Stress over fussy eating prompts parents to pressure or reward at mealtime

Although fussy eating is developmentally normal and transient phase for most children, the behavior can be stressful for parents. A new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that concern over fussy eating prompts both mothers and fathers to use non-responsive feeding practices such as pressuring or rewarding for eating.

“These practices can reinforce fussy eating, increase preferences for unhealthy foods, and lead to excessive weight gain,” said lead author Holly Harris, PhD, Centre for Children’s Health Research, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia. “Understanding why parents respond unproductively to fussy eating is an important step to educate on healthy feeding practices.”

This study recruited 208 mothers and fathers with children between the ages of 2-5 years from a socio-economically disadvantaged community in Queensland, Australia. Disadvantaged families are found to have higher levels of fussy eating and greater use of non-responsive feeding practices, but there is little understanding of what situations prompt this behavior.

In addition to information about themselves, the parents scored their perceived responsibility in feeding as well as their child’s temperament. Additionally, they reported the frequency of fussy eating behavior and their feeding practices. Questions included, “When your child refuses food they usually eat, do you insist your child eat it?” and “When your child refuses food they usually eat, do you encourage eating by offering a reward other than food?” Lastly, parents indicated how frequently they were worried about their child’s fussy eating, their child not eating a balanced or varied diet, and how much food their child ate.

The study found that while both mothers’ and fathers’ reports of fussy eating were consistent, mothers reported higher levels of concern. Research indicates gender assumptions place greater responsibility for feeding and the child’s nutrition on mothers. Mothers are also more sensitive to a child’s verbal and nonverbal cues. They are therefore more distressed by the crying, tantrums, and gagging as a child refuses food. Feeding has a significant emotional component for mothers that may contribute to their using nonresponsive feeding behaviors out of concern for the child’s welfare.

“Fathers more frequently used persuasive feeding practices, but their behavior was not driven by parental concern,” said Dr. Harris. “A possible explanation may be the fathers focus on practical matters such as ending mealtime after a long day at work. Acknowledging and addressing the underlying causes for non-responsive feeding practices used by both parents may improve responses to fussy eating.”

Dr. Harris suggests that health professionals tasked with advising parents of fussy eaters might consider providing reassurance, education, and alternative behavioral strategies to support children’s exposure to a wide variety of healthy foods.

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Materials provided by Elsevier. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Shifting focus from life extension to ‘healthspan’ extension

Clinicians, scientists and public health professionals should proudly “declare victory” in their efforts to extend the human lifespan to its very limits, according to University of Illinois at Chicago epidemiologist S. Jay Olshansky.

In an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Olshansky writes that the focus should shift to compressing the “red zone” — the time at the end of life characterized by frailty and disease, and extending the “healthspan” — the length of time when a person is alive and healthy.

Olshansky, professor of epidemiology in the UIC School of Public Health, discusses how human longevity has reached into its upper limits and has little room for further gains. He notes that at the turn of the 20th century, life expectancy at birth in most developed nations ranged from 45 to 50 years. With the emergence of major public health initiatives in the late 19th century — including sanitation and the public provision of clean water — mortality rates dropped, and life expectancy increased rapidly. The rise in longevity has slowed considerably in recent decades, and maximum lifespan has never changed much throughout human history.

Today, 96 percent of infants born in developed nations will live to age 50 and older, more than 84 percent will survive to age 65 or older, and 75 percent of all deaths will occur between the ages of 65 and 95 years old.

He also addresses the controversy that has erupted in the media lately over whether the human lifespan can increase indefinitely.

“There’s been a lot of focus in the news lately about what is the maximum human lifespan, with some researchers claiming that it has the potential to be infinite, but there is a biologically based limit imposed largely by the way in which our bodies are designed, and it can be expressed mathematically,” Olshansky said.

Based on the science and medicine available today, he contends that the probability of any significant increase in maximum lifespan in this century is remote.

“There is reason to be optimistic that future breakthroughs in aging biology, if pursued, could allow humanity to live healthier longer,” Olshansky said. “Some experts suggest that if death rates plateau at older ages, lifespans may continue to increase. This latter view has been challenged by the fact that an unrealistically high number of people would have to survive to age 105 (estimated 262,200) just for one person to exceed the world record for longevity by one year to 123 years.”

