Editor’s Note | We recognize that COVID-19 coverage can inflame passions and is prone to controversy. In the past, MintPress News has published varying viewpoints on the topic (including ones that stand in contrast to those represented in the following article). We strive to provide well-researched articles representing a diversity of views to our readers in the interest of fostering healthy discussion in the public interest.
WUHAN, CHINA — While many people have already criticized the lack of evidence and scientific basis for the hypothesis that the Covid-19 pandemic originated from a laboratory, both critics and proponents of the lab-leak theory appear to have uncritically accepted false or unproven premises regarding work done at the laboratory most often implicated in these speculations, the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
Some of the most prominent accusations pointed at the WIV are that it was conducting research as part of China’s alleged biowarfare program, and was conducting its experiments in substandard biosafety conditions. The implication is that if the WIV lied about not having SARS-CoV-2 before the outbreak, the virus would also be more likely to have originated from there owing to their inadequate biosafety standards. However, after investigating these widely circulated claims and contacting several scientists, it turns out there is actually little evidence for any of these allegations.
Lukoye Atwoli, Abdullah H Baqui, Thomas Benfield, Raffaella Bosurgi, Fiona Godlee, Stephen Hancocks, Richard Horton, Laurie Laybourn-Langton, Carlos Augusto Monteiro, Ian Norman, Kirsten Patrick, Nigel Praities, Marcel G M Olde Rikkert, Eric J Rubin, Peush Sahnim, Richard Smith, Nicholas J Talley, Sue Turale, Damián Vázquez
The UN General Assembly in September, 2021, will bring countries together at a critical time for marshalling collective action to tackle the global environmental crisis. They will meet again at the biodiversity summit in Kunming, China, and the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, UK. Ahead of these pivotal meetings, we—the editors of health journals worldwide—call for urgent action to keep average global temperature increases below 1·5°C, halt the destruction of nature, and protect health. Health is already being harmed by global temperature increases and the destruction of the natural world, a state of affairs health professionals have been bringing attention to for decades.1 The science is unequivocal; a global increase of 1·5°C above the pre-industrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse.2, 3 Despite the world’s necessary preoccupation with COVID-19, we cannot wait for the pandemic to pass to rapidly reduce emissions.
Cosmologists have found signs that a second type of dark energy — the ubiquitous but enigmatic substance that is pushing the current Universe’s expansion to accelerate — might have existed in the first 300,000 years after the Big Bang.
Two separate studies — both posted on the arXiv preprint server in the past week1,2 — have detected a tentative first trace of this ‘early dark energy’ in data collected between 2013 and 2016 by the Atacama Cosmology Telescope (ACT) in Chile. If the findings are confirmed, they could help to solve a long-standing conundrum surrounding data about the early Universe, which seem to be incompatible with the rate of cosmic expansion measured today. But the data are preliminary and don’t show definitively whether this form of dark energy really existed.
The geologic time scale, dividing the 4.6 billion years of Earth history into nested eons, eras, periods, epochs, and ages, is one of the great scientific achievements of the last two centuries. Each division is directed at environmental change on an Earth System scale based on stratigraphic evidence, such as rocks or ice cores. At present, the earth is officially situated in the Phanerozoic Eon, Cenozoic Era, Quaternary Period, Holocene Epoch (beginning 11,700 years ago), and Meghalayan Age (the last of the Holocene ages beginning 4,200 years ago). The current argument that the planet has entered into a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, is based on the recognition that Earth System change as represented in the stratigraphic record is now primarily due to anthropogenic forces. This understanding has now been widely accepted in science, but nevertheless has not yet been formally adopted by the International Commission on Stratigraphy of the International Union of Geological Sciences, which would mean its official adoption throughout science.
Latin America is home to about 800 different Indigenous Peoples and Nationalities, the equivalent to 9·8% of its population. The average infant mortality rate in Indigenous children is 60% higher than that in non-Indigenous children.1 In 2018, Ecuador reported that 50·6% of its Indigenous population lived in poverty, compared with 20·9% of the non-Indigenous population.2 Between 2014 and 2017, maternal mortality was 69% higher in Indigenous than in Mestizo women.3 Chronic malnutrition affects one in four Ecuadorian children, and the rate doubles in Indigenous children.4 These figures evidence historical and structural inequalities. Despite discourses of modernisation and development, the old process of colonisation and subjugation of Indigenous Peoples continues. Violent appropriation of territory, forced displacement of peoples and communities, or depredation of their vital spaces for oil and mining are some facets of this domination.
