Saturday, April 16, 2016

Gardening Giant Ortho to Drop Chemicals Linked to Bee Deaths

One of the largest home and garden pesticide makers in America is halting its use of a chemical blamed for killing honey bees.

Among several possible causes of bee deaths and colony declines research has implicated a family of chemical pesticides called neonicotinoids – neonics, for short. Even though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is still researching the connection, Ortho announced this week it will start eliminating the chemical in all of it’s products.

The company’s general manager Tim Martin said “It’s time for Ortho to move on” from neonics.
Europe banned the neonic-laced pesticides in 2013, and Ontario became the first region in North America to ban neonics last year.

Ortho’s announcement comes just as Maryland lawmakers passed a bill that would restrict the sale of home and garden pesticides containing neonics. The governor is still considering whether to sign it.

The company says some of their products will be reformulated to work without the chemical while others will be taken off the market in 2017. Ortho plans to have no neonics in any of its products when the phase-out is finished in 2021.

In March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it would consider whether to protect two species of wild bumblebees under the Endangered Species Act, reports CBS News.

Former Students Raise $185,000 for Retiring Beloved School Security Guard

He was the last person many students saw as they departed the school on graduation day, and the one person who could be counted on to remember them whenever they returned.

Kifleab Tekle, affectionally known as “Kief,” spent 30 years shepherding the girls at the private school, helping them cross the street as kindergartners and making sure they were safe teens until they headed off to college.

Even years later, after they left Hockaday School in Dallas, Texas, visiting alumni would be greeted at the front desk by a smiling Kief, instantly recognizing them, calling them by name, and asking about their family members.

When alums heard Kief was retiring this week, they decided to raise money for a gift. The Class of 2005 hoped to raise $2005 symbolic dollars.

Even the organizers were stunned when their GoFundMe page raised $185,000 — nearly 2,000 people chipped in.

Kief was shocked and overwhelmed by the outpouring of gratitude. Just like the names he’s remembered for 30 years, this gesture is something he’ll never forget.

Daily Inspirational Quote - April 16, 2016

“Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t.”

It doesn’t take strength to do what we do every day as normally it involves just going along with whatever we have to in order to earn a living, run a household, a social life etc. etc. We do what we know we have to because that’s what life usually entails, just getting on with it. Strength comes into play when things don’t go the way we expect or want, and we doubt ourselves in being able to cope and overcome successfully. Much easier for us to ignore or expect someone else to sort things out for us. However, finding the strength to do it ourselves this time enables us to cope better the next time, and the next………..


An Unforgettable Meeting with a Reclusive Genius

Becoming increasingly intrigued by painter Agnes Martin, Hadi Tabatabai took a chance and sent the famously reclusive artist a small painting of his own. To his surprise, she responded warmly and extended an open invitation for a visit. A year later, he traveled to Taos, New Mexico to meet her. Here's the account of that meeting.

Friday, April 15, 2016

NASA Responds on Facebook to Climate Change Deniers Who Dissed Bill Nye‘s Science

When climate change doubters misrepresented NASA findings in response to a Facebook post by Bill Nye, the space agency launched a series of corrections to set the facts straight.

Nye, “The Science Guy,” had posted a thread about prominent climate change critic Marc Morano turning down Nye’s $20,000 bet that 2010-2020 would be the hottest decade on record.

The comments quickly turned into a debate with facts and figures being tossed around — some of them carelessly.

“Riiiiight,” commenter Fer Morales wrote, “Despite NASA confirming that fossil fuels are actually cooling the planet’s temperature, and that there’s more ice than in the last century in the polar caps. . .”

But NASA has never said anything of the sort, and the space agency, which generally avoids such social media back-and-forths, blasted-off with a series of charts, graphs, and other data, and chastised those who misquoted the agency’s findings.

“Do not misrepresent NASA,” the space agency responded using its NASA Climate Change moniker. “Fossil fuels are not cooling the planet.”

