Recent UCLA grad helped Wikipedia set the record straight on ‘Rain Man’ and autism

Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in a casino in scene from Rain Man | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.
Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise as Raymond Babbitt and Charlie Babbitt in “Rain Man.”


Lucy Berbeo | December 21, 2022

The 1988 film “Rain Man” won four Academy Awards, earned millions at the box office and moved audiences with its depiction of a central character with autism, played by Dustin Hoffman.

But at least some of that depiction obscured or misrepresented aspects of autism spectrum disorder. And because the movie has reached such a wide audience, those discrepancies have informed how generations of viewers perceive the condition. Until recently, many of the same issues also lived on in the Wikipedia entry about “Rain Man.”

That’s where Madeline Utter comes in. Before she graduated from UCLA in June, Utter took a course called “Performance and Disability Studies,” taught by visiting professor Elizabeth Guffey. As part of the course, Utter watched the film for the first time, and she was struck by elements that seemed to misrepresent autism spectrum disorder and savant syndrome. The latter is a condition in which a person with a developmental disorder shows remarkable brilliance in a specific area, such as music or math — the film’s protagonist, Raymond Babbitt, for example, is able to quickly perform complex mathematical calculations.

Madeline Utter

Madeline Utter | Courtesy of Madeline Utter

For a course project, Guffey tasked her students with researching and rewriting Wikipedia entries about representations of disability in performance to ensure they reflected the latest disability studies research. Utter chose “Rain Man” — and saw an opportunity to right a few things that the film, as well as the Wikipedia entry, had gotten wrong.

Wikipedia allows any user to edit articles directly with the proviso that revisions and additions must be attributable to reliable sources or they may be removed by other users. Utter revised the “Rain Man” article, adding context about how the film’s portrayal of neurodivergent conditions led to public misunderstanding.

Wikipedia bills itself as the world’s largest reference website, and the “Rain Man” entry typically receives about 2,500 visitors a day. Since Utter updated the page in May, it has been viewed more than 465,000 times. Utter has two brothers with autism, so the opportunity to improve the public’s understanding of the condition has been especially meaningful for her.

“From watching the film through a critical lens, to getting feedback from my peers on the article, to finally seeing the published article, I learned so much,” said Utter, who graduated in June with a major in communication and a minor in film studies. “The biggest impact that this project had on me was to start to be able to recognize the places in film where disability representation can be improved.”

UCLA’s disability studies program comprises courses in a range of academic subjects, from media arts to anthropology to nursing. Students play an active role in advancing creative approaches to service and advocacy, from improving health care for people with disabilities to creatively reimagining assistive technology using 3D modeling.

“Our students in UCLA Disability Studies are future leaders in their fields, and they are already helping to create a more inclusive society,” said Adriana Galván, dean of undergraduate education in the UCLA College. “By participating in projects such as this one, they are making a real-world impact.”

A program operated by Wiki Education invites college students to write Wikipedia entries through their coursework. The nonprofit profiled Utter’s project on its website.


This article originally appeared at UCLA Newsroom. For more of Our Stories at the College, click here.

Understanding what makes rainforests distinct from one another could advance conservation efforts

Even when they’re located near each other, not all rainforests are the same, UCLA-led research finds

Dipterocarp Forest at Danum Valley | Mike Prince/Flickr

A rainforest in Danum Valley, Malaysia. New UCLA-led research demonstrates how diverse rainforests can be, even when they are located in the same region. | Mike Prince/Flickr


Anna Novoselov | October 27, 2022

For many people, the phrase “tropical rainforest” might conjure the image of a landscape teeming with vegetation, exotic animals and extraordinary beauty.

But while the world’s rainforests do share some qualities — including serving as habitats for a diverse range of wildlife and storing vast amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide — new UCLA-led research shows just how different rainforests can be, even when they’re located near each other.

“Tropical forests are not a monolith,” said UCLA ecologist Elsa Ordway, lead author of the study, which was published Oct. 20 in Communications Earth & Environment.

The study is significant because understanding how forests vary from one another could help shape conservation initiatives and efforts to fight climate change. Decision-makers and stakeholders could use the research to more accurately predict how much forests mitigate climate change — and how vulnerable they are to it.

Vegetation in tropical forests, which draws carbon dioxide from the air for photosynthesis, stores about one-fourth of Earth’s terrestrial carbon in leaves, trunks and roots. The specific species living in a forest affect how much carbon it can hold and determine how it responds to natural and human disturbances.

Ordway and her co-authors analyzed two tropical landscapes in the Malaysian portion of Borneo, categorizing them into seven different types based on their growth rates, mortality rates, how much carbon they can hold and other characteristics.

