This Site Has Moved!

You can access all old and new content from this blog at its new location:

In order to continue receiving updates to your inbox, please subscribe with your email address on the new site.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Need for Print Media in a Digital World: Accountability

Printing and circulating a newspaper is not economical given the ability to instantly publish content online. When you add up the costs of the paper, ink, machinery, trucks, and employees required to get a paper from the newsroom to your driveway, it doesn’t seem worth it.

Some newspapers have cut back their print circulation. Others have gone paperless and only provide their content in a digital format. Still others, like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, have adopted a hybrid model: they produce a wealth of online content while printing and circulating a daily paper.

But print has one important advantage over digital media that may contribute to its staying power.

Factual errors are inevitable when it comes to reporting breaking news. A respectable news organization understands that and is committed to providing timely corrections. In print, the earliest corrections can appear is the next time the publication is set to print. Online, corrections can be made instantly.

Given the instant gratification of publishing content online and the ease of correcting it, editorial oversight gets sidestepped in digital media. On the contrary, once the news is in print and has reached the hands and eyes of millions of people, damage control becomes more difficult. Editors may therefore scrutinize print stories more so than online stories.

And there lies the paradox. While the spread of factual errors is problematic in print through word-of-mouth among its readership, it is far worse online. Internet users are even quicker to distribute new information, true or otherwise, by posting it in their social media circles.

A news organization, with the good intention of informing the public, can publish misinformation about a breaking news event online. But no matter how quickly they get to making the correction, it is possible for that misinformation to spread halfway around the world in mere seconds as Facebook and Twitter users race their way to becoming the first one to leak the news or express their condolences to their online friends.

This is not to say that online news is not important. It has the power to quickly inform millions of people about pressing issues. But I think we still have a lot to learn from print as we make the transition.

Posted in Opinion | Leave a comment

Amherst Farmer Brings Back the Working Horse

Draft horses at Amethyst Farm. Reprinted with permission of Amethyst Farm, LLC. All rights reserved.

Draft horses at Amethyst Farm. Reprinted with permission of Amethyst Farm, LLC. All rights reserved.

The farms surrounding the University of Massachusetts are growing local food, but some of them are using machinery powered by fossil fuels. One Amherst farmer is choosing to live more sustainably by replacing his tractors with horses.

In the equipment shed at Amethyst Farm, tractors are parked next to carts that were once attached to them. Bernard Brennan, who owns and lives on the farm with his wife and two daughters, has been retooling the carts to be pulled by horses. He says one of his favorite tools is essentially a horse-drawn chariot.

“I can tow things on it, like any fork cart,” Brennan says. “But this one has gearing in it such that when the horses pull the wheels forward, it has PTO, powered takeoff tractor rotary power.”

Adapting farm equipment is a new skill for Brennan. His expertise is actually in animal behavior. He earned a doctorate degree in Behavioral Ecology from Cornell University. But two years ago, he ditched academia, moved his family to western Massachusetts, and bought Amethyst Farm. One reason for the switch was a desire to become less dependent on outside sources of food and energy.

“If peak oil, climate change, and economic disaster all come to fall, I’m fairly insulated from that in being able to heat, cool, [and] feed ourselves and our neighbors,” Brennan says.

He says he can use his horses to pull out some firewood from the woods.

“And suddenly we’re not dependent on the fuel company to bring inputs,” he says. “And really what we want to run our house on is what we have, wood and sun.”

Down the road, the Hadley Farm at UMass is home to some 45 horses. Two of them are prancing toward a gate that has just been opened.

Cassandra Uricchio, director of the Equine Management Program at UMass, says she thinks more farmers in the area are beginning to use draft horses to pull equipment.

“The movement comes even before that, the movement for sustainable agriculture and local foods and kind of getting back to knowing where your food comes from and also producing food in a very sustainable way,” Uricchio says.

Uricchio says horses make good farmhands because they work well with humans.

“As soon as that pecking order gets established and you’re the leader and they’re the follower, then they pretty much will do anything you ask them to do,” she says. “It’s pretty amazing the relationship you can build.”

And that relationship makes horses a good choice for jobs beyond farming. Jenny Gardener, a horse trainer at the Hadley Farm, says even business people are working with horses.

“It’s like the new thing happening. They have leadership schools for people who manage corporations coming to barns to practice leadership on horses,” Gardner says. “They’re not equestrians and never will be, but just because the horses respond so quickly to your intentions, your body language, your determination.”

Uricchio says working horses can be found doing all kinds of things across the country, from herding cattle out west to pulling tourists in carriages around New York City.