The downside of extremely long lifespans is that disease and disability tend to pile up toward the end of life.

“You don’t want to live to be over 100 years old if the last 20 years of your life are spent in pain and sickness,” Olshansky said. “Ideally, you want to compress the years of decay and disease — what I call the ‘red zone’ — into as few as possible at the very end of life. We should not continue to pursue life extension without considering the health consequences of living longer lives.”

Clinical trials that target aging have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and the American Federation for Aging Research is leading global efforts to secure funding for geroscience-related initiatives.

“This will be the only way science can push through the biological barriers to life extension that exist today,” he said. “Life extension should no longer be the primary goal of medicine when applied to people over age 65 — the principal outcome and most important metric of success should be extension of the healthspan.”

Olshansky cautions that despite longevity-related progress, many disparities are largely unresolved.

“Not everyone has access to health care, nutritious food, opportunities to get exercise and education that contribute to long lifespans,” he said.

Funding for elements of the Longevity Dividend concept was provided by the MacArthur Foundation, through its Research Network on an Aging Society, and a Glenn Award for Medical Research from the Glenn Foundation. Olshansky is co-founder and chief scientist at Lapetus Solutions, Inc.

Do rock climbers seek out high-risk climbs?

The sport of rock climbing is gaining international attention, having been approved for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games. But news headlines about the sport are still dominated by reports of gruesome injuries and near-death falls. Are rock climbers going out of their way to seek these risks? A new study published in Risk Analysis: An International Journal reveals that decreasing the level of injury risk at a climbing site generates substantial welfare gains for climbers.

Risk of injury or death is an intrinsic part of rock climbing, whether done for sport or recreation, but not all climbers are thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies. The study, “Valuing the benefits of rock climbing and the welfare gains from decreasing injury risk,” shows that these risks can heavily impact where individuals choose to climb.

The team of researchers, Lea Nicita and Giovanni Signorello, from the University of Catania, and W. Douglass Shaw, from Texas A&M University, applied the Kuhn-Tucker approach (conditions for an optimal solution in nonlinear programming) to estimate the demand for rock climbing in Sicily, Italy, to reveal the recreational value of various sites and the value to climbers of a reduction in injury risks. In addition to the degree of difficulty at the sites, climbers also consider length and quality of the climb, approach time, crowding and scenic quality, and travel costs, as well as variables that control for other unknown site-specific influences, when selecting a site to visit for climbing.

Thirty-two rock climbing sites located throughout Sicily were considered in the online survey distributed to Sicilian climbing groups on Facebook and via mailing lists from several climbing clubs. Ninety climbers completed the survey which asked questions about their place of residence, the number of trips taken to each of the 32 sites, self-reported climbing ability, experience, preference for sport or traditional climbing, whether they’ve attended training courses, are members of a club, whether they climb alone and their socioeconomic status. The average climbing ability of the respondents can be described today as handling routes of “moderate” difficulty, the equivalent of a U.S. 5.10 grade.

The researchers used knowledge of the climbing bolts and rope run-outs at each site to determine if a route was low, moderate or high risk. The distance between any pair of fixed bolts determines the level of protection and risk as the climber can fall more than twice the distance he or she is above the last bolt. For example, a run-out of 10 feet between bolts may result in a 25-foot fall. While previous studies have explored bolting for sport climbing, they focus more on the environmental consequences of bolting, than the safety afforded to climbers.

The results revealed that a greater quantity of single-pitch routes, higher quality landscape and a lower level of median difficulty all increase the likelihood of climbers visiting the site. A statistical analysis of the responses indicated that the climbers preferred lower risk routes.

The researchers also estimated welfare values for each site to help inform policy maker who might set regulations regarding access to the site and to assess the recreational gains of investing in climbing routes to reduce the level of injury risk. Risk reductions at nearly every site can be achieved by improving the bolting of existing routes. If a policy were introduced to increase the level of protection for climbers, the resulting reduction of injury risk is predicted to generate a welfare gain ranging from $18 to $327, depending on the individual site. “The study has broader implications for assessing other risky activities (e.g., undertaking risky sports and forms of transportation such as biking, risky diets and behaviors) and the value of risk reductions for those,” stated Nicita.