To categorize the rainforests, the researchers used two types of remote sensing technology: a satellite-based laser detection system called LiDAR to measure the height and distribution of vegetation, and spectroscopy to determine the forests’ chemical composition.

Those measurements helped crystallize how the forests vary both in terms of their structure — tree height, foliage shape and gaps in the canopy, for example — and their function — how ecosystems work and how natural resources are distributed.

The researchers found that the two most important variables for distinguishing forest types were leaf mass per area and the amount of phosphorus contained in the canopy — the upper layer of the forest that is formed by treetops. Phosphorus is a chemical essential to plant growth.

“To be able to actually characterize these differences at large scales has really huge value for our ability to understand these forests and how they function,” Ordway said.

Borneo is the world’s third largest island. Its forests harbor a diverse range of habitats that support more than 15,000 plant species and more than 1,400 animal species. Just 25 acres of Bornean forest coud contain about 700 different tree species — nearly as many as in all of North America.

Since the 1960s, huge swaths of the island’s forests have been destroyed due to deforestation, fires, illegal logging and agricultural expansion — especially for palm oil plantations.

Mapping forests gives policymakers a better understanding of rainforests’ conservation value so they can pass laws and regulations to protect them. In addition, accurately determining rainforests’ carbon storage capacity can help shape market-based conservation programs such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries — known as REDD+ — which places a cash value on the carbon that rainforests prevent from being released into the atmosphere. Through such programs, large international banks have invested large sums to benefit countries that protect their forests.

And as satellite-based remote sensing improves, so too will the data available to scientists and policymakers. Upcoming satellite missions, such as a NASA hyperspectral satellite mission that is scheduled to launch in 2028, are expected to make vast amounts of data available for free, which could open the door to further studies on differences in forest function. The UCLA-led study could serve as a framework for future analyses and for identifying which variables are meaningful.

“We will soon have available an incredible amount of remote sensing data that’s going to be game-changing for what we’re able to measure and monitor across ecosystems globally,” Ordway said.

Until now, forest types have been mapped by researchers on the ground who identify different species and measure functional traits. But that type of analysis is limited by cost and scientists’ ability to access certain parts of rainforests.

Ordway said the same approach her team used could also be extended to studying other types of forests and other ecosystems.


This article originally appeared at UCLA Newsroom. For more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu/news.

UCLA’s Jim Varney Scholarship pays the actor’s generous legacy forward

 Jim Varney, as the beloved character Ernest P. Worrell, holds a portrait of himself.

Emmy-winning actor and comedic icon Jim Varney played the beloved character Ernest P. Worrell. | Courtesy of Paganomation


Jonathan Riggs | December 20, 2022

The Kentucky-born comedian Jim Varney cared deeply about young people and their dreams.

Millions of kids — and kids at heart — delighted in the onscreen antics of the Emmy-winning actor, in and out of his beloved character of Ernest P. Worrell.

Before he died of cancer in 2000, Varney took his compassion one step further by laying the groundwork for a scholarship to support promising, financial-aid-eligible students from two states that meant a great deal to him personally: Kentucky and Tennessee. Recipients of the Jim Varney Scholarship must also plan to complete an undergraduate degree in the UCLA College and have an interest in the performing arts.

“This is one of UCLA’s few full-ride scholarships, and every single one of the students I’ve worked with who received it has had a phenomenal experience,” said Angela Deaver Campbell, director of the UCLA Scholarship Resource Center. “It’s so special, not just because it is a life-transforming opportunity for students and for their families, but also because we are honoring the final wishes of Mr. Varney, who wanted to make this opportunity possible.”

There have been 11 Varney Scholars so far, including the most recent, Joshua Hays, a current second-year biology major from Louisville, Kentucky whose dream is to become a physician specializing in pediatric orthopedics.

Joshua Hays, Varney Scholar

Joshua Hays, Varney Scholar

“Receiving this scholarship was one of the greatest honors and blessings in my life — I am the fifth of six children, and so the Varney Foundation’s generosity relieves such a burden from my family,” Hays said. “I am and will always be forever grateful to the Varney Foundation’s generosity for making the dreams of some kid from Kentucky a reality. I hope to pay it forward one day, following Mr. Varney’s example in changing lives.”

Over the course of his career, the Shakespearean-trained Varney built an impressive resume that includes more than 3,000 commercials, nine Ernest movies and originating the role of Slinky Dog in the “Toy Story” franchise. His career almost didn’t get started, though, due to an actors’ strike when he first came to Hollywood, forcing Varney to return to Kentucky and earn a living driving a truck.

“Jim always said if he’d had a college education, he could have stuck it out here sooner, and that a college education was the key to achieving your dreams,” said Jane Varney, president of the Varney Foundation, which funds the scholarship. “Jim wanted to pay his success forward and ensure that kids from Kentucky and Tennessee would have the opportunity to make it at a world-class school like UCLA.”

