Category : Science & Technology

(Wired) A website called Faces of the Riot Published Every Face From Parler’s Capitol Riot Videos

When hackers exploited a bug in Parler to download all of the right-wing social media platform’s contents last week, they were surprised to find that many of the pictures and videos contained geolocation metadata revealing exactly how many of the site’s users had taken part in the invasion of the US Capitol building just days before. But the videos uploaded to Parler also contain an equally sensitive bounty of data sitting in plain sight: thousands of images of unmasked faces, many of whom participated in the Capitol riot. Now one website has done the work of cataloging and publishing every one of those faces in a single, easy-to-browse lineup.

Late last week, a website called Faces of the Riot appeared online, showing nothing but a vast grid of more than 6,000 images of faces, each one tagged only with a string of characters associated with the Parler video in which it appeared. The site’s creator tells WIRED that he used simple open source machine learning and facial recognition software to detect, extract, and deduplicate every face from the 827 videos that were posted to Parler from inside and outside the Capitol building on January 6, the day when radicalized Trump supporters stormed the building in a riot that resulted in five people’s deaths. The creator of Faces of the Riot says his goal is to allow anyone to easily sort through the faces pulled from those videos to identify someone they may know or recognize who took part in the mob, or even to reference the collected faces against FBI wanted posters and send a tip to law enforcement if they spot someone.

“Everybody who is participating in this violence, what really amounts to an insurrection, should be held accountable,” says the site’s creator, who asked for anonymity to avoid retaliation. “It’s entirely possible that a lot of people who were on this website now will face real-life consequences for their actions.”

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Posted in Law & Legal Issues, Police/Fire, Science & Technology

(Wired) The Ongoing Collapse of the World’s Aquifers

AS California’s economy skyrocketed during the 20th century, its land headed in the opposite direction. A booming agricultural industry in the state’s San Joaquin Valley, combined with punishing droughts, led to the over-extraction of water from aquifers. Like huge, empty water bottles, the aquifers crumpled, a phenomenon geologists call subsidence. By 1970, the land had sunk as much as 28 feet in the valley, with less-than-ideal consequences for the humans and infrastructure above the aquifers.

The San Joaquin Valley was geologically primed for collapse, but its plight is not unique. All over the world—from the Netherlands to Indonesia to Mexico City—geology is conspiring with climate change to sink the ground under humanity’s feet. More punishing droughts mean the increased draining of aquifers, and rising seas make sinking land all the more vulnerable to flooding. According to a recent study published in the journal Science, in the next two decades, 1.6 billion people could be affected by subsidence, with potential loses in the trillions of dollars.

“Subsidence has been neglected in a lot of ways because it is slow moving. You don’t recognize it until you start seeing damage,” says Michelle Sneed, a land subsidence specialist at the U.S. Geological Survey and coauthor on the paper. “The land sinking itself is not a problem. But if you’re on the coast, it’s a big problem. If you have infrastructure that crosses long areas, it’s a big problem. If you have deep wells, they’re collapsing because of subsidence. That’s a problem.”

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Posted in Climate Change, Weather, Ecology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Science & Technology

(FT) Boom in private companies offering disinformation-for-hire

Politicians are increasingly hiring private companies to spread disinformation online, according to researchers who found campaigns run by third-party contractors targeting 48 different countries over the past year.

The Oxford Internet Institute said the “disinformation-for-hire” market is booming, with advertising, marketing and public relations companies offering to manipulate online opinion for political parties and governments.

The OII said private contractors help to identify which groups to target with messages, and then “prompt the trending of certain political messages” either through fake accounts or with armies of bots, or automated accounts.

Researchers said they had found evidence of at least $60m of spending on such campaigns since 2009, although the real total may be far higher.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Politics in General, Science & Technology

(Telegraph) Can the Church of England survive Covid?

In those parishes that have actively sought new ventures and parishioners, the Church of England is prospering. In Rural Ainsty, a country parish in North Yorkshire, the Reverend Richard Battersby says, ‘We have a thriving Sunday morning worship – as many and more as before lockdown. I pray with more parishioners in the morning and evening than ever before.’

