Teens Are Being Bullied ‘Constantly’ on Instagram

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Harassment on the platform can be uniquely cruel, and for many it feels like there’s no escape. No app is more integral to teens’ social lives than Instagram. While Millennials relied on Facebook to navigate high school and college, connect with friends, and express themselves online, Gen Z’s networks exist almost entirely on Instagram.

According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of teens use the platform, which now has more than 1 billion monthly users. Instagram allows teens to chat with people they know, meet new people, stay in touch with friends from camp or sports, and bond by sharing photos or having discussions.

But when those friendships go south, the app can become a portal of pain. According to a recent Pew survey, 59 percent of teens have been bullied online, and according to a 2017 survey conducted by Ditch the Label, a nonprofit anti-bullying group, more than one in five 12-to-20-year-olds experience bullying specifically on Instagram. “Instagram is a good place sometimes,” said Riley, a 14-year-old who, like most kids in this story, asked to be referred to by her first name only, “but there’s a lot of drama, bullying, and gossip to go along with it.”

Teenagers have always been cruel to one another. But Instagram provides a uniquely powerful set of tools to do so. The velocity and size of the distribution mechanism allow rude comments or harassing images to go viral within hours. Like Twitter, Instagram makes it easy to set up new, anonymous profiles, which can be used specifically for trolling. Most importantly, many interactions on the app are hidden from the watchful eyes of parents and teachers, many of whom don’t understand the platform’s intricacies.

“There is no place for bullying on Instagram, and we are committed to fostering a kind and supportive community. Any form of online abuse on Instagram runs completely counter to the culture we’re invested in —a platform where everyone should feel safe and comfortable sharing their lives through photos and videos,” an Instagram spokesperson told The Atlantic in September.

This week, the company also announced a set of new features aimed at combatting bullying, including comment filters on live videos, machine-learning technology to detect bullying in photos, and a “kindness camera effect to spread positivity” endorsed by the former Dance Moms star Maddie Ziegler.

Still, Instagram is many teens’ entire social infrastructure; at its most destructive, bullying someone on there is the digital equivalent of taping mean flyers all over someone’s school, and her home, and her friends’ homes. After a falling-out with someone formerly in her friend group last year, Yael, a 15-year-old who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym, said the girl turned to Instagram to bully her day and night.

“She unfollowed me, blocked me, unblocked me, then messaged me days on end, paragraphs,” Yael said. “She posted about me constantly on her account, mentioned me in her Story, and messaged me over and over again for weeks.” Yael felt anxious even just having her phone in her pocket, because it reminded her of the harassment. “Every time I logged on to my account, I didn’t want to be there,” she said.

“I knew when I opened the app, she would be there. I was having a lot of anxiety over it, a lot of stress.” But still, she hesitated to quit the app entirely. Her friends on Instagram serve as a source of support. Also, quitting wouldn’t stop her tormentor from talking about her, and she’d rather know what the girl was saying. “You know someone’s talking about you, they’re posting about you, they’re messaging about you, they’re harassing you constantly,” she said. “You know every time you open the app they’re going to be there.”

Because bullying on your main feed is seen by many as aggressive and uncool, many teens create hate pages: separate Instagram accounts, purpose-built and solely dedicated to trashing one person, created by teens alone or in a group. They’ll post bad photos of their target, expose her secrets, post screenshots of texts from people saying mean things about her, and any other terrible stuff they can find.

“I’ve had at least 10 hate pages made about me,” said Annie, a 15-year-old who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym. “I know some were made in a row by the same person, but some were from different people. They say really nasty things about you, the most outrageous as possible.”

Sometimes teens, many of whom run several Instagram accounts, will take an old page with a high amount of followers and transform it into a hate page to turn it against someone they don’t like. “One girl took a former meme page that was over 15,000 followers, took screencaps from my Story, and Photoshopped my nose bigger and posted it, tagging me being like, ‘Hey guys, this is my new account,’” Annie said.

“I had to send a formal cease and desist. I went to one of those lawyer websites and just filled it out. Then she did the same thing to my friend.” The scariest thing about being attacked by a hate page, teens say, is that you don’t know who is doing the attacking. “In real-life bullying, you know what’s doing it,” said Skye, a 14-year-old. “Hate pages could be anyone. It could be someone you know, someone you don’t know—you don’t know what you know, and it’s scary because it’s really out of control at that point.

Teachers tell you with bullying [to] just say ‘Stop,’ but in this case you can’t, and you don’t even know who to tell stop to.”

Aside from hate pages, teens say most bullying takes place over direct message, Instagram Stories, or in the comments section of friends’ photos. “Instagram won’t delete a person’s account unless it’s clear bullying on their main feed,” said Hadley, a 14-year-old, “and, like, no one is going to do that. It’s over DM and in comment sections.”

Mary, a 13-year-old who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym, said that relentless bullying on Instagram by a former friend gave her her first-ever panic attack. It started, Mary said, after she made the cheer team and her former friend did not. “She would DM me, or when I was with my friends, if they posted me on their Story, she would [respond] and say mean stuff about me since she knew I would see it since I’m with them,” Mary said. “She would never do it on her own Story; she’d make it seem like she wasn’t doing anything.”

“There was literally a group chat on Instagram named Everyone in the Class but Mary,” she added. “All they did on there was talk bad about me.”

On Instagram, it’s easy to see what people are up to and whom they’re hanging out with. For teenagers who are acutely aware of social status, even a seemingly innocent group photo can set a bully off. Teens say that tagging the wrong friend in a photo can unleash a bully’s wrath. Every location tag, comment, Story post, and even whom you follow or unfollow on your finsta (a secondary Instagram account where teens post more personal stuff) is scrutinized.

