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ATHEISM and HUMANISM

8-8-20 Coronavirus: Last-ditch talks on new aid package for US economy fail
Last-ditch negotiations at the US Congress to forge another stimulus package for the coronavirus-ravaged economy have collapsed in stalemate. Democrats and Republicans remain at odds over everything from unemployment benefits to financial aid for schools to cash injections for states' coffers. The US unemployment rate stands at 10.2%, higher than any level during the 2008 financial crisis. Jobless benefits have expired, as has a federal moratorium on evictions. The failure to reach a deal will disappoint tens of millions of unemployed Americans who had been receiving an extra $600 (£450) a week on top of normal unemployment benefits during the pandemic. That payment expired last month and Republicans want to reduce it. On Friday, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the most powerful elected Democrat, held a meeting in her Capitol Hill office with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Mrs Pelosi said in a news conference that she was willing to offer a trillion-dollar compromise on a $3.5tn (£2.7tn) stimulus bill passed by her Democratic-controlled chamber but rejected by the Republican-held Senate. "We'll go down one trillion, you go up one trillion," she told reporters as she staked out her position, adding: "We have a moral responsibility to find common ground." As he entered Mrs Pelosi's office on Friday, Mr Mnuchin called her proposal "a non-starter". Republicans prefer a package closer to $1tn total and want any deal to include legal protections for employers against virus-related health claims from workers. They also want far less aid to local governments than Democrats are seeking. In a surprise news conference on Friday evening from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he is spending the weekend, President Trump blamed Democratic congressional leaders for the impasse.

8-8-20 Coronavirus: Why US is expecting an 'avalanche' of evictions
As hair salons, churches and restaurants reopened across the US, so did eviction courts. A federal moratorium on evictions has now expired and the politicians are not close to a deal on a new economic rescue package. Advocates and experts warn that an unprecedented crush of evictions is coming, threatening millions of Americans with homelessness as the pandemic continues to spread. Sitting in her car parked outside of the little white house in Kansas City, Missouri, where she'd lived for two years, Tamika Cole was overwhelmed. She'd worked a long shift as a machine operator the night before, at a factory where she makes detergent bottles for $18 an hour. It's good, stable work. Nevertheless, Cole was on the brink of losing her home. Her nerves were shot. "What am I supposed to do?" she said. "I'm tired of crying." Cole said that she came home in early May to find an eviction notice affixed to her door. She believed that it was because of a dispute she had with her upstairs neighbour, but that her landlord never spoke to her about it before filing the eviction against her. Due to the coronavirus, an eviction moratorium was in place in Kansas City, and Cole's landlord couldn't force her to move out right away. But she said that didn't stop him from trying to make her as uncomfortable as possible, entering her apartment without her knowledge, cutting off her electricity, and unscrewing and removing a barred security door on her unit. Now, due to the rapid reopening of Missouri and states like it all over the country, the moratorium was allowed to expire. The renter protections Cole had were gone and she was facing homelessness in the middle of the pandemic. "I've been up all night," she said. "I'm just trying to make it." In Kansas City, local courts declared a moratorium on evictions after a campaign by local tenants' rights activists. Similar campaigns have had success nationally, and as the pandemic went into full swing in the US in mid-to-late March, most places halted eviction proceedings in some form - either on the state or local level - as both a means of shoring up newly out-of-work renters and as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus.

8-8-20 US election 2020: Democrats call for inquiry into Postal Service changes
Congressional Democrats have called for an investigation into decisions made by the head of the US Postal Service (USPS), which they say have slowed deliveries ahead of the election. There is expected to be a huge rise in mail-in voting in November's presidential vote, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats have suggested cost-cutting at USPS could affect the vote count. But postal chief Louis DeJoy has insisted standards will be met. "Although there will likely be an unprecedented increase in election mail volume due to the pandemic, the Postal Service has ample capacity to deliver all election mail securely and on-time in accordance with our delivery standards, and we will do so," the Trump supporter told a board meeting on Friday. But he said election officials had to "take our normal processing and delivery standards into account". Top Democrats including Senator Elizabeth Warren on Friday called on the USPS inspector general to investigate operational changes made by Mr DeJoy, including preventing postal workers from working overtime to deliver mail. "Given the ongoing concerns about the adverse impacts of Trump Administration policies on the quality and efficiency of the Postal Service, we ask that you conduct an audit of all operational changes put in place by Mr DeJoy and other Trump Administration officials in 2020," they said. They asked for the inquiry to specifically focus on how this could affect election-related mail. President Donald Trump has suggested that increased postal voting in November could lead to fraud and inaccurate results, There is little evidence to support his claims. Mr DeJoy insisted on Friday that USPS was "not slowing down election mail or any other mail". While he had "good relationship" with Mr Trump, "the notion that I would ever make decisions concerning the Postal Service at the direction of the president, or anyone else in the administration, is wholly off-base", he said.

8-8-20 Coronavirus Vietnam: The mysterious resurgence of Covid-19
In mid-July, Vietnam still shone as a Covid-19 outlier. No reported deaths, and months without a locally transmitted case. Fans packed into football stadiums, schools had reopened, and customers returned to their favourite cafes. "We were already back to normal life," said Mai Xuan Tu, a 27-year-old from Da Nang in central Vietnam. Like many in the coastal city wildly popular with domestic visitors, she works in the tourism industry and was slowly resuming bookings for the tour company she founded. But by the end of July, Da Nang was the epicentre of a new coronavirus outbreak, the source of which has stumped scientists. Cases suddenly surged after 99 straight days with no local transmissions. Last week the city saw the country's first Covid-19 death, a toll that has since risen to 10. Just weeks earlier, Vietnam was praised globally as a rare pandemic success story. The communist country acted fast and decisively where other nations faltered, closing its borders to almost all travellers except returning citizens as early as March. It quarantined and tested anyone who entered the country in government facilities, and conducted widespread contact-tracing and testing nationwide. So what went wrong? "I'm not sure anything went wrong," says Prof Michael Toole, an epidemiologist and principal research fellow at the Burnet Institute in Melbourne. Most countries that thought they had the pandemic under control have seen resurgences, he says, pointing to a long list including Spain, Australia and Hong Kong. "Like in the first wave, Vietnam has responded quickly and forcefully." Around 80,000 visitors in Danang - many of whom had relaxed into thinking the disease was contained - were flown home promptly after the new cases emerged, as the historic port city sealed itself off from visitors and retreated into full lockdown. Vietnam's spike shows that "once there's a little crack and the virus gets in it can just spread so quickly," Prof Toole says.

8-8-20 Jerry Falwell Jr to take leave of absence after racy photo
The president of one of the world's largest evangelical Christian colleges has agreed to step aside after posting a photo of himself, trousers unzipped. Jerry Falwell, a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, said he would take an indefinite leave of absence from Liberty University in Virginia. The college board did not provide a reason for the move. Mr Falwell had conceded the Instagram photo was "weird", but defended it as "all in good fun". The university said in a statement on Friday: "The Executive Committee of Liberty University's Board of Trustees, acting on behalf of the full Board, met today and requested that Jerry Falwell, Jr take an indefinite leave of absence from his roles as President and Chancellor of Liberty University, to which he has agreed, effective immediately." The college has a strict code of conduct for how students must behave at the university, including barring premarital sex and the consumption of media either on or off campus "that is offensive to Liberty's standards and traditions", such as lewd lyrics, anti-Christian messages, sexual content and nudity. Hairstyles and fashions are to "avoid extremes" and students are to dress modestly at all times. The photo showed Mr Falwell with his arm around a woman who was not his wife. Her shorts also appeared to be unbuttoned. His other hand was holding a glass of dark-coloured liquid. "More vacation shots. Lots of good friends visited us on the yacht," the accompanying caption read. "I promise that's just black water in my glass." He later deleted the post. The image provoked outrage and charges of hypocrisy from the political right and left, with Republican lawmaker Mark Waller, chairman of the powerful House Republican Caucus, calling on Mr Falwell to step down. "Jerry Falwell Jr's ongoing behaviour is appalling," Mr Walker, an advisory board member at the university, wrote on Twitter. "I'm convinced Falwell should step down."

8-7-20 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally: South Dakota town ready to welcome 250,000 bikers
This is the 80th year of the South Dakota rally. It could be one of the largest public gatherings since the start of the pandemic. Some worry it could be a "super-spreader" event. (Webmaster's comment: It will be and many people wiil get sick and die because of this event!)

8-7-20 Covid-19 news: Coronavirus cases may be levelling off in England
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. The number of people estimated to have the virus in England may be levelling off. The number of people estimated to have covid-19 in England appears to be levelling off, after rising slightly in July, according to a random swab testing survey of almost 120,000 people by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The ONS estimates that 28,300 people outside of hospitals and care homes in England had the virus in the week ending 2 August – about one in every 1900 people. This is down slightly from the previous week’s estimate of 35,700. But it isn’t clear how infection rates may differ across different regions. In Wales, which was included in the survey for the first time, an estimated 1400 people had covid-19 in the week ending 2 August, equivalent to one in every 2200 people. Coronavirus vaccine trials could be undermined by the lack of diversity among participants, according to researchers. In the recent trial of a coronavirus vaccine candidate being developed by the University of Oxford in partnership with AstraZeneca, fewer than 1 per cent of the approximately 1000 participants were black and only about 5 per cent were Asian, compared to 91 per cent of participants who were white. In a smaller trial of a vaccine candidate being developed by US company Moderna, 40 out of 45 participants were white. “Diversity is important to ensure pockets of people don’t have adverse side-effects,” Oluwadamilola Fayanju, a surgeon and researcher at Duke University told the Guardian. More than one million people in countries across Africa have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, although health officials say this is certainly an underestimate. “We haven’t seen the peak in Africa yet,” Mary Stephen, technical officer at the World Health Organization’s regional office for Africa told Al Jazeera. Although the majority of cases confirmed so far are in South Africa, it is also performing significantly more tests than other African countries. India has recorded its highest number of daily new coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, with 62,538 cases confirmed on Friday. There have been more than 2 million cases recorded in the country since the pandemic began.

8-7-20 One in Three Americans Would Not Get COVID-19 Vaccine
But many Americans appear reluctant to be vaccinated, even if a vaccine were FDA-approved and available to them at no cost. Asked if they would get such a COVID-19 vaccine, 65% say they would, but 35% would not. (Webmaster's comment: Those that don't vaccinate will deserve what they get!) The coronavirus' toll on the lives of people around the world continues to grow, with over 18 million confirmed cases and more than 700,000 deaths, including upwards of 150,000 of those in the United States. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently testified before Congress that he continues to be confident that a coronavirus vaccine will be ready by early 2021. With more indications that a vaccine could be close, the next question for health professionals, policymakers and political leaders will be Americans' willingness to be vaccinated once a vaccine is ready.

  • 35% of Americans would not get free, FDA-approved vaccine if ready today
  • Republicans less inclined than Democrats to be vaccinated
  • Four in 10 non-White Americans would not get vaccine

8-7-20 US jobs growth slows in July as pandemic takes toll
Hiring in the US slowed sharply in July as the country struggled to control the coronavirus pandemic. Employers added 1.8 million jobs last month, down from a record 4.8 million in June. The unemployment rate fell to 10.2%, continuing to improve from the high of 14.7% seen in April. The figures reignited calls for Washington to approve further economic stimulus, though the slowdown was not as bad as many economists had feared. The US Labor Department report, "confirms that the resurgence in new virus cases caused the economic recovery to slow, but also underlines that it has not yet gone into reverse," said Andrew Hunter, senior US economist at Capital Economics. The job gains in July came from many of the sectors hit hardest by shutdowns, including restaurants, bars and retail outlets. Economists have said this kind of hiring, happening as states around the country allow establishments to reopen, represents the "easy" part of a long recovery ahead. Since February, the US has lost more than 12 million jobs and seen unemployment spike from a roughly 50-year-low of 3.5%. In the three months to the end of June, the country's economy was hit by its sharpest quarterly contraction in more than 70 years of record-keeping, shrinking at an annual rate of 33% or nearly 10% year-on-year. The 10.2% unemployment rate the US Labor Department reported for July is higher than the worst of the 2007-2009 financial crisis, when the jobless rate peaked at 10%. This week, nearly 1.2 million people filed new claims for unemployment. More than 31 million people - roughly 1 in 5 American workers - continue to collect the benefits. Heidi Shierholz, economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, said: "We added 1.8 million jobs in July, but our jobs level remains in absolute crisis". Economists have said the loss of momentum last month is a sign of the peril facing the economy, as health concerns put a dampener on consumer spending and temporary measures passed in March, including bans on evictions and a $600 emergency boost to unemployment benefits, expire.

8-7-20 Coronavirus: Dr Fauci says daughters have been harassed
Top US virus expert Dr Anthony Fauci has spoken about how his daughters have been harassed due to his public statements about tackling the pandemic. Dr Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, also told CNN he had personally received death threats. As a result he said he had hired security to protect his family. The top doctor has been at odds with President Donald Trump at several points during the pandemic. "Getting death threats for me and my family and harassing my daughters to the point where I have to get security is just, I mean, it's amazing," Dr Fauci, who has become a household name in the US, said. "I wish that they did not have to go through that," he added. "I wouldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams that people who object to things that are pure public health principles are so set against it... that they actually threaten you." He and his wife, bioethicist Dr. Christine Grady, have three adult daughters. As head of immunology at the National Institutes of Health during the 1980s HIV/Aids epidemic, Dr Fauci, 79, has been in the line of fire before amid a public health crisis. Over Dr Fauci's five decades as a medical researcher, he has seen his effigy burnt, been called a "murderer" by protesters and had smoke bombs thrown outside his office window. He has been involved in a number of public disagreements with President Trump during the coronavirus crisis. Late last month, Dr Fauci called the president's sharing of a video which included claims masks are not needed to fight Covid-19, "not helpful".

8-7-20 US election 2020: Trump says opponent Biden will 'hurt God'
US President Donald Trump has said Joe Biden is "against God", ramping up attacks on his Democratic rival and foreshadowing an ugly election battle. The remarks, during a trip to Ohio, came as Mr Trump tries to make up ground in the crucial Midwestern states that were his path to victory in 2016. "He's against God. He's against guns," said the president, a Republican. Mr Biden, an avowed Catholic, will take on Mr Trump in November. Opinion polls suggest the Democrat currently leads. Mr Trump, who identifies himself as Presbyterian, said of Mr Biden earlier in the day in Cleveland, Ohio: "He's following the radical left agenda. "Take away your guns, destroy your Second Amendment. No religion, no anything, hurt the Bible, hurt God. "He's against God, he's against guns, he's against energy, our kind of energy." Mr Trump has been accused of using the platform of the presidency for political gain by injecting campaign-style rhetoric into taxpayer-funded official engagements intended to communicate US government policy. At a washing machine factory later on Thursday, the president kept up the onslaught on his challenger. "I wouldn't say he's at the top of his game," the president said. On Thursday, Mr Biden appeared to suggest the African-American community was homogenous - a comment Mr Trump then described as "very insulting". In an interview, Mr Biden had said: "What you all know but most people don't know, unlike the African American community with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly different attitudes about different things." He later issued an apology on Twitter. For his part, Mr Trump has long been accused of stoking racial tensions, going back decades before he became a political figure. Last year, Democrats from Virginia's Black Legislative Caucus boycotted Mr Trump's visit because of what they termed his "racist and xenophobic" rhetoric.

8-7-20 TikTok threatens legal action against Trump US ban
TikTok is threatening legal action against the US after Donald Trump ordered firms to stop doing business with the Chinese app within 45 days. The company said it was "shocked" by an executive order from the US President outlining the ban. TikTok said it would "pursue all remedies available" to "ensure the rule of law is not discarded". Mr Trump issued a similar order against China's WeChat in a major escalation in Washington's stand-off with Beijing. WeChat's owner, Tencent, said: "We are reviewing the executive order to get a full understanding." As well as WeChat, Tencent is also a leading gaming company and its investments include a 40% stake in Epic Games - the company behind the hugely popular Fortnite video game. The president has already threatened to ban TikTok in the US, citing national security concerns, and the company is now in talks to sell its American business to Microsoft. They have until 15 September to reach a deal - a deadline set by Mr Trump. The Trump administration claims that the Chinese government has access to user information gathered by TikTok, which the company has denied. TikTok, which is owned by China's ByteDance, said it had attempted to engage with the US government for nearly a year "in good faith". However, it said: "What we encountered instead was that the administration paid no attention to facts, dictated terms of an agreement without going through standard legal processes, and tried to insert itself into negotiations between private businesses." The executive orders against the short-video sharing platform and the messaging service WeChat are the latest measure in an increasingly broad Trump administration campaign against China. On Thursday, Washington announced recommendations that Chinese firms listed on US stock markets should be delisted unless they provided regulators with access to their audited accounts. China's Foreign Ministry on Friday accused the US of using national security as a cover to exert hegemony. (Webmaster's comment: Trump has no legal right to force businesses to follow his arbitary rules!)

8-7-20 New York attorney general sues to dissolve NRA
New York's attorney general has announced a lawsuit aimed at dissolving the powerful National Rifle Association over alleged financial mismanagement. Letitia James said the NRA had diverted millions of dollars to leaders including its chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, for their personal use. "For these years of misconduct we are seeking an order to dissolve the NRA in its entirety," she said. The NRA described the lawsuit as a "baseless, premeditated attack". Ms James said that the four named defendants - Mr LaPierre, Wilson Phillips, Joshua Powell and John Frazer - "instituted a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement and negligent oversight at the NRA that was illegal, oppressive and fraudulent". The attorney general outlined a litany of charges against the defendants, but accused Mr LaPierre, long the face of the powerful gun lobby group, of being the "central figure" behind the organisation's wrongdoings. One example of misconduct alleged in the lawsuit states that Mr LaPierre visited the Bahamas more than eight times by private plane using funds intended for the NRA, for a total cost of $500,000 (£380,000). The corruption "is so broad", Ms James said, that total dissolution of the organisation is necessary. Responding to questions, Ms James, a Democrat, rejected the notion that the charges against the NRA - closely tied to the Republican party - were at all influenced by her own politics. "We followed the facts and the law," she said. "We've come to the conclusion that the NRA unfortunately was serving as a personal piggy bank to four individual defendants." The case filed by Ms James' office alleges more than $64m (£48.7m) was lost in just three years as a result of the defendants' abuse. Also on Thursday, the District Attorney for Washington, DC filed a separate lawsuit against the organisation "for misusing charitable funds to support wasteful spending by the NRA and its executives". The New York lawsuit will almost certainly be contested in court by the NRA. The suit will add another strain to an already beleaguered organisation, facing congressional inquiries, investigations in multiple states and internal complaints.

8-7-20 US gun control: What is the NRA and why is it so powerful?
It is one of the most powerful players in one of the most hotly-debated issues in the US - gun control - but what exactly is the NRA? Here's a quick guide. NRA stands for National Rifle Association. The group was founded in 1871 by two US Civil War veterans as a recreational group designed to "promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis". The NRA's path into political lobbying began in 1934 when it started mailing members with information about upcoming firearms bills. The association supported two major gun control acts, the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) and Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), but became more politically active following the passage of the GCA in the 1970s. In 1975, it began attempting to influence policy directly via a newly formed lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action. In 1977 it formed its own Political Action Committee (PAC), to channel funds to legislators. The NRA is now among the most powerful special interest lobby groups in the US, with a substantial budget to influence members of Congress on gun policy. It is run by executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre. In August 2020, prosecutors in New York and Washington DC announced that they would seek to dissolve the organisation over allegations that senior leadership misused a charity fund, redirecting the money for lavish personal spending. The NRA spends about $250m per year, far more than all the country's gun control advocacy groups put together. But the NRA has a much larger membership than any of those groups and disburses funds for things such as gun ranges and educational programmes. In terms of lobbying, the NRA officially spends about $3m per year to influence gun policy - the recorded amount spent on lobbying in 2014 was $3.3m. That is only the recorded contributions to lawmakers however, and considerable sums are spent elsewhere via PACs and independent expenditures - funds which are difficult to track. Analysts point out that the NRA also wields considerable indirect influence via its highly politically engaged membership, many of whom will vote one way or another based on this single issue. The NRA publicly grades members of Congress from A to F on their perceived friendliness to gun rights. Those ratings can have a serious effect on poll numbers and even cost pro-gun control candidates a seat.