Without exception, that is what each scholarship recipient has done.

“Each year, the Varney Scholars thrive academically, bring diverse artistic expression and follow their passions as a result of these generous awards that honor Jim Varney’s remarkable legacy,” said Adriana Galván, dean of the division of undergraduate education. “We deeply value our longstanding partnership with the Jim Varney Foundation and look forward to many more years of working together to celebrate Jim and foster future generations of bright young change-makers at UCLA.”


For more of Our Stories at the College, click here.

Morris Herbert, professor emeritus of law and philosophy at UCLA.

In memoriam: Herbert Morris, 94, landmark figure in law and philosophy

Morris Herbert, professor emeritus of law and philosophy at UCLA.

Herbert Morris | UCLA


UCLA Law | December 16, 2022

Professor emeritus Herbert Morris, a globally renowned scholar and teacher of law and philosophy and a foundational member of UCLA School of Law’s faculty, died on Dec. 14. He was 94.

An instrumental leader at UCLA for seven decades, Morris earned his bachelor’s degree at UCLA, law degree from Yale Law School and doctorate in philosophy from Oxford University. He joined the faculty of UCLA’s philosophy department in 1956 and the law school in 1962.

During his uncommonly distinguished career, Morris served as dean of humanities of in the UCLA College from 1983 to 1992 and interim provost of the college from 1992 to 1993. He also chaired the board of the University of California Humanities Research Institute from 1988 to 1990, among many prominent leadership roles in academia.

“Herbert Morris was a seminal figure in the tradition of research and teaching in law and philosophy at UCLA, a tradition that he participated in for seven decades and that flourishes today,” says Mark Greenberg, who holds the Michael H. Schill Endowed Chair in Law at the law school and is a professor of philosophy who directs UCLA’s Law and Philosophy Program. “Thanks to his sharp and probing mind and warm and charismatic personality, he will have a lasting influence on his many students and colleagues.”

Morris was widely recognized for his prolific and wide-ranging scholarship on moral and legal philosophy. His book “On Guilt and Innocence: Essays in Legal Philosophy and Moral Psychology” (University of California Press, 1976) is a landmark in the field. He also authored several works of literary criticism: “The Masked Citadel: The Significance of the Title of Stendhal’s La Chartreuse de Parme” (University of California Press, 1961), “What Emma Knew: The Outrage Suffered in Jorge Luis Borges’s Emma Zunz” (Indiana Journal of Hispanic Literatures, 1997) and “Disclosures: Essays on Art, Literature, and Philosophy” (2017). Additionally, he served as editor of “On Guilt and Shame” (Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1971) and “Freedom and Responsibility: Readings in Philosophy and Law” (Stanford University Press, 1961).

The biennial Herbert Morris Lecture in Law and Philosophy – one of the law school’s most important public academic lectures – was established in his honor in 2009. The event, which hosts leading scholars from around the world, has featured presentations by preeminent philosophers including Ronald Dworkin and Martha Nussbaum.

Long after his 1994 retirement, Morris – who also trained and practiced as a psychoanalyst – continued his work on deep philosophical topics. He published “On the Soul” in the journal Philosophy in 2019, and began publishing art criticism, with a focus on the French Baroque painter Nicolas Poussin. Until quite recently, he continued to conduct research and teach at UCLA, producing new scholarship in philosophy, art and literature, and teaching the popular undergraduate class Law, Philosophy and Literature.

In 2020, Morris became the first law professor ever to receive the prestigious Constantine Panunzio Distinguished Emeriti Award, an honor that goes to retired professors from the entire University of California system, in celebration of their longstanding influence and leadership in their fields.


This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom. For more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu/news.

Graduates wearing caps and gowns at the 2-18 American Indian Studies graduation ceremony at UCLA.

To enhance Indigenous scholarship, UCLA formally establishes American Indian studies department

The goal is eventually to increase the Native student, faculty and staff populations

Graduates wearing caps and gowns at the 2-18 American Indian Studies graduation ceremony at UCLA.

Even before achieving departmental status, the American Indian studies program has helped scholars thrive, as seen in this 2018 commencement photo. | UCLA American Indian Studies


Jonathan Riggs | December 15, 2022

As they look ahead to the end of their senior years, both Desirae Barragan (Gabrieleno Band of Mission Indians) and Lorraine Mazzetti (Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians) have a lot to be proud of — including the news that UCLA’s American Indian studies interdepartmental program will become a full-fledged department.

