Category Archives: Science

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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Opportunity Stop Answering and Now We May Lowe It Forever

By: Eric Berger of Arstechnica

Late Tuesday night, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory sent their final data uplink to the Opportunity rover on Mars. Over this connection, via the Deep Space Network, the American jazz singer Billie Holiday crooned “I’ll Be Seeing You,” a song that closes with the lines:

I’ll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you

The scientists waited to hear some response from their long-silent rover, which had been engulfed in a global dust storm last June, likely coating its solar panels in a fatal layer of dust. Since then, the team of scientists and engineers has sent more than 835 commands, hoping the rover will wake up from its long slumber—that perhaps winds on Mars might have blown off some of the dust that covered the panels.

So on Tuesday night, they listened. They reminisced. But in the end, no response came. Opportunity would finally be declared dead on Sol 5352, as in five thousand, three hundred, and fifty-two days on Mars. NASA is expected to make it official at 2pm ET Wednesday, when NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and the chief of the agency’s science division, Thomas Zurbuchen, convene a news conference.

Opportunity landed on Mars more than 15 Earth years ago, on January 25, 2004. So much time has passed since then. Facebook would not be created until a month later. YouTube would not get its first video upload for more than a year. George W. Bush was still in his first presidential term. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft had not yet even arrived in the Saturn system.

And yet from that moment on, Opportunity and its sister rover Spirit began plugging along the surface of Mars. Originally designed for 90-day lifetimes, the rovers persisted. Spirit lasted until 2010, when its batteries were unable to keep the spacecraft’s critical components from freezing.

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Canada Supreme Court Says Clean Up Old Oil Gas Wells Before You Pay Your Creditors

By: Emma McIntosh of Calgary

When energy companies go bankrupt, the cleanup of their old oil and gas wells must take priority over paying off creditors, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Thursday.

Though centred in Alberta, the 5-2 decision sets a precedent across Canada, empowering provincial governments to stop defunct companies from off-loading their messes onto other companies or the public. The judgment is expected to resonate across the western provinces, where the number of companies walking away from old wells has skyrocketed amid low oil prices.

“Bankruptcy is not a licence to ignore rules,” wrote Chief Justice Richard Wagner in the court’s decision.

Though the Alberta government, the province’s energy regulator and environmental groups hailed the court’s decision as a victory, critics noted the underlying problems that led to the Redwater case remain. In some bases, a company’s assets may not be enough to cover cleanup costs. 

“The fact of the matter is that when these companies go bankrupt, they have very little resources left,” said Daryl Bennett, director of Action Surface Rights, a group that helps farmers with inactive wells on their land. Such wells can cause safety issues and contamination for the people living around them, Bennett added.

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FDA linked to Opioid Crisis

By: Chris McGreal of the Guardian

The Food and Drug Administration is sacrificing American lives by continuing to approve new high-strength opioidpainkillers, and manipulating the process in favor of big pharma, according to the chair of the agency’s own opioid advisory committee.

Dr Raeford Brown told the Guardian there is “a war” within the FDA as officials in charge of opioid policy have “failed to learn the lessons” of the epidemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people over the past 20 years and continues to claim about 150 lives a day.

Brown accused the agency of putting the interests of narcotics manufacturers ahead of public health, most recently by approving a “terrible drug”, Dsuvia, in a process he alleged was manipulated.

“They should stop considering any new opioid evaluation,” said Brown. “For every day and every week and every month that the FDA don’t do the right thing, people drop dead on the streets. What they do has a direct impact on the mortality rate from opioids in this country.”

Brown, an anesthesiologist who chairs the FDA committee of specialists advising the agency on whether to approve new opioid painkillers, said he no longer had confidence in repeated assurances by the FDA leadership that it was taking the epidemic seriously and prepared to put public health above the commercial interests of drug makers.

“I think that the FDA has learned nothing. The modus operandi of the agency is that they talk a good game and then nothing happens. Working directly with the agency for the last five years, as I sit and listen to them in meetings, all I can think about is the clock ticking and how many people are dying every moment that they’re not doing anything,” he said. “The lack of insight that continues to be exhibited by the agency is in many ways a willful blindness that borders on the criminal.”

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Wealth Inequality Widens Exponentially

By: Casey QuackenBush

Global wealth inequality widened last year as billionaires increased their fortunes by $2.5 billion per day, anti-poverty campaigner Oxfam said in a new report.

While the poorest half of humanity saw their wealth dwindle by 11%, billionaires’ riches increased by 12%. The mega-wealthy have also become a more concentrated bunch. Last year, the top 26 wealthiest people owned $1.4 trillion, or as much as the 3.8 billion poorest people. The year before, it was the top 43 people.

Oxfam’s annual study, released as political and business leaders prepare to descend on Davos for the World Economic Forum, emphasized that this growing inequality is compromising the fight against poverty.

“The size of your bank account should not dictate how many years your children spend in school, or how long you live – yet this is the reality in too many countries across the globe,”said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International.

