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ATHEISM and HUMANISM

7-7-20 Bubba Wallace: Nascar driver's defiant tweet over Trump's 'hate'
African-American Nascar driver Bubba Wallace has sent out a tweet condemning words of "hate from the president of the United States". Wallace is the sole full-time black driver in the US racing organisation and was instrumental in it banning the Confederate flag from races. A noose was later found in his garage but an FBI inquiry determined "no federal crime was committed". President Trump called the story a hoax and suggested Wallace should apologise. Wallace has been a vocal supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has come to the fore since the death in police custody of African American George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. The movement has sparked a campaign to remove symbols associated with slavery, imperialism and the Confederacy. President Trump has strongly defended the monuments as part of US history. he noose is a particularly evocative symbol of hate connected to lynching. One was found in the garage assigned to Wallace at the Geico 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Wallace, 26, received messages of solidarity from fellow Nascar drivers and sports stars around the world after the discovery and an inquiry was begun. The FBI investigation found that the noose was in that garage as early as October 2019 and "nobody could have known Mr Wallace would be assigned the garage... last week". Wallace rejected suggestions the noose was a door handle, saying "what was hanging in my garage is not a garage pull". But President Trump on Monday tweeted: "Has Bubba Wallace apologized to all of those great Nascar drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX." He did not elaborate on his allegation. He said the noose incident and the removal of the flag had caused Nascar's "lowest ratings ever".

7-7-20 Coronavirus: Anger over US decision on foreign students' visas
Politicians and academics have criticised a decision to withdraw US visas from foreign students whose courses move fully online. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said people could face deportation unless they changed to an institution with in-person tuition. A number of US universities are considering online teaching in the new academic year due to coronavirus. It is not clear how many people will be affected. The Student and Exchange Visitor Programme, which is operated by ICE, had introduced a temporary exemption to allow students whose courses had moved online for the spring and summer semesters to remain in the US. However, the exemption will not be extended into the new academic year. The decision affects students who are in the US on F-1 and M-1 visas, according to the ICE statement. The news came on the same day that Harvard announced all course instruction would be delivered online in the new academic year, including for the limited number of students allowed to live on campus. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 9% of US universities are planning to teach all their classes online in the autumn, although this could change in the coming months. The president of Harvard University, Larry Bacow, said in a statement quoted by US media: "We are deeply concerned that the guidance issued today by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement imposes a blunt, one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem, giving international students, particularly those in online programmes, few options beyond leaving the country or transferring schools." He added that the decision "undermines the thoughtful approach taken on behalf of students by so many institutions, including Harvard, to plan for continuing academic programmes while balancing the health and safety challenges of the global pandemic". "Kicking international students out of the US during a global pandemic because their colleges are moving classes online for physical distancing hurts students," said Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren. "It's senseless, cruel, and xenophobic."

7-7-20 Why hasn't the UK seen a second wave of the coronavirus?
Pubs, restaurants and cafes in England welcomed customers back through their doors on 4 July, sparking warnings of a second wave of covid-19 infections. Yet there have been warnings of another wave since the country began easing restrictions, and one hasn’t materialised. Will this time be different? Scientists on an independent advisory panel on coronavirus called Independent SAGE have repeatedly warned that the relatively swift easing of lockdown restrictions in England risks cases rising again. On 11 May, people in England were allowed to go outside to exercise multiple times a day and certain groups were encouraged to return to work. June saw the reopening of non-essential shops, certain year groups returning to school and households mixing outside. On Saturday, social distancing guidelines were reduced and numerous indoor hospitality venues reopened. Speaking at a press briefing last Thursday, England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jenny Harries, said a new spike in cases in the UK was a possibility: “A second peak, as in an epidemic peak, another one, is also not ruled out.” England has eased restrictions faster than the rest of the UK and much of Europe. The government says the pace of change is justified because infections in the UK have been declining since April, when they peaked at over 8000 cases a day. One explanation for a lack of a second wave that can be ruled out is herd immunity, whereby enough people have become invulnerable to the virus that it can no longer spread freely. The herd immunity level for this coronavirus has been estimated at 60 per cent of a population, but studies from around the world suggest that just 1 to 10 per cent of people have antibodies to the virus, which suggests a previous infection. “It doesn’t seem anything like enough of us have been exposed,” says Mark Woolhouse at the University of Edinburgh, UK. We also don’t know how long people who have antibodies are protected from reinfection. The arrival of summer in the northern hemisphere may have helped to quash infections for now. Some evidence suggests that, as with certain other respiratory viruses, coronaviruses stay viable on surfaces for longer when the air is cooler and less humid, and some studies have found a link between new infections and lower humidity. However, it is still unclear whether the coronavirus will have a seasonal cycle like flu. Warm weather also encourages people to spend more time outdoors, where the virus is more likely to be damaged by sunlight or drift away on a breeze. One study in China found that 98 per cent of super-spreading events, where transmission is disproportionately high compared with normal transmission rates, happened indoors.

7-7-20 Covid-19 news: One in ten cases in England have been in health workers
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. 10 per cent of covid-19 infections in England among health and social care workers. An estimated 10 per cent of all covid-19 infections in England between 26 April and 7 June were among healthcare workers or social care workers interacting directly with patients or care home residents, according to a report published today. The research was carried out by Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics (DELVE) – an independent group of researchers convened by the Royal Society. The report also estimates that at least 1 per cent of infections during the same time period were acquired by patients in hospital, and at least 6 per cent by residents in care homes. An influential group of researchers is calling for the World Health Organization (WHO) to acknowledge the extent to which covid-19 can spread through airborne transmission. An open letter to the WHO signed by 239 researchers from 32 countries, including specialists in virology and public health, is due to be published this week. The researchers say there is emerging evidence that airborne transmission could be more important than the WHO has indicated in their guidance, and that the WHO should advise governments to implement appropriate control measures. The WHO’s guidance currently states that the virus is mainly spread between people through respiratory droplets and contact. But the letter argues that this underplays the role of aerosol spread, which involves much smaller particles that can stay airborne for longer periods of time and that can be transmitted between people over distances of more than one metre. India has overtaken Russia to become the country with the third-highest number of recorded coronavirus cases, after the US and Brazil. Officials in India reported 24,912 new cases on Sunday, a record high number for the country, which has recorded more than 697,000 cases in total and more than 19,000 deaths from covid-19. The mayors of Houston and Austin in Texas have warned that hospitals in their cities will be overwhelmed by covid-19 cases in two weeks, after a record-high for the state of 8258 new daily cases on Saturday. The US as a whole recorded more than 50,000 new coronavirus cases on Sunday for the fourth day in a row, according to health officials.

7-7-20 Coronavirus: Spanish study casts doubt on herd immunity feasibility
A Spanish study has cast doubt on the feasibility of herd immunity as a way of tackling the coronavirus pandemic. The study of more than 60,000 people estimates that around just 5% of the Spanish population has developed antibodies, the medical journal the Lancet reported. Herd immunity is achieved when enough people become immune to a virus to stop its spread. Around 70% to 90% of a population needs to be immune to protect the uninfected. The prevalence of Covid-19 antibodies was below 3% in coastal regions, but higher in areas of Spain with widespread outbreaks, the report said. "Despite the high impact of Covid-19 in Spain, prevalence estimates remain low and are clearly insufficient to provide herd immunity," the study's authors said in the report. "This cannot be achieved without accepting the collateral damage of many deaths in the susceptible population and overburdening of health systems. "In this situation, social distance measures and efforts to identify and isolate new cases and their contacts are imperative for future epidemic control." The study is thought to be the largest of its kind on the coronavirus in Europe. There have been studies of a similar kind in China and the US and "the key finding from these representative cohorts is that most of the population appears to have remained unexposed" to the coronavirus, "even in areas with widespread virus circulation," the Lancet article said. Prof Danny Altmann, British Society for Immunology spokesperson and Professor of Immunology at Imperial College London, described the study as "sobering". "Findings such as this reinforce the idea that faced with a lethal infection that induces rather short-lived immunity, the challenge is to identify the best vaccine strategies able to overcome these problems and stimulate a large, sustained, optimal, immune response in the way the virus failed to do," Prof Altmann said.

7-7-20 Melbourne to lock down for weeks as cases rise
Melbourne tower lockdown 'like being in prison'. In Australia, Melbourne residents are to go back under lockdown as border between New South Wales and Victoria has closed. UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak sets out details of a £3bn plan to cut emissions and support jobs. Package includes £2bn in home insulation grants to boost economy reeling from coronavirus. New Spanish study casts doubt on the theory that herd immunity will protect populations. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is tested after showing symptoms of the coronavirus. A UN report says diseases will keep leaping from animals to humans without action to protect the environment. Three UK pubs which re-opened at the weekend have had to close after customers tested positive. There have been more than 11.5 million cases globally and more than 530,000 deaths.

7-7-20 India coronavirus: Life-saving Covid-19 drugs sold on Delhi black market
A BBC investigation has found that two life-saving drugs used to treat Covid-19 patients in India - remdesivir and tocilizumab - are in short supply and being sold for excessive rates on a thriving black market. Vikas Pandey reports from the capital Delhi. Abhinav Sharma's uncle had very high fever and difficulty breathing when he was admitted to a hospital in Delhi. He tested positive for coronavirus and doctors told the family to get remdesivir - an antiviral drug that's been approved in India for clinical trial and also under "emergency use authorisation", meaning doctors can prescribe it on compassionate grounds. But procuring it proved an impossible task - remdesivir did not seem to be available anywhere. Mr Sharma desperately called people to arrange for the drug as his uncle's condition deteriorated by the hour. "I had tears in my eyes. My uncle was fighting for his life and I was struggling to arrange the medicine that could possibly save him," he said. "After dozens of calls, I paid seven times the price to get the medicine. I was willing to pay any price really, but my heart goes out to people who can't afford it," he said. Mr Sharma's plight is familiar to many families in Delhi, desperate to do whatever it takes to save their loved ones. Some say they have been forced to pay exorbitant prices for the drug - many of those ending up at a medicine market in old Delhi. The BBC was able to connect to people working at the market who said they could arrange the drug, but for the right price. "I can get you three vials - but each will cost 30,000 rupees [$401; £321] and you have to come right away," said one man, who claimed he worked in the "medicine business". The official price for each vial is 5,400 rupees, and a patient typically needs five to six doses. Another man quoted 38,000 rupees per vial.

7-6-20 Charge filed against woman who called police on black birdwatcher
A white woman in New York is facing a criminal charge for calling 911 on a black man after he asked her to put her dog on a lead in Central Park. Amy Cooper, who was shown calling police in a viral video, is accused of filing a false report, punishable by up to one year in jail. Ms Cooper lost her job and dog after the incident, and publicly apologised. Video of the exchange shows Ms Cooper claiming that the black man, who was bird watching, threatened her. The incident occurred on 25 May, the same day that unarmed African-American man George Floyd died in police custody, triggering weeks of national and global anti-racism protests. "Today our office initiated a prosecution of Amy Cooper for falsely reporting an incident in the third degree," said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance on Monday. "We are strongly committed to holding perpetrators of this conduct accountable," Mr Vance said. He also encouraged "anyone who has been the target of false reporting" to contact the district attorney's office. Christian Cooper, who is prominent in the New York bird watching community, filmed his encounter with Ms Cooper, 41, after he asked her to put her dog on a lead to keep it from scaring away birds. Mr Cooper, 57, said he offered the dog treats, as a way to convince Ms Cooper, who is not related to him, to contain her dog. In response, Ms Cooper called emergency services. She told them: "I'm in the Ramble," - a wooded area in Central Park - "there is a man, African American, he has a bicycle helmet and he is recording me and threatening me and my dog," as her tone rose in apparent distress. "I am being threatened by a man in the Ramble, please send the cops immediately!" she said. Ms Cooper's actions were widely condemned as racist. She was fired by the investment firm where she managed an insurance portfolio. The pet adoption agency that gave her the dog seen in the video took it back after criticism that the way she held its collar seemed to strangle it.

7-6-20 More Mask Use, Worry About Lack of Social Distancing in U.S.
As the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. is rising sharply, 54% of Americans say they are worried about the lack of social distancing in their local area. Gallup's June 22-28 polling marks the first time that this measure has reached the majority level, and it coincides with a record-high 86% of U.S. adults saying they have worn a mask in public in the past week.

  • 54% worried about lack of social distancing in local area, up from May
  • 86% of U.S. adults have used a mask in public in past week
  • Democrats much more likely than Republicans to worry and wear masks

7-6-20 Coronavirus: FDA chief refuses to back Trump's vaccine prediction
The head of the US drugs regulator has cast doubt on President Donald Trump's prediction that a Covid-19 vaccine will be ready this year. "I can't predict when a vaccine will be available," US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner, Dr Stephen Hahn, said on Sunday. Dr Hahn said vaccine development would be "based upon the data and science". A vaccine would train people's immune systems to fight the virus, so they do not become sick. Dr Hahn, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, was asked about the timeframe after President Trump suggested that a "vaccine solution" to the pandemic would be ready "long before the end of the year". "I want to send our thanks to the scientists and researchers around the country, and even around the world, who are at the forefront of our historic effort to rapidly develop and deliver life-saving treatments and ultimately a vaccine," Mr Trump said during his Independence Day address at the White House. "We are unleashing our nation's scientific brilliance and we'll likely have a therapeutic and/or vaccine solution long before the end of the year." The president has been criticised for his comments on vaccines and treatments during the coronavirus epidemic, which has claimed the lives of almost 130,000 people in the US. In recent days, infections have been rising at a record rate in western and southern states, bringing the total to more than 2.8 million nationwide. The head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned in June that scientists may never be able to create an effective vaccine against the coronavirus. "The estimate is we may have a vaccine within one year," the WHO chief said. "If accelerated, it could be even less than that, but by a couple of months. That's what scientists are saying." Other experts have suggested a Covid-19 vaccine will not be available until at least mid-2021.

7-6-20 Coronavirus: India overtakes Russia in Covid-19 cases
India has recorded more than 24,000 new cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, taking its total above that of Russia. The country now has the third-largest number of confirmed cases in the world, 697,413. There have been 19,693 deaths. The latest surge in numbers has also been powered by a rise in cases from a handful of southern states, including Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. India reopened shopping centres, places of worship and offices a month ago. For the last three days, India's caseload has galloped at an alarming rate, adding more than 20,000 daily infections per day. Although India has the third highest number of cases, it is eighth in fatalities, according to statistics from Johns Hopkins University. Southern Indian states had earlier managed to keep infections at bay. But this looks to change as reported infections in the south - Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu - are growing faster than the national growth rate, reported The Indian Express newspaper. India went into a stringent lockdown in March in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus, whose numbers were only in the hundreds then. It began to ease out of it in phases in June to promote economic activity, even as cases continued to spike. But experts point to India's low fatality rate - 2.4% in comparison to the global average of 4.7% - as a potential silver lining. The country's climbing recovery rate - about 60% of all its confirmed cases - is another encouraging sign. India's active infections - 36% of its total caseload - is significant as it is these cases that have a direct impact on the country's fragile healthcare system, which has dominated headlines. Numerous reports of patients being turned away and refused treatment at various hospitals in cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore has prompted outrage among citizens, and has even led to deaths in some cases.

7-6-20 Viewpoint: What Donald Trump gets wrong about Somalia
In our series of letters from African journalists, Ismail Einashe considers how Somalia has become caught up in the US election campaign. President Donald Trump is making Somali-American congresswoman Ilhan Omar one of the bogeywomen of his campaign for re-election to the White House in November - and by proxy her country of birth, Somalia. In his most recent attack, at a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he tore into the 37-year-old alleging that she wanted to bring the "anarchy" of Somalia to the US. "She would like to make the government of our country just like the country from where she came - Somalia. No government, no safety, no police, no nothing, just anarchy. And now, she's telling us how to run our country. No, thank-you." Ms Omar, who arrived in the US as a child refugee in 1995, is the congressional representative for Minnesota, which includes the city of Minneapolis where African-American George Floyd was killed by police in May, reigniting Black Lives Matter protests. But it was Ms Omar's Somali heritage the president chose to focus on in Tulsa, perhaps to distract from all the turmoil and unrest closer to home. In response Ms Omar said his remarks were "racist". She added that his anger came out of a recent poll that had shown him trailing his rival, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, in her state, which is home to a large Somali-American community. The president described Ms Omar as a "hate-filled, American-bashing socialist", warning she would have a role in shaping the country if Mr Biden were to win. This is despite the fact that the pair are on opposite ends of the Democratic Party - Ms Omar had been a prominent supporter of Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic ticket. But such rhetoric plays well to his base, so the electoral stage has been set, the cast chosen - and Ms Omar and Somalia have starring roles. In fact they both debuted last year at Mr Trump's rally in North Carolina, where the crowd chanted about Ms Omar: "Send her back! Send her back!" (Webmaster's comment: Our President is a racist pig!)

7-6-20 Black Lives Matter: Can viral videos stop police brutality?
George Floyd's death might not have caused global outrage if it hadn't been filmed. But do viral videos actually reduce police abuse? "They killed this man, bro. He was crying, telling them 'I can't breathe.'" For more than five minutes Darnella Frazier rambled on Facebook Live about the killing she had witnessed - repeating over and over again that she had video evidence. A short time later on that night in late May, Frazier uploaded a video of the death of George Floyd - including the eight minutes and 46 seconds in which Derek Chauvin forced his knee onto his neck. Had it not been for that video and other footage from bystanders, it's likely that Mr Floyd's death would never have sparked global outrage. But does that make viral videos, shot on the phone in your hand, an effective check on police abuse? Darnella Frazier's video was far from the first viral footage to document police brutality. In 2016, Philando Castile died after being shot by police in his car. Like the death of George Floyd, Mr Castile's death also happened in Minnesota - in Falcon Heights, just a short drive from Minneapolis. His girlfriend live-streamed the immediate aftermath on Facebook, including shots of Castile's lifeless body in the driver's seat. The day before, Alton Sterling was killed by two police officers outside a convenience store in Louisiana. Video evidence filmed on a smartphone was posted online. In 2014, footage captured events leading up to the deaths of Eric Garner in New York and Laquan McDonald in Chicago. In fact, many cite the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers, captured on videotape in 1991, as one of the first "viral" police abuse videos - long before the social media era. None of those events, however, sparked quite the same level of global outrage as the footage of George Floyd. (Webmaster's comment: The murdering of blacks by the police will continue until we purge the police of all racists, white nationalists, Klan and Neo-nazis!)

7-5-20 Gettysburg 'flag-burning hoax' sees armed far-right groups assemble
Rumours that anti-fascist protesters planned to burn American flags on the Gettysburg Civil War battleground site led to armed far-right groups turning up in numbers on US Independence Day. Posts on social media by supposed antifa leaders urged members to meet at the Pennsylvania site on 4 July. In response, far-right groups assembled on the historic grounds on Saturday - but no adversaries showed up. The holiday marks the US declaration of independence from Britain in 1776. The posts that appeared on social media ahead of the Independence Day celebrations reportedly called for people to flock to the site in face paint. Activists would "be giving away free small flags to children to safely throw into the fire", the hoax call suggested. "Let's get together and burn flags in protest of thugs and animals in blue," one anonymous Facebook post said. There is no evidence to suggest that those responsible for the online posts are in any way linked to antifa - a loosely-affiliated network of mainly far-left activists. Hours before the flag-burning was supposed to start, far-right groups gathered in a parking lot next to a Wal-Mart. Some were armed. "It doesn't matter if it's a hoax or not," Christopher Blakeman, who travelled to the Gettysburg site from West Virginia on Saturday, told the Washington Post newspaper. "They made a threat, and if we don't make our voices heard, it'll make it seem like it's OK," he added. In his Independence Day address on Saturday, President Donald Trump vowed to defeat what he called the "radical left" as protests against racism and police brutality continue. Mr Trump said he would "fight... to preserve the American way of life", while railing at "mobs" targeting historical monuments. In May, the president said the US would designate antifa, which he accused of starting riots at street protests over the death of African American George Floyd, a terrorist organisation.