Debate quickly shifted with doubters saying the world is warming, but there’s no proof humans are causing it—and accusing NASA of inaccurate data.

Then, they argued it could be caused by changes in the sun.

They may have missed the fact that NASA has been just about everywhere in the solar system.

“Other planets in the solar system are not warming,” NASA posted. “There is a small amount of evidence of seasonal changes in parts of the solar system, but there is no evidence of global warming anywhere—except on Earth.”

Maybe we need an adult version of “Bill Nye, The Science Guy” to educate more Americans about the dangers posed by climate change to populations around the world.

Han Solo With Epileptic Daughter Auctions Jacket for $191K to Benefit Seizure Research

Ryan Bort

The jacket Harrison Ford wore in Star Wars: The Force Awakens—you know, the brown leather bomber with those three little canister things above the breast—just sold at auction for $191,000.

In March, Ford announced he was donating the Han Solo duds to an auction benefiting Finding a Cure for Epilepsy and Seizures (FACES) and NYU's Langone Medical Center, where Ford's daughter has been undergoing treatment for epilepsy. “I’ve been very impressed with the work NYU and the FACES team have done in the field of epilepsy research, and I hope this jacket will provide some means to further that exploration,” Ford said in a statement at the time. “This is a cause that’s near and dear to me, and unlike the cynical Han Solo, I’ve got a good feeling about this.”

The minimum bid on the iconic jacket was a mere $18,000, so NYU and FACES have to be thrilled that the piece of Star Wars history closed at over 10 times where it started. Ford also signed and dated the inside of the jacket, which came with a certificate of authenticity from LucasFilm.

Star Wars memorabilia has a long history of bringing in big bucks at auction. Days before the premiere of The Force Awakens in December, a 600-item cache of rare Star Wars toys sold for $502,000. The lot includes an assortment of original figurines, many of which were released in limited capacities. A few months earlier, the infamous bikini Princess Leia wears as Jabba the Hut's "slave" in Return of the Jedi brought in $96,000. In that same auction, a model of Leia's blockade runner ship, the first craft to fly across the screen in A New Hope, fetched $450,000.

Blasters are also popular items. In 2013, Han Solo's pistol from The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi sold for $200,000. The version he famously blew away Greedo with in A New Hope surely would have fetched a higher sum, but no one seems to know the whereabouts of that particular laser gun. In January, it was announced that Luke Skywalker's blaster from The Empire Strikes Back would hit the auction block. The market for Star Wars blasters must be more favorable now than it was in 2013, though, as $200,000 is merely the opening bid for Luke's DL-44. This means that not only is it likely to sell for more than Han's blaster, it's likely to sell for more than Luke's lightsaber from A New Hope and The Empire Strikes back, which brought in $242,000 in 2008.

But the most valuable piece of Star Wars memorabilia of them all may be an item that was never even on camera...because it was the camera. In 2011, the camera that filmed A New Hope sold at auction in Beverly Hills for $625,000, besting the $402,500 a miniature TIE fighter model fetched in 2008 to become the most valuable Star Wars-related item of all time.

Deals Will Have You Spinning – On Record Store Day 2016

Tufayel Ahmed

The advent of iTunes, Spotify and even TIDAL has made accessing music as easy as a few clicks. But there’s something to be said for going into your favorite record store and picking up an album.

Now in its ninth year, Record Store Day celebrates independent record shops and takes place on Saturday. The event has expanded from humble origins to now include exclusive releases from indie artists to those as famous, and disparate, as Bob Dylan and Justin Bieber.

In fact, new research by polling company ICM suggests that sales of vinyl are actually on the rise in Britain, thanks in part to Record Store Day. The BBC reports that half of those polled first listened to an album online before buying it—physically—on vinyl.

Figures show that 637,056 records have been sold in the first three months of 2016 already in Britain. Comparably, in 2014, 2.1 million LPs were sold in the entire year.