Note: The audio version of this story requires the following corrections: (1) Brennan received his doctorate degree from Cornell University and (2) Amethyst Farm’s land does not extend to Vermont.

Posted in Environment, Radio | Leave a comment

Mass. Governor OKs Measure That Could Grant Illegal Immigrants In-State Tuition

A version of this article appeared in the Massachusetts Daily Collegian on December 6, 2012. Katie Landeck contributed to this report.

Illegal immigrants in Massachusetts may qualify for in-state tuition rates at the state’s public higher education institutions.

Gov. Deval Patrick issued a directive on Nov. 19 clarifying the state’s stance on young illegal immigrants and granting in-state prices for tuition and fees at the state’s 29 public colleges and universities, including the University of Massachusetts, to eligible individuals.

At UMass, in-state tuition and fees are approximately $13,000 less than out-of-state rates.

To qualify for the reduced rate, an individual must meet a set of criteria under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – an initiative launched by President Barack Obama last June that aims to protect certain qualifying individuals from deportation for at least two years. The DACA states that a qualifying individual must have arrived in the United States before their 16th birthday and be under 31. In addition, the individual cannot have been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor.

If an illegal immigrant is approved and granted deferred action by the federal government, he or she will be able to receive a work permit, which is considered to be a lawful proof of residency in Massachusetts.

“Nothing at the state level has changed,” said Heather Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Education, about the ability of people to get work permits.

In a Nov. 19 interview with Boston-based NPR affiliate WBUR, Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville said Patrick’s directive is a clarification of an existing policy in Massachusetts.

The federal measure is estimated to affect between 15,000 and 17,000 illegal immigrants living in Massachusetts, according to Johnson. But less than 400 immigrants are expected to take advantage of the in-state tuition rates, according to The Recorder.

A 2011 report from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation estimates between 315 and 365 illegal immigrants would enroll in one of the state’s colleges or universities. The report indicates that 15 percent of those students would enroll in the UMass system.

Johnson said illegal immigrants qualifying for in-state tuition would need to apply to the schools just as legal Massachusetts residents would and be admitted based on the same admissions criteria.

According to the report, allowing illegal immigrants to qualify for reduced rates could generate about $3 million in new revenue for the UMass system after four years.

UMass students interviewed had mixed feelings about the directive.

“It’s kind of tricky,” said senior Ryan Scarlett. “They are not U.S. citizens, so I don’t agree they should have the same rights, but their parents brought them in. That’s not their choice.”

Junior Eli Hoffman was sympathetic to the directive, saying he believed that most immigrants who came to the United States before their 16th birthday immigrated to the United States because of their parents.

“I don’t see anything wrong with (the directive),” said Hoffman. “I don’t think it’s really their choice … and I don’t think you should make their rights different than ours.”

Others disagreed and said they felt that illegal immigrants should pay out-of-state rates until they become legal residents in Massachusetts.

“If they are not citizens then they shouldn’t be getting the benefits of being in this country,” said freshman Trace Renaud.

There are 12 other states in the nation that allow illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state rates, according to The New York Times.

Posted in Current Events, Education, Massachusetts Daily Collegian | Leave a comment

UMass Permaculture Spreads to Local Elementary Schools

A version of this article appeared in the Massachusetts Daily Collegian on November 15, 2012. 

The University of Massachusetts Permaculture Initiative was recognized in March as one of President Barrack Obama’s Campus Champions of Change, an honor shared by just four other community projects from colleges across the nation. Now the group is spreading its sustainable agriculture movement off campus.

To do that, Ryan Harb, the Permaculture Academic Program Coordinator at UMass, has been awarded a grant from the Creative Economies Fund. The Fund is offered by the UMass President’s Office to support programs that “benefit the State’s economy and improve its quality of life,” according to the UMass system’s website.

“He won some money to essentially take the idea of permaculture and sustainability education out into the local community,” said Tripper O’Mara, an Auxiliary Services employee who recently graduated from UMass.

“The way he wanted to do that was by working with the elementary schools.”

O’Mara and Harb are working with a new community group called Grow Food Amherst, which was created by the town’s Sustainability Coordinator, Stephanie Ciccarello.

The first part of the project involved planting fruit trees at three Amherst elementary schools, including Wildwood, Fort River, and Crocker Farm. O’Mara said he was pleasantly surprised by the response from the students.

“I was absolutely blown away by how much even the kindergarteners knew,” he said. “They were telling me what I could and couldn’t put into the compost. And that was just really inspiring and exciting to know that these kids were already being taught at such a young level.”