“Lots of bullying stems from jealousy, and Instagram is the ultimate jealousy platform,” Hadley said. “People are constantly posting pics of their cars, their bodies. Anything good in your life or at school goes on Insta, and that makes people jealous.”

Many high schools have anonymously run “confessions”-style Instagram accounts where users submit gossip about other students at school. For instance, an account like Greenville High School Confessions will pop up with a bio asking followers to “send the tea,” i.e., gossip. Students will follow the locked account and submit texts of people saying bad things about one another or gossip they’ve heard about people at school.

The account admin or admins will select the juiciest rumors and blast them out on Stories or on the main feed, sometimes even tagging the student’s handle. When someone who runs a school’s confessions account doesn’t like you, it can feel like the whole school has turned against you. “There was a page made called DTS.gossip, the initials of our school,” Riley said. “The account was made to post rumors and crap about people in my school, but a lot of them were about me.”

Rory, a 15-year-old, said that confessions accounts had gotten so out of control at her high school that administrators had banned taking photos of other students on campus. “People at my school would … expose drama or make up stuff, Photoshop people’s faces, bully them basically. It’s all anonymous.”

But Rory said that the no-picture rule hasn’t really curbed bullying. Not long ago, someone posted an entire diss track saying awful things about a 15-year-old girl to SoundCloud, which students promptly set as the link in their Instagram bio. “I think a lot of kids get really invested in drama,” Riley said, “with beauty gurus, YouTube, stuff like that. When it happens at school, they’re very interested in it. It’s fun. Which is horrible.”

In Rory’s case, Instagram has been both the catalyst and the medium for bullying. When she was 13, she was featured on the official Instagram account of Brandy Melville, a popular teen clothing brand.

“Tons of people from my school saw it immediately and started to make memes of me, calling me anorexic,” she said. “Then there were others suggesting I wasn’t thin enough. On their finstas, people were posting these mean things, people I thought I was friends with. I would block their finstas and they would tag my main account.”

But even in the midst of the worst bullying, teens say they’re wary of logging off. Rory is still active on the platform, though she only uses one account. “Everyone has friends from Instagram,” said Liv, a 13-year-old. “Everyone makes friends that way. It’s inevitable. Everyone does it.” Some teens did say they’d deactivate or take a break if their parents forced them to, but quitting forever “wasn’t an option.”

“You can message someone on insta ‘Hey, you’re a bitch’ so easily,” Liv said. “People need to think more about what they say before they say it, even if it’s a DM you forget about and log off. The person you sent that message to, it can impact them. You can really screw someone’s life up.”

By Taylor Lorenz

Source: Teens Are Being Bullied ‘Constantly’ on Instagram – The Atlantic

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Microsoft in Advanced Talks to Increase Investment in OpenAI

Microsoft previously invested $1 billion in OpenAI.Photo:Mike Segar/REUTERS 

Microsoft Corp. MSFT 1.26% is in advanced talks for a new round of funding in OpenAI, according to a person familiar with the matter, as the software giant seeks to further incorporate artificial intelligence into its products.

No deal has been reached between the two sides and the funding amount could vary as negotiations evolve, the person said. The companies have held talks in recent weeks, according to people familiar with the matter. Microsoft invested $1 billion in OpenAI in 2019.

The new cash could help bankroll the tremendous computing power OpenAI needs to run its various artificial intelligence products on Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing service.

The startup already uses Azure as its exclusive cloud partner and has agreed to give priority to Microsoft when bringing new technologies to market.Everything is now a tech thing. Columnist Joanna Stern is your guide, giving analysis and answering your questions about our always-connected world.

OpenAI earlier this year launched Dall-E 2, a project that allowed users to generate art from strings of text and showed the fast advances being made in that segment of AI technology. Last week, Microsoft announced it was integrating Dall-E 2 with various products including Microsoft Design, a new graphic design app, and the image creator for search app Bing.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Microsoft have each developed its own image-generating models—but have been slower to release them to the public, in part because of ethical concerns.

A newer set of startups have moved more quickly. In August, artificial intelligence startup Stability AI released its own text-to-image generator to the public. It then raised $101 million in new funding from investors including Lightspeed Venture Partners and Coatue Management.

OpenAI, led by the technology investor Sam Altman, began as a nonprofit in 2015 with $1 billion in pledges from Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and other backers.

In 2019, OpenAI created a for-profit company and raised the $1 billion from Microsoft, citing greater computing and staffing needs. OpenAI said it would cap profits at the company, diverting the remainder to the nonprofit group.

Much of OpenAI’s research is focused on the potential impacts of artificial general intelligence, the idea that AI systems could one day become better than humans at performing some of the most important tasks.

Some researchers have cautioned that recent advances in AI contribute to unwarranted hype around the technology, and many applications are fraught with ethical issues.

OpenAI said more than 1.5 million users created over 2 million images a day using Dall-E 2 after it was released to the public this month. The technology can turn text descriptions like “an Andy Warhol style painting of a bunny rabbit wearing sunglasses” into realistic images and artworks.

OpenAI has also developed programs to automatically generate text or computer code from written language samples, which are used by companies including Salesforce Inc. CRM 0.02% and Intel Corp. INTC 0.76%

By: Berber Jin and Miles Kruppa

Source: Microsoft in Advanced Talks to Increase Investment in OpenAI – WSJ

Critics:

Criticism of Microsoft has followed various aspects of its products and business practices. Frequently criticized are the ease of use, robustness, and security of the company’s software. They’ve also been criticized for the use of permatemp employees (employees employed for years as “temporary,” and therefore without medical benefits), the use of forced retention tactics, which means that employees would be sued if they tried to leave.[246]

Historically, Microsoft has also been accused of overworking employees, in many cases, leading to burnout within just a few years of joining the company. The company is often referred to as a “Velvet Sweatshop”, a term which originated in a 1989 Seattle Times article,[247] and later became used to describe the company by some of Microsoft’s own employees.[248] This characterization is derived from the perception that Microsoft provides nearly everything for its employees in a convenient place, but in turn overworks them to a point where it would be bad for their (possibly long-term) health.