7-5-20 Fourth of July: Trump vows to defeat 'radical left' in Independence Day speech
US President Donald Trump has used an Independence Day address to vow to defeat the "radical left" as protests sweep the country. Striking a combative tone, Mr Trump said he would "fight... to preserve American way of life", while railing at "mobs" targeting historical monuments. Ahead of his speech, Black Lives Matter protesters gathered nearby. Mr Trump's 2020 election rival Joe Biden said everyone deserved "a full share of the American dream". The 4 July holiday marks the nation's declaration of independence from Britain in 1776 and is one of the most important days in the national calendar. Historically presidents have used the occasion to deliver speeches extolling the virtues of unity. Last year Mr Trump spoke of the "extraordinary heritage" of the country at an event with a militaristic theme that involved Air Force flyovers and tanks parked on display. This year, Mr Trump's address was again followed by a flyover involving various aircraft, including B-52 bombers and F-35 fighter jets. Speaking from the White House lawn on Saturday, Mr Trump took aim at protesters that he sees as anti-patriotic who have taken to the streets in the wake of the death in police custody in May of African-American George Floyd. "We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters, and the people who, in many instances, have absolutely no clue what they are doing," he said. "We will never allow an angry mob to tear down our statues, erase our history, indoctrinate our children." Statues and monuments of historical figures associated with racism or slavery have been pulled down or removed amid the wave of protests - drawing Mr Trump's ire. "Their goal is demolition," he declared. Elaborating on his plan to create a "National Garden of American Heroes" featuring statues of renowned Americans, Mr Trump said the country's rich heritage belonged to citizens of all races. "The patriots who built our country were not villains," he said. "They were heroes." After he spoke, protesters in Baltimore, about 40 miles (65km) north of the capital, pulled down a statue of explorer Christopher Columbus - whom Mr Trump had mentioned in his speech - and rolled it into a harbour. (Webmaster's comment: Columbus crucified the Indians who did not give him gold!)

7-5-20 Seattle protests: Woman killed after car strikes protesters
A woman has died after a car sped into a group of protesters on a closed highway in Seattle, officials say. The car "drove through the closure and struck multiple pedestrians", a Washington State Patrol tweet said. Summer Taylor, 24, died hours later, while a second woman was seriously hurt. A suspect has been arrested. There has been prolonged unrest in Seattle since African-American George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis in May. Protests have been widespread across the US under the Black Lives Matter movement. The incident with the vehicle occurred on Saturday morning at a southbound section of Interstate-5 that had been shut ahead of a women's march. Part of the protest had been live-streamed on social media under the headline "Black Femme March takes I-5". Footage posted on Twitter showed a white car speeding along the highway at about 01:40 (08:40 GMT), before swerving to avoid two stationary vehicles positioned as a roadblock, then hitting the two people. The suspect - 27-year-old Dawit Kelete of Seattle - has been charged with two counts of vehicular assault. Police have not said whether it was a targeted attack. (Webmaster's comment: He should be charged with first-degree murder!)

7-5-20 Coronavirus: Mexico's death toll passes 30,000
Mexico has recorded more than 30,000 deaths from its coronavirus outbreak, as the disease continues to ravage one of Latin America's worst-hit countries. The health ministry said deaths rose by 523 on Saturday, pushing the total to 30,366. The country now has the world's fifth-highest Covid-19 toll, passing France, where more than 29,000 have died. A daily record of 6,914 new infections was recorded in Mexico, bringing the total to 252,165, officials said. However, the true number of fatalities and infections is thought to be much higher because of insufficient testing. Mexico has Latin America's second-highest death toll after Brazil, which has recorded 64,000 fatalities and more than 1.5 million infections to date, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the disease globally. Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is eager to restart the country's flagging economy. His government announced a phased plan to lift restrictions in May. In Mexico City, the capital, hundreds of thousands of factory workers returned to their jobs in mid-June. Some non-essential businesses were then allowed to reopen at the start of July in the city, the epicentre of the country's epidemic. But on Friday, Mexico's Deputy Health Minister, Hugo Lopez-Gatell, said coronavirus deaths could rise if the country opens up its economy too soon. "As we're in an active epidemic, the risk is that as we try to reopen social activities... we may have more infections and the transmission could be maintained or increase," the minister told a news conference. Critics say Mr Obrador was slow to impose the lockdown measures and now has been too quick to lift them. Most of the Mexican economy was stopped from 23 March, but some industries that were declared key to the functioning of the nation were exempt from the restrictions.

7-5-20 Australian outbreak has 'explosive potential'
Churches welcome first congregations since lockdown. The Australian state of Victoria warns that an outbreak in Melbourne has "genuinely explosive potential." Some 3,000 residents of densely populated tower blocks in the city have been placed under lockdown. NHS England is launching a new service for people with ongoing health problems after having coronavirus. Pub-goers in England have enjoyed their first night out in three months after some restrictions were lifted. A round of clapping is to be held across the UK at 17:00 BST to pay tribute to NHS staff. Mexico records more than 30,000 deaths as the disease ravages one of Latin America's worst-hit countries. More than 11.2 million cases of Covid-19 have been recorded worldwide with nearly 531,000 deaths.

7-4-20 Mount Rushmore: Trump denounces 'angry mobs' tearing down statues
US President Donald Trump denounced "angry mobs" who are "trying to tear down statues of our founders", in a speech marking 4 July celebrations at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. The location was controversial, as the monument features the faces of two slave-owning former US presidents, and stands on land taken from the indigenous Lakota Sioux by the US government in the 1800s. Thousands of Trump supporters gathered despite concerns over the possible spread of coronavirus.

7-4-20 Coronavirus: What makes a gathering a ‘superspreader’ event?
Now months into the US coronavirus outbreak, safety precautions have become routine: stand 6ft (2m) apart, wear a mask, and wash your hands. But still, certain 'superspreader' events - birthday parties, bar nights, and even choir practice - seem to be the culprits in an outsized number of Covid-19 infections. So how can one night out, or a single infected person, lead to dozens of cases? We asked Dr Abraar Karan, a physician and public health researcher at Harvard Medical School, to look at three different cases since the US outbreak began to understand how some events can shift from low to high risk, and how to avoid attending a superspreader event yourself. At a superspreading event, the number of cases transmitted will be disproportionately high compared to general transmission, Dr Karan says. And the risk of these superspreading events may balloon in the presence of superspreading people, who pass on their infection more widely either by being in contact with more people or emitting more of the virus. "I tend to think of it as this: the vast majority of people may not infect any other people, and some people in certain situations infect a lot of people," he says. "One person may infect 10 people, or 15 people or 20 people." Research is still being done, Dr Karan says, but early results indicate that coronavirus spread is primarily powered by these supercharged events. "Different models have looked at this and they suggest that 20% of people account for 80% of spread." And while risk profiles will vary widely between similar events, Dr Karan says there are certain factors that should raise a red flag. "If you have any of the following in combination: indoors, crowded, closed spaces, without any sort of personal protective equipment like masks, which you're not going to have eating - I think those are all high-risk," he says.

7-4-20 Mount Rushmore: Trump denounces 'cancel culture' at 4 July event
US President Donald Trump has railed against the "cancel culture" of those who toppled monuments during recent anti-racism protests, in a speech to mark 4 July at Mount Rushmore. He condemned those who targeted statues of Confederate leaders as "angry mobs". Mr Trump accused protesters of "a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children". "We will not be silenced," he said. The president, who has been heavily criticised for his handling of the US coronavirus pandemic, made little reference to the disease that has now claimed almost 130,000 American lives. The US recorded its largest single-day rise in coronavirus infections on Friday, bringing the total to more than 2.5 million - the most of any country. Masks and social distancing were not mandatory at the Mount Rushmore event, despite warnings by health officials. The location, too, was controversial. Mount Rushmore features the carved faces of four US presidents, two of whom - George Washington and Thomas Jefferson - were slave-owners. It also stands on land that was taken from the indigenous Lakota Sioux by the US government in the 1800s. Addressing Mount Rushmore itself, the president said the South Dakota landmark would "stand forever as an eternal tribute to our forefathers and to our freedom". "This monument will never be desecrated, these heroes will never be defaced," he told a cheering crowd. The president added that people who target "symbols of national heritage" will face "the fullest extent of the law". He said those who defaced statues could be sentenced to 10 years in jail, referring to a recent executive order he signed on protecting monuments. A fireworks display set to music was then held at the pre-Independence Day event, watched by about 7,500 ticket-holders. Welcoming people to the event, South Dakota's Republican Governor Kristi Noem echoed the president's tone, accusing demonstrators of "trying to wipe away the lessons of history". "This is being done deliberately to discredit America's founding principles," she said. (Webmaster's comment: Trump and Kristi Noem act with total disgard for people's safety!)

7-4-20 Donald Trump orders creation of national heroes garden
US President Donald Trump has ordered the creation of a "National Garden of American Heroes" to defend what he calls "our great national story" against those who vandalise statues. His executive order gives a new task force 60 days to present plans, including a location, for the garden. He insists the new statues must be lifelike, "not abstract or modernist". A number of US statues have been pulled down since the police killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd in May. Monuments linked to the slave-owning Confederacy during the Civil War in America have been especially targeted in the nationwide protests ignited by the death of Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. President Trump has defended Confederate symbols as a part of American heritage. Earlier, in a speech to mark Independence Day at Mount Rushmore, he condemned the anti-racism protesters who toppled statues. He said America's national heritage was being threatened - an emotive appeal for patriotism. The garden - to be in place of natural beauty near a city - is to be opened by 4 July 2026, Mr Trump's executive order says. State authorities and civic organisations are invited to donate statues for it. President Trump's choice of historical figures to be commemorated in the garden is likely to be controversial. The list of "historically significant" Americans includes predictably Founding Fathers like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, but also frontiersman Davy Crockett, evangelical Christian preacher Billy Graham, Ronald Reagan and World War Two heroes Douglas MacArthur and George Patton. There will also be statues of African American civil rights campaigners Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr. Controversially, Mr Trump includes non-Americans who "made substantive historical contributions to the discovery, development, or independence of the future United States". So the garden can have statues of Christopher Columbus, Junipero Serra and the Marquis de Lafayette. Columbus and the Spanish Catholic missionary Serra are far from heroic for Native Americans, because their "discoveries" led to the enslavement and exploitation of indigenous people by white colonists. (Webmaster's comment: Columbus crucified Indians for not giving him enough gold.) The Marquis de Lafayette, a French aristocrat and military commander, led American troops in key battles against the British in the American Revolution. (Webmaster's comment: But this will be a garden of mostly white slavers!)

7-4-20 Independence Day: What does Fourth of July mean to black Americans?
What does the Fourth of July mean for black Americans? Arielle Gray, a journalist from Boston, argues that the story of American independence is "historically inaccurate" - because slavery in America continued for another 89 years after 4 July 1776, known as Independence Day. "We have to stop celebrating myths. Fourth of July - Independence Day - is a myth," adds Quintez Brown. Quintez, Arielle and Tre Vayne say the story taught to them in school was misleading. They all believe that Juneteenth - which celebrates the official end of slavery in America, on 19 June 1865 - is a more appropriate holiday for black Americans to celebrate.

7-4-20 White couple charged with assault over threats to black family
A white husband and wife have been charged after the woman pulled a gun on a black mother and her children during a confrontation in a car park. Footage of the incident in Orion Township, near Detroit, has been viewed millions of times on social media. It shows Jillian Wuestenberg pointing the cocked gun and shouting: "Get away." Local Sheriff Michael Bouchard said the confrontation had stemmed from a "bump" at the entrance to a restaurant. The Wuestenbergs have both been charged with felonious assault. They each had a loaded firearm, the sheriff said. The black family was not armed. Ms Wuestenberg, 32, is alleged to have bumped into 15-year-old Makayla Green. In the footage, the teenager's mother, Takelia Hill, demands an apology while her daughter films. Ms Wuestenberg gets into her vehicle, driven by her husband Eric, 42, but the argument escalates and she reappears brandishing a gun and pointing it at the teenager and her mother. Several people called the police and the couple were arrested, Sheriff Bouchard said. The sheriff said officers were "presented with two very different stories from two different groups", with both sides claiming they felt "extremely threatened". "Let's have a little more tolerance for each other and not being so quick to react," he told a news conference. "If someone is doing something improper or unfair, I tell my family and friends to look away. This is not the moment to plant your flag." Oakland County chief executive David Coulter said he had been "deeply disturbed" by the incident on 1 July. "This behaviour is unacceptable. I wholly expect the prosecutor to bring charges that reflect the severity of the incident." he said. But Oakland County prosecutor Jessica Cooper described it as "an unfortunate set of circumstances that tempers run high over, basically, not much of an incident", AP reported. (Webmaster's comment: So the white person will get away with pointing a gun at a black family who was not a threat to them. But if that had been a black pointing a gun at a white family they'd be killed by the police within minutes!)

7-4-20 Elijah McClain: Denver officers fired for pictures mocking man's death
Three US police officers in Colorado have been sacked after they shared photos re-enacting a chokehold used on a black man who later died. Elijah McClain, 23, died in August last year after being stopped by police. Another officer resigned over the matter. A local police chief called the images "beyond comprehension". Mr McClain's case attracted renewed focus in the wake of the death of George Floyd, another unarmed African-American who died in police custody. The officers who were fired were named as Jason Rosenblatt, Erica Marrero and Kyle Dittrich. The fourth, Jaron Jones, resigned on Tuesday. Vanessa Wilson, the acting police chief in the Denver suburb of Aurora, where the incident took place, called the images a crime against humanity and decency. "We are ashamed, we are sickened, and we are angry about what I have to share," she told a news conference. "While the allegations of this internal affairs case are not criminal, they are a crime against humanity and decency. To even think about doing such a thing is beyond comprehension and it is reprehensible." One of the pictures shows former officers Dittrich and Jones imitating a neck hold, while Marrero smiles to their left. Jason Rosenblatt was sent the photos by text and responded "ha ha". Chief Wilson said she held off releasing the photos until she could share them with Mr McClain's family. Their lawyer called the images "appalling". Mr McClain was walking in Aurora on 24 August last year when he was stopped by three police officers. A district attorney report later said there had been an emergency call about a "suspicious person" matching his description. There was a struggle after Mr McClain resisted contact with the officers, who wanted to search him to see if he was armed, the report says. On body cam footage Mr McClain can be heard saying, "I'm an introvert, please respect my boundaries that I am speaking." One of the officers then says "he is going for your gun", and they wrestle him to the ground and put him in a chokehold. The report says Mr McClain lost consciousness, was released from the chokehold, and began to struggle again. The officers called for assistance, with fire fighters and an ambulance responding. A medic injected Mr McClain with ketamine to sedate him. Mr McClain was then put in "soft restraints" on a stretcher and put inside the ambulance. The medic who had administered the drug then noticed that Mr McClain's chest "was not rising on its own, and he did not have a pulse". He was declared brain dead on 27 August. (Webmaster's comment: Racism and white nationalism is embedded in our police cultures!)

7-4-20 Coronavirus: Japan's mysteriously low virus death rate
Why haven't more people in Japan died from Covid-19? It is a macabre question that has spawned dozens of theories, from Japanese manners to claims that the Japanese have superior immunity. Japan does not have the lowest death rate for Covid-19 - in the region, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Vietnam can all boast lower morbidity. But in the early part of 2020, Japan saw fewer deaths than average. This is despite the fact that in April, Tokyo saw about 1,000 "excess deaths' - perhaps due to Covid. Yet, for the year as a whole, it is possible that overall deaths will be down on 2019. This is particularly striking because Japan has many of the conditions that make it vulnerable to Covid-19, but it never adopted the energetic approach to tackling the virus that some of its neighbours did. At the height of the outbreak in Wuhan in February, when the city's hospitals were overwhelmed and the world put up walls to Chinese travellers, Japan kept borders open. As the virus spread, it quickly became clear that Covid is a disease that primarily kills the elderly and is massively amplified by crowds or prolonged close contact. Per capita, Japan has more elderly than any other country. Japan's population is also densely packed into huge cities. Greater Tokyo has a mind-boggling 37 million people and for most of them, the only way to get around is on the city's notoriously packed trains. Then there is Japan's refusal to heed the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO) to "test, test, test". Even now, total PCR tests stand at just 348,000, or 0.27% of Japan's population. Nor has Japan had a lockdown on the scale or severity of Europe. In early April, the government ordered a state of emergency. But the stay-at-home request was voluntary. Non-essential businesses were asked to close, but there was no legal penalty for refusing. Many paragons of Covid strategy, such as New Zealand and Vietnam, used tough measures including closing borders, tight lockdowns, large-scale testing and strict quarantines - but Japan did none of that. Yet, five months after the first Covid case was reported here, Japan has fewer than 20,000 confirmed cases and fewer than 1,000 deaths. The state of emergency has been lifted, and life is rapidly returning to normal.

Countries by coronavirus deaths

7-3-20 The scandal of the Declaration
On reckoning with the legacy of America's loftiest document and its slave-owning author. July 4, 1776, is not the date on which the colonies achieved their independence from Great Britain; that was September 3, 1783. It is not the date on which the war began; that was April 19, 1775. It is certainly not the date that we became the United States — that wouldn't be until the adoption of the Constitution, which was created on September 17, 1787, was ratified by a sufficient number of states on June 21, 1788, and became effective on March 4, 1789. It wasn't even the date on which the Continental Congress resolved unanimously to separate from Britain; that was two days earlier, on July 2, 1776. No, what we celebrate on July 4 are the words written to justify that resolution to the world, which were agreed to formally on that day. The words that constitute the Declaration of Independence. Most of those words have echoed through history but hollowly. If "He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance" were enough to justify revolution, no government on earth would be left standing. The text declares by way of preamble that certain truths are self-evident, when they were widely disputed at the time and were not even directly relevant to the case being presented. And the most important truth, that the colonies did, in fact, constitute a separate people or nation, and hence were in a position to "assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them," while implied throughout, was never even properly declared, much less substantiated. But it is those supposedly self-evident truths — "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" — for which the Declaration is remembered and celebrated. So how do we relate to the irony that the primary author of those words, Thomas Jefferson, was a slave-owner and a white supremacist? The irony was noted at the time by British abolitionists like Thomas Day, and by the idiosyncratic Tory Samuel Johnson, who famously asked, "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?" The question is very difficult to answer, and so Americans have, historically, dealt with the irony mostly by lying to obscure it. For example, the Broadway musical, 1776, has Jefferson proclaim that he has already resolved to free his slaves, but this is something he not only didn't do in his lifetime (he freed only two of his hundreds of slaves while he lived), but did not even achieve through his will (which freed an additional five). On the contrary, Jefferson's investment, financial and emotional, in slavery only increased over the course of his life, as it became clear how profitable slave labor could be for the owner (and as the Haitian revolution revealed what the consequence would be for plantation owners if their slaves took the Declaration at its word).

7-3-20 Coronavirus: Texas governor mandates wearing of face masks
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has ordered face coverings to be worn in public as coronavirus cases rocket in the state. The directive applies to counties with 20 or more Covid-19 cases, which covers most of Texas' 254 counties. Texas hit a record of more than 8,000 virus cases in a day on Wednesday, up from about 2,400 two weeks ago. Americans are about to mark the Fourth of July weekend, with some beaches coast to coast shut and fireworks displays cancelled. There have now been 2.7 million recorded infections nationwide and more than 128,000 deaths since the pandemic began. "Wearing a face covering will help us to keep Texas open for business," Mr Abbott said, announcing the order. After an initial warning, those who refuse will face a fine up to $250. "Let me be clear: no-one can ever be put in jail for violating this safe practice," the governor said. "Covid-19 is not going away," Mr Abbott, a Republican, said on Thursday. "In fact it's getting worse." Warning that some hospital intensive care units were almost full, he added: "We are now at a point where the virus is spreading so fast there is little margin for error." The order includes a series of "common sense" exemptions, including children who are 10 years old or younger, those who have a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask, people who are eating or drinking and those who are exercising outdoors. Texas is now one of 21 states that require mask wearing in public, according to Masks4All, a volunteer advocacy group. But the move by Mr Abbott was described as "far too little, far too late" by the Texas Democratic Party. Texas led the charge in US states loosening lockdown measures that were meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Mr Abbott allowed his initial stay-at-home order to expire on 30 April, with almost all businesses operating to at least 50% capacity by early June. But as the virus surged, Mr Abbott began to walk back his state's reopening last week, ordering all bars shut and cutting restaurant capacity from 75-50%. Mr Abbott had initially resisted a state-wide order on masks, going so far as to ban local governments from requiring facial coverings.