The researchers concluded that rock climbing sites with more routes and a better scenic view are more likely to be visited. Most notably, they found that climbers are more likely to choose less risky sites. While risk of injury from falling is intrinsic to the nature of the sport, there is a widespread misperception about the sport in part due to the media coverage and National Geographic filming of climber Alex Honnold, who free-soloed Yosemite Valley’s El Capitan. The values for injury risk reductions revealed by this study can be compared to the cost of increasing safety at a site which can be done by replacing old, worn out bolts and decreasing the length of run-outs.

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10 of the Best Fall Hiking Tours in the U.S., According to TripAdvisor

Let me tell you why fall hikes are the best. You get all the sunshine of summer without the heat, so you can wear your best leggings without worrying about sweating your face off. And if you’re into leaf peeping, fall is the time to check out the bright, glowing colors of those changing leaves. It’s glorious.

To help you decide where to hike this fall, we checked in with TripAdvisor to find out which hikes reviewers loved most. The data team at TripAdvisor used the traveler rankings—an algorithm that ranks experiences based on the quality, quantity, and recency of reviews on the site—to find the most popular hikes across across the U.S. during the months of September, October, and November. Then we did a little tweaking: Because TripAdvisor clumps camping and hiking tours into one category, we selected just the hikes, then took out some repeat locations (there were tons of popular hikes in Hawaii, for example, so we picked our favorites). All of the hikes below are guided tours—which offer expert help and advice, plus a local’s wisdom—but you can also ditch the guide and go on most of these hikes on your own. (Except for number seven, which is only accessible with a guide!)

Your mission: Try to hit up at least one of these this season, and if you can’t make it, add it to your hiking bucket list for 2019. Happy trailing!

Cancer Treatment Myths: Any Truth to These Common Beliefs?

As advances in the treatment of cancer have increased, you may have discovered more opportunities to learn the facts about this disease. Yet some misleading ideas about cancer treatment still persist.

Timothy J. Moynihan, M.D., a cancer specialist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, helps debunk some of the most common misconceptions about cancer treatment and explains the truth.

Myth: A positive attitude is all you need to beat cancer.

Truth: There’s no scientific proof that a positive attitude gives you an advantage in cancer treatment or improves your chance of being cured.

What a positive attitude can do is improve the quality of your life during cancer treatment and beyond. You may be more likely to stay active, maintain ties to family and friends, and continue social activities. In turn, this may enhance your feeling of well-being and help you find the strength to deal with your cancer.

Myth: If we can put a man on the moon, we should have cured cancer by now.

Truth: Finding the cure for cancer is proving to be more complex than mastering the engineering and physics required for spaceflight.

Cancer actually includes a large group of diseases. Each can have many different causes. Despite advances in diagnosis and treatment, doctors still have much to learn about what triggers a cell to become cancerous and why some people with cancer do better than others.

In addition, cancer is a moving target. Cancer cells may continue to mutate and change during the course of the disease. This may lead to the cancer cells no longer responding to the chemotherapy drugs or radiation treatments that were given initially.

Myth: Drug companies and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are blocking or withholding new cancer treatments.

Truth: Your doctor and the FDA, which must approve new drugs before they can be marketed, are your allies. As such, they make your safety a high priority.

Unfortunately, scientific studies to determine the safety and effectiveness of new cancer treatments take time. That may create the appearance or lead to reports that effective new treatments are being blocked.

If you still believe a cure is being purposefully withheld, ask yourself why a doctor would choose to specialize in cancer research. Doctors often go into cancer research because they have a family member or friend affected by the disease.

Doctors are as interested in finding a cure as anyone else, for the same reason—it affects them personally. They hate to see a loved one in pain and don’t wish to lose this person. They also want to spare others what they have gone through.

Myth: Regular checkups and today’s medical technology can detect all cancer early.

Truth: Although regular medical care can indeed increase the ability to detect cancer early, it can’t guarantee it. Cancer is a complicated disease, and there’s no sure way to always spot it.

Routine screening has been linked to a decrease in deaths from cancers of the cervix, breast, lung, colon, and rectum.

Myth: Undergoing cancer treatment means you can’t live at home, work or go about your usual activities.

Truth: Most people with cancer are treated on an outpatient basis in their home communities.

At times it may be helpful to travel to a specialty medical center for treatment. But often, doctors at such a medical center can work with doctors in your hometown so that you can be with your family and friends and perhaps even resume work.

