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As long as an adult thumb, with jaws like a stag beetle and four times larger than a honeybee, Wallace’s giant bee is not exactly inconspicuous.
But after going missing, feared extinct, for 38 years, the world’s largest bee has been rediscovered alive on the Indonesian islands of the North Moluccas.
A search team of North American and Australian biologists found a single female Wallace’s giant bee (Megachile pluto) living inside a termites’ nest in a tree, more than two metres off the ground.
“It was absolutely breathtaking to see this ‘ﬂying bulldog’ of an insect that we weren’t sure existed any more,” said Clay Bolt, a specialist photographer who obtained the ﬁrst images of the species alive. “To actually see how beautiful and big the species is in life, to hear the sound of its giant wings thrumming as it ﬂew past my head, was just incredible.”
The giant bee — the female can measure nearly 4cm in length — ﬁrst became known to science in 1858 when the British explorer and naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace discovered it on the tropical Indonesian island of Bacan. He described the female bee as “a large, black wasp-like insect, with immense jaws like a stag beetle”.
Despite its size, the bee remained elusive, with almost nothing known about the female’s secretive life cycle involving making nests of tree resin inside active arboreal termite mounds.
The bee was not seen again by scientists until 1981, when Adam Messer, an American entomologist, rediscovered it on three Indonesian islands. He observed how the bee used its giant mandibles to gather resin and wood for its termite-proof nests.
Last year it was discovered that an entomologist had collected a single female in 1991 but his discovery was never recorded in a scientiﬁc journal. Also last year, a freshly collected dead specimen was spotted on an online auction site, but the rediscovery of a live female raises hopes that Indonesia’s forests still harbour this species.
The bee’s habitat is threatened by massive deforestation for agriculture, and its size and rarity make it a target for collectors. There is, at present, no legal protection concerning trading of Wallace’s giant bee.
Robin Moore, a conservation biologist with Global Wildlife Conservation, which runs a programme called The Search for Lost Species, said: “We know that putting the news out about this rediscovery could seem like a big risk given the demand, but the reality is that unscrupulous collectors already know that the bee is out there.”
Moore said it was vital that conservationists made the Indonesian government aware of the bee and took steps to protect the species and its habitat. “By making the bee a world-famous ﬂagship for conservation we are conﬁdent that the species has a brighter future than if we just let it quietly be collected into oblivion,” he said.
• This article was amended on 22 February 2019 to clarify in the headline and text that the Wallace giant bee discovered on the North Moluccas islands is believed to be the ﬁrst live specimen recorded by scientists for 38 years. Detail of two dead specimens that emerged last year was also added.
Artur Korneyev, Deputy Director of Shelter Object, viewing the “elephants foot” lava ﬂow at Chernobyl, 1996. (Photo: US Department of Energy)
At ﬁrst glance, it’s hard to know what’s happening in this picture. A giant mushroom seems to have sprouted in a factory ﬂoor, where ghostly men in hardhats seem to be working.
But there’s something undeniably eerie about the scene, for good reason. You’re looking at the largest agglomeration of one of the most toxic substances ever created: corium.
In the days and weeks after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in late April 1986, simply being in the same room as this particular pile of radioactive material—known as the Elephant’s Foot—would have killed you within a couple of minutes. Even a decade later, when this image was taken, the radiation probably caused the ﬁlm to develop strangely, creating the photo’s grainy quality. The man in this photo, Artur Korneyev, has likely visited this area more than anyone else, and in doing so has been exposed to more radiation than almost anyone in history.
Remarkably, he’s probably still alive. The story of how the United States got a hold of this singular photo of a human in the presence of this incredibly toxic material is itself fraught with mystery—almost as much as why someone would take what is essentially a selﬁe with a hunk of molten radiated lava.
This picture ﬁrst came to America in the late 1990s, after the newly independent Ukrainian government took over the plant and set up the Chornobyl Center for Nuclear Safety, Radioactive Waste and Radioecology (spelling often gets changed as words go from Russian to English). Soon after, the center invited other governments to collaborate on nuclear safety projects. The U. S. Department of Energy tapped the Paciﬁc Northwest National Laboratories (PNNL)—a bustling science center up in Richland, Washington—to help.
At the time, Tim Ledbetter was a relatively new hire in PNNL’s IT department, and he was tasked with creating a digital photo library that the DOE’s International Nuclear Safety Project could use to show its work to the American public (or, at least, to the tiny sliver of the population that was online back then). He had project members take photos while they were in Ukraine, hired a freelance photographer to grab some other shots, and solicited images from Ukrainian colleagues at the Chornobyl Center. Intermixed with hundreds of images of awkward bureaucratic handshakes and people in lab coats, though, are a dozen or so shots from the ruins inside Unit 4, where 10 years before, on April 26, 1986, a reactor had exploded during a test of the plant turbine-generator system.
As radioactive plumes rose high above the plant, poisoning the area, the rods liqueﬁed below, melting through the reactor vessel to form a substance called corium, perhaps the most toxic stuff on Earth.
Corium ﬂowing like lava through the reactor. The valve was made for steam to move through. (Photo: PNNL library)
Corium has been created outside of the lab at least ﬁve times, according to Mitchell Farmer, a senior nuclear engineer at Argonne National Laboratory, another Department of Energy center outside of Chicago. Corium formed once at the Three Mile Island reactor in Pennsylvania in 1979, once in Chernobyl, and three separate times during the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown in Japan in 2011. Farmer creates modiﬁed versions of corium in the lab in order to better understand how to mitigate accidents in the future. Research on the substance has found, for example, that dumping water on it after it forms actually does stop some ﬁssion products from decaying and producing more dangerous isotopes.
Of the ﬁve corium creations, only Cherobyl’s has escaped its containment. With no water to cool the mass, the radioactive sludge moved through the unit over the course a week following the meltdown, taking on molten concrete and sand to go along with the uranium (fuel) and zirconium (cladding) molecules. This poisonous lava ﬂowed downhill, eventually burning through the ﬂoor of the building. When nuclear inspectors ﬁnally accessed the area several months after the initial explosion, they found that 11 tons of it had settled into a three meter wide grey mass at the corner of a steam distribution corridor below. This, they dubbed the Elephant’s Foot. Over the years, the Elephant’s Foot cooled and cracked. Even today, though, it’s still estimated to be slightly above the ambient temperature as the radioactive material decomposes.
