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Updated 11:00 AM May 17, 2005
 

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Research Notes

Project shows need for better monitoring of river restoration

A recent study of river restoration efforts nationwide found that pre- and post-project monitoring of regional projects largely is inadequate to determine their ecological success. But the good news is that a variety of solutions exist to vastly increase the success rate for restoration projects.

The study, conducted by seven university teams, included 37,099 river restoration projects across the country, says David Allan, professor in the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE), who was a co-author of the study. Of those projects, more than 700 were in Michigan, he says. The results, "Restoration of U.S. Rivers—a National Synthesis," were published in the April 29 journal Science.

The teams found many projects with individual successes, but there was no consistent way to apply those best practices to other projects. The ultimate goal of the study is to compile a database to rate the ecological success of river restoration projects and to share best practices across the country.

The U-M team looked at river projects in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, where in 2002 an estimated $36.9 to $52.7 million was spent on river restoration projects.

The team went one step further by attempting to analyze the ecological success of the restoration projects, says Gretchen Alexander, an SNRE graduate student. While thus far it's tough to rate the ecological success, the good news is that there are many ways to improve the way project managers carry out and evaluate ecological restoration.irst, Alexander interviewed 39 project managers in the three states about whether they viewed their projects as successful. The success criteria include: whether a guiding image exists of what an ecologically healthy river would look like at the particular site; whether the ecosystem improved; whether the ecosystem is self maintaining after restoration; whether the project inflicted no lasting harm; and whether an ecological assessment was completed and findings disseminated.

The main reason for that disconnect is that there is inadequate funding to pay for before and after monitoring and evaluation of ecological impacts of river restoration projects, Allan says. This was found locally and nationally.

The database project is sponsored by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis and several foundations, in partnership with American Rivers, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental group.

Startups hold their own in commercializing inventions

Though they lack business resources and may be overconfident about results, academic entrepreneurs prove surprisingly successful in their efforts to commercialize licensed inventions, say business school researchers at U-M and Carnegie Mellon University.

A new study forthcoming in the journal Management Science finds that entrepreneurial startups are able to hold their own relative to more established firms, particularly in the commercialization of early-stage inventions requiring substantial technological development.

The researchers say, however, that academic entrepreneurs are more likely to continue unsuccessful development efforts for longer periods of time, suggesting that overly optimistic views may override less-than-favorable economic realities.

Commercializing new technologies through startups instead of more established firms involves important trade-offs, says Arvids Ziedonis, assistant professor of corporate strategy and international business at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

Ziedonis and Carnegie Mellon's Robert Lowe found little difference between startups and established firms in the time it takes to develop and introduce to market a product based on a licensed invention. In fact, the startups in their study generated greater levels of earnings than existing companies for similar technologies.

Relative to established firms, however, entrepreneurs appear to hold on longer to technologies that do not achieve commercial success, perhaps because they are in denial about the diminishing prospects for these inventions. Their evidence was not sufficient to conclude that these entrepreneurs were overoptimistic, however.

Ziedonis and Lowe note that all but two of the faculty/inventor-founded startups in their study that commercialized an invention were acquired prior to commercialization. The greatest return among these independent startups, they say, was from the proceeds of initial public offerings, not royalties based on commercial sales.

Disabled at work: Hidden cost of jobs for older Americans

About one-third of all disabled people in their 50s—and half of the men with disabilities—suffered injuries because of their jobs, a new study shows. The finding supports what many weary older workers have long suspected: that work may compromise their health and that postponing retirement may carry hidden costs.

The study was conducted by economists Robert Reville at the RAND Corporation Institute for Civil Justice (ICJ) and Robert Schoeni, a senior researcher at U-M's Institute for Social Research.

Reville and Schoeni estimate that the annual cost of workplace injuries to Medicare and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) exceeds $33 billion a year.

Their analysis was based on data from two sources: the ISR Health and Retirement Study—a nationally representative study of the U.S. population over age 50, funded by the National Institute on Aging—and the Survey of Income and Program Participation, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The analysis, to be published in the forthcoming issue of the Social Security Bulletin, also was supported by the RAND ICJ and the National Institute on Aging.

The researchers found that in the general population aged 51-61, 20.5 percent had a health problem that limits the amount or kind of work they can do, with rates the same for men and women. The rates are much higher for Hispanics and non-Hispanic Blacks, with about 28 percent reporting a condition limiting their ability to work.

Among those who are disabled, 17 percent report that their disability was the result of an accident or injury at work, with an additional 14.7 percent stating that the impairment was due to the nature of their work rather than an accident or injury at work.

The authors also point out that while men have been almost twice as likely as women to become disabled due to work, 50 percent compared with 24 percent, this gap is likely to diminish as more women work for longer periods of time.

About 29 percent were enrolled in SSDI, which is limited to those with "permanent partial disability" caused by chronic, disabling conditions.

Research consent forms should be more readable

When children are part of a clinical trial, their parents must sign a document agreeing to the treatment and procedures used in the study. But what if they don't understand what they're being asked to sign?

Many consent forms are written above the recommended reading level and can be hard for many people to comprehend, according to a study by Medical School researchers published in the April issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Alan Tait, professor of anesthesiology, director of clinical research in the U-M Health System's Department of Anesthesiology and lead author of the study, and his research team studied 305 parents of children scheduled for minor elective surgical procedures. The parents received different versions of a consent form for a pediatric study that was performed in the past. Even though the children were not participating in the study described in the consent forms, parents were asked to consider the information as if their children really were participating in the old study.

Some of the parents received the standard consent form and some received a modified version. The modified form used diagrams, simpler language, bolding, underlining, bullets and other tools to emphasize important aspects.

Later, parents were interviewed to determine their understanding of 11 required elements of consent, including the purpose of the study, risks, benefits, freedom to withdraw and more. The parents' understanding was significantly higher with the modified form, especially in such categories as risks and benefits.

When the parents were shown both forms, an overwhelming majority—81 percent—preferred the modified form. These results show the importance of creating forms and other ways of presenting information that are simplified and easily understood by people of varying education levels, Tait says.

While Tait's study addressed forms related to parents of children participating in clinical trials, the findings could have broader implications, he adds. Whenever forms are used to provide patients with important information, Tait says, they should be written and presented in an easy-to-understand format.

In addition to Tait, other U-M authors on the paper were Terri Voepel-Lewis, a clinical nurse specialist in anesthesiology, and Dr. Shobha Malviya, associate professor in anesthesiology.

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