Category Archives: Science

Amazon Rainforest is On Fire

By: Jessie Yeung of CNN

Fires are raging at a record rate in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, and scientists warn that it could strike a devastating blow to the fight against climate change.
The fires are burning at the highest rate since the country’s space research center, the National Institute for Space Research (known by the abbreviation INPE), began tracking them in 2013, the center said Tuesday. 
There have been 72,843 fires in Brazil this year, with more than half in the Amazon region, INPE said. That’s more than an 80% increase compared with the same period last year.
The Amazon is often referred to as the planet’s lungs, producing 20% of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere.

It is considered vital in slowing global warming, and it is home to uncountable species of fauna and flora. Roughly half the size of the United States, it is the largest rainforest on the planet.

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Leaked Executive Order Draft Shows Potential Problems For Internet Freedom

By: Jon Queally of Common Dreams

Civil liberties groups are warning of a major threat to online freedoms and First Amendment rights if a leaked draft of a Trump administration edict—dubbed by critics as a “Censor the Internet” executive order that would give powerful federal agencies far-reaching powers to pick and choose which kind of Internet material is and is not acceptable—is allowed to go into effect.

“If these reports are a trial balloon from the White House, then it’s time to pop it.” 
—Chris Lewis, Public Knowledge
According to CNN, which obtained a copy of the draft, the new rule “calls for the FCC to develop new regulations clarifying how and when the law protects social media websites when they decide to remove or suppress content on their platforms. Although still in its early stages and subject to change, the Trump administration’s draft order also calls for the Federal Trade Commission to take those new policies into account when it investigates or files lawsuits against misbehaving companies.”

While Politico was the first to report how the draft was being circulated by the White House, CNN notes that if put into effect, “the order would reflect a significant escalation by President Trump in his frequent attacks against social media companies over an alleged but unproven systemic bias against conservatives by technology platforms. And it could lead to a significant reinterpretation of a law that, its authors have insisted, was meant to give tech companies broad freedom to handle content as they see fit.”

Following reporting on the leaked draft, free speech and online advocacy groups raised alarm about the troubling and far-reaching implications of the Trump plan if it was put into effect by executive decree.

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HPV Vaccines has significantly cuts rates of cancer causing infections

By: Jessica Hamzelou of New Scientist

The HPV vaccine appears to be working. Countries with vaccination programmes are lowering the rate of virus infection, precancerous lesions and genital warts in girls and women. Boys and men are benefiting too, even when they aren’t vaccinated.

That’s the conclusion of a review of 65 studies across 14 high-income countries, including 60 million people, over eight years. “Our results provide strong evidence that HPV vaccination works to prevent cervical cancer in real-world settings,” says Mélanie Drolet of Laval University in Canada, who led the work.

HPV vaccination programmes are currently running in around 115 countries, says Marc Brisson, also at Laval University, who co-authored the study. It is too soon to measure how these programmes might impact rates of cervical cancer, so the team looked at rates of HPV infection and the incidence of precancerous lesions and anal and genital warts, which can result from infection.

The team found that, between five and eight years into a vaccination programme, the prevalence of two strains of HPV that the vaccine protects against dropped by 83 per cent among teenage girls and 66 per cent in women aged 20 to 24. The prevalence of the virus also dropped by 37 per cent in women aged between 25 and 29, even though most were unvaccinated.

The incidence of anogenital warts also dropped – by 67 per cent among girls aged 15 to 19, and 54 per cent in women aged 20 to 24. Diagnoses of anogenital warts was reduced in unvaccinated boys and men too – by 48 per cent in boys aged 15 to 19, and 32 per cent in men aged 20 to 24. This suggests that vaccinating girls and young women can protect boys and men too, thanks to herd immunity, says Brisson.

The team also looked at the incidence of precancerous lesions in girls and women. Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) is the term given to abnormal cervical cells, which can be diagnosed as CIN1, CIN2 or CIN3. The latter two can develop into cervical cancer if untreated.

Diagnoses of CIN2 and CIN3 decreased by 51 per cent among 15 to 19-year-old girls between five and nine years into vaccination programmes. Incidence of these lesions in unvaccinated women, on the other hand, increased over the same period.

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Could Depression Be Linked To Derailment?

By: Christian Jarrett of Readers Digest

We move house, change jobs, begin new relationships, yet most of the time, most of us still experience a thread of inner continuity – a constant feeling of me-ness that transcends the various chapters of our lives. Indeed, there’s evidence that having a stable, constant sense of self and identity is important for psychological wellbeing. However, this thread can rupture, leading to an uncomfortable disconnect between who we feel we are today, and the person that we believe we used to be – a state that psychologists recently labelled “derailment”.