Where, previously, he took separate services in four villages, they now worship together online, with Zoom services unifying the different churches. ‘They’d never worshipped together before,’ says Battersby. ‘Faith has been made more intense by the pandemic. People on their laptops can actually contribute to the service. Someone from the Congo recently contributed.’

He’s had to deal, too, with coronavirus funerals. ‘We’ve had to come up with ways that families could mourn in the right way. After the first lockdown, we could have a service for those interring ashes, who couldn’t attend a proper funeral during lockdown.’

In Battersby’s parish, the congregation’s contributions have even gone up. He talks about the Church being ‘shocked into new ways of being’ by the pandemic. ‘Churches that explored an online presence have done pretty well and have seen exponential growth,’ he says. ‘Churches that were struggling before have seen an accelerated demise. The willingness of the church leader to adopt new technology from a theological or sacramental point is crucial.’

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Health & Medicine, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(NYT front page) The World Stumbles in Frantic Race to Subdue the Ever-Changing Covid19 virus

Britain has one of the most aggressive surveillance regimens, analyzing up to 10 percent of samples that test positive for the virus. But few countries have such robust systems in place. The United States sequences less than 1 percent of its positive samples. And others cannot hope to afford the equipment or build such networks in time for this pandemic.

In Brazil, labs that had redirected their attention from Zika to the coronavirus had discovered a worrisome mutation there as early as this spring. But little is known about the variants circulating in the country, or how quickly they are spreading.

“We just don’t know because no one is either sequencing or sharing the data,” said Dr. Nuno Faria at Imperial College and Oxford University who coordinates genomic sequencing projects with colleagues in Brazil. “Genomic surveillance is expensive.”

As the virus continues to mutate, other significant variants will almost certainly emerge. And those that make the virus hardier, or more contagious, will be more likely to spread, Dr. Read said.

“The faster we can get the vaccines out, the faster we can get on top of these variants,” he said. “There’s no room for complacency here.”

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Globalization, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(CNBC) Pfizer vaccine appears to neutralize a key mutation of Covid variants found in UK, South Africa

A coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech appears to be effective against a key mutation in the more infectious variants of the virus discovered in the U.K. and South Africa, according to a study conducted by the U.S. pharmaceutical giant.

It comes as countries scramble to contain the variants that are significantly more transmissible, with public health experts anxious about the potential impact on inoculation efforts.

The research, published Thursday on preprint server bioRxiv and not yet peer-reviewed, suggested the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine worked to neutralize the so-called N501Y mutation.

The N501Y mutation has been reported in the more infectious variants. It is altering an amino acid within six key residues in the receptor-binding domain — a key part of the spike protein that the virus uses to gain entry into cells within the body.

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Posted in Drugs/Drug Addiction, England / UK, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology, South Africa

(Local paper front page) Worry rising with the tides Amid climate change, Charleston Harbor logs 68 tidal floods, the 2nd most ever

The Charleston Harbor tidal gauge logged more records in 2020.

It recorded 68 tidal floods — the second-most ever at the station.

The highest year, when water levels reached 7 feet or higher 89 times, was in 2019.

The database of flood events maintained by the National Weather Service dates to 1953.

2020 also brought the highest ever amount of “major” tidal floods, when water levels rise to 8 feet, causing significant disruption in the region. That happened seven times last year, which is an even more remarkable milestone considering the region was not directly affected by a hurricane.

While 2020′s records are just one data point, it’s another sign that tidal flooding in the city driven by man-made climate change is worsening. The pace of flooding is speeding up, according to institutions such as the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, which has plotted an exponential trend of higher seas for Charleston.

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Posted in * South Carolina, City Government, Climate Change, Weather, Ecology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General

(Local Paper) MUSC’s Mark Scheurer– I’m a doctor; but my decision whether to get vaccinated went beyond science

I got vaccinated because I believe in the science that created it, while acknowledging the limitations that any study or research endeavor bears.

I got vaccinated because I believe it will make it safer for me to come home to my family and not harm them or others in the community.