On Record Store Day 2016, fans will be clamoring to get their hands on exclusive vinyl releases from musicians including the late David Bowie, the aforementioned Dylan and Bieber, T. Rex and John Coltrane. But it isn’t just about purchasing music—many shops are hosting special events and free gigs to mark the day, too.

Newsweek takes a look at some of the events and special releases to keep your eye out for on Saturday:

Metallica to rock California

This year’s Record Store Day ambassadors Metallica are swapping their usual arena performances for a more intimate set at Rasputin Music in Berkeley, California. The band’s official website describes the gig as an “extremely unique” live performance from Lars Ulrich and company.

“As music becomes available either through only the Internet or in gigantic airport-size retail stores, it is more important than ever—actually vital—that all us fanatics continue to bring to light the importance of records, and to support to the maximum of our abilities the independent record store outlet,” said Ulrich in support of Record Store Day.

To mark Record Store Day and pay tribute to the victims of the Paris terror attacks in November 2015, Metallica will release a record featuring songs recorded at the Bataclan music hall—one of the sites targeted in the attacks. The print run is 10,000 copies, so act quickly.

Meanwhile, in New York…

The Big Apple offshoot of Rough Trade, the record store originated in London, will have a day of live performances at its Brooklyn store from 9 a.m. Performers will include DJ Rescue, better known as Zia McCabe from The Dandy Warhols, and The Fleshtones.

If you’re looking for a more immersive experience, have you thought about a record store crawl? Less boozy than a pub crawl, this trek through some of New York’s best independent record shops is perfect for the more serious audiophiles. The bus ride from store-to-store will be punctuated by band Bear Hands performing on the journey.

Across the pond, Britain’s record stores are also getting in on the Record Store Day action. London’s Berwick Street area is always a bustling hotspot for music lovers with stores such as Sister Ray, Phonica and Sounds of the Universe participating. There’s also a chance for an unsigned act to have its own music pressed and released on vinyl.

Over at the plush Soho Hotel, Pitchblack Playback is giving you the chance to listen to Ian Brown’s Solarized—in the cover of darkness so you can “really appreciate the music.” The event is ticketed but completely free.

Rough Trade’s flagship London stores will both have full line-ups of performances on Saturday. Glen Hansard is among the acts performing at Rough Trade East in Brick Lane, while The Sex Pistols’ Glen Matlock performs at Rough Trade West on Talbot Road.

Must-buy records

With an abundance of choice, you’re forgiven if you can’t quite decide what to get your hands on. Allow these tastemakers to help: NME recommends Fleetwood Mac’s vinyl release of an “alternate” Tusk, Florence + the Machine’s “Delilah”/”Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and John Williams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens soundtrack.

Pitchfork, meanwhile, spotlights Bob Dylan’s Melancholy Mood, J Dilla’s The Diary and not one but two releases from the Flaming Lips among its most sought after items.

Note that different countries have different exclusive releases.

Remembering the greats

Record Store Day’s most coveted releases will no doubt come from Bowie, following the rock legend’s death in January. There will be three Bowie releases this year, including a special 7-inch single of “TVC 15,” a picture disc of 1970 album The Man Who Sold the World and a six-track EP of songs recorded between 1966 and 1967.

In memoriam of another legend, Motorhead’s Lemmy, the group’s last studio album, 2015’s Bad Magic, will be released on colored vinyl—but there will only be 2,000 copies worldwide.

There are also releases from musicians who’ve long since left us, such as Etta James and James Brown.

Out of left-field

Aside from music releases, did you know you can get your hands on a Doctor Who audio play? “The Genesis of the Daleks,” featuring Tom Baker, the fourth Doctor, is one of the more unusual offerings.

In the U.S., Disney is releasing an LP of some of its biggest hits—yes, that definitely includes “Let It Go” from Frozen.