7-3-20 How Cuba and Uruguay are quashing coronavirus as neighbours struggle
As coronavirus cases soar in the US, Brazil and other countries in the Americas, some countries have found strategies to contain the virus and limit deaths. Over five million confirmed cases of covid-19 and nearly 250,000 related deaths have been reported in the Americas as of 29 June, around half of the world total. The coronavirus is spreading exponentially in many countries, warned Carissa Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on 9 June. But in a few places, the picture is very different. Cuba, an island of 11.3 million is an unlikely exemplar of how to manage a pandemic, according to Michael Bustamante, at Florida International University. Its infamously long queues for state-provided goods make social distancing and self-isolation difficult, he says, and the country’s healthcare system, “suffers from scarcities and material shortages that are characteristic of the Cuban economy as a whole.” One particular concern was that Cuba’s aging population – the oldest in the Americas – would be hit hard when the first case of covid-19 arrived from Italy on 11 March. Even so, it had reported 2,348 confirmed cases and 86 deaths as of 1 July. What the health system lacks in materials, it makes up for in manpower –it has the highest doctor per patient ratio in the world, 8.19 per 1000 – by comparison, Brazil has 2.15, and the US 2.6. Before the first reported case, Cuba’s government dispatched teams of doctors, nurses and medical students door-to-door asking about respiratory symptoms and educating the public on the disease. It sent suspected covid-19 cases to state-run isolation centres and traced all their recent contacts. “A really strong primary health care system has been a major player in controlling the outbreak,” says Alcimar Riverol at São Paulo State University. The government should also be credited for acting early, says Alcimar. “They were preparing the whole system for diagnostics two months before the first case was detected,” he says.

7-2-20 Assessment of U.S. COVID-19 Situation Increasingly Bleak
As coronavirus infections are spiking in U.S. states that previously had not been hard-hit, a new high of 65% of U.S. adults say the coronavirus situation is getting worse. The percentage of Americans who believe the situation is getting worse has increased from 48% the preceding week, and from 37% two weeks prior.

  • 65% say the situation is getting worse, the highest in Gallup's trend
  • Sharp increase in those expecting situation to persist through 2020
  • More Americans are worried about getting the disease

7-2-20 Leaky lockdowns fuelled virus in US, Fauci says
Trump to hold 4 July celebration at Mount Rushmore despite warnings. Leaky lockdowns fuelled the coronavirus in the US, says the country's top expert in infectious diseases. Dr Anthony Fauci tells the BBC the US risks an even greater outbreak if surge in cases is not controlled. President Donald Trump changes tack and says he would wear a mask "in a tight situation." In the UK, around 75 countries are expected to be exempt from travel quarantine rules. Education secretary announces plans for all students in England to return to school in September. New Zealand's health minister resigns after a series of quarantine breaches by travellers. Globally there are 10.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 515,500 deaths. US President Donald Trump is planning to go ahead with an Independence Day celebration at Mt Rushmore in South Dakota on Friday, despite warnings from public health officials and environmental and tribal leaders. The event will not feature social distancing, and will be open to more than 7,000 attendees, the South Dakota governor said. National Park officials have also warned that the event's pyrotechnics display could spark a brushfire due to dry conditions.

7-2-20 Massachusetts is an exception to America's coronavirus failure
America as a whole is in coronavirus hell. At time of writing, new cases were up 82 percent over the last two weeks, to almost 50,000 per day. Florida alone is routinely posting more new cases than the entirety of the European Union. While deaths have so far not spiked, it's only a matter of time. However, it's not entirely bad. A handful of Northeastern states have managed to get things under control — especially Massachusetts, which has managed a tentative reopening without seeing a spike in new cases so far, despite some significant anti-police brutality protests weeks ago. There the government did it by following expert guidance and learning from other countries who have managed the outbreak well. It might be outside the grasp of most of the rest of the country, but it isn't particle physics. The basic strategy is the same one we have seen work across the world. First, Massachusetts locked down hard to contain the initial surge of virus, and boosted its hospital capacity to keep them from being overwhelmed. Then the government set up a test-trace-isolate system — ramping up testing to catch new cases, tracing the contacts of everyone who had been infected, and putting them in quarantine either at home or in adapted hotels in some cities. This hit some bumps early on, but now it seems to be working well. Meanwhile, state authorities continually reinforced the importance of hygiene and mask-wearing, and remarkably, the population actually listened. Finally, reopening was conditioned on actually meeting the metrics recommended by national and international guidelines — the state has repeatedly delayed moving along its plan to make sure all the indicators are in the right place before proceeding. Today, Massachusetts residents are enjoying the partial return of normal life, and on June 29 the state saw the first day with no COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to return fully to normal — given what has been seen elsewhere, I would be extremely wary about opening up full indoor service at bars and restaurants — but it's a proof of concept. The virus works in the U.S. like it does everywhere else, and a competent state response can stop the spread, and get at least some ways back towards normal.

7-2-20 America's looming experiment in health-care rationing
Arizona on Monday announced its pandemic "crisis care standards," which is a euphemism for rationing. If the state's confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to trend sharply upward, as they have throughout the month of June, the standards will provide statewide triage rules for doctors determining which patients receive which treatments when resources are too scarce to provide ideal care to all. Such guidance is "not needed today," said Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R), "but we're anticipating that it will be there in the future.". Arizona's spiking caseload isn't unique. Between 33,000 and 45,000 new U.S. cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed daily over the past week. The hospitalization rate has not reflected that spike, nor has the death rate. Perhaps that forbearance will continue, and care resources will never be stretched thin like they were in Italy. Perhaps we're simply experiencing a lag. If all three numbers rise in unison, coronavirus "crisis care standards" could be implemented by every state. Ah, but what should those standards be? This is a near-impossible question to answer. Italy chose an explicitly utilitarian approach: "Informed by the principle of maximizing benefits for the largest number," its guidelines said, "the allocation criteria need to guarantee that those patients with the highest chance of therapeutic success will retain access to intensive care." As COVID-19 is often most severe in older patients, some hospitals ordered age cutoffs for intubation. "[An unnamed Italian physician] offered a hypothetical scenario involving two patients with respiratory failure, one 65 and the other 85 with coexisting conditions," reported The New England Journal of Medicine. "With only one ventilator, you intubate the 65-year-old." The surface-level logic of a utilitarian approach makes sense. It's a medical trolley problem, and you pull the lever to kill one person instead of five. But under scrutiny, it's messy. Uncertain. Is it our best option? Is it right? Does it even provide all the answers it promises? In concrete example: "Would you remove a ventilator from one patient who was having a rocky course, for instance, to give it to another in the throes of an initial decompensation?" the NEJM story asks. "Would you preferentially intubate a healthy 55-year-old over a young mother with breast cancer whose prognosis is unknown?" Should comorbidities trump age? What about when health-care workers are themselves infected: Should they receive priority because, once recovered, they might save other lives? Or is a "first come, first served" approach better? Can we decide on purely objective considerations, like oxygen saturation or viral load? Can we make a formula so the data decide for us? Would that release us of moral responsibility for the results? The Arizona standards have a points system in which, like the grimmest game of golf, you want to come in below par. But they also allow for subjective consideration of factors like whether the patient is pediatric or pregnant, whether they work in health care or are someone else's sole caregiver, and — in what seems to be a proxy for age without running afoul of age discrimination laws — how many "life stages" they have had the opportunity to experience.

7-2-20 Why Texas is seeing a surge in coronavirus cases
For months, the state was doing well. Cases were low and the economy had just reopened. Now, it's one of the most recent coronavirus hotspots in the United States, seeing upwards of 6,000 new cases every day and hospitals are reaching capacity. Why the sudden surge?

7-2-20 Coronavirus: 'I'm all for masks,' says Trump in change of tone
US President Donald Trump, long opposed to wearing a face covering in public, says he is "all for masks" and they make him look like the Lone Ranger. Mr Trump also maintained that face coverings do not need to become mandatory to curb Covid-19's spread. He again predicted the infection would "disappear," as the US hit a new record high of 52,000 virus cases in a day. His remarks to Fox News come a day after a top Republican called on Mr Trump to wear a mask as an example. The US now has nearly 2.7 million confirmed Covid-19 infections and more than 128,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the pandemic. Speaking to Fox Business Network on Wednesday, Mr Trump said: "I'm all for masks." When asked whether he would wear one, the president said: "If I were in a tight situation with people I would, absolutely." He added that people have seen him wearing one before. Mr Trump said he would have "no problem" with wearing a mask publicly and that he "sort of liked" how he looked with one on, likening himself to the Lone Ranger, a fictional masked hero who with his Native American friend, Tonto, fought outlaws in the American Old West. But the president reiterated that he did not think making face-coverings mandatory across the US was needed, because there are "many places in the country where people stay very long distance". "If people feel good about it they should do it." Mr Trump was also asked in his Fox Business interview on Wednesday if he still believes coronavirus will "disappear" someday. "I do," he said. "I do. Yeah sure. At some point." During Mr Trump's forthcoming Independence Day celebration on 3 July at Mount Rushmore, his supporters in attendance will not be forced to wear masks or socially distance. When the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in April began recommending people wear masks or cloth coverings in public to help stop the spread of the virus, Mr Trump told reporters he would not follow the practice.

7-2-20 'Why is Trump calling Black Lives Matter a symbol of hate?'
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany has defended President Trump's comments about the Black Lives Matter movement. The US president tweeted on Wednesday about New York City's decision to paint "Black Lives Matter" on Fifth Avenue, calling it "a symbol of hate".

7-2-20 US firms create record 4.8 million jobs in June
The US economy created jobs at a record pace in June as firms took on more staff after the coronavirus downturn. Payrolls surged 4.8 million, the most since the Labor Department began keeping records in 1939, helped by the reopening of factories and restaurants. It follows May's jobs rebound, when 2.5 million joined the labour market, and comes after consumer spending data saw a jump in activity. But a recent spike in Covid-19 cases has raised fears for continued growth. June's rise is far higher than the three million jobs that many economists forecast would be created last month. However, separate Labor Department data also showed that in the week ending 27 June, initial claims for unemployment fell only slightly, to 1.43 million, on the previous week. Oxford Economics called it a "worryingly small decline". Companies, including in populous states such as California, Florida and Texas, plan to scale back or delay reopening because of the fresh coronavirus outbreaks, which would hold back hiring. This week, Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell acknowledged the rebound in activity, saying the economy had "entered an important new phase". But he warned that continuing growth would depend on "our success in containing the virus". And despite two months in a row of jobs growth, employment is still about 15 million below its pre-pandemic level, with the jobless rate just above 11%. The US Labor Department said the leisure and hospitality sector added more than two million jobs, while retail added 740,000. The resumption of routine medical appointments also helped, with healthcare employment rising 568,000. The reopening of factories meant manufacturing employment continued to rebound, rising by 356,000, driven mostly by a 195,000 gain in the car industry. The surge in job creation in the past two months has been spurred by the government's Paycheck Protection Program, which gives businesses loans that can be partially forgiven if used for wages. But those funds are drying up.

7-2-20 How Korean pop fans took on white supremacists – and won
Unusual methods of online protest have sprung up recently, and it’s become harder to tell what’s real and what’s not, says Annalee Newitz. AN UNEXPECTED form of protest has exploded across social media. Fans of Korean pop music, K-pop, have been adding their voices to the Black Lives Matter protests by “occupying” digital spaces with a flood of adorable music videos. Already, they have disrupted police surveillance, US president Donald Trump’s re-election bid and a meeting of white supremacists on Twitter. It all started when the large and enthusiastic community of K-pop fans in the US heard that police in Dallas, Texas, were asking concerned citizens to send in videos of “illegal activity from the protests”. Sick of police targeting peaceful protesters, fans spread the word among their ranks that everyone should flood the Dallas police app with their favourite gifs and videos. It worked. Soon, the police were watching clips from bands like BTS and gifs from the game Animal Crossing. Eventually, the reporting system crashed. Thrilled with their efforts, fans used similar tactics with a white supremacist hashtag on Twitter. Many groups form ad hoc “public squares” on Twitter by using hashtags, like #blacklivesmatter, to organise and share information. The fans’ goal was to take over a white supremacist hashtag by posting nothing but K-pop content to hinder racists from speaking with each other. Within hours, they had tweeted so much that the hashtag became completely useless – unless your jam is fighting about the merits of different BTS songs. As their coup de grâce, the fans targeted Trump’s re-election campaign, snapping up free tickets to his Oklahoma rally. They claimed to have reserved nearly a million, leading the Trump campaign to build an extra stage and proclaim there would be overflow seating only. Just 7000 or so people showed up.

7-1-20 Coronavirus is revealing a shattered country
How far the U.S. government has fallen — and how far we've fallen too. ith President Trump's re-election campaign foundering and polls showing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden surging to a formidable lead in the presidential race, we've begun to hear a resurgence of a refrain that's been sung over and over again since Trump's shocking win in 2016. As soon as Trump goes down to defeat and is replaced by a Democrat, we are told, the country will quickly reset, with the derangements, scandals, and furious political hatreds of the past three-and-a-half years rapidly fading from the scene. Before you know it, America will be back to normal. This has always been a fantasy, but it's an especially delusional one now. The fact is that America's problems are much vaster than Trump. The big, bad Orange Man is a symptom (both an effect and a cause) of a political system and national culture losing its bearings and spiraling down toward what looks distressingly like a collective nervous breakdown. Take COVID-19. Trump and his party deserve considerable blame for its handling of the pandemic — first for downplaying the danger, then for failing to take advantage of several weeks in lockdown to set up a nationwide program of testing and tracing, for encouraging Republicans to view the virus through a culture-war lens, for foolishly treating the country's public health and economic well-being as sharply opposed to one another rather than deeply intertwined, and finally for largely giving up on public-health efforts at the federal level once the president decided that such measures were harming him politically. Yet America's disastrous response to the coronavirus pandemic is not simply a function of the Trump administration's incompetence and incontinence. For one thing, the worst initial outbreak in the country — among the deadliest in the entire world — took place in and around liberal New York City, where the city's mayor has distinguished himself by the ineptitude of his leadership and the state's governor was responsible for instituting nursing home policies that led directly to enormous numbers of deaths. Meanwhile, in more recent weeks media reports have emphasized that the current surge in new cases of the virus is taking place in a series of red states (Florida, Texas, Arizona) that may have reopened too quickly and haphazardly, and where many individuals seem strongly opposed to public mask-wearing to mitigate the spread of the virus. Yet deepest-blue California is also experiencing a surge in new cases — and there is mounting evidence that the Black Lives Matter protests of the past month (which were cheered on by many public-health authorities) may have spread the virus among the young people taking part in them. This isn't a Republican fail. It's an American fail. What is the source of the failure? It has many names — individualism, cultural libertarianism, atomism, selfishness, lack of social trust, suspicion of authority — and it takes a multitude of forms. But whatever we call it, it amounts to a refusal on the part of lots of Americans to think in terms of the social whole — of what's best for the community, of the common or public good. Each of us thinks we know what's best for ourselves. We resent being told what to do. If wearing a mask is unpleasant, we don't want to be forced to do it. In fact, a governing authority — or really, anyone, even fellow customers at a grocery store — reprimanding us for failing to do our part for public health is enough to make us dig in our heels and stubbornly refuse to go along.

7-1-20 The U.S. largely wasted time bought by COVID-19 lockdowns. Now what?
As states reopen, most don’t have adequate ways yet to test, trace and isolate new cases. From March to May, much of the United States pressed pause. In the face of a new, highly transmissible coronavirus, widespread lockdowns and social distancing were the only tools available to prevent an overwhelming surge in infections and deaths that threatened to overwhelm healthcare systems. The strategy largely worked to keep most hospitals functioning. The heavy toll after six months — over 125,000 dead from COVID-19 and more than 2 million Americans infected — almost certainly would have been worse without lockdowns. But these interrupted months were also supposed to buy time for public health authorities to ready other tools, namely widespread testing and contact tracing, to enable a gradual reopening as we wait for a vaccine (SN: 4/29/20). Now, many experts worry that the United States has largely squandered the time bought by millions of Americans who stayed home, often at significant personal and financial cost. Despite some progress, especially in testing, most of the country’s local health departments still don’t have the workforce or the infrastructure needed to safely relax social distancing. Yet most states are forging ahead with reopening anyway. Those that reopened quickly, like Florida and Texas, have already reversed course, reimposing some restrictions in an effort to slow a surge in cases now building across much of the South and West. Many have worried about a “second wave” of COVID-19, perhaps in the fall. But the truth is that we’re still in the middle of the first wave, even as infections have fallen in many other countries initially hit hard by the virus. Early hot spots like New York City have cooled off, but that decrease in new cases is offset by a surge in states like Texas, Arizona, California and Florida. The resulting plateau in nationwide cases since May has been ticking upward in recent weeks. On June 26, over 45,000 new cases were reported in the United States, surpassing the previous record set two months earlier.

7-1-20 Coronavirus: How we are living with the virus in Florida and Texas
People in Florida and Texas - where new coronavirus infections are ballooning - have described their opinions about the pandemic and their leaders decisions to restart the economy before defeating the virus. I am worried about the situation in the entire world, not just my hometown of Pembroke Pines, Florida. This is a sad situation that we have all been affected by and the best thing we can do is hope for it to end soon. I knew that this was inevitable. I do not believe Florida opened their businesses too soon. At the end of the day some responsibility has to be placed in the hands of citizens. I do not quarantine right now. I decided to stay in Gainesville, where I go to college, and am surrounding myself with people who are at very low risk of developing bad symptoms. I try to wear a mask as often as I can. As someone who planned on moving to a large city after graduation this summer, the pandemic has affected my life a lot. Days that used to be packed with going to the gym, searching for jobs and having fun with friends have become quests of finding small activities to keep me productive. Right now, the goal of every citizen should be staying healthy and protecting those that are most vulnerable to the virus. I have been here for four years as I attend Florida Atlantic University. I feel just as nervous as I did In March when it all started. But I do think there was a period when everyone began to forget about the virus. I even thought things were getting better for awhile. I absolutely think businesses reopened too soon. For the most part I know I could be doing better with social distancing. I've been going to yoga classes and took a trip to a hotel in Miami for the weekend which was probably not my best decision. But we made sure to keep six feet apart and wear masks.

7-1-20 Coronavirus: US buys nearly all of Gilead's Covid-19 drug remdesivir
The US is buying nearly all the next three months' projected production of Covid-19 treatment remdesivir from US manufacturer Gilead. The US health department announced on Tuesday it had agreed to buy 500,000 doses for use in American hospitals. Tests suggest remdesivir cuts recovery times, though it is not yet clear if it improves survival rates. Gilead did sign a licensing deal in May for production outside the US but it is still in its early stages. "President Trump has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorised therapeutic for Covid-19," Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. A course of treatment in the US will cost $2,340 (£1,900). Nine companies can make the drug under licence outside the US for distribution in 127 mostly poorer countries, and the cost is lower. But the project is still in its early stages. Additional quantities are being manufactured for use in clinical trials. But critics say the US move to buy up so much stock from Gilead itself undermines international co-operation on Covid, given that other countries have taken part in trials of remdesivir, originally an anti-viral against Ebola. "The trial that gave the result that allowed remdesivir to sell their drug wasn't just done in the US. There were patients participating through other European countries, in the UK as well, and internationally, Mexico and other places," Oxford University's Prof Peter Horby told BBC Radio 4. He said the move also had implications for any possible future vaccine, with the need for "a much stronger framework if we are going to develop these things and they're going to be used for national emergencies". Senior Sussex University lecturer, Ohid Yaqub, said: "It so clearly signals an unwillingness to co-operate with other countries and the chilling effect this has on international agreements about intellectual property rights." Some in the US have criticised the purchase price, as taxpayer money had helped fund remdesivir's development.