Ledbetter’s not able to remember exactly where he got these images. He compiled the library almost 20 years ago, and the website on which they were hosted is in rough shape; only thumbnails of the images are left. (Ledbetter, who still works at PNNL, was surprised to learn that any of the site was still publicly accessible.) But he’s sure he didn’t hire someone to take photos of the Elephant’s Foot, so they likely were sent in by a Ukrainian colleague.
In 2013, Kyle Hill stumbled across the image, which had been shared several times on the internet in the ensuing years, while writing a piece about the Elephant’s Foot for Nautilus magazine, and tracked it back to the old PNNL site. Following his lead, I went back there to look for more details. After a little digging through the site’s CSS coding, I was able to locate a long-lost caption for the image: “Artur Korneev, Deputy Director of Shelter Object, viewing the ‘elephants foot’ lava ﬂow, Chornobyl NPP. Photographer: Unknown. Fall 1996.” Ledbetter conﬁrmed the caption matched the photo.
Korneev turns out to be an alternate spelling for Korneyev. Artur Korneyev is a dark-humored Kazakhstani nuclear inspector who has been working to educate people about—and protect people from—the Elephant’s Foot since it was ﬁrst created by the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in 1986. The last time a reporter spoke to him, as far as I can tell, was in 2014, when New York Times science reporter Henry Fountain interviewed him in Slavutich, Ukraine, a city built especially to house the evacuated personnel from Chernobyl.
I wasn’t able to locate Korneyev for an interview, but it’s possible to put together clues embedded in the photos to explain the image. I looked through all the other captions of photos similar photos of the destroyed core, and they were all taken by Korneyev, so it’s likely this photo was an old-school timed selﬁe. The shutter speed was probably a little slower than for the other photos in order for him to get into position, which explains why he seems to be moving and why the glow from his ﬂashlight looks like a lightning ﬂash. The graininess of the photo, though, is likely due to the radiation.
For Korneyev, this particular trip was only one of hundreds of dangerous missions he’s taken to the core since he ﬁrst arrived on site in the days following the initial explosion. His initial job was to locate the fuel deposits and help determine their radiation levels. (The Elephant’s Foot initially gave off more than 10,000 roentgens an hour, which would kill a person three feet from it in less than two minutes.) Soon after that, he began leading cleanup efforts, sometimes even kicking pieces of solid fuel out of the way. More than 30 workers died from Acute Radiation Syndrome during the explosion and ensuring cleanup. Despite the incredible amount of exposure, Korneyev kept returning inside the hastily constructed concrete sarcophagus, often with journalists in tow to document the dangers.
In 2001, he brought a reporter from the Associated Press back to the core, where the radiation still measured 800 roentgens an hour. In 2009, Marcel Theroux, the celebrated novelist (and son of writer Paul Theroux and cousin of actor Justin Theroux) wrote an article for Travel + Leisure about his trip to the sarcophagus and the mad, maskless guide who mocked Theroux’s anxiety as “purely psychological.” While Theroux refers to him as Viktor Korneyev, it’s likely the man is Artur, as he made the same dark joke he would a few years later in a New York Times article.
His current status is murky. When the Times caught up to Korneyev a year and a half ago, he was helping to plan construction of a $1.5 billion arch that, when ﬁnished in 2017, will cap the decaying sarcophagus and prevent airborne isotopes from escaping. In his mid 60s, he was sickly, with cataracts, and had been barred from re-entering the sarcophagus after years of irradiation.
Korneyev’s sense of humor remained intact, though. He seemed to have no regrets about his life’s work. “Soviet radiation,” he joked, “is the best radiation in the world.”
hen broadcaster Sandi Toksvig was studying anthropology at university, one of her female professors held up a photograph of an antler bone with 28 markings on it. “This,” said the professor, “is alleged to be man’s ﬁrst attempt at a calendar.” Toksvig and her fellow students looked at the bone in admiration. “Tell me,” the professor continued, “what man needs to know when 28 days have passed? I suspect that this is woman’s ﬁrst attempt at a calendar.”
Women have always tracked their periods. We’ve had to. Since 2015, I’ve been reliant on a period tracker app, which reassures me that there’s a reason I’m welling up just thinking about Andy Murray’s “casual feminism”. And then there’s the issue of the period itself: when you will be bleeding for up to seven days every month, it’s useful to know more or less when those seven days are going to take place. Every woman knows this, and Toksvig’s experience is a neat example of the difference a female perspective can make, even to issues that seem entirely unrelated to gender.
For most of human history, though, that perspective has not been recorded. Going back to the theory of Man the Hunter, the lives of men have been taken to represent those of humans overall. When it comes to the other half of humanity, there is often nothing but silence. And these silences are everywhere. Films, news, literature, science, city planning, economics, the stories we tell ourselves about our past, present and future, are all marked — disﬁgured — by a female-shaped “absent presence”. This is the gender data gap.
These silences, these gaps, have consequences. They impact on women’s lives, every day. The impact can be relatively minor — struggling to reach a top shelf set at a male height norm, for example. Irritating, certainly. But not life-threatening. Not like crashing in a car whose safety tests don’t account for women’s measurements. Not like dying from a stab wound because your police body armour doesn’t ﬁt you properly. For these women, the consequences of living in a world built around male data can be deadly.
The gender data gap is both a cause and a consequence of the type of unthinking that conceives of humanity as almost exclusively male. In the 1956 musical My Fair Lady, phoneticist Henry Higgins is bafﬂed when, after enduring months of his hectoring put-downs, his protege-cum-victim Eliza Doolittle ﬁnally bites back. “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” he grumbles.
The formula to determine standard ofﬁce temperature was developed in the 1960s around the metabolic resting rate of the average man. But a recent Dutch study found that the metabolic rate of young adult females performing light ofﬁce work is significantly lower than the standard values for men doing the same activity. In fact, the formula may overestimate female metabolic rate by as much as 35%, meaning that current ofﬁces are on average ﬁve degrees too cold for women. This leads to the odd sight of female ofﬁce workers wrapped in blankets in the summer, while their male colleagues wander around in shorts.