I got vaccinated because I believe it is a very very small, but necessary step that many of us will take as citizens to help our society stabilize and move forward to the work ahead.

I got vaccinated because, as my father would likely say, I was fortunate enough to have the option.

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Posted in * South Carolina, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(Bloomberg) Moderna Shot Cleared in U.S., Ready for Delivery Starting Sunday

Moderna Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine was cleared by U.S. regulators, the second vaccine to gain emergency authorization this month as a historic mass immunization effort ramps up across the country.

The Food and Drug Administration’s decision to grant the authorization Friday for the shot’s use among adults means that two of the six vaccine candidates identified by Operation Warp Speed are now available to the public, a feat accomplished in less than one year. Shots from AstraZeneca Plc and Johnson & Johnson that have also received U.S

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Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(Bloomberg) Russia-Linked SolarWinds Hack Ensnares Widening List of Victims

It was clear from the start that a cyber attack by suspected Russian hackers aimed at several U.S. government agencies was going to be bad. One clue: National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien cut short a trip overseas early this week to rush back to Washington to help manage the crisis.

But on Thursday, the reality of just how sprawling — and potentially damaging — the breach might be came into sharper focus. It started with a bulletin from the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, known as CISA, warning that the hackers were sophisticated, patient and well-resourced, representing a “grave risk” to federal, state and local governments as well as critical infrastructure and the private sector. It didn’t take long to see how accurate the agency’s assessment was.

Bloomberg News reported that at least three state governments were hacked. That was followed by reports of other breaches: the city network in Austin, Texas, and the U.S. nuclear weapons agency. Late in the day software giant Microsoft Corp. said its systems were exposed.

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Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Russia, Science & Technology, The U.S. Government

(NYT) F.D.A. Panel Endorses Moderna’s Covid-19 Vaccine

The coronavirus vaccine made by Moderna moved closer to authorization on Thursday, a significant step that would expand the reach of the nation’s vaccination campaign to rural areas and many more hospitals.

As the nation buckled from uncontrolled spread of the disease, with 3,611 deaths on Wednesday setting yet another horrific record, a panel of independent experts recommended, by a vote of 20 in favor and one abstention, that the Food and Drug Administration authorize the Moderna vaccine for emergency use. The formal decision, expected on Friday, would clear the way for some 5.9 million doses to be shipped around the country starting this weekend.

Moderna would be the second company allowed to begin inoculating the public, giving millions more Americans access to desperately needed vaccine. The first, made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, received authorization last week.

The Moderna vaccine can be distributed more widely because it can be stored at normal freezer temperatures and, unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, does not require ultracold storage. It also comes in much smaller batches, making it easier for hospitals in less populated areas to use quickly.

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Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(Bloomberg) Germany Orders Electric Air Taxis to Carry Emergency Doctors

Germany’s biggest air-ambulance operator has ordered two electric air taxis to evaluate their potential in a pioneering role speeding doctors to patients.

ADAC Luftrettung, part of the country’s leading motoring association, will begin testing the 18-rotor Volocopter GmbH aircraft from 2023 after the simulation of 26,000 emergency responses in two cities indicated that it could fulfill a rapid-transport role currently performed by a costlier helicopter fleet.

The joint announcement Tuesday provides further evidence of the commercial potential of vertical takeoff air taxis, coming less than a week after Singapore said it plans to launch the world’s first such service.

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Posted in Germany, Science & Technology, Travel

FT People of the Year: BioNTech’s Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci

For Dr Sahin and Dr Tureci — whose insistence that the technology they have helped develop could herald a medical revolution was once dismissed as “science fiction” — the successful coronavirus vaccine has provided as much vindication as relief.

The couple, who between them have authored hundreds of academic papers, filed hundreds of patents, founded two non-profit organisations and two billion-euro businesses, faced scepticism from much of the medical establishment right up until this year.

The groundwork that led to their breakthrough was laid over several decades, in which the two softly-spoken researchers were forced to move out of the comfort zone of their labs and to become entrepreneurs, educators and evangelists.