Pack Your Bags: Free Admission Next Week For All National Parks

If you’ve ever wanted to go to the Grand Canyon, this week is the time to do it.

In honor of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, the U.S. agency is waiving admission fees for all national parks and monuments during National Park Week– April 16th through April 24th.

Though camping fees will still apply, 410 different parks are opening their doors to accept visitors from near and far for the celebration–not only wilderness areas, but historical sites like Gettysburg, Jamestown and the Wright Brothers Monument, and homes of presidents, like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

“We have an amazing variety of special events taking place during the centennial,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “Some commemorate our first hundred years, but many others look to the future, to the next 100 years, and will help connect with and create the next generation of park visitors and supporters. It is through them that America’s lands and stories will be preserved and passed on to future generations.”

With National Junior Ranger Day kicking off the event on Saturday, activities have been planned throughout the week to entertain kids and adults alike. Visit to learn more about National Park Week activities throughout the country.

If you aren’t able to travel to a park during the coming week, other free admission days this year will include August 25 through August 28, to mark the National Park Service Birthday; September 24, for National Public Lands Day; and November 11, to honor Veterans Day.

What Drives Success, Hard Work or Luck?

By Jill Suttie

A new book debunks the myth of meritocracy and offers recommendations for creating a more equitable society.

My husband is a successful lawyer at a national law firm and works on cases he feels passionate about, mainly toxic tort and consumer protection lawsuits. He is definitely a hard worker and a very smart, talented person. But, as he will readily admit, much of how he got to where he is has to do with luck, too—being in the right place at the right time and connecting with someone who believed in him.
This random path to success is the subject of a new book, Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy, by economist Robert Frank of Cornell University. Though we Americans tend to think that we are the masters of our own destiny and that hard work pays off, we are only partly right: Many of us succeed at work and in life because of luck, too.
Frank gives plenty of examples from his own life to illustrate how luck made a difference. We learn of his own two near-death experiences and how, by luck, he survived, as well as how happenstance put him in touch with his birth mother in his 30s. We also hear from many educators, inventors, actors, and businesspeople who happened upon the right idea or opportunity through accidental encounters or events that propelled them down their current path.
All of this makes for entertaining reading. But why is it important for us to consider beyond that? Frank believes that not seeing the role that luck plays in our lives makes us less sympathetic to why others fail and blinds us to their disadvantages.
While the American Dream suggests all that’s needed is talent and perseverance to get ahead, this is false thinking, says Frank. The family we are born into (and even birth order), the opportunities available in our neighborhood, the schools we attend, and whether or not we have positive adult mentors—all of which are beyond our individual control—also play an important role. If we ignore this—if we perpetuate the myth that only the deserving succeed—we will not be able to create the social change needed to better our lives.
“If being born in a good environment is one of the luckiest things that can happen to anyone, it is failure to appreciate luck’s importance that has done the most to undermine our collective stock of good fortunes,” writes Frank.
Frank argues that the reason we are blind to luck is that we are unaware of the many psychological biases we hold that create the illusion of personal merit. For example, there’s the halo effect, in which we will ascribe positive qualities to people who are successful or who receive a positive review in some way. There’s hindsight bias, where, after an event has occurred, we tend to believe it was predictable, even though there’s no evidence for that. And there’s the good old attribution bias, where we tend to see environmental circumstances creating our own failures, while attributing others’ failures to their character.
Here’s how these biases might translate: If I’m the head of a successful company, I (and others) will tend to believe it’s because of my good character and because of my business smarts—when, in fact, it may have had more to do with benefits I received from my parents, the school I attended, chance meetings with people who could further my career, or unpredictable changes in the marketplace.
Does this mean that hard work or talent don’t matter at all? No, says Frank. Hard work and smarts domatter, just not as much as we may think. And, by clinging too much to these explanations, believing we deserve our fortune, we are less likely to treat others with empathy or fairness.