8-6-20 'No one is above the law, not even the NRA'
New York's Attorney General Letitia James has announced a lawsuit aimed at dissolving the powerful National Rifle Association over alleged financial mismanagement. One of the claims alleges NRA head Wayne LaPierre visited the Bahamas more than eight times in three years by private plane using funds intended for the NRA, for a total cost of $500,000 (£380,225). NRA President Carolyn Meadows said "this was a baseless, premeditated attack on our organization and the Second Amendment freedoms it fights to defend". She added that "as evidenced by the lawsuit filed by the NRA today against the [New York Attorney General], we not only will not shrink from this fight – we will confront it and prevail.”

8-6-20 The terrible tradeoff of keeping schools closed
It may be extremely difficult to open schools safely. But not doing so will come with steep long-term costs. Honestly acknowledging trade-offs is what makes for serious governing. A key difference between policy activists and policy analysts is that the former either severely minimize the existence of trade-offs or ignore them completely. Lower speed limits would save lives, but they would also waste more of our time and make it more expensive to ship goods around our continent-sized country. Sharply higher taxes might raise more revenue for government, but they could reduce incentives to work, save, and invest. Big budget deficits might juice the economy in the short run, but they could result in higher long-term interest rates. One commonality among "populist" governments is that they ignore economic trade-offs and govern as if such constraints do not exist. Financial crises are frequently the result. The terrible physical toll of COVID-19 is immense and obvious: Nearly 160,000 American dead so far and an untold number of recovered victims with possible long-term health damage. Other costs are not so immediate. And that is what makes the debate around virtual schooling so difficult. Keeping kids out of school this year would be a different sort of economic catastrophe, but one every bit as serious as the deep recession from which we are currently recovering. School is not just daycare for younger students so more of us can go to work. Nor is it just a "credentialing" mechanism for older students that allows future employers to find the best workers. One of the strongest and most persistent findings of modern economics is that schooling really does something important to help kids become high-functioning adults, including as workers in an advanced, globalized economy. Those findings are seen to be as true today as when they were first identified in the 1950s. Indeed, a 2018 World Bank analysis shows the benefits increasing since 2000. It is really not controversial: Missing school is tremendously harmful, harm that can be quantified in reduced future earnings. And it is not a small reduction. A new calculation by economist Michael Strain, my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, finds keeping kids home for another semester after the spring shutdown represents a loss of over $30,000 per decade in future earnings for a typical worker who graduated high school but didn't attend college. And if kids only get online schooling until September 2021, the losses for many would likely be even larger. We have been here before, unfortunately. While many of us were unaware of the "forgotten pandemic" of the 1918 influenza, probably far fewer know about the 1916 polio epidemic, the first major outbreak of that virus in the United States. It struck in late June of that year and persisted into November, with more than 23,000 cases diagnosed and some 5,000 fatalities. Among the measures taken by local officials to combat the virus were school closings. A 2017 paper by economists Keith Meyers of the University of Arizona and Melissa Thomasson of Miami University found children ages 14 to 17 during the pandemic ended up with "less educational attainment in 1940 compared to their slightly older peers." (Webmaster's comment: It's a simple choice. Do you want to risk your children's lives?)

8-6-20 Facebook and Twitter restrict Trump accounts over 'harmful' virus claim
Facebook and Twitter have penalised Donald Trump and his campaign for posts in which the president claimed children were "almost immune" to coronavirus. Facebook deleted the post - a clip from an interview Mr Trump gave to Fox News - saying it contained "harmful Covid misinformation". the same clip was removed. US public health advice makes clear children have no immunity to Covid-19. A Facebook spokesperson said on Wednesday evening: "This video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19 which is a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation." It was the first time the social giant had taken action to remove content posted by the president based on its coronavirus-misinformation policy, but not the first time it has penalised Mr Trump over content on his page. Later on Wednesday, Twitter said it had frozen the @TeamTrump account because it posted the same interview excerpt, which President Trump's account shared. A Twitter spokesman said the @TeamTrump tweet "is in violation of the Twitter Rules on COVID-19 misinformation". "The account owner will be required to remove the Tweet before they can Tweet again." It later appeared to have been deleted. Twitter last month temporarily suspended Mr Trump's son, Donald Jr, for sharing a clip it said promoted "misinformation" about coronavirus and hydroxychloroquine. But in March, Twitter said a tweet by entrepreneur Elon Musk suggesting children are "essentially immune" to coronavirus did not break its rules. Speaking by telephone to morning show Fox and Friends on Wednesday, Mr Trump argued it was time for all schools nationwide to reopen. He said: "If you look at children, children are almost - and I would almost say definitely - almost immune from this disease. "So few, they've got stronger, hard to believe, I don't know how you feel about it, but they've got much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this. "And they don't have a problem, they just don't have a problem." Mr Trump, who is running for re-election in November, also said of coronavirus: "This thing's going away. It will go away like things go away."(Webmaster's comment: Trump would endanger our children's lives for the sake of his re-election.)

8-6-20 Coronavirus: Los Angeles to shut off water and power to party houses
The mayor of Los Angeles has said the city will be authorised to shut off water and power to properties where large parties and gatherings are held despite restrictions imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus. Eric Garcetti said house parties had become "nightclubs in the hills" and that the focus would be on gatherings "posing significant public dangers". The rule comes into force on Friday. California is the worst-affected US state with over 532,000 Covid-19 cases. State authorities have also reported 9,872 deaths resulting from coronavirus. Los Angeles county continues to report the highest number of infections in the state - 197,912 as of Wednesday. Last month California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered an immediate halt to indoor activities at restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. But Los Angeles authorities have reported a string of house parties thrown during the pandemic. Earlier this week, a woman was fatally shot at a party in the city's Beverly Crest neighbourhood, where around 200 people had attended. Mayor Garcetti told reporters that parties are often taking place at homes that are vacant or used for short-term rentals. "The consequences of these large parties ripple far beyond these parties," he said. "They ripple throughout our entire community because the virus can quickly and easily spread." The US continues to grapple with the world's biggest coronavirus outbreak, with over 4.8 million cases and at least 158,268 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

8-5-20 Coronavirus pandemic shows no sign of slowing across South America
While Europe is preparing hurriedly for a possible second wave of covid-19 infections, South America is yet to see the end of the first. Four months since governments began national lockdowns in March, the spread of covid-19 shows “no signs of slowing down” across the Americas, said Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), in a press briefing last month. South America already has four of the 10 countries worst hit by covid-19, with Brazil having recorded more than 2.8 million confirmed cases, Peru more than 435,000, Chile more than 360,000 and Colombia more than 330,000. The region has recorded more than 148,000 covid-19 related deaths. The real situation is also probably far worse than government figures suggest. For instance, reports claim that Venezuela’s authoritarian government may be under-reporting cases. “Case totals are really unknown because the testing regime has been difficult to implement,” says Michael Touchton at the Covid-19 Policy Observatory for Latin America at the University of Miami, Florida. Brazil, which has recorded the most cases and deaths in the region, had tested 11.93 per 1000 inhabitants as of 31 July. The UK had tested 140.86 per 1000 and Germany 95.56. Brazil’s president has come under fire for underplaying the danger of the virus, not locking the country down, insufficient testing and tracing and not requiring the use of face masks. “You’re going to continue to see an explosion of cases and no flattening of the curve, plus a huge undercount [in Brazil],” Touchton says. Though the region’s largest countries have reported the highest number of cases, PAHO is particularly concerned with Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, where infections continue to surge despite swift lockdowns being implemented in March.

8-5-20 Coronavirus: Sweden's economy hit less hard by pandemic
Sweden, which avoided a lockdown during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, saw its economy shrink 8.6% in the April-to-June period from the previous three months. The flash estimate from the Swedish statistics office indicated that the country had fared better than other EU nations which took stricter measures. However, it was still the largest quarterly fall for at least 40 years. The European Union saw a contraction of 11.9% for the same period. Individual nations did even worse, with Spain seeing an 18.5% contraction, while the French and Italian economies shrank by 13.8% and 12.4% respectively. "The downturn in GDP is the largest for a single quarter for the period of 1980 and forward," Statistics Sweden said. "It is, as expected, a dramatic downturn. But compared to other countries, it is considerably better, for instance if you compare to southern Europe," said Nordea bank chief analyst Torbjorn Isaksson. Sweden has largely relied on voluntary social distancing guidelines since the start of the pandemic, including working from home where possible and avoiding public transport. Although businesses have largely continued to operate in Sweden, the country's economy is highly dependent on exports, which were hit by lack of demand from abroad. The authorities here have always said the country's Covid-19 strategy wasn't designed to protect the economy. They have stressed that the aim was to introduce sustainable, long-term, measures. But the government did hope that keeping more of society open would help limit job losses and mitigate the effect on businesses.

8-5-20 Neil Young sues Donald Trump's campaign for using his songs
Neil Young is suing Donald Trump's re-election campaign for repeatedly using his music without his permission. The rock star says the US president breached copyright laws by playing his songs at political rallies and events. The Canadian has objected to the use of Rockin' in the Free World and Devil's Sidewalk for what he called an "un-American campaign of ignorance and hate". The Trump campaign has not yet commented. Young said he had complained about Mr Trump's use of his music since 2015, but had been "wilfully" ignored. The singer, who is now officially a US citizen after having lived in the country for decades, is seeking damages of up to $150,000 (£114,400) per infringement. These include at a Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June, and the US president's visit to Mount Rushmore in July. "This complaint is not intended to disrespect the rights and opinions of American citizens, who are free to support the candidate of their choosing," Young's lawyers wrote in the filing, which was posted on the performer's website. "However, Plaintiff in good conscience cannot allow his music to be used as a 'theme song' for a divisive, un-American campaign of ignorance and hate." The 74-year-old has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice - first as a solo artist, and then with his old band Buffalo Springfield. He's not the only musician angry with the US president for having used their material. Last month, The Rolling Stones warned President Trump that he could face legal action if he continued using their songs at his campaign rallies. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards also joined artists including Aerosmith and Sir Elton John in recently signing an open letter calling on politicians to obtain permission before playing their music at campaign and political events.

8-5-20 Five big questions about when and how to open schools amid COVID-19
It’s time to layer up defenses to keep kids as safe as possible when they head back to class. It’s back-to-school time in the United States, but for the world’s leader in coronavirus infections and deaths, what “back to school” means is anything but clear. Many countries have gotten ahead of the pandemic with extensive testing, tracing and quarantining. That tight control means that children in Denmark, Singapore and China have returned to school, with extra safety measures. The situation is fundamentally different in the United States. No other country has attempted to send children to school with coronavirus infection levels as high as they are in some parts of the country. Many large school districts, including those in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Houston, will begin the school year with all kids learning from home. Other districts have yet to announce their plans, which may include models that mix in-person learning with remote classwork. School districts have been struggling to make the call, given a lack of data on how to reduce risk. Two major scientific societies have provided some guidance. On June 25, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommended that policy decisions be made with the goal of having children in school, in person. The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine agreed, urging in a July 15 report that to the extent possible, in-person education should be prioritized, particularly for young children and those with special needs. Doing so in a way that minimizes risk will come at a hefty price. The National Academies’ report estimated a price tag of $1.8 million for an average U.S. school district with around 3,300 students. That would pay for personal protective gear such as masks, hand-washing stations, cleaning supplies and extra staff so that students could be spread out. Of course, even if a district spends the funds, there are no guarantees that students, teachers and staff won’t get sick.

8-5-20 Covid-19 news: World faces catastrophe from school closures, says UN
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. World faces “catastrophe” due to school closures, says UN chief. The world faces a “generational catastrophe” as a result of school closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic, UN secretary-general António Guterres said today. Getting students safely back to the classroom once local transmission of the coronavirus is under control must be a “top priority” for governments, and failing to do this “could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities,” he said in a video message today. Since mid-July, schools have been closed in about 160 countries worldwide, affecting more than 1 billion students. In the UK, a modelling study published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health suggests that current levels of coronavirus testing and contact tracing will be insufficient to prevent a second wave of the virus when schools reopen in September. In the US, teachers, support staff and parents in more than 35 school districts protested against US president Donald Trump’s push to reopen schools while covid-19 is still surging in many states. Virologists have been excluded from UK government discussions on how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, says the UK Clinical Virology Network, which represents researchers in the field. Virologists say they were not consulted about the government’s purchase of new 90 minute tests for the coronavirus and other respiratory viruses from two UK companies, which was announced yesterday. The group sent a letter to government scientific and medical advisors, Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty in July but say they have not heard back. “It just seems there is a rush to do everything privately,” Will Irving, one of the signatories at the University of Nottingham, told the Guardian. India recorded 52,050 new cases yesterday, according to health officials, making it the seventh consecutive day that daily new cases in the country surpassed 50,000. Australia today increased fines for repeated breaches of the lockdown in the state of Victoria from A$1652 (£900) to A$5000 (£2739). There has been a rise in people resisting lockdown measures, according to authorities in the state capital Melbourne.

8-4-20 The American leadership void
Everyone knows reopening schools is going to be a disaster. So why are we doing it anyway? The school year is looming on the horizon, despite the fact that the coronavirus pandemic is still raging out of control in almost every state, and most schools do not have one tenth of the resources and preparation necessary to operate safely. Still, American politicians across the country are pushing to get schools back open. It's yet more evidence of the utter void at the heart of the American leadership class. Few people in positions of authority are willing or capable of governing, and especially not Republicans. They are either deranged maniacs like President Trump, or they are avoiding unpopular decisions in a way guaranteed to fuel the pandemic, simply so that they can shift blame away from themselves. Getting schools open is obviously a matter of great urgency. The current situation is wearing American families to the bone. Parents report having to juggle work, child care, and distance learning over Zoom is driving them to the breaking point. It follows that being able to open up the schools would be a godsend for both parents, who could go back to work and get a little rest, and kids, who could go back to actually learning, and seeing their friends (even at a distance). But insofar as schools actually are reopened, it's a virtual certainty that in most cases there will be outbreaks and they will close right back down again. We have already seen multiple outbreaks at summer camps, where both children and staff were infected. Indeed, Israel threw months of pandemic control work in the trash by jumping the gun on schools. The country had new cases down to just a handful per day by early May, and had been carefully experimenting with limited school openings. But in mid-May the Israeli government abruptly reopened the whole school system, and touched off a galloping outbreak across the country. Israel is now in a much worse position than it was in April. And contrary to some conventional wisdom on the right that kids never get that sick from COVID-19, we know now that occasionally they do, and a few have died. Worse, they definitely can transmit the disease, and will therefore easily pass it on to teachers, school staff, and their families at home, many of whom will be much more vulnerable. Even Republican governors probably see the writing on the wall here. The pandemic is not going anywhere, Trump is not going to do anything about it, there is neither money nor time to set up schools properly, and therefore it just isn't going to work. But to simply admit defeat would mean attracting a lot of negative attention from conservatives, who insist it's all fake news, and from the people who are just hoping it can work so they can go back to their jobs. It seems many state leaders, therefore, have settled on pushing forward and letting the outbreaks happen so it won't seem to be their fault that schools can't reopen. At time of writing, plans are afoot for in-person instruction in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. In only a handful of states is in-person learning explicitly contingent on local outbreak conditions. On the contrary, Texas Governor Greg Abbott says schools can't be closed unless they have an outbreak. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is also in the process of forcing his state's open. Indiana schools are already partly reopening without even a statewide plan for how they can do so; one infected student has already been reported. It's the same desperate desire to avoid governing that we've seen throughout the pandemic. It isn't primarily state and local leaders' fault that our national response has failed so spectacularly and they aren't being given the resources they need, but it will be their fault if they deliberately allow new outbreaks to happen. Opening schools properly would require a great deal of effort and money. At a minimum, schools would need new social distancing protocols, mass testing capacity, more staff to decrease class sizes, and ideally upgrades to their internet service (to allow for some distance learning) and HVAC systems (to improve ventilation and prevent air from recirculating). Instead, education budgets are being slashed across the country, and in most places they weren't sufficient in the first place. (Webmaster's comment: We'll be sending many of our children off to certain death! But we don't seem to care!)

8-4-20 Coronavirus: US has no cohesive plan to tackle massive second wave
WHEN Antoine Dupont started to feel under the weather in mid-July, he immediately wanted to be tested for the coronavirus. Unable to find a facility where he could get this done near his home in West Palm Beach, Florida, a friend told him about an urgent care clinic with a handful of appointments in Boca Raton, 30 minutes away. He secured a test for the next Friday. D“The nurse said I’d hear back by Tuesday because of the weekend, which seemed a little long to me,” he says. “I didn’t get my results until the next Friday – and only after I had been calling the clinic for a few days.” His test result came back negative. But the news didn’t come as a relief. He was still feeling ill – and by then his ex-wife and son, who he sees on weekends, had tested positive for the coronavirus. Dupont says he doesn’t believe his result was accurate. However, he sees no reason to get another test. “The whole testing system is a dismal failure of epic proportions,” he says. “With the labs backed up the way they are, I wouldn’t get an answer in a reasonable amount of time anyway.” He isn’t the only person in the US struggling to get a test. Individuals in other states that have been hit hard by the virus, like Texas, Louisiana and Georgia, are facing the same challenges – and it is damaging the ability of those places to effectively control the spread of covid-19. As of 4 August, Florida had over 490,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 7100 deaths related to covid-19. Even though cases have started to dip a bit, the number is still alarmingly high. “Florida is one state that is continuing to see massive spread, but it’s not the only state that is showing those kinds of numbers,” says Ali Nouri at the Federation of American Scientists. “Unfortunately, it all goes to show, across the United States, by and large, we are not doing as much as we need to be doing in order to get this virus under control,” he says. On 23 July, the US passed an unwanted milestone: 4 million confirmed cases. This number makes up more than a quarter of the global total, despite the US accounting for just 4.4 per cent of the world’s population.

8-4-20 Donald Trump: US Treasury should get cut of TikTok deal
Donald Trump says the government should get a cut from the sale of TikTok's US unit if an American firm buys it. The US president said he made a demand for a "substantial portion" of the purchase price in a phone call at the weekend with Microsoft's boss. He also warned he will ban the app, which is owned by China's ByteDance, on 15 September if there is no deal. ByteDance is under pressure to sell its US business after Mr Trump threatened a crackdown on Chinese tech companies. The Trump administration has accused TikTok and others of providing data to the Chinese government, which Beijing and TikTok deny. "The United States should get a very large percentage of that price, because we're making it possible," Mr Trump said. "It would come from the sale, which nobody else would be thinking about but me, but that's the way I think, and I think it's very fair," he added. Nicholas Klein, a lawyer at DLA Piper, said generally "the government doesn't have the authority to take a cut of a private deal through" the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which is the inter-agency committee that reviews some foreign investments in the US. The state-run China Daily newspaper said on Tuesday that Beijing would not accept the "theft" of a Chinese technology company. It also warned in an editorial that China had "plenty of ways to respond if the administration carries out its planned smash and grab". Charlotte Jee, a reporter at MIT Technology Review, a magazine owned by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Mr Trump's comments were "pretty astonishing". Speaking to the BBC's Today programme, she said: "I hate to say this but it is kind of almost Mafia-like behaviour - threatening a ban which pushes down the price then saying 'oh we should get a cut of that deal afterwards to say thank you for what we've done there'. "It is extraordinary behaviour as well because last week we had lawmakers in the US trying to look at whether tech companies are too big and now we've got Trump trying to make one of them even bigger so it is a really, really bizarre situation to be in." (Webmaster's comment: Government blackmail of private companies is illegal!)

8-4-20 What's going on with TikTok?
TikTok users in the US are rallying to save the app, as Microsoft confirms discussions to acquire the Chinese-owned short-video sensation after President Trump threatened it with a sweeping ban.

8-4-20 NY attorney expands inquiry into Trump 'criminal conduct'
A New York prosecutor seeking US President Donald Trump's tax returns says he is investigating reported "protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization". Monday's court filing suggests the inquiry is broader than alleged hush money payments made to two women who say they had affairs with Mr Trump. The Supreme Court ruled last month that lawyers could examine the tax returns. Mr Trump has repeatedly dismissed the probe, calling it a "witch hunt". Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr has filed a subpoena to obtain eight years of Mr Trump's personal and corporate tax returns, which the Trump Organization is challenging. The Republican president accuses the Manhattan prosecutor, a Democrat, of pursuing a political vendetta. Last week, Mr Trump's lawyers filed a complaint arguing the subpoena was "wildly overbroad" and issued in bad faith. Responding in court documents filed on Monday, lawyers for Mr Vance said that allegations of criminal activity at the Trump Organization date back "over a decade". His lawyers citied newspaper articles about supposed bank and insurance fraud at the Trump Organization and congressional testimony by the president's former lawyer Michael Cohen, who said Mr Trump would devalue his assets when trying to reduce his taxes. They said their inquiry extends beyond purported hush money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal in the lead-up to the 2016 election. Such payments could violate campaign financing laws. The president denies the affairs took place. Speaking to reporters, Mr Trump described the investigation as "Democratic stuff". "They failed with Mueller," he said, referring to the justice department investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller that failed to establish the president had colluded with the Kremlin during his election campaign. "They failed with everything, they failed with Congress, they failed at every stage of the ga Mr Trump, who inherited money from his father and went on to become a property developer, is the first president since Richard Nixon not to have made his tax returns public while running for office.

