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Unearthed Ajami script dispels colonial myth
hand holds red pages with writing in Ajami

Anthropologist Fallou Ngom discovered Ajami, a modified Arabic script. Its existence shows that African people labeled illiterate for not writing in French were anything but.

When his father died in 1996, Ngom returned to Senegal from where he was teaching French and linguistics at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. Ngom participated in the funeral services, spent time with his family, and collected some of his father's belongings to bring on the daylong flight back with him.

A box of his father's old papers—various to-do lists, dashed-off ideas, deeds, receipts, and other ephemera that collect throughout a life—lay dormant in a corner of Ngom's office for nearly a decade before he opened it. He couldn't have known it at the time, but waiting for Ngom inside this box was a scrap of paper that would alter the course of his life and the lives of countless others.

Ajami script above Arabic numerals in boxes: 27, 11, then 1981.
Shaykh Ngom, Fallou's father, wrote that he and his wife would have another son, named Usman Ngom, in this journal entry from 1981. (He was right.) (Credit: Courtesy of Fallou Ngom/Boston U.)

In 2004, when he dusted off the box and sat down to sift through these tokens of his father's life, Ngom found something confounding: a note, scribbled in his father's hand, about a debt he owed a local trader. The note was doubly surprising. First, Ngom had thought his father was illiterate—he didn't read French, the official language of Senegal. But the note wasn't in French, it was in a script that looked like Arabic, but sounded like Wolof, a regional West Atlantic language.

Ngom, who studied Arabic as a second language (the second of 12 languages that the scholar knows), was stunned. He asked his brother, still living in Senegal, to check with the neighbor to whom their father owed money. Sure enough, his brother reported, the trader had a record of the debt, too, in a similar Arabic-turned-Fula script.

"…not only were my dad and many people like him documenting their lives, many highly educated people were using Ajami to write poetry, literature, these kinds of things."

"That's when I realized: we've been told that these people are illiterate, and they're absolutely not," says Ngom, professor of anthropology at Boston University.

Ngom needed to know more. He applied for a postdoctoral fellowship in 2004 to travel to West Africa and dig into this surprising writing system.

He found this modified Arabic script everywhere. Shopkeepers kept records with it and poets wrote sprawling verses in it. Ngom discovered religious texts, medical diagnoses, advertisements, love poems, business records, contracts, and writings on astrology, ethics, morality, history, and geography, all from people who were considered illiterate by the official governmental standards of their countries.

What Ngom realized—slowly, and then with a bang—is that his father's notes were just the beginning. He had proof that a centuries-old writing system was still thriving in many African countries.

In the same way that the Roman alphabet has been adopted to write English, French, and Spanish languages, Ngom's research revealed that people in Senegal, Guinea, Nigeria, and other parts of West Africa use a modified Arabic alphabet to write in a number of local languages: Wolof, Hausa, Fula, Mandinka, Swahili, Amharic, Tigrigna, and Berber among them.

It was an enormous discovery. This writing system, called Ajami, dispelled the false notion peddled by European colonialists that large swaths of communities in sub-Saharan Africa were illiterate, with no native written languages of their own.

Some of the documents Ngom found on subsequent trips to the continent showed that their authors were code-switching throughout the text: writing in strict Arabic and in its modified Ajami form. Such writers were not just literate, but able to read and write in multiple languages.

"It was shocking," says Ngom, who has helped build a vast digital library of Ajami texts. "It was so shocking to me when I realized how misguided I was as a result of my training, which is a French-based system. But not only were my dad and many people like him documenting their lives, many highly educated people were using Ajami to write poetry, literature, these kinds of things."

People have been using the language to record the details of their daily lives since at least the 10th century, and still use it today. It's a grassroots writing system, he says, one that's not taught in schools. Even though he grew up in Senegal, Ngom didn't know the writing system existed until he came across his father's notes in 2004.

Resistance in Ajami

Ajami, from the Arabic word ʿAjamī, meaning "non-Arabic" or "foreign," was created centuries ago by Islamic evangelists to spread the religion to African communities. Over generations, it was adopted by members of anticolonial nationalist resistance movements throughout the continent, as French and English colonists installed their own languages and customs.

Take the Mouride brotherhood in Senegal. By the end of the 19th century, French authorities in Senegal—who had expected the Sufi movement to fizzle out—were concerned about the group's growing numbers and resistance to colonial rule. The Mouride brotherhood thrived, despite French attempts to quell the movement. Now, the group has a headquarters in Touba, a holy city for the order.

"The Mourides are one of the most studied groups in academia," says Ngom, because of their unexpected resistance and staying power. "There is a lot of work on the Mouride, but none in the Mourides' own voices, about why the movement didn't fail as it was expected to. But it is actually in their Ajami text—they tell you why!

"They were trained through Ajami texts that were read and recited and chanted in rural villages. They were communicating messages that the French could not understand. And those messages were about resilience, self-sufficiency, and work ethic. That's what made the movement succeed," Ngom says.

African history by Africans

The documents that Ngom and other researchers—including Daivi Rodima-Taylor, project manager for the university's Ajami Research Project and director of the African Studies Center's Diaspora Studies Initiative—give light to African people's view of their own history, a view that the prevailing narrative in postcolonial literature and history books has long obscured.

"To me, there's justice in making these voices heard. For so long, they weren't."

"There have been ongoing discussions about African sources of knowledge, and this component has really never been taken seriously until now," says Ngom. "So, for example, sources of African history have been European sources, primarily. But this is the first time we have a substantial number of documents produced by Africans dealing with those same issues on which their history has been written. And at BU, we are the leaders in this effort: we have documented over 30,000 pages from Africa."

The university is also leading the charge to teach scholars how to read these documents, a massive (and massively important) undertaking. Under Ngom's leadership, the university offers the only Ajami program in the United States.

"The first thing I did at BU was to make sure our students benefit from the training that allows them to read any script in this language," Ngom says. "They're trained to read any text: Roman script or in traditional Ajami script, and that ensures that their research is more inclusive of the voices of people whose countries they study."

To augment translation of the texts, researchers enlisted volunteers from countries in West Africa—people who know and use the Ajami scripts every day.

"One of the important aspects of this work is revealed when our collaborators reflect about this participatory and collaborative endeavor," says Rodima-Taylor, who is also a research associate at the university's Pardee School of Global Studies. "We hear about how challenging it is to interpret some of those texts and, at the same time, how rewarding this process is."

Thousands of scholars around the world—from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University in the US to Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto in Nigeria and Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia—have used this repository to spark new research.

Others, including one native Hausa person writing from Kano, Nigeria, simply thanked the researchers for helping him to understand the work of his late father, an Islamic scholar and calligrapher who worked tirelessly to preserve documents in the Hausa Ajami script.

For Ngom, this work is rewarding, if painful.

"To me, there's justice in making these voices heard," he says. "For so long, they weren't. And my attention has shifted completely to making it happen."

Source: Molly Callahan for Boston University

The post Unearthed Ajami script dispels colonial myth appeared first on Futurity.

For the first time since it was proposed more than 80 years ago, scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) have demonstrated the phenomenon of "quantum recoil," which describes how the particle nature of light has a major impact on electrons moving through materials. The research is published online today (January 19) in the journal Nature Photonics.


A new study by Stony Brook University researchers published in Global Change Biology demonstrates that warming waters and heat waves have contributed to the loss of an economically and culturally important fishery, the production of bay scallops. As climate change intensifies, heat waves are becoming more and more common across the globe. In the face of such repeated events, animals will acclimate, migrate, or perish.
Researchers create 2D quantum light source from layered materials
Is this article about Semiconductors?
Recent advances in spontaneous parametric down-conversion (SPDC)-based quantum light sources based on two-dimensional layered materials have been made by a team led by Prof. Ren Xifeng from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, collaborating with Prof. Qiu Chengwei and Dr. Guo Qiangbing from the National University of Singapore (NUS). The study was published in Nature.
People Missed Going to the Movies
Leo has found 1 Leadership Changes mention in this article
  • Disney recently saw its former CEO Bob Iger return to his post, replacing his successor, Bob Chapek, partly over concerns that its streamer, Disney+, had lost $1.5 billion in a financial quarter.

Every Thanksgiving weekend, once the holiday itself has passed and people are looking for things to do for the rest of the break, I get texts from friends seeking movie recommendations: What's worth seeing in theaters right now? In 2022, that query became more of a plea. Was there anything to see? Something the whole family, not just rowdy teenagers, might enjoy? Anything geared toward grown-up viewers? And then, with an air of horror, they would realize that only two movies along those lines were out—Steven Spielberg's The Fabelmans and Rian Johnson's Glass Onion—but that, on one of the year's busiest weeks for multiplexes, neither was in wide release.

Last year was, on the whole, a positive one for the movie-theater industry, a period of further improvement as the world continued to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic's effects. In 2020, movie theaters sold roughly 216 million tickets; in 2021, that number rose to 492 million, and last year, it shot up to 813 million. Although that's still below the 2019 number of 1.2 billion tickets, we're seeing an unmistakably positive trend line. The success of releases such as Top Gun: Maverick, superhero blockbusters, non-sequels, and original films was galvanizing, calming fears that theaters would never rebound amid a rise in streaming options.

But then I watched Hollywood have one of the strangest autumns imaginable, a mostly self-inflicted series of wounds that led to speculation that the movie market for adults was in trouble. The most egregious move was perhaps Universal's decision to not give a wide theatrical release to The Fabelmans, a new Spielberg film with Oscar buzz; as a result, it's made only $14 million since its November 11 release, and the most theaters it ever played in was 1,149 (a wide release tends to hover between 3,000 and 4,000). This is far short of the usual net cast by one of the most enduring names in filmmaking, and it underlines the total lack of confidence studios have had in grown-up fare of late.

The solution, now that 2023 is upon us, is simple: Put new releases exclusively in theaters and give them a real chance to succeed with paying moviegoers. No more muddled hybrid releases, no slow and modest rollouts, and certainly nothing like Netflix's baffling compromise with Glass Onion, which played on 696 screens for just a week around Thanksgiving and then vanished until it debuted online in time for Christmas. There will be failures, yes, but Hollywood must finally recognize that the overall health of theatrical exhibition is of paramount concern.

[Read: The 10 best films of 2022]

Throughout the pandemic, many studios have pivoted to streaming both as part of a mad scramble to catch up to Netflix and as a way to get more eyeballs on their own projects during an unsettled moment. But for movies, there doesn't appear to be much profit in the current approach—HBO Max is cutting back its film and TV offerings after a bold 2021 strategy put movies online the same day they debuted in theaters, a tactic it swerved away from in 2022. Disney recently saw its former CEO Bob Iger return to his post, replacing his successor, Bob Chapek, partly over concerns that its streamer, Disney+, had lost $1.5 billion in a financial quarter. One of the biggest movie success stories of the year, Top Gun: Maverick, took seven months to arrive on its studio's streamer (Paramount+), which didn't stop it from immediately becoming the service's No. 1 offering.

