Spotlight on Research 2016
Shining a light on the year in research at City, University of London.
City, University of London produces research that is globally recognised for its relevance to contemporary intellectual challenges and its influence on the future agendas of academics, business leaders and policy makers.
Maximising the impact and relevance of our work in ways that are useful to the wider economy, cultural life, public services and policy-making is at the heart of what we do.
Spotlight on Research showcases the ground-breaking work being carried out by members of our faculty. Below are some examples of the published research and academic commentary from City, University of London which have hit the headlines this year.
1. Seeing Earth from space changes you – and you don’t even have to leave the planet
At the beginning of 2016, British astronaut Major Tim Peake’s mission to the International Space Station captured the nation’s imagination. At the same time, a City researcher was exploring how seeing earth from space can have mental health benefits – even without leaving the planet.
People who have seen Earth from space report a “cognitive shift in awareness”, known as “the overview effect”. Annahita Nezami, Researcher and Psychologist at City, explored how this might have therapeutic value for those back on earth by interviewing seven retired NASA astronauts.
The future mental health demands of a population that is growing rapidly, ageing and increasingly feeling more detached, need to be discussed and addressed. If the view of Earth from space can induce feelings of calmness, significance and even euphoria maybe we should consider how we can recreate and use aspects of it in novel ways back on Earth.
2. Lifespan gap 'widening between rich and poor'
Research from Cass Business School found that while people in the UK are living longer than ever, the gap between the longest and shortest lifespans appears to be increasing. In particular, the life expectancy of those in the lowest and the highest socio-economic groups is diverging for the first time since the 1870s.
‘An investigation into growing inequalities in adult lifespan’ by Professor Les Mayhew and Dr David Smith was produced in collaboration with the International Longevity Centre-UK (ILC-UK) and based on data from the Human Mortality Database.
Many of the big gains from public health improvements are in the past and personal choices are now much more important. Men in lower socio-economic groups are the most likely to make damaging lifestyle choices. They put themselves in harm's way on average more than women do - they smoke more, drink more and there are periods in their lives when they partake in riskier activities.
Professor Les Mayhew
3. Why are governments adding taxes to sugary drinks?
Food policy experts at City, University of London have welcomed the proposed introduction of a tax on sugary drinks in the United Kingdom during the Budget 2016.
Professor Corinna Hawkes, the new Director of the Centre for Food Policy, is the author of a comprehensive investigation into global consumption of sweetened drinks published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology medical journal.
We know policies are feasible and data is beginning to emerge that shows effectiveness – the soda tax in Mexico, for example. Governments have no excuse not to build a comprehensive policy to reduce sugar intake in the context of broader strategies to ensure healthier diets for all.
Professor Corinna Hawkes
4. Research reveals the composition of the journalism industry in 2016
Three research projects by academics shone a light on the composition, diversity and working practices of the modern journalism industry.
At the Women on Air conference, Professor Lis Howell revealed new figures about the proportion of women experts, reporters and presenters on the UK’s top broadcast news programmes. Since the academic’s previous results were announced in November 2015, improvements have been seen in the ratio of male to female experts on five of the six shows monitored.
Professor Suzanne Franks, Head of the Department of Journalism, found leading female sportswriters believe their newsrooms are still dominated by men. The study followed research by Professor Franks that showed the average proportion of stories written by women over the period studied was a mere 1.8%.
Dr Neil Thurman led a major research project into the views of journalists on their industry in the digital age. Among the subjects explored by the researchers were pay, ethics, the diversity of the profession, journalists’ roles in society, journalism practices and who they trust.
This report shows the increasing pressures that journalists face due to the social, economic, and technological changes affecting journalism. However, the survey suggests despite this and the fall-out the Leveson Report, UK journalists are still more aggressive than US media in their pursuit of important stories.
Dr Neil Thurman
5. Why we go transiently ‘blind’ when sleeping with a smartphone
Spending too much time using smartphones in bed could cause temporary blindness, according to a study by academics including City's Professor John Barbur. While the experience is completely harmless, the authors aimed to highlight the phenomenon to raise awareness for physicians and reduce costly investigations, while also reassuring patients. The paper was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The team found that when the patients viewed their smartphone in bed the symptoms seen were due to their eyes adjusting differently to the light emitted by the device. While the viewing eye became light adapted, the eye blocked by the pillow was dark adapted. As a result, when both eyes were uncovered in the dark, the light-adapted eye was perceived to be ‘blind’, with the effect lasting a few minutes.
Although most people view screens binocularly with both eyes open at the same time, people frequently use smartphones while lying down, when it may be more comfortable to view smartphone screens with one eye or one eye may be inadvertently covered. Smartphones are now used nearly around the clock, and manufacturers are producing screens with increased brightness to offset background ambient lighting and thereby allow easy reading.
Professor John Barbur
6. Brexit is on: Britain votes to leave the EU – experts respond
On June 23rd, the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to leave the European Union. City’s academics offered comment and analysis in the build-up to the vote and its outcome.
EU law specialists, Professor Panos Koutrakos, Professor Sir Alan Dashwood and Dr Elaine Fahey regularly appeared in broadcast and print media. Professor Anthony Neuberger wrote How to beat the bookies with a Brexit bet and Professor Andre Spicer wrote Why do you make stupid decisions when the experts tell you otherwise?, which were published on The Conversation website.
Professor Tim Lang, of the Centre for Food Policy, co-authored papers that reviewed the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and how the UK leaving the European Union could affect our food. The academic has since been called upon by the House of Lords, MPs, the food industry, media and multiple other organisations to provide expertise on the subject.
