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February 19, 2014

In Research

Infighting undermines large cities in state legislatures


Urban legislators have long lamented that they do not get their fair share of bills passed in state governments, often blaming rural and suburban interests for blocking their efforts. A new study confirms one of those suspicions but surprisingly refutes the other.

The analysis—of 1,736 bills in 13 states over 120 years—found that big-city legislation was passed at dramatically lower rates than bills for smaller places.

However, rural and suburban colleagues should not be blamed for the dismal track record, conclude coauthors Gerald Gamm of Rochester and Thad Kousser of the University of California, San Diego. Instead, the researchers found that infighting within city delegations undermines legislative success.

“The data show that because of their large numbers, delegations from major cities like Chicago or New York are more likely to be at odds on legislation than smaller delegations, muddling cues for others in the chamber,” says Gamm, associate professor of political science. “After all, if the delegates from a city can’t coalesce behind a bill, why should legislators from other parts of the state vote for the law?”

Reported in the paper “No Strength in Numbers” in the American Political Science Review, the analysis is based on a study of so-called district bills, legislation that affects only a single locality or county. The researchers are the first to document the fate of big-city legislation and to test with hard data the reasons metropolitan areas are often stymied in state politics. Read more at

Feeling ‘in control’ helps some live longer

The less education you have, the more your attitude counts when it comes to staying alive and well.

That’s the finding of a new study conducted by personality researchers from Rochester and Brandeis University. They found that adults without college degrees live longer if they feel like they’re in control of their lives. Those who feel little control are three times as likely to die.

“Being uneducated and poor doesn’t mean you’re doomed, despite all of the studies showing people with less education are more likely to experience disease, disability, and premature death,” says lead author Nicholas Turiano, a postdoctoral fellow in psychiatry at Rochester.

The study, published by the American Psychological Association’s Health Psychology journal, followed 6,135 people, ages 25 to 75, for 14 years. The respondents were part of an ongoing, national questionnaire called the National Survey of Midlife in the United States. It collects a variety of data, including an assessment of each subject’s perceived ability to exert influence over life circumstances. Researchers adjusted for socioeconomic factors such as income and the education level of the subjects’ parents. Turiano says that even after these other variables are taken into account, the findings held. Sense of control did not have the same affect on mortality rates for people who have higher levels of education. Read more at

Finding points to possible new Parkinson’s therapy


A new study shows that, when properly manipulated, astrocytes—a population of support cells found in the brain—could provide a new and promising approach to treat Parkinson’s disease. The findings demonstrate that a single therapy could simultaneously repair the multiple types of neurological damage caused by Parkinson’s, providing an overall benefit that has not been achieved in other approaches.

“One of the central challenges in Parkinson’s disease is that many different cell types are damaged, each of which is of potential importance,” says Chris Proschel, assistant professor of biomedical genetics at the School of Medicine and Dentistry and lead author of the study, which appears in the European journal EMBO Molecular Medicine. “However, while we know that the collective loss of these cells contributes to the symptoms of the disease, much of the current research is focused on the recovery of only one cell type.”

“Reversing the disease’s impact on the brain is akin to the challenges of fixing a house that is in the process of falling apart,” says Proschel. “If you only focus on addressing one aspect of the problem, such as the wiring, but ignore the fact that the roof is leaking and the foundation is crumbling, then you haven’t really carried out the necessary repairs, and it is only a matter of time before the lights go out again.” Read more at

Use of mortality as measure of stroke care questioned

A new study disputes the effectiveness of mortality as a measure of the quality of care provided by hospitals to stroke patients. The paper, published in the journal Stroke, found that use of do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders differs widely among hospitals and that the variation can significantly skew a hospital’s quality “ranking” based on mortality.

“With mortality increasingly being used as a marker for the quality of care provided to stroke patients, it is essential that we understand the impact of decisions made by physicians and families to limit or withhold care,” says Adam Kelly, assistant professor of neurology at the School of Medicine and Dentistry and chief of neurology at Highland Hospital. “It is clear from our research that not only is the use of DNRs all over the map, but that this variation can affect efforts to assess quality of care.”

The national movement toward measuring and publicly reporting quality of care data and—in the case of the federal government—linking the information to payment has spurred a discussion in the medical community over which metrics accurately reflect how well an institution is doing.   

For some time physicians have questioned whether or not mortality is an appropriate measure of stroke care. DNRs are often put in place to limit some life-extending interventions for patients who have had a severe stroke. However, mortality statistics do not distinguish between an individual who has died because of poor or unsafe care versus someone who died because a conscious decision was made to withhold invasive or heroic measures.

How stellar death can lead to twin celestial jets

A Hubble Space Telescope image of the Rotten Egg Nebula, a pre-planetary nebula 5,000 light years away in the constellation of Puppis, shows the bipolar jets. Credit: NASA/ESA & Valentin Bujarrabal (Observatorio Astronomico Nacional, Spain

Astronomers know that while large stars can end their lives as violently cataclysmic supernovae, smaller stars end up as planetary nebulae—colorful, glowing clouds of dust and gas. In recent decades these nebulae, once thought to be mostly spherical, have been observed to often emit powerful, bipolar jets of gas and dust. But how do spherical stars evolve to produce highly aspherical planetary nebulae?

In a theoretical paper published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Eric Blackman, professor of physics and astronomy, and undergraduate student Scott Lucchini conclude that only “strongly interacting” binary stars—or a star and a massive planet—can feasibly give rise to the powerful jets.

When smaller stars run out of hydrogen to burn they begin to expand and become asymptotic giant branch (AGB) stars. This phase in a star’s life lasts at most 100,000 years. At some point some of the AGB stars, which represent the distended last spherical stage in the lives of low mass stars, become “pre-planetary” nebula, which are aspherical.

“What happens to change these spherical AGB stars into nonspherical nebulae, with two jets shooting out in opposite directions?” asks Blackman. “We have been trying to come up with a better understanding of what happens at this stage.”


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