7-1-20 Republican voters support police reform. GOP elites are standing in the way.
The average Republican voter in America supports significant policing reforms, not that you'd know it from watching Fox News. Monday night, primetime Fox host Tucker Carlson devoted nearly 10 minutes of his show to grilling Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana, the one GOP senator who has introduced legislation to reform qualified immunity, the Supreme Court doctrine which makes it very difficult to sue police (or any elected official) for civil rights violations by demanding the allegations meet an extremely strict and circular standard of legal precedent. Neither man acquitted himself well. Carlson opened with flat lies — no, the Minneapolis police are not "being abolished entirely;" no, allegations of systemic racial bias in our justice system are not "totally bogus" — and Braun was easily browbeaten. He let Carlson drag the conversation through one half-truth and irrelevancy after another instead of presenting a tight case against qualified immunity. But what Braun has that Carlson doesn't is the will of the public, including the Republican public. Carlson's parting shot of, "I don't think the public supports you at all on this," is simply not true. There seems to be a disconnect — on policing reform generally and qualified immunity specifically — between the average GOP voter and key members of the right-wing elite. There's Carlson, Fox's flagship commentator and a favorite of President Trump. There's Trump himself, who signed a skimpy policing reform order and categorically refused to consider changing qualified immunity. There's his attorney general, William Barr, who has opposed modifying qualified immunity. And there's Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), author of the idling Senate GOP reform bill, who said any alterations to qualified immunity would be a "poison pill on our side." That's demonstrably true: High-ranking GOP senators have said there's no way a qualified immunity bill would pass, and only one Republican has cosponsored House legislation ending the doctrine. Though a few Senate Republicans have expressed openness to challenging qualified immunity, none have backed Braun's measure, nor do they seem likely to commit to legislation thus doomed. But committing wouldn't be a poison pill for their base. Recent polls show most Republicans want meaningful changes to American policing, including reform or outright elimination of qualified immunity. Polling on qualified immunity, especially with data on party differences, is in short supply, but a June survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found 55 percent of Republicans "favor allowing individuals to sue police officers when they believe excessive force has been used against them." Likewise, a Reuters/Ipsos survey published June 11 found six in 10 Republicans back "allowing victims of police misconduct to sue police departments for damages." An Associated Press-NORC survey published June 23 also found strong majorities of Republicans backing measures like body cameras, mandatory officer reporting of misconduct, strict use-of-force policies, and prosecution of cops who use excessive force. A Yahoo News/YouGov poll from June 1 showed similar results on a range of reform ideas, as did the Kaiser survey.

7-1-20 Oklahoma woman shot while trying to remove Nazi flag
A US woman has been shot while trying to remove a Nazi flag from someone's front yard in the state of Oklahoma. Garfield County Sheriff's office said the woman had been at a party nearby when she took one of two flags being flown outside Alexander Feaster's home. Mr Feaster, 44, then reportedly shot her in the back with a semi-automatic rifle as she ran away. The 26-year-old woman is expected to recover from her injuries and Mr Feaster is being held in custody. Sherriff Jody Helm said the woman was found lying in a ditch with four gunshot wounds after deputies responded to a call early on Sunday morning. Sherriff Helm initially suggested the woman had tried to steal the swastika-emblazoned flag for a dare, but in an interview with NBC News she said there was "conflicting information" surrounding the woman's motive. An affidavit seen by NBC News says "several" cameras at Mr Feaster's home show he fired on the woman "without warning". A neighbour then moved a red pickup truck near the home to serve as a barricade, and a witness trained a rifle on the property as a precaution while waiting for deputies to arrive. Mr Feaster was later taken into custody without incident. He has been charged with assault and battery with a deadly weapon, and shooting with intent to kill, and is due to appear in court on 9 July. A neighbour told local radio KFOR that he had been flying the flags for around a year, and they had been snatched from his home a few times in the past. They added that he would occasionally dress up in black uniform with a red swastika armband - an outfit reminiscent of Nazi SS uniforms. But he was said to mostly keep to himself. Another woman and friend of the victim said there had been "no problems" with Mr Feaster before, but that his flags were a cause for concern. "I feel like these flags are a disaster waiting to happen," she told the Enid News and Eagle.


FEMINISM

7-7-20 One in Four Americans Consider Abortion a Key Voting Issue
Just as Americans' general views of abortion remain mostly steady, so too are their opinions of whether it is a key voting issue for them. Nearly half of U.S. adults (47%) polled in May, before the recent Supreme Court decision on abortion, say the issue will be just one of many important factors in their vote for a candidate for a major office; 25% do not consider it a major issue. At the same time, the 24% of U.S. adults who say they will vote only for a candidate who shares their views on the issue is, along with last year, significantly higher than most other years in the trend.

  • 47% say abortion issue is one of many important factors to their vote
  • 24% say candidate must share abortion views; 25% say not a major issue
  • 30% of pro-life, 19% of pro-choice adults say abortion is threshold issue

7-6-20 Ryan Adams apologises for 'mistreating' women
Singer-songwriter Ryan Adams has written a lengthy apology for his past behaviour, a year after he faced allegations of sexual misconduct. "There are no words to express how bad I feel about the ways I've mistreated people through my life and career," the musician said in open letter. "All I can say is that I'm sorry." Last year, seven women told the New York Times that Adams had offered to help them with their careers before things became sexual. One of them, identified only as "Ava", showed reporters more than 3,000 explicit texts she said she exchanged with the star when she was 15 and 16. The story also contained accusations of psychological abuse from the musician's former wife, Mandy Moore, who told the paper: "Music was a point of control for him." Adams' initial response was to threaten legal action, in a tweet that said the newspaper was "going down". He quickly deleted that message and apologised to anyone he had hurt, "however unintentionally"; while his lawyer said Adams "unequivocally" denied exchanging inappropriate messages with someone he knew to be underage. Adams said his new apology was prompted by an extended "period of isolation and reflection" during lockdown. "I've gotten past the point where I would be apologising just for the sake of being let off the hook and I know full well that any apology from me probably won't be accepted by those I've hurt," he wrote, in a letter published by the Daily Mail. "I get that and I also understand that there's no going back." He acknowledged that many people would view his statement as "the same empty apology" he'd used in the past but added, "this time it's different". "Having truly realized the harm that I've caused, it wrecked me, and I'm still reeling from the ripples of devastating effects that my actions triggered. "No amount of growth will ever take away the suffering I had caused," he continued. "I will never be off the hook and I am fully accountable for my harmful behaviour, and will be for my actions moving forward."

7-5-20 Jeffrey Epstein accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre on Maxwell arrest
A US woman who says she was brought to Britain aged 17 to have sex with Prince Andrew has said he "should be panicking" following the arrest of Ghislaine Maxwell. Virginia Roberts Giuffre, one of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein's accusers, says she was trafficked to London by Epstein in 2001. She spoke to Australia's Channel Nine 60 Minutes programme following the arrest of Epstein's former girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, who was arrested on charges of helping Epstein's sexual exploitation of girls and young women, and also perjury. Prince Andrew and Ghislaine Maxwell both deny allegations made against them.

7-3-20 Outrage as Indian judge calls alleged rape victim 'unbecoming'
An Indian judge is under pressure to delete comments from a court order that questioned the behaviour of a woman who alleged she was raped. Granting bail to the rape accused last week, Justice Krishna S Dixit of the Karnataka High Court said he found the woman's statement "a bit difficult to believe". Justice Dixit went on to ask why the woman had gone "to her office at night - at 11pm"; why had she "not objected to consuming drinks with him"; and why she had allowed him "to stay with her till morning". "The explanation offered by her that after the perpetration of the act she was tired and fell asleep is unbecoming of an Indian woman," the judge said, adding that it was "not the way our women react when they are ravished". His remarks set off a storm of protest. Outraged Indians asked if there was a "rulebook" or a "guide" to being a rape victim. An illustration was widely shared online which, drawing on several recent court rulings, mocked up "An Indian judge's guide to being the ideal rape survivor". Aparna Bhat, a senior Delhi-based lawyer, wrote an open letter to the chief justice of India and the three female judges of the Supreme Court in response to the ruling. "Is there a protocol for rape victims to follow post the incident which is written in the law that I am not aware of?" she wrote. "Are 'Indian women' an exclusive class who have unmatched standards post being violated?" Appealing to the Supreme Court judges to intervene, Ms Bhat said the judge's remarks showed "misogyny at its worst", adding that not condemning them would "amount to condoning". Madhu Bhushan, a women's rights activist in Bangalore, where the Karnataka high court is located, described the language used by the judge as "shocking" and "absolutely uncalled for". "His comments are objectionable at several levels," she told the BBC. "What does he mean by 'our women'? And 'ravished'? It's so Victorian, so outdated, it takes away from the seriousness of the issue, which is violence against women." Ms Bhushan said she was not questioning the order itself, but asked "why did he have to pass these comments on her conduct?" "It's preposterous to say women don't behave like this. It has nothing to do with law, it's judging her behaviour," she said.

An Indian judges' guide to being the ideal rape survivor!

7-3-20 Coronavirus-denying Father Sergiy expelled by Russian Church
A Russian Orthodox Church court has expelled a coronavirus-denying cleric from the priesthood after he seized control of a convent. Father Sergiy - who calls himself Nikolai Romanov, after Russia's last tsar - took over Sredneuralsk Convent, near Yekaterinburg in the Urals, on 16 June. He posted armed guards there. The Yekaterinburg Church court found he had broken monastic rules. Fr Sergiy has condemned the closure of churches in the coronavirus lockdown. He called the Covid-19 crisis "a pseudo-pandemic" and cursed those who ordered that church services be stopped on health grounds. There have been complaints of child abuse at the convent under Fr Sergiy's leadership, and the Church court called for a thorough investigation of the allegations by the Russian authorities. The Church is also carrying out its own investigation. BBC Russian has interviewed several witnesses who stayed at the convent between 2001 and 2020, and who described physical and psychological violence towards children as routine there. The former residents said children were slapped or beaten for minor misdemeanours. Punishment was meted out for example if a girl took off her headscarf while hauling a sack of potatoes early in the morning, or if a child ran through the woods into town to get some chocolate. Some of the nuns considered administering beatings to be as routine as tending the horses or working in the refectory, they alleged. Fr Sergiy has stated that church authorities "will have to storm the monastery" if they want him to leave. The controversial cleric was barred from preaching in April. He refused to attend the court sessions. Fr Sergiy helped found the Sredneuralsk Convent in the early 2000s, and hundreds of supporters have flocked there over the years to hear his sermons. Russian authorities shut churches to worshippers on 13 April amid the ongoing pandemic, and only reopened them last month.

7-2-20 Ghislaine Maxwell 'helped exploit girls as young as 14 years old'
Ghislaine Maxwell, British socialite and ex-girlfriend of convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, is facing charges in the US after being arrested by the FBI. Audrey Strauss, acting US attorney for the southern district of New York, detailed the alleged role Maxwell played in the grooming and sexual exploitation of underage girls. Ms Maxwell has previously denied any involvement in or knowledge of Epstein's alleged sexual misconduct. Epstein died in prison on 10 August as he awaited, without the chance of bail, his trial on sex trafficking charges.

7-2-20 Jeffrey Epstein ex-girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell arrested by FBI
British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, an ex-girlfriend of disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, is facing charges in the US after being arrested by the FBI. The six charges include enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts and two counts of perjury. She was reportedly arrested in New Hampshire and is due in federal court later. She has denied any involvement in or knowledge of Epstein's alleged sexual misconduct. Epstein died in prison on 10 August as he awaited, without the chance of bail, his trial on sex trafficking charges. He was arrested last year in New York following allegations that he was running a network of underage girls - some as young as 14 - for sex. His death was determined to be suicide. Four of the charges relate to the years 1994-97 when Ms Maxwell was, according to the indictment, among Epstein's closest associates and also in an "intimate relationship" with him. The other two charges are allegations of perjury in 2016. The indictment says Ms Maxwell "assisted, facilitated, and contributed to Jeffrey Epstein's abuse minor girls by, among other things, helping Epstein to recruit, groom and ultimately abuse victims known to Maxwell and Epstein to be under the age of 18". She is charged with conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts; enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts; conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; and transporting a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. During the same period she groomed multiple minor girls to engage in sex acts with Epstein, the indictment says. She attempted to befriend them by asking about their lives and families and then she and Epstein built the friendships by taking minor victims to the cinema or shopping. Having built a rapport, Ms Maxwell would "try to normalise sexual abuse for a minor victim by... discussing sexual topics, undressing in front of the victim, being present when a minor victim was undressed, and/or being present for sex acts involving the minor victim and Epstein".

7-1-20 Ed Henry: Fox News anchor fired over 'wilful sexual misconduct' claim
Fox News has fired one of its leading anchors over claims of "wilful sexual misconduct" involving a colleague several years ago. Ed Henry co-presented the America's Newsroom programme, which is broadcast mid-morning every weekday. His former co-host Sandra Smith gave viewers the news on air on Wednesday. Fox News said it received a complaint last week and fired Mr Henry after hiring a law firm to investigate. He has not yet commented. The 48-year-old's profile has already been deleted from the network's website, and the page for America's Newsroom now lists Smith as the sole anchor. Fox News said the complaint was made on 25 June by the lawyer of a former employee. Mr Henry was suspended the same day and has now been fired based on "investigative findings" from the law firm, according to an internal memo provided to the Reuters news agency. On Wednesday's programme, Smith read a statement from Fox News chief executive Suzanne Scott and president Jay Wallace, saying they had taken the decision as part of an "effort to bring full transparency" to the matter. "We strive to maintain a safe and inclusive workplace for all employees," they added. Smith said rotating anchors would co-host the programme with her until a replacement is named. The former employee has not been identified. Mr Henry joined Fox News from CNN in 2011. He has served as the network's chief national correspondent and previously hosted several weekend shows. He is not the first Fox News figure to face allegations of sexual misconduct. Former chairman Roger Ailes resigned in 2016 after being accused by former employees of sexual harassment. The case against him was made into a 2019 Hollywood film, Bombshell, which starred Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie. After Mr Henry's departure, former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson called for the network to release former employees from non-disclosure agreements.

7-1-20 Harvey Weinstein: Some accusers denounce $19m 'sellout' settlement
Two lawsuits against Harvey Weinstein are to be settled for a proposed $18.9m (£15.3m), the New York Attorney General has announced. The fund would be distributed between dozens of women who have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct. However, lawyers representing six of the women who have accused the disgraced film producer have criticised the proposal as a "complete sellout". Weinstein is currently serving a 23-year prison sentence for rape. The settlement, announced on Tuesday, would resolve a lawsuit filed in 2018 against Weinstein, his production company and his brother by the New York Attorney General's office. It would also settle a separate class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of women who accused Weinstein of sexual harassment or assault. "After all the harassment, threats, and discrimination, these survivors are finally receiving some semblance of justice," Attorney General Letitia James said. "Women who were forced to sign confidentiality agreements will also be freed from those clauses and finally be able to speak." The proposed settlement will still require approval from a federal judge and bankruptcy court. Lawyers Douglas H Wigdor and Kevin Mintzer, who represent six accusers, criticised the proposed settlement because it did not require Weinstein to accept responsibility or personally pay out any money. "The proposed settlement is a complete sellout of the Weinstein survivors and we are surprised that the attorney general could somehow boast about a proposal that fails on so many different levels," they said. "While we do not begrudge any survivor who truly wants to participate in this deal, as we understand the proposed agreement, it is deeply unfair for many reasons." However, another of Weinstein's accusers, Louisette Geiss, said: "This important act of solidarity allowed us to use our collective voice to help those who had been silenced and to give back to the many, many survivors who lost their careers and more. "There is no amount of money that can make up for this injustice, but I'm extremely proud of what we've accomplished today." In February, Weinstein was convicted in New York City of third-degree rape and first-degree criminal sexual act, and later sentenced to 23 years in jail.

7-1-20 How academic institutions make it harder to be a female scientist
Picture a Scientist shines a light on gender discrimination in science – and also finds reasons to be hopeful, says Simon Ings. WHAT is it about the institutions of science that encourages bullying and sexism? That pushes a young geologist down an Antarctic hillside? That tells a Black chemist to straighten her hair before applying for a job? That takes vital equipment from the tiny, ill-appointed lab of a promising researcher? Picture a Scientist follows the careers of three women and pinpoints where the field has let them down. Women disproportionately drop out of academia. In 2018, women were awarded 50 per cent of the bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering in the US, but only 36 per cent of postdocs that year were female. Small wonder, considering the experiences of the three women at the heart of this film. As a PhD student at Boston University on her first research trip to Antarctica, geologist Jane Willenbring was insulted, bullied and physically abused by her supervisor. In the film, she deplores a culture that benefits those who put up and shut up. PhD students are all too aware that an ill-disposed supervisor can foreclose all avenues of professional advancement. It pays them, therefore, to be tolerant of their supervisor’s “quirks” – to see no evil in them, and speak no evil of them. In this dynamic of patron and client, the opportunities for abuse are rife. The film also features Raychelle Burks, a chemist at American University in Washington DC, and Nancy Hopkins, a geneticist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The trio are very successful, despite their struggles. Willenbring, now at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, studies how Earth’s crust responds to climate change. Burks develops cheap, easy forensic tests for war zones and disaster relief. Hopkins studies cancer.


SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT

7-7-20 Siberian Arctic 'up to 10 degrees warmer' in June
Temperatures in the Siberian Arctic reached record averages in June, with some areas seeing rises of as much as 10C (18F), according to EU data. Scientists say the heat has helped fan wildfires in the region, resulting in the unprecedented estimated release of 59m tonnes of carbon dioxide. Hot summer weather is not uncommon in the Arctic Circle, but recent months have seen abnormally high temperatures. The Arctic is believed to be warming twice as fast as the global average. Carlo Buontempo, director of the European Union's earth observation programme, the Copernicus Climate Change Service, said the trend was "worrisome". Copernicus scientists say the region saw an average rise of 5C. That is more than a degree higher than the previous two warmest Junes on record - in 2018 and 2019. One Siberian town, Verkhoyansk, reached a high of 38C on 20 June - 18C higher than the average maximum daily temperature for the month. The record is still to be verified. Earlier in June, parts of Siberia recorded 30C, while in May, Khatanga in Russia - situated in the Arctic Circle at 72 degrees north - set a new May temperature record of 25.4C. Meanwhile, some 246 fires covering more than 1,400 sq km (540 sq miles) had been recorded in the region as of 6 July, according to the Russian forestry agency. The two issues are related, according to Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at Copernicus. "Higher temperatures and drier surface conditions are providing ideal conditions for these fires to burn and to persist for so long over such a large area," he told news agency Reuters.

7-7-20 Dakota Access Pipeline: Judge suspends use of key oil link
The controversial Dakota Access Pipeline has been ordered to suspend production by a US judge, amid concerns over its environmental impact. The order is a major win for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which has led the fight against the pipeline. The ruling demands the pipeline is emptied within 30 days so another environmental review can take place. Separately, the Supreme Court blocked another controversial oil pipeline from continuing construction. Judges sided with environmental groups, requiring the Keystone XL Pipeline - which would stretch from the Canadian province of Alberta to Texas in the southern US - to undergo an arduous review before construction can resume. Both projects were backed by US President Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election after they were blocked by his predecessor, Barack Obama. The $3.7bn (£2.8bn) 1,200 mile-(1,900km) long pipeline, completed in 2017, can transport some 570,000 barrels of crude oil a day across four states, from North Dakota to a terminal in Illinois, where it can be shipped to refineries. Supporters of the pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer, argue it provides a more cost-effective, efficient means of transporting crude, rather than shipping barrels by train. But the Standing Rock Sioux and their supporters argued the project - which passed just north of the tribe's reservation - would contaminate drinking water and damage sacred burial sites. Federal judge James E Boasberg, sitting at the District Court for the District of Columbia, ruled that the construction of the pipeline had fallen short of environmental standards. It therefore needed to undergo a more thorough environmental review than had been conducted by the US Army Corps of Engineers before it could be allowed to continue working, he said. The process is expected to take 13 months, according to the Financial Times.