Not only is this situation inequitable, it is bad business sense: an uncomfortable workforce is an unproductive workforce. But workplace data gaps lead to a lot worse than simple discomfort and inefﬁciency. Over the past 100 years, workplaces have, on the whole, got considerably safer. In the early 1900s, about 4,400 people in the UK died at work every year. By 2016, that ﬁgure had fallen to 135. But while serious injuries at work have been decreasing for men, there is evidence that they have been increasing among women. The gender data gap is again implicated, with occupational research traditionally focused on male-dominated industries.
Every year, 8,000 people in the UK die from work-related cancers. And although most research in this area has been done on men, it’s far from clear that men are the most affected. Over the past 50 years, breast cancer rates in the industrialised world have risen significantly — but a failure to research female bodies, occupations and environments means that the data for exactly what is behind this rise is lacking. “We know everything about dust disease in miners,” Rory O’Neill, professor of occupational and environmental policy research at the University of Stirling, tells me. “You can’t say the same for exposures, physical or chemical, in ‘women’s work’.”
Cancer is a long-latency disease, O’Neill says, so even if we started the studies now, it would take a working generation before we had any usable data. But we aren’t starting the studies now. Instead, we continue to rely on data from studies done on men as if they apply to women. Speciﬁcally, Caucasian men aged 25 to 30, who weigh 70kg. This is “Reference Man” and his superpower is being able to represent humanity as a whole. Of course, he does not.
Men and women have different immune systems and hormones, which can play a role in how chemicals are absorbed. Women tend to be smaller than men and have thinner skin, both of which can lower the level of toxins they can be safely exposed to. This lower tolerance threshold is compounded by women’s higher percentage of body fat, in which some chemicals can accumulate. Chemicals are still usually tested in isolation, and on the basis of a single exposure. But this is not how women tend to encounter them.
In nail salons, where the workforce is almost exclusively female (and often migrant), workers will be exposed on a daily basis to a huge range of chemicals that are “routinely found in the polishes, removers, gels, shellacs, disinfectants and adhesives that are staples of their work”, according to the Canadian researcher Anne Rochon Ford. Many of these chemicals have been linked to cancer, miscarriages and lung diseases. Some may alter the body’s normal hormonal functions. If these women then go home and begin a second unpaid shift cleaning their home, they will be exposed to different chemicals that are ubiquitous in common products. The effects of these mixing together are largely unknown.
Most of the research on chemicals has focused on their absorption through the skin. But many of the ones used in nail salons are extremely volatile, which means that they evaporate at room temperature and can be inhaled — along with the considerable amounts of dust produced when acrylic nails are ﬁled. The research on how this may impact on workers is virtually nonexistent.
Part of the failure to see the risks in traditionally female-dominated industries is because often these jobs are an extension of what women do in the home (although at a more onerous scale). But the data gap when it comes to women in the workplace doesn’t only arise in female-dominated industries.
Little data exists on injuries to women in construction, but the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health (NYCOSH) points to a US study of union carpenters that found women had higher rates of sprains, strains and nerve conditions of the wrist and forearm than men. Given the lack of data, it’s hard to be sure exactly why this is, but it’s a safe bet to attribute at least some of the blame to “standard” construction site equipment being designed around the male body.
Wendy Davis, ex-director of the Women’s Design Service in the UK, questions the standard size of a bag of cement. It’s a comfortable weight for a man to lift — but it doesn’t actually have to be that size, she points out. “If they were a bit smaller, then women could lift them.” Davis also takes issue with the standard brick size. “I’ve got photographs of my [adult] daughter holding a brick. She can’t get her hand round it. But [her husband] Danny’s hand ﬁts perfectly comfortably. Why does a brick have to be that size?” She also notes that the typical A1 architect’s portfolio ﬁts nicely under most men’s arms while most women’s arms don’t reach round it.
NYCOSH similarly notes that “standard hand tools like wrenches tend to be too large for women’s hands to grip tightly”.
In the UK, employers are legally required to provide well-maintained personal protective equipment (PPE) — anything from goggles to full body suits — to workers who need it, free of charge. But most PPE is based on the sizes and characteristics of male populations from Europe and the US. The TUC found that employers often think that when it comes to female workers all they need to do to comply with this legal requirement is to buy smaller sizes.
Differences in chests, hips and thighs can affect the way the straps ﬁt on safety harnesses. The use of a “standard” US male face shape for dust, hazard and eye masks means they don’t ﬁt most women (as well as a lot of black and minority ethnic men). A 2017 TUC report found that the problem with ill-ﬁtting PPE was worst in the emergency services, where only 5% of women said that their PPE never hampered their work, with body armour, stab vests, hi-vis vests and jackets all highlighted as unsuitable.
When it comes to frontline workers, poorly ﬁtting PPE can prove fatal. In 1997, a British female police ofﬁcer was stabbed and killed while using a hydraulic ram to enter a ﬂat. She had removed her body armour because it was too difﬁcult to use the ram while wearing it. Two years later, a female police ofﬁcer revealed that she had had to have breast-reduction surgery because of the health effects of wearing her body armour. After this case was reported, another 700 ofﬁcers in the same force came forward to complain about the standard-issue protective vest.
But although the complaints have been coming regularly over the past 20 years, little seems to have been done. British female police ofﬁcers report being bruised by their kit belts; a number have had to have physiotherapy because of the way stab vests sit on their body; many complain there is no space for their breasts. This is not only uncomfortable, it also results in stab vests coming up too short, leaving women unprotected.
In April 2017, the BBC journalist Samira Ahmed wanted to use a toilet. She was at a screening of the James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro at London’s Barbican arts centre, and it was the interval. Any woman who has ever been to the theatre knows what that means. This evening, the queue was worse than usual. Far worse. Because in an almost comically blatant display of not having thought about women at all, the Barbican had turned both the male and female toilets gender neutral simply by replacing the “men” and “women” signage with “gender neutral with urinals” and “gender neutral with cubicles”. The obvious happened. Only men were using the supposedly “gender neutral with urinals” and everyone was using the “gender neutral with cubicles”.