Netflix, of course, stands apart from all of this—its approach has always emphasized direct-to-streaming releases, and its massive customer base generates more revenue than its fledgling rivals do. But even Netflix is continuing to tweak its strategy in the face of plateauing subscribership, emphasizing fewer and bigger projects. The company is committed to online exclusivity even if that means leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table: Glass Onion grossed about $15 million in one week of limited theatrical release and likely could have tripled that if it had gone wide, making it one of the year's bigger hits.

So although I don't envision a sea change at Netflix, other studios shouldn't fear the exclusive theatrical "window," which used to last for months but has shrunk or been abandoned altogether in the COVID era. Audiences have no consistent notion of when a movie will be available online, but the answer is often between "immediately" and "quickly." So many of this year's fall awards favorites—The FabelmansTár, The Banshees of Inisherin—expanded to only about 1,000 screens at most, and were put online by December. All would have benefited from more time in cinemas and could have been scheduled to expand wide now, ahead of Oscar nominations being announced next week. Instead, they're already available to purchase on iTunes.

The result is that multiplexes feel starved of choices as big blockbusters such as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Avatar: The Way of Water dominate screens. This Christmas, the only new family film in wide release was Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, a long-delayed animated sequel; it has thrived and made $113 million domestically, a huge improvement on its weak $12 million opening. Avatar has done tremendously well, but more heartening is the surprising success of the few other options available. The horror-comedy M3GAN has consistently outperformed the expectations of its early January release, and the family drama A Man Called Otto, starring Tom Hanks, has done the same, resonating with viewers outside New York and Los Angeles (traditionally the country's two strongest markets).

All of this should be the encouragement studios need to return to more traditional release strategies. The alternative is a frightening one for anything not made on the biggest scale: a world where seeing movies in theaters becomes a boutique option in only the biggest cities, and where streaming deals are the only way to fund non-blockbuster projects. This would be immensely damaging to the art form and to the diversity of projects on offer for audiences, and it's a path Hollywood can reject by putting its faith back in cinemas—and in the viewers who love going to them.

What Winning Did to the Anti-abortion Movement
Leo has found 3 Regulatory Changes mentions in this article

In a normal year, the March for Life would begin somewhere along the National Mall. The cavalcade of anti-abortion activists in Washington, D.C., would wind around museums and past monuments, concluding at the foot of the Supreme Court, a physical representation of the movement's objective: to overturn Roe v. Wade. The march happens in January of each year to coincide with the anniversary of the Roe decision.

But this is not a normal year. Tomorrow's march will be the first without Roe on the books.

[Read: The anti-abortion movement's Gen-Z victors]

In recognition of that fact, the march has a new route. It will finish somewhere on First Street, between the Capitol and the Court building, an acknowledgment of the enormous and somewhat nebulous task ahead: banning or restricting abortion in all 50 states. That task will involve not only Congress, the courts, and the president but also 50 individual state legislatures, thousands of lawmakers, and all of the American communities they represent.

At the march, activists and other attendees will be jubilant. Speakers will congratulate their fellow marchers on a job well done. Yet at the same time, a current of uncertainty ripples beneath the surface of the anti-abortion movement. Advocates are technically closer than ever to ending abortion in America, but in some ways, the path forward is more treacherous now than it was before. The movement is not in disarray, exactly, but its energy is newly decentralized, diffused throughout the country.

"There's a much more choose-your-own-adventure feel" to the movement now, Mary Ziegler, a University of California, Davis School of Law professor who has written about abortion for The Atlantic, told me.

Overturning Roe was only the first step. The next isn't exactly obvious.

Since the 1980s, rescinding the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in Roe, which established a nationwide right to abortion, had been the movement's top goal, because it was the key that unlocked everything else. There could be no real prohibitions on abortion as long as Roe was in effect. Charging into battle was easier under a single banner, with resources and energy directed toward a single national project: filling the Supreme Court with abortion foes.

Now, though, across all 50 states, different leaders are pressing for abortion restrictions of varying types and degrees: heartbeat bans, gestational limits, restrictions on the abortion pill, or outright bans with few or no exceptions.

America's anti-abortion movement has always been a rich tapestry. Although its members share an overarching goal—ending abortion—they have disagreed on tactics and approach. Some groups—including Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, Americans United for Life (AUL), and the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC)—have prioritized legal and political strategies; others, including many Catholic organizations, have advocated more for funding the country's 2,700 pregnancy centers or expanding the social safety net. But there was always a power hierarchy among these groups. "If you were wondering where the bills came from, the lawsuits, it was obvious: A handful of national groups dictated everything," Ziegler said. The NRLC and AUL organized the troops and drafted model legislation. They planned judicial strategy and pushed court cases forward.

In the post-Roe world, those groups are less powerful and less relevant. The central players now are the thousands of state-level politicians, local leaders, and grassroots activists who are writing and passing legislation, often independent of those once-dominant national groups.

[From the May 2022 issue: The future of abortion in a post-Roe America]

The influence of the national groups has been waning since even before the fall of RoeA Texas pastor and a former state solicitor general, for example, came up with Texas's 2021 S.B. 8, which banned abortion once a fetal heartbeat was detectable (typically after six weeks) and authorized private citizens to sue abortion providers. The two men did so without much input from any national group, according to the experts I spoke with. Abortion restrictions in Alabama and Georgia, which passed in 2019 and went into effect in 2022, were drafted by different state activists and leaders and contain starkly different language, showing little influence from national groups.

The national anti-abortion movement clearly wasn't ready for this flurry of activity. But it could have been better prepared, Daniel K. Williams, a history professor at the University of West Georgia, told me. When Amy Coney Barrett was nominated to the Court, or even as soon as Trump was elected president, national organizations could have put forward a single model law for lawmakers, and uniform guidance for health-care providers and hospitals. Instead, America ended up with a chaotic patchwork of abortion restrictions—a mixture of newly written trigger laws and dusty legislation from the late 19th century. Some of these new policies are vague or fail to address health complications such as miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. They propose varying consequences for abortion providers and different mechanisms for enforcement.

In November, the AUL released its American Life Initiative and its model legislation, the Ready for Life Act, which bans abortion after conception and includes a life-of-the-mother exception, as well as clarifications regarding miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. But it came five months after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision overturning Roe. That groups were drafting these guidelines "months after Dobbs and not experiencing any uniformity in state legislatures is a sign of how decentralized and swift-moving all of this has been," Williams said.

Clarke Forsythe, the senior counsel for AUL, defends his organization's strategy: "We needed time to analyze Dobbs and its impact and implications and needed time to put the package together," he told me. "It's a long-term initiative and a long-term vision. There was no need to get it out before the election."

Abortion opponents insist that a state-level free-for-all could turn out to be helpful for the movement. With more people involved and working toward different initiatives, the argument goes, activists might come up with innovative ideas and policy proposals. Democracy, by nature, is messy. "It's good for the country and good for our politics to decentralize the issue," Forsythe told me. "The Court sent it back to the local level, where public policy can be better aligned with public opinion, where the people responsible for it are responsive to people at the local level." Decentralization is the movement's strength, Lila Rose, the president of the national anti-abortion group Live Action, told me. "It requires a diverse and multifaceted approach. It's not strategic conflict so much as strategic differences."

This particular moment gives anti-abortion activists a chance to think creatively and to forge new alliances, some in the movement argue. Now that Roe is gone, do they need to keep up their ties with the GOP? "I would like to see the movement disentangle itself from particular political parties," Erika Bachiochi, an anti-abortion writer and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told me. Maybe, she added, there's room for a return of the "old pro-life Democrat."

But an unintended consequence of overturning Roe could be that the movement has inadvertently pushed its highest objective—ending legal abortion—further out of reach. "On the one hand, when there's a free-for-all, ideas that may never have been given the time of day can emerge and work," Ziegler said. "On the other, you can have bills that are damaging nationally get passed." Texas's S.B. 8—the Texas Heartbeat Act—frustrated some movement leaders because it empowered individual citizens to sue, which meant that those individuals would control the narrative, Ziegler said. Others worry about the vocal "abortion abolition" groups, which have been calling for women who obtain abortions to be punished.

These days, Ziegler says, "there's no single voice in the movement to say, 'No, that's not what we stand for.'" A few extremists, in other words, could damage the movement's reputation—and interfere with its ultimate goal.

Before Dobbs, anti-abortion advocates seemed confident that once a handful of states banned abortion, many more would follow—that they could build a "culture of life" in America that would put the country on a righteous path. In some ways, the opposite has occurred. As a few states put limits on abortion rights, others, such as Vermont, California, and Michigan, have reacted by enshrining those rights into state law. Meanwhile, voters in red states including Kansas, Montana, and Kentucky rejected attempts to restrict abortion. Former President Donald Trump—the man whose nomination of three Supreme Court justices led directly to the overturning of Roe—has gone so far as to blame Republicans' disappointing midterm performance on the anti-abortion movement. (In response, Rose called his comments "sniveling cowardice.")

Nationally, the movement's relationship with the Republican Party is troubled. Last fall, when Senator Lindsey Graham proposed legislation restricting abortions after 15 weeks, only a handful of his Republican colleagues were publicly supportive. "Most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level," Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters at the time.

[David Frum: Roe is the new prohibition]

Even in the new Congress, where Republicans have a House majority, one of the first pieces of legislation passed in the lower chamber was the so-called Born Alive bill, which would require health-care providers to treat babies in the vanishingly rare cases of failed abortions. Here was a chance for Republicans to pass a bill restricting abortion after 15 weeks or even six, in a show of support to the movement that they purport to champion. But they didn't. Republicans in Congress are "afraid to do anything on this issue that's meaningful" for fear of the political consequences, Ziegler says.

Anti-abortion leaders like Rose believe that they're being unfairly blamed for these recent Republican losses and missed opportunities. They argue that in the midterms the GOP chose candidates who were insufficiently anti-abortion, or simply problematic, such as Mehmet Oz and Herschel Walker. But there was also a communication issue, they say. Candidates weren't outspoken enough about abortion; they should have talked more about the Democrats' support for abortion at late gestational ages, and their plan to codify abortion rights into law. "That's where the real problem was" in the midterms, Marilyn Musgrave, the vice president of government affairs for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told me. "Republicans weren't pointing out the extremism on the other side."

It's true that some Republicans campaigned successfully on abortion restrictions last year, including GOP Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida, Kay Ivey of Alabama, Brian Kemp of Georgia, and Greg Abbott of Texas, each of whom won reelection by a substantial margin. Still, the recent state referenda and post-Dobbs polling suggest that the anti-abortion movement is too optimistic about the level of support for their goals.