Members of the Department of Journalism also provided commentary in the media during and after the campaign. For example, BBC News quoted Tom Felle in a piece for its website on the press coverage of the EU referendum and George Brock spoke to Vice. Professor Roy Greenslade wrote numerous pieces for the Guardian and spoke to Associated Press for an article that was used in media around the world.
Professor Keith Pilbeam wrote a piece for City AM about the economic benefits of remaining in the European Union while Professor Anastasia Nesvetailova and Professor Ronen Palan wrote an article on the topic for The Conversation.
7. Infants prefer toys typed to their gender, says study
Children as young as 9 months old prefer to play with toys specific to their own gender, according to a new study by academics including Dr Brenda Todd of the Department of Psychology. The paper, which is published in the journal Infant and Child Development, shows that in a familiar nursery environment significant sex differences were evident at an earlier age than gendered identity is usually demonstrated.
The research suggests that boys and girls follow different developmental trajectories with respect to selection of gender-typed toys and that there are both biological and developmental-environmental components to the sex differences seen in object preferences.
Our results show that there are significant sex differences across all three age groups, with the finding that children in the youngest group, who were aged between 9–17 months when infants are able to crawl or walk and therefore make independent selections, being particularly interesting; the ball was a favourite choice for the youngest boys and the youngest girls favoured the cooking pot.
Dr Brenda Todd
8. More resources needed to identify bodies of missing migrants, report finds
As the international migration crisis continued, a new report co-authored by a City academic found that many bodies of missing migrants in the Mediterranean are never identified.
In 2015 and the first half of 2016, more than 6,600 refugees and migrants drowned or went missing in the Mediterranean after their boats capsized while trying to reach Europe.
Dr Iosif Kovras, Senior Lecturer in the Department of International Politics and the Co-Investigator in the study, says governments are not doing enough to identify victims.
On the one hand, this is a novel and complex type of humanitarian challenge that transcends the border of a particular state – for every person that is washed ashore in Lesbos or in Sicily, there is a family looking for him or her who could be anywhere, from Syria and Afghanistan to another European state. This creates a complex issue and any effective solution requires inter-state cooperation. Technology offers unique ways to address this issue by sharing data and identifying the deceased. Yet these remain under-utilised as a result of the lack of political will to address this problem.
Dr Iosif Kovras
9. New study suggests women do ask for pay rises but don't get them
Research from Cass Business School showed that women ask for wage rises just as often as men, but men are 25 per cent more likely to get a raise when they ask. Using a randomly chosen sample of 4,600 workers across more than 800 employers, the research is the first to do a statistical test of the idea that women get paid less because they are not as pushy as men. The researchers found no support for the theory.
When like-for-like men and women were compared, the men were a quarter more likely to be successful, obtaining a pay increase 20 per cent of the time. Only 16 per cent of females were successful when they asked.
Ours is the first proper test of the reticent-female theory and the evidence doesn’t stand up. However, this study potentially has an upside. Young women today are negotiating their pay and conditions more successfully than older females, and perhaps that will continue as they become more senior.
Dr Amanda Goodall
10. City academic tickles the taste buds with new device
A team of scientists and engineers, led by City's Professor of Pervasive Computing, Professor Adrian Cheok, created the 'Taste Buddy'. The device is placed in the mouth and emits a low-level electrical current that stimulates taste buds, imitating sweet and salty tastes.
Professor Cheok predicts that the ‘Taste Buddy’ could eventually be powerful enough to completely transform the taste of a specific food, allowing people to taste something they enjoy, whilst eating something healthier (for example, making a piece of tofu taste like steak).
What started out as a fun engineering experiment has now led to something much more exciting with the potential to have a positive social impact. The ‘Taste Buddy’ is a great example of skilled science and engineering working hand in hand with a relevant and fun impact. The Taste Buddy could eventually help save lives, by allowing people to switch to healthier food choices.
Professor Adrian Cheok
11. US election 2016: City experts react
Academics from across City provided comment and analysis on one of the most unpredictable Presidential races in history. Commentary covered international trade policy, the U.S. legal constitution and how the elections were covered by the media.
Professor Michael Ben-Gad, of the Department of Economics, was part of a team who published research revealing the economic impact of immigration in the US.
Professor Inderjeet Parmar, a U.S. politics expert in the Department of International Politics, commented extensively on a variety of aspects of the election and its aftermath.
Trump is unpredictable but he is also just one man, office holder albeit the most powerful in the world. He still has to get legislation past congress and therefore, by a hardcore conservative body that is bankrolled by corporations and who want to placate the markets. The house and senate are likely to check and balance Trump and, most likely, he will moderate his positions to make deals with congress.
Professor Inderjeet Parmar
12. Red light could save bees from pesticide poisoning
Shining red light on bees could reverse the potentially deadly impact of pesticides and help stop their global decline, according to research from City.
Academics found that shining a specific wavelength of red light significantly reduces bee death rates. Such lights could be easily placed in colonies and hives at a low cost, helping to reduce the impact on wild bee populations.
Dr Michael Powner, a Lecturer in Neurobiology in the Centre of Applied Vision Research at City and co-author of the study, said the method could "significantly reduce death rates" among bees.
As bees play such a vital role in global agriculture and pollination, the findings could provide a really cost-effective way to protect bees from such widespread pesticides, as by placing a deep red light source in hives and colonies, it will significantly reduce death rates and preserve our bee populations.
Dr Michael Powner