8-4-20 Being a Chinese student in the US: ‘Neither the US nor China wants us’
Stranded abroad by the coronavirus pandemic and squeezed by political tensions, Chinese students in the United States are rethinking their attitudes to their host and home countries. Eight years ago, Shizheng Tie, then aged 13, moved alone from China to rural Ohio for one sole purpose: education. She once had a budding American dream, but now she says she is facing hostility in that country. "As a Chinese living in the US, I am very scared now," she says. Tie, now a senior student at Johns Hopkins University, describes America as "anti-China" and "chaotic". Some 360,000 Chinese students are currently enrolled in schools in the US. In the past months, they have experienced two historical events - a global pandemic and unprecedented tensions between the US and China, which have reshaped their views of the two nations. The majority of Chinese students in the US are self-funded and hope their western education will lead to a good career. Meanwhile, Washington has warned that not all students from China are "normal", claiming some are Beijing's proxies who conduct economic espionage, orchestrate pro-China views and monitor other Chinese students on American campuses. The Trump administration recently cancelled visas for 3,000 students they believe have ties to the Chinese military. One US senator even suggested that Chinese nationals should be banned from studying math and science in America. Amid the harsh rhetoric, many Chinese students fear that they are being turned into a political target for Washington. Tie, majoring in environmental science, says she is pessimistic about her academic future in the US, given the growing scrutiny over Chinese students and scholars in science and technology. "I used to think I'd pursue my PhD in the US and perhaps settle down here, but now I see myself returning to China after obtaining a master's degree," Tie says. Yingyi Ma, associate professor of sociology at Syracuse University, says Chinese students in the US are now "politicised and marginalised at an unprecedented level", as Washington is sending "very unfriendly signals".

8-3-20 Opening schools in UK without more testing risks covid-19 second wave
The UK faces a second wave of coronavirus infections this winter if the country’s testing and contact tracing system doesn’t improve by the time schools fully reopen and people return to workplaces, researchers have warned. Jasmina Panovska-Griffiths at University College London (UCL) and her colleagues found that there is a risk of the UK experiencing a second peak in December that will be more than twice the size of the first one. Her team modelled the amount of testing and tracing needed to stop the virus rebounding as society eases restrictions. If all children in the UK return to school by early September, as is currently planned, and almost three-quarters of people return to workplaces, the UK would need to be testing 75 per cent of symptomatic covid-19 cases to stay on top of the spread of the virus, the researchers found. The current rate in England, which the team used as a basis for their UK modelling, is 50 per cent. The proportion of their contacts traced would have to jump from about 50 per cent in England now to 68 per cent for the whole of the UK. “It needs to improve,” said Russell Viner at UCL, who also worked on the study, during a press conference by the team. “Plans have been put in place to ensure schools can re-open safely. Local health officials, using the latest data, will able to determine the best action to take to help curb the spread of the virus should there be a rise in cases,” says a spokesperson for the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care. The analysis comes amid wider questions about the role of children in transmitting the virus, as many countries across the world prepare to reopen schools in September, though some such as Scotland will reopen within days.

8-3-20 Heavy drinking drove hundreds of thousands of Americans to early graves
From 2011 to 2015, excessive drinking ended lives 29 years sooner, on average, than expected. Heavy drinking is robbing Americans of decades of life. From 2011 to 2015, an average of 93,296 deaths annually could be tied to excessive alcohol use, or 255 deaths per day. Excessive drinking brought death early, typically 29 years sooner than would have been expected. All told, the United States saw 2.7 million years of potential life lost each year, researchers report in the July 31 Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report. The researchers used a program developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that estimates annual deaths and years of potential life lost due to an individual’s own or another’s excessive drinking. The tool takes into account whether the cause of death is fully attributable to alcohol, such as alcoholic liver cirrhosis, or whether excessive drinking can partially contribute to a condition, such as breast cancer. Annually, about 51,000 of the deaths were from chronic conditions. The rest were sudden demises such as poisonings that involved another substance along with alcohol or alcohol-related car crashes. The CDC defines excessive alcohol use as binging — drinking five or more drinks at a time for men, four or more for women — or drinking heavily over the course of the week. Men qualify at 15 or more drinks per week; for women, it’s eight or more. The numbers of deaths and years of life extinguished due to excessive drinking have gone up since the last report. That assessment covered 2006 to 2010 and reported close to 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million lost years annually. Recommendations from the Community Preventive Services Task Force, made up of public health and prevention experts, to stem excessive drinking include raising taxes on alcohol and regulating the number of places that sell alcoholic beverages (SN: 8/9/17). (Webmaster's comment: These are very stupid people. We need to remove them from the gene pool as soon as possible so let them self-destruct!)

8-3-20 Kaepernick shirt used as a target at Navy Seal event
The US Navy Seals are investigating after footage emerged of military dogs attacking a "stand-in" wearing a Colin Kaepernick shirt at an event last year. The video was reportedly taken at the National Navy Seal Museum in Florida in 2019, but went viral this weekend. In a statement, the Navy Seals said the video was "completely inconsistent" with its values. Kaepernick, a quarterback, began kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice in 2016. Several clips posted on Twitter on Sunday show a target wearing the red Kaepernick jersey being attacked by a number of military dogs. In one video, the man appears to say "Oh man, I will stand" after being brought down by the dogs, drawing laughter from the crowd. "We became aware today of a video of a Navy Seal Museum event posted last year," the Navy Seals said in a message posted on Twitter. "The inherent message of this video is completely inconsistent with the values and ethos of Naval Special Warfare and the US Navy. "We are investigating the matter fully and initial indications are that there were no active duty Navy personnel or equipment involved with this independent organisation's event." Kaepernick first started kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 when he was a player for the San Francisco 49ers. However, he faced a strong backlash and has remained unsigned for several years. Only this year did the National Football League (NFL) reverse its opposition to players taking a knee during the anthem. The decision came amid global protests over the death of African-American George Floyd while in police custody.

8-3-20 Coronavirus: Melbourne lockdown to keep a million workers at home
Melbourne is shutting down shops, factories and other non-essential businesses as authorities fight a second wave of coronavirus. Other measures include a night-time curfew for the city's five million residents, after an earlier lockdown failed to contain the virus. About one million workers will soon be staying at home in the Australian city. A payment for people instructed to isolate for 14 days who have run out of sick leave will also be introduced. The A$1,500 ($1,070; £815) is mainly aimed at those who cannot access other benefits, and can be applied for more than once, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. Authorities hope the new restrictions will reduce transmission of the coronavirus. Until recently, Australia had had more success than many other countries in tackling Covid-19, but an outbreak in Victoria's state capital has pushed the nation to its worst point yet. More than half of the nation's total 18,300 cases have been recorded in just the last month in Victoria. There have been 215 deaths. The only valid reasons for leaving home during these hours are work, medical care or care-giving. Many people say they have accepted the necessity of the restrictions but expressed anger and despair over the new measures. "I'm sure there are a lot of people that are depressed including myself and my husband," Jane Baxter-Swale told the BBC. "We don't know when these measures are going to finish. There's no finality to this virus which is awful." Under "Stage Four" lockdown, Melbourne residents will also only be allowed to shop and exercise within 5km (three miles) of their home. Exercise outside of the home will only be allowed for one hour at a time. Only one person per household will be allowed to go grocery shopping, and this can only happen once a day.

8-3-20 Coronavirus: Dozens test positive for Covid-19 on Norwegian cruise ship
At least 40 passengers and crew on a Norwegian cruise ship have tested positive for Covid-19, officials say. Hundreds more passengers on the MS Roald Amundsen are in quarantine and awaiting test results, the company that owns the ship said. The ship, which belongs to the Norwegian firm Hurtigruten, docked in the port of Tromso in northern Norway on Friday. Hurtigruten has halted all leisure cruises because of the outbreak. "We are now focusing all available efforts in taking care of our guests and colleagues," the company's Chief Executive Daniel Skjeldamsaid in a statement. "A preliminary evaluation shows a breakdown in several of our internal procedures," he added. "The only responsible choice is to suspend all expedition sailings." Four crew members were admitted to hospital on Friday with coronavirus symptoms, shortly after the ship docked in Tromso, and later tested positive for the virus. Another 32 of the 158 staff on board were infected, test results showed. But almost 180 passengers were allowed to disembark the ship, leaving the authorities scrambling to locate and test those who had been on board. All the passengers have now been contacted and told to self-isolate, health officials said on Sunday. Five passengers have so far tested positive out of 387 who have travelled on the ship since 17 July. "We expect that more infections will be found in connection to this outbreak," Line Vold, a health official, told Reuters news agency. The MS Roald Amundsen had been on a week-long voyage to Svalbard in the Arctic, and was also reportedly scheduled to visit ports in England and Scotland in September. But all future journeys are uncertain as the cruise industry finds itself affected by the coronavirus pandemic once again. Thousands of passengers were stranded at sea earlier this year as ships were hit by outbreaks of the virus.

8-3-20 Coronavirus: Iran cover-up of deaths revealed by data leak
The number of deaths from coronavirus in Iran is nearly triple what Iran's government claims, a BBC Persian service investigation has found. The government's own records appear to show almost 42,000 people died with Covid-19 symptoms up to 20 July, versus 14,405 reported by its health ministry. The number of people known to be infected is also almost double official figures: 451,024 as opposed to 278,827. The official numbers still make Iran the worst-hit in the Middle East. In recent weeks, it has suffered a second steep rise in the number of cases. The first death in Iran from Covid-19 was recorded on 22 January, according to lists and medical records that have been passed to the BBC. This was almost a month before the first official case of coronavirus was reported there. Since the outbreak of the virus in Iran, many observers have doubted the official numbers. There have been irregularities in data between national and regional levels, which some local authorities have spoken out about, and statisticians have tried to give alternative estimates. A level of undercounting, largely due to testing capacity, is seen across the world, but the information leaked to the BBC reveals Iranian authorities have reported significantly lower daily numbers despite having a record of all deaths - suggesting they were deliberately suppressed. he data was sent to the BBC by an anonymous source. It includes details of daily admissions to hospitals across Iran, including names, age, gender, symptoms, date and length of periods spent in hospital, and underlying conditions patients might have. The details on lists correspond to those of some living and deceased patients already known to the BBC. The source says they have shared this data with the BBC to "shed light on truth" and to end "political games" over the epidemic. The discrepancy between the official figures and the number of deaths on these records also matches the difference between the official figure and calculations of excess mortality until mid-June. Excess mortality refers to the number of deaths above and beyond what would be expected under "normal" conditions.

8-3-20 The US may have the most to lose if Donald Trump bans TikTok
Video-sharing service TikTok is in a race against time to complete a deal with Microsoft, after US president Donald Trump threatened to ban the app, owned by ByteDance, a Chinese technology company. For Trump, TikTok being overseen by Microsoft would allay a major fear he and others have about the rise of TikTok: that data produced in the app is sent to China, where it could be seen by the country’s ruling Communist Party. ByteDance denies that this happens. In a blog post, Microsoft stated that it is negotiating to run TikTok in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, with plans to complete discussions by 15 September. TikTok has been targeted by Trump for months as part of a wider geopolitical argument between China and the US. Trump’s political campaign has spent thousands of dollars on Facebook adverts reaching millions of voters in the past two weeks that claim TikTok is spying on people in the US. The claims aren’t true, according to security researchers, who say TikTok gathers similar data to US social platforms. TikTok itself claims that it hasn’t received any requests from the Chinese government to access data – and if approached, it would refuse. Trump’s attacks appear to be motivated by a diminishing of US power over the internet’s key services. “This is the first app for American people where it’s quite clearly super popular but isn’t American,” says Matthew Brennan, a tech analyst based in China. “I think Europeans are much more sympathetic towards that situation, whereas for Americans it’s a first. They’re struggling to handle it.” The US isn’t the only country with a negative view of Chinese tech. India banned 59 Chinese-owned apps on 29 June, including TikTok, while politicians in the UK and Australia have called for TikTok to be banned there. At the same time, reports suggest that TikTok may be moving its global headquarters to London, which could place the UK in conflict with the US.

8-3-20 Microsoft and TikTok talks continue after Trump call
US tech giant Microsoft has confirmed that it is continuing talks to purchase the US operations of Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok. Microsoft boss Satya Nadella had a conversation with President Donald Trump about the acquisition on Sunday, the tech firm said. Microsoft stressed that it "fully appreciates the importance" of addressing President Trump's concerns. A full security review of the app will be conducted, the company added. Microsoft will also have to provide the US government with a list of the "proper economic benefits" to the country, it said in a blog post. The tech giant hopes to conclude discussions with TikTok's parent firm ByteDance by 15 September. Microsoft said it was looking to purchase the TikTok service in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and would operate the app in these markets. The tech firm added that it "may" invite other American investors to participate in the purchase "on a minority basis". Microsoft emphasised that it would ensure that "all private data of TikTok's American users" was transferred to and remained in the US. Further, it would ensure that any data currently stored or backed up outside the country would be deleted from servers after it was transferred to US data centres. It also said that Microsoft "appreciates the US Government's and President Trump's personal involvement as it continues to develop strong security protections for the country." But the tech giant added that current discussions were still in the "preliminary" stage, and as such there was "no assurance" that the purchase would proceed. A possible sale of TikTok's US operations to Microsoft was thought to be on hold after Donald Trump vowed to ban the video-sharing app, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The potential sale had been seen close to agreement but was put in doubt after the US president's warning on Friday. And on Sunday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that President Trump would take action "in the coming days" against Chinese-owned software that he believed to pose a national security risk. (Webmaster's comment: The greatest risk to our national security is President Trump. He is a "clear and present danger" to all of us!)

8-2-20 What we know about schoolkids and coronavirus
Is it safe to reopen the schools in the fall?. As schools and parents struggle with the decision to reopen in-person classes, what do we know about kids' vulnerability? Here's everything you need to know:

  1. Can children get COVID-19? Yes, but the evidence strongly suggests that children are less prone to infection by the coronavirus than adults. Those under 18 account for about 6 percent of confirmed cases in the U.S., despite constituting some 22 percent of the population, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. Can children get seriously ill? In rare cases. But the Nature study found that among those between 10 and 19, only 21 percent showed any symptoms at all. Hospitalizations are rare among the young, and deaths rarer still; as of July 22, the COVKID Project, which tracks pediatric figures in the U.S., counted 77 deaths among the young from a total of more than 144,000 deaths overall, and just over 800 intensive-care admissions.
  3. Why are children less vulnerable? It's "a huge puzzle," said Nicholas Davies, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. But there are several theories. One is that children's cells have fewer of the ACE2 receptors the coronavirus latches on to in order to launch an infection.
  4. Can children infect others? This is the million-dollar question. Numerous studies from Europe and Asia have suggested children pass the disease on to others at a lower rate than adults. In a study of 39 Swiss households infected with COVID, children were suspected of having been the source in only three.
  5. What is the difference? The study confirmed that younger children are significantly less likely to spread the virus — but found those between 10 and 19 transmit the virus at similar rates to adults. That lines up with evidence offered by reopened schools in Israel, New Zealand, and France, where the largest outbreaks have been in middle and high schools. A study of French schools by a scientist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris found that the risk of infection was much greater in high schools than in elementary schools.
  6. The school experience abroad: Schools offer the best opportunity to study transmission among the young — and there the evidence is mixed. A number of European countries, including Germany, Norway, and Denmark, have reopened schools without incident; researchers in Australia, Ireland, and Finland have also found no evidence of school spread in those countries.

8-2-20 Coronavirus: Media to be barred from Trump election nomination
The US Republican Party's vote to nominate its presidential candidate this month will be held in private, without press in attendance. A Republican National Convention spokeswoman gave coronavirus health guidelines as the reason, the Associated Press reports. Delegates are due to gather in North Carolina to formally renominate President Donald Trump. The 336 delegates will meet on 24 August in the city of Charlotte. They will cast proxy votes for some 2,500 official delegates. Mr Trump is the party's sole remaining nominee, and his renomination will officially launch his re-election bid. The party was "working within the parameters set before us by state and local guidelines regarding the number of people who can attend events", the spokeswoman said. The decision marks a significant change for the convention, which historically has worked to draw media attention to spread party messaging to the public. Mr Trump had switched the location of the convention to Jacksonville, Florida, after the Democratic governor of North Carolina insisted in May on limiting the crowd size at the convention, on the grounds of social distancing. But Mr Trump later scrapped the Florida convention, blaming the state's coronavirus "flare-up".

8-2-20 Are US cities seeing a surge in violent crime as Trump claims?
President Donald Trump has said US cities are seeing a spike in crime, as he sends in federal law enforcement agents to tackle the situation. He has denounced a string of Democrat-run cities which are "plagued by violent crime". We've looked at violent crime, and found it's down overall in many cities, but murders have risen sharply in some. In many major US cities, including Chicago and New York, violent crime overall is down compared with the same time last year. Various cities define violent crime in slightly different ways, but it usually includes murder, robbery, assault and rape. Individual years can fluctuate but violent crime across America has been on a downward trend since the 1990s. A study by the New York Times found violent crime from the start of this year through to the beginning of June was down 2% across 25 large American cities, compared with the same period in 2019. In April and May, violent crime in many US cities declined significantly compared with previous years, due in part to coronavirus lockdown measures. But President Trump has pointed to a string of murders in certain cities, and homicides in contrast have increased sharply in some areas. A review of data from 27 American cities found that Chicago led the way as homicides surged through to the end of June. The president has sent more than 100 federal agents to help local law enforcement in Chicago. As of 26 July, murders are up more than a 50% from this time last year. President Trump has proposed expanding the deployment of federal law enforcement to the north-eastern cities of New York and Philadelphia. Philadelphia is seeing a spike in murders, while reports of other violent crimes have declined. It's a similar trend in New York, as although rapes and robberies are down, the murder rate is up more than 50% compared with the same point in 2019. New York's murder rate has decreased significantly since the 1990s, but June saw the most shootings in a single month since 1996, according to the New York Police Department.

8-2-20 Can summer survive America's coronavirus spike?
America's first coronavirus surge nearly wiped out the summer season on Cape Cod, one of the most popular summer destinations in the US. Now there is talk about a second wave - will this imperil the vacation spot's escape? When the pandemic hit the US in March, Sarah Sherman, owner of Hopper Real Estate in Eastham - a holiday home rental business on the Cape - saw her summer season erased with cancellations. But by mid-July, her business had revived - despite the number of cases in the country setting records. At one point, she scored more than 16 bookings in just two days - a number unheard of in a typical year. "It's definitely feeling like summer," she says. The return of visitors was a major relief to Ms Sherman and business owners like her across Cape Cod, a peninsula that juts off Massachusetts into the Atlantic Ocean that was made famous as the summer playground of the Kennedys. Cold and grey in the winter, it is dependent economically on the summer months, when its population doubles and families from across the northeast pour in to sunbathe, cycle and gorge on lobster and fried clams. As the country went into lockdown, reservations "just stopped", she recalls. "We were like, 'Oh my god, what is going to happen?'" "We didn't know whether there was going to be a summer." That worst case scenario didn't materialise. Families with second homes de-camped for extended stays earlier in the year than usual. Renters soon followed, as a long spring in lockdown created pent-up demand, particularly for places like the Cape, to which most visitors travel by car. By the 4 July holiday weekend - typically one of the busiest in the year - occupancy rates at hotels were above 90%. But as case counts rise elsewhere in the country, Ms Sherman says it is too early to say if the area's economy has escaped. "As we watch the rest of the country spike, we're like, 'If that happens here, that could close down the rest of our summer really quickly.'"