"We've clearly lost the narrative," Charlie Camosy, an ethics professor at Creighton University School of Medicine and a columnist for the Religion News Service, told me. Activists like Camosy hope that the movement's new emphasis will be a grassroots effort to educate Americans and persuade them to oppose abortion. Camosy isn't attending the March for Life tomorrow; instead, he's giving a speech at a Catholic seminar in Freehold, New Jersey, where he lives. "Something is wrong in our ability to communicate what's at stake," he said of the broader movement. "Focusing on the national level distracts from getting Michigan or Montana or Kentucky or Kansas right."

But eventually, Camosy's movement will have to face the reality of abortion in America: Some states just aren't going to budge. "Fewer than 50 percent of states are likely to meaningfully curtail abortion," Williams estimates. Even if the movement gains ground in some states, "that's likely only to harden the resistance in more strongly pro-choice states." Which means that, rather than a growing national consensus on abortion, Americans probably can expect more polarization—a cultural standoff.

Tomorrow's March for Life will be the first time activists have held a major national gathering since Roe was overturned in June. But it will probably be a much smaller event than before. Some activists have wondered whether it should happen at all. More states and cities will be hosting their own rallies, because that's where the next round of work needs to be done. And many people will be at those local marches instead—to start, or maybe to double down, on their difficult project of creating a "culture of life."

How Joe Biden Wins Again
Is this article about Political Science?

The year after a midterm election is presidential purgatory. Congressional investigators from the opposing party devote themselves to flaying the incumbent. Stripped of any possibility of grand legislative accomplishments, presidents busy themselves with foreign policy and patiently wait for their domestic foes to overplay their hand.

For Joe Biden, this is all intimately familiar. He experienced this discomfort as Barack Obama's vice president. And he walked away with a sense of how he might get through it differently himself, how he could profitably survive this awkward year—and leverage it as the basis for reelection.

Back in 2009, Obama anointed Biden "The Sheriff." Obama charged him with overseeing the implementation of the Recovery Act, the $787 billion economic stimulus, passed in the first days of the new administration. This was a thankless task, because it made Biden responsible for any waste, fraud, and abuse in the program, but it was also a dream assignment. The career politician had a chance to race from ribbon cutting to ribbon cutting. He could bask in selling governmental achievements made of concrete and steel, stuff people could touch.

Biden's frustration with Obama was that he didn't sufficiently consider the marketing potential of the stimulus. Obama frankly admitted that he took "perverse pride" in how his technocratic administration constructed policy without regard for political considerations. The 2009 Recovery Act included tax cuts, but intentionally didn't advertise them. The government quietly withheld less money from paychecks, a dividend that almost nobody noticed. This furtive tax cut was theoretically effective, because consumers were less likely to save money that they didn't know they possessed. But it was also a political nonfact.

[From the April 2016 issue: The Obama doctrine]

This humility of sorts transgressed a core Biden maxim: Good policy is useless without good politics. The health of the government (not to mention the health of the Democratic Party) depends almost entirely on public appreciation of the government's deeds.

Now that he's president, Biden is his own self-anointed Sheriff. In its first two years, his administration passed ambitious, expensive legislation. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act spends $1 trillion. The CHIPS and Science Act devotes more than $250 billion to jump-starting the American semiconductor industry and investing in technological research. The Inflation Reduction Act contains, at least, a $370 billion investment in clean energy. Biden could break his hand signing all the checks that his administration is about to write.

Overseeing these investments will allow Biden to fulfill the two grandest ambitions of his presidency. The first ambition is both lofty and self-interested. He has long argued that democracy will prevail in its struggle against authoritarianism only if it can demonstrate its competence to the world. That means passing legislation. But he believes that non-college-educated voters, the neglected constituents he wants to take back from the Republicans, hardly know about the big bills emanating from Washington with banal names. And they won't believe in their efficacy in any case, unless they can see the fruits of the legislation with their own eyes.

Biden intends to deluge this group with relentless salesmanship—christening new airports and standing next to local officials as they break ground on new factories and tunnels. When he daydreams in the Oval Office, he imagines omnipresent road signs announcing new government projects in his name. In his mind, there will be Biden Rest Stops as far as the eye can see.

His second ambition is far trickier. He doesn't just imagine scattered projects. He wants to comprehensively change the economy of entire regions of the country. By geographically concentrating investments—in broadband, airports, semiconductor plants, universities—he can transform depressed remnants of the Rust Belt into the next iteration of North Carolina's Research Triangle. By seizing the commanding heights of the industries of the future, he can reindustrialize America.

But that vision requires mobilizing sclerotic bureaucracies—and aligning disparate agencies that don't normally play nice with one another. The word implementation, perhaps the least sexy word in the English language, is his current fixation. He believes that the latent potential of these projects can be realized only if he pays close attention to them.

Large checks to semiconductor manufacturers will bring jobs and protect the supply chain from foreign threats. But that's only half the mission. With his purse strings comes power. And Biden wants to use his leverage to create high-paying unionized jobs. He intends to pressure CEOs so that they don't furtively funnel government money into stock buybacks. Even though the public doesn't have this impression of Biden, he actually gravitates to the weeds. Obsessing over small details allows him to feel a sense of mastery of big processes.

Of course, Biden realizes that these projects will be mere sideshows in the press, as he spars with adversaries, foreign and domestic, bent on provoking apocalypse. But, in his mind, the role of Sheriff is connected to solving congressional crises, perhaps not in the near term but over time. All along, Biden has believed that he can exploit fissures within the Republican Party. That's why he has always carefully drawn a distinction between the authoritarian MAGA faction and the traditional conservatives, whom he recognizes as his fellow politicians. There's no dealing with the MAGA set. But the other Republicans have conventional interests, which he can exploit in his search for a deal.

[Read: What Joe Biden has (and hasn't) accomplished]

He took this approach on January 4, in his appearance with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at the Brent Spence Bridge, crossing the Ohio River, to celebrate new government investment. That event transpired as Kevin McCarthy flailed in his campaign to become House speaker. Biden knows that McConnell has little regard for McCarthy—and would rather cut a deal on the debt ceiling than crash the U.S. economy. (After all, McConnell cut that deal before, back in 2011.) McConnell could serve as an ally while Biden slowly cultivates relationships with the 18 Republican House members from districts that he won in 2020. If these Republicans have any prayer of winning reelection, they will need to evince some measure of independence from the Trumpists. They, too, will need to show their constitutents that they can govern. Biden is not confident that he will prevail in this quest, but it's his best play.

In the face of Republican extremism, Biden will continue to periodically sound the alarm about the threat to democracy. But he also knows that his opponents will do most of this work for him—and that the Sheriff can't just pose as the protector; he also needs to deliver.

A new study by Stony Brook University researchers published in Global Change Biology demonstrates that warming waters and heat waves have contributed to the loss of an economically and culturally important fishery, the production of bay scallops. As climate change intensifies, heat waves are becoming more and more common across the globe. In the face of such repeated events, animals will acclimate, migrate, or perish.
Professors develop interactive dashboard to drive education decision-making
Is this article about Tech & Scientific Innovation?
University of Wyoming College of Education faculty members have published a paper in the journal PLOS ONE describing the development of an interactive dashboard that combines data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Low-impact human recreation changes wildlife behavior
Even without hunting rifles, humans appear to have a strong negative influence on the movement of wildlife. A study of Glacier National Park hiking trails during and after a COVID-19 closure adds evidence to the theory that humans can create a 'landscape of fear' like other apex predators, changing how species use an area simply with their presence. Researchers found that when human hikers were present, 16 out of 22 mammal species, including predators and prey alike, changed where and when they accessed areas. Some completely abandoned places they previously used, others used them less frequently, and some shifted to more nocturnal activities to avoid humans.
Novel method for assigning workplaces in synthetic populations unveiled
Synthetic populations are computer-generated models that mimic real-world populations in terms of characteristics such as age, gender, and occupation; they are useful when conducting social simulations. In a recent study, researchers developed a new approach to assign workplaces to individuals in a synthetic Japanese population with household information, based on ODI (Origin-Destination-Industry) data. Their efforts will enable more accurate, realistic simulations of the day-time distribution of workers in Japan, helping to improve decision-making and planning.
Kelp farms could help reduce coastal marine pollution
Is this article about Ecosystem Management?
The water-filtering abilities of farmed kelp could help reduce marine pollution in coastal areas, according to a new study. The paper analyzed carbon and nitrogen levels at two mixed-species kelp farms in southcentral and southeast Alaska during the 2020-21 growing season. Tissue and seawater samples showed that seaweed species may have different capabilities to remove nutrients from their surroundings.
Genetic diagnosis helps guide care of childhood hearing loss
Advances in understanding the many different genetic causes of childhood-onset hearing loss indicate that genomic testing could assist in individualizing treatment planning, including the optimal timing of treatment. New findings show that genetic testing is a valuable tool in determining prognosis for a child's hearing loss and in predicting how useful a cochlear implant could be for that child's understanding of speech. With genetic diagnosis, it is possible to anticipate future hearing loss across sound frequencies, progression with age, and severity.
Shedding light on quantum photonics
As buzz grows ever louder over the future of quantum, researchers everywhere are working overtime to discover how best to unlock the promise of super-positioned, entangled, tunneling or otherwise ready-for-primetime quantum particles, the ability of which to occur in two states at once could vastly expand power and efficiency in many applications.
Hydrogen-powered planes take off with startup's test flight
Leo has found 1 Funding Events mention in this article
  • ZeroAvia has raised over $140 million in funding from investors, including United Airlines and American Airlines, as well as Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Bill Gates's energy venture fund.

In a record trip for low-carbon aviation, a startup company has completed a test flight of a 19-seat aircraft powered in part by hydrogen fuel cells. It's the largest plane that ZeroAvia, a leader in developing hydrogen-electric systems for planes, has tested in the air to date. 

The flight took off from Cotswold Airport in the UK and lasted about 10 minutes altogether. During the flight, the plane's left engines were powered by a combination of hydrogen fuel cells and batteries, while the other side relied on the fossil fuel kerosene. 

Aviation accounts for about 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the industry is growing quickly. While airlines and some industry groups have pledged to cut emissions to net-zero by 2050, the demands of flying can be difficult to achieve without fossil fuels. 

Hydrogen fuel cells represent one possible route that some companies hope can help cut emissions from aviation. But in order to make significant cuts to the industry's emissions, the technology would need to scale up to power relatively large aircraft.

"This is putting us straight on the path to commercial launches," said Val Miftakhov, ZeroAvia founder and CEO, in a press conference announcing the test flight. 