A lot of research has gone into making it easier for people to live more normal lives during their cancer treatment. For example, drugs are now available to help better control nausea. The result is you’re often able to work and stay active during your treatment.

Myth: Cancer is always painful.

Truth: Some cancers never cause pain.

For people who do experience cancer pain, especially people with advanced cancer, doctors have become more aware of the need to control such pain and have learned better ways to manage it. Although all pain may not be eliminated, it may be controlled so that it has little impact on your daily routine.

Myth: A needle biopsy can disturb cancer cells, causing them to travel to other parts of the body.

Truth: For most types of cancer, there’s no conclusive evidence that a needle biopsy—a procedure used to diagnose many types of cancer—causes cancer cells to spread.

There are exceptions, though, of which doctors and surgeons are aware. For instance, a needle biopsy usually isn’t used in diagnosing testicular cancer. Instead, if a doctor suspects testicular cancer, the testicle is removed.

Myth: Surgery causes cancer to spread.

Truth: Surgery can’t cause cancer to spread. Don’t delay or refuse treatment because of this myth. Surgically removing cancer is often the first and most important treatment.

Some people may believe this myth because they feel worse during recovery than they did before surgery. And if your surgeon discovers during surgery that your cancer is more advanced than first thought, you may believe the surgery caused more extensive cancer. But there is no evidence to support this.

Myth: Everyone with the same kind of cancer gets the same kind of treatment.

Truth: Your doctor tailors your treatment to you. What treatment you receive depends on where your cancer is, whether or how much it has spread, and how it’s affecting your body functions and your general health.

More and more, cancer treatment is being tailored based on your genes. These genes, which you’re born with, may show that your body processes certain chemotherapy treatments and drugs differently than someone else’s body. Genetic testing on your cancer cells can also help guide your treatment.

Myth: Everyone who has cancer has to have treatment.

Truth: It’s up to you whether you want to treat your cancer. You can decide this after consulting with your doctor and learning about your options.

A person with cancer might choose to forgo treatment if he or she has:

  • A slow-growing cancer. Some people with cancer might not have any signs or symptoms. Lab tests might reveal that the cancer is growing very slowly. These people might choose to wait and watch the cancer. If it suddenly begins growing more quickly, treatment is always an option.
  • Other medical conditions. If you have other significant illnesses, you may choose not to treat your cancer, as the cancer may not be the biggest threat to your health. This may be especially true in the case of a slow-growing cancer.
  • A late-stage cancer. If the burden of treatment side effects outweighs the benefit that treatment can bring, you might choose not to be treated. But that doesn’t mean your doctor will abandon you. Your doctor can still provide comfort measures, such as pain relief.

Updated: 2017-03-31

Publication Date: 2000-05-04

Sperm quality study updates advice for couples trying to conceive

Could doctors at fertility clinics be giving men bad advice? Dr. Da Li and Dr. XiuXia Wang, who are clinician-researchers at the Center for Reproductive Medicine of Shengjing Hospital in Shenyang in northeast China, think so.

Recent research from Li’s and Wang’s lab, published in the journal Molecular and Cellular Proteomics, upends conventional wisdom that abstaining between efforts to conceive can improve a couple’s chances of success. The research team worked with almost 500 couples to test whether how long a couple waits between efforts to conceive could change their success rates.

“For years, men have usually been advised to limit sexual activity to increase the chances of pregnancy,” said Li. “However, it’s time to change our minds.”

Some earlier studies had shown that semen produced shortly after a man’s most recent ejaculation — within three hours or so — had faster and more motile sperm than if the man abstained for several days before ejaculating again. But it wasn’t clear why the sperm changed or whether the changes affected fertility. So researchers set up a few side-by-side experiments to investigate.

They looked at individual subjects’ semen after they had abstained for either several days or just an hour or two, comparing the volume of semen and the mobility of sperm. As had been observed earlier, the sperm from shorter abstinence periods moved faster.

Using a technique called mass spectrometry to look at the protein makeup of the samples, the team found some major molecular differences. The majority of the affected proteins were involved in cell adhesion, a function that sperm need in order to fuse with egg cells.

The team also observed changes to proteins involved in sperm motility and metabolism, especially in proteins that handle reactive oxygen species, a byproduct of cellular energy production. Although reactive oxygen species are needed for some normal sperm functions, having an excess can damage sperm’s genetic material.