As reported by several news outlets,[249][250] an Irish subsidiary of Microsoft based in the Republic of Ireland declared £220 bn in profits but paid no corporation tax for the year 2020. This is due to the company being tax resident in Bermuda as mentioned in the accounts for ‘Microsoft Round Island One’, a subsidiary that collects licence fees from the use of Microsoft software worldwide.

Dame Margaret Hodge, a Labour MP in the UK said, “It is unsurprising – yet still shocking – that massively wealthy global corporations openly, unashamedly and blatantly refuse to pay tax on the profits they make in the countries where they undertake business”.[250]

In 2020, ProPublica reported that the company had diverted more than $39 billion in U.S. profits to Puerto Rico using a mechanism structured to make it seem as if the company was unprofitable on paper. As a result, the company paid a tax rate on those profits of “nearly 0%.” When the Internal Revenue Service audited these transactions, ProPublica reported that Microsoft aggressively fought back, including successfully lobbying Congress to change the law to make it harder for the agency to conduct audits of large corporations.

“Embrace, extend, and extinguish” (EEE),[253] also known as “embrace, extend, and exterminate”,[254] is a phrase that the U.S. Department of Justice found[255] that was used internally by Microsoft[256] to describe its strategy for entering product categories involving widely used standards, extending those standards with proprietary capabilities, and then using those differences to strongly disadvantage competitors. Microsoft is frequently accused of using anticompetitive tactics and abusing its monopolistic power.

People who use their products and services often end up becoming dependent on them, a process known as vendor lock-in. Microsoft was the first company to participate in the PRISM surveillance program, according to leaked NSA documents obtained by The Guardian[257] and The Washington Post[258] in June 2013, and acknowledged by government officials following the leak.[259]

The program authorizes the government to secretly access data of non-US citizens hosted by American companies without a warrant. Microsoft has denied participation in such a program. Jesse Jackson believes Microsoft should hire more minorities and women. In 2015, he praised Microsoft for appointing two women to its board of directors

.

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Biography.com. Archived from the original on November 6, 2016. Retrieved November 8, 2016.“Microsoft Company History”. Archived from the original on August 6, 2013. Retrieved March 20, 2013.Finucane, Martin (December 30, 2008). “Harvard Square newsstand sold the magazine that started a revolution”. Boston.com. The New York Times Company. Archived from the original on January 1, 2009.

“Bill Gates: A Timeline”. BBC News Online. BBC. July 15, 2006. Archived from the original on June 22, 2006. Retrieved July 17, 2010.Schlender, Brent (October 2, 1995). “Bill Gates & Paul Allen Talk Check Out The Ultimate Buddy Act in Business History”. Fortune. Time Inc. Archived from the original on May 3, 2011. Retrieved April 25, 2011.Allen, Paul (2011). Paul Allen: Idea Man. Penguin Group. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-14-196938-1.

Staples, Betsy (August 1984). “Kay Nishi bridges the cultural gap”. Creative Computing. 10 (8): 192. Archived from the original on May 11, 2011. Retrieved July 15, 2010.Dyar, Dafydd Neal (November 4, 2002). “Under The Hood: Part 8”. Computer Source. Archived from the original on September 1, 2006. Retrieved July 14, 2010.Engines That Move Markets: Technology Investing from Railroads to the Internet and Beyond.

John Wiley & Sons. 2002. ISBN 978-0-471-20595-1. Archived from the original on March 23, 2019. Retrieved February 8, 2018.“Microsoft to Microsoft disk operating system (MS-DOS)”. Smart Computing. Sandhills Publishing Company. 6 (3). March 2002. Archived from the original on April 5, 2004. Retrieved August 18, 2008.Blaxill, Mark; Eckardt, Ralph (2009). The Invisible Edge: Taking Your Strategy to the Next Level Using Intellectual Property.

Portfolio. p. 210. ISBN 978-1-59184-237-8. Archived from the original on March 23, 2019. Retrieved February 8, 2018.“Paul Allen goes public with hard feelings toward Gates”. The Seattle Times. Archived from the original on November 4, 2016. Retrieved January 4, 2018.Wingfield, Nick; Guth, Robert A. (March 30, 2011). “Microsoft Co-Founder Hits Out at Gates”. The Wall Street Journal.

O’Connor, Clare. “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Microsoft Billionaire Paul Allen, Seattle Seahawks Owner”. Forbes. Archived from the original on February 2, 2018. Retrieved February 1, 2018.“Microsoft OS/2 Announcement”. April 10, 2010. Archived from the original on April 10, 2010. Retrieved August 9, 2017.

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How To Geek. Retrieved November 29, 2020.Chew, Jonathan (August 24, 2015). “Microsoft Launched This Product 20 Years Ago and Changed the World.” Fortune. Retrieved November 29, 2020.Microsoft collects little for Telewest call – CNET News

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Fake Meats: How Sustainable Are They

CREDIT: PETER AND MARIA HOEY -Plant-based meats claim to offer the sensory experience of real meat at a fraction of the environmental cost. Are they really as green as they say?

Marketed to meat lovers, plant-based burgers like Impossible and Beyond claim to taste like the real thing and to have far lighter environmental footprints. Here’s what the numbers have to say.

If you’re an environmentally aware meat-eater, you probably carry at least a little guilt to the dinner table. The meat on our plates comes at a significant environmental cost through deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and air and water pollution — an uncomfortable reality, given the world’s urgent need to deal with climate change.

