UA experts make predictions for 2011

Published 12:40 pm Thursday, December 30, 2010

In the 30th edition of “Educated Guesses,” The University of Alabama’s Office of Media Relations offers predictions from faculty experts for the coming year.

We’ve come a long way since our first edition – looking ahead to 1982 – when our experts predicted that President Reagan’s popularity would decline, the Moral Majority would lose influence and feminists would continue to push for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.

This year, our faculty experts predict that Iran will cut a deal to stop developing nuclear weapons, health threats to Americans could include dengue and chikungunya fever, Baby Boomers will fight for Social Security as they turn 65 and much more.

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Iran to Cut a Deal to Stop Developing Nuclear Weapons; Small Clashes to Continue on Korean Peninsula

As tensions increase and in the shadow of a potential attack, Iran will cut a deal with world powers to stop developing nuclear weapons, a University of Alabama foreign-relations expert predicts. “I think we’ll come very close to Iran being able to produce a nuclear weapon,” says Dr. Douglas Gibler, associate professor of political science. “Then they’ll back off. There will be some type of payoff agreement under the threat of attack. They will get a lot, possibly some kind of oil processing facilities and payments.” Meanwhile, tensions on the Korean peninsula will continue to spark skirmishes as North Korea prepares for the passing of power from Kim Jong-Il to his son, Kim Jong-un. But these clashes probably will not build to open, widespread conflict. Around the world, other potential touch points for conflict will arise as well in 2011, including in some unexpected places – a conflict between China and Japan over the Spratly Islands, for example.

Other diseases may pose health risks to Americans

While cholera is unlikely to spread from Haiti to the United States, other viruses and chronic diseases, ranging from dengue to antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis, may pose health risks to Americans in 2011, a University of Alabama epidemiologist predicts. Dr. Lea Yerby, assistant professor in the department of community and rural medicine in UA’s College of Community Health Sciences and the Institute for Rural Health Research, says infectious diseases that are animal or mosquito-borne pose a

more serious threat to the United States than cholera. “Dengue has spread through South America and Mexico. You don’t hear many cases reported in the United States, but it could become a problem along the lines of West Nile virus. Also, Chikungunya fever is coming out of Africa and is starting to be seen in Europe. It’s following the same path as West Nile,” Yerby says.

Baby Boomers to fight for Social Security

Look for the baby boomer generation to fight tooth and claw to protect Social Security as the first of this large and influential group turns 65 in the coming year, says University of Alabama economist Dr. Gary Hoover. “Boomers came of age in the 1960s, at the height of the civil rights, women’s and anti-Vietnam War movements,” says Dr. Lucinda Roff, interim dean of the UA School of Social Work. “They are accustomed to making their voices heard on political and social matters.” The result: Hoover says any proposed changes to Social Security “will die a painful death in 2011 because the baby boomers will unite and flex their powerful political muscle.”

Obama will look for mix of compromise and confrontation with GOP

President Obama will seek the right mix of compromise and confrontation in 2011 as he faces a hostile House of Representatives following the GOP takeover in November and fewer Democrats in the Senate, a University of Alabama political scientist predicts. “Obama will concentrate on finding a couple of issues that Republicans will want to cooperate on,” says Dr. Stephen Borrelli, associate professor of political science. “The electorate in the last election supposedly said they wanted less bickering and more accomplishment. At the same time, Obama will find issues to use against the Republicans for the 2012 election. It’s a very tough thing to pull off. If the Republicans are unwilling to give any policy accomplishments, then they’ll be seen as perpetuating business as usual, the uncivil tone and gridlock, and voters won’t look favorably on that.”

Demand for cloud computing, mobile Apps to increase

While mobile technology has raced forward at light-speed in 2010, with many advances in mobile payments, augmented reality and high-speed networks, look for user demand for cloud computing and mobile apps to increase in the coming year, a University of Alabama technology expert says. “We will see greater user demand for access to cloud-based content and applications from all devices – desktops, laptops, netbooks, tablets and smart phones,” predicts Dr. Anna McFadden, associate professor in the UA College of Human Environmental Sciences’ Institute for Interactive Technology. “The biggest change in cloud computing will be from business use to personal use, and we will see a cloud operating system for mobile devices,” she says.

Gas prices to bounce along with value of the dollar

The price we pay to fill up at the gas pump in 2011 will be determined by changes in the value of the dollar, says a University of Alabama engineering professor who follows the petroleum markets. Gas supply should remain steady and prices may even drop with an improving dollar.

“There is no good reason for shortages, so the price should not increase much above current levels and could even drop if the value of the dollar against the euro improves,” says Dr. Peter Clark, associate professor of chemical engineering.

More students, less money for education

More educational institutions, especially colleges and universities, will be forced to make drastic budget cuts in 2011, predicts Dr. Stephen Katsinas, professor of higher education administration at The University of Alabama and director of UA’s Education Policy Center. “The lack of state revenues, due to the recession, will be a major budget challenge in 2011,” Katsinas says. “The funding situation for education is dire already in some states.” Educational institutions are faced with a combination of more Americans wanting access and state funding declines due to the recession. “The numbers of 18 to 24-year-olds in the American population will grow by 1 million, and young adults ages 25 to 34 by 3 million between 2009 and 2012. This ‘tidal wave’ of students knocking at the door for access will occur whether or not public institutions are funded to serve them,” he says.

Short term impacts of oil spill to become clearer

Scientists will develop a good understanding of the short-term impacts the Gulf oil spill is having on fishes, birds and sea turtles in 2011, but an in-depth understanding will take much longer, predicts a University of Alabama ecologist. “In 2011, we should develop a fairly good understanding of the short-term impacts of the Gulf oil spill on the hardest hit coastal wetlands and estuaries, as well as on some well-studied animal populations, such as sport and commercial fishes, birds and sea turtles,” says Dr. Julia Cherry, assistant professor of New College and biological sciences at UA. “However, we will only scratch the surface of understanding the spill’s longer-term effects and its impacts to open water or deep-sea ecosystems. It will likely take years to understand the extent of the spill’s various environmental impacts.”

Shoppers will be focused, value conscious

“Surgical shopping,” a pre-Christmas shopping trend, will likely carry over well into 2011 and maybe beyond, according to a University of Alabama retailing expert. Surgical shopping employs a straight forward and precise approach to buying, as opposed to a few hours of “going shopping,” says Dr. Kristy Reynolds, Bruno Professor of Marketing in UA’s Culverhouse College of Commerce. Many consumers are “shopping from their pantries” or storage rooms and using what they already have instead of going to the store to re-stock, she says. “Retailers will likely rely on events, educational classes, entertainment, and merchandise scarcity to lure shoppers into the stores in the coming months. Other strategies such as limited edition designer merchandise at stores such as Target and Macy’s will be used to get shoppers’ attention.

Little change expected in interest rates

Interest rates probably won’t change much in the coming year, says Dr. Robert Reed, associate professor of economics at The University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Commerce. In the first quarter of 2010, 10-year yields stood at around 3.75 percent, Reed notes. “However, job growth during the summer failed to impress, and the nation’s unemployment rate did not fall below 9.5 percent. Moreover, concerns about the sovereign debt crisis in Europe cast a shadow over confidence about economic conditions across the globe. In fact, recent rates are 100 basis points, a full percentage point, lower than at the beginning of the year, Reed says.