8-2-20 Coronavirus: Victoria declares state of disaster after spike in cases
The Australian state of Victoria has declared a state of disaster and imposed new lockdown measures after a surge in coronavirus infections. Under the new rules, which came into effect at 18:00 (08:00 GMT), residents of the state capital Melbourne are subject to a night-time curfew. There will be further restrictions on residents' ability to leave home. Australia has been more successful than many other countries in tackling Covid-19, but cases are rising in Victoria. The state - Australia's second most populous state - now accounts for many of the country's new infections in recent weeks, prompting the return of lockdown restrictions in early July. But on Sunday Premier Daniel Andrews said the measures were working but too slowly. "We must go harder. It's the only way we'll get to the other side of this," he told reporters. The new rules will remain in place until at least 13 September, Mr Andrews added. On Sunday, Victoria reported 671 new coronavirus cases and seven deaths. Those increases brought the totals to 11,557 infections and 123 deaths. The night-time curfew is being implemented across Melbourne from 20:00 to 05:00. The only valid reasons for leaving home during these hours will be work, medical care or care-giving. Melbourne residents will only be allowed to shop and exercise within 5km (three miles) of their home. Exercise outside of the home will only be allowed for one hour at a time. Only one person per household is allowed to shop for essentials at a time. All students across the state are returning to home-based learning and childcare centres are closed. Restrictions will also be tightened across regional Victoria from Thursday, with restaurants, cafes, bars and gyms closing from 23:59 on Wednesday. To ensure these rules are observed, police will be given additional powers, Mr Andrews said. "We have got to limit the amount of movement, therefore limiting the amount of transmission of this virus. We have to clamp down on this," Mr Andrews said.

8-2-20 Coronavirus: South Africa cases pass half million mark
More than half a million coronavirus cases have been confirmed in South Africa, according to the country's health minister. Zwelini Mkhize announced 10,107 new cases on Saturday, bringing the tally to 503,290, along with 8,153 deaths. South Africa is the hardest-hit country on the continent and accounts for half of all reported infections in Africa. It also has the fifth-highest number of cases in the world after the US, Brazil, Russia and India. Researchers have said the true number of deaths in the country may be far higher. South African health authorities have said the rate of infection is increasing rapidly, with cases currently concentrated around the capital, Pretoria. More than a third of all infections have been reported in Gauteng - South Africa's financial hub, and a province that has quickly become the epicentre of the national outbreak. Infections are not expected to peak for another month. Responding to the new figures, President Cyril Ramaphosa called on citizens to remain vigilant. "We have to continue to work together to reduce the number of new infections. As with many other countries across the world, we need to continually adjust the measures we take to prevent new outbreaks or to safeguard our health system", he said. South Africa imposed a strict lockdown in April and May that slowed the spread of the coronavirus. It began a gradual reopening in June but restrictions - including a ban on alcohol sales - were reintroduced last month as infection rates began to rise again. A state of emergency is also in force until 15 August. The influx of patients has put an incredible strain on South Africa's hospitals, and a BBC investigation found an array of systematic failures that had exhausted healthcare professionals and brought the health service near to collapse. President Cyril Ramaphosa said last month that 28,000 hospital beds had been made available for Covid-19 patients but the country still faced a "serious" shortage of doctors and nurses. Last week the World Health Organization warned that South Africa's experience was a likely a precursor to what would happen across the rest of the continent.

8-2-20 Egypt tells Elon Musk its pyramids were not built by aliens
Egypt has invited billionaire Elon Musk to visit the country and see for himself that its famous pyramids were not built by aliens. The SpaceX boss had tweeted what appeared to be support for conspiracy theorists who say aliens were involved in the colossal construction effort. (Webmaster's comment: NUTS! There is NO EVIDENCE for this!) But Egypt's international co-operation minister does not want them taking any of the credit. She says seeing the tombs of the pyramid builders would be the proof. The tombs discovered in the 1990s are definitive evidence, experts say, that the magnificent structures were indeed built by ancient Egyptians. On Friday, the tech tycoon tweeted: "Aliens built the pyramids obv", which was retweeted more than 84,000 times. Egypt's Minister of International Co-operation Rania al-Mashat responded on Twitter, saying she followed and admired Mr Musk's work. But she urged him to further explore evidence about the building of the structures built for pharaohs of Egypt. Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass also responded in a short video in Arabic, posted on social media, saying Mr Musk's argument was a "complete hallucination". "I found the tombs of the pyramids builders that tell everyone that the builders of the pyramids are Egyptians and they were not slaves," EgyptToday quotes him as saying. Mr Musk did later tweet a link to a BBC History site about the lives of the pyramid builders, saying: "This BBC article provides a sensible summary for how it was done." There are more than 100 surviving pyramids but the most famous is the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt - standing at more than 450ft (137m). Most of them were built as tombs - a final resting places for Egypt's royalty. Mr Musk is known for his prolific and at times erratic tweeting. He once told CNBC: "Twitter's a war zone. If somebody's gonna jump in the war zone, it's, like, 'Okay, you're in the arena. Let's go!'"


FEMINISM

8-5-20 Daisy Coleman: Assault survivor in Netflix film takes own life
Daisy Coleman, a sexual assault victim advocate and subject of the Netflix documentary Audrie & Daisy, has taken her own life, according to her mother. Ms Coleman, 23, was 14 when she alleged she was raped at a party in 2012 in Maryville, Missouri. Her case drew national attention as she spoke of being bullied after the incident, but the charge against the teenage boy she accused was dropped. She was reportedly found dead after her mother called police to check on her. "She was my best friend and amazing daughter," her mother, Melinda Coleman, wrote on Facebook. "I think she had to make it seem like I could live without her. I can't. "I wish I could have taken the pain from her! She never recovered from what those boys did to her and it's just not fair. My baby girl is gone." Ms Coleman alleged she was assaulted while intoxicated by a 17-year-old boy, Matthew Barnett, at a house party in January 2012, when she was 14. Her mother said she found her daughter the next morning, left outside on the porch, with wet hair and wearing just a T-shirt and sweatpants in sub-zero temperatures. Barnett was charged with felony sexual assault, but the case was eventually dropped. Ms Coleman's family argued this was due to the local political connections of the boy's family. Barnett pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of child endangerment, arguing his sexual intercourse with Daisy had been consensual. Ms Coleman's case sparked national discussions over teenage rape cases in the US justice system as well as victim blaming and bullying. Ms Coleman and her family eventually moved out of Maryville after threats and harassment in school. She was featured in the award-winning 2016 Netflix documentary Audrie & Daisy, which highlighted the bullying faced by teenage assault victims. The other girl in the film, Audrie Pott, took her own life in September 2012, days after she was sexually assaulted. (Webmaster's comment: We need to accept the word of children that they were raped! And put the bastards accused away for a long, long time!)

8-5-20 Ellen DeGeneres: Stars back TV host amid 'toxic workplace' claims
Comedian Kevin Hart, singer Katy Perry and other stars have come to Ellen DeGeneres' defence after allegations that her TV show is a toxic workplace. However, the show's one-time resident DJ has said he "did experience and feel the toxicity of the environment". It follows a Buzzfeed News story that claimed senior staff had bullied and intimidated others on set. DeGeneres later apologised to staff, saying steps would be taken to "correct the issues" that had come to light. One current and 10 former employees told Buzzfeed they had experienced racism and a workplace that was "dominated by fear". On Tuesday, Tony Okungbowa, who was the programme's DJ from 2003-2006 and 2007-2013, echoed those accounts, adding: "I stand with my former colleagues in their quest to create a healthier and more inclusive workplace." DeGeneres has distanced herself from the accusations, saying she had been "misrepresented" by "people who work with me and for me". Some of the host's celebrity friends have now closed ranks. Hart said he had known DeGeneres "for years" and called her "one of the dopest people on the... planet". e wrote on Instagram: "It's crazy to see my friend go thru what she's going thru publicly... The internet has become a crazy world of negativity... We are falling in love with peoples down fall [sic]." Perry said she had "only ever had positive takeaways" from appearing on DeGeneres' daytime talk show. Writing on Twitter, the pop star called her a "friend" and said she was sending her "love & a hug". She went on: "I think we all have witnessed the light & continual fight for equality that she has brought to the world through her platform for decades." Other celebrities to have backed DeGeneres include actors Diane Keaton and Ashton Kutcher.


SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT

8-8-20 How China's nature-based solutions help with extreme flooding
This year, record rainfall in China caused the Yangtze river to overflow, leading to serious damage. Southern China's rainy season lasted nearly twice as long this year. Record rainfall caused the country's longest river, the Yangtze, to overflow along the river's middle and lower regions. "A normal rainy season is about 24 days," said Xiquan Dong, an extreme weather expert at the University of Arizona. "This year we got 43." But so far, this year's flooding has not been as catastrophic as the fatal floods of 1998, leading some environmental experts to evaluate how nature-based mitigation strategies like tree planting and floodplain restoration have helped to ease the fallout. "[This year's] precipitation is much higher than the year of 1998, but the flooding has been less serious and damaging," said Junguo, chair professor in the School of Environmental Science and Engineering at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China. This year, about 158 people have been reported dead or missing so far, and more than 400,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, according to China's Ministry of Emergency Management. In contrast, the 1998 flood killed more than 3,000 people and left 15 million people homeless. The Chinese government attributed the 1998 floods to uncharacteristically heavy rains, as well as rampant deforestation and high population density along the Yangtze and its tributaries. Liu said the 1998 disaster caused the Chinese government to completely rethink flooding management. The new approach — rolled out in the 10 years after the 1998 flood as part of the National Climate Change Program — shifted the focus toward nature-based solutions for flood risk management. "Definitely this is a very important turning point for the Chinese government to think about the relation between human and nature," said Liu. For centuries, China's flood control strategy relied on levees built at the riverbank's edge to keep the water in narrow river channels, with people living and farming on the other side. With over 20,000 miles of levees, China has had one of the most extensive levee systems in the world. To reverse some of the damage done by an overburdened levee system, China launched some of the largest ecological restoration projects in the world, planting billions of trees to prevent runoff into rivers and absorb more water upstream. "The Chinese government initiated a lot of programs for the forestry restoration," said Liu. "So, when we plant more trees … upstream, this can reduce the runoff. And this is very helpful for the mitigation of flood events." While the tree-planting schemes have received some criticism for how they were executed, Liu says his studies show that depending on the context, upland tree planting can help reduce flooding by up to 30 percent. Additionally, the government's "sponge cities" project aims to increase green spaces and permeable pavement to absorb more rainwater in urban spaces prone to flooding.

8-8-20 MV Wakashio: Mauritius declares emergency as stranded ship leaks oil
The island nation of Mauritius has declared a "state of environmental emergency" after a vessel offshore began leaking oil into the ocean. MV Wakashio ran aground on a coral reef off the Indian Ocean island on 25 July and its crew was evacuated. But the large bulk carrier has since begun leaking tons of fuel into the surrounding waters. France has pledged support and the ship's owner said it was working to combat the spill. Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared the state of emergency late on Friday. He said the nation did not have "the skills and expertise to refloat stranded ships" as he appealed to France for help. The French island of Reunion lies near Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Mauritius is home to world-renowned coral reefs, and tourism is a crucial part of the nation's economy. "When biodiversity is in peril, there is urgency to act," French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted on Saturday. "France is there. Alongside the people of Mauritius. You can count on our support dear Jugnauth." In a separate statement, the French embassy in Mauritius said a military aircraft from Reunion would bring pollution control equipment to Mauritius. Happy Khambule of Greenpeace Africa said "thousands" of animal species were "at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius' economy, food security and health". The ship - owned by a Japanese company but registered in Panama - was empty when it ran aground, but had some 4,000 tonnes of fuel aboard. MV Wakashio is currently lying at Pointe d'Esny, in an area of wetlands near a marine park. In a statement, the ship's owner, Nagashiki Shipping, said that "due to the bad weather and constant pounding over the past few days, the starboard side bunker tank of the vessel has been breached and an amount of fuel oil has escaped into the sea".

8-8-20 Predictions for the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season just got worse
Two new forecasts now expect as many as 25 named storms, with nearly half becoming hurricanes. Chalk up one more way 2020 could be an especially stressful year: The Atlantic hurricane season now threatens to be even more severe than preseason forecasts predicted, and may be one of the busiest on record. With as many as 25 named storms now expected — twice the average number — 2020 is shaping up to be an “extremely active” season with more frequent, longer and stronger storms, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns. Wind patterns and warmer-than-normal seawater have conspired to prime the Atlantic Ocean for a particularly fitful year — although it is not yet clear whether climate change had a hand in creating such hurricane-friendly conditions. “Once the season ends, we’ll study it within the context of the overall climate record,” Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said during an Aug. 6 news teleconference. The 2020 hurricane season is already off to a rapid start, with a record-high nine named storms by early August, including two hurricanes. The average season, which runs June through November, sees two named storms by this time of year. “We are now entering the peak months of the Atlantic hurricane season, August through October,” National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini said in the news teleconference. “Given the activity we have seen so far this season, coupled with the ongoing challenges that communities face in light of COVID-19, now is the time to organize your family plan and make necessary preparations.” Storms get names once they have sustained wind speeds of at least 63 kilometers per hour. In April, forecasters predicted there would be 18 named storms, with half reaching hurricane status (SN: 4/16/20). Now, NOAA anticipates that 2020 could deliver a total of 19 to 25 named storms. That would put this year in league with 2005, which boasted over two dozen named storms including Hurricane Katrina (SN: 8/23/15).

8-7-20 Coronavirus severely restricts Antarctic science
The British Antarctic Survey is scaling back its research in the polar south because of coronavirus. Only essential teams will head back to the continent as it emerges from winter and virtually all science in the deep field has been postponed for a year. This includes all work on the huge, and rapidly melting, Thwaites Glacier, which has been the focus of a major joint study with the Americans. BAS says it doesn't have the capacity to treat people if they get sick. And in consultation with international partners this past week, very strict procedures will now be put in place to keep the virus out of Antarctica. "No nation has the medical facilities to deal with people who are seriously ill," explained BAS director Prof Dame Jane Francis. "Everybody is taking very strong precautionary measures to make sure that any activity in Antarctica this year is as safe as possible," she told BBC News. The key logistical challenge is the uncertainty surrounding air routes. Many of those who go to Antarctica each austral summer season do so by travelling on a plane to one of the main gateways - in South Africa, Australia/New Zealand and Chile - where they then make the hop across the Southern Ocean, either on a connecting flight or on a ship. But with air corridors so severely disrupted at the moment, the gateways aren't functioning as they should. UK scientists and technicians, and their supplies, will therefore travel direct from Britain to Antarctica on the Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross. It's possible some sort of air connection could eventually be established via the Falklands with a refuelling stop on Ascension Island - but this is not Plan A. With the limitations these arrangements impose, BAS has no alternative but to suspend the vast majority of its deep-field projects which send researchers into the interior of the continent to conduct their studies. The emphasis will instead be on maintaining important climate observations made at the main stations of Rothera and Halley.

8-7-20 Covid-19 lockdowns will have little lasting impact on global warming
Global lockdowns to halt the spread of the coronavirus will have a negligible impact on rising temperatures due to climate change, researchers have found. Lockdowns to stop the spread of the coronavirus caused huge falls in transport use, as well as reductions in industry and commercial operations, cutting the greenhouse gases and pollutants caused by vehicles and other activities. The impact is only short-lived, however, and analysis shows that even if some lockdown measures last until the end of 2021, global temperatures will only be 0.01°C lower than expected by 2030. But if countries choose a strong green stimulus route out of the pandemic, it could halve the temperature rises expected by 2050, says a team led by Piers Forster at the University of Leeds, UK. That gives the world a good chance of keeping temperature rises to the 1.5°C goal that countries signed up to under the international Paris climate agreement to prevent the most dangerous impacts of global warming. Forster started working on the analysis with his daughter Harriet after her A-level exams were cancelled due to school closures. They used mobility data from Google and Apple to calculate how 10 different greenhouse gases and pollutants changed between February and June in 123 countries, before a wider team helped with detailed analysis. The team also modelled options for post-lockdown action, ranging from a fossil-fuelled recovery to two different levels of green stimulus. Emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and other pollutants fell by between 10 and 30 per cent, the analysis said. But because the reduction was only temporary, the impact on warming driven by the long-term build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will be very small unless countries take action.

8-7-20 Emissions dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic. The climate impact won’t last
‘Green’ policies built into coronavirus recovery plans could leave a more permanent mark. To curb the spread of COVID-19, much of the globe hunkered down. That inactivity helped slow the spread of the virus and, as a side effect, kept some climate-warming gases out of the air. New estimates based on people’s movements suggest that global greenhouse gas emissions fell roughly 10 to 30 percent, on average, during April 2020 as people and businesses reduced activity. But those massive drops, even in a scenario in which the pandemic lasts through 2021, won’t have much of a lasting effect on climate change, unless countries incorporate “green” policy measures in their economic recovery packages, researchers report August 7 in Nature Climate Change. “The fall in emissions we experienced during COVID-19 is temporary, and therefore it will do nothing to slow down climate change,” says Corinne Le Quéré, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. But how governments respond could be “a turning point if they focus on a green recovery, helping to avoid severe impacts from climate change.” Carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for a long time, making month-to-month changes in CO2 levels difficult to measure as they happen. Instead, the researchers looked at what drives some of those emissions — people’s movements. Using anonymized cell phone mobility data released by Google and Apple, Le Quéré and colleagues tracked changes in energy-consuming activities, like driving or shopping, to estimate changes in 10 greenhouse gases and air pollutants. “Mobility data have big advantages” for estimating short-term changes in emissions, says Jenny Stavrakou, a climate scientist at the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy in Brussels who wasn’t involved in the study. Since those data are continuously updated, they can reveal daily changes in transportation emissions caused by lockdowns, she says. “It’s an innovative approach.”

8-7-20 Climate change: Lockdown has 'negligible' effect on temperatures
The dramatic drop in greenhouse gases and air pollutants seen during the global lockdown will have little impact on our warming planet say scientists. Their new analysis suggests that by 2030, global temperatures will only be 0.01C lower than expected. But the authors stress that the nature of the recovery could significantly alter the longer term outlook. A strong green stimulus could keep the world from exceeding 1.5C of warming by the middle of this century. Previous studies have already established that there were significant changes to greenhouse gas emissions as transport systems shut down around the world in response to the pandemic. Global daily emissions of CO2 fell by 17% at the peak of the crisis. The new study builds on these findings by using global mobility data from Google and Apple. Prof Piers Forster from the University of Leeds, who led the study, worked with his daughter Harriet on the research, when her A-Level exams were cancelled. With other researchers, they calculated how 10 different greenhouse gases and air pollutants changed between February and June 2020 in 123 countries. They found that the drop off peaked in April, with CO2, nitrogen oxides and other emissions falling between 10-30% globally, mainly due to declines in surface transport. But this new work shows that some of the declines in greenhouse gases actually cancelled each other out in terms of warming. Nitrogen oxides from transport normally have a warming impact in the atmosphere. While they went down by 30%, they were matched by a drop in sulphur dioxide, which mainly comes from the burning of coal. Emissions of this gas help aerosols to form, which reflect sunlight back into space and cool the planet. This balancing out, combined with the temporary nature of the pandemic restrictions, mean the impact on warming by 2030 will hardly be felt.

8-7-20 Mont Blanc: Glacier collapse risk forces Italy Alps evacuation
Italian authorities have evacuated about 75 people, mostly tourists, from an Alpine valley as huge blocks of ice threaten to crash down from a glacier. Planpincieux glacier, in the Mont Blanc massif, has weakened because of intense summer heat alternating with night-time cold. It lies above Val Ferret valley, near Courmayeur ski resort. A local environmental risk expert said the fragile ice could fall at any time. The threatening glacier section is about the size of Milan cathedral. The risk manager, Valerio Segor, said "the water flowing underneath can, in fact, act as a slide" and they faced "the risk of immediate collapse". The fragile 500,000 cubic metres (18m cu ft) of glacier is being monitored with aerial photography and radar. Roads leading to Val Ferret, a popular area for hikers, have been closed off. A similar alert and evacuation took place last September, because of the unusually hot Alpine summer, attributed to global warming. The glacier is at a height of 2,600-2,800 metres (8,500-9,200 ft). The Mont Blanc massif is the highest mountain in western Europe, at over 4,800m. A Courmayeur official, Moreno Vignolini, said the heatwave had accelerated the glacier's melting rate, pushing it as high as 50-60cm (16-23in) a day.