That’s a big reason there’s such a buzz today around a newcomer to supermarket shelves and burger-joint menus: products that look like real meat but are made entirely without animal ingredients. Unlike the bean- or grain-based veggie burgers of past decades, these “plant-based meats,” the best known of which are Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat, are marketed heavily toward traditional meat-eaters. They claim to replicate the taste and texture of real ground meat at a fraction of the environmental cost.

If these newfangled meat alternatives can fill a large part of our demand for meat — and if they’re as green as they claim, which is not easy to verify independently — they might offer carnivores a way to reduce the environmental impact of their dining choices without giving up their favorite recipes.

That could be a game-changer, some think. “People have been educated a long time on the harms of animal agriculture, yet the percentage of vegans and vegetarians generally remains low,” says Elliot Swartz, a scientist with the Good Food Institute, an international nonprofit organization that supports the development of alternatives to meat. “Rather than forcing people to make behavior changes, we think it will be more effective to substitute products into their diets where they don’t have to make a behavior switch.”

There’s no question that today’s meat industry is bad for the planet. Livestock account for about 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions both directly (from methane burped out by cattle and other grazing animals and released by manure from feedlots and pig and chicken barns) and indirectly (largely from fossil fuels used to grow feed crops). Indeed, if the globe’s cattle were a country, their greenhouse gas emissions alone would rank second in the world, trailing only China.

Worse yet, the United Nations projects that global demand for meat will swell by 15 percent by 2031 as the world’s increasing — and increasingly affluent — population seeks more meat on their plates. That means more methane emissions and expansion of pastureland and cropland into formerly forested areas such as the Amazon — deforestation that threatens biodiversity and contributes further to emissions.

Graph shows global meat consumption from 1961 to the present and projected to 2050. It rises steadily throughout that period.

Global demand for meat continues to rise with little sign of slowing. Much of the increase comes from middle-income countries, where consumers use their increasing wealth to put more meat on their plates.

Not all kinds of meat animals contribute equally to the problem, however. Grazing animals such as cattle, sheep and goats have a far larger greenhouse gas footprint than non-grazers such as pigs and chickens. In large part that’s because only the former burp methane, which happens as gut microbes digest the cellulose in grasses and other forage.

Pigs and chickens are also much more efficient at converting feed into edible flesh: Chickens need less than two pounds of feed, and pigs need roughly three to five pounds, to put on a pound of body weight. (The rest goes to the energy costs of daily life: circulating blood, moving around, keeping warm, fighting germs and the like.) Compare that to the six to 10 pounds of feed per pound of cow.

As a result, the greenhouse gas emissions of beef cattle per pound of meat are more than six times those of pigs and nearly nine times those of chicken. (Paradoxically, grass-fed cattle — often thought of as a greener alternative to feedlot beef — are actually bigger climate sinners, because grass-fed animals mature more slowly and thus spend more months burping methane.)

Building fake meat

Plant-based meats aim to improve on that dismal environmental performance. Stanford University biochemist Pat Brown, for example, founded Impossible Foods after asking himself what single step he could take to make the biggest difference environmentally. His answer: Replace meat.

Comparison of greenhouse gas footprints of meat, plant-based meat and plant foods.

Researchers trawled through the scientific literature to find every available study measuring the greenhouse-gas footprint of meats and meat alternatives. Beef is by far the most emissions-heavy option, while plant-based meats and plant foods generally are linked to much lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions for production of a given quantity of protein. In the chart, (n) refers to the number of studies for each category of protein.

To do that, Impossible and its competitors basically deconstruct meat into its component parts, then build an equivalent product from plant-based ingredients. The manufacturers start with plant protein — mostly soy for Impossible, pea for Beyond, and potato, oat or equivalent proteins for others — and add carefully selected ingredients to simulate meat-like qualities. Most include coconut oil for its resemblance to the mouthfeel of animal fats, and yeast extract or other flavorings to add meaty flavors. Impossible even adds a plant-derived version of heme, a protein found in animal blood, to yield an even more meat-like appearance and flavor.

All this requires significant processing, notes William Aimutis, a food protein chemist at North Carolina State University, who wrote about plant-based proteins in the 2022 Annual Review of Food Science and Technology. Soybeans, for example, are typically first milled into flour, and then the oils are removed. The proteins are isolated and concentrated, then pasteurized and spray-dried to yield the relatively pure protein for the final formulation. Every step consumes energy, which raises the question: With all this processing, are these meat alternatives really greener than what they seek to replace?

To answer that question, environmental scientists conduct what’s known as a life cycle analysis. This involves taking each ingredient in the final product — soy protein, coconut oil, heme and so forth — and tracing it back to its origin, logging all the environmental costs involved. In the case of soy protein, for example, the life cycle analysis would include the fossil fuels, water and land needed to grow the soybeans, including fossil fuel emissions from the fertilizer, pesticides and transportation to the processing plant. Then it would add the energy and water consumed in milling, defatting, protein extraction and drying.

Similar calculations would apply to all the other ingredients, and to the final process of assembly and packaging. Put it all together, and you end up with an estimate of the total environmental footprint of the product.

Process diagram showing the many inputs that go into making plant-based meats.

Plant-based meats are highly processed products in which proteins, fats, starches, thickeners, flavoring agents and other ingredients are mixed and formed into foods that resemble traditional meat products such as burgers, hot dogs and chicken nuggets.