After meeting as trainee doctors on a blood cancer ward in south-west Germany in the early 1990s, the couple discovered that they shared similar backgrounds — both sets of parents had migrated from Turkey in search of economic opportunity. They also realised that their core interest was not in purely academic science, but in applied science.

“First and foremost, we are physicians,” says Dr Tureci, who ran the duo’s first company, Ganymed, and is chief medical officer at BioNTech.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Germany, Globalization, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology, Turkey

(Wash Post) The U.S. government spent billions on a system for detecting hacks. The Russians outsmarted it.

When Russian hackers first slipped their digital Trojan horses into federal government computer systems, probably sometime in the spring, they sat dormant for days, doing nothing but hiding. Then the malicious code sprang into action and began communicating with the outside world.

At that moment — when the Russian malware began sending transmissions from federal servers to command-and-control computers operated by the hackers — an opportunity for detection arose, much as human spies behind enemy lines are particularly vulnerable when they radio home to report what they’ve found.

Why then, when computer networks at the State Department and other federal agencies started signaling to Russian servers, did nobody in the U.S. government notice that something odd was afoot?

The answer is part Russian skill, part federal government blind spot.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Russia, Science & Technology, The U.S. Government

An alternative to Antiobiotics? SMART researchers use lysins to selectively target bacteria

Researchers from the Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Interdisciplinary Research Group (IRG) at Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), MIT’s research enterprise in Singapore, have developed a method to produce customizable engineered lysins that can be used to selectively kill bacteria of interest while leaving others unharmed. The discovery presents a promising alternative to antibiotics for treating existing drug-resistant bacteria and bacterial infections without the risk of causing resistance.

Lysins are enzymes produced by bacteriophages to break open the bacteria cells while treating infections, and have demonstrated potential as a novel class of antimicrobials. A major advantage of lysins is that they allow fast and targeted killing against a specific bacterium of choice without inducing resistance.

The emergence of multidrug-resistant bacteria has left even minor bacterial infections incurable by many existing antibiotics, with at least 700,000 deaths each year due to drug-resistant diseases, according to the World Health Organization.

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Posted in Drugs/Drug Addiction, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology, Singapore

(AP) US panel endorses widespread use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

A U.S. government advisory panel has endorsed Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, in a major step toward an epic vaccination campaign that could finally conquer the outbreak.

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to follow the recommendation issued Thursday by its expert advisers. The advisory group, in 17-4 vote with one abstention, concluded that the shot appears safe and effective against the coronavirus in people 16 and older.

A final FDA decision is expected within days. Millions of shots would then ship to begin vaccinating health care workers and nursing home residents. Widespread access to the general public is not expected until the spring.

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Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Drugs/Drug Addiction, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology, The U.S. Government

(NYT) As U.K. Begins Vaccinations, a Glimpse of Life After Covid

In March, the emergency room doctor was bedridden with the first case of the coronavirus among his colleagues at a hospital in Wales. Within weeks, he was back in scrubs, tending to a crush of ill, breathless patients.

On Tuesday, after having weathered each turn in Britain’s ravaging bout with the coronavirus, the doctor, Farbod Babolhavaeji, was given one of the world’s first shots of a clinically authorized, fully tested vaccine — a step in the long, painstaking campaign to knock back a disease that has killed more than 1.5 million people worldwide.

Images of the first people to be vaccinated were broadcast around the country, led by Margaret Keenan, 90, a former jewelry shop assistant in a “Merry Christmas” T-shirt, and an 81-year-old man with the improbable name of William Shakespeare. They quickly became emblems of the remarkable race to make a vaccine, and the world’s agonizing wait for relief from deaths now numbering 11,000 a day.

Never before has Britain undertaken such a fiendishly difficult mass vaccination program. Given pizza boxlike trays of 975 doses each, hospitals stored them in deep freezers, defrosted them and, on Tuesday, drew them up into individual syringes and jabbed them into the upper arms of variously jubilant and needle-shy Britons. Every minute mattered: Defrosted doses that were not given by Friday would be wasted.