As an illustration, Frank recalls a study by the Greater Good Science Center’s Dacher Keltner, in which three students were put into a lab and one student was randomly assigned to be the group leader while they all worked on a task together. Thirty minutes into the experiment, four chocolate chip cookies were brought in on a plate and put in the center of the table. In most cases, the assigned “leader” took the extra cookie and ate it (often noisily and greedily), as if he or she deserved it. This study demonstrates how easy it is for us to lose sight of luck and randomness, and how power can corrupt our self-perception and relationships with others. Other studies support the theory that when we are in a power position, we tend to not treat others with consideration…or even to see their needs.
Luckily Frank has some solutions, one of which is cultivating gratitude. In an experiment by his research assistant, Yuezhou Huo, subjects were asked to recall a good thing that happened to them recently and then to list either 1) external factors beyond their control, 2) personal qualities they possessed or actions they took, or, as a control, 3) simply “reasons” that explained why the event occurred.
Afterwards, they were given an opportunity to donate part of their participation fee to a charity. Those who were asked to list external reasons for their good fortune gave 25 percent more to charities than the group that had listed personal qualities, while the control group gave a percentage somewhere between the two extremes. In other words, gratitude for what we’ve been given in life (and have little control over) may contribute to generosity toward others.
Frank also suggests significant tax increases for the very wealthy based on a “progressive consumption tax”—a tax based on the difference between income and savings rather than income levels alone. Sounds like simple liberal politics at first; but Frank backs up his suggestion with economic theory and psychological research that shows why this would work.
For one thing, relative purchase power remains unchanged when taxes on the very wealthy are increased, so that individuals would not be hurt by these changes while redistributing wealth would help everyone (including the wealthy). Although people don’t like to pay taxes, in part because of a phenomenon known as loss aversion, Frank insists that taxes are an important investment in the future of society and the means for fixing our crumbling infrastructure, environmental challenges, and educational system.
A progressive consumption tax also makes sense psychologically, Frank writes. He explains how scientists have shown our nearby frames of reference matter a lot in understanding how we see ourselves and how happy we are. When the super wealthy spend extravagantly on themselves, it affects spending down the income ladder, pushing those with less to stretch their financial limits in order to keep up. And people can’t simply recognize this tendency and opt out, because not keeping up with relative spending can have real social consequences, including not being able to get your kids into good schools.
While many of the wealthy might have trouble seeing the upside for them, Frank insists that this kind of taxation would not decrease their standing in society and would increase their well-being. Research has shown that, beyond a certain limit, spending more on yourself doesn’t make you any happier. In fact, the key to happiness for everyone is spending more on other people and living in a more equitable society.
“If all mansions were a little smaller, all cars a little less expensive, all diamonds a little more modest, and all celebrations a little less costly, the standards that define ‘special’ in each case would adjust accordingly, leaving successful people just as happy as before,” he writes.
And, of course, the costs of not doing something to decrease wealth inequality are high. As Robert Putnam wrote about eloquently in his book, Our Kids, wealth inequality is creating larger and larger gaps in opportunity. In one eye-opening Department of Education study Frank recalls in his book, children from poor families who scored high in math aptitude in 8th grade were less likely to finish college than children from wealthy families who scored in the lowest percentiles in math. This is clearly a problem.
Frank’s book gives a compelling argument for why we should consider our collective needs more when we look to change society for the better. Not only does it make economic and political sense, it is based on the social reality of our lives and our needs for greater cooperation and trust. Frank is optimistic that convincing the wealthy to eschew runaway spending on themselves and to equalize the wealth in society through changes in tax policies will lead to a much happier, healthier state. And, it won’t cost the wealthy in any real substantial way, while providing real benefits to our fellow citizens.
“There simply is no conflict between morality and self-interest,” he writes.