Rather than rendering the toilets genuinely gender neutral, they had simply increased the provision for men. “Ah the irony of having to explain discrimination having just been to see I Am Not Your Negro IN YOUR CINEMA”, Ahmed tweeted, suggesting that turning the gents gender neutral would be sufﬁcient: “There’s NEVER such a queue there & you know it.”
On the face of it, it may seem fair and equitable to accord male and female public toilets the same amount of space — and historically, this is the way it has been done: 50/50 division of ﬂoor space has even been formalised in plumbing codes. However, if a male toilet has both cubicles and urinals, the number of people who can relieve themselves at once is far higher per square foot of ﬂoor space in the male bathroom than in the female bathroom. Suddenly equal ﬂoor space isn’t so equal.
But even if male and female toilets had an equal number of stalls, the issue wouldn’t be resolved, because women take up to 2.3 times as long as men to use the toilet. Women make up the majority of the elderly and disabled, two groups that will tend to need more time in the toilet. Women are also more likely to be accompanied by children, as well as disabled and older people. Then there’s the 20–25% of women of childbearing age who may be on their period at any one time, and therefore need to change a tampon or a sanitary pad.
Women may also require more trips to the bathroom: pregnancy significantly reduces bladder capacity, and women are eight times more likely to suffer from urinary-tract infections. In the face of all these anatomical differences, it would surely take a formal equality dogmatist to continue to argue that equal ﬂoor space between men and women is fair.
In 1998, a pianist called Christopher Donison wrote that “one can divide the world into roughly two constituencies”: those with larger hands, and those with smaller hands. Donison was writing as a male pianist who, due to his smaller than average hands, had struggled for years with traditional keyboards, but he could equally have been writing as a woman. There is plenty of data showing that women have, on average, smaller hands, and yet we continue to design equipment around the average male hand as if one-size-ﬁts-men is the same as one-size-ﬁts-all.
The average smartphone size is now 5.5 inches. While the average man can fairly comfortably use his device one-handed, the average woman’s hand is not much bigger than the handset itself. This is obviously annoying — and foolish for a company like Apple, given that research shows women are more likely to own an iPhone than men.
The tech journalist and author James Ball has a theory for why the big-screen ﬁxation persists: because the received wisdom is that men drive high-end smartphone purchases. But if women aren’t driving high-end smartphone purchases — at least for non-Apple products — is it because women aren’t interested in smartphones? Or could it be because smartphones are designed without women in mind? On the bright side, Ball reassured me that screens probably wouldn’t be getting any bigger because “they’ve hit the limit of men’s hand size”.
Good news for men, then. But tough breaks for women like my friend Liz who owns a third-generation Motorola Moto G. In response to one of my regular rants about handset sizes she replied that she’d just been “complaining to a friend about how difﬁcult it was to zoom on my phone camera. He said it was easy on his. Turns out we have the same phone. I wondered if it was a hand-size thing.”
When Zeynep Tufekci, a researcher at the University of North Carolina, was trying to document tear gas use in the Gezi Park protests in Turkey in 2013, the size of her Google Nexus got in the way. It was the evening of 9 June. Gezi Park was crowded. Parents were there with their children. And then the canisters were ﬁred. Because ofﬁcials “often claimed that tear gas was used only on vandals and violent protesters”, Tufekci wanted to document what was happening. So she pulled out her phone. “And as my lungs, eyes and nose burned with the pain of the lachrymatory agent released from multiple capsules that had fallen around me, I started cursing.” Her phone was too big. She could not take a picture one-handed — “something I had seen countless men with larger hands do all the time”. All Tufekci’s photos from the event were unusable, she wrote, and “for one simple reason: good smartphones are designed for male hands”.
Voice recognition could be one solution to a smartphone that doesn’t ﬁt your hands, but voice-recognition software is often hopelessly male-biased. In 2016, Rachael Tatman, a research fellow in linguistics at the University of Washington, found that Google’s speech-recognition software was 70% more likely to accurately recognise male speech.
Clearly, it is unfair for women to pay the same price as men for products that deliver an inferior service. But there can also be serious safety implications. Voice-recognition software in cars, for example, is meant to decrease distractions and make driving safer. But they can have the opposite effect if they don’t work. An article on car website Autoblog quoted a woman who had bought a 2012 Ford Focus, only to ﬁnd that its voice-command system only listened to her husband, even though he was in the passenger seat. Another woman called the manufacturer for help when her Buick’s voice-activated phone system wouldn’t listen to her: “The guy told me point-blank it wasn’t ever going to work for me. They told me to get a man to set it up.”
Immediately after writing this, I was with my mother in her Volvo Cross Country watching her try and fail to get the voice-recognition system to call her sister. After ﬁve failed attempts I suggested she tried lowering the pitch of her voice. It worked ﬁrst time.
In the tech world, the implicit assumption that men are the default human remains king. When Apple launched its health-monitoring system with much fanfare in 2014, it boasted a “comprehensive” health tracker. It could track blood pressure; steps taken; blood alcohol level; even molybdenum and copper intake. But as many women pointed out at the time, they forgot one crucial detail: a period tracker.
When Apple launched their AI, Siri, users in the US found that she (ironically) could ﬁnd prostitutes and Viagra suppliers, but not abortion providers. Siri could help you if you’d had a heart attack, but if you told her you’d been raped, she replied “I don’t know what you mean by ‘I was raped.’”
From smartwatches that are too big for women’s wrists, to map apps that fail to account for women who may want to know the “safest” in addition to “fastest” routes; to “measure how good you are at sex” apps called “iThrust” and “iBang” the tech industry is rife with other examples. While there are an increasing number of female-led tech ﬁrms that do cater to women’s needs, they are seen as a “niche” concern and often struggle to get funding.
One study of 12 of the most common ﬁtness monitors found that they underestimated steps during housework by up to 74% (that was the Omron, which was within 1% for normal walking or running) and underestimated calories burned during housework by as much as 34%. Meanwhile, Fitbit users have complained that the device fails to account for movement while doing the extremely common female activity of pushing a pram (and, yes, men push prams, too; but not as often as the women who do 75% of the world’s unpaid care).
Men are more likely than women to be involved in a car crash, which means they dominate the numbers of those seriously injured in them. But when a woman is involved in a car crash, she is 47% more likely to be seriously injured, and 71% more likely to be moderately injured, even when researchers control for factors such as height, weight, seatbelt usage, and crash intensity. She is also 17% more likely to die. And it’s all to do with how the car is designed — and for whom.