Unfortunately, not all those numbers are readily available. For many products, especially unique ones like the new generation of plant-based meats, product details are secrets closely held by the companies involved. “They will know how much energy they use and where they get their fat and protein from, but they will not disclose that to the general public,” says Ricardo San Martin, a chemical engineer who codirects the Alternative Meats Lab at the University of California, Berkeley. As a result, most life cycle analyses of plant-based meat products have been commissioned by the companies themselves, including both Beyond and Impossible. Outsiders have little way of independently verifying them.

Even so, those analyses suggest that plant-based meats offer clear environmental advantages over their animal-based equivalents. Impossible’s burger, for example, causes just 11 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that would come from an equivalent amount of beef burger, according to a study the company commissioned from the sustainability consulting firm Quantis. Beyond’s life cycle analysis, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, found their burger’s greenhouse gas emissions were 10 percent of those of real beef.

Indeed, when independent researchers at Johns Hopkins University decided to get the best estimates they could by combing through the published literature, they found that in the 11 life cycle analyses they turned up, the average greenhouse gas footprint from plant-based meats was just 7 percent of beef for an equivalent amount of protein. The plant-based products were also more climate-friendly than pork or chicken — although less strikingly so, with greenhouse gas emissions just 37 percent and 57 percent, respectively, of those for the actual meats.

Similarly, the Hopkins team found that producing plant-based meats used less water: 23 percent that of beef, 11 percent that of pork and 24 percent that of chicken for the same amount of protein. There were big savings, too, for land, with the plant-based products using 2 percent that of beef, 18 percent that of pork and 23 percent that of chicken for a given amount of protein. The saving of land is important because, if plant-based meats end up claiming a significant market share, the surplus land could be allowed to revert to forest or other natural vegetation; these store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and contribute to biodiversity conservation. Other studies show that plant-based milks offer similar environmental benefits over cow’s milk (see Box).

Chart compares land-use footprints of meat, plant-based meat and plant foods.

Researchers compared the amount of land needed to produce a given amount of protein for meat, plant-based meat and plant foods. Once again, beef towers above the rest, largely because grazing animals need a lot of land to forage. Plant foods are shown to require more land than plant-based meats, but this difference is not meaningful because the estimates for plant foods include crops grown in low-yielding countries, while plant-based meats rely on ingredients grown under high-yield conditions.

A caution on cultivation methods

Of course, how green plant-based meats actually are depends on the farming practices that underlie them. (The same is true for meat itself — the greenhouse gas emissions generated by a pound of beef can vary more than tenfold from the most efficient producers to the least.) Plant-based ingredients such as palm oil grown in plantations that used to be rainforest, or heavily irrigated crops grown in arid regions, cause much more damage than more sustainably raised crops. And cultivation of soybeans, an important ingredient for some plant-based meats, is a major contributor to Amazon deforestation.

However, for most ingredients it seems likely that even poorly produced plant-based meats are better, environmentally, than meat from well-raised livestock. Plant-based meats need much less soy than would be fed to actual livestock, notes Matin Qaim, an agricultural economist at the University of Bonn, Germany, who wrote about meat and sustainability in the 2022 Annual Review of Resource Economics. “The reason we’re seeing deforestation in the Amazon,” he explains, “is because the demand for food and feed is growing. When we move away from meat and more toward plant-based diets, we need less area in total, and the soybeans don’t necessarily have to grow in the Amazon.”

But green as they are, plant-based meats have a few hurdles to clear before they can hope to replace meat. For one thing, plant-based meats currently cost an average of 43 percent more than the products they hope to replace, according to the Good Food Institute. That helps to explain why plant-based meats account for less than 1 percent of meat sales in the US. Advocates are optimistic that the price will come down as the market develops, but it hasn’t happened yet. And achieving those economies of scale will take a lot of work: Even growing to a mere 6 percent of the market will require a $27 billion investment in new facilities, says Swartz.

Steak hasn’t yet been well done

In addition, all of today’s plant-based meats seek to replace ground-meat products like burgers and chicken nuggets. Whole-muscle meats like steak or chicken breast have a more complex, fibrous structure that the alt-meat companies have not yet managed to mimic outside the lab.

Part of the problem is that most plant proteins are globular in shape, while real muscle proteins tend to form long fibers. To form a textured meat-like product, scientists essentially have to turn golf balls into string, says David Julian McClements, a food scientist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and an editor of the Annual Review of Food Science and Technology. There are ways to do that, often involving high-pressure extrusion or other complex technology, but so far no one has a whole-muscle product ready for market. (A fungal product, sold for decades in some countries as Quorn, is naturally fibrous, but its sales have never taken off in the US. Other companies are also working on meat substitutes based on fungal proteins.)

Comparison of the environmental footprints of plant-based burgers vs beef burgers, showing much lower impact for plant-based products.

The environmental impact of the two leading plant-based burgers, from Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, is much less than a comparable beef burger, according to detailed studies commissioned by the two companies. Other experts note that these studies are difficult to verify independently because they rely on proprietary information from the companies.

McClements is experimenting with another approach to make plant-based bacon: creating separate plant-based analogs of muscle and fat, then 3D-printing the distinctive marbling of the bacon. “I think we’ve got all the elements to put it together,” he says.

Some critics also note that a shift toward plant-based meat may reinforce the industrialization of global food systems in an undesirable way. Most alternative meat products are formulated in factories, and their demand for plant proteins and other ingredients favors Big Agriculture, with its well-documented problems of monoculture, pesticide use, soil erosion and water pollution from fertilizer runoff. Plant-based meats will reduce the impact of these unsustainable farming practices, but they won’t eliminate them unless current farming practices change substantially.