7-7-20 Europe wants to use hydrogen to slow climate change - will it work?
Hydrogen is back. On 8 July, the European Commission will announce a new strategy to turn the universe’s most abundant element into a way “for the EU to achieve a higher climate ambition”. Past grand visions of a “hydrogen economy” have failed to be realised, so the EU is now taking a more targeted approach, pitching hydrogen as a crucial way to clean up industries that are hard to decarbonise, such as steel-making. Hydrogen trucks, trains and even ships could drive demand too, according to a recent draft of the commission’s hydrogen strategy seen by New Scientist. There is just one big problem. While the plan notes that using hydrogen doesn’t emit CO2, it also acknowledges that most of its production today is filthy. Globally, around 96 per cent is made from fossil fuels. Even much of the the remaining 4 per cent produced using water and electrolysers is powered by coal and gas power stations. The figures are similar in Europe, which makes about 10 million tonnes of hydrogen a year. That is why the strategy demands targets on what it calls “renewable hydrogen”, produced using electrolysers powered by renewable sources of electricity. It wants 4 gigawatts of electrolyser capacity by 2024, rising to 40 gigawatts by 2030, up from less than 1 gigawatt today. Most think that is a lot, though opinions differ. “Is it ambitious? Yes,” says Matthias Deutsch at consultancy Agora Energiewende in Germany. The 2024 target would be an “ambitious endeavour” while the 2030 one would be “monumental”, says Kobad Bhavnagri at BloombergNEF. The later goal is also precisely what many hydrogen lobbyists have called for. However, Mike Parr at energy consultancy PWR, who is setting up a lobbying group for renewable hydrogen, calls the targets “pathetic”. He argues there is plenty of unused energy supply for much more, especially given the drop in electricity demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The strategy, like Germany’s own hydrogen plan that was published last month, prioritises renewable hydrogen, often called green hydrogen. To the dismay of environmentalists, it also includes backing for blue hydrogen, made using fossil fuels, but with technology to capture and store the carbon. The step “risks handing a new lifeline to the failing fossil fuel industry,” according to Tara Connolly at Friends of the Earth Europe.

7-6-20 Meat and dairy production emit more nitrogen than Earth can cope with
The amount of nitrogen pollution emitted just by global livestock farming is more than the planet can cope with, prompting scientists to say we need to eat less meat and dairy produce. Fertilisers made for agriculture are high in nitrogen, but their use can contribute to air and water pollution, climate change and ozone depletion. Livestock waste is also a source of nitrogen pollution. Aimable Uwizeye at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and his colleagues found that the livestock sector accounts for about a third of all humanity’s nitrogen emissions, which are also released by burning fossil fuels and other activities. The emissions from livestock farming amount to about 65 teragrams (Tg) of nitrogen a year. That means meat and dairy production alone breaches the lower limit of the 62 to 82 Tg a year considered to be the “planetary boundary” for nitrogen emissions, or the safe global level beyond which humanity’s future prosperity is endangered. Nitrous oxide, for example, is exacerbating global warming. “The livestock sector contributes substantially to nitrogen emissions,” says Uwizeye. His team says that while there are technical fixes in agriculture, they may not be enough on their own to keep within planetary boundaries for nitrogen pollution, and some parts of the world will need to eat and produce less meat and dairy. The group has called for a global initiative to tackle the problem. Rich countries in Europe and North America, as well as middle-income ones including Brazil, are among those that should consume less, says Uwizeye. The overwhelming bulk of the emissions, 68 per cent, comes from crops grown to feed animals, followed by nitrogen released by the build-up and management of manure. Asia stands out as a hotspot for nitrogen emissions from livestock, at two-thirds of the global total. Uwizeye says that this is in large part down to China, where there is a growing consumer appetite for meat and dairy produce. Corn grown in the US but fed to pigs in China sees the nitrogen emissions related to this crop allocated to China in the analysis.

7-6-20 Arctic explorers find unusually thin ice as a result of climate change
The biggest ever science expedition to the Arctic encountered extremely thin sea ice, which could threaten future efforts to study the region. A team on board the Polarstern icebreaker began drifting last September until their vessel became locked in an ice floe. In the area where they started their journey, off the Russian continental shelf, the ice was exceptionally thin compared to what models predicted for the last two decades. The ice was around 50 centimetres thick compared to the 150-160cm found in three years of observations in the 1990s. “It was something we were expecting, that it was quite thin. However, that it was so thin and so weathered was surprising. We found 40-50cm of ice, but only half of it was frozen solid,” says team member Thomas Krumpen at the Alfred Wegener Institute. The cause was last year’s unusually warm summer, he says. Climate change has warmed the Arctic faster than the rest of the globe, and the team hopes to unravel the area’s secrets in winter, when it has been little-studied. The question of how fast sea ice is disappearing has major consequences for the global climate and the region’s unique wildlife, including polar bears. The fragility of the ice posed some logistical headaches for the 90 people aboard the icebreaker. It was so thin that an original plan to transport heavy gear across the ice to the Polarstern from another vessel had to be rethought. “This was completely unexpected,” says Krumpen. If such conditions are the new normal for the area it will make follow-up missions increasingly difficult, Krumpen and colleagues warn. The team were also surprised by the ice floe they were locked in. Analysis found a lot of pebbles and other sediment in the ice, suggesting it formed in shallow seas around the Siberian coast. Rising temperatures mean today it is relatively rare for such sea ice – which can also carry methane and nutrients – to make it as far as the central Arctic ocean.

7-4-20 A global push for racial justice in the climate movement
For years, mainstream environmental movements around the globe have excluded people of color, who are disproportionately impacted by climate change. Today's activists are challenging that. For years, mainstream environmental movements around the globe have excluded people of color.Environmental sociologist Dorceta Taylor remembers being the only Black person in her environmental science class at Northeastern Illinois University in the early 1980s. When she asked her white professor why there weren't more Black students, he quickly told her that it was "because Blacks are not interested in the environment," she said. This assumption ran counter to everything she knew. She had grown up in Jamaica, where people from all backgrounds were passionate about the environment and loved nature. "We gardened, we hiked the mountains, we did all of those things," she said. Today's global Black Lives Matter protests have amplified calls for institutions of all kinds — including environmental groups — to challenge and dismantle centuries of systemic racism that have excluded people of color. Taylor, until recently a professor of environmental racism at the University of Michigan, found that underrepresentation exists at environmental organizations across the United States. In 2014, just under 16 percent of people of color were represented in a survey of hundreds of organizations, compared to about 35 percent of the population, she said. In the early 1990s, only about 2 percent of the staff of environmental nongovernmental organizations were people of color. In the U.K., the environmental sector is one of the least diverse sectors of the economy. Yet, people of color are disproportionately impacted by environmental degradation and climate change, and environmental organizations are being called to focus more than ever before on environmental justice. In the past few weeks, big international green groups including Greenpeace and 350.org have responded with statements, videos and op-eds supporting Black Lives Matter and calling for racial justice. But environmental activist Suzanne Dhaliwal is skeptical this will translate into real inclusion, particularly in the U.K., where she lives and works. Dhaliwal, who identifies as British Indian Canadian Sikh, grew up partly in Canada and spent much of her 20s working alongside big environmental nonprofits in the U.K. "We're in a very difficult moment where it looks diverse, you know, our pictures are used," she said. "But in terms of access to resources and having a say on the strategies that are used, and the support that we experience, I think it's an all-time low." She says she grew frustrated when she couldn't generate interest at her organizations to partner with Indigenous communities and focus on how environmental issues intersect with colonial legacies. So, Dhaliwal started her own environmental nonprofit, U.K. Tar Sands Network, which works alongside Indigenous communities and organizations to campaign against U.K. companies investing in oil extraction in Alberta, Canada. "Now, what I call for is direct funding of Black and Brown and Indigenous organizations and leadership training," said Dhaliwal. "We need research money so that we can research new strategies." Other environmentalists are trying to change environmental organizations from within. Samia Dumbuya just started a job with the European branch of international nonprofit Friends of the Earth, working on climate justice and energy issues. She lives in the U.K. As a Black person whose parents are refugees from Sierre Leone, talking about racial justice issues within the environmental movement is personal for her. She says she sees how climate change is affecting her parents' home country with increasingly bad flooding and landslides. "I like to talk to people about the role of colonialism and how the West exploits the lands of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and specific islands where they basically degraded the environments and those lands — and it left people with nothing," Dumbuya said. "And now, the West is saying we all need to be more environmentally conscious. And they look down on the 'Global South,' which is very hypocritical."

7-4-20 Greta Thunberg, the climate campaigner who doesn't like campaigning
It sounds like a year off made in heaven. How about you take Arnold Schwarzenegger's electric car on a road trip around America? Maybe stop off along the way to tell the world's most powerful people how they can put the world to rights. You might want to address hundreds of thousands of adoring admirers at a few giant rallies. And don't forget to schedule in some epic scenery. Oh, and while you are about it, why not sail across the Atlantic on one of the fastest racing yachts ever made? That is what Greta Thunberg has spent last year doing, but the teenage climate campaigner doesn't seem to have enjoyed it much. I don't think she is being a brat. I believe Greta knows how unique and special her life has been and how privileged she is. The world's most famous climate campaigner just doesn't actually like campaigning very much. "I am in this because I want to be," she tells me. "And that's not because I think it's fun. That's not because I enjoy the attention. It's because I want to make a difference." Think about her demeanour. She's not your usual public figure. She usually looks a bit tense and uncomfortable and rarely seems to be enjoying herself. Donald Trump was on to something when he teased her in a tweet saying, "She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future." And ironically the fact she doesn't like all the attention makes her an even more curious and captivating figure for us all. I've now had two long conversations with the activist. We met in person on the deck of Malizia, the yacht that whisked her across the Atlantic. That was in September last year. Then a couple of weeks ago I had a virtual encounter with Greta for a television interview. She was in her flat in Stockholm, I was in a greenhouse in Kew Gardens. I asked her about that speech. You know, the "How dare you!" one. I'm sure you remember it. It was a coruscating attack on world leaders that echoed across the world in endless social media posts and newspaper headlines. "You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words," says Greta, her voice shaking with emotion, apparently on the verge of tears. "And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!" She describes taking the subway home from the UN that evening. She says she could see people watching the speech on their phones. "Some come forward to congratulate me, someone suggests we should celebrate," she recalls. "But I don't understand what their congratulations are for, and I understand even less what we're supposed to be celebrating," says Greta. "Yet another meeting is over. And all that is left is empty words."

7-2-20 Climate change will make world too hot for 60 per cent of fish species
Fish are at a far greater risk from climate change than previously thought, as researchers have shown that embryos and spawning adults are more susceptible to warming oceans. In a worst-case scenario of 5°C of global warming, up to 60 per cent of fish species around the world would be unable to cope with temperatures in their geographical range by 2100, when different stages of their lives are taken into consideration. Even if humanity meets the Paris deal’s tough goal of holding warming to 1.5°C, it would be too hot for 10 per cent of fish. Previously, we thought that just 5 per cent of fish species would struggle to cope with 5°C of global warming, but that was based on analysis of adult fish alone. “We can say 1.5°C is not paradise, there will be changes. But we can limit those changes if we manage to stop climate change. Fish are so important for human nutrition, so this study makes a strong case for protecting our ecosystems and natural environments,” says Hans-Otto Pörtner at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany, part of the team behind the research. The researchers analysed existing scientific literature on the heat tolerance of 694 species of freshwater and marine fish species. Previous analysis has focused very little on life stages, but the team took into account differences between spawning and non-spawning adults, larvae and embryos. Spawners and embryos were found to cope with a much smaller gap between minimum and maximum temperatures, on average 7.2°C and 8.4°C respectively, than the 27.5°C range for adults. “This is casting light on a life phase that has been largely ignored,” says Pörtner. The greater vulnerability for embryos and reproductive adults is a “major cause for concern”, said Jennifer Sunday at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who wasn’t involved the study, in a commentary in the journal Science.

7-2-20 Amazon fires at 13-year high in June
Fires in Brazil's Amazon rainforest rose by almost 20% in June - a 13-year high for the month, according to government data. With such an increase at the start of the dry season, there are concerns that this year's fires could surpass 2019's disastrous blazes. Activists say the coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating the problem. They believe arson is likely to be even less monitored while authorities are stretched. Many forest fires in the country are started deliberately by illegal loggers and farmers wanting to quickly clear ground. Brazil has the world's second-highest coronavirus death toll, after the US, and there are also concerns that increased smoke could have a damaging effect on the breathing of virus patients. In June, the country's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) recorded 2,248 fires using satellite imagery, as opposed to 1,880 fires in June 2019. The burning usually increases throughout July, August and September. "We cannot allow the 2019 situation to repeat itself," Mauricio Voivodic, executive director of the World Wildlife Fund NGO in Brazil, told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, accusing the government of inaction. Last year's fires peaked in August, with 30,901 - threefold the number for the same period the previous year. The 2019 fires led to protests domestically and internationally, with threats of financial penalties from foreign governments, and broad condemnation of President Jair Bolsonaro's environmental policies. The president has been criticised for slashing the Ministry of the Environment's funding, and encouraging business over conservation. BBC analysis in 2019 showed that a sharp drop in fines for environmental violations during his administration had coincided with the increase in fires. However, the president has consistently rejected criticism from abroad. "Certain countries, instead of helping ... behaved in a disrespectful manner and with a colonialist spirit," he said in September, rejecting the "misconception" that the Amazon is the lungs of the world. The Amazon - which spans multiple South American countries but is 60% in Brazil - is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. It is home to about three million species of plants and animals, as well as some one million indigenous people.

7-2-20 Earth’s annual e-waste could grow to 75 million metric tons by 2030
A record 53.6 million tons of electronics were discarded in 2019. The planet’s hefty pile of discarded electronics is getting a lot heavier, a new report finds. In 2014, the world collectively tossed an estimated 44.4 million metric tons of unwanted “e-waste” — battery-powered or plug-tethered devices such as laptops, smartphones and televisions. By 2030, that number is projected to grow to about 74.7 million tons, according to the Global E-Waste Monitor 2020. That’s roughly equivalent to eight times the weight of China’s Three Gorges Dam. The findings come from a partnership formed in 2017 between the United Nations International Telecommunication Union, the International Solid Waste Association and other groups to track the accumulation of electronic debris. The projected e-waste for 2020 and other future years doesn’t include any economic consequences that might be related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Higher consumption rates of electronics, as well as shorter life cycles for many devices, are contributing to the rapid pileup. And most people also are not properly and safely recycling their devices, the report found. Of the 53.6 million tons of e-waste generated in 2019, only 9.3 million tons, or 17.4 percent, were recycled. Discarded electronics can contain hazardous materials — such as cadmium and mercury in laptops and smartphones, and refrigerant chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons — that can leach into the environment (SN: 8/7/19; SN: 5/22/19). E-waste is also a source of plastic waste (SN: 4/5/18). What’s more, not recycling e-waste can contribute to global warming, the report notes, because humans are mining and processing new materials rather than reusing existing materials. E-waste also contains so many valuable recoverable metals, such as iron, copper and gold, that it essentially represents an “urban mine,” the report states. The value of the raw materials in 2019’s e-waste could be as much as $57 billion — only about $10 billion of which was recovered through recycling.

7-1-20 We can fix the climate as we reboot the economy – here's how
The drop in carbon emissions due to coronavirus lockdowns won’t last. But as we rebuild, we have a unique opportunity to make the structural changes required to hit net-zero targets, says Corinne Le Quéré. THE lockdowns imposed in many countries in response to the coronavirus have caused a dramatic reduction in our carbon emissions. But there is already evidence that this won’t last. So how can governments build on this moment, as they plan for economic recovery, to make progress towards net-zero targets? Corinne Le Quéré has a few ideas. A French-Canadian climate scientist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, she is an expert on the policies required to meet those targets and an advisor to the UK and French governments, both of whom have committed to reach net zero by 2050. Le Quéré is also a leading authority on the carbon cycle, with a particular interest in what will become of natural carbon sinks, such as forests and oceans, in a warming world. Earlier this year, she was awarded the Dr. A. H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences, the Netherlands’s most prestigious international science award. Adam Vaughan: What do you expect will happen to global carbon dioxide emissions this year? Corinne Le Quéré: Over the past decade, emissions had been going up about 1 per cent per year. Since March, with the confinement and the restraints on travel, there has been a really big effect. Our estimates suggest a reduction in emissions of between 4 and 7 per cent this year. This is huge. What’s going to happen after that depends on how we’re going to approach the economic recovery. In 2009, during the financial crash, emissions dropped 1.4 per cent. They then grew more than 5 per cent in 2010, which brought us exactly back to where we were – square one – like nothing had happened. There is a big risk for that now as well. Which way do you think the post-coronavirus economic recovery will go? It could be that governments do exactly what they know best, like build roads and finance the big carbon-emitting industries. But there is an opportunity to invest in the green economy now because renewable energy is a lot cheaper than in 2010 and we have all the knowledge required to make the batteries that can store that energy. Will that happen? Possibly in the UK. I would say even probably in Europe. It’s not a given, but the signs are reasonably good. Whether it will happen worldwide is a bigger question. It’s a little bit early to say.

7-1-20 4 ways to put the 100-degree Arctic heat record in context
A remote Siberian town recently reported a temperature of 100.4° Fahrenheit. On June 20, a remote Siberian town called Verkhoyansk logged a temperature of 38° Celsius (100.4° Fahrenheit), likely setting a new high-temperature record for the Arctic Circle (SN: 6/23/20). But that new record didn’t occur in a vacuum: It’s part of a long-term trend of historically hot temperatures in Siberia linked to climate change, and a larger, even more worrisome trend of amplified warming over the last few decades throughout the Arctic region. Here are four things to know about this new Arctic record. Siberia has been sweltering under months of unprecedented warmth. Globally, May 2020 was the hottest May on record, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. Much of that record-breaking heat is the result of warming in Siberia, where May temperatures were as much as 10 degrees C higher than average, says climate scientist Martin Stendel of the Danish Meteorological Institute in Copenhagen. This extreme event in Siberia would not have happened without human-caused climate change, Stendel says. “If we assume for a moment that we don’t have any climate change,” there is a 1 in 100,000 chance of such a hot May in the region, he says. “It’s virtually impossible.” In fact, Stendel says, Siberian temperatures during the entire six-month period from December 2019 through May 2020 were also “quite extraordinary.” These temperatures were the warmest on record going back to 1979, and likely unprecedented within the last 140 years, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service. This particular high temperature probably isn’t unique within the rapidly warming Arctic. “We don’t have a whole lot of stations [in the region],” says Randall Cerveny, a meteorologist at Arizona State University in Tempe. “There are large portions that we are not monitoring. It is possible that there are higher temperatures in places [where] we don’t have instruments.”

7-1-20 Satellites detect upsurge in tree felling across Europe since 2016
There has been a large increase in the number of trees felled and removed from European forests. Satellite images suggest the forest area harvested each year between 2016 and 2018 was 49 per cent higher than the area harvested each year between 2011 and 2015. Gregory Duveiller at the European Commission Joint Research Centre in Italy and his colleagues analysed satellite data that measured the amount of forest cover and area of trees cut between 2004 to 2018 across 26 EU countries. The satellite imagery came from the Global Forest Change database, which includes all vegetation greater than five metres high. The team combined the satellite data with estimates of forest biomass to quantify the amount of wood harvested. “From above, you see forest and non-forest,” says Duveiller. “You don’t see how tall the [harvested] trees are.” According to the researchers’ estimates, between 2016 and 2018 the annual levels of harvested forest biomass were 69 per cent higher than in the preceding five years. A rise in tree removal was particularly marked in Sweden and Finland, which accounted for more than half of the total observed increase in harvested area. These countries have historically large forestry-related industries, and also have areas of forest used for fuel production that have reached harvest maturity, says Duveiller. Another possible explanation for the surge in harvesting is an increase in demand for wood-based products. “There are several drivers that are possible but a causal connection is difficult to prove and quantify,” says Duveiller. “We cannot really jump to conclusions directly about implications for greenhouse gases right now,” says Duveiller, because forests in Europe are also expanding. It is currently difficult to quantify the rate of that growth to determine whether it offsets the losses from harvesting, he says. If the harvesting continues at similar rates, the team suggests that in order to reach climate neutrality by 2050, additional emissions reductions in other areas would be needed to compensate for the carbon losses from forests.