Women tend to sit further forward when driving. This is because we are on average shorter. Our legs need to be closer to reach the pedals, and we need to sit more upright to see clearly over the dashboard. This is not, however, the “standard seating position”, researchers have noted. Women are “out of position” drivers. And our wilful deviation from the norm means that we are at greater risk of internal injury on frontal collisions. The angle of our knees and hips as our shorter legs reach for the pedals also makes our legs more vulnerable. Essentially, we’re doing it all wrong.
Women are also at higher risk in rear-end collisions. We have less muscle on our necks and upper torso, which make us more vulnerable to whiplash (by up to three times), and car design has ampliﬁed this vulnerability. Swedish research has shown that modern seats are too ﬁrm to protect women against whiplash injuries: the seats throw women forward faster than men because the back of the seat doesn’t give way for women’s on average lighter bodies. The reason this has been allowed to happen is very simple: cars have been designed using car crash-test dummies based on the “average” male.
Crash-test dummies were ﬁrst introduced in the 1950s, and for decades they were based around the 50th-percentile male. The most commonly used dummy is 1.77m tall and weighs 76kg (signiﬁcantly taller and heavier than an average woman); the dummy also has male muscle-mass proportions and a male spinal column. In the early 1980s, researchers based at Michigan University argued for the inclusion of a 50th-percentile female in regulatory tests, but this advice was ignored by manufacturers and regulators. It wasn’t until 2011 that the US started using a female crash-test dummy — although, as we’ll see, just how “female” these dummies are is questionable.
In 2018, Astrid Linder, research director of trafﬁc safety at the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute, presented a paper at the Road Safety on Five Continents Conference in South Korea, in which she ran through EU regulatory crash-test requirements. In no test is an anthropometrically correct female crash-test dummy required. The seatbelt test, one of the frontal-collision tests, and both lateral-collision tests all specify that a 50th-percentile male dummy should be used. There is one EU regulatory test that requires what is called a 5th-percentile female dummy, which is meant to represent the female population. Only 5% of women will be shorter than this dummy. But there are a number of data gaps. For a start, this dummy is only tested in the passenger seat, so we have no data at all for how a female driver would be affected — something of an issue you would think, given women’s “out of position” driving style. And secondly, this female dummy is not really female. It is just a scaled-down male dummy.
Consumer tests can be slightly more stringent than regulatory ones. The 2011 introduction of female crash-test dummies in the US sent cars’ star ratings plummeting. When I spoke to EuroNCAP, a European organisation that provides car safety ratings for consumers, they said that since 2015 they have used male and female dummies in both front-crash tests, and that they base their female dummies on female anthropometric data — with the caveat that this is “where data is available”. EuroNCAP acknowledged that “sometimes” they do just use scaled-down male dummies. But women are not scaled-down men. We have different muscle mass distribution. We have lower bone density. There are differences in vertebrae spacing. Even our body sway is different. And these differences are all crucial when it comes to injury rates in car crashes.
The situation is even worse for pregnant women. Although a pregnant crash-test dummy was created back in 1996, testing with it is still not government-mandated either in the US or in the EU. In fact, even though car crashes are the No 1 cause of foetal death related to maternal trauma, we haven’t yet developed a seatbelt that works for pregnant women. Research from 2004 suggests that pregnant women should use the standard seatbelt; but 62% of third-trimester pregnant women don’t ﬁt that design.
Linder has been working on what she says will be the ﬁrst crash-test dummy to accurately represent female bodies. Currently, it’s just a prototype, but she is calling on the EU to make testing on such dummies a legal requirement. In fact, Linder argues that this already is a legal requirement, technically speaking. Article 8 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union reads, “In all its activities, the Union shall aim to eliminate inequalities, and to promote equality, between men and women.” Clearly, women being 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car crash is one hell of an inequality to overlook.
Designers may believe they are making products for everyone, but in reality they are mainly making them for men. It’s time to start designing women in.
• This is an edited extract from Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez (Chatto & Windus, £16.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Free UK p&p on all online orders over £15.
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An Adelaide pilot has taken workplace venting to new heights by etching “I’m bored” into the sky.
The Diamond Star plane, operated by Flight Training Adelaide, spent a little over three hours in the air on Tuesday to draw the letters over South Australia.
The message was not seen by people on the ground, but was visible to aviation followers watching live ﬂight tracking programs and websites.
It is believed the pilot, who was working out of Paraﬁeld Airport, north of Adelaide, was “running in” a new engine.
The FlightAware website captured the pilot’s work between 8:53am to 11:57am.
The pilot ﬂew several loops, creating some somewhat explicit grafﬁti along the coast, before tracing “I’m bored” over the Princes Highway.
Retired Qantas A380 pilot Chris Wilson said he thought the message was “harmless”.
“It’s not very common for someone to do this. It’s the ﬁrst one I’ve seen,” Mr Wilson said.
“I think it’s a harmless pursuit. He obviously is bored.
“I’d say he was a young pilot trying to build up some hours.”
Mr Wilson said the pilot would have been following the GPS path.
“I would think it’s quite safe, providing they’re following all the normal ﬂight rules,” he said.
Civil Aviation Safety Authority spokesman Peter Gibson said pilots drawing pictures was “uncommon but not unheard of”.
“All pilots plan a track for their aircraft to get between where they’re going from and to — now what that track looks like once it shows up on radar of course is another thing entirely,” he said.
“As long as the pilot ﬂies the aircraft safely and complies with all the aviation safety rules we are not too concerned about what that track looks like.”
Flight Training Adelaide has been contacted for comment.
The “bored” artist is not the only pilot creating messages or artwork, according to the Flightradar24 website.
Throughout the world pilots are drawing planes, love hearts, leaving messages and even signing their own work on return ﬂights.
According to overseas media reports two US Marines were grounded over a stunt where they created a “sky penis” over California in October 2017.
A month later, an Airbus pilot during a test ﬂight produced a clear image of a Christmas tree complete with baubles over Germany.
The tree, according to the BBC, was rendered in several colours on Flightradar24 website to show the plane’s varying altitudes.
