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World's largest bee, missing for 38 years, found alive in Indonesia

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.

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2 52,631 shares, 36 trendiness, 1477 words and 14 minutes reading time

The Famous Photo of Chernobyl's Most Dangerous Radioactive Material Was a Selfie

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 PNNLs IT de­part­ment, and he was tasked with cre­at­ing a dig­i­tal photo li­brary that the DOEs 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.”

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The deadly truth about a world built for men – from stab vests to car crashes

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.

Commenting on this piece? If you would like your com­ment to be con­sid­ered for in­clu­sion on Weekend mag­a­zine’s let­ters page in print, please email week­end@the­guardian.com, in­clud­ing your name and ad­dress (not for pub­li­ca­tion).

Comments on this piece are pre­mod­er­ated to en­sure dis­cus­sion re­mains on top­ics raised by the writer. Please be aware there may be a short de­lay in com­ments ap­pear­ing on the site.

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Adelaide pilot leaves 'graffiti' on flight radar

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.”

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Scientists Release Controversial Genetically Modified Mosquitoes In High-Security Lab

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.

...

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6 20,133 shares, 283 trendiness, 431 words and 4 minutes reading time

Microsoft Workers Protest Army Contract With Tech 'Designed To Help People Kill'

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.

...

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7 14,451 shares, 499 trendiness, 188 words and 2 minutes reading time

Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Drinking Water Leave Military Families Reeling

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.

...

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8 12,529 shares, 383 trendiness, 0 words and 0 minutes reading time

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Please make sure your browser sup­ports JavaScript and cook­ies and that you are not block­ing them from load­ing. For more in­for­ma­tion you can re­view our Terms of Service and Cookie Policy.

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9 12,141 shares, 113 trendiness, 1197 words and 14 minutes reading time

Amazon is the invisible backbone behind ICE’s immigration crackdown

Amazon is the in­vis­i­ble back­bone be­hind ICEs 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 ICEs 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 ICEs, and DHSs, 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 ICEs 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 DHSs 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 DHSs 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 DHSs 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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10 3,655 shares, 9 trendiness, 0 words and 0 minutes reading time

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