7-1-20 Money-laundering drug cartels are driving deforestation in Guatemala
Drug traffickers in Central America have been known to practise “narco-ranching”, in which they launder cash by buying land and cattle, then selling the meat in Mexico for money that can’t be traced to drug activity. A new analysis suggests this method may be responsible for up to 87 per cent of deforestation in a nature reserve in Guatemala – and the situation may be similar in protected forests along the drug transport corridor countries of Central and South America. “This is the first attempt to quantify the role narco-cattle ranching plays in the deforestation happening in the Maya Biosphere Reserve,” says Jennifer Devine at Texas State University. Carved out of the rainforest, these ranches also help traffickers hide airfields and control territory along smuggling routes. She and her colleagues analysed 4500 aerial images of deforested areas in the 2.1 million hectare Maya Biosphere Reserve in Petén, Guatemala, which covers one-fifth of the country’s total land area, to determine what had caused the loss. They found evidence of large-scale cattle ranching in 87 per cent of the images in a key part of the reserve, Laguna del Tigre National Park. Liza Grandia at the University of California, Davis, who has worked in Petén for 27 years, says “cattle culture” has been in the region since the 1960s, when massive ranches were encouraged by the national government. “It wasn’t really until 2002 or 2003 that narco-ranchers entered the area as the new villain,” she says. “It was the normality of cattle ranching that really allowed the narcos to move in so swiftly and cloak themselves as an average agribusiness.” From 2000 to 2015, about 30 per cent of the forest of Laguna del Tigre, Guatemala’s largest national park, was turned into agricultural land. Devine and her team conducted more than 100 interviews with people living in and around the reserve to understand how to identify areas deforested by narco-ranching. These feature large clearings of dozens of hectares of land, set out with straight lines, square and rectangle shaped plots, and even tractor marks.

7-1-20 Is the hydrogen tech 'revolution' hope or hype?
In his speech on the planned economic recovery, the prime minister said hydrogen technology is an area where the UK leads the world. He hopes it’ll create clean jobs in the future. But is the hydrogen revolution hope or hype? The digger with the long-toothed bucket bites into a pile of stones, tilts up and flexes its sturdy mechanical arm. It swivels, extends the arm and dumps its load on the harsh ground of a Staffordshire quarry. It’s a beast of a machine and from the front it looks like a normal excavator. But from the back you can see its tank full of dirty diesel has been replaced with a hydrogen fuel cell. The excavator is the latest in a generation of vehicles powered by the lightest element on Earth. The compendium of vehicles powered by hydrogen now stretches from diggers to micro-taxis, trucks, boats, vans, single-deck and now double-decker buses – and even small planes. It works by reacting hydrogen with oxygen in a fuel cell to generate electricity. The only direct emission is water. So at last, the long-awaited hydrogen revolution is here. Or is it? Back in the early 2000s, backers of hydrogen thought it would dominate the clean automobile market. But the promised “hydrogen highway” never materialised, for a couple of crucial reasons. Firstly, hydrogen power needed a new infrastructure, whereas rival battery cars could be charged off the near-ubiquitous electricity grid. Secondly, high-powered batteries at that time were already well-advanced for other uses such as computers, but hydrogen was not. So hydrogen lost the head-on battle for the motor car. But now it’s back in the frame for the sort of transport, industry and heating tasks that batteries are struggling to fulfil. Take our large mechanical digger, a prototype from JCB. It has a little battery-powered cousin – small enough to squeeze through a doorway and work in a building. But JCB say the big digger would need a battery weighing five tonnes, and take hours to refuel. Hydrogen on the other hand, is lighter than air and takes minutes to fill a tank. Lorries fall into the same category as diggers – sometimes the battery would be as heavy as the payload.

7-1-20 UN approves plan to delay carbon offsetting of flights
A landmark deal curbing the impact of aviation on climate change was watered down at a United Nations (UN) meeting yesterday, meaning airlines likely will not have to start offsetting their growing carbon emissions for several years later than planned. Four years ago, 191 countries agreed for the first time to tackle aviation’s fast-growing carbon footprint by making the industry pay for tree planting and other schemes to offset its growth in emissions between 2020 and 2035. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and airlines, concerned that flights will fall 55 per cent this year on 2019 levels and demolish their revenue, asked to change the rules. This has now been approved by the council of the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a decision that environmental groups say will be disastrous for efforts to tackle climate change. The step was taken “to avoid inappropriate economic burden on the aviation industry”, ICAO said in a statement. The move was “great news for the environment!”, it tweeted. However, Annie Petsonk at the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington DC says the change means airlines may not begin offsetting until 2027. Such a delay risks a consumer backlash from younger passengers concerned about climate change, she warns. “Far-sighted leaders in aviation need to grapple with the climate crisis and understand that, as they rebuild from covid-19, if they do not put decarbonisation at the core of their business model, the future for the industry will be in jeopardy,” she says. The rule change hinges on a seemingly arcane detail, the baseline year from which emissions growth is measured. This dictates how much airlines will have to offset their growth – before the pandemic, the industry had expected passenger numbers to rise 4 per cent this year. The previously agreed baseline was the average emissions across 2019 and 2020. However, as flights and aviation emissions are much lower than expected this year, that would mean airlines having to offset more than expected, assuming flights return to pre-pandemic levels.


SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS

7-7-20 All kinds of outbreaks, from COVID-19 to violence, share the same principles
Adam Kucharski discusses his new book The Rules of Contagion. Epidemiologists like to say, “If you’ve seen one pandemic, you’ve seen … one pandemic.” But behind each outbreak lie core principles that help explain why the outbreak began, why it grew, why it peaked when it did and why it ended. In The Rules of Contagion, mathematician and epidemiologist Adam Kucharski of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine outlines those principles and shows how they apply beyond infectious disease, to the spread of ideas, financial crises, violence and more. Kucharski hardly mentions the novel coronavirus sweeping the globe. He was just wrapping up final edits when the first cases of COVID-19 appeared in Wuhan, China. But the book still feels extraordinarily prescient. Kucharski provides context for readers to understand the current pandemic, as well as a framework for thinking about other types of contagious spread. Science News spoke with Kucharski about the principles of contagion, disease modeling and misinformation. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity. I’ve noticed that the same mistakes get made repeatedly across fields. For example, after the 2008 financial crisis, a lot of people realized that the network structure between banks and loans and exposure to risk was very similar to a lot of the network features that caused problems with sexually transmitted infections in the 1970s and ’80s. If there are a lot of “loops” in the network, with people connected to each other in multiple ways, it makes it harder to stop the spread. If the network is structured so that highly connected individuals are disproportionately linked to less-connected individuals, it can result in an outbreak that spreads slower at first, but eventually reaches more of the network. Pre-2008, the financial network had both of these features. It’s also important to understand the underlying network. When looking at violence, it might be tempting to think the events are random, but there is often a series of connections that link them, and targeting these links with interventions can help prevent future incidents.

7-7-20 How making a COVID-19 vaccine confronts thorny ethical issues
A shot at COVID-19 vaccine development shows the ethical issues behind commonly used cell lines. Ethical concerns abound in the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. How do we ethically test it in people? Can people be forced to get the vaccine if they don’t want it? Who should get it first? Tackling those questions demands that a vaccine exist. But a slew of other ethical questions arise long before anything is loaded into a syringe. In particular, some Catholic leaders in the United States and Canada are concerned about COVID-19 vaccine candidates made using cells derived from human fetuses aborted electively in the 1970s and 1980s. The group wrote a letter to the commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in April, expressing concern that several vaccines involving these cell lines were selected for Operation Warp Speed — a multibillion-dollar U.S. government partnership aimed at delivering a COVID-19 vaccine by January 2021. The group urged the FDA to instead provide incentives for COVID-19 vaccines that do not use fetal cell lines. But, as virologist Angela Rasmussen of Columbia University pointed out on Twitter, those other vaccines are being developed with scientific input from research using HeLA cells — which come with their own thorny ethical issues of consent. Here’s how scientists and bioethicists are thinking about the cell lines they use as they develop COVID-19 vaccines. Cell lines are cultures of human or other animal cells that can be grown for long periods of time in the lab. Some of these cultures are known as immortalized cell lines because the cells never stop dividing. Most cells can’t perform this trick — they eventually stop splitting and die. Immortal cell lines have cheated death. Some are more than 50 years old. Cell lines can be manipulated to become immortal. Or sometimes, immortality arises by chance. “Whenever people make primary cell cultures from different organs of different animals, every so often you just get … lucky, and some cultures just won’t die,” explains Matthew Koci, a viral immunologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Such long-lasting cell lines go on to get studied, and studied some more. Some end up being used in labs around the world.

7-7-20 Mysterious Stone Age flint artefacts may be crude sculptures of humans
More than 100 distinctive flint artefacts from a Stone Age village in Jordan may be figurines of people used in funeral rituals, according to a team of archaeologists. However, other researchers aren’t convinced that the objects represent people at all. Since 2014, Juan Jose´ Iba´n~ez at the Milá and Fontanals Institution for Humanities Research in Spain and his colleagues have been excavating a site called Kharaysin in Jordan. It was occupied from around 9000 BC until at least 7000 BC. At this time, people who were previously hunter-gatherers were taking up settled farming. Kharaysin is one of the oldest examples of a village where people built houses and lived year-round. “We were excavating funerary areas, a cemetery,” says Iba´n~ez. This is where the researchers found the flint objects, each with the same distinctive shape and with two pairs of notches carved into it on either side. “We know very well the tools that are made at that period,” says Iba´n~ez. These artefacts didn’t look like any of them. The objects don’t seem to have been used as tools, as they show no signs of wear from use. This suggests they were decorative or symbolic, says Iba´n~ez. When a team member first proposed that the artefacts were figurines representing humans, “we were kind of sceptical”, says Iba´n~ez. However, the team has since become convinced that they are depictions of people, albeit crude ones. “They made two notches in one side, one representing the neck probably and the other the hip,” says Iba´n~ez (Antiquity, DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2020.78). “This is an intriguing hypothesis, but humans are very good at seeing faces in natural objects,” says April Nowell at the University of Victoria in Canada. “That is why there are so many stories about the man in the moon, and why every now and again people see Jesus in a piece of toast. If someone showed you that photograph of the ‘figurines’ without knowing the subject of the paper, you would most likely have said that this is a photograph of stone tools.”

7-7-20 Dinosaur ancestors 'may have been tiny'
Dinosaurs are often thought of as giant creatures, but new research adds to evidence they started out small. The evidence comes from a newly described fossil relative found on Madagascar that lived some 237 million years ago and stood just 10cm tall. The specimen may also help clarify the currently murky origins of pterosaurs, the winged reptiles that ruled the skies at the time of the dinosaurs. The work appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "There's a general perception of dinosaurs as being giants," said co-author Christian Kammerer, from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. "But this new animal is very close to the divergence of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, and it's shockingly small." The specimen, named Kongonaphon kely, or "tiny bug slayer", was found in 1998 in Madagascar by a team of palaeontologists, led by John Flynn from the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Dinosaurs and pterosaurs both belong to the group Ornithodira. Their origins, however, are poorly known, as few specimens from near the root of this lineage have been found. Kongonaphon is not the first small fossil animal known near the root of the ornithodiran family tree but, previously, such specimens were considered isolated exceptions. In general, scientists thought body size remained similar among the first archosaurs - the larger reptile group that includes birds, crocodilians, non-avian dinosaurs, and pterosaurs - and the earliest ornithodirans. They are then thought to have increased to gigantic proportions in the dinosaur lineage. "Analysing changes in body size throughout archosaur evolution, we found compelling evidence that it decreased sharply early in the history of the dinosaur-pterosaur lineage," Dr Kammerer said. Wear on the teeth of Kongonaphon suggests it ate insects. A shift to this kind of diet, which is associated with small body size, may have helped early ornithodirans survive by occupying a niche different from their mostly meat-eating contemporaneous relatives.

7-6-20 Ultrasound tweezers could help remove kidney stones without surgery
Beams of ultrasound could be used to remove kidney stones by steering them through the body. In experiments on pigs, a team using the approach was able to move glass beads along a predefined course. Kidney stones arise when minerals dissolved in urine form crystals. They can get stuck inside the kidneys or in the ureter, the narrow tube that leads from the kidneys to the bladder, becoming painful. One treatment involves breaking the stones up into smaller pieces, so they can more easily exit the body in urine. This may be done by pushing a long thin tube up into the ureter from the bladder, or by firing ultrasound shock waves from outside the body, but both methods can leave fragments behind that encourage more stones to grow. More severe cases require surgery. A team led by Michael Bailey at the University of Washington in Seattle has been exploring a different approach, using gentler ultrasound waves to release stones from where they have got stuck. The first idea the team tried was giving a stone a small nudge, to boost its chances of moving along naturally. The first test of this, in 15 people, suggests that smaller stones can usually be made to move a little using this approach, helping them to be cleared from the body, although it wasn’t a placebo-controlled trial. Now Bailey’s group has found a way to better control how the stone moves, using carefully targeted sound waves to create a ring of high pressure around the stone, trapping it in place. If the ring is moved, it drags the stone along with it. “Even moving it just a small distance will help,” says Bailey. The team tested the approach on three anaesthetised pigs, using glass beads that had been placed inside their bladders to stand in for kidney stones. The beads were successfully steered along pre-chosen routes with over 90 per cent accuracy. “It’s really quite controllable,” says Bailey, who consults for US firm SonoMotion, which has licensed the technology.

7-6-20 Self-destructive civilizations may doom our search for alien intelligence
A lack of signals from space may also be bad news for Earthlings. On Earth, civilizations have limited lifetimes. Roman civilization, for instance, lasted less than a thousand years from the founding of its republic to the fall of its empire (after a long decline). In the New World, Maya civilization spanned roughly two millennia (maybe a little longer depending on when you date its beginning). In the late Bronze Age, the Greek Mycenaean civilization lasted a mere five centuries or so. As for American civilization (as in the United States of), at the rate things are going it won’t last even that long. For some reason, civilization is not a self-perpetuating state of affairs on this planet. And perhaps not on other planets, either. In fact, limits to civilization lifetimes may explain why extraterrestrial aliens have not yet communicated with Earthlings. A new analysis suggests that the entire Milky Way galaxy currently houses only a few dozen worlds equipped with sufficiently sophisticated technology to send us a message. They are probably scattered at such great distances that any signals sent our way haven’t had time to get here. And by the time a signal arrives, there may be nobody here around to hear it. “We may imagine a galaxy in which intelligent life is widespread, but communication unlikely,” write Tom Westby and Christopher Conselice in the June 10 Astrophysical Journal. Westby and Conselice, of the University of Nottingham in England, base their analysis on a modified version of the Drake equation, proposed nearly 60 years ago by the astronomer Frank Drake. At a time when most scientists didn’t take communicating with E.T. seriously, Drake identified the factors that would, in principle, permit an estimate of how many communicating civilizations might exist in the galaxy. His equation provided the framework for all subsequent scientific assessment of the prospects for extraterrestrial intelligence. (Webmaster's comment: To become the dominate species of this planet human beings are in the process using up all the resources, destroying the environment, and killing every other thing that lives. In less than another 2,000 years we will be gone!)

7-6-20 Hair sample tests may give women more accurate fertility predictions
Women wanting to know how many eggs they have left may in future be able to have their hair tested to reveal their hormone levels. A signalling chemical related to women’s fertility called anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) is incorporated into hair shafts while they are still underneath the skin. Testing the hair may give a better indication of fertility than current blood tests. AMH is released by eggs in the ovaries, the number of which decline with age. Blood AMH levels broadly correlate with how many eggs a woman has left, and therefore how long it will be before she stops being fertile. Some firms offer AMH blood testing for any woman trying to get pregnant – although doctors’ bodies have warned that for the general population, it isn’t a good indicator of how likely someone is to conceive. But for people having IVF, it does predict which women are likely to respond well or poorly to stimulation of their ovaries, according to the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. In future, women may be able to send off a hair sample for testing, instead of having a blood sample taken. In a group of 152 women aged between 18 and 65, hair AMH levels correlated with levels in their blood, and with the number of eggs present in their ovaries as seen by an ultrasound scan – but hair levels of the hormone tracked age better than blood levels, suggesting the hair test may be more accurate. Hormone levels in hair may be a better indicator of longer-term average blood levels than a one-off blood sample, says Sarthak Sawarkar at US fertility company MedAnswers, who did the study. “Hair is a medium that can accumulate biomarkers over several weeks, while hormone levels in blood can fluctuate rapidly in response to stimuli,” he said in a statement. The work was presented at this year’s online meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.

7-6-20 Brain-eating amoeba: Warning issued in Florida after rare infection case
A case of a rare brain-eating amoeba has been confirmed in Florida, according to health officials in the US state. The Florida Department of Health (DOH) said one person in Hillsborough County had contracted Naegleria fowleri. The microscopic, single-celled amoeba can cause an infection of the brain, and is usually fatal. Commonly found in warm freshwater, the amoeba enters the body through the nose. The DOH did not outline where the infection was contracted, or the patient's condition. The amoeba cannot be passed from person to person. Infections are typically seen in southern US states. They are rare in Florida, where only 37 cases have been reported since 1962. But given the potentially deadly consequences of infection, the DOH issued a warning to residents of Hillsborough County on 3 July. Health officials urged locals to avoid nasal contact with water from taps and other sources. This includes bodies of open water such as lakes, rivers, ponds and canals, where infections are more likely in the warmer summer months of July, August and September. Those infected with Naegleria fowleri have symptoms including fever, nausea and vomiting, as well as a stiff neck and headaches. Most die within a week. The DOH has urged people who experience those symptoms to "seek medical attention right away, as the disease progresses rapidly". "Remember, this disease is rare and effective prevention strategies can allow for a safe and relaxing summer swim season," the DOH said. Naegleria fowleri infections are rare in the US, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Between 2009 and 2018, only 34 infections were reported in the country. Of those cases, 30 people were infected by recreational water, three after performing nasal irrigation with contaminated tap water, and one person was infected by contaminated tap water used on a backyard slip-n-slide, the CDC said.

7-6-20 China bubonic plague: Inner Mongolia takes precautions after case
Authorities in China have stepped up precautions after a city in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region confirmed one case of bubonic plague. According to state reports, the Bayannur patient - a herdsman - is in quarantine and in a stable condition. Officials said they were also investigating a second suspected case, according to China's Global Times. The bubonic plague was once the world's most feared disease, but can now be easily treated. The first case was reported as suspected bubonic plague on Saturday at a hospital in Urad Middle Banner, in Bayannur city. It is not yet clear how or why the patient might have become infected. The second suspected case involves a 15-year-old, who had apparently been in contact with a marmot hunted by a dog, a tweet from Global Times said. A level 3 alert, which forbids the hunting and eating of animals that could carry plague and calls on the public to report suspected cases, has been put in place until the end of the year. Bubonic plague, caused by bacterial infection, was responsible for one of the deadliest epidemics in human history - the Black Death - which killed about 50 million people across Africa, Asia and Europe in the 14th Century. There have been a handful of large outbreaks since. It killed about a fifth of London's population during the Great Plague of 1665, while more than 12 million died in outbreaks during the 19th Century in China and India. But nowadays it can be treated by antibiotics. Left untreated, the disease - which is typically transmitted from animals to humans by fleas - has a 30-60% fatality rate. Symptoms of the plague include high fever, chills, nausea, weakness and swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin. Bubonic cases are rare, but there are still a few flare-ups of the disease from time to time. Madagascar saw more than 300 cases during an outbreak in 2017. However, a study in medical journal The Lancet found less than 30 people died

7-6-20 What is bubonic plague?
A suspected case of bubonic plague has been reported to Chinese authorities. It is not known how the patient became infected, but the country is on alert for more cases. Plague is one of the deadliest diseases in human history - but it can now be easily treated with antibiotics. Plague is a potentially lethal infectious disease that is caused by bacteria called Yersinia pestis that live in some animals - mainly rodents - and their fleas. Bubonic plague is the most common type of the disease that people can get. The name comes from the symptoms it causes - painful, swollen lymph nodes or 'buboes' in the groin or armpit. From 2010 to 2015 there were 3,248 cases reported worldwide, including 584 deaths. Historically, it has also been called the Black Death, in reference to the gangrenous blackening and death of body parts, such as the fingers and toes, that can happen with the illness. A person usually becomes ill with bubonic plague between two and six days after being infected. Along with the tender, enlarged lymph nodes, that can be as large as a chicken egg, other symptoms include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and tiredness. Plague can also affect the lungs, causing a cough, chest pain and difficulty breathing. The bacteria can also enter the bloodstream and cause a condition called septicaemia or sepsis, which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death. Domestic cats and dogs can become infected from flea bites or from eating infected rodents. The infection could also enter the body through a cut in the skin if the person came in close contact with an infected animal's blood. The current alert in China forbids the hunting and eating of animals that could carry plague. The body of someone who has died after being infected with plague can infect people who are in close contact, such as those who are preparing the body for burial.