“Many generations of Native Bruins, including myself, have provided their voices, energy and advocacy efforts to prove the need to departmentalize American Indian studies,” said Barragan, who is double majoring in American Indian studies and human biology and society. “As a Gabrieleno student studying on my ancestral homelands, it is an absolute privilege to be the first of my tribal community to be graduating from UCLA this spring.”

Said Mazzetti, who is double majoring in American Indian studies and political science: “I’m very excited that American Indian studies is becoming a department. American Indian studies has given me the space to talk about my experiences living on the reservation and to learn about other Native students’ experiences in a single classroom.”

The goal is eventually to increase the Native student, faculty and staff populations while deepening UCLA’s commitment to research and scholarship into Indigenous studies. The change to department status marks a transformation from the program that created one of the world’s first master’s degrees in American Indian studies in 1982 and draws its roots from UCLA’s American Indian Studies Center, which was established in 1969.

“I’ve been the American Indian studies chair off and on for nearly 30 years, and this has been a goal for as long as I can remember. To say I’m delighted would be an understatement,” said Paul Kroskrity, interim chair of American Indian studies and professor of anthropology. “This represents a reprioritization by UCLA and the UC system to do the best job they can for Native American students and the field itself. I’m proud we can build this department in the proper way.”

The existing American Indian studies program offers an undergraduate major, a minor and a master’s degree and seeks to merge the concerns and aims of higher education with those of Indigenous communities.

With its new status, the department will be able to hire its own faculty and staff and to make key decisions on its own. When it was an interdepartmental program, American Indian studies faculty and staff were hired by and held appointments in other departments. Although the new American Indian studies department looks forward to continuing and expanding these rich engagements and collaborations, having this autonomy will make a big difference, both symbolically and in practice.

“This is really exciting, important and a long time in the making,” said Shannon Speed (Chickasaw Nation), director of the American Indian Studies Center in UCLA’s Institute of American Cultures and a professor of anthropology and gender studies. “It puts us on par with UCLA’s other ethnic studies centers, which have all departmentalized, and it gives us a little more freedom to create our own future.”

The move is the third in a series of initiatives that signal increased resources, opportunities and representation for Native American communities and voices at UCLA and beyond, including the University of California’s Native American Opportunity Plan and UCLA’s Native American and Pacific Islander Bruins Rising Initiative.

“This is a landmark moment that will give us a greater platform to elevate research and scholarship, recruit more Native and non-Native students, and propel our ascension in terms of being the place to do American Indian studies in the United States,” said Angela Riley (Citizen Potawatomi Nation), director of UCLA School of Law’s Native Nations Law and Policy Center and a professor of law and American Indian studies.

Tim Topper (Cheyenne River Sioux), a student services advisor in the new department, echoed others in saying that departmental status sends a powerful message of inclusion and investment.

“American Indian studies becoming a department is a huge deal because it represents a foundation for us to better recruit and retain Native faculty and staff,” said Topper, who noted how excited he was to come to UCLA to work directly with California Indigenous communities. “It can be hard for Native students to find that mentor they can connect with, and I think we’ll set our students up even better for success when they can see themselves more reflected in and out of the classroom. It’s going to take time, but we’re creating a pipeline for true change.”

And word can travel fast across Indian country, Topper added, where many people are deeply connected to and invested in what colleges and universities are doing in this field. Both at UCLA and far beyond, this formal recognition reflects a renewed commitment to further elevating Native American representation in higher education.

This is especially important to Barragan and Mazzetti, who hope to see the department tackle new priorities, such as reimagining the curriculum to include additional undergraduate courses in traditional ecological knowledge, tribal leadership and federal Indian law.

“It is hard for Native students to relearn generational trauma and apply it to our essays for a grade, and I hope the new department realizes that they are teaching the next tribal leaders,” Mazzetti said. “I am ready to see what the department will bring to UCLA and what they provide to the next generation of Native students.”

“I look forward to the new opportunities that future generations of Native Bruins will get to experience,” Barragan said. “I am honored to contribute to Indigenizing UCLA and hope that as an institution, it will amplify and uplift Native voices, wants and needs while supporting Native-led initiatives.”

Ensuring that this milestone development runs smoothly is a priority for many beyond the new department as well.

“The sky is the limit for what AIS can accomplish in this new chapter,” said Abel Valenzuela, interim dean of the division of social sciences in the UCLA College. “We are very fortunate to build on our base of excellence in AIS where we have some of the best — if not the very best — American Indian studies faculty, staff and students in the country.”


This article originally appeared at UCLA Newsroom. For more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu/news.

UCLA alumnus Yoon Jae (Eric) Lim

Yoon Jae (Eric) Lim ’16 named UCLA’s fourth Schwarzman Scholar

UCLA alumnus Yoon Jae (Eric) Lim

UCLA alumnus Yoon Jae (Eric) Lim has been named a Schwarzman Scholar and will study in Beijing next year.