ZeroAvia has raised over $140 million in funding from investors, including United Airlines and American Airlines, as well as Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Bill Gates's energy venture fund. The company has also received over 1500 pre-orders from customers for its hydrogen fuel-cell systems, according to Miftakhov.

The startup has been flying test flights for several years with smaller planes, with varying success. In 2021, one of ZeroAvia's test flights was forced to land and the plane was damaged after the battery backup system was shut off. With only the hydrogen fuel cells running, the plane lost power to its electrical motors. 

The recent January 2023 test flight of the 19-seat plane, which was delayed from summer 2022, was supported by the battery system for the whole flight. Batteries supplied about 50% of the power to the left side of the aircraft, with the hydrogen fuel cell system supplying the other 50%. 

By combining oxygen in the air with hydrogen, fuel cells generate electricity that can power a plane while releasing only water into the atmosphere. ZeroAvia's test plane, a Dornier-228, is modified inside with its seats taken out to store the fuel cell propulsion system, as well as the hydrogen tanks that power it. 

Universal Hydrogen, a US-based startup also working to build hydrogen-electric propulsion systems for planes, is reportedly planning test flights for its retrofit Dash 8-300, a 50-seat aircraft, in early 2023.

Despite delays and issues with testing, Miftakhov says that ZeroAvia is still on track to meet its previously-announced plans for commercial launch in 2025. He declined to share what type of plane and which commercial partner would be used for commercial launch, but said it will be an aircraft with between 10 to 20 seats. The company plans to raise additional funds to support commercialization, Miftakhov said in the press conference. 

"This is a wonderful first step, but of course it's only the first step," says Andreas Schafer, director of the air transportation systems lab at University College London. 

Small, short-range commercial aircraft could be powered by hydrogen fuel cells within the decade, Schafer says. But those routes represent a small fraction of the aviation industry today. "It's really peanuts in terms of energy use and emissions," Schafer says.

Technologies that can power larger flights for longer distances will have a much greater impact on addressing climate change, Schafer says. But scaling fuel cells to larger planes will be difficult, in part because fuel cells are heavy. In addition, finding space for hydrogen storage on planes can be tricky, because the fuel is much less energy-dense than kerosene, requiring higher volumes of fuel on board even if it's cooled to cryogenic temperatures to store in liquid form. 

There are plenty of obstacles left on the road to reaching zero-emissions commercial flight, Miftakhov acknowledged at the press conference. "Today we have witnessed a major step towards achieving that goal. But there's a lot of work still to do."

B cell 'boot camp' insights could inform future vaccines
Green army men toys on a pink background.

A new study provides insights into the immune system's weapons-development facilities, known as germinal centers.

Formed in response to infection and vaccination, these microscopic training grounds allow B cells to perfect the antibodies they deploy against specific viruses and bacteria.

Figuring out how germinal centers work is therefore crucial to understanding immunity and developing more effective vaccines. The new study reveals why some germinal centers persist for months rather than weeks, providing insights that could inform future vaccine design.

Beefing up B cells

Germinal centers form in the body's lymphatic tissues shortly after vaccination or infection. Once inside a germinal center, B cells undergo rapid mutations and, through a process of natural selection, only B cells with antibodies that most effectively bind to their target antigens survive. These superior B cells then become either plasma cells, antibody factories that secrete copious amounts of antibodies into serum, or memory B cells, which patrol the body for signs of return of the pathogen they evolved to fight.

"The goal of the germinal center is to generate high-affinity plasma cells and memory B cells, that it then exports," says Renan V.H. de Carvalho, a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Gabriel D. Victora at Rockefeller University.

In mice, most germinal centers shut down after a few weeks, having accomplished their goal of producing high-affinity B cells. But those that form in response to certain respiratory infections, including the flu, can stay in business for more than six months, roughly a quarter of a mouse's normal lifespan. De Carvalho and his colleagues wanted to understand why these germinal centers are so long-lived, and what precisely goes on inside them.

For the study, the researchers first infected mice with influenza and SARS-CoV-2 viruses, waited for them to form germinal centers, and then sequenced the antibody genes of B cells harvested from those centers over the course of 24 weeks. Much to their surprise they found that, rather than continuously evolving at a steady clip, antibody optimization peaked after 12 weeks and then apparently regressed, even as the center remained active. This puzzling drop-off was due to the continuous introduction of unevolved "naïve" B cells into the germinal centers, researchers later found.

As weeks turned into months, a more complete picture began to form: the founder B cells that had initially seeded the long-lived germinal centers were being gradually replaced by naïve ones, so that only a tiny fraction of late germinal centers were made of the descendants of the B cells that started them.

Vets and new recruits

These new recruits did not behave like the original B cells in the germinal center. Subsequent experiments showed that, while the naïve B cells also underwent evolution inside the germinal centers, they did not produce antibodies that could bind to flu or SARS-CoV2 antigens.

"We used to think of infection-induced germinal centers as a single reaction targeting antigens from a particular pathogen," de Carvalho says. "Apparently it's not, at least in the case of these long-lived germinal centers."

But the few original B cells that remained on site were enough to produce efficient immunity against the initial pathogen. When the researchers re-exposed the mice to flu antigens 3 months after they were first infected—effectively mimicking a repeat infection or booster shot—they demonstrated that many of the memory B cells which began pumping out antibodies were descended from the few founder cells that lingered in germinal centers for many months, and not their naïve replacements.

"Even though they constitute a small fraction of the total number of cells later on, the founder cells that stay in the germinal center for a long time are still doing their job," de Carvalho says. But just how well those founder B cells do their jobs, and whether naïve recruits cramp their style and reduce their efficacy, remains to be seen. Future studies from the Victora lab will address this question.

Meanwhile, the findings already have implications for our general understanding about how germinal centers operate. Understanding the dynamic between founder and naïve B cells could help researchers leverage long-lived germinal centers to produce more effective antibodies against dangerous respiratory viruses, like the flu and SARS-CoV-2.

"The invasion of ongoing germinal center structures by sequential waves of B cells may turn out to be an important factor in predicting germinal center outcomes, possibly well beyond this particular influenza model," Victora says, "and might give us some insight into how to coax germinal centers to produce the antibodies we need them to."

The new study appears in Cell.

Source: Rockefeller University

The post B cell 'boot camp' insights could inform future vaccines appeared first on Futurity.

News at a glance | Science
HomeScienceVol. 379, No. 6629News at a glanceBack To Vol. 379, No. 6629 Full accessIn BriefSCI COMMUN Share on News at a glanceScience19 Jan 2023Vol 379, Issue 6629pp. 220-221DOI: 10.1126/science.adg7350 PREVIOUS ARTICLEA funding mosaic for loss and damagePreviousNEXT ARTICLETaliban decree deepens Afghanistan's health crisisNext ContentsIn 2022, Earth set new records for warmingChina reports CO…
After Scandal, CNET Adds Strange Disclaimer to Human-Written Articles About AI
Any and all CNET stories about AI are marked with a very odd editor's note that lets readers know that elsewhere on the site, AI is writing articles.

Last week, we broke the news that CNET, a staunch old guard of no-nonsense tech journalism, had been very quietly publishing AI-written articles under the pseudonym "CNET Money Staff."

A lot of people were irked, especially considering that CNET wasn't exactly forthright about its "testing" of a "new technology," as editor-in-chief Connie Guglielmo described the program after the backlash.

To its credit, CNET did make some changes. It dropped the "staff" from the AI's byline, for instance, and added a more prominent disclosure. Still, even after Guglielmo's note, we discovered something else about the bot: it seemed to be making some spectacularly stupid mistakes, in spite of CNET's insistence that a human was editing and fact-checking its work.

In response to questions about the AI's mistakes, CNET issued an extensive correction on the story we highlighted, and added an editor's note to virtually everything else the bot has published, saying it's currently being reviewed for accuracy. Good!

Now CNET appears to have made another change, and this one is strange. It seems that a bunch of stories about AI — no, not written by AI, just about it — are now being marked with an editor's note that lets readers know that elsewhere on the site, artificial intelligence is being used to generate content. Thanks for the heads up?

Take, for example, a just-published CNET story about musician Nick Cave's absolute hatred for AI-generated songs, which he described as a "grotesque mockery of what it is to be human." Though the article is bylined by a human writer, a disclaimer at the bottom is there to let you know that elsewhere in its digital halls, CNET's AI has been buzzing away at maybe-ill-informed financial explainers (in what some might call a "grotesque mockery" of what it is to be an entry-level writer.)

"CNET is using an AI engine to create some personal finance explainers that are edited and fact-checked by our editors," reads the blurb, which links back to that statement from Guglielmo.

That same disclaimer appears to now be tacked onto most new stories about AI, though with some exceptions. This piece about the latest AI-powered exploits of Boston Dynamics' robot Atlas, for instance, doesn't have one. And this review of a Netflix show involving an artificially intelligent robot has no disclaimer, either.

Interestingly, the outlet has also been retroactively adding the note to material published back before the outlet's foray into AI-powered journalism (here's an archived version, showing no sign of the disclosure a few weeks ago.) But a vast swathe of coverage from its archive still has no disclaimer.

CNET spokesperson didn't respond to questions about the notes.

While we're glad to see some effort on CNET's part to move forward with a bit more transparency, the disclaimer is a bit weird. After all, the AI-generated articles don't have a disclaimer saying that elsewhere on the site there are stories written by humans, right? And why is it going out on some stories but not others?

In some ways, it has the approximate tone of, say, The Washington Post when it covers its owner, Jeff Bezos, or entities he's involved in. That's an important disclosure for the sake of journalistic integrity, of course, but this AI one on CNET is a bit different. If anything, maybe it's just a sign of how peculiar the rise of AI may be about to get in the media industry.

More on the CNET's financially illiterate AI ruler: CNET's Article-Writing AI Is Already Publishing Very Dumb Errors

The post After Scandal, CNET Adds Strange Disclaimer to Human-Written Articles About AI appeared first on Futurism.

Implant that turns thought into action appears safe in trial
Is this article about Medical Devices Industry?
The BrainGate implant is a tiny metallic square with what look like many pins sticking out of its surface. A penny is shown much larger than the implant in the background for scale comparison.

In an important step toward a medical technology that could help restore independence of people with paralysis, researchers find the investigational BrainGate neural interface system has low rates of associated adverse events.

More than two decades ago, a team researchers set out with an ambitious goal to provide people with paralysis a revolutionary neurotechnology capable of turning thoughts about movement into actual action, using a tiny device that would one day be implanted in the surface of the brain.

Their work led to an ongoing effort to create the BrainGate brain-computer interface, designed to allow clinical trial participants with paralysis to control assistive devices like computers or robotic limbs just by thinking about the action they want to initiate.

Now, after decades of advancements, researchers are getting their best glimpse yet at the safety profile for this promising technology and what it means for long-term use by people affected by neurologic disease or paralysis.