Now in a paper in Clinical Psychological Science a group led by Kaylin Ratner at Cornell University has explored the possibility that derailment both precipitates, and is a consequence of, depression. After all, people with depression often struggle with motivation, losing the will to pursue goals they previously held dear. They also frequently withdraw from their relationships and social roles. All of these changes could trigger sensations of derailment. Or perhaps derailment comes first, with the inner disorientation leaving one vulnerable to depression. Surprisingly these questions have been little studied before now. “We nominate derailment as a new feature of the depressive landscape and underscore the need for greater empirical and practical attention at the crossroads of mental health and human development,” Ratner and her team write.

The researchers recruited nearly a thousand undergraduate students and asked them to complete measures of depression and derailment four times over the course of an academic year. The recently developed 10-item derailment measure was based on the students’ agreement or not with statements like “My life has been headed in the same direction for a long time,” and “I did not anticipate becoming the person that I currently am.”

The team found that the students’ scores on depression and derailment were relatively stable across the course of the year. Also, students’ derailment and depression symptoms tended to correlate at each of the measurement time points – implying there may well be an association between the two. In terms of cause and effect, and as the researchers predicted in advance, higher depression scores at an earlier time point tended to presage increases in derailment scores later on. However, in what they described as a “curious finding”, higher derailment scores earlier in the year actually tended to herald a decline in depression symptoms later in the year.

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Millennials Succumb To The Perfectionist Culture

By: Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D. Of Psychology Today

The idea that millennials are narcissists who can’t apply themselves to their work has gained popular recognition despite evidence to the contrary. Because their parents coddled them, so the argument goes, an entire generation of young people has become unable to fend for themselves. Additionally, because parents and teachers rewarded the millennial children for every effort, no matter how small, these young people growing up in the late 20th and early 21st century became unable to deal with any type of setback. When it comes to millennials, then, generation-bashing seems to be the popular mindset.

Labeling a generation with a name and then assuming that every member of that generation has the same personality has its dangers. Were all members of the “Greatest Generation” great? Are all Baby Boomers now fighting off the aging process, unwilling to accept the inevitable changes that occur in later life? Did they all turn on and tune out when they were young people? Are all Gen-X’ers equally stressedand miserable now? When they were younger, were they all slackers who rebelled against everything their parents did? Whatever generation you classify yourself as occupying, when you think about the people who are roughly the same age as you are, do you see each and every one of you as the same?

Despite the fallacy of assuming that everyone born in the same era has the same characteristics, there is some truth to the notion that everyone who lives in a certain historical era is affected by what’s going on around them in the world at large. Social and political influences create a certain socially shared reality, and their effects trickle down to your very own neighborhood, school, and family. When you’re in the process of defining your identity, these effects might shape your very sense of self. With this idea in mind, University of Bath’s Thomas Curran and York St. John University’s Andrew Hill (2019) used a research method involving generational comparisons to explore social trends in perfectionism. The British researchers believed that the “tougher social and economic conditions” (p. 410) faced by young people now, as compared to their parents, might be creating an environment that fosters the need to be perfect during their formative years.

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Atmospheric Carbon Levels Are Reaching Dangerous Levels

By: Jon Queally of Common Dreams

Atmospheric levels of carbon registered 415 parts per million over the weekend at one of the world’s key measuring stations, a concentration level researchers say has not existed in more than 3 million years – before the dawn of human history.

Taken at the Mauno Loa Observatory in Hawaii by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the measure continues the upward trend of atmospheric carbon concentration that lies at the heart of the global warming and climate crisis:

415.26 parts per million (ppm) CO2 in air 11-May-2019 http://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/  First daily baseline over 415ppm

Writing on his Informed Comment blog Monday, historian Juan Cole said that life on Earth in that pre-historic era, known as the Pliocene Period, is not a place humans would recognize:

In the Pliocene, it was much hotter.

In the Pliocene, oceans were much higher, maybe 90 feet higher.

That is our fate, folks. That is what 415ppm produces. It is only a matter of time, and some of the sea level rise will come quickly.

Amsterdam, New Orleans, Lisbon, Miami – the list of cities that will be submerged is enormous.

Elsewhere online, reaction to the unsettling milestone was met with a mix of frustration, alarm, and fresh demands for urgent action to address the crisis.

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Instagram To Hide Likes

By: Hamza Shaban of Washington Post

Instagram will test hiding the number of likes and views that photos and videos receive — a central aspect of its platform — to rein in competitive tendencies and make the experience a little “less pressurized.”

Instagram’s head, Adam Mosseri, said the change is designed to minimize the stress of posting online, where users can fixate on how many likes their videos draw. “We want people to worry a little bit less about how many likes they’re getting on Instagram and spend a bit more time connecting with the people that they care about,” he said Tuesday during Facebook’s annual developer conference, F8.

In the test run, which will roll out in Canada this week, the Facebook-owned site will display user posts as it would normally, but people scrolling through the feed won’t see like counts. Account owners will still be able to check the tallies on their own photos and videos by clicking through a prompt.