Generosity: The Most Powerful Animating Force of Art

Annie Dillard notes, "People love pretty much the same things best. A writer, though, looking for subjects asks not after what he loves best, but what he alone loves at all...Why do you never find anything written about that idiosyncratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands? Because it is up to you. There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment."

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Sean Parker Gives $250 Million for Immunotherapy Cancer Research

Sean Parker, known as the co-founder of Napster and first president of Facebook, has just donated $250 million to create a new center for immunotherapy cancer treatment research.

The Parker Institute For Cancer will be a collaboration of over 40 laboratories and 300 researchers working together to cure the deadly disease. Medical universities such as Stanford Medicine and the University of California will also be participating.

As simple as a flu shot, the treatment causes cancer cells to self-destruct leaving patients – like beloved former President Jimmy Carter – cancer-free without having to undergo the trials of chemotherapy. After five years of research, the survival rate was 97% for patients who’d been in early stages of prostate cancer and 94% for patients facing a more aggressive form of the disease. That’s 20% better than average survival rates.

“We are at an inflection point in cancer research and now is the time to maximize immunotherapy’s unique potential to transform all cancers into manageable diseases, saving millions of lives,” Parker said in a statement. “We believe that the creation of a new funding and research model can overcome many of the obstacles that currently prevent research breakthroughs. Working closely with our scientists and more than 30 industry partners, the Parker Institute is positioned to broadly disseminate discoveries and, most importantly, more rapidly deliver treatments to patients.”

An early investor in Facebook, Parker started a philanthropic foundation for public health in 2015 with a $600 million contribution. The 36-year-old Silicon Valley mogul’s estimated worth currently stands at $3 billion.

Stephen Hawking and Billionaire to Hunt Aliens

Anthony Cuthbertson

The latest venture by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner in his quest to find alien life is set to be unveiled by Stephen Hawking on Tuesday.

Starshot is the latest project in Milner’s decade-long search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), which he set up in July 2015, under the banner Breakthrough Initiatives.

Milner, whose net worth is estimated to be $2.9 billion by Forbes, has pledged $100 million towards Breakthrough Initiatives, making it the biggest hunt for alien life ever staged. 

“In the last five years, we have discovered that planets in the habitable zone of stars are common,” Breakthrough Initiatives’ website states. “Based on the numbers discovered so far, there are estimated to be billions more in our galaxy alone. And there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the visible Universe.

“Yet we are still in the dark about life. Are we really alone? Or are there others out there? It’s one of the biggest questions. And only science can answer it.”

Little is known about the Starshot project, with a media advisory describing it simply as a “new space exploration initiative.” The announcement will take place at One World Observatory in New York at 12pm EDT, a day that also marks the 55th anniversary of the first ever human space flight by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

Hawking has previously warned of the dangers posed by intelligent extraterrestrials, saying that an advanced alien race could potentially wipe out humanity. In 2010, Hawking said nomadic aliens may look to “conquer and colonize” any civilization they came across.

At the launch of the Breakthrough initiative last year, Hawking said:” I am here today because I believe the Breakthrough initiatives are incredibly important.

“It’s time to search for life beyond Earth. The Breakthrough initiatives are making that commitment. We are alive. We are intelligent. We must know.”

One of the World’s Top Aging Researchers has a Pill to Keep You Feeling Young

Anti-aging promises have been around since Ponce de Leon went looking for the Fountain of Youth, but the latest promising news comes from an MIT researcher with five Nobel winning experts advising him.

Dr. Lenny Guarente is packing decades of anti-aging research from his Massachusetts Institute of Technology lab and other leading universities into a pill made from all-natural ingredients.

The natural approach will let Guarentee and his Elysium Health co-founders, Eric Marcotulli and Dan Alminana, speed their product to market. Using natural components means they can’t patent their pills, but lets the company bypass the years-long FDA approval process.

The pills rely on sirtuins, a group of enzymes linked to metabolism that have been shown in research to extend lifespans of mice and other animals. It was Guarente’s Center for Scientific Aging Research at MIT that conducted some of the first groundbreaking research into sirtuins.

