethical publishing or retraction, so the educational process has started.

Only time will tell if the RAS commission has the leverage to make its needed changes.

How Research Monitoring Improves Reporting Accuracy

The goal of a report is to convey collected information in a manner that is efficient and effective. This principle remains valid for the government, research studies, and businesses all over the world. When we have systems that can monitor the performance of our programs, then the data we collect can help us to improve critical outcomes.

Each research monitoring process follows four specific steps to achieve improvements in reporting accuracy.

  1. Identify the appropriate benchmarks, measures, or objectives that require tracking.
  2. Analyze and report on the targeted performance data.
  3. Create new opportunities to make better use of the information by applying the data to specific problematic areas.
  4. Combine and coordinate research monitoring with additional evidence-based efforts.

Why Do We Use Research Monitoring?

Brands like Nordic Naturals, Klaire Labs, and Trace Minerals Research use research monitoring as a way to identify problems early. These systems work to track the performance of critical programs through short- and long-term outcomes predetermined at the beginning of the process.

This advantage is particularly useful when detecting areas that fall below accepted performance standards for the industry.

Research monitoring can also help to establish specific targets to chart expected performance. Then historical data gets compared to the current information to see where the one metric stands against another. This process helps to find places where growth occurs, or if there is a weakness that needs some reinforcement.

It Informs Organizations About Improvement Strategies

When we have access to information about underperforming programs, then it becomes possible to have more profound discussions about the adverse trends that happen. This process lets an organization look for methods of improvement so that potential solutions can develop organically.

Then an organization can target resources to areas of need. The performance data can inform resource allocations and funding requirements. Large companies can use this information to identify demographics, neighborhoods, and individuals who may have an interest in the company’s message.

As this process moves along, companies can track their progress on whatever strategic planning efforts they set for themselves. Organizations use this step to identify priorities, establish a vision, and to set the mission statement to achieve their common goals.

Research monitoring creates a transparent mechanism where every stakeholder can see what is going on and be held accountable for the goals set goals. This process leads to better outcomes, higher profits, and better decisions as time passes.

Retailers Experienced $369 Billion in Returns in 2018

Retailers have been allowing customers to return unwanted items for free for quite some time. Yet recently, more than a small percentage of people are taking advantage of this system, and many businesses are returning to models employed in the 1980s and 1990s to deter or ban people from using their service in the future.

One of the biggest steps is eliminating pre-paid labels for returns. If you want to return items in 2020, then you’ll need a receipt and also to pay for your own shipping. Refusing to follow the rules can mean e-commerce platforms may even blacklist customers who have a significantly high rate of returns.

10% of Retail Items Get Returned Each Year

Wellness brands like Garden of Life, Host Defense, or Klaire Labs don’t experience high return rates because the products take time to work. People invest in them as a way to support healthier routines. Even if the outcome occurs because of a placebo effect, there is value experienced in the purchase.

That’s not the same approach customers take when shopping for clothing, shoes, and similar items through online stores. Over $369 billion in merchandise, the equivalent of 10% of the total amount of sales revenues in 2018, was returned in the United States. That’s $100 billion more than 2015.

Returns are problematic because they eat into company profits. The logistics to take an item back from a buyer is costly, and it requires storage. This stock often sits in a pile at a warehouse until someone can organize it. Having the items go to the landfill is more common than most people realize.

How Do We Improve This Situation?

Some stores have no desire to pull away from the no-question returns policies that are in place today. Costco, like other businesses in this space, says that doing so would indicate a lack of trust in the customer.

Retailers like Anthropologie are willing to go in a different direction by charging a small fee for mailed returns. Fashion Nova provides in-store credit instead of offering a refund.

Then there’s Abercrombie, which says in 2020 that no returns will be considered without an order confirmation, invoice, or receipt. 

Amazon handles customers who make consistent returns differently. Some consumers are banned for life from using the platform. Most large retailers and e-commerce platforms report at least some effort to spot repeat offenders who return items all of the time.

Stores will still allow returns moving forward. People change their minds, receive unwanted gifts, and experience product issues, so this customer service requirement will always exist. 

How a business processes that need is what will change the industry.

1.4 Trillion Metric Tons of Carbon Released in the Arctic

A dangerous feedback loop is happening right now in the Arctic biome.

As climate change continues to intensify, major sources of greenhouse gas emissions get tracked around the world. One of the most significant contributors to this effect isn’t a specific industry or country.

The Arctic is now releasing more carbon dioxide in winter than it absorbs during the summer months. This biome is warming at three times the global average, which means the greenhouse gases that would usually stay trapped get released into the atmosphere.

That means 1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide get released from Arctic soils each year. That means there is a potential for a 1.4 trillion metric ton problem over the next decade.