The team's new study analyzes more than 17 years of safety data on clinical trials testing the BrainGate technology. The study found a low rate of adverse events associated with the implanted brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) and concluded that the technology should continue to be evaluated for its potential to help people with paralysis regain lost neurologic function.

"In the largest ongoing trial of intracortical brain-computer interfaces, the interim safety profile reported today supports the possibility that these systems may become restorative neurotechnologies for people with paralysis," says Leigh R. Hochberg, an engineering and brain science professor at Brown University, a critical care neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and director of the BrainGate academic consortium leading the development and testing of the technology.

The new study is an important step for the BrainGate consortium and other BCI research as the current BrainGate clinical trial enters its 14th year.

"Intracortical brain-computer interfaces have so much promise for restoring communication and mobility," says Hochberg, who also directs the VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Center for Neurorestoration and Neurotechnology in Providence, Rhode Island.

"Translating these advances in neural engineering to patient care will depend largely on whether the devices are accompanied by an acceptably low degree of risk."

The BrainGate device is a type of BCI that is implanted in a part of the brain that controls limb movement. The microelectrode array—called a "Utah" array—is smaller than a contact lens and is placed into the surface of the motor cortex. It works by detecting neural signals associated with intended movements, sending them out to a small nearby computer that then uses algorithms to translate the signals into movement commands.

The ultimate goal of BrainGate is to restore communication, mobility, and independence for people with tetraplegia. Previous studies by BrainGate researchers have shown that the BCI can enable people to move robotic arms or even move their own paralyzed arm and hand.

The new BrainGate study evaluated a total of 12,203 days of safety data from 14 clinical trial participants with quadriparesis resulting from spinal cord injury, brainstem stroke, or ALS. Participants were ages 18 to 75 and were enrolled in BrainGate's trials between 2004 to 2021. In that span, the study found, there were 68 device-related adverse events—the most common was skin irritation around the small portion of the device on top of a user's head that connects the neural sensor array implanted in the brain to the nearby neural decoding system.

There were six serious adverse events determined to be related to the BrainGate device or surgical procedure. Two participants, both of whom had a history of traumatic brain injury, had brief post-operative seizures, which were easily treated. The researchers say none of the adverse events documented in the study were unanticipated, resulted in permanently increased disability, required removal of the device, or led to infections in the nervous system.

Data from the clinical trials came from seven sites across the US, including Mass General and the Providence VA Researchers at Mass General led the study in collaboration with colleagues from Brown, the VA, Stanford University, and several other institutions in the BrainGate consortium. The scientists write in the study that while the safety profile is a big step forward, there is still much work to be done to reach their ultimate goals for the technology.

"Overall, we are reassured by our findings over the past 17 years that the investigational BrainGate Neural Interface system is being deployed safely," the researchers write. "Both our group and others continue to work on components and systems that would permit [BCIs] to become fully implanted, available to users around-the-clock, and incorporating a suite of design characteristics previously proposed."

"In the future, I hope that BrainGate becomes an option for everyone with paralysis," says John Donoghue, a professor at Brown. "The golden day would be when somebody who is paralyzed gets a BrainGate-like system implanted, and they go play basketball."

The new study appears in Neurology. The research received support from the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, the Carney Institute for Brain Science at Brown University, and several additional funders noted in the paper.

Source: Brown University

The post Implant that turns thought into action appears safe in trial appeared first on Futurity.

Photonic hopfions: Light shaped as a smoke ring that behaves like a particle
We can frequently find in our daily lives a localized wave structure that maintains its shape upon propagation—picture a smoke ring flying in the air. Similar stable structures have been studied in various research fields and can be found in magnets, nuclear systems, and particle physics. In contrast to a ring of smoke, they can be made resilient to perturbations. This is known in mathematics and physics as topological protection.
Squirrels that gamble win big when it comes to evolutionary fitness
Imagine overhearing the Powerball lottery winning numbers, but you didn't know when those numbers would be called—just that at some point in the next 10 years or so, they would be. Despite the financial cost of playing those numbers daily for that period, the payoff is big enough to make it worthwhile.
Varroa destructor is an ectoparasitic mite that can cause European honey bee colonies to collapse by spreading Deformed wing virus as they feed. A study published in PLOS Pathogens by Zachary Lamas and colleagues at the USDA-ARS and the University of Maryland suggests a relatively small number of mites can contribute to a large number of infected bees.
An international team of researchers, with the participation of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), has created the most porous stable zeolite known to date, a new pure silica zeolite called ZEO-3. This zeolite was formed by an unprecedented topotactic condensation of a 1D silicate chain to a 3D zeolite.
Despite not being an essential element for plant growth, silicon increases plants' tolerance of biotic stresses, such as pests and diseases; and abiotic ones, such as drought and salinity. The effects of this element, the second most abundant in the planet's crust, have not been widely studied, in general, and with regard to olive trees knowledge has been even scarcer.
Light pollution rapidly reducing number of stars visible to naked eye, study finds

Research suggests if trend continues, view of Orion's belt will disappear due to glow from artificial lighting

"There is no light in earth or heaven / But the cold light of stars," wrote the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

But for myriad writers and artists, that source of inspiration could be fading as research has revealed light pollution is rapidly reducing the number of stars visible to the naked eye. The study, published in the journal Science, suggests locations with 250 visible stars at present will have just 100 visible stars in 18 years.

Continue reading…
Three decades of increasing fish biodiversity across the northeast Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean
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Fine structure and assembly pattern of a minimal myophage Pam3
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Structural remodeling of AAA+ ATPase p97 by adaptor protein ASPL facilitates posttranslational methylation by METTL21D
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Arginine–vasopressin-expressing neurons in the murine suprachiasmatic nucleus exhibit a circadian rhythm in network coherence in vivo
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Gender gaps at the academies
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Twist response of actin filaments
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Physicochemical models of protein–DNA binding with standard and modified base pairs
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CBX5 loss drives EGFR inhibitor resistance and results in therapeutically actionable vulnerabilities in lung cancer
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SUMO/deSUMOylation of the BRI1 brassinosteroid receptor modulates plant growth responses to temperature
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Shrinking gate fluorescence correlation spectroscopy yields equilibrium constants and separates photophysics from structural dynamics
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Propagating spatiotemporal activity patterns across macaque motor cortex carry kinematic information
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Trilobite tridents demonstrate sexual combat at 400 Mya
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Population trends and the transition to agriculture: Global processes as seen from North America
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Sharing of misinformation is habitual, not just lazy or biased
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Conflict, violence, and warfare among early farmers in Northwestern Europe
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Molecular understanding of Ni2+-nitrogen family metal-coordinated hydrogel relaxation times using free energy landscapes
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Soft, malleable double diamond twin
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Measures of epitope binding degeneracy from T cell receptor repertoires
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Mechanistic framework for reduced-order models in soft materials: Application to three-dimensional granular intrusion
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Reply to Soto-Angel et al.: Is "larva" a natural kind? Phylogenetic thinking provides clarity
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Summer heat waves have devastated NY bay scallops
A scallop is connected to a device and wire while in a cage underwater.

Warming waters and heat waves have contributed to the loss of an economically and culturally important fishery, the production of bay scallops, according to a new study.

As climate change intensifies, heat waves are becoming more and more common across the globe. In the face of such repeated events, animals will acclimate, migrate, or perish.

Since 2019, consecutive summer mass die-offs of bay scallops in the Peconic Estuary on Long Island, New York, have led to the collapse of the bay scallop fishery in New York and the declaration of a federal fishery disaster, with landings down more than 99%.

The findings in Global Change Biology reveal that extreme summer temperatures, becoming more frequent under climate change, exacerbate the vulnerability of bay scallops to environmental stress and has played a role in the recurrent population crashes.

The study reports the mass die-off of all scallops at a New York site in 2020, when an eight-day summer heat wave event coincided with repeated episodes of low oxygen. Yet, scallops at locales with higher oxygen or lower temperatures survived. Further investigation that year confirmed that the combination of high temperatures and low oxygen reduced feeding and energy reserves, causing mortality in ecosystem and laboratory scenarios.

"Global warming is happening at an uneven pace in space and time. It just so happens that summer water temperatures in the Northeast are increasing at a rate more than three times the global average, leaving organisms adapted to cooler temperatures endangered," says senior author Christopher Gobler, chair of coastal ecology and conservation at Stony Brook University.

By using a combination of satellite temperature and long-term environmental records, field and laboratory experiments, and measurements of scallop heartbeat rates in an ecosystem setting because scallops heartbeat rates vary with water temperatures, the researchers demonstrated that coastal waters from New York to Massachusetts—home to the nation's northern bay scallop fisheries—are rapidly warming and that bay scallops have become increasingly susceptible to the combination of high temperatures and impaired water quality.

The bay scallop fishery was formerly one of the largest shellfisheries on the East Coast and has progressively vanished from regions south of New York. With the New York fishery collapsed, the only remaining commercial US fishery is in Massachusetts.

The study also reveals that although Massachusetts waters are still in the safe range for bay scallops, they have warmed at a rate even faster than New York waters and could be threatened in the future.

Stephen Tomasetti, a graduate of Stony Brook's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and currently a visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Hamilton College, points to other examples of heat-induced mass mortality on the East Coast, like the loss of lobsters in Long Island Sound and blue mussels in coastal bays south of Delaware.

"Commercial shellfisheries are a vital part of our blue economy, and shellfish habitats are changing rapidly," he says. "Mitigating further warming by transitioning to clean energy is critical. But while these global efforts are underway, committing to practices that will improve our local water quality like reducing nutrient pollution is also important."

Warmer waters physically hold less oxygen, so increasing the baseline oxygen levels in the estuary by improving water quality will help offset future oxygen loss from increased temperature.

The authors warn that warming in the Northeast US is projected to continue at a faster pace than the global average. The populations of mobile species like fish can respond by moving to waters with more tolerable temperatures.

But for populations of bay scallops and other economically important shellfish species, movement is limited by their ability to disperse through spawning and the availability of suitable habitat. Populations forced to cope with temperature extremes may be more vulnerable to mass mortality events.