UCLA alumnus Yoon Jae (Eric) Lim ’16 has been named a Schwarzman Scholar, receiving one of the world’s most prestigious graduate awards. As part of a cohort of 151 distinguished young candidates selected from nearly 3,000 applicants worldwide, Lim will receive a fully funded scholarship to complete a one-year master’s degree and leadership program in global studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China.

Established in 2016 by Stephen A. Schwarzman of Blackstone and inspired by the Rhodes Scholarship, the Schwarzman Scholars program seeks to prepare future leaders from a variety of fields and backgrounds to respond to pressing geopolitical challenges and to foster cross-cultural understanding between China and the rest of the world.

“I am excited and grateful for this amazing opportunity,” said Lim, who studied political science at UCLA and hails from South Korea and the U.S. “China has one of the world’s most developed fintech economies, its economy is largely cashless, and its technology ecosystem has grown at an incredible rate. My goal is to leverage the expansive Schwarzman Scholar and Tsinghua network to learn as much as I can about the technological innovation happening in China.”

As an immigrant, entrepreneur and product leader in fintech, Lim hopes to leverage financial technology to better lives. After graduating from UCLA, he cofounded the blockchain company DApperNetwork, building a community of students and mentors that have gone on to create enormous value in blockchain protocols and applications. Currently a director of product at Sure, a top 100 fintech company, he previously served as a crypto entrepreneur-in-training at FJ Labs. He is a Riordan Fellow with the UCLA Anderson School of Management and has served as an advisor to UCLA’s blockchain lab.

Lim is the fourth UCLA graduate to be named a Schwarzman Scholar. He will enroll in August 2023 as part of the program’s 2023–2024 cohort, which comprises candidates from 36 countries and 121 universities around the world. Each year, Schwarzman Scholars are selected based on a variety of factors including “their leadership qualities and the potential to understand and bridge cultural and political differences,” according to the program’s website; the program’s international network of scholars now includes more than 1,000 members.

“I’m proud to be a UCLA alumnus — the communities and education I got access to during my time as a student have been formative building blocks for me,” Lim said. “Many years ago, UCLA was a launchpad for my entrepreneurial journey, and I am excited to represent my alma mater at such a renowned program as I continue on that journey.”


For more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu/news.

Prineha Narang, physical sciences professor in the UCLA College of Letters and Science

Quantum matter pioneer Prineha Narang appointed 2023 US Science Envoy

Narang is the first appointed in the field of quantum science and technology

Prineha Narang, physical sciences professor in the UCLA College of Letters and Science

Prineha Narang, professor of physical sciences in the UCLA College

UCLA quantum matter pioneer Prineha Narang has been appointed a 2023 US Science Envoy by the State Department.

Narang, on the faculty in Physical Sciences, will help initiate new partnerships with countries that are building their own quantum programs. Narang is the first science envoy to be appointed in the field of quantum science and technology. Narang joins the first cohort of Science Envoys since the covid-19 pandemic began in 2020.

“Quantum science and technology is an area not only of critical importance nationally but requires international partnerships,” Narang said. “Part of my role will be to connect scientists in these countries what we’re doing here at UCLA, what our National Quantum Initiative centers are doing, and how to get started. This is an incredible opportunity to initiate new partnerships with countries that are building their own quantum programs, and strengthen collaborations with existing partners.”

Through the Science Envoy Program, eminent U.S. scientists and engineers apply their expertise and networks to forge connections and identify opportunities for sustained international cooperation. Science Envoys focus on issues of common interest in science, technology, and engineering fields and usually serve for one year. They travel as private citizens and help inform the Department of State, other U.S. government agencies, and the scientific community about opportunities for science and technology cooperation.

“We are honored that the State Department has recognized UCLA’s strengths in the field of quantum materials with the appointment of Professor Narang as US Science Envoy. She is a perfect choice to forge the international relationships necessary to realize the potential of this new field of science,” Chancellor Gene Block said.

Narang’s groundbreaking research is at the intersection of computational science, quantum matter, and quantum information science. Her work has been recognized with international awards from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Max Planck Society, American Physical Society, among others. In 2017, she was named by Forbes Magazine on their “30 under 30” list for her work in atom-by-atom quantum engineering.

Narang designs materials at the smallest scale, using single atoms, to enable the leap to quantum technologies. Quantum materials are used in emerging computing and communications technologies with capabilities that far surpass conventional technologies but still face many scientific and practical challenges.

“International collaborations are crucial in driving the field forward. I am delighted to see Professor Narang taking on this prestigious role building on her leadership across science, workforce development, and industry relations in the quantum domain,” Miguel García-Garibay, dean of physical sciences and senior dean of the College, said.