The Arctic Can Only Absorb 1.1 Billion Metric Tons of CO2

Plant growth in the Arctic biome during the summer months allows for 1.1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide to come out of Earth’s atmosphere. The remaining deficit of 600 billion metric tons stays to contribute to warming temperatures.

That means the Arctic deficit exceeds the CO2 levels of 189 countries.

The United States, India, Russia, Japan, China, and Germany account for about 50% of the world’s human-made contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.

A United Nations panel on climate change estimates that we cannot exceed 420 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide releases if we are going to achieve the desired results of the Paris Climate Agreement. The Arctic biome makes this outcome even less likely to happen.

Over 1,000 Readings Have Verified This Information

A team of scientists from a dozen different countries placed monitoring devices across 100 sites in the Arctic. They have taken over 1,000 readings with this equipment to verify the CO2 releases. 

Their estimates are that emissions from this region will increase by 40% through 2100 if no significant efforts are taken to stop using fossil fuels.

It might already be too late. Even if we make the necessary changes to our society, the emissions levels will still rise by 17% through the end of the century. What is even worse is that the biome is becoming a significant methane emitter, which is up to 30 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.

This feedback loop creates a dangerous scenario. If countries are unwilling to bring their net emissions to zero, then human activities will combine with natural greenhouse gases to develop a devastating future for the next generations. 

44,000-Year-Old Paintings Leave More Questions than Answers

Someone climbed up high onto a rocky ledge in Indonesia over 44,000 years ago. Their intent and tools may not be known, but the artwork that the person left behind has many people talking today.

The mural depicts hunters with animal heads and armed with spears taking the fight to some buffalo and wild hogs.

Some scientists say that this is the oldest known representation of figurative art created by humans. It could be evidence that imagination has always been part of our existence. The animals depicted in the scene are bovines called anoa and the Sulawesi warty pig, both of which still live on the island.

Every Society Has Mythic Traditions

Could this artwork be a representation of one artist’s imagination, or does it represent actual events that happened tens of thousands of years ago?

The answer to those questions depends on the accuracy of the dating process. Scientists carefully pulled out a few small shards from the wall containing the painting. When rainwater trickles into a cave, it leaves mineral deposits that contain uranium.

We know that uranium decays into thorium at a fixed rate. When researchers analyzed this data from the mineral layer that was taken from on top of the painting, the minimum age was 44,000 years. That means it could be even older, and the work is at least 4,000 years beyond the earliest instances of figurative art found in Europe.

Every human society has had some form of storytelling as part of its existence. The depictions offered by the cave painting show that ancient civilizations have more in common with us than we might realize.

Do These Paintings Disrupt Human Origin Theory?

Human origin theories often place the first civilizations in the Middle East. These ideas also suggest that Europe was responsible for evolving the early cultures that we would define as “modern” today.

The paintings found in Indonesia help to dispel that notion. Even though most researchers already consider it to be an outdated observation, it is one that lingers in regular society.

The fact that the paintings reflect half-animal, half-human creatures remains consistent with other findings from around the world. That means a natural question to ask involves whether or not these images are the representation of an imagination.

Could these creatures have roamed our planet millennia ago?

Nothing supports such an observation from the fossil record, but that fact doesn’t discredit the similarities found in so many ancient stories. That’s why this incredible find leaves more questions than answers for some researchers.

WWII Relic Forces 53,000 People to Evacuate

Authorities in the community of Brindisi quickly evacuated 53,000 residents in December 2019 because of an incredible discovery. An enormous, unexploded bomb dropped by British forces was found in this Italian village, creating the need for the most massive peacetime evacuation in Italy since the second world war.

The order displaced over half of the city’s residents. The reason why this emergency action took place was due to a bulldozer damaging the relic while excavating for a remodeling project.

The ordinance weighed in at 440 pounds, containing over 40 kilograms of dynamite that authorities feared could explode at any time.

Not The First Incident for Italian Authorities

Over 10,000 residents of Turin were evacuated earlier in the month because a similar British bomb was found there and required evacuation. Another 4,000 people went through this evacuation protocol because of an unexploded bomb found in Bolzano.

The giant bomb found in Brindisi took over 45 days to disarm fully. Officials placed a “red zone” of more than 1,600 meters to restrict access to the area. That forced the prison, train station, hospitals, and the city’s airport to shut down.

It took more than a dozen explosives experts from the Italian military to render the ordinance safe. A special metal key turned using remote-control technologies allowed for it to be safely diffused. Several officials watched the entire process by observing drone footage from a situation room.

Then Italian authorities set the bomb off in a remote location outside of the city so that it couldn’t provide any more unwanted surprises.

How Did the Bomb Get There?

Italian officials believe that the unexploded British bomb fell on Brindisi in 1941. An air raid over the city occurred that year when Italy still allied itself with Germany.