The phenomenon has drawn comparisons with runners and cyclists using tracking app Strava to overlay street maps with detailed drawings.
In one instance, a Perth cycling group traced the path of a goat onto the city’s streets.
Weeks later, they followed up that feat with an image of the state’s emblem, a numbat.
Cycling group member Ben Jones told ABC Radio Perth they mapped out the route ﬁrst to get the image right.
The numbat ride covered 192.2 kilometres and took six hours and 33 minutes to complete.
“I was a little bit disappointed with some of the detail … I think numbats have a mask over their eyes which I couldn’t get, but it’s good enough to know what it is,” Mr Jones said of the completed map.
“All the people who told us last year that we had to do something again are impressed, which is good.
“It was just a bunch of guys wanting to go out and have a bit of fun.”
Scientists have launched a major new phase in the testing of a controversial genetically modiﬁed organism: a mosquito designed to quickly spread a genetic mutation lethal to its own species, NPR has learned.
For the ﬁrst time, researchers have begun large-scale releases of the engineered insects, into a high-security laboratory in Terni, Italy.
“This will really be a breakthrough experiment,” says Ruth Mueller, an entomologist who runs the lab. “It’s a historic moment.”
The goal is to see if the mosquitoes could eventually provide a powerful new weapon to help eradicate malaria in Africa, where most cases occur.
“It’s very exciting,” Mueller says.
NPR was the only news organization allowed into the lab to witness the moment the releases began in early February.
The lab was specially built to evaluate the modiﬁed insects in as close to a natural environment as possible without the risk of releasing them into the wild, about which there are deep concerns regarding unforeseen effects on the environment.
“This is an experimental technology which could have devastating impacts,” says Dana Perls of Friends of the Earth, an environmental group that’s part of an international coalition ﬁghting this new generation of modiﬁed organisms.
To prevent any unforeseen effects on the environment, scientists have always tried to keep genetically engineered organisms from spreading their mutations.
But in this case, researchers want the modiﬁcation to spread. So they engineered mosquitoes with a “gene drive.”
A gene drive is like a “selﬁsh gene,” Mueller says, because it doesn’t follow the normal rules of genetics. Normally, traits are passed to only half of all offspring. With the gene drive, nearly all the progeny inherit the modiﬁcation.
“All the offspring. All the children — the mosquito children — have this modiﬁcation,” Mueller says.
Researchers created the mosquitoes by using the powerful new gene-editing technique known as CRISPR, which Mueller likens to a “molecular scissor which can cut at a speciﬁc site in the DNA.”
The cut altered a gene known as “doublesex,” which is involved in the sexual development of the mosquitoes.
“The females become a bit more male,” Mueller says. “A kind of hermaphrodite.”
While genetically female, the transformed insects have mouths that resemble male mosquito mouths. That means they can’t bite and so can’t spread the malaria parasite. In addition, the insects’ reproductive organs are deformed, which means they can’t lay eggs.
As more and more female mosquitoes inherit two copies of the modiﬁcation, more and more become sterile.
The idea is that if these modiﬁed mosquitoes are eventually shown to be safe and effective, they might someday be released in African villages plagued by malaria. The hope is that they would spread their mutation and eventually sterilize all the females. That would crash — or drastically reduce — local populations of the main species of mosquito that spreads malaria, known as Anopheles gambiae.
“Malaria is a huge problem affecting probably two-thirds of the world’s population,” says Tony Nolan, who helped develop the mosquitoes at Imperial College London. He is now at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.
Malaria sickens more than 200 million people each year and kills more than 400,000, mostly young children.
Scientists think gene-drive organisms could help solve many problems, including wiping out other insect-borne diseases such as Zika and dengue. Gene-drive creatures might also save endangered ecosystems by eradicating invasive rodents. They could help feed the world by creating more efﬁcient crops.
But critics fear that gene-drive organisms could run amok and wreak havoc if they were ever released into the wild. The insects could inadvertently have a negative effect on crops, for example, by eliminating important pollinators, they fear. The insects’ population crash could also lead to other mosquitoes coming with other diseases, critics say.
“We can’t be taking lightly this extermination technology,” Perls says. “We need to slow down. We need to hit the pause button on gene drives.”
“This is a technology where we don’t know where it’s going to end. We need to stop this right where it is,” says Nnimmo Bassey, director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation in Nigeria. “They’re trying to use Africa as a big laboratory to test risky technologies.”
The experiment is a key step in the Target Malaria project. The project’s major funder is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which also supports NPR and this blog.
Nolan and Mueller say the project is working methodically and cautiously to assess the mosquitoes in close consultation with scientists, government ofﬁcials and local residents in Africa. In addition, the gene-drive mosquitoes would affect just one of hundreds of mosquito species.
“There’s going to be concerns with any technology. But I don’t think you should throw out a technology without having done your best to understand what its potential is to be transformative for medicine. And, were it to work, this would be transformative,” Nolan says.
“If my kids lived in Africa, I’d say, ‘Go for it as quickly as possible,’ ” says Kevin Esvelt, an evolutionary engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Esvelt is a gene-drive pioneer who has repeatedly warned scientists to move cautiously with the technology because it is so powerful. But Esvelt thinks Target Malaria has been acting responsibly.
“The known harm of malaria so outweighs the combined harms of everything that has been postulated could go wrong ecologically,” Esvelt says.
The project plans years of additional study to evaluate the mosquitoes and possible environmental impacts, as well as social and political consultations to build a consensus for when a release would be permitted. That’s probably at least ﬁve years away, Nolan says.
On the day NPR visited the Terni lab, Mueller demonstrated several layers of security at the lab to keep any mosquitoes from escaping. She noted that the experiment is being conducted in Italy, where this species of mosquito could not survive the climate even if the insects did escape.
“We really want to show that we work very, very sound and responsible about this new technology,” Mueller says.
To enter the most secure part of the facility, Mueller punches a security code into a keypad to open a sliding glass door. As the door seals, a powerful blower makes sure none of the genetically modiﬁed mosquitoes inside escape. Anyone entering must don white lab coats to make it easier to spot any mosquitoes that might try to hitch a ride out of the lab and must pass through a second sealed door and blower.
Once inside, Mueller points to a small container made out of white mosquito netting. Inside are dozens of mosquitoes.