8-7-20 Climate change: UK peat emissions could cancel forest benefits
Emissions from UK peatland could cancel out all carbon reduction achieved through new and existing forests, warns the countryside charity CPRE. It says many degraded peatlands are actually increasing carbon emissions. Yet, it says, there has been much more focus from the government and media on forests than on peat bogs. The government’s advisory committee on climate change told BBC News that it agreed with the conclusions of the analysis. Both that committee and the CPRE are urging more ambitious action to protect and enhance peatlands. A peat bog is a Jekyll and Hyde thing. A wet, pristine peat bog soaks up CO2 and, unlike trees, has no limit to the amount of carbon it captures. Trees only capture CO2 until they are mature. But a dry, degraded bog – like many in England’s uplands – is a big source of CO2 as the carbon in the bog oxidises. So restoring bogs by filling up drainage ditches is a highly cost-effective way of reducing emissions. The CPRE points out that around 18.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions come from peatlands every year in the UK. The same amount of emissions would be captured through existing and proposed forest. But crucially that is not before 2050 to 2055 when the trees will be fully grown. In other words, whilst forestry and peat restoration both need to be done, the best value lies with improving peat. Ministers aim to publish a peat strategy, but this has been delayed. A government response to the CPRE’s warning has been requested. Environmentalists insist the government strategy must ban peat extraction for gardens. Currently, suppliers are supposed to be phasing out peat voluntarily – but campaigners say it's far too slow. Tom Fyans from CPRE said: ‘The government has paid too little attention to emissions from peatland. As things stand, they aren’t even properly included in current emissions monitoring. “This seriously threatens the effectiveness of other nature-based solutions, like tree planting, in tackling the climate emergency.

8-7-20 How covid-19 spawned a plastic pandemic – and what we can do about it
It looked as if the tide had turned against single-use plastic last year, with the European Union approving a ban on cutlery, straws and more, New York backing a plastic bag ban and consumer pressure continuing to grow. Then the coronavirus hit. Hygiene fears and the demand for masks have unleashed a plastic pollution pandemic, while industry lobbyists are pushing to roll back restrictions. It hasn’t been long enough for there to be official data on plastic waste and recycling rates, but there is no shortage of estimates and anecdotes. Every person in the UK using one single-use mask a day for a year would create 66,000 tonnes of plastic waste according to one estimate by a University College London team. New Scientist readers have reported masks dumped on beaches, streets, harbours and the countryside. Meanwhile, large parts of the retail and hospitality industry have suspended efforts to cut plastic use. Many coffee chains have stopped accepting reusable cups, pubs in the UK are only serving drinks in plastic, not glass, and petrol station pumps have been equipped with single-use plastic gloves. Online supermarkets have stopped collecting and recycling plastic bags. The list goes on. “Members of the public can help by using reusable face masks, and disposing of any single-use masks and gloves carefully, to avoid adding to the plastic pollution that already clogs up our rivers and seas,” says Louise Edge at Greenpeace UK. Governments and local authorities are also going backwards. California dropped its ban on single-use plastic bags for several months, although it has since reinstated it. Other places in the US, from Denver to Minneapolis have delayed bag bans or fees or lifted existing ones. Italy postponed a plastics tax on bottles, bags and more until 2021. A Norway-backed effort to establish an international treaty on marine plastic pollution has indefinitely postponed its meetings because of covid-19.

8-6-20 Bizarre fossil with an incredibly long neck was a marine hunter
A baffling extinct animal was actually a marine reptile that may have used its extremely long neck to ambush prey. Fossils of Tanystropheus were identified over 100 years ago, but the animal’s true nature has long been a mystery. It lived around 242 million years ago, in the Triassic period. Life on Earth was still recovering from the end-Permian mass extinction of 252 million years ago, and the first dinosaurs were emerging. Tanystropheus was a reptile. Its most striking feature was its disproportionately long neck, which was three times the length of its body. Fossil remains of it fell into two groups: large specimens up to 6 metres long and small ones up to 1.5m. But questions remained. “Is it terrestrial or is it marine? Are those juveniles and adults, or are they two different species?” says Olivier Rieppel of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. His team re-examined a skull from a large specimen. The skull had been crushed, but the individual bones were undamaged. So the team was able to CT scan them and digitally reposition them to reconstruct the skull, revealing crucial anatomical details. The skull is unmistakably that of a marine animal, says Rieppel. For instance, its nostrils are on the top of the snout, to allow it to breathe when it surfaced. “Biomechanically, that neck doesn’t make sense on land.” Meanwhile, the bones of the smaller fossils showed multiple growth rings, indicating they belonged to adults, not juveniles. This means the large and small fossils are actually different species, not adults and juveniles of the same species, says Rieppel. The two species were able to coexist in the same waters because they ate different foods. The large species ate fish and cephalopods like squid, while the smaller one probably ate tiny invertebrates like shrimp.

8-5-20 Covid-19 news: NHS unable to use 50 million masks due to safety fears
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Safety issue means 50 million medical face masks won’t be used by NHS England workers. 50 million medical face masks purchased by the government in April won’t be used by NHS England due to safety concerns, according to legal papers seen by the BBC. The masks use ear-loop fastenings rather than loops that go around the head, so may not fit tightly enough. Alan Murray, chief executive of the British Safety Industry Federation told the BBC: “The face fit is either a pass or a fail and there are more fails on products with ear loops than there are on products with head harnesses.” The FFP2 respirator masks were bought as part of a £252 million contract from supplier Ayanda Capital. It isn’t clear what will happen to the masks. Facebook removed a video posted by US president Donald Trump on Wednesday because it violated their covid-19 misinformation policy. Twitter later suspended Trump’s election campaign account, @TweetTrump, for posting the same video, which featured Trump making false claims about children’s susceptibility to the coronavirus. A spokesperson for Twitter on Wednesday said “the account owner will be required to remove the Tweet before they can Tweet again.” Trump repeated the false claims during a press briefing yesterday. Belgium is expected to be added to England’s coronavirus quarantine list this weekend, meaning travellers arriving from Belgium will be required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Belgium is one of a number of European countries that has seen a resurgence of the virus, with an average of 535.4 people per day testing positive for the virus between 26 July and 1 August, according to health officials. People arriving in Germany from certain high risk areas abroad will be required to take a coronavirus test, unless they are able to produce a negative test certificate that is no more than two days old, Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn announced today.

8-5-20 Climate change: Satellites find new colonies of Emperor penguins
Satellite observations have found a raft of new Emperor penguin breeding sites in the Antarctic. The locations were identified from the way the birds' poo, or guano, had stained large patches of sea-ice. The discovery lifts the global Emperor population by 5-10%, to perhaps as many as 278,500 breeding pairs. It's a welcome development given that this iconic species is likely to come under severe pressure this century as the White Continent warms. The Emperors' whole life cycle is centred around the availability of sea-ice, and if this is diminished in the decades ahead - as the climate models project - then the animals' numbers will be hit hard. One forecast suggested the global population could crash by a half or more under certain conditions come 2100. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) used the EU's Sentinel-2 spacecraft to scour the edge of the continent for previously unrecognised Emperor activity. The satellites' infrared imagery threw up eight such breeding sites and confirmed the existence of three others that had been mooted in the era before high-resolution space pictures. The new identifications take the number of known active breeding sites from 50 to 61. Two of the new locations are in the Antarctic Peninsula region, three are in the West of the continent and six in the East. They are all in gaps between existing colonies. Emperor groups, it seems, like to keep at least 100km between themselves. The new sites maintain this distancing discipline. It's impossible to count individual penguins from orbit but the BAS researchers can estimate numbers in colonies from the size of the birds' huddles. "It's good news because there are now more penguins than we thought," said BAS remote-sensing specialist Dr Peter Fretwell. "But this story comes with a strong caveat because the newly discovered sites are not in what we call the refugia - areas with stable sea-ice, such as in the Weddell Sea and the Ross Sea. They are all in more northerly, vulnerable locations that will likely lose their sea-ice," he told BBC News.

8-5-20 Penguin poop spotted from space ups the tally of emperor penguin colonies
Eight new spots include the first reported offshore breeding sites for the largest penguins. Patches of penguin poop spotted in new high-resolution satellite images of Antarctica reveal a handful of small, previously overlooked emperor penguin colonies. Eight new colonies, plus three newly confirmed, brings the total to 61 — about 20 percent more colonies than thought, researchers report August 5 in Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation. That’s the good news, says Peter Fretwell, a geographer at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, England. The bad news, he says, is that the new colonies tend to be in regions highly vulnerable to climate change, including a few out on the sea ice. One newly discovered group lives about 180 kilometers from shore, on sea ice ringing a shoaled iceberg. The study is the first to describe such offshore breeding sites for the penguins. Penguin guano shows up as a reddish-brown stain against white snow and ice (SN: 3/2/18). Before 2016, Fretwell and BAS penguin biologist Phil Trathan hunted for the telltale stains in images from NASA’s Landsat satellites, which have a resolution of 30 meters by 30 meters. The launch of the European Space Agency’s Sentinel satellites, with a much finer resolution of 10 meters by 10 meters, “makes us able to see things in much greater detail, and pick out much smaller things,” such as tinier patches of guano representing smaller colonies, Fretwell says. The new colony tally therefore ups the estimated emperor penguin population by only about 10 percent at most, or 55,000 birds. Unlike other penguins, emperors (Aptenodytes forsteri) live their entire lives at sea, foraging and breeding on the sea ice. That increases their vulnerability to future warming: Even moderate greenhouse gas emissions scenarios are projected to melt much of the fringing ice around Antarctica (SN: 4/30/20). Previous work has suggested this ice loss could decrease emperor penguin populations by about 31 percent over the next 60 years, an assessment that is shifting the birds’ conservation status from near threatened to vulnerable.

8-5-20 50 years ago, Mauna Kea opened for astronomy. Controversy continues
Excerpt from the August 1, 1970 issue of Science News. The new Mauna Kea Observatory of the University of Hawaii has been completed and dedication ceremonies have been held. Standing at an altitude of 13,780 feet on the island of Hawaii, the new observatory is the highest in the world. Its major instrument is an 88-inch reflecting telescope that cost $3 million to build. More than a dozen large telescopes now dot Mauna Kea, operated by a variety of organizations. Those telescopes have revolutionized astronomy, helping to reveal the accelerating expansion of the universe and evidence for the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. But the telescopes have long sparked controversy, as the dormant volcano is sacred to Native Hawaiians. Since 2014, protests have flared in response to the attempted construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Opponents have kept progress stalled by blocking the only access road to the site. Some scientists have spoken out against the telescope’s location. The Thirty Meter Telescope collaboration is considering the Canary Islands as a backup site.

8-3-20 Apple Fire: Massive California wildfire forces evacuations
Fire crews in California are battling a massive wildfire that has forced thousands of people from their homes east of Los Angeles. More than 1,300 firefighters, backed by helicopters and water-dumping planes, have been tackling the blaze dubbed the Apple Fire which started on Friday. Parts of the fire are on steep, rugged hillsides, making it hard for fire engines to reach. Around 7,800 residents have been told to evacuate the area. Images show flumes of smoke filling the sky over the mountainous region. In a tweet, the National Weather Service said some smoke had blown east to Phoenix, Arizona - nearly 300 miles (482km) away. The wildfire began as two adjacent blazes in Cherry Valley, an area near the city of Beaumont. It has since stretched out to 20,516 acres (8,302 hectares), San Bernadino National Forest said in a tweet on Sunday. The government body said the blaze had been fuelled by high temperatures, low humidity and dry vegetation in the area. The US Forest Service told the Riverside Press-Enterprise, a local newspaper, that because the fire was on rugged terrain, it was dangerous for firefighters to try and surround it. "We don't want to put fire-fighters in a dangerous situation," said spokesperson Lisa Cox. "It's burning in a straight line up a mountain."

8-3-20 Apple Fire: Firefighters battle massive blaze in California
Fire crews in California are fighting a massive wildfire that has forced thousands of people from their homes east of Los Angeles. More than 1,300 firefighters, backed by helicopters and water-dumping planes, have been tackling the blaze dubbed the Apple Fire which started on Friday.

8-2-20 In pictures: Europe swelters under near-record temperatures
Much of Europe has been basking in a mini-heat wave since Friday, and countries like the UK, France and Spain have experienced near-record temperatures. But with lockdowns and social distancing measures in place across the continent, this is a summer like no other.

8-2-20 Amazon region: Brazil records big increase in fires
Official figures from Brazil have shown a big increase in the number of fires in the Amazon region in July compared with the same month last year. Satellite images compiled by Brazil's National Space Agency revealed there were 6,803 - a rise of 28%. President Jair Bolsonaro has encouraged agricultural and mining activities in the Amazon. But under pressure from international investors in early July his government banned starting fires in the region. The latest figures raise concerns about a repeat of the huge wildfires that shocked the world in August and September last year. "It's a terrible sign," Ane Alencar, science director at Brazil's Amazon Environmental Research Institute, was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency. "We can expect that August will already be a difficult month and September will be worse yet." Mr Bolsonaro has criticised Brazil's environmental enforcement agency, Ibama, for what he describes as excessive fines, and his first year in office saw a sharp drop in financial penalties being imposed for environmental violations. The agency remains underfunded and understaffed.

8-2-20 Tropical Storm Isaias nears coronavirus-hit Florida
Florida is preparing for Tropical Storm Isaias which is expected to hit the US state later on Sunday. Isaias, the ninth named storm of 2020, was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm after battering the Turks & Caicos Islands and the Bahamas. "Don't be fooled by the downgrade," Governor Ron DeSantis warned residents. State authorities have opened shelters and closed beaches and parks. Florida is one of the US states worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic. It has recorded more than 480,000 coronavirus cases, the second highest number of all US states after California, which has double the population. Coronavirus testing centres are being temporarily shut and there are fears the hurricane could hit nursing homes already badly affected by the Covid-19 virus. Early bands of heavy rain lashed the state's Atlantic coast early on Sunday morning. The storm is now continuing along the coast with winds gusting up to 110km/hour (68mph). A voluntary evacuation order is in place for people living in mobile or manufactured homes. Officials are grappling with opening shelters that comply with social distancing regulations and prevent the spread of the virus. Mr De Santis told residents to anticipate power shortages and to have a week's supply of food, water and medicine. Isaias has already uprooted trees, destroyed crops and homes and caused flooding and landslides in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. At least two people have died.


SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS

8-7-20 One in Three Americans Would Not Get COVID-19 Vaccine
But many Americans appear reluctant to be vaccinated, even if a vaccine were FDA-approved and available to them at no cost. Asked if they would get such a COVID-19 vaccine, 65% say they would, but 35% would not. (Webmaster's comment: Those that don't vaccinate will deserve what they get!) The coronavirus' toll on the lives of people around the world continues to grow, with over 18 million confirmed cases and more than 700,000 deaths, including upwards of 150,000 of those in the United States. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently testified before Congress that he continues to be confident that a coronavirus vaccine will be ready by early 2021. With more indications that a vaccine could be close, the next question for health professionals, policymakers and political leaders will be Americans' willingness to be vaccinated once a vaccine is ready.

  • 35% of Americans would not get free, FDA-approved vaccine if ready today
  • Republicans less inclined than Democrats to be vaccinated
  • Four in 10 non-White Americans would not get vaccine

8-7-20 Rogue immune system reactions hint at an early treatment for COVID-19
Giving drugs called interferons early in the disease may help prevent later immune overreactions. In severe cases of COVID-19, a person’s immune system throws everything it has at the coronavirus, but some of the weapons it lobs end up hurting the patient instead of fighting the virus. Now researchers have new clues for getting the immune system back on target, before the disease becomes severe. One of the most comprehensive looks to date at the immune system of COVID-19 patients pinpoints where things go awry. The findings suggest that bolstering the body’s first line of defense against the virus using drugs known as interferons may help prevent severe illness. In a study of 113 patients admitted to Yale New Haven Hospital from May 18 to May 27, researchers monitored immune system chemicals and cells in two groups: severely ill COVID-19 patients who needed intensive care and moderately ill patients who were hospitalized but didn’t end up in the ICU. For comparison, the team also looked at healthy health-care workers. This study characterized the nuances of the immune response and “characterizes the inflammation at its nittiest, grittiest level,” says Michal Tal, an immunologist at Stanford University who was not involved in the study. Moderately ill patients had an initial spurt of immune chemicals that fight viruses and fungi, then those levels gradually went back to normal, Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University, and colleagues found.But in the severely ill patients, levels of those chemicals remained high, the researchers report July 27 in Nature. In addition, allergy-producing antibodies and immune chemicals and cells usually dedicated to expelling parasitic worms got enlisted against the virus. As in other studies, the severely ill patients also had low levels of T cells, immune cells involved in recognizing and killing viruses.

8-7-20 Obesity may cause cancer simply because larger organs have more cells
CT scans of 750 individuals show that people who are obese have larger organs and thus more cells. This could explain why people who are obese have a higher risk of many kinds of cancers. “While obesity is a complex disease that may affect cancer risk in several other ways, the increase in the size of an organ, and in the number of its cells, must increase the risk of cancer in that organ,” states the team, which is led by Cristian Tomasetti at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Others say the idea is plausible, but far from proven. Obesity is one of the biggest risk factors for cancer after smoking. Around a fifth of all cancer cases worldwide are due to obesity, according to some estimates. Numerous different mechanisms are being explored, but why obesity increases the risk of certain cancer types, such as those of the kidney, remains unclear. What we do know is that cancers are caused by mutations that disable the mechanisms that control cell growth. In theory, then, the more cells in any particular organ, the greater the risk of some of those cells becoming cancerous. Tomasetti and his colleagues used CT scans to measure the volume of the kidneys, pancreas and liver in 750 people. The team found that for every 5-point increase in body mass index (BMI), the volumes of kidneys, liver, and pancreas increase by 11 per cent. People with a BMI of around 50 have organs that are between 50 and 100 per cent larger than people with a healthy BMI. “The effect is very large and unexpected, with severely obese patients having organs that can be double than normal in volume,” the study states. Only a very small fraction of these increases are due to an increase in the volume or number of fat cells in these organs, the study says, meaning the increases are mainly due to larger numbers of normal cells.

8-6-20 Coronavirus: How does a Covid-19 pandemic come to an end?
The pandemic officially started when the World Health Organization declared it in March 2020, but how will it come to an end? There are several scenarios which could lead to the pandemic being declared over. BBC Africa's Saidata Sesay explains how this could happen.

8-6-20 How tuataras live so long and can withstand cool weather
Scientists have finally deciphered the rare reptiles’ genome, or genetic instruction book. Tuataras may look like your average lizard, but they’re not. The reptiles are the last survivors of an ancient group of reptiles that flourished when dinosaurs roamed the world. Native to New Zealand, tuataras possess a range of remarkable abilities, including a century-long life span, relative imperviousness to many infectious diseases and peak physical activity at shockingly low temperatures for a reptile. Now, scientists are figuring out how, thanks to the first-ever deciphering, or sequencing, of the tuatara’s genetic instruction book. The research reveals insights into not only the creature’s evolutionary relationship with other living reptiles but also tuataras’ longevity and their ability to withstand cool weather, researchers report August 5 in Nature. Technically, tuataras (Sphenodon punctatus) are rhynchocephalians, an order of reptiles that were once widespread during the Mesozoic Era, 66 million to 252 million years ago. But their diversity waned over millions of years, leaving tuataras as the last of their line (SN: 10/13/03). The reptiles have long been of scientific interest because of their unclear evolutionary relationship with other reptiles, as they share traits with lizards and turtles as well as birds. Tuataras were once found throughout New Zealand, but now survive in the wild mainly on offshore islands and are considered a vulnerable species. The reptiles have suffered from habitat loss and invasive species such as rats, and are especially imperiled by a warming climate (SN: 7/3/08). This peril — combined with the tuatara’s cherished status as a taonga, or special treasure, to the Indigenous Maori people — led researchers to prioritize compiling the reptile’s genome, or genetic instruction book.

8-6-20 Fruit flies have special neurons that sense the wind to aid navigation
Specific neurons in fruit flies fire according to wind direction, helping them form a neural map of their surroundings. Algorithms inspired by this may be able to help robots to better navigate their environment. DTatsuo Okubo at Harvard Medical School, US, and his colleagues wanted to determine how wind direction was characterised by a fruit fly’s brain. While it is well known that wind direction affects the behaviour of insects, no one had yet developed a map of the neurons involved in this phenomenon for any animal. The researchers were initially only looking for neurons which corresponded to antennae. “We then found these beautiful ring-shaped neurons that were next to neurons that affect the head direction,” says Okubo. The team recorded the firing rate of these ring neurons in a live fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster), as they changed the wind direction of its surroundings. The experiments were done in the dark to remove the impact of any visual stimuli. They found that different wind-sensitive neurons had different preferences for wind direction, firing more if the wind blew from their preferred direction. This led to a fluctuating firing pattern in the overall population of neurons which corresponded to wind direction. Moreover, when these neurons were silenced, the fly’s head direction cells responded as if there was no wind at all, suggesting that wind information has a direct influence in the direction a fruit fly faces. It is unclear whether humans also have such neurons. “Humans can definitely use wind for long range navigation like pathfinding, but exactly how they sense it or how that feeds into a navigational circuit – it’s still an open question,” says Okubo. He also says these findings could give the one day be used to give robots an additional method of navigation. “It could lead to a more robust navigation when visual cues are not available,” says Okubo.