Mosseri said the experiment is part of a broader effort to rethink the fundamentals of how Instagram works and create a more welcoming experience. The company also is testing a redesigned profile page that de-emphasizes follower counts. “We don’t want Instagram to feel like a competition, we want to make it a less pressurized environment,” he said.

The psychological drawbacks of social media use have gained more attention in recent years, with parents, consumer advocates and even tech companies pointing to its potential to increase anxiety and social isolation. Technologists also have taken issue with popular social media platforms that place engagement metrics at center stage, encouraging users to maximize those figures by spending more time on the site and perpetuating a feedback loop of notifications and social validation.

Though shielding like counts might curtail strategic efforts to punch up engagement numbers on Instagram, other troublesome aspects like social exclusion won’t be addressed with the change, said Karen North, a professor at the University of Southern California with expertise in social media and psychology. Young people might still feel left out, or worse, if they see their friends posting from parties and other social events without them, and then read the comments that follow. Neither is directly tied to likes, she said.

Hiding the counts could potentially introduce new problems for users, such as diminishing the feeling of camaraderie from liking a popular post tied to a social cause or a massive in-joke. “While we can focus on the negative side of comparing likes, it is also true that people enjoy the game of supporting a post, a friend or an influencer,” she said.

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Millennials Losing Place In Middle Class

By: Richard Partington of The Guardian

Millennials in advanced economies around the world are being squeezed out of the ranks of the middle class, including in Britain, as pay growth stalls and house prices skyrocket, according to the OECD.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said that for every every generation since the baby boom of the 1940s, across 40 major countries, the middle-income group had shrunk and its economic influence weakened.

The Paris-based organisation, which represents 36 wealthy nations around the world, but also included South Africa, China, Russia and Brazil in its analysis, said there had also been a noticeable decline in the living standards of middle-income families over the past three decades.

It said there were 15 countries where the middle class was now a smaller group than before the financial crisis; the group was defined as people whose earnings are between 75% and 200% of median national income. It also found that the top 10% of earners held almost half of the total wealth, with the bottom 40% accounting for only 3%.

The snapshot of modern life for middle class households around the world suggests that younger generations are increasingly being denied similar opportunities to their parents.

As many as 70% of the baby boomers – born between 1942 and 1964 – were part of the middle class in their 20s, compared with 60% of millennials – born between 1983 and 2002 – at the same point in life, the OECD said.

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Would You Delete Facebook?

By: Ryan Mac

WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton defended his decision to sell his company to Facebook for $19 billion and encouraged students to delete their accounts from the social network in a rare public appearance at Stanford University on Wednesday.

As one of the guest speakers for Computer Science 181, an undergraduate class focused on technology companies’ social impact and ethical responsibilities, Acton, a 47-year-old Stanford alum, explained the principles behind founding WhatsApp and his fateful decision to sell it to Facebook in 2014. In doing so, he also criticized the profit models driving today’s tech behemoths, including Facebook and Google, as well as the Silicon Valley ecosystem in which entrepreneurs are pressured to chase venture capital and large exits to satisfy employees and shareholders.

“You go back to this Silicon Valley culture and people say, ‘Well, could you have not sold?’ and the answer is no,” he said, referring to his decision to make the “rational choice” to take “a boatload of money.”

“I had 50 employees, and I had to think about them and the money they would make from this sale. I had to think about our investors and I had to think about my minority stake. I didn’t have the full clout to say no if I wanted to,” he continued.

Despite selling WhatsApp in a deal that made him a billionaire several times over, Acton’s negative feelings about Facebook are no secret. He departed in November 2017 after more than three years at the company following tensions surrounding the introduction of ads onto the messaging platform, something he and fellow cofounder Jan Koum vehemently opposed. (Koum announced he was leaving Facebook last April, amid reports he disagreed with the company’s plans for monetizing WhatsApp and its approach to user data and privacy.)

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Plastic To Fuel

By: Luke Dormehl of Digital Trends

To achieve this, they have pioneered a new chemical conversion process, capable of converting more than 90 percent of polyolefin waste — the polymer behind widely used plastic polyethylene — into high-quality gasoline or diesel-like fuel. The results could be a game-changer.

“We have developed a method to convert polyolefin waste, which include Type 2 (HDPE), Type 4 (LDPE and LLDPE), and Type 5 (PP), into various useful products,” Nien-Hwa Linda Wang, a professor in Purdue’s Davidson School of Chemical Engineering, told Digital Trends. “The conversion is achieved using subcritical or supercritical water, which can convert plastic waste into oil, fuels, or gas, depending on the processing conditions. Some impurities in the plastic waste is converted into oil or extracted into the processing water. Both conversion and extraction are achieved in the same process.”

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