“Here we have gene-drive mosquitoes — these genetically modiﬁed mosquitoes,” she says.
The insects quickly crashed populations of their natural counterparts in small cages in a secure basement lab at Imperial College London. The new experiment is designed to test them in a hot and humid environment more closely resembling their natural habitat in the African countries where this species of mosquito lives.
“This helps us understand better how a gene-drive release would work in the real world,” she says.
“We will now enter the experimental chamber where the release takes place today,” she says.
The chamber houses six huge “cages.” The 9-foot-high cage walls are made out of white mosquito netting to keep the insects contained. The netting stretches from the ﬂoor to the ceiling. Each cage contains hundreds of unmodiﬁed mosquitoes.
Every cage is equipped with several features designed to replicate the conditions in which the mosquitoes live in the wild. The idea is to encourage the mosquitoes’ natural behavior.
The cages’ features include stacks of moist clay hollow cylinders for the mosquitoes to use as shelters. Also, large black boxes with white backgrounds are inside the cages. The contrasting colors stimulate swarming, which is when the mosquitoes mate.
A computer precisely controls the light in the chamber to simulate sunrise and sunset and the natural changes in intensity and color throughout the day.
“OK, we can start,” Mueller says as several of her colleagues crowd into the chamber.
After pulling on rubber gloves, lead technician Tania Persampieri carefully picks up a tray holding glass dishes, each containing dozens of the modiﬁed mosquitoes in the pupal stage of development. They’re squirming around in water.
Persampieri slowly walks over to the ﬁrst cage, squats down and picks up one of the dishes holding the mosquito pupae. She gently slides the dish through an opening in the netting that prevents any insects from escaping and places the vessel on the ﬂoor.
“The experiment has now started,” Mueller says. “It’s very exciting.”
Persampieri and her co-workers move quietly to avoid unnecessarily stressing the mosquitoes.
Persampieri releases immature gene-drive mosquitoes in four of the six cages. Two cages receive amounts equal to 25 percent of the unmodiﬁed populations already in the cages; two cages receive amounts equal to 50 percent. The remaining two cages will be used for comparison and so don’t receive any modiﬁed insects.
Other technicians slide canisters of warm cow’s blood into each cage.
“We heat up the blood because this is attractive for the mosquitoes. They don’t like cold blood. They want to have a living animal where they can bite in,” Mueller says.
As the researchers are ﬁnishing, the lights in the cage chamber start to dim.
“It’s a slow dimming and also a speciﬁc light color — very orange, very warm color — so that they really feel like [they’re] having a sunset,” Mueller says.
That’s key because sunset is when male mosquitoes start their mating dance.
“The males make swarms — many mosquito males ﬂying around,” Mueller says. “It looks a bit like dancing.”
As the males swarm, females ﬂy in and select a male; then the pair ﬂies out to mate.
“They couple and make babies,” Mueller says.
Mueller and her colleagues are collecting thousands of eggs from the cages every week to monitor how well the sterilizing mutation is spreading.
The researchers hope to know within six months to a year whether the modiﬁed mosquitoes dance well enough to efﬁciently spread their lethal modiﬁcation in the wild.
“Maybe you can see already if you go a bit nearer,” Mueller says, pointing to a few mosquitoes that have begun ﬂying around inside the black boxes.
Turns out, Terni is home to a shrine to St. Valentine. And the experiment is beginning just before Valentine’s Day. So the basilica’s annual Valentine’s Day celebrations are just beginning as well with a church service at his shrine.
As she watches the modiﬁed mosquitoes start their ﬁrst mating ritual in her lab, Mueller muses, with a laugh: “It’s very romantic.”
Do you have a question about this GMO mosquito experiment? Submit your question in the form below and correspondent Rob Stein may answer it in a story for NPR.
Microsoft workers are calling on the giant tech company to cancel its nearly $480 million U. S. Army contract, saying the deal has “crossed the line” into weapons development by Microsoft for the ﬁrst time. They say the use of the company’s HoloLens augmented reality technology under the contract “is designed to help people kill.”
In a letter to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President Brad Smith, the workers also say the company is failing to inform its engineers “on the intent of the software they are building.”
The November contract is for what’s called an Integrated Visual Augmentation System.
“The contract’s stated objective is to ‘rapidly develop, test, and manufacture a single platform that Soldiers can use to Fight, Rehearse, and Train that provides increased lethality, mobility, and situational awareness necessary to achieve overmatch against our current and future adversaries,’ ” the letter said.
“We are alarmed that Microsoft is working to provide weapons technology to the U. S. Military, helping one country’s government ‘increase lethality’ using tools we built,” the workers wrote. “We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used.”
Bloomberg reported that the contract could eventually lead the military to buy more than 100,000 headsets from Microsoft. “The U. S. Army and the Israeli military have already used Microsoft’s HoloLens devices in training, but plans for live combat would be a significant step forward,” the report said.
In October, Smith defended Microsoft’s work with the military, writing in a company blog post:
“First, we believe that the people who defend our country need and deserve our support. And second, to withdraw from this market is to reduce our opportunity to engage in the public debate about how new technologies can best be used in a responsible way. We are not going to withdraw from the future. In the most positive way possible, we are going to work to help shape it.”
Friday’s letter to Microsoft leaders is the latest instance of U. S. technology workers standing up to their companies over the companies’ lines of business or policies.
Last year, Google workers protested the company’s plans to create a censored search engine in China. And Google decided not to renew a contract with the Defense Department after workers resigned to protest a controversial project involving artiﬁcial intelligence for drone footage analysis.
Tech workers from Salesforce, Microsoft, Amazon and Google pressed their CEOs to cut ties and end contracts with U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other government agencies.
FOUNTAIN, Colo. — When Army Staff Sgt. Samuel Fortune returned from Iraq, his body battered by war, he assumed he’d be safe.
Then the people around him began to get sick. His neighbors, all living near ﬁve military bases, complained of tumors, thyroid problems and debilitating fatigue. Soon, the Colorado health department announced an unusually high number of kidney cancers in the region. Then Mr. Fortune’s wife fell ill.
The military, it turned out, had been leaching toxic chemicals into the water for decades.