Here’s how Afghanistan’s scholars can be supported.
“The situation in Afghanistan is horrifying. We need immediate assistance.”
This is one of several distressing messages sent to Nature by researchers in Afghanistan, following the Taliban’s capture of Kabul on 15 August and the evacuation of US military forces on 31 August. Researchers are among those who are now especially vulnerable. The United States has been their main source of funding and collaborations, and that puts them at increased risk of persecution by the new rulers. Most institutions remain closed, and many staff and students — women and men — are in hiding.
For now, the Taliban has announced an amnesty, and is urging Afghanistan’s professionals to stay in the country and continue to go to work. But researchers interviewed by Nature are not taking any risks. Many remember the Taliban’s previous rule (1996–2001), and the systematic human-rights violations, particularly against girls, women and minority communities.
Women’s share of international prizes rewarding research excellence is increasing, but still lags behind the proportion of professorial positions held by women, according to an analysis of 141 top science prizes awarded over the past two decades.
Lokman Meho, an information scientist at the American University of Beirut, examined whether gains in professorships for women have translated into awards honouring their work. His findings, published in Quantitative Science Studies1, show a narrowing but persistent gender gap in the highest tiers of awards (see ‘Closing the gap’). The disparity is greatest in disciplines including life sciences, computer science and mathematics.
Hans Petter Graver, a legal scholar and president of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in Oslo, which administers the Abel Prize in mathematics and the Kavli prizes in astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience, says the results send “a signal to institutions awarding prestigious science prizes to do more for diversity”.
UK parliamentary group calls for greater representation of women and minority ethnic groups.
A cross-party group of UK parliamentarians is urging the government to increase the diversity of the nation’s workforce in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Among other recommendations, a report issued by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Diversity and Inclusion in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths calls on the government’s Office for Science and Technology Strategy to review all departments involved with the STEM workforce to ensure that they are committed to diversity. Departments subject to review would include those responsible for education, research and development investments, and professional qualifications standards.
“Diversity is not an optional add-on, it is an economic imperative,” says Chi Onwurah, a Member of Parliament and chair of the APPG. “It needs to be at the heart of policy, because we cannot build a more prosperous economy without making use of the talents of everyone.”
Governments have failed to slow climate change quickly enough, so activists are using courts to compel countries and companies to act — increasingly with help from forefront science.
Friederike Otto hadn’t really thought much about the legal world when she answered the phone one day in 2018. On the other end of the line was Petra Minnerop, a scholar of international law at the University of Durham, UK, who was exploring how the legal system might help to save the planet.
Minnerop had developed an interest in climate litigation — efforts to hold governments and companies legally responsible for contributing to global warming. Following the success of several climate lawsuits, she was seeking to get involved and thought Otto’s research might help. Otto, a climate modeller at the University of Oxford, UK, is one of the world’s leaders in attribution science — a field that has developed tools to assess how much human activities drive extreme weather events, including the heatwaves, fires and floods that have ravaged parts of the globe this year. In their telephone call, the pair realized that they had similar aims and they set about thinking how science and environmental law might trigger more action to limit climate change.
Some gestures can be understood almost anywhere: pointing to direct someone’s attention, for instance. New research shows that certain vocalizations can also be iconic and recognizable to people around the world—even when a speaker is not simply imitating a well-known sound. These findings, published in Scientific Reports, may help explain the rise of modern spoken language.
In 2015 language researchers challenged some English speakers to make up sounds representing various basic concepts (“sleep,” “child,” “meat,” “rock,” and more). When other English speakers listened to these sounds and tried matching them to concepts, they were largely successful. But “we wanted to be able to show that these vocalizations are understandable across cultures,” says study co-author and University of Birmingham cognitive scientist Marcus Perlman.