Source: Stony Brook University

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Evidence required for ethical social science | Science
The history of science is littered with violations of the human rights of research participants (1, 2). One response has been regulation. In the United States, the Belmont Report lays out ethical principles for human subjects research (3), which form the foundation of modern-day institutional review boards. According to the Belmont Report, ethics committees and investigators need to determine whether the benefits of the research outweigh the costs and whether the costs unevenly burden particular groups. However, the assumptions underlying such assessments can be flawed (4, 5). Without evidence about the causal effects of social science research on participant welfare, researchers risk causing unexpected harms or missing unexpected benefits.
Atmospheric goals for sustainable development | Science
Is this article about Ecosystem Management?
Atmospheric chemistry and composition underlie the existential threats of climate change and ozone depletion (1), and poor air quality represents the greatest environmental health issue in the modern world (2). However, the only targets and indicators related to atmospheric health and clean air in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) focus on reducing fine particulate pollution levels and the associated mortality rates (3, 4). By creating targets for a broad range of specific pollutants, the SDGs could facilitate more effective actions, monitoring, and funding.
Avian flu threatens Neotropical birds | Science
Is this article about Global Health?
A highly pathogenic 
avian influenza
 virus (HPAIv) that spread through the Holarctic region in 2022, affecting millions of birds (1), has reached South America. The disease threatens marine and terrestrial birds, including endangered species. Real-time information gathering and steps to prevent the spread of disease will be required to mitigate this outbreak.
Mothers damned by statistics | Science
Next month, a judge in Sydney will hear new expert testimony in a criminal case that has fascinated Australia for 2 decades: that of Kathleen Folbigg, who in 2003 was convicted of the murder of three of her infant children and manslaughter in the death of the fourth.
A funding mosaic for loss and damage | Science
In the context of climate policy, "loss and damage" refers to unavoided climate change impacts, including those from extreme weather events and slow-onset events such as sea-level rise, increasing temperatures, and loss of biodiversity. Some argue that …
Imagine overhearing the Powerball lottery winning numbers, but you didn't know when those numbers would be called—just that at some point in the next 10 years or so, they would be. Despite the financial cost of playing those numbers daily for that period, the payoff is big enough to make it worthwhile.
Varroa destructor is an ectoparasitic mite that can cause European honey bee colonies to collapse by spreading Deformed wing virus as they feed. A study published in PLOS Pathogens by Zachary Lamas and colleagues at the USDA-ARS and the University of Maryland suggests a relatively small number of mites can contribute to a large number of infected bees.
Despite not being an essential element for plant growth, silicon increases plants' tolerance of biotic stresses, such as pests and diseases; and abiotic ones, such as drought and salinity. The effects of this element, the second most abundant in the planet's crust, have not been widely studied, in general, and with regard to olive trees knowledge has been even scarcer.
Is this article about Agriculture?
Invasive land snail species can displace native species and harm human health. A recent study by the Leibniz Institute for Biodiversity Change Analysis (LIB) compiles an overview of the exponential increase and dynamic spread of land snail species introduced to Europe and the Mediterranean from other continents.
US fentanyl rules are so strict they may prevent life-saving research
Leo has found 1 Regulatory Changes mention in this article
  • US fentanyl rules are so strict they may prevent life-saving research
As opioid-related deaths continue to rise in the US, researchers are prohibited from studying the very substances that could provide antidotes to overdose, says chemist Gregory Dudley
Alien land snail species are increasing exponentially, says study
Invasive land snail species can displace native species and harm human health. A recent study by the Leibniz Institute for Biodiversity Change Analysis (LIB) compiles an overview of the exponential increase and dynamic spread of land snail species introduced to Europe and the Mediterranean from other continents.
The European Union had 14.6 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind energy installed in 2021, and this is projected to increase by at least 25 times in the next ten years. While an expanding renewable energy sector is necessary to replace fossil fuels and slow climate change, it must not come at a cost to Earth's embattled wildlife.
The European Union had 14.6 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind energy installed in 2021, and this is projected to increase by at least 25 times in the next ten years. While an expanding renewable energy sector is necessary to replace fossil fuels and slow climate change, it must not come at a cost to Earth's embattled wildlife.
Cyborg cells could be tools for health and environment
Biomedical engineers have created semi-living 'cyborg cells.' Retaining the capabilities of living cells, but unable to replicate, the cyborg cells could have a wide range of applications, from producing therapeutic drugs to cleaning up pollution.
Dozens of US schools, universities move to ban TikTok
Leo has found 1 Regulatory Changes mention in this article
  • Dozens of US schools, universities move to ban TikTok
A growing number of public schools and colleges in the U.S. are moving to ban 
—the popular Chinese-owned social media app that allows users to share short videos.
Sensing odor molecules on a graphene surface layered with self-assembled peptides
Is this article about Quantum Computing?
Graphene-based olfactory sensors that can detect odor molecules based on the design of peptide sequences were recently demonstrated by researchers at Tokyo Tech. The findings indicated that graphene field-effect transistors (GFETs) functionalized with designable peptides can be used to develop electronic devices that mimic olfactory receptors and emulate the sense of smell by selectively detecting odor molecules.
New study uses AlphaFold and AI to accelerate design of novel drug for liver cancer
New research uses 
, an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered protein structure database, to accelerate the design and synthesis of a drug to treat hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of primary 
liver cancer
. It is the first successful application of AlphaFold to hit identification process in drug discovery.
Second-hand markets are on the up. And even Zara has jumped on the bandwagon
Is this article about Supply Chain?
A few weeks ago, 
, the Spanish fashion chain with stores all over the world, announced that it was branching into the second-hand market. With a pilot test in the United Kingdom, through the Zara Pre-Owned platform, it is set to offer the option of reselling a Zara garment, having it repaired or donating used garments from any season to the Red Cross.
Is this article about Gardening?
Agricultural Research Service scientists and their Chinese colleagues have identified a specific metabolic pathway that controls how honey bees apportion their body's resources such as energy and immune response in reaction to stresses such as winter's cold temperatures, according to recently published research.
Could next-generation telescopes see that Earth has life?
While the Earth absorbs a lot of energy from the sun, a lot of it is reflected back into space. The sunlight reflected from Earth is called Earthshine. We can see it on the dark portion of the moon during a crescent moon. The Farmer's Almanac said it used to be called "the new moon in the old moon's arms."
Study explores control options for black swallowwort
Is this article about Agriculture?
Black swallowwort is a difficult to control invasive vine that thrives in natural areas and perennial cropping systems across northeastern North America. To date, though, no scientific studies have been conducted to determine how the weed responds to common controls, such as mowing and broad-spectrum herbicides.
Is this article about Construction?
The ever-expanding gig economy has brought with it the rise of the independent contractor, from delivery drivers to personal shoppers and dog walkers. Compared to traditional employees, independent contractors are classified as self-employed and do not benefit from a minimum wage, paid time off, or other protections. This kind of work arrangement is becoming increasingly common, with a recent study showing 20% of professionals surveyed are considering switching to independent contract work.
Whales and the DNA That Made Them Giants
The submarine-size ocean creatures were not always behemoths. Now, a new study has found that the secret to a whale's size may be in its genes.
Is this article about Gardening?
Agricultural Research Service scientists and their Chinese colleagues have identified a specific metabolic pathway that controls how honey bees apportion their body's resources such as energy and immune response in reaction to stresses such as winter's cold temperatures, according to recently published research.
Is this article about Agriculture?
Black swallowwort is a difficult to control invasive vine that thrives in natural areas and perennial cropping systems across northeastern North America. To date, though, no scientific studies have been conducted to determine how the weed responds to common controls, such as mowing and broad-spectrum herbicides.
New study uses AlphaFold and AI to accelerate design of novel drug for liver cancer
New research uses 
, an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered protein structure database, to accelerate the design and synthesis of a drug to treat hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of primary 
liver cancer
. It is the first successful application of AlphaFold to hit identification process in drug discovery.
OpenAI CEO Says Unfortunately, People Will Be Disappointed With GPT-4
OpenAI's CEO is warning that its long-rumored successor, GPT-4, could end up being a huge letdown, given the sheer volume of attention.

Hype Trough


's AI chatbot ChatGPT, which is based on the startup's latest version of its GPT-3 language model, has taken the internet by storm ever since being made to the public in November thanks to its uncanny ability to come up with anything from entire college essaysmalware code, and even job applications from a simple prompt.

But the company's leader is warning that OpenAI's long-rumored successor, GPT-4, could end up being a huge letdown, given the sheer volume of attention and hype the company has been getting lately.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman attempted to downplay expectations this week, telling StrictlyVC in an interview that "people are begging to be disappointed and they will be" in the company's upcoming language model.

"The hype is just like…" Altman told StrictlyVC, trailing off. "We don't have an actual [artificial general intelligence] and that's sort of what's expected of us," referring to the concept of an AI that's capable of matching the intellect of a human being.


Altman also refused to reveal when GPT-4, if that's even what it'll be called, will be released.

"It'll come out at some point, when we are confident we can do it safely and responsibly," he told StrictlyVC.

A quick search of the term "GPT-4" on Twitter brings up a number of widely circulating tweets speculating on the capabilities of OpenAI's unannounced language model.

One particularly viral tweet claims that GPT-4 will have 100 trillion "parameters," compared to GPT-3's 175 billion parameters, something that Altman called "complete bullshit" in the interview.

"The GPT-4 rumor mill is a ridiculous thing," the CEO said. "I don't know where it all comes from."

In short, the internet has already decided that GPT-4 will blow minds and represent a huge step up from OpenAI's current language models — without knowing a single thing about it.

Or, on the other hand, maybe Altman is shrewdly trying to stem controversy around AI by downplaying expectations.

READ MORE: OpenAI CEO Sam Altman on GPT-4: 'people are begging to be disappointed and they will be' [The Verge]

More on OpenAI: College Student Caught Submitting Paper Using ChatGPT

The post OpenAI CEO Says Unfortunately, People Will Be Disappointed With GPT-4 appeared first on Futurism.

Scientists Test System for Controlling Where Lightning Strikes Hit Using Lasers
Is this article about Tech & Scientific Innovation?
Turns out, all you need is a million dollar laser that can shoot high energy pulses at an absurdly fast rate, and you can maybe divert lightning.

Playing God

Scientists playing God — or in this case, Zeus — have managed to divert lightning for the first time using lasers, opening up new possibilities of protecting buildings and people from nature's destructive electric strikes.

Lightning rods have already been in use for centuries and are pretty effective overall — but they have one big drawback as well.

"Metal rods are used almost everywhere to protect from lightning, but the area they can protect is limited to a few meters or tens of meters," Aurélien Houard, a physicist at École Polytechnique in Paris who led the experiment, told The Guardian.

The Lightning Abides

A laser, however, could provide much better coverage.

As detailed in their report published this week in the journal Nature Photonics, Houard and his team shot pulses out of a specialized, high power laser at thunderclouds from atop a point on the Santis mountain in Switzerland at roughly 1,000 times per second.

It was the perfect place to test out their laser — a nearby tower with a massive lightning rod regularly gets struck around one hundred times per year.

By rapidly heating the air, those laser pulses created conductive channels that served as an easier and therefore more likely path for lightning to travel down.

"It's like drilling a hole through the air with the laser," Houard explained to Nature.

In total, the researchers were able to redirect four lightning bolts, one of which they were able to clearly capture on camera (the video, unfortunately, is not available to the public).