Of course, all the to-do about alternative meats overlooks another dietary option, one with the lowest environmental footprint of all: Simply eat less meat and more beans, grains and vegetables. The additional processing involved in plant-based meats means that they generate 4.6 times more greenhouse gas than beans, and seven times more than peas, per unit of protein, according to the Hopkins researchers. Even traditional, minimally processed plant protein such as tofu beats plant-based meats when it comes to greenhouse gas. Moreover, most people in wealthy countries eat far more protein than they need, so they can simply cut back on their protein consumption without seeking out a replacement.

But that option may not appeal to the meat-eating majority today, which makes alternative meats a useful stopgap. “Would I prefer that people were eating beans and grains and tofu, and lots of fruits and vegetables? Yes,” says Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy organization supporting healthy eating.

“But there are a lot of people who enjoy the taste of meat and are probably not going to be won over by tofu. If you can win them over with Beyond Meat, and that helps reduce climate change, I’m all for it.”

Source: Fake meats: How sustainable are they?

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The Single Most Important Thing to Know About Financial Aid: It’s a Sham

 

In early March, a 17-year-old high school senior I’ll call Ethan got a text message from Ursinus College, a small, private liberal arts school located about 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia. It said, “Great news, [Ethan]! Ursinus College has awarded you additional money! Log into your portal to view your updated financial aid award.”

A few days later, Ethan got a letter from Ursinus repeating the same offer. “The Office of Student Financial Aid recently received additional information regarding your application for financial aid and, as a result, a change has been made to your original award,” it said. In December, Ursinus had offered Ethan a “Gateway Scholarship” of $35,000 to offset the college’s listed price of more than $72,000 for tuition, room, and board. Now it had added a “Grizzly Grant” (Ursinus’ mascot is a bear) of $3,500 to the mix.

It was puzzling. Ethan is not financially needy. One of his parents is a nonprofit executive and the other is a public school teacher in suburban Maryland. They own their home outright and earn well over $200,000 per year, putting them comfortably in the top 10 percent of household income nationwide. Ethan’s standardized test scores were good and grades were fine, but mostly not in the kind of rigorous Advance Placement–type classes that are mandatory for admission to selective universities.

All of this was in the application he sent to Ursinus last year, and he hadn’t talked to them since. What “additional information” were they talking about? Meanwhile, Ethan has a cousin who is also a high school senior. I’ll call her Ashley. Her overall academic profile was better than Ethan’s—higher grades and lots of AP courses, somewhat lower SATs. But her economic circumstances were not.

Ashley also lives in Maryland. Her mother, a single parent, dropped out of community college and works in the back office of a local restaurant chain. Her income is well below the median for someone with college-age children, and she has no real financial assets to fall back on.

Yet Ashley wasn’t getting unsolicited text messages offering her more financial aid. Penn State, a public land-grant university that allegedly has a mission to provide broad access to college, had recently sent her a financial aid letter. Like Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II, their offer was this: nothing. Tuition, room, and board would be $49,200—almost $16,000 more than private Ursinus College wanted to charge her wealthier cousin. To pay, she was welcome to get a job, or take out loans.

Ethan and Ashley were learning a lesson about the way the business of higher education actually works in this country: College financial aid is largely an illusion. Government financial aid is real, if inadequate—federal Pell grants and state appropriations to reduce tuition at public universities definitely exist. But the financial aid purportedly provided by colleges themselves is mostly fiction.

The whole public-facing system of college admissions—in which admissions decisions are based on rigorous academic standards and financial aid is supposedly provided to those who are most academically and financially deserving—is an elaborate stage play meant to flatter privileged families and the reputations of colleges themselves. The real system, hidden behind the scenery, is much closer to the mechanics of pure capitalism, driven by an industry of for-profit consultants and relentlessly focused on the institutional bottom line.

That’s a huge problem for students and parents trying to make expensive, life-changing choices about higher education. Many families make bad decisions based on the misleading vocabulary colleges use around financial aid, leading to broken futures and, increasingly, unaffordable student loans. If you have children and are planning to help them go to college anytime soon, understand this: Much of what colleges are going to tell you about money isn’t true.

There are, to be sure, a few extremely wealthy institutions that really do provide financial aid. If you are among the small number of low-income students that Harvard chooses to admit after filling much of its class with legacies, athletes, and the children of wealth, status, and power, you won’t have to pay tuition. The Ivies and a handful of other elite schools have “need blind” admissions, which means they consider your application regardless of your financial circumstances, and offer generous aid to those who need it.

Parents can also find good, reasonably priced public options in some states, which allow them to avoid the shell games involving financial aid. Public universities in North Carolina remain very affordable, for instance. And some states also provide grants to students that are in fact based on their financial needs or academic achievements.

Tuition and fees for the State University of New York system are relatively low to begin with, roughly $8,000 to $10,000 for in-state students. But the state of New York also runs a state need-based scholarship program that, combined with a federal Pell grant, can be enough to cover tuition and part of room and board.

But if you live in a less generous part of the country and your kids are applying out-of-state, or they have their sights set on a private college without an Ivy League endowment, then you have wandered into a very different kind of market, one that has a lot more in common with airlines hawking seats or dealers selling cars than you might realize.

The language of admissions and financial aid suggests that colleges review every application with two questions in mind: “Does this applicant meet our academic standards? If so, how much scholarship aid, given their financial circumstances and academic merit, do they deserve?”

In reality, the large majority of undergraduates attend a college that accepts most or all applicants. And while the “sticker price” for tuition at some institutions exceeds $50,000, most colleges don’t have enough market power to charge anything close to that. For them, the real concerns are, “How likely is this applicant to enroll, if we accept them? And what’s the most amount of money they’d be willing to pay?”

To answer those questions, many colleges hire expensive consulting firms to help them manage a complex process of marketing, admissions, and pricing. The firms design social media campaigns and produce the flood of glossy brochures that pours through the U.S. postal system every year.