One of the personal goals Narang has set is to get students interested in quantum science at early stages in their education, including through exchange programs. She will give public lectures for early career scientists, budding engineers, and people interested in STEM about how to get involved in quantum science and engineering.

Black Americans’ COVID vaccine hesitancy stems more from today’s inequities than historical ones

UCLA study urges medical community to pursue changes that build better trust

Woman receives vaccine shot

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Holly Ober | October 27, 2022

Key takeaways:
• Doctors and distrust.
Black Americans are more likely than whites to report poor interactions with their physicians.
• Not history but here and now.
These personal experiences — rather than wrongs of the past — tend to heighten their distrust of the health care system and lead to skepticism about COVID-19 vaccines.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the vaccination rate in the Black community lagged well behind that of whites, a gap many in the media speculated was the result of fears based on historical health-related injustices like the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

But new research by UCLA psychologists shows that vaccine hesitancy and mistrust of medical professionals among Black Americans may hinge more on their current unsatisfactory health care experiences than on their knowledge of past wrongs.

The findings, the researchers say, clearly illustrate the need for both broad and specific changes within the medical community to improve experiences and build better trust with Black patients. The research is published in the journal Health Psychology.

“History is important, no doubt, but Black Americans do not have to reach into the past for examples of inequity in health care — many have experienced it themselves,” said Kimberly Martin, who led the research as a UCLA doctoral student and is now a UC President’s Postdoctoral Scholar at UC San Francisco.

In the first of two studies, Martin and her UCLA colleagues surveyed approximately 300 Black and white participants in December 2020, just as vaccines were becoming available. Black respondents expressed less trust in medical professionals and reported significantly less positive experiences with the health care system than their white counterparts. They were also less likely to report an intention to get vaccinated.

Participants were also queried about their familiarity with the 1932–72 Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which the U.S. government studied Black men with syphilis without their informed consent and intentionally withheld treatment, leading to medical complications, fatalities and transmission of the disease to family members. Some 66% of Black participants and 62% of white participants said they were familiar with the study, though Black participants generally knew more about it. Familiarity, however, was not associated with greater medical mistrust or vaccine hesitancy in either group, the researchers found.

Ultimately, the authors concluded, Black respondents’ trust in medical professionals had been undermined by a lack of positive health care experiences, contributing to a hesitancy to get vaccinated.

“A damaging narrative suggested in popular media has been that Black Americans were less likely to want a COVID-19 vaccination primarily because of the Tuskegee study,” said Martin, who along with her co-researchers found that the study had been mentioned 168 times in TV news reports on vaccine hesitancy between October 2020 and November 2021. “However, Tuskegee is only one of many relevant historical examples of medical mistreatment toward Black Americans, and this framing completely disregards current inequity and injustice in health care.”

Co-author Annette Stanton, a distinguished professor of psychology at UCLA, said implications that Black Americans can and should “get over the past” as a means to reducing health inequities are not only offensive but misguided, given the findings.

“The findings point to Black Americans’ present-day experiences in the medical system as an important factor among multiple contributors to inequities, and physicians and health systems can indeed take action to improve these experiences,” she said. “Respectful, competent and caring medical professionals can be agents of change.”

A second study, conducted several months after the first, surveyed a nationally representative sample of more than 12,750 Black and white Americans and found no statistically significant racial difference in the proportion of those who had been vaccinated or were intending to get vaccinated. But once again, Black participants reported less medical trust than whites. Black respondents also reported feeling less cared-for by their physicians than white respondents, which the researchers said contributes to lower levels of trust.

Among those who were not yet vaccinated, both Black and white participants who had less trust in the medical community and felt less cared-for by their personal physician were also less likely to report an intention to get vaccinated.

The current studies add to an extensive body of research showing that Black Americans have worse health care experiences than whites. And while the vaccination gap between Blacks and whites has decreased, issues of inequitable treatment and medical mistrust remain and need to be addressed in the context of present-day experiences, the researchers emphasized.

“Characterizing race-related disparities in health care experiences as a relic of the past excludes current medical experiences and absolves the current health care system from making needed change,” said co-author Kerri Johnson, a UCLA professor of communication and psychology.

Johnson and the other authors said that going forward, health care professionals and researchers need to identify and implement changes that could provide Black Americans with more equitable and satisfying health care experiences.


This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom. For more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu/news.

Professor’s book spotlights legacy of Mexican political organizers in the American West

Kelly Lytle Hernández’s ‘Bad Mexicans’ comes at a time when L.A.’s politics reckon with racism

Bad Mexicans book cover and Kelly Lytle Hernández

Kelly Lytle Hernández, author and Thomas E. Lifka Professor of History at UCLA.