Royal Air Force bombers based out of Malta were targeting the city or Bari and Naples at the time. The goal of these activities was to disrupt the shipping lanes of Axis forces.

Even with the recent discoveries of bombs that have now been safely removed from multiple cities in Italy, authorities believe that there could be thousands of bombs still waiting to be found.

This story is a reminder that the consequences of war can linger long after the conflict is over. It is in our own best interests to find a way to appreciate our differences instead of doing battle over them. 

300-Plus Mussel Species Added to Endangered List

Between 2016 and 2019, an estimated several hundred thousand to a million mussels normally found in the freshwaters of the Clinch River that winds through the Appalachia mountains have disappeared.

This die-off follows a global trend that is concerning scientists.

Mussels are part of a delicate ecosystem that benefits from a healthy mussel population. Each mussel filters up to 10-gallons of river water each day, removing algae, silt, and heavy metals. Fish, amphibians, plants, bugs, and people all rely on mussels to keep rivers clean.

Currently, the Clinch River is just one of five U.S. rivers where these die-offs are occurring. A river in Spain has also reported a decline in the mussel population.

Scientists suggest that the source of the problem is habitat loss, pollution, and climate change. Infectious disease may be another source of the decline.

This may not be just a mussel problem, either. Declining fish populations may be making an existing problem worse.

To reproduce, mussels lure nearby fish who attempt to eat what looks like a worm. One a fish attaches itself, the mussel injects the fish with larvae. When these larvae grow large enough to survive on their own, they return to the water.

Some mussel species rely on just one type of fish species to survive. When dams and habitat loss affect the one species of fish, the mussels can’t reproduce and will die off.

The Clinch River has seen ten species already go extinct. Another 20 species are now on the endangered species list. Globally, 300 species are at risk of disappearing.

The search for a common link in die-offs is now a global effort. Many scientists agree that human activity is a primary driver, infectious disease is also likely another problem.

So far, researchers have found the major challenge in identifying any one cause is that each mussel species may have unique traits that are exclusive to that species; these traits may be wholly different than a species further down the river. So solving the problem in one species won’t necessarily provide insight into what affects another species.

Some researchers are also learning how to breed mussels in captivity. While some species of mussels are rare and finding both a male and female can be difficult, the challenge may be worthwhile. Reintroducing just 500 mussels into a river ecosystem can be beneficial.

Figuring out how to save mussel species isn’t just about the conservation of a particular animal. Mussels share a relationship with many aquatic animals. What affects one species affects all species. The biological diversity of our waters may depend on solving this issue quickly and before they disappear forever.

$5 Billion Paid to California Firefighters Annually

After several seasons of dry weather and mandatory water restrictions, California enjoyed a brief period of record rainfall during the 2019 spring season.

Unfortunately, after falling back into a dry period, all of that new summer plant growth became kindling which sparked some of the worst fires ever in California history.

But it wasn’t just weather contributing to fires. Electrical utilities maintained by PG&E sparked at least 19 fires in 2017 and 2018, and have also been blamed for the Camp Fire that left 86 dead and destroyed the town of Paradise.

The need to keep fires contained and away from populated areas has led to a 65% rise in wages for firefighters over the last decade. The largest contributor to this sudden rise is overtime pay.

In 2011, 41 firefighters earned more than $100,000 in overtime pay. That number rose to 1,085 in 2018. According to the New York Times reporting, around 200 firefighters earned more than $300,000 in 2018, representing a third of all payroll for L.A. firefighters.

For some pundits, and perhaps even the taxpayers who fund county firefighting services, these numbers are surprising. But experts argue that after factoring in training and benefits of new firefighters, it is cheaper to pay overtime.

But there are still concerns over overtime policies. Currently, overtime is dictated by federal regulations that govern overtime, pre-negotiated contracts between management and unions, and the use of “constant staffing” models that see some firefighters in stations for a 24-hour period.

The Los Angeles country Fire Department has launched a campaign to argue for increases in revenue to increase staffing levels. This money is not required to keep services running to fight fires, as budget shortfalls resulting from wildfires are reimbursed under California’s mutual aid system that redistributes money across jurisdictions and the federal government.

Looking beyond the money, officials argue that firefighters are subjected to long hours and are at constant risk of mental and physical health problems. Meaning that some of these rising expenses are also the result of paying for lost time when firefighters are injured on the job. One fire official also said that there has been a 50% increase in medical calls and that the funding isn’t there to hire more staff.

There are also caps on overtime, but during emergencies, like wildfires, those caps get lifted.

Officials are actively working to understand the overtime system better to ensure that taxpayer money is used efficiently. But with the rising number of fires threatening California homes, a solution that all parties involved can agree on may not come easily.