O’Mara said he will be working with the schools individually during the winter to design their own permaculture gardens, similar to the ones outside Franklin, Berkshire, and Worcester dining commons at UMass. The gardens will then be planted in the spring.

“My main thing right now is just to get kids to understand why we’re doing this, why local food is really good,” O’Mara said.

He added that there is already a lot of excitement about sustainable agriculture at the schools. One of the goals of the partnership is to build on that excitement and integrate permaculture education into the classroom.

The term permaculture is actually a combination of the words ‘permanent’ and ‘agriculture.’ Josefine Nowitz, Chief Marketing Officer for the UMass Permaculture Initiative and a senior business major, said that’s an important thing to know to really understand what their group hopes to teach the young students and the community.

“Permaculture is not just about designing gardens, it’s about designing a culture and teaching people how to live more sustainable lifestyles,” Nowitz said.

Nowitz and O’Mara said one of the hallmarks of permaculture gardens is that they make the most of the space they’re given. That means you don’t need a lot of land to create a high-yield, low-maintenance garden.

“In our orchard, we have 5 or 6 trees,” O’Mara said. “In industrial agriculture, they would try to fill that area with as many trees as they could.”

Instead, O’Mara said they use the slight shade casted by the small trees to grow annual plants underneath them. As the trees grow and cast larger shadows over the orchard, they’ll be able to grow more “shade-loving” plants.

Agriculture permaculture also focuses on building the soil by providing it with the nutrients it needs to foster new plants, Nowitz said.

“It’s kind of like planning ahead, looking at the long-term succession of the space and how it’s going to evolve and how people are going to need to evolve with it,” O’Mara said.

Nowitz said it’s important to consider the ecological needs of our community as well as the people needs. The permaculture system is one way to “benefit both.”

Although growing food locally can be good for both the earth and the people who live on it, Nowitz said many communities are not currently set up that way.

“We need to take a step back about 100 years and realize that we need to go down to our local bakery to buy our bread and go to our local farm to get our eggs,” she said.

The UMass Permaculture Initiative will be sponsoring an event on Nov. 29 led by Guy McPherson, professor emeritus from the University of Arizona. The event is called “Power-Down and Permaculture: Paths to An Ambiguous Future. For more information, visit

Posted in Massachusetts Daily Collegian | 1 Comment

UMass Professor Researches Hormones, Breast Cancer

A version of this article appeared in the Massachusetts Daily Collegian on November 13, 2012.

Women who have excess body weight during the first half of their life may be less likely to develop breast cancer later on, according to one researcher at the University of Massachusetts, who believes this relationship flips after about age 50.

That turning point is menopause, the period in a woman’s life when she stops menstruating.

UMass epidemiologist Susan Hankinson said varying levels of hormones called estrogens and androgens might explain why. Previous studies have found high levels of these chemicals to be associated with increased breast cancer risk.

However, it is unclear which hormone is problematic because androgens can be converted into estrogens with the help of enzymes in the breast.

“We don’t know if it’s really androgens or if the androgens are simply a source, like a depot, of estrogens,” Hankinson said.

Hankinson’s current research aims to answer that question. She will try to tease apart the two hormones by looking at tumor tissue and developing an “expression score” for estrogen and androgen. Based on those scores, she hopes to gain insight into which hormone is more strongly associated with increased breast cancer risk.

One of the goals of the research is to improve the risk prediction models currently available for breast cancer.

“We’re now looking to see if hormones can add to our ability to predict risk,” Hankinson said.

Hormones may also provide an explanation as to how body size and breast cancer risk are related throughout a woman’s lifetime.

Postmenopausal women may be at higher risk because they have higher estrogen levels, Hankinson said. Excess body weight during this time can exacerbate the problem because fat converts androgens to estrogens, which is similar to the process that can occur in the breast.

Hankinson said it is less clear why young, overweight women may be shielded from breast cancer risk. One possibility is that certain hormonal influences may cause the breast tissue to become more resistant to the cancer, “but the specifics of that simply aren’t known yet,” Hankinson said.

But, it would not be appropriate for a young woman to gain weight as a means to lowering her breast cancer risk.

“That would overall be a really bad thing to do,” Hankinson said, as being overweight is associated with other chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

“There are lots of biochemical changes associated with being heavy as a child, and so if we find out what of the underlying biochemistry may be accounting for the association, there may be ways to impact those same biologic pathways,” Hankinson added.

Hormones likely play a key role in breast cancer risk, but Hankinson said lifestyle choices could also have an influence.

Alcohol consumption increases risk while physical activity decreases risk, she said.