7-5-20 Underwater cave in Mexico reveals ancient Mayan secrets
Cave divers on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula have found evidence of a mining operation started 12,000 years ago. It is thought the cave was mined for red ochre, a pigment associated with ancient paintings.

7-4-20 Coronavirus: What makes a gathering a ‘superspreader’ event?
Now months into the US coronavirus outbreak, safety precautions have become routine: stand 6ft (2m) apart, wear a mask, and wash your hands. But still, certain 'superspreader' events - birthday parties, bar nights, and even choir practice - seem to be the culprits in an outsized number of Covid-19 infections. So how can one night out, or a single infected person, lead to dozens of cases? We asked Dr Abraar Karan, a physician and public health researcher at Harvard Medical School, to look at three different cases since the US outbreak began to understand how some events can shift from low to high risk, and how to avoid attending a superspreader event yourself. At a superspreading event, the number of cases transmitted will be disproportionately high compared to general transmission, Dr Karan says. And the risk of these superspreading events may balloon in the presence of superspreading people, who pass on their infection more widely either by being in contact with more people or emitting more of the virus. "I tend to think of it as this: the vast majority of people may not infect any other people, and some people in certain situations infect a lot of people," he says. "One person may infect 10 people, or 15 people or 20 people." Research is still being done, Dr Karan says, but early results indicate that coronavirus spread is primarily powered by these supercharged events. "Different models have looked at this and they suggest that 20% of people account for 80% of spread." And while risk profiles will vary widely between similar events, Dr Karan says there are certain factors that should raise a red flag. "If you have any of the following in combination: indoors, crowded, closed spaces, without any sort of personal protective equipment like masks, which you're not going to have eating - I think those are all high-risk," he says.

7-4-20 Underwater caves once hosted the Americas’ oldest known ochre mines
Now-submerged Mexican caves hold signs of red pigment extraction as early as 12,000 years ago. Ancient Americans ventured deep into caves along a stretch of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula to mine a red pigment that could have had both practical and ritual uses, researchers say. Discoveries of mining-related artifacts and digging areas by divers in three now-submerged cave systems indicate that people there removed a natural pigment called red ochre, say archaeologist Brandi MacDonald of the University of Missouri in Columbia and her colleagues. Radiocarbon dates of burned wood from fires used to illuminate mining areas place humans at these sites between roughly 12,000 and 10,000 years ago, making it the oldest evidence of ochre mining in the Americas, the investigators report July 3 in Science Advances. Previous finds have suggested that ancient Americans used red ochre in many ways, including as an antiseptic, sunscreen, hide-tanning agent and for body painting and other symbolic purposes (SN: 2/12/14). Remnants of ancient pigment mining uncovered by MacDonald’s team raise the possibility that some miners may have died and been left where they perished. Divers previously found at least 10 human skeletons in Yucatán caves dating to as early as around 12,000 years ago, before rising seas inundated the underground chambers (SN: 2/6/20). In one cave system, an approximately 900-meter-long series of tunnels dubbed La Mina contained extensive evidence of red ochre extraction. Several narrow passages leading into La Mina contained piles of stones and broken pieces of cave growths that miners apparently used as navigation guides. Other broken-off cave growths had been wielded as digging tools. Most of the 352 pits and other intentionally disturbed areas in La Mina contain remnants of ochre deposits, the researchers say. Ochre samples from La Mina were bright red and chemically suitable for making paint, they add.

7-3-20 Coronavirus: Testing sewage an 'easy win'
A sewage-based coronavirus test could be an "easy win" that would pick up infection spikes up to 10 days earlier than with existing medical-based tests. Scientists led by UK's Centre for Ecology and Hydrology are working on a standardised test to "count" the amount of coronavirus in a wastewater sample. "The earlier you find [a signal], the earlier an intervention can happen," says lead researcher Dr Andrew Singer. "That means lives will be made much more liveable in the current crisis." A network of scientists from universities including Newcastle, Bangor and Edinburgh have already teamed up with local water companies to collect samples of untreated sewage from treatment plants; the first stage in mapping the outbreak through the sewers. Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, research revealed that people infected with the virus "shed" viral material in their faeces. That insight prompted an interest in "sewage epidemiology". "By sampling wastewater at different parts of the sewerage network, we can gradually narrow an outbreak down to smaller geographical areas, enabling public-health officials to quickly target interventions in those areas at greatest risk of spreading the infection," said Dr Singer. "Our network already has six labs that are capable of doing that work, so a national surveillance system could happen tomorrow." So while the researchers say they already have a reliable test that can show the presence or absence of the coronavirus, they are now working on a way to measure levels of infection regularly and reliably across the water-treatment network. "It's easy to say whether something's there or not with genetic fingerprinting," explained Newcastle University's Prof David Graham, who is involved in the development of that test. "But for the sake of epidemiology - which has life-and-death impacts - we wanted to be more exact." Prof Graham and his colleagues have now developed a way to quantify the genetic material from the coronavirus.

7-3-20 Eating seaweed can genetically modify the bacteria in our guts
Eating seaweed can genetically alter the bacteria in your gut as they can acquire genes from marine bacteria for digesting substances unique to seaweeds. It isn’t known if this affects people’s health, but having gut bacteria that can digest carrageenan, a common food additive derived from seaweed, might be harmful. “Our microbes are naturally genetically engineering themselves,” says Eric Martens at the University of Michigan. Seaweeds contain unique dietary fibres – large carbohydrate molecules – that neither we nor the bacteria in our guts can normally digest. For instance, the nori wrappers used for sushi are rich in porphyran. In 2012, however, a team including Martens found that one gut bacterium had acquired the genes needed to digest porphyran, probably from a bacterium that lives in the sea. Now a team led by Martens has found several more examples. The researchers started by seeing if any bacteria present in faecal samples from a few hundred volunteers could grow if fed only carbohydrates unique to certain seaweeds. They then sequenced the genomes of these bacteria. The team found two strains of Bacteroides gut bacteria that can digest carrageenan, which is found in red seaweeds traditionally eaten in parts of Europe and Asia. It is added to many foods to thicken them, and is also found in some sex lubricants. There has been controversy over the safety of carrageenan because it can break down into a substance called poligeenan, which is toxic. Full-size carrageenan molecules should normally pass through the gut intact, but people with bacteria that can digest carrageenan might produce poligeenan in their guts. “Whether this happens in enough abundance, we don’t know,” says Martens. Even if poligeenan is produced, it might remain safely inside bacteria. This issue should be investigated further, he says.

7-3-20 A sugary diet changes gut bacteria and worsens brain function in rats
We know diets can shape the billions of bacteria that live in your gut. Now, research in rats suggests the gut bacteria may, in turn, affect brain function by changing the way genes are expressed in areas important for memory. Scott Kanoski at the University of Southern California and his colleagues fed young rats a high-sugar diet while a separate group of rats were only fed standard chow. Around a month later, the team tested the rats’ memory. Specifically, rats performed a task designed to measure their ability to tell whether or not they had seen an item before, in a specific context. This type of memory is thought to rely on a brain structure called the hippocampus. The rats on a high-sugar diet performed significantly worse than those that had been given healthy food. The two groups of rats also appeared to have differences in their gut microbiomes. An analysis of the animals’ faeces found that the guts of the sugar-fed rats had higher levels of several types of bacteria. The levels of one of these types of bacteria seem to correspond to memory performance. Rats with higher levels of Parabacteroides bacteria performed worst on the memory task. To find out if Parabacteroides bacteria might be influencing brain function, Kanoski’s team delivered the bacteria directly to the guts of a separate group of rats that had been fed a cocktail of antibiotics to kill off previous communities of bacteria. Rats given Parabacteroides performed worse in the same memory tasks compared with rats that had just been treated with antibiotics. The hippocampi of the rats also appear to express genes differently. This brain region had a pattern of gene expression that suggested alterations in the way certain groups of neurons fire in both rats that were fed sugar and those treated with Parabacteroides. There are several different ways gut bacteria might influence the brain, says Ted Dinan at University College Cork, Ireland. The vagus nerve, for example, provides a direct connection between the gut and brain. Preliminary evidence suggests that some types of gut bacteria can alleviate anxiety in mice – but only if the vagus nerve is intact. Gut bacteria also produce a variety of compounds that might affect brain function.

7-3-20 4 reasons not to worry about that ‘new’ swine flu in the news
While similar to H1N1, it has shown no signs of spreading rapidly or causing severe disease. It may feel odd to be thinking ahead to the next potential pandemic when the world is far from finished with the current one. But reports of a newly identified swine influenza virus that shows hints of being able to spread among humans have raised that specter — although public health officials say it’s not an imminent threat. That virus, identified in pigs in some parts of China, has characteristics similar to a strain that caused the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic (SN: 12/18/09), a new study finds. But just identifying such a flu virus circulating in pigs does not mean it poses an immediate threat to people. Rather it signals to researchers that they should monitor sick people for similar viruses. “It’s not an immediate threat where you’re seeing infections,” Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md., said in a U.S. Senate hearing on June 30. “But it’s something we need to keep our eye on, just the way we did in 2009 with the emergence of the swine flu.” Influenza viruses bind to a protein called sialic acid to break into cells. Birds and people have different types of this protein in their upper airway, but pigs have both. That makes pigs not only susceptible to swine-specific flu strains but also to flu viruses from birds and humans. As a result, the animals often become influenza mixing pots. Once in pigs, bird, swine and human flu viruses can exchange genetic material — called reassortment — giving rise to new strains (SN: 2/12/10). If some of those new strains can infect people and make them sick, the virus might go on to cause larger outbreaks. Like the 2009 H1N1 virus, a newly identified pig virus, called G4 EA H1N1, or G4 for short, can attach to the type of sialic acid that lines a person’s respiratory tract, and it can also replicate in human cells grown in a dish, researchers report June 29 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Infected ferrets — an animal commonly used to study influenza because ferrets exhibit similar symptoms as people — can also get sick and pass the virus to other ferrets. The findings hint that the virus has the potential to cause disease and be transmitted among people.

7-3-20 Medics who changed history wouldn't get into modern medical schools
Many of the people behind the most significant medical discoveries of the past 300 years wouldn’t have got into medical school by today’s standards, because they either studied the “wrong” subjects, got low grades or didn’t follow the rules. The finding highlights how the education system wrongly favours academic achievement over other important traits, like persistence and creativity, says David Jenkins at the University of Toronto, Canada. “We have to be much more flexible in how we accept young people into medical school or any other profession or activity that is their goal,” says Jenkins. Jenkins’s research was born out of his own frustration with being penalised because he “couldn’t read very quickly”. He has since noticed how would-be medical students spend hours memorising passages from physics textbooks that they will never use in clinical practice. To find out if this academic focus might rule out potential students who might otherwise be destined for greatness, Jenkins and his colleagues looked at the early academic achievements of 100 people considered to be among the greatest innovators in medicine. The list of innovators included Edward Jenner, who discovered the world’s first vaccine – for smallpox, which has since been eradicated worldwide. Frederick Banting was another example, who conducted Nobel prizewinning research on the role that insulin can play in treating diabetes. Specifically, the team looked at which subjects the innovators had studied at school, and their grades, as well as the comments of their teachers, and whether they had ever failed or been expelled. “We assume all great medical innovators would certainly be accepted to medical school,” says Jenkins. But his team found that, by today’s standards, only 24 per cent would meet entry requirements.

7-3-20 Coronavirus: Testing sewage an 'easy win'
A sewage-based coronavirus test could be an "easy win" that would pick up infection spikes up to 10 days earlier than with existing medical-based tests. Scientists led by UK's Centre for Ecology and Hydrology are working on a standardised test to "count" the amount of coronavirus in a wastewater sample. "The earlier you find [a signal], the earlier an intervention can happen," says lead researcher Dr Andrew Singer. "That means lives will be made much more liveable in the current crisis." A network of scientists from universities including Newcastle, Bangor and Edinburgh have already teamed up with local water companies to collect samples of untreated sewage from treatment plants; the first stage in mapping the outbreak through the sewers. Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, research revealed that people infected with the virus "shed" viral material in their faeces. That insight prompted an interest in "sewage epidemiology". "By sampling wastewater at different parts of the sewerage network, we can gradually narrow an outbreak down to smaller geographical areas, enabling public-health officials to quickly target interventions in those areas at greatest risk of spreading the infection," said Dr Singer. "Our network already has six labs that are capable of doing that work, so a national surveillance system could happen tomorrow." So while the researchers say they already have a reliable test that can show the presence or absence of the coronavirus, they are now working on a way to measure levels of infection regularly and reliably across the water-treatment network. "It's easy to say whether something's there or not with genetic fingerprinting," explained Newcastle University's Prof David Graham, who is involved in the development of that test. "But for the sake of epidemiology - which has life-and-death impacts - we wanted to be more exact." Prof Graham and his colleagues have now developed a way to quantify the genetic material from the coronavirus.

7-3-20 Eating seaweed can genetically modify the bacteria in our guts
Eating seaweed can genetically alter the bacteria in your gut as they can acquire genes from marine bacteria for digesting substances unique to seaweeds. It isn’t known if this affects people’s health, but having gut bacteria that can digest carrageenan, a common food additive derived from seaweed, might be harmful. “Our microbes are naturally genetically engineering themselves,” says Eric Martens at the University of Michigan. Seaweeds contain unique dietary fibres – large carbohydrate molecules – that neither we nor the bacteria in our guts can normally digest. For instance, the nori wrappers used for sushi are rich in porphyran. In 2012, however, a team including Martens found that one gut bacterium had acquired the genes needed to digest porphyran, probably from a bacterium that lives in the sea. Now a team led by Martens has found several more examples. The researchers started by seeing if any bacteria present in faecal samples from a few hundred volunteers could grow if fed only carbohydrates unique to certain seaweeds. They then sequenced the genomes of these bacteria. The team found two strains of Bacteroides gut bacteria that can digest carrageenan, which is found in red seaweeds traditionally eaten in parts of Europe and Asia. It is added to many foods to thicken them, and is also found in some sex lubricants. There has been controversy over the safety of carrageenan because it can break down into a substance called poligeenan, which is toxic. Full-size carrageenan molecules should normally pass through the gut intact, but people with bacteria that can digest carrageenan might produce poligeenan in their guts. “Whether this happens in enough abundance, we don’t know,” says Martens. Even if poligeenan is produced, it might remain safely inside bacteria. This issue should be investigated further, he says.

7-3-20 A sugary diet changes gut bacteria and worsens brain function in rats
We know diets can shape the billions of bacteria that live in your gut. Now, research in rats suggests the gut bacteria may, in turn, affect brain function by changing the way genes are expressed in areas important for memory. Scott Kanoski at the University of Southern California and his colleagues fed young rats a high-sugar diet while a separate group of rats were only fed standard chow. Around a month later, the team tested the rats’ memory. Specifically, rats performed a task designed to measure their ability to tell whether or not they had seen an item before, in a specific context. This type of memory is thought to rely on a brain structure called the hippocampus. The rats on a high-sugar diet performed significantly worse than those that had been given healthy food. The two groups of rats also appeared to have differences in their gut microbiomes. An analysis of the animals’ faeces found that the guts of the sugar-fed rats had higher levels of several types of bacteria. The levels of one of these types of bacteria seem to correspond to memory performance. Rats with higher levels of Parabacteroides bacteria performed worst on the memory task. To find out if Parabacteroides bacteria might be influencing brain function, Kanoski’s team delivered the bacteria directly to the guts of a separate group of rats that had been fed a cocktail of antibiotics to kill off previous communities of bacteria. Rats given Parabacteroides performed worse in the same memory tasks compared with rats that had just been treated with antibiotics. The hippocampi of the rats also appear to express genes differently. This brain region had a pattern of gene expression that suggested alterations in the way certain groups of neurons fire in both rats that were fed sugar and those treated with Parabacteroides. There are several different ways gut bacteria might influence the brain, says Ted Dinan at University College Cork, Ireland. The vagus nerve, for example, provides a direct connection between the gut and brain. Preliminary evidence suggests that some types of gut bacteria can alleviate anxiety in mice – but only if the vagus nerve is intact. Gut bacteria also produce a variety of compounds that might affect brain function.

7-3-20 4 reasons not to worry about that ‘new’ swine flu in the news
While similar to H1N1, it has shown no signs of spreading rapidly or causing severe disease. It may feel odd to be thinking ahead to the next potential pandemic when the world is far from finished with the current one. But reports of a newly identified swine influenza virus that shows hints of being able to spread among humans have raised that specter — although public health officials say it’s not an imminent threat. That virus, identified in pigs in some parts of China, has characteristics similar to a strain that caused the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic (SN: 12/18/09), a new study finds. But just identifying such a flu virus circulating in pigs does not mean it poses an immediate threat to people. Rather it signals to researchers that they should monitor sick people for similar viruses. “It’s not an immediate threat where you’re seeing infections,” Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md., said in a U.S. Senate hearing on June 30. “But it’s something we need to keep our eye on, just the way we did in 2009 with the emergence of the swine flu.” Influenza viruses bind to a protein called sialic acid to break into cells. Birds and people have different types of this protein in their upper airway, but pigs have both. That makes pigs not only susceptible to swine-specific flu strains but also to flu viruses from birds and humans. As a result, the animals often become influenza mixing pots. Once in pigs, bird, swine and human flu viruses can exchange genetic material — called reassortment — giving rise to new strains (SN: 2/12/10). If some of those new strains can infect people and make them sick, the virus might go on to cause larger outbreaks. Like the 2009 H1N1 virus, a newly identified pig virus, called G4 EA H1N1, or G4 for short, can attach to the type of sialic acid that lines a person’s respiratory tract, and it can also replicate in human cells grown in a dish, researchers report June 29 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Infected ferrets — an animal commonly used to study influenza because ferrets exhibit similar symptoms as people — can also get sick and pass the virus to other ferrets. The findings hint that the virus has the potential to cause disease and be transmitted among people.

7-3-20 Medics who changed history wouldn't get into modern medical schools
Many of the people behind the most significant medical discoveries of the past 300 years wouldn’t have got into medical school by today’s standards, because they either studied the “wrong” subjects, got low grades or didn’t follow the rules. The finding highlights how the education system wrongly favours academic achievement over other important traits, like persistence and creativity, says David Jenkins at the University of Toronto, Canada. “We have to be much more flexible in how we accept young people into medical school or any other profession or activity that is their goal,” says Jenkins. Jenkins’s research was born out of his own frustration with being penalised because he “couldn’t read very quickly”. He has since noticed how would-be medical students spend hours memorising passages from physics textbooks that they will never use in clinical practice. To find out if this academic focus might rule out potential students who might otherwise be destined for greatness, Jenkins and his colleagues looked at the early academic achievements of 100 people considered to be among the greatest innovators in medicine. The list of innovators included Edward Jenner, who discovered the world’s first vaccine – for smallpox, which has since been eradicated worldwide. Frederick Banting was another example, who conducted Nobel prizewinning research on the role that insulin can play in treating diabetes. Specifically, the team looked at which subjects the innovators had studied at school, and their grades, as well as the comments of their teachers, and whether they had ever failed or been expelled. “We assume all great medical innovators would certainly be accepted to medical school,” says Jenkins. But his team found that, by today’s standards, only 24 per cent would meet entry requirements.

