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UT News

In the Know

The Jan. 4 weekly roundup of campus kudos and press mentions.

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Press Mentions

The New York Times: Recession Slows Population Rise Across Sun Belt
Dec. 23
States in the South and the West that grew by exceptional leaps and bounds during the real estate boom of just a few years ago are now experiencing sharply slower growth in population, the Census Bureau said.

The numbers are both the most up-to-date reflection of the recession’s impact nationwide, and the best available predictor of Congressional reapportionment.

Texas, for example, appears to be the big winner. It would gain three seats in Congress under the July estimate, bringing its total to 35. Between July 2008 and July 2009, it added more people from home and abroad than any other state — 231,539. That is more than Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida and Nevada, combined.

Much of the growth has been in conservative suburban districts around Dallas and Houston, but political scientists believe that many of the newcomers will lean liberal. “It means a Republican state becomes bigger and a little less Republican,” said Sean Theriault, a professor of government at The University of Texas.

The New York Times: Gay Candidates Get Support That Causes May Not
Dec. 27
When an openly gay woman won the mayor’s race [in Houston] this month, it was the latest in a string of victories by gay candidates across the country, a trend that seems to contradict the bans on same-sex marriage that have been passed in most states in recent years.

“More and more people have been coming out,” said Sean Theriault, a political scientist at The University of Texas who tracks gay politics. “Ten years ago, you could talk to a lot of people who didn’t know a single gay person, and now, especially in the cities, you would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know anyone who is gay.”

In Houston, Parker never hid her sexual orientation but did not champion gay issues either, focusing instead on municipal concerns like crime, the city budget and drainage. It was a formula that led her to win citywide elections first as an at-large City Council member, then as the controller and, now, as the mayor.

The New York Times: The Joy of Physics Isn’t in the Results, but in the Search Itself
Dec. 28
I was asked recently what the Large Hadron Collider, the giant particle accelerator outside Geneva, is good for. After $10 billion and 15 years, the machine is ready to begin operations early next year, banging together protons in an effort to recreate the conditions of the Big Bang. Sure, there are new particles and abstract symmetries in the offing for those few who speak the language of quantum field theory. But what about the rest of us?

Steven Weinberg, a University of Texas physicist and Nobel Prize winner, once wrote in his 1977 book “The First Three Minutes”: “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.” Weinberg has been explaining that statement ever since. He went on to say that it is by how we live and love and, yes, do science, that the universe warms up and acquires meaning.

The Wall Street Journal: Harvard’s Feldstein: Risk Economy Will Run Out of Steam in ’10
Jan. 3
Veteran economist Martin Feldstein of Harvard University is not sure the U.S. economy will escape a second trip back into recession in the New Year.
Feldstein tied this risk of a renewed downturn after the worst recession in decades to a poorly conceived government stimulus effort. In his comments, Feldstein was worried about the longer run U.S. fiscal situation, which contains a rising and worrisome tide of U.S. debt.

But his worry was countered by James Galbraith of The University of Texas at Austin. The academic agreed with Feldstein that the fiscal stimulus had underdelivered, but said the remedy to that was to do even more government stimulus.

Galbraith downplayed the budget implications of this new borrowing. “You pay too much attention to those voices” who worry about rising debt-to-GDP ratios. “Those numbers are financial artifacts,” and “the problem to focus on is the 14 million unemployed,” Galbraith said.

The Wall Street Journal: The Power of Magical Thinking
Research shows the importance of make-believe in children’s development
Dec. 22
Is the Tooth Fairy real? How about the garbage man? Those questions may seem trivial, but how young children answer them is an important indicator of cognitive development.

For years, make-believe play was thought of as a way for children to escape from reality, and once they reached a certain age, it was believed they would push fantasy aside and deal with the real world. But, increasingly, child-development experts are recognizing the importance of imagination and the role it plays in understanding reality.

Psychologists like Jacqueline Woolley, a professor at The University of Texas at Austin, are studying the process of “magical thinking,” or children’s fantasy lives, and how kids learn to distinguish between what is real and what isn’t.

The hope is that understanding how children’s cognition typically develops will also help scientists better understand developmental delays and conditions such as autism.

BusinessWeek: Exaggerating a Threat to Weight Goals May Help Self-Control
Dec. 30
You know that holiday cookie that’s calling your name? The one that will go straight to your waistline and stay there for life? A new study suggests the key to resisting temptation is to exaggerate the cookie’s threat.

“Four experiments show that when consumers encounter temptations that conflict with their long-term goals, one self-control mechanism is to exaggerate the negativity of the temptation as a way to resist, a process we call counteractive construal,” according to the study authors from the University of Texas at Austin.

In one experiment, researchers found that female participants who were asked to estimate the calorie count of a cookie believed it had more calories — and would be more hazardous to their goal of losing weight — if they had a strong dieting goal.

Read the Dec. 21 “In the Know.”