Since the financial crisis almost a decade ago, the number of billionaires has nearly doubled, with a new one created every two days between 2017 and 2018. At the same time, the mega-rich and wealthy corporations are enjoying lower tax rates than they have in decades, the report said.

“Governments are exacerbating inequality by underfunding public services, such as healthcare and education, on the one hand, while under taxing corporations and the wealthy,” Oxfam said.

Women and girls are hit hardest by the growing wealth gap, according to Oxfam. “Girls are pulled out of school first when the money isn’t available to pay fees, and women clock up hours of unpaid work looking after sick relatives when healthcare systems fail,” it said.

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Gene Editing The Next Social Divide

By: Emma Court

Gene editing is one of the most promising new approaches to treating human diseases today. 

It also raises “enormous” ethical questions, Bill Gates recently warned, and “could make inequity worse, especially if it is available only for wealthy people.” 

“I am surprised that these issues haven’t generated more attention from the general public,” he said in a December blog post, adding that “this might be the most important public debate we haven’t been having widely enough.” 

Gene editing allows scientists to make powerful, precise changes to a person’s DNA, typically to fix a defective gene.

Ethical concerns about what the approach might be used for have long existed, but it came to a boil recently when a Chinese researcher said he had played a role in creating the first genetically edited babies. 

Gene editing has already taken place in humans in the US as a one-time treatment for disease. But unlike those efforts, the Chinese scientist’s work would allow genetic changes to be passed down to other generations. It quickly sparked backlash, with many researchers describing the project as concerning and unethical. 

Gates’ warning, released as part of the billionaire philanthropist’s 2018 wrap-up, appears to have been prompted by that recent news. 

“I agree with those who say this scientist went too far,” Gates said. “But something good can come from his work if it encourages more people to learn and talk about gene editing.”

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Climate Change Deniers Are Becoming A Danger To Society

By: Jennifer Rubin

Imagine during the Cold War that one political party, in the face of overwhelming evidence that the Soviet Union was engaged in espionage against the United States, had a nuclear arsenal pointed at the United States, kept Eastern Europe under its thumb and imprisoned dissenters, refused to consider the Soviet Union a danger — of any sort — to the United States or other Western democracies. And they would offer no credible evidence to the contrary, but rather assert that it was all a hoax. Besides, they’d insist (with no evidence) that it was too expensive to address the challenge posed by the Soviet Union, a danger which they claimed didn’t exist (So how expensive could it be? Don’t ask!). Actually, you don’t have to imagine this scenario. Many on the left have made arguments along these lines, and many on the right have responded by saying they were fuzzy-headed, in denial or captive of interest groups.

That is essentially what is going on, only with the parties flipped, in the climate-change debate. Climate-change denial has become as necessary to one’s right-wing identity as aversion to immigration, opposition to most abortions and a disbelief that sexual harassment and assault are widespread. Just as rejecting geopolitical reality became a requirement of inclusion in far-left circles, climate-change denial is a must for those who want to remain in the Trump fold.

On what basis do they deny climate change? President Trump says he knows a lot about science, so believe him instead of all the scientists who work for the federal government. Others seek refuge in the fantasy that there is reasonable doubt as to the existence of climate change or the severity of the problem, citing fringe characters without expertise on the subject. Those who know better or suspect climate-change denial is irrational (but are too cowardly to confront know-nothings who dominate the party) are willing to string along with the mob, even at the expense of endangering the country and the planet. Republican senators from Florida and Texas, where their constituents’ lives and property are threatened by the rising sea levels that result from rising temperatures, won’t admit the origin of the problem. They simply want bailout money each time another disaster strikes.

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Elon Musk Explains What Fuels Him

By: CNBC

Elon Musk has become infamous for his extreme work schedule.

When he was ramping up production of the Model 3 Tesla, he put in as many as 120 hours in a week. He slept at the factory because he had no time to go home. He called 2018 “the most difficult and painful year of my career.” “[I]t was excruciating,” he told The New York Times.

In late October Musk finally said he was working a much more manageable schedule of 80 to 90 hours a week.

This from a man who is already worth more than $20 billion, according to Forbes.

So why does Musk push himself? To hear Musk tell it, he is trying to save planet Earth. Literally. Musk wants Tesla to be successful so the world moves away from driving cars that run on petroleum-derived fuel.

“Tesla is incredibly important for the future of sustainable transport and energy generation. The fundamental purpose, the fundamental good that Tesla provides is accelerating the advent of sustainable transport and energy production,” Musk said told Recode’s Kara Swisher. “The success of Tesla is, by far, the biggest forcing function for the other car makers to get into … electric cars.”

Providing alternative methods for mass transportation that do not depend on petroleum-derived fuel is key to slowing global warming.

“Yes. It’s very important for the future of the world. It’s very important for all life on Earth. This supersedes political parties, race, creed, religion, it doesn’t matter. If we do not solve the environment, we’re all damned,” Musk told Swisher.

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