7-2-20 Why COVID-19 is both startlingly unique and painfully familiar
The coronavirus has a lot of tricks up its sleeve, but not all of them are new. For Abby Knowles, a headache and fatigue was just the start. She soon felt like she had a tight band across her chest, making it difficult to breathe. She developed pain in her upper body, which led doctors to check if she was having a heart attack (she wasn’t). Her blood pressure began to oscillate — too low, too high — leaving her lightheaded and nauseous. Her mind became so foggy she couldn’t read a book. A symptom might taper off, only to return. “You’ll think, ‘Oh I’m done with that bit, brilliant,’” Knowles says, “and then three days later it will be back.” After more than three months of illness, Knowles — who is 38 and lives in Reading, England — has been referred for an evaluation for long-term complications from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. Meanwhile, her husband Dan, who also became sick toward the end of March, had a high fever and more typical COVID-19 symptoms for a few days but soon recovered. The experiences of the Knowles and many COVID-19 patients point to the ways that the coronavirus can be maddeningly unpredictable. Some people have debilitating illness, while others barely feel sick, if at all. For some, it’s mostly a respiratory illness, while others have neurological symptoms (SN: 6/12/20), such as loss of smell (SN: 5/11/20). Severely ill patients may develop life-threatening blood clots (SN: 6/23/20), adding vascular symptoms to the list. Some patients are struggling to get back to normal long after being sick. And the way the disease plays out by age can be baffling. Severe cases of COVID-19 have been rare among children, but some have suffered a dangerous inflammatory syndrome that can appear weeks after an infection (SN: 6/3/20). Older people remain at highest risk for hospitalizations and death from COVID-19, but young adults are getting seriously ill, too (SN: 3/19/20). That group generally tends to fare better than the very young and very old with viral infections (one glaring exception: the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed healthy, young adults at a high rate). In the six months since China reported a pneumonia of unknown cause, doctors have described a burgeoning catalog of health harms from what’s now called COVID-19. In some ways, the disease stands apart: The range of COVID-19’s effects and the difficulty in predicting how severely it will hit any one person is out of the ordinary. But some of the symptoms and patterns associated with COVID-19 are painfully familiar.

7-2-20 Horror movie fans are better at coping with the coronavirus pandemic
Everyone is entitled to one good scare – and it may be good for us. People who watch a lot of horror films and those who are morbidly curious about unpleasant subjects seem to be more psychologically resilient to the covid-19 pandemic, a study reveals. “Horror users tended to have less psychological distress,” says Coltan Scrivner at the University of Chicago. The research was prompted by a question from New Scientist news editor Penny Sarchet. In a Twitter conversation with horror researcher Mathias Clasen at Aarhus University in Denmark, Sarchet asked “if people who like apocalyptic/horror movies (which I’ve always hated!) will be more resilient to the trauma of this pandemic”. Scrivner, Clasen and their colleagues decided to find out. They asked 310 US volunteers which film genres they liked, including horror and other “prepper” genres such as post-apocalyptic and alien invasion. They also asked whether people had seen pandemic-themed films such as Contagion. The volunteers then took personality tests and a questionnaire designed to measure their morbid curiosity: their motivation to seek out information about dangerous situations or phenomena. Alongside this, the volunteers were asked how well they were coping with the covid-19 pandemic, both whether they were still having positive experiences despite the crisis, and whether they were experiencing unusually severe negative states like anxiety. Participants were also asked how well-prepared they had been – for instance, whether the pandemic’s consequences took them by surprise. Fans of horror movies were less prone to negative mental states. “Which suggested to us, maybe with horror it’s about emotion regulation,” says Scrivner. Watching scary movies “allows me to give myself the experience of being afraid and then conquering that fear”. This may be one of the underlying reasons for people’s fascination with scary stories.

7-1-20 The way our bodies remember coronavirus should make a vaccine possible
THROUGHOUT the pandemic, SARS-CoV-2 has proved full of surprises, most of them nasty. Initially regarded as a respiratory virus, we now know it infects other organ systems, and can linger for months. It disproportionally kills people from poor and ethnic minority backgrounds and also men, for reasons that still aren’t fully understood. It doesn’t seem to be suppressed by warm weather or climates. But the latest surprise is a nice one. Initial fears that the virus would fail to raise immune memory – the lengthy, sometimes lifelong, protection that we get from exposure to many viruses including measles – look exaggerated. It is still early days, but signs from patients point to a strong and long-lasting immune response (see “Can we become immune to the coronavirus? What the evidence says so far”). That is welcome news for two reasons. It makes a vaccine more likely, and means that people who have recovered from the virus almost certainly can’t get it again, at least in the short term. But it also brings complications. One is that governments will be tempted to introduce “immunity passports” for people who have recovered, perhaps permitting them to travel or attend large gatherings, which those without passports would be banned from. That may seem like a good idea, but bioethicists warn that it could backfire, for example by creating perverse incentives to get infected and a black market in stolen or forged passports. It could also be the start of a slippery slope to a more comprehensive system of health passports and surveillance. The other fear is that it revives the canard that naturally acquired herd immunity will save us. That this was ever on the table beggars belief: without knowing whether natural immunity exists, positing herd immunity as an exit strategy is scientifically illiterate. Even now, natural herd immunity is for the birds. The levels of infection required would kill millions and devastate health services. But herd immunity does remain the way out, if it is artificially created by vaccination. On that front, the latest science looks good. With infections rising globally (see “Lockdown measures return as covid-19 cases spike in several countries”), we badly need it.

7-1-20 Evolution tells us why there are two types of leader in today's world
The leadership styles of Donald Trump and Jacinda Ardern are dramatically different, but our evolutionary history explains both – and why our preferences have changed. DONALD TRUMP in the US and Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand. Vladimir Putin in Russia and Sanna Marin in Finland. It is hard to imagine more drastically different political figures. Yet each of these individuals has reached the highest office in their country. Given the vast differences in their personal qualities, behaviour and rhetoric, can we ever understand what makes for a successful leader? How is it that Trump, Ardern, Putin and Marin can all become leaders of their nations? If you have had any exposure to business leadership theories, you may see a pattern here. Many identify two main ways that leaders exert their influence over groups. These dichotomies go by names such as democratic versus autocratic, participative versus directive and personalised versus positional. This sort of analysis may be helpful in characterising leadership styles, but it can only take us so far in understanding why we have the leaders we do. Now, an idea emerging from evolutionary biology promises to do much more. This approach connects the two distinct leadership styles with deeper human drives and motivations. Its proponents argue that through this perspective, we can explain a lot about the state of the world today, from the US-China trade war to the success of countries such as New Zealand, Germany and Taiwan in responding to covid-19, and from Boris Johnson’s victory in last year’s UK general election to the under-representation of women in boardrooms. Some believe this model can even predict the outcome of the forthcoming US presidential election. Can they be right? Evolutionary biologists call the two styles of leadership “dominance” and “prestige”. A prestige leader influences people through their superior personal attributes, such as knowledge, wisdom and vision. These leaders may also be charismatic and use their skill at rhetoric to win over followers: think of Jesus or Confucius. Or, for a more contemporary case, take the German chancellor Angela Merkel. Women aren’t restricted to prestige leadership alone, but it is thought by some that female leaders generally operate this way because women’s responsibilities for childcare and food-gathering throughout most of human history have left them with an “evolved psychology” that is more cooperative, in general, than men’s. At least, that’s how prestige leadership is depicted by Mark van Vugt at Vrije University in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Jennifer Smith at Mills College in Oakland, California, in a paper published last year that sets out this evolutionary model.

7-1-20 Coronavirus: What does Covid-19 do to the brain?
Stroke, delirium, anxiety, confusion, fatigue - the list goes on. If you think Covid-19 is just a respiratory disease, think again. As each week passes, it is becoming increasingly clear that coronavirus can trigger a huge range of neurological problems. Several people who've contacted me after comparatively mild illness have spoken of the lingering cognitive impact of the disease - problems with their memory, tiredness, staying focused. But it's at the more severe end that there is most concern. Chatting to Paul Mylrea, it's hard to imagine that he had two massive strokes, both caused by coronavirus infection. The 64-year-old, who is director of communications at Cambridge University, is eloquent and, despite some lingering weakness on his right side, able-bodied. He has made one of the most remarkable recoveries ever seen by doctors at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN) in London. His first stroke happened while he was in intensive care at University College Hospital. Potentially deadly blood clots were also found in his lungs and legs, so he was put on powerful blood-thinning (anticoagulant) drugs. A couple of days later he suffered a second, even bigger stroke and was immediately transferred to the NHNN in Queen Square. Consultant neurologist Dr Arvind Chandratheva was just leaving hospital when the ambulance arrived. "Paul had a blank expression on his face," he says. "He could only see on one side and he couldn't figure out how to use his phone or remember his passcode. "I immediately thought that the blood thinners had caused a bleed in the brain, but what we saw was so strange and different." Paul had suffered another acute stroke due to a clot, depriving vital areas of the brain of blood supply. Tests showed that he had astonishingly high levels of a marker for the amount of clotting in the blood known as D-dimer. Normally these are less than 300, and in stroke patients can rise to 1,000. Paul Mylrea's levels were over 80,000. "I've never seen that level of clotting before - something about his body's response to the infection had caused his blood to become incredibly sticky," says Dr Chandratheva.

7-1-20 Coronavirus: Immunity may be more widespread than tests suggest
People testing negative for coronavirus antibodies may still have some immunity, a study has suggested. For every person testing positive for antibodies, two were found to have specific T-cells which identify and destroy infected cells. This was seen even in people who had mild or symptomless cases of Covid-19. But it's not yet clear whether this just protects that individual, or if it might also stop them from passing on the infection to others. Researchers at the Karolinksa Institute in Sweden tested 200 people for both antibodies and T-cells. Some were blood donors while others were tracked down from the group of people first infected in Sweden, mainly returning from earlier affected areas like northern Italy. This could mean a wider group have some level of immunity to Covid-19 than antibody testing figures, like those published as part of the UK Office for National Statistics Infection Survey, suggest. It's likely those people did mount an antibody response, but either it had faded or was not detectable by the current tests. And these people should be protected if they are exposed to the virus for a second time. Prof Danny Altmann at Imperial College London described the study as "robust, impressive and thorough" and said it added to a growing body of evidence that "antibody testing alone underestimates immunity". This doesn't necessarily get us any closer to herd immunity, though, according to assistant professor Marcus Buggert, one of the study's authors. More analysis needs to be done to understand whether these T-cells provide "sterilising immunity", meaning they completely block the virus, or whether they might protect an individual from getting sick but not stop them from carrying the virus and transmitting it. Much of the discussion around Covid-19 immunity has focused on antibodies - Y-shaped proteins which act like "missiles shooting down a target", assistant Prof Buggert explained. They bind to the virus before it can enter your cells, and neutralise it. If antibodies fail to neutralise the virus, it can enter your cells and turn them into virus-making factories. T-cells, on the other hand, target already-infected cells and completely destroy them, stopping them from spreading to other, healthy cells.

7-1-20 Can we become immune to the coronavirus? What the evidence says so far
WHEN the novel pneumonia circulating in China was confirmed to be caused by a coronavirus, an already troubling situation suddenly got that bit worse. As a rule, coronaviruses don’t produce a very strong “immune memory”: the long-lasting response that allows our bodies to thwart a subsequent attack, and which makes vaccines possible. When reports emerged from Japan and China of people who had been given the all-clear catching the virus again, immunologists’ worst fears seemed to be confirmed. But seven months later, hopes are rising. There is no longer any serious doubt that our bodies can form an immune memory to the SARS-CoV-2 virus – although we still don’t know how effective that memory will be. “That is the main outstanding question for covid-19,” says Nicolas Vabret at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. “It’s absolutely the right question to be asking now because so many things depend on it,” says Paul Klenerman at the University of Oxford. That includes the prospect of developing vaccines, therapies and herd immunity, but also decisions on whether to issue immunity passports to people who have recovered from the virus, and how and when to ease lockdown measures. Immune memory can be an incredibly powerful and durable force. Immunologists like to tell the story of a measles epidemic on the Faroe Islands in 1846. When Danish doctor Peter Panum went to investigate, he discovered that the disease was raging, but also that 98 older people were immune to it. They turned out to be the survivors of the islands’ previous outbreak in 1781. A single encounter with the measles virus had endowed them with lifelong protection. Other viruses, however, don’t generate such a strong immune response, which can make them difficult to vaccinate against. Respiratory syncytial virus, for example, has thus far resisted all efforts to develop a vaccine. Other viruses elicit a moderate immune response and weak, brief memory. Vaccines for these viruses are possible, but often require regular boosters to maintain immunity.


ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY

7-4-20 Bizarre caecilians may be the only amphibians with venomous bites
Creatures that look like snakes appear to have glands near their teeth that secrete venom. Caecilians are amphibians like salamanders and frogs, but they’re often mistaken for snakes because of their long, legless bodies. Now, scientists think that the similarities between the two are more than skin deep. New microscope and chemical analyses suggest that, like snakes, caecilians have glands near their teeth that secrete toxins. The discovery raises the possibility that caecilians may be the first amphibians found capable of delivering a venomous bite. Pedro Mailho-Fontana, an evolutionary biologist with the Butantan Institute in São Paulo, has been studying caecilians for several years, and in particular, the glands in their skin. He has helped show that the animals have separate glands for secreting mucus on their heads and poison on their tails. But one day in early 2018, as Mailho-Fontana was slowly eroding the skin on the skull of a dead ringed caecilian (Siphonops annulatus) to get a closer look at the mucus glands, he saw something that made his hair stand on end: large glands in the animal’s upper and lower jaws that had ducts going to the teeth. Mailho-Fontana, along with fellow evolutionary biologists Marta Antoniazzi and Carlos Jared also at the Butantan Insitutue, set about characterizing these unexpected oral glands in several caecilian species using standard and electron microscopes. Perhaps the most striking finding is that the glands arise from dental tissue. That’s just like venom glands of snakes, but it’s a first for amphibians, the researchers report July 3 in iScience. The team also performed preliminary biochemical tests on the fluid in the newfound glands, and discovered that it contains phospholipase A2 enzymes, a large group of fat-chopping proteins that are frequent components in animal venoms. But the work stopped short of conclusively showing that the animals are venomous.

7-3-20 Supermarkets snub coconut goods picked by monkeys
A number of supermarkets have removed some coconut water and oil from their shelves after it emerged the products were made with fruit picked by monkeys. The monkeys are snatched from the wild and trained to pick up to 1,000 coconuts a day, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) said. The animal rights group said pigtailed macaques in Thailand were treated like "coconut-picking machines". In response Waitrose, Ocado, Co-op and Boots vowed to stop selling some goods. Meanwhile, Morrisons said it had already removed products made with monkey-picked coconuts from its shelves. In a statement, Waitrose said: "As part of our animal welfare policy, we have committed to never knowingly sell any products sourced from monkey labour." Co-op said: "As an ethical retailer, we do not permit the use of monkey labour to source ingredients for our products." In a tweet earlier on Friday, the prime minister's fiancée Carrie Symonds, a conservationist, called on all supermarkets to boycott the products. Sainsbury's subsequently told the BBC: "We are actively reviewing our ranges and investigating this complex issue with our suppliers." Asda said: "We expect our suppliers to uphold the highest production standards at all times and we will not tolerate any forms of animal abuse in our supply chain." It pledged to remove certain brands from its shelves until it has investigated the allegations of cruelty. Ms Symonds later took to Twitter again to urge Tesco to make a similar pledge: "Come on @Tesco! Over to you! Please stop selling these products too," she wrote. Tesco did not immediately respond to the BBC's request for comment. Peta said it had found eight farms in Thailand where monkeys were forced to pick coconuts for export around the world. Male monkeys are able to pick up to 1,000 coconuts a day, Peta says. It's thought that a human can pick about 80. It said it also discovered "monkey schools", where the animals were trained to pick fruit, as well as ride bikes or play basketball for the entertainment of tourists. "The animals at these facilities - many of whom are illegally captured as babies - displayed stereotypic behaviour indicative of extreme stress," Peta said.

7-3-20 A sparrow song remix took over North America with astonishing speed
A variation on the white-throated sparrow’s song spread 3,300 kilometers in just a few decades. Some North American birds are changing their tune. The traditional song of the white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) ends with a repeated triplet of notes. By 2000, however, some birds in western Canada were whistling a variation ending in a two-note pattern. That new song has since spread widely across North America, researchers report online July 2 in Current Biology. The findings fly in the face of previous hypotheses that birdsong dialects don’t change much within local regions. The rapid spread of the new song is akin to someone moving from Kentucky to Vancouver and everyone in Vancouver suddenly picking up a Kentucky accent, says Ken Otter, an avian behavioral ecologist at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, Canada. Otter and his colleagues documented the adoption of the western song at a research station in eastern Canada. In 2005, only one male out of 76 surveyed sang the doublet-ending song. In 2014, 22 percent of 101 males surveyed sang the new song. And in 2017, nearly half of 92 males recorded had adopted the variation. “You can actually see the [transition] unfolding in real time,” says Jeff Podos, a biologist who studies animal communication at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and was not involved with the study. The researchers confirmed the spread of the song with the double-noted ending across the continent — as far east as Quebec and Vermont — via recordings from citizen scientists. Eastern sparrows probably picked up the new song at common wintering grounds, the researchers say (SN: 2/4/16). By tracking birds from central British Columbia with backpacklike geolocators, the team found that the birds migrated to the southern U.S. Great Plains, which overlap with known wintering grounds of birds that breed east of the Rockies. One explanation for this shift may be a female preference for novel songs, a focus for future study, Otter says.

7-2-20 Canadian sparrows are ditching traditional songs for a new tune
A new style of song is sweeping through Canada, pushing out traditional tunes – at least in certain birds. The new singing style arose in a semi-isolated population in western Canada, but has since been heard as far as 3000 kilometres to the east. “The dialect, or song type, is spreading so rapidly,” says Ken Otter of the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, Canada. Otter and his colleagues have been studying white-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) for 20 years. These songbirds spend summer breeding in Canada and the north-eastern US, and winter in the southern and eastern US. When Otter first went into the field near Prince George, he rediscovered the only breeding population of white-throated sparrows west of the Rocky Mountains. He recorded some of the males’ songs, and his colleague Scott Ramsay, now at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Canada noticed that some of them were peculiar. Male white-throated sparrows sing a whistling song that ends with repeated triplets. But the Prince George sparrows replaced the triplets with double notes. Otter says the triplet version has the same rhythm as “oh my sweet Canada Canada Canada Canada”, but the double version is more like “oh my sweet Cana Cana Cana Cana”. The new song seems to have arisen in the western population sometime between the 1950s and 2000: 1950s recordings show the birds singing the triplet version. To track its spread, Otter and his colleagues recorded the birds themselves, and obtained additional recordings made by colleagues and citizen scientists across the US in the past 20 years. They ultimately gathered 1785 songs. Many of the bird populations east of the Rockies are now singing the double note-ending songs. In one population numbers rose slowly for a decade, then shot up. “You get this slow adoption and then when enough birds are singing it, then it escalates,” says Otter.

7-1-20 Hundreds of elephants found dead in Botswana
Mystery surrounds the "completely unprecedented" deaths of hundreds of elephants in Botswana over the last two months. Dr Niall McCann said colleagues in the southern African country had spotted more than 350 elephant carcasses in the Okavango Delta since the start of May. No one knows why the animals are dying, with lab results on samples still weeks away, according to the government. Botswana is home to a third of Africa's declining elephant population. Back in May, Botswana's government ruled out poaching as a reason - noting the tusks had not been removed, according to Phys.org. There are other things which point to something other than poaching. "It is only elephants that are dying and nothing else," Dr McCann said. "If it was cyanide used by poachers, you would expect to see other deaths." Dr McCann has also tentatively ruled out natural anthrax poisoning, which killed at least 100 elephants in Bostwana last year. But they have been unable to rule out either poisoning or disease. The way the animals appear to be dying - many dropping on their faces - and sightings of other elephants walking in circles points to something potentially attacking their neurological systems, Dr McCann said. Either way, without knowing the source, it is impossible to rule out the possibility of a disease crossing into the human population - especially if the cause is in either the water sources or the soil. Dr McCann points to the Covid-19 pandemic, which is believed to have started in animals. "Yes, it is a conservation disaster - but it also has the potential to be a public health crisis," he said. Dr Cyril Taolo, acting director for Botswana's department of wildlife and national parks, told the Guardian they had so far confirmed at least 280 elephants had died, and were in the process of confirming the rest. However, they did not know what was causing the animals' deaths. "We have sent [samples] off for testing and we are expecting the results over the next couple of weeks or so," he said.