8-5-20 The real reasons miscarriage exists – and why it's so misunderstood
New research reveals that miscarriage serves a critical role in human evolution – and in some instances, may even be associated with optimal fertility. WHEN I saw the positive result on my at-home pregnancy test, my mind raced ahead. I imagined how it would feel to hold my child for the first time, what we would call them. I thought of the bedtime stories we would read, pictured family camping holidays at the beach. I never imagined that, just weeks later, while dancing at a friend’s wedding, a sharp twisting pain would signal that the pregnancy was over. Like many women who have a miscarriage, I worried I had done something to trigger the loss. Had I exercised too hard? Slept too little? Around the world, studies show that many women experience shame and guilt after losing a pregnancy. One US survey found that 40 per cent of women who had a miscarriage believed it was because of something they did wrong. Though there is no evidence covid-19 increases miscarriage risk, the pandemic only exacerbates these worries. Society can add to the problem. In some countries, the culture of blame is so widespread that losing a pregnancy can land a woman in jail. When I looked into the latest research, what I discovered not only challenged ideas that women are somehow responsible for their miscarriages, or experience them because something is wrong, but suggested that, surprisingly, they are usually associated with optimal maternal health. With advances in fertility medicine, we are finally starting to understand what happens in a miscarriage. This progress may offer solace when pregnancies don’t work out and help women struggling to become pregnant. It could even shed light on the role of miscarriage in our evolution. Until a few decades ago, even medical professionals had little understanding of how often miscarriages occur. The first hint came in 1975, when The Lancet ran a paper titled, “Where have all the conceptions gone?” The authors calculated how many babies you would expect to be born annually to married women in their 20s in England and Wales, and found the true figure was a staggering 78 per cent lower. They proposed the radical idea that most pregnancies are naturally terminated before women know they are pregnant, and that miscarriage is our “principal method of quality control”, but had no way of proving it.

8-5-20 Forget about blame with miscarriage: its function is entirely natural
FOR more than a century, medical researchers have known that miscarriage is rarely preventable and is instead usually due to chromosomal abnormalities in an embryo. In recent decades, it has also become clear that miscarriage is very common: as many as one in five known pregnancies ends this way. That figure goes up as we get ever better at detecting pregnancy from its very first stages. It is now estimated that, among women in their early 20s, half of pregnancies end in miscarriage. This proportion rises with age. No small effort has been made by medical organisations and advocacy groups to raise awareness and improve education around early pregnancy, but the notion that miscarriage is rare – or is somehow the woman’s fault – still widely persists. Not only do surveys consistently show that many women blame themselves for a pregnancy loss, but some societies heap blame upon them as well. That only exacerbates the intense grief and trauma that women and their partners can feel after a pregnancy loss. However, conveying to women – let alone society more broadly – how misplaced this notion of blame truly is hasn’t been easy, or straightforward. That is partly because, until recently, studying the very earliest stages of pregnancy, to better understand what is happening down at the molecular level, was physically complicated and ethically fraught. Now, thanks to advances in fertility medicine, we are getting a more detailed understanding of how a developing embryo sends and responds to signals from the lining of the uterus, as well as learning more about the intensive vetting process that each embryo must go through (see “The real reasons miscarriage exists – and why it’s so misunderstood”). These insights reveal that miscarriage has actually served a fundamental role in our evolution – and even indicate that, surprisingly, women who experience multiple miscarriages may actually have optimal maternal fitness. This revolution in our understanding of miscarriage has implications for the options available not only for those people trying to conceive, but also those coping with a loss.

8-5-20 A radical new theory rewrites the story of how life on Earth began
It has long been thought that the ingredients for life came together slowly, bit by bit. Now there is evidence it all happened at once in a chemical big bang. WHEN Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago, it was a sterile ball of rock, slammed by meteorites and carpeted with erupting volcanoes. Within a billion years, it had become inhabited by microorganisms. Today, life covers every centimetre of the planet, from the highest mountains to the deepest sea. Yet, every other planet in the solar system seems lifeless. What happened on our young planet? How did its barren rocks, sands and chemicals give rise to life? Many ideas have been proposed to explain how it began. Most are based on the assumption that cells are too complex to have formed all at once, so life must have started with just one component that survived and somehow created the others around it. When put into practice in the lab, however, these ideas don’t produce anything particularly lifelike. It is, some researchers are starting to realise, like trying to build a car by making a chassis and hoping wheels and an engine will spontaneously appear. The alternative – that life emerged fully formed – seems even more unlikely. Yet perhaps astoundingly, two lines of evidence are converging to suggest that this is exactly what happened. It turns out that all the key molecules of life can form from the same simple carbon-based chemistry. What’s more, they easily combine to make startlingly lifelike “protocells”. As well as explaining how life began, this “everything-first” idea of life’s origins also has implications for where it got started – and the most likely locations for extraterrestrial life, too. The problem with understanding the origin of life is that we don’t know what the first life was like. The oldest accepted fossils are 3.5 billion years old, but they don’t help much. They are found in ancient rock formations in Western Australia known as stromatolites and are single-celled microorganisms like modern bacteria. These are relatively complex: even the simplest modern bacteria have more than 100 genes. The first organisms must have been simpler. Viruses have fewer genes, but can reproduce only by infecting cells and taking them over, so can’t have come first.

8-5-20 Covid-19 news: UK border rules ‘accelerated’ pandemic, say MPs
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. UK should have introduced tighter border controls early in the pandemic, say MPs. Linda Bauld, a public health researcher at the University of Edinburgh, UK says that “a key public health measure to contain the spread of infectious diseases is travel restrictions,” adding that measures at the border are essential and some countries, such as Vietnam and Singapore, implemented these very early on. The UK, in contrast, “acted too late,” says Bauld. The city of Aberdeen in Scotland has been put under a local lockdown in response to a coronavirus outbreak linked to a pub. Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon today confirmed that 54 cases have been linked to the new cluster. All pubs, bars and restaurants in Aberdeen will be required to close from 5 pm today. Australia today recorded its highest number of daily new cases since the start of the pandemic, with 739 new cases confirmed by officials, 725 of which were in the state of Victoria. 12 of the country’s new cases were recorded in New South Wales, which has introduced new quarantine rules for residents returning from Victoria. Authorities in North Korea have quarantined more than 3635 primary and secondary contacts of a man with suspected coronavirus, according to a World Health Organization official, although his test results were inconclusive. Most people in the UK said they would cancel a holiday if they were required to wear a mask in public on the trip or to quarantine on their return, according to a YouGov survey. The survey found that 65 per cent of respondents said they would cancel their trip if masks were mandatory at all times and 70 per cent said they would cancel if they had to quarantine when they got back to the UK.

8-5-20 What Hiroshima teaches us about coronavirus and the future of humanity
The nuclear bomb told us we are the greatest threat to our own survival – and the covid-19 pandemic shows the lessons still to learn, say Anders Sandberg and Thomas Moynihan. ON 6 AUGUST 1945, a nuclear bomb was dropped on the Japanese port city of Hiroshima. Three days later, Nagasaki suffered the same fate. Three-quarters of a century on, the full human toll is still unclear. In Hiroshima alone, some 75,000 souls were obliterated instantly, with many more deaths in the following months and years. These are the only times nuclear weapons have been used in war; debates about the rights and wrongs continue. As we remember those who died, we might also usefully cast a wider view: on what the bombings meant for humanity, for our relationship with technology and for our perception of what we now call existential risks, those that threaten to irrecoverably damage our potential or extinguish us as a species. Doing so can inform our response to dangers we are confronted with today. Whether it is the covid-19 pandemic, climate change or the emergence of new technologies such as artificial general intelligence, we are faced with threats that are, in their own way, just as great as the nuclear bomb – but also subtly different. Hiroshima was the start of a long, continuing learning process of understanding them. Humans have probably talked about the end of the world for as long as we have talked. It is a common part of mythology, giving a sense of structure to history: there was a beginning, we live in the middle and there will be an end. But existential risks were, by and large, not practical matters, except to a few millenarian cults. With the development of science came various realisations. The past was far, far vaster than we knew. There had been a time before humanity. Humanity was a species among others – and species could go extinct. Cosmic disasters, from asteroid impacts to supernovae, were real. Eventually, the universe’s energy might run out, dooming it to heat death.

8-5-20 Nutrition memes forget that there is no such thing as a 'healthy food'
Shareable online graphics give easy to understand breakdowns of the nutritional content of food, but they may be misleading, says James Wong. LET’S face it, nutritional data isn’t the most fascinating, so it can be really helpful when food writers delve through the dry tables of stats to translate them into easy-to-understand messages. One of the most popular formats are eye-catching memes based on simple two food comparisons. These appear on my social media timelines at least half a dozen times a week. Are they accurate? “Do you really need meat to get protein?” asks one image that recently crossed my social media feed. It shows two forks, one holding a piece of lean steak and the other an equal-sized piece of broccoli. In accompanying text, beef was listed as containing a meagre 6.4 grams of protein per 100 calories, compared with broccoli’s whopping 11.1 grams. Food data tables usually measure nutrient levels per serving or per 100 grams, not per calorie. This matters because broccoli is far lower in calories than steak. By using this metric, the meme is actually comparing the nutritional content of more than three servings of broccoli (285 grams) with less than a third of the typical serving of steak (55 grams). Not exactly the fork-by-fork comparison it suggests. According to the US Department of Agriculture, even per 100 calories, steak has more than twice the protein of broccoli, containing more than 15 grams of protein versus just less than 7 grams. So does the stat in the meme stand up? It is hard to tell on social media alone as it references an online article that is no longer functioning. However, there may be a simple explanation. While the image shows a steak vs broccoli comparison, the text refers to beef in general. Different cuts of beef have different fat-to-protein ratios and therefore different protein values. Also, as fat has about twice the calories of protein, picking fattier cuts distorts the “per 100 calorie” metric to give you even lower protein values. Bottom line? The meme is at best misleading, at worst based on questionable stats.

8-5-20 Deep-sea microbes survive on less energy than we thought possible
Deep-sea microbes can survive on less energy than previously thought necessary for any living thing, potentially changing the definition of life as we know it. “[This] broadens the range of environments we might consider plausible to search for life,” says James Bradley at Queen Mary University of London. Bradley and his colleagues used data from sediment samples collected from beneath the sea floor to determine the rate of energy use by the microorganisms that live there. Using a model that considered various aspects of the habitat, including the rate at which organic carbon is degraded, the availability of oxygen and the number of microorganisms present, Bradley and his team calculated the rate of energy use per microbial cell. They found that this value was 100 times lower than that previously thought to be the limit for life. A few cells survived on less than a zeptowatt of power, or 10^-21 watts. Scientists have previously estimated the lower energy limit for life by growing microorganisms in the laboratory and then starving them of nutrients to determine the limit for survival. But Bradley says that while these experiments provide important insights, they don’t fully represent the range of natural environments that microorganisms inhabit in the real world, including the unique environment beneath the sea floor. Because of their extremely low rate of energy consumption, the microbes – mainly bacteria and archaea – can survive buried for millions of years. “[This shows] that you need less energy to sustain life over long time scales and that increases the possibility of places which we can go to search for life on other planets,” says Bradley. There may once have been abundant liquid water on the surface of Mars. If there was life there at the time, then these new findings raise the possibility that there could be remnants of that life subsisting, waiting for the environment to become habitable again, says Bradley.

8-5-20 How to hug people in a coronavirus-stricken world
Hugging has benefits for our health that might make it worth doing despite coronavirus risks – here’s how to reduce the chance you’ll pass on the virus. IF THE pandemic has left you craving a cuddle, you aren’t alone. Some 60 per cent of people in the US reported feeling touch-deprived during the first month of lockdown, suggests a new study, even though only a fifth of those surveyed lived alone. Tiffany Field at the University of Miami in Florida and her colleagues surveyed 260 adults and found that those reporting touch deprivation scored higher on scales measuring anxiety, depression, fatigue, sleep issues and post-traumatic stress. Touch deprivation was more common in people living alone, but also affected those living with family or friends. “Only 33 per cent of people said they were touching their partner a lot, and as many as 37 per cent said they weren’t touching them at all,” says Field (Medical Research Archives, in press). A separate study of more than 1000 US adults found that those who frequently hugged, kissed or met up with friends and family in lockdown were 26 per cent less likely to report symptoms of depression and 28 per cent less likely to report loneliness, regardless of whether they were married or cohabiting. Regular video chats didn’t show the same benefits (medRxiv, doi.org/d5hf). “We saw stronger mental health benefits from types of contact that involved touch, which aligns well with the benefits we know come from close touching, like decreased heart rate, higher levels of oxytocin and lower levels of cortisol,” says Molly Rosenberg at the Indiana School of Public Health in Bloomington, who led the work. Given these benefits, is a quick hug out of the question? Rosenberg stresses the importance of limiting contact with non-household members to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and most governments continue to advise people to maintain a distance of at least 1 metre from others.

8-4-20 WHO urges caution over Russian vaccine claims
Russia has said it wants to hold a mass vaccination campaign by mid-October. WHO says only six vaccines are officially on final phase testing - and Russia's is not one. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warns the world faces a "general catastrophe" due to school closures caused by the pandemic. India reports 803 deaths and more than 50,000 new cases, the highest total in any country on Monday. The US - which has the highest total cases and deaths in the world - has recorded 47,576 new cases and 469 deaths in the last day, the CDC said. Australia is imposing strict on-the-spot fines of $5,000 (£2,725) for people who ignore orders to self-isolate. Current testing and tracing may not Tens of millions of people in the Philippines are back in lockdown after warnings of a surge. There are now more than 18m confirmed cases across the world, and 693,000 deaths

8-4-20 Skeletons reveal wealth gap in Europe began to open 6600 years ago
A wealth gap may have existed far earlier than we thought, providing insight into the lives of some of Europe’s earliest farmers. Chelsea Budd at Umeå University in Sweden and her colleagues analysed the 6600-year-old grave sites of the Oslonki community in Poland, to try to determine whether wealth inequality existed in these ancient societies. The team first found that a quarter of the population was buried with expensive copper beads, pendants and headbands. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that these people were richer during their lifetimes. “The items could simply have been a performance by the surviving family members,” says Budd. “It could be used to mitigate the processes surrounding death or even to promote their own social status.” Budd and her colleagues therefore analysed the carbon and nitrogen isotopes in bones from the graves, which can give an insight into the quality of diet during life. “The human skeleton is an independent archive,” says Budd. “It can’t be influenced.” The team examined the bones of 30 people who lived within 200 years of each other, looking at 29 adults – aged between 18 and 45 – and one child. About 80 per cent of the bones found in the area belonged to cattle, and the group analysed those too. Those buried with copper had a distinctive balance of carbon isotope ratios in their bones. The researchers found that this unusual balance was also seen in a subset of cattle bones found in the area, which suggests that the people buried with copper ate meat from these animals. Budd’s team speculate that the cattle in question may have grazed on productive, brightly lit open pastures, because plants growing in such pastures would have similarly enriched carbon isotope values. This isotopic balance isn’t seen in plants that grow in less productive tree-shaded pastures. This suggests people buried with copper had access to lands and livestock that their counterparts didn’t.

8-4-20 First poison arrows may have been fired 70,000 years ago in Africa
Hunter-gatherers in Africa may have been using poison-tipped arrows for over 70,000 years, according to a new analysis of ancient arrowheads. This would be the oldest known use of poison arrows in the world, says Marlize Lombard of the University of Johannesburg in South Africa. In southern Africa, Kalahari San people have used poison-tipped arrows to hunt for thousands of years. They often obtain poisons from the intestines of the larvae of Diamphidia leaf beetles. But it is not clear when this practice started. “Direct evidence of truly ancient poisoned arrow use in the Old World is sparse,” says Lombard. In China and Egypt, poison arrows have been used for 2500 years, she says, while in India the practice dates back at least 1000 years. They are also mentioned in Homer’s epic poem Odyssey, composed sometime before 700 BC. Most of the accepted archaeological evidence comes from the last 8000 years. However, there have been hints that southern African peoples invented poison arrows long before. In April, Lombard’s team published a study of a 60,000-year-old bone point. They concluded it was an arrowhead and was coated in a sticky liquid: this may have been poisonous, but they could not establish this with confidence. To help identify ancient poisoned arrowheads, Lombard has compiled data from 128 known examples, all collected from southern Africa within the last 150 years. She measured the cross-section area of the tip of each arrowhead, which gives an indication of how sharp it is. She found that poison-tipped arrowheads are distinctive: they are sharp enough to cut, but not sharp enough to go deep, because they only need to get in far enough for the poison to enter the bloodstream. Lombard then compiled data from 306 similar bone points from archaeological digs, dated from the last 40,000 years. Many had the same tip cross-sectional area as the modern poisoned arrowheads, suggesting they were used the same way.

8-4-20 Beautiful shell carving was part of Incan offering to Lake Titicaca
This 500-year-old stone box of Inca offerings was found by divers in the Bolivian half of Lake Titicaca. It contains a miniature llama made from mollusc shell and a cylindrical gold foil thought to be a tiny version of an Incan bracelet. Christophe Delaere at Free University of Brussels in Belgium and his colleagues think the box and its contents were part of a human sacrifice offering to the lake, as similar pairings of objects have been found in areas associated with Incan sacrifices. “This discovery extends the concept of ‘sacrality’ to the entire lake,” says Delaere. The Incas ruled large parts of South America from the early 13th century until the Spanish invaded in the late 1500s. Underwater offerings were mentioned in books by Spanish colonisers, but no intact artefacts have been found until now.

8-4-20 A submerged Inca offering hints at Lake Titicaca’s sacred role
Similar stone boxes have also been found at human sacrifice sites in the Andes. A stone box fished out of Lake Titicaca contains tiny items that add an intriguing twist to what’s known about the Inca empire’s religious practices and supernatural beliefs about the massive lake. Divers exploring an underwater portion of the lake’s K’akaya reef found a ritual offering deposited by the Inca, say archaeologists Christophe Delaere of the University of Oxford and José Capriles of Penn State. The carved stone container holds a miniature llama or alpaca carved from a spiny oyster shell and a gold sheet rolled into a cylinder about the length of a paperclip, the scientists report in the August Antiquity. The meaning of these objects to the Inca are unclear. The location of the K’akaya offering indicates that Inca people regarded all of Lake Titicaca, which straddles the border between Bolivia and Peru, as sacred, not just its fabled Island of the Sun, the researchers say. Spanish documents described the Inca, who had no writing system (SN: 6/11/19), as believing that their ancestors had originated on the Island of the Sun, about 30 kilometers south of K’akaya Island. Inca rulers, whose empire lasted from 1400 to 1532, built a ceremonial center there. And until now, it’s the only place on Lake Titicaca where similar submerged stone boxes bearing figurines and gold sheets have been found. Of at least 28 stone boxes found there since 1977, many had been looted; only four had partially preserved or intact contents. Stone boxes containing figurines and gold items have also been uncovered at sites of Inca child sacrifices in the Andes. A connection may have existed between human sacrificial ceremonies that were intended to appease Inca deities and events held at Lake Titicaca, including the submerging of ritual offerings, the researchers suggest.

8-4-20 Termite intruders evolved cowardice to squat in another species’ nest
Some termite species have figured out how to enjoy the shelter of the immense, complex nests that the insects build without contributing to their construction. They avoid the full wrath of their builder hosts by being extremely easy-going. Animals that live in the dwellings of another species without affecting them are known as inquilines. Inquiline termites (Inquilinitermes microcerus) are unique among termites in being unable to make their own nests. Instead, they inhabit the labyrinthine hallways built by another termite, Constrictotermes cyphergaster. Until now, it has been unclear how the two parties kept peaceful in such tight quarters, because termites are typically very aggressive towards outsiders. Helder Hugo at the University of Konstanz in Germany and his colleagues collected C. cyphergaster nests in the Brazilian Cerrado and brought them into the laboratory. They then placed host and tenant termites in either open or more constricted miniature arenas and used video to track and record the ways in which the two species reacted to each other. Right from the start, the inquiline termites moved around less than their hosts and interacted little with them, even in the more confined arena. “Many times,” says Hugo, “when two unrelated colonies are put together in a single confined space – such as an experimental arena – the outcome is warfare with losses from both sides.” But that didn’t happen here. Despite attacks from host termites, the tenant termites were acquiescent. Hosts would bite or spray the inquilines with acrid chemicals, but their targets never responded in kind, opting to flee. Some ignored the hosts completely. “We did not expect that they would never retaliate,” says Hugo, noting that the inquilines are capable of protecting their own colony with snapping jaws.