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Posted in England / UK, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

([London] Times) France given green light for bionic soldiers

The French army has been given the go-ahead to develop bionic soldiers resistant to pain and stress and endowed with extra brain power thanks to microchip implants.

The approval came from the ethical committee of the armed forces ministry, which said in a report that France needed to keep up with countries that were already working to produce super-soldiers.

The committee gave details of some lines of research, including pills to keep troops awake for long periods and surgery to improve hearing. Other areas in the “field of study” involve implants which release anti-stress substances or “improve cerebral capacity”.

Read it all (requires subscription).

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, France, Health & Medicine, Military / Armed Forces, Science & Technology

(FT) New Glencore Leader Pledges to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions dramatically going forward

At Friday’s event Glencore pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, including “scope 3” created when customers burn raw materials, to net zero by 2050.

It plans to do this mainly by placing its coal business into managed decline in which reserves are not replaced as they run down. 

By setting out a credible pathway to net zero, Mr Glasenberg believes Glencore will be able to hang on to a business it can milk for cash and not be penalised by investors. 

Coal accounts for about 10 per cent of earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, and 5 per cent of revenue, so it is not a huge part of its business.

The move has met a positive response. While Glencore’s commitments require careful consideration, they are “significant”, according to Adam Matthews, director of ethics and engagement at the Church of England Pensions Board and co-chair of the Transition Pathway Initiative.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Climate Change, Weather, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Economy, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology

A Covid19 Test that can detect the presence of the virus in less than five minutes? Yes, really

In recent years, researchers have had some success with creating point-of-care biosensors using 2D nanomaterials such as graphene to detect diseases. The main advantages of graphene-based biosensors are their sensitivity, low cost of production and rapid detection turnaround. “The discovery of graphene opened up a new era of sensor development due to its properties. Graphene exhibits unique mechanical and electrochemical properties that make it ideal for the development of sensitive electrochemical sensors,” said Alafeef. The team created a graphene-based electrochemical biosensor with an electrical read-out setup to selectively detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material.

There are two components to this biosensor: a platform to measure an electrical read-out and probes to detect the presence of viral RNA. To create the platform, researchers first coated filter paper with a layer of graphene nanoplatelets to create a conductive film. Then, they placed a gold electrode with a predefined design on top of the graphene as a contact pad for electrical readout. Both gold and graphene have high sensitivity and conductivity which makes this platform ultrasensitive to detect changes in electrical signals.

Read it all and the abstract is there.

Posted in Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(NYT) Cyberattacks Discovered on Vaccine Distribution Operations

A series of cyberattacks is underway aimed at the companies and government organizations that will be distributing coronavirus vaccines around the world, IBM’s cybersecurity division has found, though it is unclear whether the goal is to steal the technology for keeping the vaccines refrigerated in transit or to sabotage the movements.

The findings were alarming enough that the Department of Homeland Security issued its own warning on Thursday about the threat.

Both the IBM researchers and the department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said the attacks appear intended to steal the network log-in credentials of corporate executives and officials at global organizations involved in the refrigeration process necessary to protect vaccine doses.

Josh Corman, a coronavirus strategist at the cybersecurity agency, said in a statement that the IBM report was a reminder of the need for “cybersecurity diligence at each step in the vaccine supply chain.” He urged organizations “involved in vaccine storage and transport to harden attack surfaces, particularly in cold storage operation.”

Read it all.

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Health & Medicine, Politics in General, Science & Technology

(Tennessean) NIH director Dr. Francis Collins urges Christians to look for truth about COVID-19 vaccines, not conspiracy theories and misinformation

Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, urges anyone questioning whether they should take a COVID-19 vaccine to evaluate all of the available evidence.

While speaking Thursday with a top Southern Baptist leader, Collins encouraged Christians to seek out the truth about the vaccines awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration instead of the misinformation and conspiracy theories being spread out of fear and anxiety. Collins pointed to a Bible verse in Philippians 4 for guidance.

“‘Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things,'” Collins said. “That would apply really well right here. So whatever is true.”

Amid a surge in coronavirus cases and promising vaccine developments, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission hosted Collins, who leads the country’s medical research agency, for an online discussion.