Mr. Fortune felt “stabbed in the back,” he said. “We give our lives and our bodies for our country, and our government does not live up to their end of the deal.”
That was 2016. Since then, the Defense Department has admitted that it allowed a ﬁreﬁghting foam to slip into at least 55 drinking water systems at military bases around the globe, sometimes for generations. This exposed tens of thousands of Americans, possibly many more, to per-and polyﬂuoroalkyl substances, a group of man-made chemicals known as PFAS that have been linked to cancers, immune suppression and other serious health problems.
Amazon is the invisible backbone behind ICE’s immigration crackdown
Lobbying dollars and a cozy relationship with the government have given the tech giant an outsize inﬂuence in the Department of Homeland Security.
In June, when the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) began separating migrant children from their parents, several tech companies came under ﬁre for providing the agency with the software that helped them do it.
At the center of the criticism was data mining company Palantir, which designed the Investigative Case Management system. The ICM is a critical component of ICE’s deportation operations—it integrates a vast ecosystem of public and private data to track down immigrants and, in many cases, deport them.
Little is known about how the software actually works or how extensively ICE uses it. But within the ﬁrst nine months of the Trump administration, ICE arrests increased 42% compared with the same period in the previous year. According to civil rights and immigration activists, ICM is fueling the mass surveillance and targeting of immigrants at an unprecedented scale.
Now a new investigation, published today, sheds more light on the web of tech companies involved in supporting ICE and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security.
The report, commissioned by activist organizations Mijente, the National Immigration Project, and the Immigrant Defense Project, found that Amazon has played as central a role as Palantir in providing the backbone infrastructure for many of ICE’s, and DHS’s, key programs. Amazon has also enjoyed a cozy relationship with the federal government that has helped it secure an outsize number of government contracts.
“What we’re starting to see more and more is that technology and technology contracts form a huge part of ICE’s budget and are also one of their critical tools for how they’re conducting enforcement on the ground,” says Jacinta Gonzalez, the ﬁeld director at Mijente.
In 2017, an Intercept investigation found that ICM pulled together data from an array of federal and private law enforcement entities to create detailed proﬁles that were then used to track immigrants. That data could include a person’s immigration history, family relationships, personal connections, addresses, phone records, biometric traits, and other information.
All of that data and the algorithms powering ICM are now being migrated to Amazon Web Services (AWS) in their entirety; Palantir pays Amazon approximately $600,000 a month for the use of its servers, according to the report’s authors.
Though the money doesn’t ﬂow directly from ICE to Amazon, the tech giant had the right incentives in place for Palantir to choose AWS. In order for Palantir to secure its contract with the government, ICM had to be hosted on a federally authorized cloud service. An online government database shows that Amazon holds the largest share, 22%, of federal authorizations under the FedRAMP program, which veriﬁes that cloud providers have the necessary security requirements to process, store, and transmit government data. More important, Amazon holds 62% of the highest-level authorizations, usually needed to handle data for law enforcement systems.
In a sense, Amazon was merely capitalizing on a trend. In 2010, the US government established a “cloud ﬁrst” policy and began moving its agencies’ data and computing resources to the cloud. That was cemented in 2014 with the passage of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA). As the legislation was moving through Congress in January of that year, Amazon, Microsoft, and EMC (since acquired by Dell) formed a lobbying group called the Cloud Computing Caucus Advisory Group to help push it through. The three companies’ PACs also contributed over $250,000 in direct campaign contributions to the two members of Congress sponsoring the act, the Mijente report found.
Additionally, DHS was among the earliest agencies to adopt Amazon cloud services under Mark Schwartz, chief information ofﬁcer at the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). In 2017, after facilitating a major migration of one of DHS’s sub-agencies to AWS, Schwartz left the agency to become the enterprise strategist at that company. AWS did not respond to MIT Technology Review’s request to speak with Schwartz about his relationship with the company during his time in government.
In addition to powering ICM, AWS hosts several of DHS’s other major immigration-related databases and operations, including all the core data systems for USCIS and biometric data for 230 million individuals, including ﬁngerprints, face records, and iris scans, which are playing a growing role in immigration enforcement around the country.
There is no publicly available data on how much Amazon profits from these contracts, but DHS’s complete IT portfolio totals $6.8 billion, which accounts for close to 10% of the agency’s projected spending in ﬁscal year 2019. An AWS spokesperson had no comment when presented with details of the new report.
Amazon is now also bidding for a $10 billion contract with the Department of Defense to modernize the agency’s computing infrastructure and integrate all US military operations into a single platform. Because of the company’s existing dominance among the government’s cloud providers, it is widely expected to win the contract.
The new investigation comes amid rising pressures on Amazon and other big tech companies to adhere to higher ethical standards in developing and deploying their technologies. Just last week, an anonymous Amazon employee wrote an open letter to the company demanding that it stop selling its facial-recognition platform Rekognition to law enforcement ofﬁcials.
“We know from history that new and powerful surveillance tools left unchecked in the hands of the state have been used to target people who have done nothing wrong,” the employee wrote. “Ignoring these urgent concerns while deploying powerful technologies to government and law enforcement agencies is dangerous and irresponsible.”
Despite this, the Daily Beast reported today that Amazon employees were trying to sell Rekognition to ICE as recently as this past June. The letter’s author also referenced an internal letter signed by over 450 employees demanding that Amazon discontinue its contracts with Palantir.
Google and Microsoft employees have similarly protested their employers’ controversial dealings with the government. After intense internal objections, Google withdrew its bid for the $10 billion DoD contract earlier this month. Days later, Microsoft employees posted an open letter asking their employer to do the same.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, at least, has so far been unmoved by appeals for his company to drop its DoD bid. “We are going to continue to support the DoD, and I think we should,” he said last week on stage at the Wired25 conference. “One of the jobs of senior leadership is to make the right decision, even when it’s unpopular.”
Bezos also remarked that society’s “immune response” would kick in to prevent Amazon’s technology from being used in harmful ways. The statement received heavy criticism from civil rights activists and Amazon employees alike.
“Our concern isn’t one about some future harm,” the anonymous Amazon employee wrote in the open letter. “Amazon is designing, marketing, and selling a system for dangerous mass surveillance right now.”
For the moment, there’s no sign of that changing.
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