Harvard researchers expanded on his findings when they discovered one particular type of sirtuins, NAD, “reversed aging” in mice. In the journal Cell they reported that tissue in two-year-old mice given NAD resembled that of six-month-old mice after just a week of treatment.

In humans, that would be like a 60-year-old suddenly sporting some of the same cells as a 20-year-old.

Elysium’s supplement, called Basis, is aimed at replicating that effect in humans, though it’s never been fully tested on people yet.

Even so, more than 30 leading scientists in the field of aging have signed on as advisors for Elysium’s launch. Among them are five Nobel Prize winners including brain researcher Dr. Eric Kandel who won the Nobel for Medicine in 2000 and Stanford cellular physiologist Dr. Tom Sudhof who won it in 2013.

The FDA doesn’t recognize aging as a medical condition, but it does increase the risk for illnesses that can kill people, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

Guarente and his partners are taking an approach that does not focus on anti-aging or living longer — they see their supplement as a way for people to improve their health over a long lifetime.

Marcotulli told Fast Company, “For us this is about increasing healthspan, not lifespan.”

Can Helping Others Keep You Sober?

By Jill Suttie

New research suggests that helping others—and the sense of belonging it brings—can help alcohol and drug addicts stay sober.

Alcoholism and drug addiction are often intractable illnesses. Many addicts and alcoholics relapse within 6-12 months of treatments that can include detoxification, drug therapy, behavioral therapy, and group counseling.
But there might be a secret weapon in the fight against addiction: helping people.
While other researchers look for ways to improve prescription drug regimens or talk therapies, Maria Pagano of Case Western University has focused her attention on the addict’s social connections. In studies spanning over a decade, she and her colleagues have shown that having a supportive network, reducing isolation, decreasing social anxiety, and—especially—helping others can increase the chances of staying sober by up to 50 percent.
Her findings suggest that addiction should not be characterized solely as a failure of individual willpower, but must be viewed through the lens of positive social connection. If she is right, her research could lead to profound changes in how we treat addiction.

The link between addiction and social anxiety

As Alcoholic’s Anonymous (AA) understands, social networks play an important role in recovery. In one 2012 study, Pagano and her colleagues found that having a network of people who support one’s abstinence can significantly impact an addict’s ability to stay sober up to three years later.
“If your friends are drinking and drugging, it’s very hard to maintain sobriety. It’s very easy to rationalize and say to yourself, ‘I can have a little bit,’” says Pagano.
But finding a positive social network when you’re an addict is not that easy to do, she says. Many addicts report having social anxiety—a feeling that one is onstage and not approved of by those around them. In fact, social anxiety often leads one to try drugs or alcohol in the first place, since people think intoxicants act as social lubricants. But using drugs for anxiety control can lead to dependence and can easily get out of control, ruining one’s health, relationships, and work life.
Ironically, almost all treatment programs for addiction require group activities of some kind, which leads to a dilemma for those with social anxiety, says Pagano: They may be loath to participate in group activities, yet group activities are important to healing.
In a recent study in which she tested this theory, she found that many of her participants—adolescents in treatment for addiction, ages 14-18—had a deep fear of being scrutinized in social situations, while 15 percent met the diagnostic criteria for a social anxiety disorder (or SAD). While her results showed that levels of participation in a 12-step program did not differ significantly between those with an SAD diagnosis and those without one, one thing did make a difference: The adolescents with SAD who actively participated in helping had a significantly reduced risk of relapse or incarceration in the six months after their treatment finished.