“Those are factors that are under a woman’s control that she can actually change to give herself a lower risk profile,” Hankinson said.

Other faculty members in the school of public health are also actively researching breast cancer, including assistant professor Katherine Reeves and associate professor Susan Sturgeon.

“I think women’s health has become a really central focus of the school of public health,” Hankinson said.

Hankinson came to UMass last fall after serving as a professor at Harvard Medical School for about 23 years. She said she was happy to be joining the University at a time when the school of public health was growing in faculty and increasing its emphasis on research.

In addition to conducting research, she teaches an undergraduate public health course called Chronic Disease Epidemiology.

Posted in Health, Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Science | Leave a comment

Mystery Meets Political Thriller, Reveals Controversy Over Bioweapons Research

A version of this article appeared in the Massachusetts Daily Collegian on November 2, 2012.

Six years ago, Dusty Miller retired from her career as psychotherapist and national trauma expert. She told the agent who had published her nonfiction work that she wanted to write a book that was both a cozy mystery and a political thriller.

“You can’t do this, you can’t mix genres,” the agent said.

“I can’t help it,” Miller replied. “I must. The story is happening.”

Miller, 67, spoke to a small group at Food for Thought Books on Oct. 24 about her new book Danger in the Air.

Her inspiration for the book came from a news article she read just after Sept. 11, 2001. Don C. Wiley, a microbiologist from Harvard University, had mysteriously died while attending a conference in Memphis, Tenn. Miller said his car was found, but there was no suicide note. It was believed that he had jumped off a large bridge.

She thought that since he was working in biology, he could either be studying things that could help people, like medication, or things that could harm people, like biological weapons.

“I didn’t know if he was a good guy or a bad guy,” Miller said.

WIley’s death and career began to seem suspicious to Miller, so she decided to look into it. She found that in a short period of time, at least 27 scientists working in this field had died mysterious deaths.

Alice Ott, the mystery’s sleuth and main character, is based on Northampton peace activist Frances Crowe, who appeared with Miller at the Food for Thought event.

“Frances had been looking at the issue of bioweapons much longer than I had been,” Miller said.

Crowe, 93, was a draft counselor during the Vietnam War. She had a peace center in the basement of her Northampton home.

Crowe continued the peace center after the war and was contacted by People for a Social Responsible University (PSRU) in 1989. PSRU was a UMass student social action group in 1989-1990, according to University archives.

“We think the University is working on bioweapons under the microbiology department,” PSRU told Crowe. “We can’t get a copy of the contract and we want to know if you will help us.”

Crowe brought in Amherst lawyer John C. Bonafiaz to help them. Under the Freedom of Information Act, they were able to get a copy of the contract.

The contract was made between the U.S. Department of Defense and Curtis B. Thorne, a UMass microbiologist who was studying the anthrax bacillus, according to University archives. Crowe said the University defended Thorne as a “good and responsible researcher” who “knows what he’s doing.”

Crowe and PSRU contacted MIT microbiologist Jonathan King, who came to the UMass area for a hearing at the Amherst Board of Health. Crowe said the hearing was “very well attended. People in town thought [the anthrax research] was dangerous.”

After the hearing, there was a lot of opposition to Thorne’s work on campus, Crowe said.

“Over the next year and half, almost 500 students were arrested at the University,” Crowe said. “Bonifaz always spoke when they had rallies on campus.”

In one demonstration, UMass students occupied Memorial Hall and refused to eat or drink.

“It really was a wonderful thing the students were doing,” Crowe said.

The following summer, after the students had graduated, Crowe read in the Daily Hampshire Gazette that UMass had decided to discontinue the contract and Thorne had retired.

Miller said her book is a realistic fiction that includes events and landmarks familiar to people in Western Massachusetts. Her goal is to entertain readers while getting them to think about an important global issue.

Miller is a lifelong social justice activist and she wanted her book’s theme to center around war and peace. She wanted to write about “something that had political relevance beyond the little village where the cozy mystery usually takes place,” Miller said.

In addition to learning about the research and production of bioweapons, Miller has also learned how fiction writing differs from nonfiction.

“When you choose fiction, your characters choose you,” Miller said. “Once you have a theme and you have a story to tell, whether or not you think anybody will read it, you must keep telling it. “

She has found that being a fiction writer is similar to being a political activist.

“A lot of the things we do, we don’t know if its going to change anyone, but we must do it. That felt familiar to me,” Miller said.

Danger in the Air is available from White River Press, an Amherst-based publishing company.

Posted in Massachusetts Daily Collegian | 1 Comment