According to Li’s results, the longer sperm exist, the more vulnerable they are to DNA damage by reactive oxygen, which could harm their ability to form a viable embryo.

To see whether the changes to sperm were affecting fertility, research team also ran a study of about 500 couples preparing for in vitro fertilization at the fertility clinic. They asked men in the control group for semen samples after several days of abstinence, whereas men in the experimental group abstained for less than three hours before providing their samples. The IVF team proceeded as usual with the two types of sample, using them to generate and then implant embryos.

“A typical live birth rate in a cohort of this size is about 30 percent,” said Li. In the experimental cohort, live births were higher by one-third.

“Our data indicate that couples with relatively normal semen parameters should have frequent sex around the ovulation period,” said Li. “This could make all the difference to their efforts to start a family.” Meanwhile, IVF treatments at the Center for Reproductive Medicine, which treats about 5000 infertile couples per year, are also being updated to use semen from closer-spaced ejaculations.

Li said that the team plans to continue working with patients and will perform further research to investigate differences in post-translational modifications that his lab saw between the types of samples. “This is a very new field,” said Li. But the prospects for would-be parents are exciting.

Scientists determine four personality types based on new data

Northwestern University researchers have sifted through data from more than 1.5 million questionnaire respondents and found at least four distinct clusters of personality types exist: average, reserved, self-centered and role model. The findings challenge existing paradigms in psychology.

The new study, led by Luís Amaral of the McCormick School of Engineering, will be published Sept. 17 by the journal Nature Human Behaviour. The findings potentially could be of interest to hiring managers and mental health care providers.

“People have tried to classify personality types since Hippocrates’ time, but previous scientific literature has found that to be nonsense,” said co-author William Revelle, professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

“Now, these data show there are higher densities of certain personality types,” said Revelle, who specializes in personality measurement, theory and research.

Initially, however, Revelle was skeptical of the study’s premise. The concept of personality types remains controversial in psychology, with hard scientific proof difficult to find. Previous attempts based on small research groups created results that often were not replicable.

“Personality types only existed in self-help literature and did not have a place in scientific journals,” said Amaral, the Erastus Otis Haven Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Northwestern Engineering. “Now, we think this will change because of this study.”

The new research combined an alternative computational approach with data from four questionnaires with more than 1.5 million respondents from around the world obtained from John Johnson’s IPIP-NEO with 120 and 300 items, respectively, the myPersonality project and the BBC Big Personality Test datasets. The questionnaires, developed by the research community over the decades, have between 44 and 300 questions. People voluntarily take the online quizzes attracted by the opportunity to receive feedback about their own personality. These data are now being made available to other researchers for independent analyses.

“The thing that is really, really cool is that a study with a dataset this large would not have been possible before the web,” Amaral said. “Previously, maybe researchers would recruit undergrads on campus, and maybe get a few hundred people. Now, we have all these online resources available, and now data is being shared.”

From those robust datasets, the team plotted the five widely accepted basic personality traits: neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.

After developing new algorithms, four clusters emerged:

  • Average Average people are high in neuroticism and extraversion, while low in openness. “I would expect that the typical person would be in this cluster,” said Martin Gerlach, a postdoctoral fellow in Amaral’s lab and the paper’s first author. Females are more likely than males to fall into the Average type.
  • Reserved The Reserved type is emotionally stable, but not open or neurotic. They are not particularly extraverted but are somewhat agreeable and conscientious.
  • Role Models Role Models score low in neuroticism and high in all the other traits. The likelihood that someone is a role model increases dramatically with age. “These are people who are dependable and open to new ideas,” Amaral said. “These are good people to be in charge of things. In fact, life is easier if you have more dealings with role models.” More women than men are likely to be role models.
  • Self-Centered Self-Centered people score very high in extraversion and below average in openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness. “These are people you don’t want to hang out with,” Revelle said. There is a very dramatic decrease in the number of self-centered types as people age, both with women and men.

The group’s first attempt to sort the data used traditional clustering algorithms, but that yielded inaccurate results, Amaral said.

“At first, they came to me with 16 personality types, and there’s enough literature that I’m aware of that says that’s ridiculous,” Revelle said. “I believed there were no types at all.”

He challenged Amaral and Gerlach to refine their data.

