Businesses expect to save less by offshoring labor
Most American companies shipping jobs overseas say a shortage of skilled domestic employees—not cost cutting—is their primary motivation, according to new research from the Fuqua School of Business. The recent study is part of an ongoing research effort at Duke into the effects of offshoring trends on American competitiveness. Offshoring is defined as “the process of sourcing any business functions supporting domestic and global operations abroad, in particular from lower-cost emerging economies,” according to information from Fuqua.
Businesses don’t expect to cut their overall costs with offshoring as much as they have in past years because average cost-savings as a result of offshoring has steadily declined, researchers say. This means businesses are broadening the range of factors that influence their selection of overseas sites.
For instance, the software industry in the U.S. has the highest ratio of offshore employees to domestic employees: For every 100 workers in the U.S., there are thirteen overseas. Researchers say this may be owing to a scarcity of domestic science and engineering graduates.
Companies new to offshoring discover there are a number of hidden costs involved in the practice, including expenses for training, staff recruitment and retention, and government and vendor relations. One of the managers surveyed for the study noted it has taken his company several years to discover that the benefit of offshoring labor disappears in fewer than three years. Most firms also see a decline in overall efficiency with overseas expansion, which may lead to increased management and coordination costs.
Engineering researchers are looking into the different ways that cells respond to viruses to better understand the mechanisms of cell growth, division, and death. Genetically identical cells respond differently to being infected with adenovirus (a virus that causes respiratory problems, among other illnesses), as indicated by the range of red colors in the image below (cell nuclei are indicated in blue and pink).
Of Mice and Memory
Gene controlling synapse development affects learning
Duke researchers have uncovered clues to memory and learning by exploring the function of a single gene, WRP, that governs how neurons form new connections. Their findings may also provide insights into a form of human mental retardation.
The scientists studied how WRP functions in brain neurons and then demonstrated how acutely memory and learning are affected when WRP is missing in mice.
In one experiment, the researchers tested normal mice and mice without WRP to see whether they would be able to recognize toys they were familiar with and how they would treat toys that they had never seen before. A mouse with the gene typically spent less time investigating a toy it had seen before, but mice without the gene spent the same amount of time with each toy, suggesting they didn’t remember the toy they had seen the day before.
The group, headed by Scott Soderling, assistant professor of cell biology, also conducted experiments using neuronal cells in a lab dish, which showed that cells enriched with WRP went on to form many filopodia, finger-like protrusions that neurons use to connect with one another. Neurons without WRP, on the other hand, ultimately were defective in making filopodia, which meant that they could not make the correct number of connections, or synapses.
Lack of childhood self-control has bad consequences
A recent study has found that children as young as three who have little self-control are more likely to have health problems, a chemical dependency, financial troubles, or a criminal record by the time they reach adulthood.
A group of researchers led by Duke psychologists Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi evaluated data from a longitudinal study of more than 1,000 children in New Zealand. They measured a lack of self-control using several criteria: low tolerance for frustration, lack of persistence in reaching goals, difficulty sticking with a task, being overly active, acting before thinking, difficulty waiting one’s turn, being restless, or not being conscientious. The children were assessed by teachers, parents, and other observers, in addition to filling out self-assessments.
By age thirty-two, the study subjects scoring lowest for self-control scored highest for things like breathing problems, sexually transmitted disease, and high cholesterol and blood pressure. They also had more difficulty saving money, owning a home, or managing credit-card debt. They were more likely to be single parents, have a criminal record, or be dependent on alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.
Yet the study participants who found a way to improve their self-control as they aged fared better in adulthood than their childhood scores would have predicted. Self-control is something that can be taught, the researchers say, and doing so could save taxpayers money on health care, criminal justice, and substance-abuse problems down the road.
Posting nutrition information doesn't cut down on overeating
An effort in King County, Washington, to add nutrition facts to fast-food menus had no effect on customers’ ordering habits in its first year, according to researchers at the Duke-National University of Singapore (NUS) Graduate Medical School.
As part of a comprehensive effort to stem the rise in obesity in the U.S., the county—which includes Seattle—imposed a mandatory menu labeling regulation on all restaurant chains with fifteen or more locations. Restaurants had to disclose calorie information at the point of purchase.
The NUS researchers, who worked in partnership with the local public-health department, found that in the thirteen months after the legislation went into effect, there was no difference in the kinds of meals customers bought at Taco Time restaurants in King County and in Taco Time restaurants where menu boards remained unchanged. The total number of sales and the average number of calories per purchase were unaffected by the menu labeling.
Researchers say this could be because the restaurant was already identifying the healthier options with a special symbol on the menu board before the legislation went into effect.
“A simple logo identifying which foods are healthiest may be all it takes to convey that information to those consumers who wish to choose a healthier alternative,” says Eric Finkelstein, an associate professor of health services at NUS and the study’s lead author. “The additional information appears not to have made a difference.”
As part of the recently passed health-care reform law, the federal government has plans for a nationwide launch of mandatory nutrition information at the point of purchase for fast-food chains with twenty or more outlets.
Not Research Rivals
New grants encourage Duke-UNC collaboration
Ten student-led scholarly projects designed to enhance collaboration between Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have been awarded $5,000 each as part of the inaugural Kenan-Biddle Partnership class.
The grants promote student-initiated, inter-institutional projects designed to strengthen established research ties or encourage new ones between the two schools. The Kenan-Biddle Partnership is funded by the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust and the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation.
The committee in charge of awarding the grants received more than ninety proposals. Each submission was required to include plans for at least one public exhibition, presentation, or performance, and preference was given to proposals made jointly by students from both institutions.
Projects selected include one focused on methods of biodiversity conservation; an effort that looks into the resettlement of Bhutanese immigrants in the U.S.; an outreach and mentoring program in math and science for young women; and a project that will try new ways to increase computer-literacy skills of local fourth- and fifth-grade students.