The Faith of Olympians

"Knowing that I'm a child of God and that his love for me is determined by nothing I can achieve or do on my own has given me a quiet confidence. I think that my faith has helped me chart my own course and pursue my goals when people around me may be going in different directions. Jesus' love for me and all humanity is something that always helps me better love people around me when things get difficult. As for my swimming career, my faith has helped me remember that there are so many more important things in life worth doing. Swimming is a pretty selfish activity, and so I've always known that it can't be my whole world."

—23-year-old Olympic swimmer and multiple medalist Maya DiRado, one of a number of Christian athletes currently competing at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio. Christianity Today reports that other Christian competitors this year include: Simone Manuel (who thanked God on NBC's live broadcast after becoming the first African-American woman to win an individual swimming gold), Jessica Long (Paralympic swimming), David Boudia (diving), Steele Johnson (diving), Allyson Felix (track and field), English Gardner (track and field), Jenny Simpson (track and field), Morolake Akinosun (track and field), Trayvon Bromell (track and field), Michelle Carter (track and field), Jarryd Wallace (Paralympic track and field), Gwen Jorgensen (triathlon), Jake Dalton (gymnastics), Gabby Douglas (gymnastics), Laurie Hernandez (gymnastics), Jordan Burroughs (wrestling), Tervel Dlagnev (wrestling), Maya Moore (basketball), DeAndre Jordan (basketball), Reid Priddy (volleyball), David Smith (volleyball), Brady Ellison (archery), Vincent Hancock (shooting). [christianitytoday.com, 8/12/16; NBC, 8/11/16]

Celebs Seize the Bully Pulpit

"A single speech, at a very opportunistic time, at the Oscar ceremony, resulted in the largest increase in public engagement with climate change ever."

—San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health professor John Ayers, on a new study published in PLOS One that identified a surge of online interest in the issue of climate change after actor Leonardo DiCaprio talked about it in his Best Actor acceptance speech at the Academy Awards in February [time.com, 8/5/16]

Pokémon Go More Popular Than Porn?

Just how popular is the mobile app Pokémon Go? Twitter user ZhugeEX noted that according to Google Trends, searches for Pokémon Go at least momentarily eclipsed searches for pornography on the popular search engine in the days after the game's July 6 release.

Meanwhile, addiction and recovery expert Dr. Nicholas Kardaras has expressed concern that children's brains have a particular sensitivity to the game's augmented reality interface. "Children have additional vulnerabilities when they interact with interactive and immersive screens; their brains and what psychologists call 'reality testing'—the ability to discern what's real and what isn't—are not fully developed yet," Kardaras wrote for Salon. "That's why researchers who study the effects of immersive and interactive video game experiences have coined the term 'Game Transfer Phenomenon' (GTP)—a reality-blurring psychotic-like feature that young people who are chronic gamers experience. Researchers Drs. Mark Griffiths and Angelica Ortiz de Gortari conducted three studies with over 1,600 video gamers in Great Britain. They found that many showed GTP effects: gamers hearing or seeing aspects of the game hours or days after they had stopped playing." [fightthenewdrug.com, 7/12/16; usatoday.com, 8/9/16; grist.org, 7/19/16; salon.com, 8/11/16]

Video Games, Facebook & Grades

A new Australian study suggests that players of online video games may do better in school, but those who frequent Facebook or chat sites are more likely to struggle scholastically. "When you play online games you're solving puzzles to move to the next level and that involves using some of the general knowledge and skills in math, reading and science that you've been taught during the day," said study author Alberto Posso, an associate professor in the School of Economics, Finance and Marketing at Australia's RMIT University. "Students who play online games almost every day score 15 points above the average in math and 17 points above the average in science," he said. But those who used Facebook or chatted online every day scored 20 points lower in math than students who did not. The study identified a correlation, but not a cause-and-effect link, between these online habits and academic performance. [cbsnews.com, 8/9/16]

Virtual Reality Retrains the Brain

A Duke University Center for Neuroengineering study has found that virtual reality brain training helped restore partial sensation and muscle control in the legs of eight people paralyzed by spinal cord injuries. The regimen involved spending at least two hours a week in a virtual reality environment where paralyzed patient's brains controlled the movement of a three-dimensional avatar. After months of such training, researchers began to see an increase in brain activity related to walking, and the patients moved on to more challenging exercises using equipment that allowed them to move their own bodies, rather than a virtual avatar. "We all thought we cannot help these people," Ron Frostig, a professor of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California, Irvine, said. "They showed how gradually you can activate motor system function below the level of the damage. That's big news." [cbsnews.com, 8/11/16]

When Martha Met … Snoop?

What do you do when you're a fading cultural icon whose most famous days are likely behind you? Why, team up with someone else in that category and do a reality TV show, of course! VH1 has announced that rap star Snoop Dog and homemaking icon Martha Stewart will join forces in a shared cooking show titled Martha & Snoop's Dinner Party. "My homegirl, Martha and I have a special bond that goes back. We're gonna be cooking, drinking and having a good time with our exclusive friends. Can't wait for you to see how we roll together!" Snoop said in a VH1 announcement. [vh1.com, 8/8/16]

Pro Wrestling to Add LGBT Storylines

WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon says her organization plans to integrate LGBT character "storylines" into its programming. "We've had GLAAD come in and speak to our entire writing team and give a whole tutorial on sensitivities, the right words, the wrong words, why those words matter," McMahon said. "In terms of any issues that require a degree of sensitivity in terms of how they're being handled, we are always going to incorporate our partners, like GLAAD, to help us tell those stories the right way, because we do want to be sensitive to our audience, we want to be sensitive to the community and we want to make sure that we're telling the right messages in the right way." [nbcnews.com, 8/10/16]

Spoiled Food

Sausage Party, an R-rated animated comedy starring and co-written by comedian Seth Rogen, is "easily one of the dirtiest movies ever made," according to slashfilm.com's Jacob Hall. According to Rogen, the explicit food-sex orgy that takes place in the last 20 minutes of the movie was full of "sacrificial lambs" that were included simply to cut if the MPAA gave the film an NC-17 rating. The MPAA did indeed initially slap the film with its most restrictive rating, but it only suggested relatively small edits to attain an R rating. Rogen says that just "an eighth of one of [those deliberately provocative elements]" needed to be sacrificed, adding that he was surprised by how much the MPAA allowed the film to get away with.

Since its release, Sausage Party has also come under fire from some who've argued that it engages in offensive racial stereotypes too, ranging from an Islamic lavash to a profane Irish potato. Other offensive stereotypes include various bits of Mexican food, a stereotypical Native American character called Fire Water as well as Nazi sauerkraut. "Being sexist, racist and generally gross isn't excused by your 'edginess,' Sausage Party," read one person's tweet. "SAUSAGE PARTY's heavy reliance on racial stereotypes for gags pretty much put me off the whole film," said another. [slashfilm.com, 8/11/16; heatst.com, 8/11/16]