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Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

(Nature) ‘It will change everything’: DeepMind’s AI makes gigantic leap in solving protein structures

An artificial intelligence (AI) network developed by Google AI offshoot DeepMind has made a gargantuan leap in solving one of biology’s grandest challenges — determining a protein’s 3D shape from its amino-acid sequence.

DeepMind’s program, called AlphaFold, outperformed around 100 other teams in a biennial protein-structure prediction challenge called CASP, short for Critical Assessment of Structure Prediction. The results were announced on 30 November, at the start of the conference — held virtually this year — that takes stock of the exercise.

“This is a big deal,” says John Moult, a computational biologist at the University of Maryland in College Park, who co-founded CASP in 1994 to improve computational methods for accurately predicting protein structures. “In some sense the problem is solved.”

The ability to accurately predict protein structures from their amino-acid sequence would be a huge boon to life sciences and medicine. It would vastly accelerate efforts to understand the building blocks of cells and enable quicker and more advanced drug discovery.

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Posted in Science & Technology

(McKinsey) What’s next for remote work: An analysis of 2,000 tasks, 800 jobs, and nine countries

Now that vaccines are awaiting approval, the question looms: To what extent will remote work persist? In this article, we assess the possibility for various work activities to be performed remotely. Building on the McKinsey Global Institute’s body of work on automation, AI, and the future of work, we extend our models to consider where work is performed. Our analysis finds that the potential for remote work is highly concentrated among highly skilled, highly educated workers in a handful of industries, occupations, and geographies.

More than 20 percent of the workforce could work remotely three to five days a week as effectively as they could if working from an office. If remote work took hold at that level, that would mean three to four times as many people working from home than before the pandemic and would have a profound impact on urban economies, transportation, and consumer spending, among other things.

More than half the workforce, however, has little or no opportunity for remote work. Some of their jobs require collaborating with others or using specialized machinery; other jobs, such as conducting CT scans, must be done on location; and some, such as making deliveries, are performed while out and about. Many of such jobs are low wage and more at risk from broad trends such as automation and digitization. Remote work thus risks accentuating inequalities at a social level.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Science & Technology

(Science Magazine) ‘Absolutely remarkable’: No one who got Moderna’s vaccine in trial developed severe COVID-19

Continuing the spate of stunning news about COVID-19 vaccines, the biotech company Moderna announced the final results of the 30,000-person efficacy trial for its candidate in a press release today: Only 11 people who received two doses of the vaccine developed COVID-19 symptoms after being infected with the pandemic coronavirus, versus 185 symptomatic cases in a placebo group. That is an efficacy of 94.1%, the company says, far above what many vaccine scientists were expecting just a few weeks ago.

More impressive still, Moderna’s candidate had 100% efficacy against severe disease. There were zero such COVID-19 cases among those vaccinated, but 30 in the placebo group. The company today plans to file a request for emergency use authorization (EUA) for its vaccine with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and is also seeking a similar green light from the European Medicines Agency.

Read it all.

Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(WSJ) Pop culture suggests humans use only about 10% of their brains but that is a myth

OK, concentrate: How much of your brain are you using right now—or at any moment in time?

If you said 10%, you’ve repeated a popular, but inaccurate, myth.

The origin of the tale is murky but might be rooted in an outdated theory about the structure of the brain that was repeated in a bestselling self-help book more than 80 years ago.

Today, the trope is still trotted out in cartoons, books and movies.

In the 2014 thriller “Lucy,” a scientist repeats the 10% claim while speculating about the promise of accessing a larger portion of the mind. The 2011 film “Limitless,” about a struggling writer, pegs the fraction at a slightly more encouraging 20%. And the 1991 comedy “Defending Your Life,” about a deceased man’s efforts to prove his worth in the afterlife, lowers it to a demoralizing 3% to 5%.