“Machine learning and data science are promising but can be seen as a little bit of a religion,” Amaral said. “You still need to test your results. We developed a new method to guide people to solve the clustering problem to test the findings.”

Their algorithm first searched for many clusters using traditional clustering methods, but then winnowed them down by imposing additional constraints. This procedure revealed the four groups they reported.

“The data came back, and they kept coming up with the same four clusters of higher density and at higher densities than you’d expect by chance, and you can show by replication that this is statistically unlikely,” Revelle said.

“I like data, and I believe these results,” he added. “The methodology is the main part of the paper’s contribution to science.”

To be sure the new clusters of types were accurate, the researchers used a notoriously self-centered group — teenaged boys — to validate their information.

“We know teen boys behave in self-centered ways,” Amaral said. “If the data were correct and sifted for demographics, they would they turn out to be the biggest cluster of people.”

Indeed, young males are overrepresented in the Self-Centered group, while females over 15 years old are vastly underrepresented.

Along with serving as a tool that can help mental health service providers assess for personality types with extreme traits, Amaral said the study’s results could be helpful for hiring managers looking to insure a potential candidate is a good fit or for people who are dating and looking for an appropriate partner.

And good news for parents of teenagers everywhere: As people mature, their personality types often shift. For instance, older people tend to be less neurotic yet more conscientious and agreeable than those under 20 years old.

“When we look at large groups of people, it’s clear there are trends, that some people may be changing some of these characteristics over time,” Amaral said. “This could be a subject of future research.”

We are predisposed to forgive, new research suggests

When assessing the moral character of others, people cling to good impressions but readily adjust their opinions about those who have behaved badly, according to new research.

This flexibility in judging transgressors might help explain both how humans forgive — and why they sometimes stay in bad relationships, said the study’s authors.

The research — conducted by psychologists at Yale, University of Oxford, University College London, and the International School for Advanced Studies — appeared Sept. 17 in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

“The brain forms social impressions in a way that can enable forgiveness,” said Yale psychologist Molly Crockett, senior author of the paper. “Because people sometimes behave badly by accident, we need to be able to update bad impressions that turn out to be mistaken. Otherwise, we might end relationships prematurely and miss out on the many benefits of social connection.”

Across a series of experiments, more than 1500 subjects observed the choices of two strangers who faced a moral dilemma: whether to inflict painful electric shocks on another person in exchange for money. While the “good” stranger mostly refused to shock another person for money, the “bad” stranger tended to maximize their profits despite the painful consequences. The subjects were asked their impressions of the strangers’ moral character and how confident they were about those impressions.

Subjects rapidly formed stable, positive impressions of the good stranger and were highly confident of their impressions. However, the subjects were far less confident that the bad stranger was truly bad and could change their minds quickly. For instance, when the bad stranger occasionally made a generous choice, subjects’ impressions immediately improved — until they witnessed the stranger’s next transgression.”

This pattern of impression updating may provide some insight into why people sometimes hold on to bad relationships, Crockett said. “We think our findings reveal a basic predisposition towards giving others, even strangers, the benefit of the doubt. The human mind is built for maintaining social relationships, even when partners sometimes behave badly.”

The research also may eventually help shed light on psychiatric disorders involving social difficulties, such as Borderline Personality Disorder.

“The ability to accurately form impressions of others’ character is crucial for the development and maintenance of healthy relationships” said Jenifer Siegel, an Oxford doctoral student and lead author of the paper. “We have developed new tools for measuring impression formation, which could help improve our understanding of relational dysfunction.”

The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Academy of Medical Sciences.

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Materials provided by Yale University. Original written by Bill Hathaway. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

How to Clean Your Oven

I rarely think to clean my oven, but when I do, it’s usually because I can’t ignore it anymore. You see, I’ve been not cleaning it for as many years I’ve been using it (a lot). Though I’d like to believe it’s merely a mystical land where milk, eggs, and sugar go to become cake and whole chickens return a week’s worth of dinners, it’s an appliance, and it needs to be maintained. Otherwise, grime starts to build up, residual pan drippings start to burn, things get smoky, and it’s suddenly more of a dark, scary cave than the magical, pastry-making wonderland I wish it were.

