6 things #KUresearch discovered in summer 2015

Taking a break from the classroom, many of our talented faculty and students were hard at work this summer digging into their research – sometimes literally. Here’s just a short list of what these Jayhawks accomplished. Wanting more? Check out all the College news here.

  1. The gate to Goliath’s hometown

Yes, that Goliath. As in, David and. KU professor Eric Welch and a team of students were part of an archaeological excavation in Israel this summer. They uncovered the entrance gate and fortification wall to the ancient biblical city of Gath, best known for its role in the Bible as home of giant Goliath and site of his famous showdown with David.

Why is it important?

Little is known about the Philistines, people who were often cast as villains in the Old Testament. The uncovering of the gate and the potential to find written inscriptions on or near it could provide more clues to the Philistines’ language, religion and origin.

“We know they were the bad guys in the Bible, but we don’t know exactly why,” Welch said. “We are trying to better understand their culture.”

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  1. Stop-and-frisk policies can hinder police work

Police reform has been a hot topic over the past year. In a new study, Shannon Portillo, associate professor in the School of Public Affairs & Administration, found stop-and-frisk polices and investigatory police stops unfairly target racial minorities and can dramatically influence people’s perception of police officers. Portillo suggests police departments should consider working more closely with local communities and use stop-and-frisk tactics only as a last resort instead of a routine option.

“As we consider police reform, we should not focus exclusively on police accountability, but also look broadly at how local governments oversee police and promote community initiatives for health, poverty reduction, education and safety,” Portillo said. “Police should not see their central focus as punitive, but rather as promoting public safety and the public good. They should be part of local government efforts to improve communities.”

Why is it important?

“As currently applied in New York City and other places, stop-and-frisk policies may well cause police to lose their legitimacy,” Portillo said. “This represents a crucial challenge for police in their relationships with communities and citizens, and reactions to the policies are intimately linked to the ability of the police to investigate, solve and deter crime.”

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  1. College is still the best bang for your buck


Even with tuition prices on the rise and a competitive job market, earning a college degree will pay off in the long run. Researchers have found that, in their lifetime, male college grads earn $1.3 million more than their counterparts with a high school diploma and females earn $792,000 more (now we just have to work on that gender pay gap).

Why is it important?

“This corroborates a college education still yields substantially more financial reward than it costs,” said ChangHwan Kim, associate professor of sociology. “Our results show higher growth rates in median earnings over the lifetime of college graduates relative to high school graduates, which suggests greater intra-generational mobility.”

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  1. Crowdsourcing is the new lab


Psychology professors have had a difficult time studying certain speech phenomena that are pretty near impossible to recreate in a lab setting. So now, they’re calling on the power of the interwebs to solve that dilemma. Submit your speech flubs online to be part of the study. What slip-ups are researchers looking for?

  • Tip-of-the-tongue: When you’re in the midst of a conversation, mind flashes blank, and it’s impossible to conjure the right word. We’ll gesture with our hands and feel like we’re on the verge of remembering. But the word won’t come.
  • Slip-of-the-tongue: Using the wrong word in place of ones that sound the same.
  • Slip-of-the-ear: When TSwift reached out to all the lonely Starbucks lovers – or when something is said correctly but you hear it wrong.

Why is it important?

“These states tell us how the language system is built… and they show that memories can be transient,” said Michael Vitevitch, professor of psychology. “Older adults often complain they experience these states more often, so studying tip-of-the-tongue states helps us distinguish what happens during normal aging from what happens when certain diseases might be present, such as Alzheimer’s disease.”

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  1. A long-lost Filipino creature

More than 100 years ago, KU herpetologist Edward Taylor discovered a rare amphibian species in the Philippines called the Malatgan River caecilian. However, this reclusive creature has pulled a disappearing act since the 1970s. Current professor of ecology & evolutionary biology Rafe Brown has been on the hunt for the species since 1994. On a recent trip back to the area, Brown and his team finally encountered the mysterious caecilian.

Why is it important?

For the past few decades, the Malatgan caecilian held a spot on “most-wanted” lists compiled by conservationists. Brown’s two-decade-long quest to find Taylor’s caecilian was fulfilled at last, completing a circle between the mysterious species and KU herpetologists that spans a century.

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  1. Female Nazi guards faced gender bias


Most people are surprised to learn there were women guards in Nazi camps at all. About 3,500 women served across the camp system and were often perceived as treating prisoners even worse than the male guards. Shelly Cline, a May 2015 doctoral graduate in history, explored this perception in her research.

“They were adhering not to a predictable female code of behavior but rather to a male military code of behavior that governed camp,” Cline said. “They acted outside the gender norm.”

Research into these women’s experience shows how they can be both participants in a system of brutality, while also being victims themselves. Some of the women volunteered for service, but many were drafted. Cline said it’s often a challenging balance to humanize these perpetrators while recognizing the brutality of their actions and their place in history.

Why is it important?

“They were ordinary individuals who found themselves in these extraordinary circumstances. At the same time, because they were women, their experience is not the same as the men. Theirs is not the universal experience,” Cline said. “The purpose is to understand genocide to try to prevent it in the future. Looking at how gender influenced the whys and hows of perpetration is part of that.”

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