Why helping is key

That’s an insight backed up by Pagano’s other studies. In one 2013 study, she and her colleagues recruited 226 recovering alcoholics from nine outpatient treatment programs, and they followed these patients for 10 years while measuring alcohol consumption, AA participation levels, and self-rated thoughtfulness towards other people at different points in time. They also measured whether or not participants helped others by becoming a sponsor or by completing step 12 in AA.
By using statistical analyses, Pagano and colleagues showed that those who’d attended more AA meetings and engaged in helping stayed sober longer and reported higher interest in others up to 10 years later. Helping others had a unique effect on the outcome, suggesting that helping has a special role in recovery—and should receive more attention.
“We’re doing a disservice to patients if we don’t encourage their involvement in service when we know that service is linked to good things,” says Pagano.
Helping others may have a unique impact on maintaining long-term sobriety, she says, because itappears to decrease some of the psychological markers of the disease—high levels of narcissism and entitlement—that make one prone to addiction and less likely to enter recovery in the first place. Having a chance to “get over yourself” through helping others can also lead to better interpersonal interactions, in particular with other recovering addicts, she says.
“Helping others can help you affiliate and get to know a sober network,” says Pagano. “It’s a natural way to introduce yourself and get to know people; it’s also helpful as a distraction from inner angst that’s often a part of recovery.”
When Pagano says “angst,” she’s referring to the pain caused by a sense of not belonging or of being a social misfit. Researchers measure this feeling through a construct she calls “social estrangement,” which is less about how much time people spend with others and more about how much people feel they don’t belong within a group, even if they have lots of “friends.”
“It’s the kind of isolation where nobody knows who you really are—the parts of you that are hard to access: your hopes, dreams, goals, disappointments,” she says.
In another one of her recent studies, she looked at the impact of social estrangement on addicted juveniles entering court-ordered treatment because of criminal activity. When she simply looked at outcomes for those who reported high levels of social estrangement at the beginning of their treatment, she found that they were much more likely to relapse or to commit a crime in the 12 months after treatment than those who reported less social estrangement.
However, when she factored in helping behavior, she found that those high in estrangement were significantly less likely to be drinking or committing crimes in that same period of time if they’d engaged in giving service within AA—whether it was putting away chairs, greeting newcomers, making coffee, or sponsoring another recovering addict. This, she says, shows that helping can address a feeling of not belonging, which is particularly painful for adolescents who are highly influenced by peers.
“Getting engaged is probably not the only mechanism that helps you get socially connected, but it can help you start to affiliate,” she says. “It’s your gateway into finding your own herd, where you can be really known.”

Can helping be prescribed?

Though Pagano’s findings are promising, her research is done with naturalistic data—data collected from large populations, perhaps, but not under experimental conditions. An experiment in which helping behavior could be prescribed to some people and not to others is perhaps the next logical step in her research.
But Pagano cautions against that plan. For one thing, AA is not a standardized treatment program—it’s a free adjunct to treatment run by non-professionals helping their peers, albeit with a fairly set protocol—where interfering with the group’s process could prove harmful. Additionally, she’s so convinced that helping others within AA is important that she wouldn’t want to deny it to any people seeking that support.
“I would never say to someone that they couldn’t participate in service, because we see it cuts the risk of relapse as well as the likelihood of going to jail post-treatment in half,” she says.
However, she thinks one way to get around these limitations would be to assign someone within AA to encourage participation in helping above and beyond how it’s usually encouraged, then compare that to regular AA involvement—something she is currently planning to do.
“I’m mapping that out right now,” she says. She plans to link newcomers to helping tasks within AA using a volunteer within AA, and then to see if that has any impact above and beyond the usual impacts of the AA process.
In the meantime, Pagano finds little reason not to encourage more helping behavior. Since her research points toward the conclusion that helping others improves sobriety outcomes and helps decrease social anxiety, it’s pretty easy to suggest service to others earlier in the process of treatment—perhaps even during residential treatment.
“This is a window of time when patients are willing to change their behavior or look at themselves more carefully,” says Pagano. “If they’re given a service position, they routinely show up; they’ve got a role to play. They’re not just some person hanging out in a chair, listening to the person next to them. They belong.”