Cleaning an oven is a daunting task, but it’s actually not as hard as it seems like it would be. All you need are a handful of all-natural products (that you probably already have around the house), and a few simple tips to get the job done in less than an hour. SELF spoke to Becky Rapinchuck, creator of the cleaning blog Clean Mama, about all the tips, tricks, and supplies she relies on. Here’s everything she does to make the process as easy as possible.

Before you get started, gather your tools.

Though Rapinchuck prefers to use all-natural cleaning supplies for personal reasons, she says they also happen to work just as well as any products specifically intended for cleaning ovens—and usually at a lower price. In fact, you probably already have most of the things you need somewhere in your house. According to her, you’ll need baking soda, dish soap, water, sponges, and a dish to place your cleaning mixture in. Rather than recommending a regular sponge, she says you should use a scrub sponge (like these), because they’re easier to remove residue from.

Kick off the process by making a homemade cleaning paste.

Combine 1/2 cup of water with enough baking soda to make a paste (about 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup) and 1 tablespoon of whatever dish soap you have on hand, says Rapinchuck. “[The paste] will expand a bit as the baking soda combines with the soap and the water,” she says.

Then, remove the racks.

Before you get started on your oven, she says you should first remove the racks and transfer them to your kitchen sink. Coat them in the paste and let them sit for 15 to 30 minutes.

Now, it’s time to clean your oven.

“Using your sponge,” says Rapinchuck, “spread the paste all over your oven, taking care to avoid any holes or cracks.” Let the oven sit with the mixture for 15 to 30 minutes as you did with the oven racks. Then, using a clean scrub sponge, wipe and rinse the oven thoroughly with warm water. “Repeat the wiping and rinsing with a barely damp scrub sponge,” she says, “until the oven is completely clean and residue free.” Once it’s completely rinsed, dry and polish it with a clean, dry cloth. Rinse and dry the racks as well and return to the oven. If you follow all these steps accordingly, she says, “the whole process from start to finish will probably take 45 minutes,” she says.

The more often you clean your oven, the easier it will be to keep clean.

That’s all you need to do to get your oven nice and clean, and Rapinchuck says that you should do it four times a year if you use your oven regularly. You can get away with cleaning it less often than that, but quarterly cleaning sessions will make the the mess more manageable. “The more often you clean something, the easier it is to clean,” she explains. Though it may seem like extra work from the jump, she says, “it’s less of a hassle in the long run,” so you never have to feat a dirty oven again.

You can’t tell whether an online restaurant review is fake — but this AI can

Sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp and Amazon display user reviews of products and services. Consumers take heed: nine out of ten people read these peer reviews and trust what they see. In fact, up to 40% of users decide to make a purchase based on only a couple of reviews, and great reviews make people spend 30% more on their purchases.

Yet not all reviews are legitimate. Fake reviews written by real people are already common on review sites, but the amount of fakes generated by machines is likely to increase substantially.

According to doctoral student Mika Juuti at Aalto University, fake reviews based on algorithms are nowadays easy, accurate and fast to generate. Most of the time, people are unable to tell the difference between genuine and machine-generated fake reviews.

‘Misbehaving companies can either try to boost their sales by creating a positive brand image artificially or by generating fake negative reviews about a competitor. The motivation is, of course, money: online reviews are a big business for travel destinations, hotels, service providers and consumer products,’ says Mika Juuti.

In 2017, researchers from the University of Chicago described a method for training a machine learning model, a deep neural network, using a dataset of three million real restaurant ratings on Yelp. After the training, the model generated fake restaurant reviews character by character.

There was a slight hiccup in the method, however; it had a hard time staying on topic. For a review of a Japanese restaurant in Las Vegas, the model could make references to an Italian restaurant in Baltimore. These kinds of errors are, of course, easily spotted by readers.

To help the review generator stay on the mark, Juuti and his team used a technique called neural machine translation to give the model a sense of context. Using a text sequence of ‘review rating, restaurant name, city, state, and food tags’, they started to obtain believable results.

‘In the user study we conducted, we showed participants real reviews written by humans and fake machine-generated reviews and asked them to identify the fakes. Up to 60% of the fake reviews were mistakenly thought to be real,’ says Juuti.

Juuti and his colleagues then devised a classifier that would be able to spot the fakes. The classifier turned out to perform well, particularly in cases where human evaluators had the most difficulties in telling whether a review is real or not.

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