8-3-20 Covid-19 news: New DNA and swab tests give results in 90 minutes
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. New 90 minute coronavirus and flu tests to be rolled out in the UK next week.New 90 minute DNA and swab tests for coronavirus, flu and other respiratory viruses will be available in hospitals and care homes in the UK from next week, the government announced today. The government says both tests can detect the coronavirus and other respiratory viruses in just 90 minutes, faster than current tests, a third of which take more than 24 hours to process. “The fact these tests can detect flu as well as covid-19 will be hugely beneficial as we head into winter,” said UK health minister Matt Hancock. The government has secured access to 5.8 million DNA-based tests and 5000 DNA testing machines from UK-based company DNA Nudge, as well as 450,000 swab tests from another UK company, Oxford Nanopore. Currently, there isn’t any publicly available data on the accuracy of the new tests. But John Bell at the University of Oxford, who has been advising the government on testing, told the BBC that the new tests had the same sensitivity as existing laboratory-based tests. DNA Nudge claims their test has an accuracy of 98 per cent. The US has entered a new phase of its coronavirus epidemic, with infections “extraordinarily widespread” in both rural and urban areas, according to the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, Deborah Birx. She said southern and western states have become hotspots for the virus and encouraged people to follow health recommendations, including wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing. The coronavirus pandemic is likely to be “lengthy” and “response fatigue” is a risk, according to an emergency committee advising the World Health Organization. During a meeting on Friday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the committee: “The pandemic is a once-in-a-century health crisis, the effects of which will be felt for decades to come.”

8-3-20 Economic benefits of vaccination programmes vastly outweigh costs
The costs of vaccination programmes are vastly outweighed by the economic benefits of reducing illness, disability and premature death, a modelling study has found. “We hope these numbers can allow vaccines to be seen as investments rather than expenses,” says Bryan Patenaude at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, who led the study. Patenaude and his team generated estimates for the economic cost of illnesses, disability and premature death that would otherwise occur without vaccination programmes in 94 low and middle-income countries, and compared these with the overall cost of implementing the programmes. They focused on vaccination programmes targeting 10 infectious diseases, including measles, yellow fever and hepatitis B. Using a model that considered treatment costs as well as lost wages and productivity due to illness, the researchers found that the money saved through the vaccination programmes will be approximately $682 billion for the period from 2011 to 2020. This is about 26 times the total cost of the programmes during this time. The researchers estimate that a further $829 billion will be saved from the vaccination programmes from 2021 to 2030, which is about 20 times their total predicted cost over this period. “We wanted to convert the benefits [into money] so you can compare them with other types of investments a country or organisation might be making – like in education or transport or other things,” says Patenaude. The researchers validated their findings using another model, which estimates the value of a saved life using data on people’s willingness to spend money to reduce their risk of death. Using this model, they found that the estimated value of lives saved by the vaccination programmes will be about 51 times their cost from 2011 to 2020 and 52 times their cost from 2021 to 2030.

8-3-20 Heavy drinking drove hundreds of thousands of Americans to early graves
From 2011 to 2015, excessive drinking ended lives 29 years sooner, on average, than expected. Heavy drinking is robbing Americans of decades of life. From 2011 to 2015, an average of 93,296 deaths annually could be tied to excessive alcohol use, or 255 deaths per day. Excessive drinking brought death early, typically 29 years sooner than would have been expected. All told, the United States saw 2.7 million years of potential life lost each year, researchers report in the July 31 Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report. The researchers used a program developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that estimates annual deaths and years of potential life lost due to an individual’s own or another’s excessive drinking. The tool takes into account whether the cause of death is fully attributable to alcohol, such as alcoholic liver cirrhosis, or whether excessive drinking can partially contribute to a condition, such as breast cancer. Annually, about 51,000 of the deaths were from chronic conditions. The rest were sudden demises such as poisonings that involved another substance along with alcohol or alcohol-related car crashes. The CDC defines excessive alcohol use as binging — drinking five or more drinks at a time for men, four or more for women — or drinking heavily over the course of the week. Men qualify at 15 or more drinks per week; for women, it’s eight or more. The numbers of deaths and years of life extinguished due to excessive drinking have gone up since the last report. That assessment covered 2006 to 2010 and reported close to 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million lost years annually. Recommendations from the Community Preventive Services Task Force, made up of public health and prevention experts, to stem excessive drinking include raising taxes on alcohol and regulating the number of places that sell alcoholic beverages (SN: 8/9/17). (Webmaster's comment: These are very stupid people. We need to remove them from the gene pool as soon as possible so let them self-destruct!)

8-3-20 US entering 'different' phase of coronavirus outbreak
One of President Trump's top medical advisers has warned that the US is entering a new phase in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Deborah Birx told CNN the disease was "extraordinarily widespread" across the country and a greater threat than when the outbreak first began. She said it was now affecting rural areas as well as big cities. She said rural communities were not immune and should wear masks and practice social distancing. The US has recorded more cases and deaths than any other country. According to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, more than 4.6 million infections and at least 154,834 deaths have been confirmed in America. Worldwide, nearly 18 million cases and at least 687,072 deaths have been reported. "To everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune or protected from this virus," said Dr Birx, a leading member of the White House's coronavirus task force. "This epidemic right now is different and it's more widespread and it's both rural and urban." She also shared her concerns about people taking holidays in hot spots, citing what she had seen while visiting 14 states during the last three weeks. "As I travelled around the country, I saw all of America moving," Dr Birx said. "If you have chosen to go on vacation into a hot spot, you really need to come back and protect those with co-morbidities and assume you're infected." America's outbreak has gained pace over the summer, particularly in southern and western states. In another development, US House Speaker and leading Democrat Nancy Pelosi attacked Dr Birx, linking her to "disinformation" spread by President Trump. Dr Birx responded that she always based her decisions on scientific data.

8-3-20 Coronavirus: Sewage testing for Covid-19 begins in England
Sewage testing is being conducted across England in a bid to develop wastewater-based Covid-19 surveillance. Scientists discovered early in the pandemic that infected people "shed" the virus in their faeces. Further research concluded that wastewater sampling could provide a signal of a coronavirus outbreak up to a week earlier than medical testing. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says this has begun at 44 wastewater treatment sites. A Defra spokesperson said the government was working with scientists, water companies and the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They would "monitor for fragments of coronavirus genetic material". Environment Secretary George Eustice said: "The aim of this new research is to give us a head start on where new outbreaks are likely to occur. "Sampling is being carried out to further test the effectiveness of this new science. Research remains at an early stage and we are still refining our methods." Dr Andrew Singer from the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology is one of the lead scientists on a UK project to develop a standardised test to "count" the amount of genetic material from the coronavirus in a wastewater sample. He told BBC News: "We would like to have confidence in saying that when we have an increase in virus numbers in the sewage from week to week, there are higher number of coronavirus cases. "That means we will be able to look for trends.... to see if the release from lockdown maintains infection levels or are things moving in the wrong direction." Prof Davey Jones from Bangor University has been working with sewage treatment companies for five months - monitoring wastewater in some communities in Wales. "All the evidence suggests that we can potentially see a signal in wastewater before we see a spike in infections in the community," he told BBC News. Scientists are continuing to fine-tune and reproduce a test before it can be rolled out as part of a Covid-19 alert system. Dr Singer pointed out that this wastewater epidemiology is a very "messy science"; by its nature, wastewater contains a lot of contaminants and samples vary widely, which makes it tricky to develop a one-size-fits all standard, accurate test.

8-3-20 Some spiders may spin poisonous webs laced with neurotoxins
Droplets on the silk strands contain proteins that subdue prey, a study suggests. Orb weaver spiders are known for their big, beautiful webs. Now, researchers suggest that these webs do more than just glue a spider’s meal in place — they may also swiftly paralyze their catch. Biochemical ecologist Mario Palma has long suspected that the webs of orb weavers — common garden spiders that build wheel-shaped webs — contain neurotoxins. “My colleagues told me, ‘You are nuts,’” says Palma, of São Paulo State University’s Institute of Biosciences in Rio Claro, Brazil. No one had found such toxins, and webs’ stickiness seemed more than sufficient for the purpose of ensnaring prey. The idea first came to him about 25 years ago, when Palma lived near a rice plantation where orb weavers were common. He says he often saw fresh prey, like bees or flies, in the spiders’ webs, and over time, noticed the hapless animals weren’t just glued — they convulsed and stuck out their tongues, as if they’d been poisoned. If he pulled the insects free, they struggled to walk or hold up their bodies, even if the web’s owner hadn’t injected venom. Palma had worked with neurotoxins for many years, and these odd behaviors immediately struck him as the effects of such toxins. Now, thanks in large part to the work of his Ph.D. student Franciele Esteves, Palma thinks he has found those prey-paralyzing toxins. The pair and their colleagues analyzed the active genes and proteins in the silk glands of banana spiders (Trichonephila clavipes) — a kind of orb weaver — and found proteins resembling known neurotoxins. The neurotoxins may make the webs paralytic traps, the team reports online June 15 in the Journal of Proteome Research. The prey-catching webs of other species probably have similar neurotoxins, Palma says.

8-2-20 Coronavirus doctor's diary: How gardening could help in the fight against obesity
Being overweight puts you at greater risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19, experts say - and now new anti-obesity strategies have been launched around the UK. In Bradford, community schemes to promote healthy lifestyles offers a novel approach to the problem. Dr John Wright of the city's Royal Infirmary explains why radical thinking is necessary. Our complete concentration on Covid-19 has concealed another global pandemic that has been more insidious but much more harmful: obesity. Early in the pandemic, we spotted common patterns in our sickest Covid-19 patients - they were more likely to have diabetes and heart disease and, in particular, to be obese. As the novel coronavirus makes a temporary retreat in the UK, obesity has become a focus of attention not just for the NHS but also the prime minister as he role-models weight loss for the nation. The Covid-19 treatments that we are discovering through our research trials are making important, though small, improvements in survival. However, prevention is far better than cure, and if we are going to protect our citizens then we need to not only strengthen our public health prevention measures to stop transmission in the short term, but also reduce their risk from harm from infection by tackling obesity in the longer term. Prof John Wright, a doctor and epidemiologist, is head of the Bradford Institute for Health Research, and a veteran of cholera, HIV and Ebola epidemics in sub-Saharan Africa. He is writing this diary for BBC News and recording from the hospital wards for BBC Radio. At the hospital, we have been tracking the lives of 16,000 children from birth as part of the Born in Bradford project to understand how the complex interplay between our genes, lifestyles and environment affects our later risk of physical and mental ill health. It is like a huge Child of Our Time study, but with the best scientists from across the world working together to unravel the clues. The project has shown that our risk of obesity starts very early in life and is particularly high for children of South Asian heritage. The trail of breadcrumbs as to why South Asians have twice to four times the risk of diabetes and heart disease leads back to birth. As these Bradford children grow up, they face very different futures if they live in Ilkley, one of the richest places in the country, or Manningham, one of the poorest. If they are growing up in inner-city Manningham then they will be surrounded by food swamps of fast-food outlets, and food deserts of healthy options. Poor-quality houses lack proper kitchens to prepare healthy meals. The roads are too busy and dangerous to cycle or even walk to school. Lack of parks and gardens hinder active play. Junk food advertising infects young minds and poor-quality food is all that some families can afford.

8-2-20 Hydroxychloroquine can’t stop COVID-19. It’s time to move on, scientists say
An abundance of scientific data shows that the drug isn’t an effective COVID-19 treatment. As a frontline doctor working with COVID-19 patients at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, Neil Schluger had horrific days. “I would come into the ward in the morning to make rounds and say to the intern, ‘How did we do last night?’ And the intern said, ‘Well, I had 10 COVID admissions, and three of them have already died.’ It was like nothing I’ve experienced in 35 years of being a physician,” Schluger says. When he first heard about hydroxychloroquine, he hoped it would work for his patients. He and colleagues prescribed the antimalarial drug for 811 of the 1,446 patients hospitalized at the medical center from March 7 to April 8. But the drug didn’t seem to help, Schluger and colleagues reported May 17 in the New England Journal of Medicine. As a result, “we stopped giving hydroxychloroquine sometime in April,” he says. And yet the numbers of cases and deaths from COVID-19 in New York City have continued to fall. “If we’d taken away a lifesaving drug, you wouldn’t expect that to happen,” he says. Instead, Schluger, now a pulmonary critical care doctor and clinical epidemiologist at New York Medical College and Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, credits old-fashioned public health measures — mask-wearing, staying home, and social distancing — for New York’s success against the virus. Hydroxychloroquine has been tested more than any other potential COVID-19 drug but has repeatedly fallen short of expectations. Although study after study has demonstrated no benefit of hydroxychloroquine for treating people with serious coronavirus infections, some people, including President Donald Trump, still insist the drug has merit. A viral video released July 27 that made the misleading assertion that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for COVID-19 spread like wildfire online.

8-2-20 Earth to birds: Take the next left
Every fall, the bar-tailed godwit takes to wing and flies nonstop from Alaska to New Zealand — a journey of 7,000-plus miles. Countless other birds head off too, bound for warmer spots before returning in the spring. How they do it without getting lost remains mysterious to this day. Scientists are convinced birds must be using some type of biologically based magnetic compass, but they have yet to figure out how such a system would work. Now the field is heating up, and the latest research is pointing away from one long-standing theory and bolstering some intriguing alternatives. Clues have been piling up for decades. Back in the 1960s, researchers discovered that European robins can somehow sense Earth's magnetic field. In the decades since, scientists learned that robins and a variety of other bird species use the field, which is created by movement of iron in Earth's core, as a navigational aid. The birds combine this guide with information deduced from the sun, the stars, and geographical landmarks to complete their voyages. But a vexing question that remains is what sort of biological receptor birds use to detect the magnetic field. "Key experiments by a group in Germany definitively showed that a magnetic sense exists. Now, more than 50 years later, we still don't really understand how it works," says neuroscientist David Keays of the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna. Today, researchers are focusing on three possible ways that a magnetic sense could work. One idea involves a form of iron with magnetic properties, called magnetite, acting as a sort of compass within cells that rotates to align with the magnetic field. Another contender, known as the radical-pair mechanism, hinges on a chemical reaction in a bird's eye that is influenced by Earth's magnetic field. A third hypothesis suggests that as a bird moves through Earth's magnetic field, small currents are generated in the creature's inner ear. In all three of these scenarios, signals are produced and passed on to the bird's brain to be processed and translated into directions. Here's a look at each of them. 1. The magnetite idea has been studied the longest. Though it is biologically possible — certain kinds of swimming bacteria use the iron mineral to orient themselves — evidence in higher animals remains elusive, with scattered reports that are not always reproducible. 2. The weight of evidence gathered by scientists tilts toward another idea known as the radical-pair hypothesis, Hore says. Mouritsen also favors this idea, which is based on a protein in birds' eyes called cryptochrome. 3. Keays is testing a long-forgotten hypothesis, first proposed in 1882, that as a bird flies through Earth's magnetic field, tiny electric currents are generated in its ear. This would happen through electromagnetic induction, akin to how a magnet that moves through a coiled wire creates an electric current in the wire.


ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY

8-6-20 Atlantic tuna to be tagged off Western Isles
Atlantic bluefin tuna are to be caught, satellite tagged and then released in an effort to better understand the reappearance of the fish off Scotland. The fish were once a common sight around the British Isles, before disappearing in the 1990s. In the past six years, tuna have frequently been seen from late summer to winter. Community company Harris Development Ltd has permission for three boats to take anglers out to catch the fish. The project could eventually lead to tuna fishing tourism in the Western Isles. (Webmaster's comment: No sooner than wildlife reappear than we start trying to figure out how to kill them for profit!) Kenneth MacLeod, chairman of Harris Development Ltd, said the fish pass by the islands between August and November. He said: "We do know they follow shoals of mackerel and herring. "We believe they are leaving the Mediterranean, come up the Atlantic as far as Greenland and Iceland, and we are then seeing them on their way back south." Mr MacLeod said he hoped the tagging project would provide a "clearer picture" of the tunas' movements. The Western Isles, where the first recorded rod-line catch of an Atlantic bluefin tuna was made in 2013, is a focus of the research. The fish caught seven years ago by Angus Campbell, an Isle of Harris-based boat operator, weighed 515lb (233kg). Bluefin tuna are one of the largest and fastest fish on the planet. They started declining in numbers off the British Isles from the 1940s. Previously, bluefin tuna tagged off the remote Scottish archipelago of St Kilda were tracked to the Azores and the Bay of Biscay.

8-6-20 Beaver families win legal 'right to remain'
Fifteen families of beavers have been given the permanent "right to remain" on the River Otter in East Devon. The decision was made by the government following a five-year study by the Devon Wildlife Trust into beavers' impact on the local environment. The Trust called it "the most ground-breaking government decision for England's wildlife for a generation". It's the first time an extinct native mammal has been given government backing to be reintroduced in England. Environment minister Rebecca Pow said that in the future they could be considered a "public good" and farmers and landowners would pay to have them on their land. Beavers have the power to change entire landscapes. They feel safer in deep water, so have become master makers of dams and pools. They build complex homes - known as lodges or burrows - with underwater entrances.The River Otter beaver trial showed that the animals' skill replenished and enhanced the ecology of the river catchment in East Devon. They increased the "fish biomass", and improved the water quality. This meant more food for otters - beavers are herbivores - and clearer and cleaner water in which kingfishers could flourish. Their dams worked as natural flood-defences, helping to reduce the risk of homes flooding downstream. The evidence gathered by researchers during the trial helped the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make what it called its "pioneering" decision to give the beavers the right to live, roam, and reproduce on the river. Beavers were hunted to extinction 400 years ago for their meat, furry water-resistant pelts, and a substance they secrete called castoreum, used in food, medicine and perfume. In 2013 video evidence emerged of a beaver with young on the River Otter, near Ottery St Mary. It was the conclusive proof of the first wild breeding beaver population in England. It was a mystery how they came to be there. Some suspect that the creatures were illegally released by wildlife activists who, on social media, are called "beaver bombers". The beavers faced being removed. However, the Devon Wildlife Trust, working with the University of Exeter, Clinton Devon Estates, and the Derek Gow Consultancy, won a five-year licence to study it. Now there are at least 50 adults and kits on the river - and they are there to stay. Peter Burgess, director of conservation at DWT, said: "This is the most ground-breaking government decision for England's wildlife for a generation. Beavers are nature's engineers and have the unrivalled ability to breathe new life into our rivers.

8-6-20 'Paradise island' hosts untold botanical treasures
New Guinea has the highest plant diversity of any island in the world, botanists have discovered. The first full inventory of plants on the world's largest tropical island reveals a treasure trove of flora. More than 13,000 species can be found on New Guinea, ranging from tiny orchids to giant tree ferns, two-thirds of which do not exist elsewhere. The findings, published in Nature, will be used to protect "one of the last unknowns for science". Identifying and naming plants is the first step towards conserving and protecting the plants of New Guinea, said Dr Tim Utteridge of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. "If we lose them, there's no way we can restore them from anywhere else, because they're just not found outside the island," he said. "We have a real responsibility to conserve this unique plant life." New Guinea is home to some of the best-preserved ecosystems on the planet, including coastal mangroves, huge expanses of tropical rainforest and alpine grasslands. New Guinea "is a paradise island teeming with life" and globally recognised as a centre of biological diversity, said Dr Rodrigo Cámara-Leret of the University of Zurich, Switzerland. Yet, knowledge of New Guinea's flora, "has remained scattered for years, limiting research in this mega-diverse area", he said. Botanists have been identifying and naming plants collected there since the 17th century, with samples stored in herbaria around the world. Only now have botanists been able to put all this information together in a full inventory of plant life, as has been done for other biodiversity hotspots, including the Amazon. Botanists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, joined forces with experts in 19 countries to carry out the work. Previous estimates for the number of plants on the island have ranged from 9,000 to 25,000 species. The researchers verified the identity of more than 23,000 plant names from upwards of 704,000 specimens.