To be clear, the researchers have only tested directing the lightning onto the nearby tower's lightning rod — further testing would be needed to demonstrate redirecting lightning onto a distant one.

Future Protector

Still, that doesn't make the results any less remarkable.

"The achievement is impressive given that the scientific community has been working hard along this objective for more than 20 years," opined laser physicist Stelios Tzorkzakis from the University of Crete, who was not involved in the study, in a statement to Nature.

"Using lasers instead of a lightning rod, or using lasers to trigger or steer lightning, is a fascinating idea," physicist Joseph Dwyer from the University of New Hampshire, who also was not involved in the research, told the Washington Post. "It seems like a no-brainer but it turns out to be really hard to do."

As for its usefulness, Houard doesn't think the technology can be effectively deployed anytime soon, but believes that it'll eventually be invaluable for protecting critical infrastructure like airports.

More on the weather: Please Take a Moment and Enjoy This Beautifully Peaceful Cloud Formation

The post Scientists Test System for Controlling Where Lightning Strikes Hit Using Lasers appeared first on Futurism.

The extreme flooding and mudslides across California in recent weeks took many drivers by surprise. Sinkholes swallowed cars, highways became fast-moving rivers of water, entire neighborhoods were evacuated. At least 20 people died in the storms, several of them after becoming trapped in cars in rushing water.

Nature Communications, Published online: 19 January 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36009-x

Publisher Correction: Exosomal miR-1304-3p promotes 
breast cancer
 progression in African Americans by activating cancer-associated adipocytes
Interphase chromosomes of the Aedes aegypti mosquito are liquid crystalline and can sense mechanical cues

Nature Communications, Published online: 19 January 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-35909-2

Within the nucleus, the genome of eukaryotes folds into partially organized three-dimensional structures specific to each organism. Here the authors perform physical simulations to study the genome architecture of Aedes aegypti, which reveal an ensemble of 3D chromosomal structures that are folded over and partially condensed, resembling liquid crystalline properties.

Nature Communications, Published online: 19 January 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36027-9

Volatile compounds to be released from the plant cell to the atmosphere must cross the cell wall. Here the authors show that cell-wall localized non-specific lipid transfer proteins facilitate the diffusion of volatiles across the hydrophilic cell wall.
Is this article about Food Science?
Asian diets feature rice as a staple grain, contributing towards nearly 90% of the world's rice consumption. Brown rice, in particular, is known to have several health benefits. As a regular addition to the diet, it can help reduce body weight, lower cholesterol, and suppress inflammation. The ability of brown rice to neutralize reactive oxygen species and prevent cellular damage is vital to many of its health-promoting effects. Although previous studies have shown that the antioxidant compounds in brown rice can protect cells against oxidative stress, knowledge regarding which major compound contributes towards these beneficial properties has long remained a mystery.

Scientific Reports, Published online: 19 January 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-28014-3

Author Correction: A photochemical-responsive nanoparticle boosts doxorubicin uptake to suppress 
breast cancer
 cell proliferation by apoptosis
Catenanes — materials made of interlocking molecules, similar to medieval chain mail — have proved laborious to make since their discovery 25 years ago. Now, chemists have found a way to make unlimited quantities of catenanes in one single chemical step. Using reticular chemistry, they modified covalent organic frameworks to create a 3D network that is flexible and tough. These catena-COFs could prove useful wherever flexibility and resilience are needed — in armor, airplanes or clothing.
Underlying assumptions of air quality need to be redefined
Long-term measurements in the urban area of Innsbruck, Austria, show that the fraction of ozone near the surface tends to be overestimated in atmospheric models. Consequently, a fundamental assumption for air quality forecasting has to be reinterpreted for urban areas. Direct nitrogen dioxide emissions are also likely overestimated.
What makes brown rice healthy? Decoding the chemistry of its nutritional wealth
Is this article about Food Science?
Asian diets feature rice as a staple grain, contributing towards nearly 90% of the world's rice consumption. Brown rice, in particular, is known to have several health benefits. As a regular addition to the diet, it can help reduce body weight, lower cholesterol, and suppress inflammation. The ability of brown rice to neutralize reactive oxygen species and prevent cellular damage is vital to many of its health-promoting effects. Although previous studies have shown that the antioxidant compounds in brown rice can protect cells against oxidative stress, knowledge regarding which major compound contributes towards these beneficial properties has long remained a mystery.
Is this article about Electronics?
ChatGPT is a powerful language model developed by OpenAI that has the ability to generate human-like text, making it capable of engaging in natural language conversations. This technology has the potential to revolutionize the way we interact with computers, and it has already begun to be integrated into various industries.
Announcing a virtual screening and Q&A for Virulent: The Vaccine War.

SBM has teamed with director/producer Tjardus Greidanus and producer Laura Davis to host a virtual screening of their documentary 


: The Vaccine War, followed by a Zoom Q&A. We also all thought it appropriate to dedicate the showing of this excellent documentary about vaccine hesitancy and the antivaccine movement to our recently departed colleague, Dr. Harriet Hall.

The post Announcing a virtual screening and Q&A for Virulent: The Vaccine War. first appeared on Science-Based Medicine.
Trying to Stop Long COVID Before It Even Starts

Three years into the global fight against SARS-CoV-2, the arsenal to combat long COVID remains depressingly bare. Being vaccinated seems to reduce people's chances of developing the condition, but the only surefire option for avoiding long COVID is to avoid catching the coronavirus at all—a proposition that feels ever more improbable. For anyone who is newly infected, "we don't have any interventions that are known to work," says Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist and long-COVID researcher at Yale.

Some researchers are hopeful that the forecast might shift soon. A pair of recent preprint studies, both now under review for publication in scientific journals, hint that two long-COVID-preventing pills might already be on our pharmacy shelves: the antiviral Paxlovid and metformin, an affordable drug commonly used for treating type 2 diabetes. When taken early in infection, each seems to at least modestly trim the chance of developing long COVID—by 42 percent, in the case of metformin. Neither set of results is a slam dunk. The Paxlovid findings did not come out of a clinical trial, and were focused on patients at high risk of developing severe, acute COVID; the metformin data did come out of a clinical trial, but the study was small. When I called more than half a dozen infectious-disease experts to discuss them, all used hopeful, but guarded, language: The results are "promising," "intriguing"; they "warrant further investigation."

At this point, though, any advance at all feels momentous. Long COVID remains the pandemic's biggest unknown: Researchers still can't even agree on its prevalence or the features that define it. What is clear is that millions of people in the United States alone, and countless more worldwide, have experienced some form of it, and more are expected to join them. "We've already seen early data, and we'll continue to see data, that that will emphasize the impact that long COVID has on our society, on quality of life, on productivity, on our health system and medical expenditures," says Susanna Naggie, an infectious-disease physician and COVID-drug researcher at Duke University. "This needs to be a high priority," she told me. Researchers have to trim long COVID incidence as much as possible, as soon as possible, with whatever safe, effective options they can.

By now, news of the inertia around preventive long-COVID therapies may not come as much of a shock. Interventions that stop disease from developing are, on the whole, a neglected group; big, blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trials—the industry gold standard—usually look to investigate potential treatments, rather than drugs that might keep future illness at bay. It's a bias that makes research easier and faster; it's a core part of the American medical culture's reactive approach to health.

[Read: Long COVID has forced a reckoning for one of medicine's most neglected diseases]

For long COVID, the terrain is even rougher. Researchers are best able to address prevention when they understand a disease's triggers, the source of its symptoms, and who's most at risk. That intel provides a road map, pointing them toward specific bodily systems and interventions. The potential causes of COVID, though, remain murky, says Adrian Hernandez, a cardiologist and clinical researcher at Duke. Years of research have shown that the condition is quite likely to comprise a cluster of diverse syndromes with different triggers and prognoses, more like a category (e.g., "cancer") than a singular disease. If that's the case, then a single preventive treatment shouldn't be expected to cut its rates for everyone. Without a universal way to define and diagnose the condition, researchers can't easily design trials, either. Endpoints such as hospitalization and death tend to be binary and countable. Long COVID operates in shades of gray.

Still, some scientists might be making headway with vetted antiviral drugs, already known to slash the risk of developing severe COVID-19. A subset of long-COVID cases could be caused by bits of virus that linger in the body, prompting the immune system to wage an extended war; a drug that clears the microbe more quickly might lower the chances that any part of the invader sticks around. Paxlovid, which interferes with SARS-CoV-2's ability to copy itself inside of our cells, fits that bill. "The idea here is really nipping it in the bud," says Ziyad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist and long-COVID researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, who led the recent Paxlovid work.

Paxlovid has yet to hit the scientific jackpot: proof from a big clinical trial that shows it can prevent long COVID in newly infected people. But Al-Aly's study, which pored over the electronic medical records of more than 56,000 high-risk patients, offers some early optimism. People who took the pills, he and his colleagues found, were 26 percent less likely to report lingering symptoms three months after their symptoms began than those who didn't.

[Read: Inside the mind of an anti-Paxxer]

The pills' main benefit remains the prevention of severe, acute disease. (In the recent study, Paxlovid-takers were also 30 percent less likely to be hospitalized and 48 percent less likely to die.) Al-Aly expects that the drug's effectiveness at preventing long COVID—if it's confirmed in other populations—will be "modest, not huge." Though the two functions could yet be linked: Some long-COVID cases may result from severe infections that damage tissues so badly that the body struggles to recover. And should Paxlovid's potential pan out, it could help build the case for testing other SARS-CoV-2 antivirals. Al-Aly and his colleagues are currently working on a similar study into molnupiravir. "The early results are encouraging," he told me, though "not as robust as Paxlovid." (Another study, run by other researchers, that followed hospitalized COVID patients found those who took remdesivir were less likely to get long COVID, but a later randomized clinical trial didn't bear that out.)

A clinical trial testing Paxlovid's preventive potency against long COVID is still needed. Kit Longley, a spokesperson for Pfizer, told me in an email that the company doesn't currently have one planned, though it is "continuing to monitor data from our clinical studies and real-world evidence." (The company is collaborating with a research group at Stanford to study Paxlovid in new clinical contexts, but they're looking at whether the pills  might treat long COVID that's already developed. The RECOVER trial, a large NIH-funded study on long COVID, is also focusing its current studies on treatment.) But given the meager uptake rates for Paxlovid even among those in high-risk groups, Al-Aly thinks his new data could already serve a useful purpose: providing people with extra motivation to take the drug.