Madeline Adamo | November 29, 2022

Editor’s note: This page was updated on Nov. 30 to correct the name of the center that organized the talk.

Written with the pacing and drama of a spy novel, historian Kelly Lytle Hernández’s latest book, “Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands,” aims to illuminate the far-too-overlooked story of the magonistas, a group of dissidents who were organizing in Mexico at the turn of the 20th century to oust dictator Porfirio Díaz.

Led by radicalized journalist Ricardo Flores Magón, who communicated with his followers through Regeneración, the newspaper he founded in 1900, the magonistas fled Mexico after years of suppression and regrouped in the U.S. borderlands. Most of them set up in Los Angeles, where they relaunched their rebel newspaper and incited an army of migrant workers and cotton pickers — a cause of great concern for governments in the U.S. that had great investments in Díaz’s Mexico.

Díaz, who called the magonistas “bad” Mexicans (or malos Mexicanos), pursued their leader with the help of the U.S. government. Flores Magón evaded capture until 1907, after which he spent his final years in and out of prison. Though his story isn’t widely known, historians have long credited the magonistas’ efforts with eventually leading to Díaz’s ousting.

“‘Bad Mexicans’ tells the story of how (the magonistas) built their social movement here in the United States,” Lytle Hernández told the audience (some who joined virtually from regions around Mexico) at a recent event focused on her book. “And probably more important, it’s the story of that cross-border counterinsurgency campaign that tried to stop them, but they were successful, and they incited the outbreak of the 1910 Mexican Revolution.”

The UCLA Center for Mexican Studies invited Lytle Hernández, who is the the Thomas E. Lifka Professor of History at UCLA, to speak with Fernando Pérez-Montesinos, assistant professor of history, who dove into why the historian chose to write about Mexican “reveltosos.”

“I’m a border-lander,” said Lytle Hernández, who recalls being alarmed that she was only just learning about the magonistas and their rebel movement as a doctoral student at UCLA. She recognized the importance of their place in American history and was concerned that people currently living in the borderlands — generally people of color, laborers and organizers — didn’t know these stories.

The book’s origin story comes from Lytle Hernández’s previous book, “City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771–1965,” which was a compelling account that places contemporary issues of mass incarceration and mass deportation within a much broader historical context.

Using archival evidence, Lytle Hernández established that Los Angeles — “a hub of incarceration” that imprisons more people than any other city in the country that imprisons the most people in the world — has been the site of various manifestations of human caging. In documenting how this reality is inextricably bound to conquest, settler colonialism, institutional racism and structural assaults on the working poor, irrespective of race or ethnicity, Lytle Hernández had all the research and material she needed to write “Bad Mexicans.”

While “Bad Mexicans” arose from a personal place for Lytle Hernández, she says the book also served as a response to politics at the time of the project’s genesis. More specifically, the 2016 presidential debate, when former president Donald Trump famously referred to Mexican immigrants as “bad hombres” while speaking about his plan for a southern border wall.

“When Trump made his disparaging remarks about Mexican migrants who are doing nothing but trying to secure a better life for themselves, he was stirring up that rhetorical pot of racial violence,” said Lytle Hernández, who is also the director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.

The historian chose “Bad Mexicans” as the title of her book, playing off Trump’s remark in hope that the general public would understand that by using that kind of language, the former president was setting the stage for anti-Mexican and anti-Latino racial violence.

To connect the reader to a form of racial violence they might be familiar with, Lytle Hernández opens the book with the scene of the 1910 lynching of Antonio Rodríguez in Texas.

“They lit the pyre and watched him burn,” said Lytle Hernández, reciting the first sentence of her book to show how the scene is used as an “anchor” for American readers. She hopes readers use what they know about lynching to make the connections to Mexican themes and experiences and their important place in the “American story,” she said.

The story goes on to use a Hollywood-like approach to smuggle in Mexican history; including armed battles, deciphering of secret codes, betrayals and love affairs. In doing so, Lytle Hernández says that “Bad Mexicans” rebuilds the legacy of Mexican and Mexican American identity in the country’s canon of history.

“Where do Mexicans fit in the U.S. racial dynamics?” said Lytle Hernández. “That has been a contest around whiteness and non-whiteness in particular.”

At the heart of the book, Lytle Hernández invites further conversations on race formations in the U.S., which she says have been largely defined by struggles over land and politics.

“What is the relationship of Mexicanas to Black folks? To Indigenous folks? Where are they going to fall in this historical set of relationships and power?” she said.

Despite the book being published in May, the discussion was particularly relevant because of the recent outcry in Los Angeles over racist comments made by three Latino city council members.