8-6-20 Fruit flies have special neurons that sense the wind to aid navigation
Specific neurons in fruit flies fire according to wind direction, helping them form a neural map of their surroundings. Algorithms inspired by this may be able to help robots to better navigate their environment. DTatsuo Okubo at Harvard Medical School, US, and his colleagues wanted to determine how wind direction was characterised by a fruit fly’s brain. While it is well known that wind direction affects the behaviour of insects, no one had yet developed a map of the neurons involved in this phenomenon for any animal. The researchers were initially only looking for neurons which corresponded to antennae. “We then found these beautiful ring-shaped neurons that were next to neurons that affect the head direction,” says Okubo. The team recorded the firing rate of these ring neurons in a live fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster), as they changed the wind direction of its surroundings. The experiments were done in the dark to remove the impact of any visual stimuli. They found that different wind-sensitive neurons had different preferences for wind direction, firing more if the wind blew from their preferred direction. This led to a fluctuating firing pattern in the overall population of neurons which corresponded to wind direction. Moreover, when these neurons were silenced, the fly’s head direction cells responded as if there was no wind at all, suggesting that wind information has a direct influence in the direction a fruit fly faces. It is unclear whether humans also have such neurons. “Humans can definitely use wind for long range navigation like pathfinding, but exactly how they sense it or how that feeds into a navigational circuit – it’s still an open question,” says Okubo. He also says these findings could give the one day be used to give robots an additional method of navigation. “It could lead to a more robust navigation when visual cues are not available,” says Okubo.

8-6-20 How tuataras live so long and can withstand cool weather
Scientists have finally deciphered the rare reptiles’ genome, or genetic instruction book. Tuataras may look like your average lizard, but they’re not. The reptiles are the last survivors of an ancient group of reptiles that flourished when dinosaurs roamed the world. Native to New Zealand, tuataras possess a range of remarkable abilities, including a century-long life span, relative imperviousness to many infectious diseases and peak physical activity at shockingly low temperatures for a reptile. Now, scientists are figuring out how, thanks to the first-ever deciphering, or sequencing, of the tuatara’s genetic instruction book. The research reveals insights into not only the creature’s evolutionary relationship with other living reptiles but also tuataras’ longevity and their ability to withstand cool weather, researchers report August 5 in Nature. Technically, tuataras (Sphenodon punctatus) are rhynchocephalians, an order of reptiles that were once widespread during the Mesozoic Era, 66 million to 252 million years ago. But their diversity waned over millions of years, leaving tuataras as the last of their line (SN: 10/13/03). The reptiles have long been of scientific interest because of their unclear evolutionary relationship with other reptiles, as they share traits with lizards and turtles as well as birds. Tuataras were once found throughout New Zealand, but now survive in the wild mainly on offshore islands and are considered a vulnerable species. The reptiles have suffered from habitat loss and invasive species such as rats, and are especially imperiled by a warming climate (SN: 7/3/08). This peril — combined with the tuatara’s cherished status as a taonga, or special treasure, to the Indigenous Maori people — led researchers to prioritize compiling the reptile’s genome, or genetic instruction book.

8-5-20 Disease-carrying animals thrive on our farmed land and in our cities
We are changing the world in a way that favours animals such as bats – the source of the new coronavirus – that carry more diseases. That is the conclusion of an analysis looking at what changes are occurring in ecosystems as people move in. “Some species are doing better and they are disproportionately likely to be those that transmit diseases to people,” says Rory Gibb at University College London. His team took advantage of a global project looking at how ecosystems change in disturbed areas, such as land cleared for farming, compared with undisturbed areas nearby. Nearly 7000 studies of this kind have now been done worldwide. The researchers combined these findings with data on what diseases animals carry, and whether these diseases can infect people. They found that small, fast-lived animals such as rodents, songbirds and bats tend to become more abundant in areas where people have moved in – and that these animals carry more diseases compared with larger, longer-lived species that have declined or disappeared. It isn’t clear why they harbour more diseases. One idea is that fast-lived animals invest more in reproducing at the cost of their immune defences, making them more vulnerable to pathogens, says Gibb. The finding suggests that the way we are changing landscapes is increasing the risk of diseases jumping species. However, this risk also depends on other factors such as how likely people are to be exposed and how vulnerable they are to a particular disease, says Gibb, which the study didn’t look at. One implication is that the disease risk could be reduced if ecosystems are restored by, say, reintroducing lost predators. “The way we manage landscapes is important,” says Gibb. For instance, schistosomiasis is caused by a parasite spread by snails. Reintroducing a river prawn that preys on snails has reduced its incidence in Senegal.

8-5-20 City growth favours animals 'more likely to carry disease'
Turning wild spaces into farmland and cities has created more opportunities for animal diseases to cross into humans, scientists have warned. Our transformation of the natural landscape drives out many wild animals, but favours species more likely to carry diseases, a study suggests. The work adds to growing evidence that exploitation of nature fuels pandemics. Scientists estimate that three out of every four new emerging infectious diseases come from animals. The study shows that, worldwide, we have shaped the landscape in a way that has favoured species that are more likely to carry infectious diseases. And when we convert natural habitats to farms, pastures and urban spaces, we inadvertently increase the probability of pathogens crossing from animals to humans. "Our findings show that the animals that remain in more human-dominated environments are those that are more likely to carry infectious diseases that can make people sick," said Rory Gibb of University College London (UCL). The transformation of forests, grasslands and deserts into cities, suburbs and farmland has pushed many wild animals towards extinction. Short-lived animals that can survive in most environments, such as rats and pigeons, have thrived at the expense of long-lived animals such as rhinos, which have specialised habitat requirements. Some rodents, for instance, that carry a range of viruses, thrive in urban spaces, where other species have been lost. The new evidence comes from analysis of a dataset of 184 studies incorporating almost 7,000 animal species, 376 of which are known to carry pathogens shared with humans. There are many factors involved in what scientists call spillover - when a pathogen crosses from an animal into humans, causing disease outbreaks, which may go on to become pandemics. We know, for instance, that close contact with wild animals through hunting, trade or habitat loss puts the world at increased risk of outbreaks of new diseases. Coronavirus is thought to have originated in bats, with other wild animals, playing a role in transmission to humans. There are strong indications of a wildlife source and a link to trade. Wild animals at risk of extinction due to human exploitation have been found to carry over twice as many viruses that can cause human disease as threatened species listed for other reasons. The same is true for threatened species at risk due to loss of habitat.

8-5-20 Climate change: Satellites find new colonies of Emperor penguins
Satellite observations have found a raft of new Emperor penguin breeding sites in the Antarctic. The locations were identified from the way the birds' poo, or guano, had stained large patches of sea-ice. The discovery lifts the global Emperor population by 5-10%, to perhaps as many as 278,500 breeding pairs. It's a welcome development given that this iconic species is likely to come under severe pressure this century as the White Continent warms. The Emperors' whole life cycle is centred around the availability of sea-ice, and if this is diminished in the decades ahead - as the climate models project - then the animals' numbers will be hit hard. One forecast suggested the global population could crash by a half or more under certain conditions come 2100. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) used the EU's Sentinel-2 spacecraft to scour the edge of the continent for previously unrecognised Emperor activity. The satellites' infrared imagery threw up eight such breeding sites and confirmed the existence of three others that had been mooted in the era before high-resolution space pictures. The new identifications take the number of known active breeding sites from 50 to 61. Two of the new locations are in the Antarctic Peninsula region, three are in the West of the continent and six in the East. They are all in gaps between existing colonies. Emperor groups, it seems, like to keep at least 100km between themselves. The new sites maintain this distancing discipline. It's impossible to count individual penguins from orbit but the BAS researchers can estimate numbers in colonies from the size of the birds' huddles. "It's good news because there are now more penguins than we thought," said BAS remote-sensing specialist Dr Peter Fretwell. "But this story comes with a strong caveat because the newly discovered sites are not in what we call the refugia - areas with stable sea-ice, such as in the Weddell Sea and the Ross Sea. They are all in more northerly, vulnerable locations that will likely lose their sea-ice," he told BBC News.

8-5-20 Penguin poop spotted from space ups the tally of emperor penguin colonies
Eight new spots include the first reported offshore breeding sites for the largest penguins. Patches of penguin poop spotted in new high-resolution satellite images of Antarctica reveal a handful of small, previously overlooked emperor penguin colonies. Eight new colonies, plus three newly confirmed, brings the total to 61 — about 20 percent more colonies than thought, researchers report August 5 in Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation. That’s the good news, says Peter Fretwell, a geographer at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, England. The bad news, he says, is that the new colonies tend to be in regions highly vulnerable to climate change, including a few out on the sea ice. One newly discovered group lives about 180 kilometers from shore, on sea ice ringing a shoaled iceberg. The study is the first to describe such offshore breeding sites for the penguins. Penguin guano shows up as a reddish-brown stain against white snow and ice (SN: 3/2/18). Before 2016, Fretwell and BAS penguin biologist Phil Trathan hunted for the telltale stains in images from NASA’s Landsat satellites, which have a resolution of 30 meters by 30 meters. The launch of the European Space Agency’s Sentinel satellites, with a much finer resolution of 10 meters by 10 meters, “makes us able to see things in much greater detail, and pick out much smaller things,” such as tinier patches of guano representing smaller colonies, Fretwell says. The new colony tally therefore ups the estimated emperor penguin population by only about 10 percent at most, or 55,000 birds. Unlike other penguins, emperors (Aptenodytes forsteri) live their entire lives at sea, foraging and breeding on the sea ice. That increases their vulnerability to future warming: Even moderate greenhouse gas emissions scenarios are projected to melt much of the fringing ice around Antarctica (SN: 4/30/20). Previous work has suggested this ice loss could decrease emperor penguin populations by about 31 percent over the next 60 years, an assessment that is shifting the birds’ conservation status from near threatened to vulnerable.

8-5-20 Is noise pollution killing whales and dolphins?
Humans create a lot of noise in the ocean - from sonar and seismic exploration, to pile-driving when building wind farms. But how might this affect sea life? Thousands of whales and dolphins die every year after becoming stranded on beaches. Dr Maria Morell, from University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, studies their ears to try and work out if hearing damage led to their death. She's developed a new way of finding out if a cetacean's hearing was affected just hours before they beached, to support the theory that the two might be connected - and pinpoint human activities that may be having an impact.

8-4-20 Wild bees add about $1.5 billion to yields for just six U.S. crops
Threats to native pollinators could shrink profits even at farms stocking honeybees. U.S. cherries, watermelons and some other summertime favorites may depend on wild bees more than previously thought. Many farms in the United States use managed honeybees to pollinate crops and increase yields, sometimes trucking beehives from farm to farm. Now an analysis of seven crops across North America shows that wild bees can play a role in crop pollination too, even on conventional farms abuzz with managed honeybees. Wild volunteers add at least $1.5 billion in total to yields for six of the crops, a new study estimates. “To me, the big surprise was that we found so many wild bees even in intense production areas where much of the produce in the USA is grown,” says coauthor Rachael Winfree, a pollination ecologist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. That means threats to wild bees could shave profits even when farms stock honeybees, the researchers report July 29 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Both honeybees (Apis mellifera), which aren’t native to the United States, and wild pollinators such as bumblebees (Bombus spp.) face dangers including pesticides and pathogens (SN: 1/22/20). To see what, if anything, wild native bee species contribute, researchers spot-checked bee visits to flowers at 131 commercial farm fields across the United States and part of Canada. In a novel twist, the researchers also calculated to what extent the number of bee visits limited yields. These intensive farms with plenty of fertilizer, water and other resources often showed signs of reaching a pollinator limit, meaning fields didn’t have enough honeybees to get the maximum yield, and volunteer wild bees were adding to the total. Then the team estimated what percentage of the yield native bees were adding — versus just doing what honeybees would have done anyway.

8-4-20 Water beetles can live on after being eaten and excreted by a frog
One insect crawled through the amphibian’s insides in just six minutes. For most insects, the sticky, slingshot ride straight into a frog’s mouth spells the end. But not for one stubborn water beetle. Instead of succumbing to the frog’s digestive juices, an eaten Regimbartia attenuata traverses the amphibian’s throat, swims through the stomach, slides along the intestines and climbs out the frog’s butt, alive and well. “This is legitimately the first article in a while that made me say, ‘Huh! How weird!’” says Crystal Maier, an entomologist at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. “There are still a lot of truly bizarre habits of insects that still wait to be discovered,” she says. Surviving digestion-by-predator is rare, but not unheard of in the animal kingdom. Some snails survive the trip through fish and birds by sealing their shells and waiting it out. But research published August 3 in Current Biology is the first to document prey actively escaping through the backside of a predator. Feeding beetles to predators to see what happens is a regular activity for Shinji Sugiura, an ecologist at Kobe University in Japan. In 2018, he discovered that bombardier beetles can force toads to vomit the insects back up by releasing a mix of hot, noxious chemicals from their rear ends (SN: 2/6/18). On a hunch that R. attenuata might have evolved its own interesting evasive behaviors, Sugiura paired a beetle with a frog that the insect often encounters while swimming through Japanese rice paddies. In his laboratory, he watched. The frog made easy prey of the unsuspecting beetle. While the amphibians lack teeth that could kill prey with a crunch, a trip through the acidic, oxygen-poor digestive system should be sufficient to neutralize the insect. But as Sugiura monitored the frog, he saw the shiny black beetle slip out from the frog’s behind and scurry away, seemingly unharmed.

8-4-20 Termite intruders evolved cowardice to squat in another species’ nest
Some termite species have figured out how to enjoy the shelter of the immense, complex nests that the insects build without contributing to their construction. They avoid the full wrath of their builder hosts by being extremely easy-going. Animals that live in the dwellings of another species without affecting them are known as inquilines. Inquiline termites (Inquilinitermes microcerus) are unique among termites in being unable to make their own nests. Instead, they inhabit the labyrinthine hallways built by another termite, Constrictotermes cyphergaster. Until now, it has been unclear how the two parties kept peaceful in such tight quarters, because termites are typically very aggressive towards outsiders. Helder Hugo at the University of Konstanz in Germany and his colleagues collected C. cyphergaster nests in the Brazilian Cerrado and brought them into the laboratory. They then placed host and tenant termites in either open or more constricted miniature arenas and used video to track and record the ways in which the two species reacted to each other. Right from the start, the inquiline termites moved around less than their hosts and interacted little with them, even in the more confined arena. “Many times,” says Hugo, “when two unrelated colonies are put together in a single confined space – such as an experimental arena – the outcome is warfare with losses from both sides.” But that didn’t happen here. Despite attacks from host termites, the tenant termites were acquiescent. Hosts would bite or spray the inquilines with acrid chemicals, but their targets never responded in kind, opting to flee. Some ignored the hosts completely. “We did not expect that they would never retaliate,” says Hugo, noting that the inquilines are capable of protecting their own colony with snapping jaws.

8-3-20 Chinese nature reserves focus so much on pandas that leopards suffer
China’s efforts to save giant pandas have paid off for the bears, but miserably failed leopards and other carnivores that share their home. Researchers say the findings are a warning against trying to preserve biodiversity by focusing on one iconic species. Pandas officially edged away from extinction in 2016 in a sign of their rebound since reserves for the species were established in the 1960s. However, over the same period in the pandas’ protected areas, leopards (Panthera pardus) have seen an 81 per cent loss and snow leopards (Panthera uncia) 38 per cent. Two other carnivores, wolves (Canis lupus) and dholes (Cuon alpinus), a wild dog, declined by 77 and 95 per cent respectively, possibly rendering them functionally extinct there. The carnivores play a critical role in their ecosystems. A Chinese and US team led by Sheng Li at Peking University calculated the declines for the four species by comparing survey records from the 1950s to 1970s with modern camera trap records from 2008 to 2018. Interviews with experts and locals suggest most losses occurred in the 1990s, driven by logging and poaching of the animals and their prey. “I was not so surprised by the declines, but they are dramatic,” says Sheng, who notes the falls are consistent with those in large land mammals globally. One possible explanation for the “broad retreat” of the four species while pandas thrived, is that the bears need much less land – as little as a 20th that of the carnivores. Large carnivores are also likelier to fall foul of conflicts with humans. “These findings warn against the heavy reliance on a single-species conservation policy for biodiversity conservation in the region,” Sheng and the team write. Plans for establishing a “Giant Panda National Park’” in China this year could offer some hope for leopards, wolves and dholes, as the scheme is meant to restore and protect ecosystems as a whole. Nonetheless, say Sheng and colleagues, any process of restoring the carnivores to their former glory would take decades.

8-3-20 Some spiders may spin poisonous webs laced with neurotoxins
Droplets on the silk strands contain proteins that subdue prey, a study suggests. Orb weaver spiders are known for their big, beautiful webs. Now, researchers suggest that these webs do more than just glue a spider’s meal in place — they may also swiftly paralyze their catch. Biochemical ecologist Mario Palma has long suspected that the webs of orb weavers — common garden spiders that build wheel-shaped webs — contain neurotoxins. “My colleagues told me, ‘You are nuts,’” says Palma, of São Paulo State University’s Institute of Biosciences in Rio Claro, Brazil. No one had found such toxins, and webs’ stickiness seemed more than sufficient for the purpose of ensnaring prey. The idea first came to him about 25 years ago, when Palma lived near a rice plantation where orb weavers were common. He says he often saw fresh prey, like bees or flies, in the spiders’ webs, and over time, noticed the hapless animals weren’t just glued — they convulsed and stuck out their tongues, as if they’d been poisoned. If he pulled the insects free, they struggled to walk or hold up their bodies, even if the web’s owner hadn’t injected venom. Palma had worked with neurotoxins for many years, and these odd behaviors immediately struck him as the effects of such toxins. Now, thanks in large part to the work of his Ph.D. student Franciele Esteves, Palma thinks he has found those prey-paralyzing toxins. The pair and their colleagues analyzed the active genes and proteins in the silk glands of banana spiders (Trichonephila clavipes) — a kind of orb weaver — and found proteins resembling known neurotoxins. The neurotoxins may make the webs paralytic traps, the team reports online June 15 in the Journal of Proteome Research. The prey-catching webs of other species probably have similar neurotoxins, Palma says.

8-2-20 Earth to birds: Take the next left
Every fall, the bar-tailed godwit takes to wing and flies nonstop from Alaska to New Zealand — a journey of 7,000-plus miles. Countless other birds head off too, bound for warmer spots before returning in the spring. How they do it without getting lost remains mysterious to this day. Scientists are convinced birds must be using some type of biologically based magnetic compass, but they have yet to figure out how such a system would work. Now the field is heating up, and the latest research is pointing away from one long-standing theory and bolstering some intriguing alternatives. Clues have been piling up for decades. Back in the 1960s, researchers discovered that European robins can somehow sense Earth's magnetic field. In the decades since, scientists learned that robins and a variety of other bird species use the field, which is created by movement of iron in Earth's core, as a navigational aid. The birds combine this guide with information deduced from the sun, the stars, and geographical landmarks to complete their voyages. But a vexing question that remains is what sort of biological receptor birds use to detect the magnetic field. "Key experiments by a group in Germany definitively showed that a magnetic sense exists. Now, more than 50 years later, we still don't really understand how it works," says neuroscientist David Keays of the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna. Today, researchers are focusing on three possible ways that a magnetic sense could work. One idea involves a form of iron with magnetic properties, called magnetite, acting as a sort of compass within cells that rotates to align with the magnetic field. Another contender, known as the radical-pair mechanism, hinges on a chemical reaction in a bird's eye that is influenced by Earth's magnetic field. A third hypothesis suggests that as a bird moves through Earth's magnetic field, small currents are generated in the creature's inner ear. In all three of these scenarios, signals are produced and passed on to the bird's brain to be processed and translated into directions. Here's a look at each of them. 1. The magnetite idea has been studied the longest. Though it is biologically possible — certain kinds of swimming bacteria use the iron mineral to orient themselves — evidence in higher animals remains elusive, with scattered reports that are not always reproducible. 2. The weight of evidence gathered by scientists tilts toward another idea known as the radical-pair hypothesis, Hore says. Mouritsen also favors this idea, which is based on a protein in birds' eyes called cryptochrome. 3. Keays is testing a long-forgotten hypothesis, first proposed in 1882, that as a bird flies through Earth's magnetic field, tiny electric currents are generated in its ear. This would happen through electromagnetic induction, akin to how a magnet that moves through a coiled wire creates an electric current in the wire.