They take the wealth of detailed financial information that parents are required to disclose on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and feed it into the same kinds of complex algorithms that airlines use to constantly change the price of seats in the months, weeks, and days before a flight.

They also use a probabilistic strategy for deciding whom to admit, based on a combination of how much they think parents are willing to pay and how likely students are to enroll. Because of online systems like the Common App, it’s easy for students to apply to many colleges. At less desired colleges—the safety schools and fourth choices—“yield” rates, meaning the percentage of admitted students who enroll, are often below 20 percent.

So they admit 3,000 students to fill a freshman class of 600 and hope that past statistical patterns hold. If too many students enroll, there’s no room in the dorms. Too few, and the college goes broke. The whole process is called “enrollment management.” To understand how important enrollment management is in the higher education industry, look to administrative hierarchy:

Ursinus College, for example, has a director of admissions who reports to a vice president and dean of enrollment management and marketing. When Washington College mailed Ethan three “VIP admission” tickets and an all-access lanyard with his name printed on it for an “Admitted Students Day Music Festival” in April, it was trying to increase its yield.

When one college after another sent Ethan a letter offering him tens of thousands of dollars in scholarship money, in most cases it probably had nothing to do with their evaluation of Ethan’s achievements. It was more likely because market research told them that students like the feeling of being awarded something, and the enrollment management algorithm suggested that full tuition minus $25,000 or $30,000 was a price his parents might be willing to pay.

The Ursinus College Office of Student Financial Services did not receive any additional information regarding Ethan’s application. That was a fib. An Ursinus spokesman confirmed for me that the extra award was based on his original application and “other financial considerations.”

It would not be surprising if those “other financial considerations” included a report from an enrollment management consultant—the firms Ruffalo Noel Levitz and EAB are two of the biggest—showing that acceptance and pricing projections as of early March were looking soft. When colleges find their enrollment numbers lagging, they act like a car dealer with too many of last year’s models on the lot, and put tuition on sale.

Like most colleges, Ursinus’ $72,000 list price is an imaginary number; on average, it charges students only about one-third of that. It is not providing Gateway Scholarships and Grizzly Grants from a pot of actual money. It’s just pretending to, because that’s what students and parents like to hear.

Colleges, unsurprisingly, are shy to discuss the consultants that shape the inner workings of their aid process, and will resort to linguistic contortions when asked about it. When I asked Ursinus whether it awarded its “Grizzly Grants” based on a report from an enrollment management consultant, a spokesman responded that it works “in partnership with a financial aid leveraging firm” and that “we monitor the progress of the first-year class on a routine basis throughout the enrollment cycle.”

A spokesman from Clark University, which tried to entice Ethan with a “$68,000 Robert Goddard Achievement Scholarship,” told me that the school “does not rely on an enrollment management consultant.” Instead, they said, it “occasionally” hires “outside analytical support” that does “not tell us how much aid to offer any student or group of students” but does “crunch large volumes of data in a timely manner that we then use to assess our progress toward our enrollment goals and estimate/project our total aid expenditure through that enrollment cycle.”

So, not an enrollment management consultant. Just, you know, a consultant that helps them manage enrollment. But while schools may not love talking about it, nothing about this system is a secret within higher education. For instance, after taking a job in the enrollment management industry, former Ursinus vice president for enrollment Richard DiFeliciantonio wrote an essay for Inside Higher Ed in which he explained that the “financial aid matrix” colleges rely on is essentially “the same pricing technique taught to M.B.A.s and commonly used by corporations for commercial products.”

He noted that the formula considers a student’s academic achievement mostly as a “proxy” for their willingness to pay for college (as opposed to a measure of merit). This is also why, despite her financial need and solid high school achievement, Ethan’s cousin Ashley was not being inundated with texts and letters offering her more money. As DiFeliciantonio wrote: “Wealthy families are more able and less willing to pay for college while the poorer families are more willing and less able.”

In other words, parents of means who themselves have finished college are often sophisticated consumers of higher education and are able to drive a hard bargain, whereas lower-income, less-educated parents feel an enormous obligation to help their children move farther up the socioeconomic ladder and blindly trust that colleges have their best financial interests at heart. So colleges obey the algorithm and offer more financial aid to the Ethans than to the Ashleys, one of many problems identified in a recent Brookings Institution report.

Ashley submitted financial aid forms with information about her family’s modest income because everyone and everything about the process told her college aid is based on how much money you need, or deserve. She had no idea that information could be used against her. In May, New York University offered her admission if she would agree to delay enrollment until spring 2023—when, maybe not coincidentally, her good-but-not-stellar academic record would not count in the rankings data NYU submits to U.S. News & World Report.

Their price? $79,070. Their aid offer? $0, take it or leave it, with 96 hours to respond. Federal statute limits how much the Department of Education can lend to undergraduates. Freshmen can only borrow $5,500. But there is no limit on how much the department can lend to parents through a program called Parent PLUS. Nor does the department check to see if parents have the means to pay PLUS loans back.

So NYU “offered” Ashley the opportunity to borrow $5,500 and take a $1,500 work-study job. Then it offered Ashley’s mother the chance to take out a $72,099 Parent PLUS loan—more than her gross annual salary, before taxes—for the first of four undergraduate years.

Fortunately for Ashley and her mother, they knew someone who offered sensible financial advice. They turned down NYU and its offer of gargantuan loans and chose a less expensive public university. But as the countless individual stories that compose the nation’s $1.7 trillion student loan crisis show, many families make different choices. They are drawn in by a combination of optimism, blind faith, and familial obligation, and end up with debts they cannot repay. Colleges know this will happen.

Colleges do this because they want and need money. The business of filling up a class has gotten more difficult as the number of new high school graduates continues to recede from the peak millennial years, with further declines expected starting in 2025. Small, private colleges are especially vulnerable, and some have gone bankrupt in recent years.