Sorry, Hollywood. Science doesn’t buy it.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Psychology, Science & Technology

(LA Times) Muslims reel over a prayer app that sold user data: ‘A betrayal from within our own community’

Five times a day, tens of millions of phones buzz with notifications from an app called Muslim Pro, reminding users it’s time to pray. While Muslims in Los Angeles woke Thursday to a dawn notification that read, “Fajr at 5:17 AM,” users in Sri Lanka were minutes away from getting a ping telling them it was time for Isha, or the night prayer.

The app’s Qibla compass quickly orients devices toward the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia — which Muslims face when praying. When prayers are done, the in-app Quran lets users pick up reading exactly where they left off. A counter tallies the days of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Listings guide users to halal food in their area.

These features make it easier to practice the many daily rituals prescribed in Islam, turning Muslim Pro into the most popular Muslim app in the world, according to the app’s maker, Singapore-based BitsMedia.

But revelations about the app’s data collection and sales practices have left some users wondering if the convenience is worth the risk.

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Islam, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(Nature) Can dogs smell COVID? Here’s what the science says

A group in France, led by veterinary scientist Dominique Grandjean at the National Veterinary School of Alfort near Paris, posted its work3 on the preprint server bioRxiv in June. The researchers, who included Sarkis, trained 8 dogs to detect COVID-19 in 198 sweat samples, around half of which were from people with the disease. When these were hidden in a row of negative samples, the dogs identified the positive samples 83–100% of the time. The paper does not say how well the dogs identified negative test results. The research is now under review at a journal, but Grandjean says the process has not been easy. “To publish papers on detection dogs is very difficult because most reviewers do not know anything about working dogs,” he says.

The data in that study look promising, says Fyodor Urnov, a gene-editing scientist who is working on COVID testing at the University of California, Berkeley. But he would like to see larger data sets on how well dogs identify positive and negative samples. He also notes that there is variation in how well individual dogs perform. In Grandjean’s study, for example, 2 dogs identified 68 out of 68 positive samples, whereas one missed 10 out of 57 cases.

Groups need to boost their sample sizes before the wider scientific community can evaluate how useful the dogs might be, agrees James Logan, an infectious-disease researcher at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who is training and studying COVID-19 dogs, including Storm, Maple and Asher. “It’s important not to go out too early with grand claims and small data sets,” he says.

Read it all.

Posted in Animals, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(NYT) Politics, Science and the Remarkable Race for a Coronavirus Vaccine

The call was tense, the message discouraging. Moncef Slaoui, the head of the Trump administration’s effort to quickly produce a vaccine for the coronavirus, was on the phone at 6 p.m. on Aug. 25 to tell the upstart biotech firm Moderna that it had to slow the final stage of testing its vaccine in humans.

Moderna’s chief executive, Stéphane Bancel, a French biochemical engineer, recognized the implication. In the race to quell the pandemic, he said, “every day mattered.” Now his company, which had yet to bring a single product to market, faced a delay of up to three weeks. Pfizer, the global pharmaceutical giant that was busy testing a similar vaccine candidate and promising initial results by October, would take the obvious lead.

“It was the hardest decision I made this year,” Mr. Bancel said.

Read it all.

Posted in Health & Medicine, Politics in General, Science & Technology, The U.S. Government

(WSJ) Covid19 is a particularly wily foe because of its long list of symptoms

The latest coronavirus problem in sports isn’t that far from the problem that a lot of Americans have: How can you tell if that’s a cold, or Covid? Is that sniffle allergies, or a sign of a deadly pathogen? Is that headache just a headache, or…?

One of the things that makes coronavirus a wily foe for epidemiologists is that it has a really long list of possible symptoms—including none at all.

The catalog offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on reports from people who have had Covid-19, includes fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle aches, body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion, runny nose, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting.

That’s particularly vexing if you’re an athlete or sports league determined to try to play through a pandemic. The National Football League, which has experienced a significant increase in cases in recent weeks as cases rise across the country, knows this all too well. After bursts of positive cases earlier in the season, the league overhauled its pandemic protocols to remove anyone who’s showing possible symptoms of Covid-19—even if they’re testing negative.

“It’s a challenging medical situation,” said Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer. “We always assume something is Covid until proven otherwise.”

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