“This crisis is an opportunity for people to get really clear about where they stand in relationship to capitalism and white supremacy, among other things,” said Lytle Hernández, tying the recent politics back to the topics her book engages with.

The second half of the discussion, which was followed by an audience Q&A, explored the history of relations between Blacks and Latinos, focusing on connections between the Black freedom struggle and the suppression of Mexican radicals like the magonistas.

“We share a history. We share a story and no one ever wants to tell us about it,” Lytle Hernández said. “That’s the power of our amnesia, of our forgetting, is that we struggled to build community today because we don’t know how we built it in the past.”


This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom. For more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu/news.

An image from the James Webb Space Telescope.

Webb Space Telescope reveals birth of galaxies, how universe became transparent

UCLA astrophysicists shed light on how hydrogen fog burned away after the Big Bang

An image from the James Webb Space Telescope

An image from the James Webb Space Telescope. A pair of UCLA-led studies demonstrate some of the scientific advances that the telescope is making possible. | NASA


Holly Ober | November 17, 2022

Key takeaways:
• UCLA astrophysicists are among the first scientists to use the James Webb Space Telescope to get a glimpse of the earliest galaxies in the universe.
• The studies reveal unprecedented detail about events that took place within the first billion years after the Big Bang.
• The UCLA projects were among a small number selected by NASA to test the capabilities of the Webb telescope.

The earliest galaxies were cosmic fireballs converting gas into stars at breathtaking speeds across their full extent, reports a UCLA-led study published in a special issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

The research, based on data from the James Webb Space Telescope, is the first study of the shape and structure of those galaxies. It shows that they were nothing like present-day galaxies in which star formation is confined to small regions, such as the constellation of Orion in our own Milky Way galaxy.

“We’re seeing galaxies form new stars at an electrifying pace,” said Tommaso Treu, the study’s lead author, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy. “Webb’s incredible resolution allows us to study these galaxies in unprecedented detail, and we see all of this star formation occurring within the regions of these galaxies.”

Treu directs the GLASS–JWST Early Release Science Program, whose first results are the subject of the special journal issue. Another UCLA-led study in the issue found that galaxies that formed soon enough after the Big Bang — within less than a billion years — might have begun burning off leftover photon-absorbing hydrogen, bringing light to a dark universe.

“Even our very best telescopes really struggled to confirm the distances to such far away galaxies, so we didn’t know whether they rendered the universe transparent or not,” said Guido Roberts-Borsani, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher who led the study. “Webb is showing us that not only can it do the job, but it can do it with astonishing ease. It’s a game changer.”

Those findings are two of many breathtaking discoveries by UCLA astrophysicists who are among the first to peer through a window to the past newly opened by Webb.

Webb is the largest near-infrared telescope in space, and its remarkable resolution offers an unparalleled view of objects so distant that their light takes billions of years to reach Earth. Although those objects have aged by now, light from only their earliest moments has had enough time to travel through the universe to end up on Webb’s detectors. As a result, not only has the Webb functioned as a sort of time machine — taking scientists back to the period shortly after the Big Bang — but the images it’s producing have become a family album, with snapshots of infant galaxies and stars.

GLASS–JWST was one of 13 Early Release Science projects selected by NASA in 2017 to quickly produce publicly accessible datasets and to demonstrate and test the capabilities of instruments on the Webb.

The project seeks to understand how and when light from the first galaxies burned through the hydrogen fog left over from the Big Bang — a phenomenon and time period called the Epoch of Reionization — and how gas and heavy elements are distributed within and around galaxies over cosmic time. Treu and Roberts-Borsani use three of the Webb’s innovative near-infrared instruments to take detailed measurements of distant galaxies in the early universe.

The Epoch of Reionization is a period that remains poorly understood by scientists. Until now, researchers have not had the extremely sensitive infrared instruments needed to observe galaxies that existed then. Prior to cosmic reionization, the early universe remained devoid of light because ultraviolet photons from early stars were absorbed by the hydrogen atoms that saturated space.

Scientists think that sometime within the universe’s first billion years radiation emitted by the first galaxies and possibly by the first black holes caused the hydrogen atoms to lose electrons, or ionize, preventing photons from “sticking” to them and clearing a pathway for the photons to travel across space. As galaxies began to ionize larger and larger bubbles, the universe became transparent and light traveled freely, as it does today, allowing us to view a brilliant canopy of stars and galaxies each night.

Roberts-Borsani’s finding that galaxies formed faster and earlier than previously thought could confirm that they were the culprits of cosmic reionization. The study also confirms the distances to two of the farthest galaxies known using a new technique that allows astronomers to probe the beginning of cosmic reionization.


This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom. For more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu/news.