Understanding the true nature of the college market should reduce some kinds of student stress. If you’re a high school graduate in reasonable academic standing, there are scores of good colleges ready to admit you. The real market tuition price in the big middle of the higher education sector is probably about $25,000, not the $50,000 or $60,000 you might have heard. Applying to college there isn’t like being vetted to join an exclusive social club. Nobody is really judging your worthiness for financial aid. College is just another service with a price.

The words colleges use in the admissions process, embedded in the broader portrayal of higher education in popular culture, tell a different tale, leaving first-generation students with the least money and social capital most vulnerable to exploitation. Colleges are full of great educators who want to help you learn. But when it comes to money, you’re on your own.

By Kevin Carey

Source: College financial aid: It’s a sham that depends on what colleges think families will pay.

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How Finland is Eradicating Its Homelessness Problem

There are more than a million empty homes in Canada and on any given night at least 35,000 Canadians are homeless. They pack into overflowing, often dangerous, shelters or they hunker down outside, hoping the elements will be kinder to them than the conditions indoor.

In the 1980s, a Canadian psychologist working in New York had an idea: maybe the best way to solve the problem of homelessness was to give people homes. Sam Tsemberis was one of the earliest proponents of a model known as Housing First. The idea was viewed as outlandish and unworkable.

Skeptics argued that complex issues like addiction and mental health had to be addressed first before someone was a suitable candidate for long-term housing. How would the cost be justified to hardworking taxpayers?

But the idea has caught on. Housing First projects have appeared in municipalities across Asia, Europe and North America, including Medicine Hat, Alta. Now, Finland has become the first country to adopt a national housing first approach to homelessness.

Juha Kaakinen, CEO of Finland’s largest housing nonprofit, the Y-Foundation, has been working in the area of homelessness and social welfare since the 1980s. He was one of the architects of Housing First — Finland’s national plan. He spoke to The Sunday Edition‘s Michael Enright about how Finland eradicated homelessness. Here are some highlights from their conversation interview.

A home without preconditions

You can call it a principle, a service model or a philosophy; the main thing is treating homeless people like everybody else — people who have the same rights and see housing as a human right. So the housing first principle means that you give a homeless person a home, a flat, or a  rental flat with a contract, without preconditions. You are not required to solve your problems or get sober, for example, to get a permanent home. And then, when you have this home, you can get support to solve your issues. This is a simple basic principle of housing first.

Finland succeeds where the rest of Europe did not

A lot of progress has been made. We now have the lowest number of homeless. Our present government has decided that the rest of the homeless should be halved within the next four years and completely end by 2027.

We have had a constant policy of providing affordable, social housing. The state finances this. And in each new housing area, especially in the big cities, at least 25 per cent of housing must be affordable, social housing. This has kept the supply to a reasonable level. This has been probably the main reason why we don’t have the kind of housing crisis that most European countries have at the moment.

How Housing First works

For example, in Helsinki, there is a service centre for homeless people. You can always go in, no matter your condition. It’s probably the most similar to the shelters in other countries. But it’s the only one, with 52 beds. You discuss your situation with a social worker and they try to arrange housing for you. They make an assessment, find out what your needs are.

Affordable social housing stock is another option. For over 30 years, the Y-Foundation has been buying flats from the private market. We use these flats specifically as rental flats for homeless people.

Maybe the most important structural change in Finland is that we’ve renovated our temporary accommodations in shelters and hostels into supported housing. For example, the last big shelter in Helsinki, run by the Salvation Army, had 250 beds. It was completely renovated in 2012. Now they have 81 independent, modern, apartments in that same building. They also have on-site staff for support. So this structural change has probably been the crucial thing that has led to this trend of decreasing homelessness.

The common thing for all homeless people is that they don’t have a home. Everybody has their own story, their own history. They have their own resources. They may also have their own problems. For that reason, you have to make a very tailor-made plan for people, to provide adequate support.

For example, if you have drug abuse problems, simply providing housing doesn’t solve that kind of issue. You may need rehabilitation, detoxification, etc. These other elements are important. But to get these things done successfully, you must provide permanent housing. That way you can be sure that you are not kicked out the next morning and you can plan your life ahead.

Why the taxpayer argument doesn’t hold up

Keeping people homeless, instead of providing homes for them, is always more expensive for the society. In Finland we have some scientific evaluations of the cost of this program. When a homeless person gets a permanent home, even with support, the cost savings for the society are at least 15,000 Euros per one person per one year. And the cost savings come from different use of different services.

In this study, they looked at the services that homeless people used when they were without a home. They calculated every possible thing: emergency healthcare, police, justice system, etc. They then compared that cost to when people get proper housing. And this was the result. I’m quite sure this kind of cost analysis can also be found for Canada.

Political understanding is crucial

What has been crucial in Finland is that there has been a political understanding and political consensus: this is a national problem that we should solve together. Since 2008, we have had several governments with several different political coalitions. All these governments have decided to continue to work to end homelessness. This kind of political will — that’s the starting point. It doesn’t solve everything but it helps.

I think that it demands politicians who have an understanding of human dignity. It doesn’t require more. In Finland we have a very wide partnership. It has been a collaboration between the state, big cities and big NGOs working together towards the same goal.

Changing public attitude

There are several ways you can affect public attitudes. Facts and research are good starting points. But it’s always important to tell people stories of those whose lives have changed since they got housing. These things have an emotional impact on the general public. If there are willing former homeless people, who would like to tell their stories, this kind of human interest element is very powerful. But, of course there are very clear facts behind how it should be done and why we should speak about housing as human rights issue.

By: Tahiat Mahboob

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