The case for adding metformin to the anti-COVID tool kit might be a bit muddier. The drug isn't the most intuitive medication to deploy against a respiratory virus, and despite its widespread use among diabetics, its exact effects on the body remain nebulous, says Stacey Schultz-Cherry, a virologist at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. But there are many reasons to believe it might be useful. Some research has shown that metformin can mess with the manufacture of viral proteins inside of human cells, Bramante told me, which may impede the ability of SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogens to reproduce. The drug also appears to rev up the disease-dueling powers of certain immune cells, and to stave off inflammation. Studies have shown that metformin can improve responses to certain vaccinations in humans and rodents, and researchers have found that people taking the drug seem less likely to get seriously sick from influenza. Even the diabetes-coronavirus connection may not be so tenuous: Metabolic disease is a risk factor for severe COVID; infection itself can put blood-sugar levels on the fritz. It's certainly plausible that having a metabolically altered body, Schultz-Cherry told me, could make infections worse.

[Read: The promising treatment we're not even trying for long COVID]

But the evidence that metformin helps prevent long COVID remains sparse. Carolyn Bramante, the scientist who led the metformin study, told me that when her team first set out in 2020 to investigate the drug's effects on SARS-CoV-2 infections in a randomized, clinical trial, long COVID wasn't really on their radar. Like many others in their field, they were hoping to repurpose established medicines to keep infected people out of the hospital; early studies of metformin—as well as the two other drugs in their trial, the antidepressant fluvoxamine and the antiparasitic ivermectin—hinted that they'd work. Ironically, two years later, their story flipped around. A large analysis, published last summer, showed that none of the three drugs were stellar at preventing severe COVID in the short term—a disappointing result (though Bramante contends that their data still indicate that metformin does some good). Then, when Bramante and her colleagues examined their data again, they found that study participants that had taken metformin for two weeks around the start of their illness were 42 percent less likely to have a long-COVID diagnosis from their doctor nearly a year down the road. David Boulware, an infectious-disease physician who helped lead the work, considers that degree of reduction pretty decent: "Is it 100 percent? No," he told me. "But it's better than zero."

Metformin may well prove to prevent long COVID but not acute, severe COVID (or vice versa). Plenty of people who never spend time in the hospital can still end up developing chronic symptoms. And Iwasaki points out that the demographics of long-haulers and people who get severe COVID don't really overlap; the latter skew older and male. In the future, early-infection regimens may be multipronged: antivirals, partnered with metabolic drugs, in the hopes of keeping symptoms both mild and short-lived.

But researchers are still a long way off from delivering that reality. It's not yet clear, for instance, whether the drugs work additively when combined, Boulware told me. Nor is it a given that they'll work across different demographics—age, vaccination status, risk factors, and more. Bramante and Boulware's study cast a decently wide net: Although everyone enrolled in the trial was overweight or obese, many were young and healthy; a few were even pregnant. The study was not enormous, though—about 1,000 people. It also relied on patients' individual doctors to deliver long-COVID diagnoses, likely leading to some inconsistencies, so other studies that follow up in the future could find different results. For now, this isn't enough to "mean we should run out and use metformin," Schultz-Cherry, who has been battling long COVID herself, told me.

Other medications could still fill the long-COVID gaps. Hernandez, the Duke cardiologist, is hopeful that one of his ongoing clinical trials, ACTIV-6, might provide answers soon. He and his team are testing whether any of several drugs—including ivermectin, fluvoxamine, the steroid fluticasone, and, as a new addition, the anti-inflammatory montelukast—might cut down on severe, short-term COVID. But Hernandez and his colleagues, Naggie among them, appended a check-in at the 90-day mark, when they'll be asking their patients whether they're experiencing a dozen or so symptoms that could hint at a chronic syndrome.

That check-in questionnaire won't capture the full list of long-COVID symptoms, now more than 200 strong. Still, the three-month benchmark could give them a sense of where to keep looking, and for how long. Hernandez, Naggie, and their colleagues are considering whether to extend their follow-up period to six months, maybe farther. The need for long-COVID prevention, after all, will only grow as the total infection count does. "We're not going to get rid of long COVID anytime soon," Iwasaki told me. "The more we can prevent onset, the better off we are."

The Energizer Bunny of Nobel Laureates
Is this article about Foreign Policy?

Last May, when it became clear that Ferdinand Marcos Jr. would ascend to the presidency of the Philippines, Maria Ressa, the Nobel laureate (and Atlantic contributing writer) who has become legendary in her fight for freedom of the press and democracy, was despondent. "This is how it ends, I said to myself that evening," Ressa wrote in her book How to Stand Up to a Dictator. "You can't have integrity of elections if you don't have integrity of facts. Facts lost. History lost. Marcos won."

Marcos's win represented a decisive victory for authoritarianism in the Philippines. The new president is the son and namesake of the dictator and kleptocrat Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986. His victory also represented a direct threat to Ressa. Marcos's supporters are among those who, like his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, have targeted and harassed both Ressa and Rappler, the Manila-based news organization she co-founded and runs.

This week, however, Ressa is celebrating an unexpected victory of her own. A Philippine court acquitted her, and Rappler, of four charges of tax evasion—charges drummed up in "a brazen abuse of power" that was intended "to stop journalists from doing their jobs," she told reporters who had gathered outside the courthouse after her acquittal. The charges would have carried a maximum prison sentence of 34 years if she were convicted. "Of course it was emotional," she said, her voice breaking repeatedly. "Today, facts win. Truth wins. Justice wins." When I spoke with Ressa shortly after the verdict, she told me she was feeling "triumphant." Also: very tired.

Her fight is nowhere near over. Before her acquittal, Ressa had 10 criminal charges against her, all brought under the former presidential administration in quick succession, prompted by Rappler's aggressive coverage of the administration's corruption during the country's drug wars. "We kind of live in this uncertainty," she said, referring to the remaining pending cases, which include another charge of tax evasion and her appeal of a cyberlibel conviction. (That conviction stems from a publishing decision that Rappler made before the cyberlibel law even existed.) But in some ways, she told me, "we've been through the worst already. We survived six years of Rodrigo Duterte and we did our job."

Ressa's steadfastness and devotion to that story, despite Duterte's attempts to silence her, helped earn her the 

Nobel Prize

 in 2021. Several journalists who have spoken out against government corruption have been murdered in the Philippines, including 23 under the Duterte administration and two since Marcos took office last year. In September, the radio journalist Renato Blanco was fatally stabbed. In October, the broadcast journalist Percival Mabasa was shot dead in what police claim was a hit ordered by the country's prisons chief.

Now, Ressa says, she wants to focus all her energy on "2024, which is, I believe, the tipping point for democracy globally. As of now, 60 percent of the world is living under autocracy. We've rolled back to 1989." By that, she means that the level of democracy experienced by the average person around the world has reverted to 1989 levels. The number of liberal democracies was down to 34 in 2021, the lowest it has been since 1995. Closed autocracies are on the rise. Thirty-five states now suffer from major deteriorations in freedom of expression at the hands of governments, compared with only five a decade ago. The situation is particularly bad in the Asia Pacific, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, according to a report last year by the Varieties of Democracy Institute at the University of Gothenburg, in Sweden.

For Ressa, today's democratic backsliding also calls to mind September 1972, when the elder Marcos declared martial law, citing a national crisis of communism and crime, and promised to build what he called "the New Society" while retaining for himself virtually unlimited presidential powers. Marcos oversaw the torture, kidnapping, and extrajudicial executions of tens of thousands of citizens. At least 50,000 people—many of them human-rights activists, journalists, labor leaders, and church workers—were arrested and detained from 1972 to 1975 alone, according to Amnesty International.

During this tumultuous time in the Philippines, Ressa was in the third grade. She had just moved from Manila to New Jersey. She was not thinking primarily about martial law. She was trying to figure out what a pajama party was.

It's a party where everyone wears pajamas, her mother told her. But when she showed up to her friend Sharon's house dressed for bed, she saw that none of the other girls was in pajamas. "I turned in panic to my mom, who sheepishly admitted she didn't really know what a 'pajama party' was, either," Ressa wrote in her autobiography. Ressa remembers how her friend shrugged it off and quickly helped her inside the house to change. Her lesson from that day: "When you take a risk, you have to trust that someone will come to your aid; and when it's your turn, you will help someone else. It's better to face your fear than to run from it, because running won't make the problem go away. When you face it, you have the chance to conquer it. That was how I began to define courage."

Few people have had their courage tested the way Ressa has in recent years. For now, she has a to-do list with three very big priorities on it: (1) avoid prison, (2) fix the internet, and (3) save democracy. "If we don't put any guardrails—significant guardrails—around technology, we're jumping off the cliff," she told me. "What's at stake is the future of journalism and the survival of democracy."

Ressa co-founded Rappler in 2012, in part because she could see the immense potential of the web—and she was drawn to the idea of harnessing people's snap emotional reactions for good. People like to think of the internet as a marketplace of ideas, but Ressa understood early on that its current architecture makes it first and foremost a marketplace of feelings. So while sites like Facebook built algorithms that invisibly rewarded and prioritized posts that elicited anger, Rappler gave its readers a mood map, crowdsourcing reactions to articles and sharing the findings openly. "If you actually go through the exercise of identifying how you feel, you're more prone to be rational," she told me at the time. "If you can identify how you feel, will you be more receptive to the debate that's in front of you? I hope."

Ressa built Rappler in a far sunnier era of web history, when people were still celebrating the Arab Spring as a success for democracy, and the big social platforms seemed like they had the potential to be positive forces. Today she puts it starkly: "Social media prioritizes the spread of lies over facts," she told me. "Our information ecosystem, it's corrupted right now. If your information ecosystem is corrupted, then that leads to the corruption of your institutions. And when you don't have working institutions, you don't have checks and balances. We're electing illiberal leaders democratically, and they're corrupting the institutions from within. And when the institutions are corrupted, when that happens, you lose your freedom."

Yet despite horrific targeted harassment, death threats, and attempts by some of the most powerful men in the world to silence her, Ressa has been relentless in her belief that it does not have to be this way. She believes that global democratic decline is a temporary condition; that authoritarianism will be beaten back; that the people and the press can be free; that tyranny will be stopped. She believes all of this because, for one thing, she is basically the Energizer Bunny of Nobel Peace Prize winners, and also because she knows that any other outcome would be intolerable. "Compared to others in hiding, in exile, or in jail, I am lucky," she wrote in her latest book. "The only defense a journalist has is to shine the light on the truth, to expose the lie—and I can still do that."

Ressa has watched in real time as government operatives have attacked her and her news organization, attempted to discredit her and destroy her livelihood, and charged her with numerous crimes to frighten her into submission. You can see why Ressa has argued that we ought to treat this technocultural moment not as a beginning but as an ending—as the aftermath of a war. She argues for the creation of NATO-like partnerships and a new Declaration of Human Rights to protect democratic values in the age of the social web. The outcome she is after may not come to pass. The solutions she poses may not be exactly right. But what she is fighting for is most certainly worth the risk.


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