The NIH Director On Why Americans Aren't Getting Healthier, Despite Medical Advances
An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR:
It's Dr. Francis Collins' last few weeks as director of the National Institutes of Health after 12 years, serving under three presidents. Collins made his name doing the kind of biomedical research NIH is famous for, especially running The Human Genome Project, which fully sequenced the human genetic code. The focus on biomedicine and cures has helped him grow the agency's budget to over $40 billion a year and win allies in both political parties.
Still, in a broad sense, Americans' health hasn't improved much in those 12 years, especially compared with people in peer countries, and some have argued the agency hasn't done enough to try to turn these trends around. One recently retired NIH division director has quipped that one way to increase funding for this line of research would be if "out of every $100, $1 would be put into the 'Hey, how come nobody's healthy?' fund."
In a wide-ranging conversation, Collins answers NPR's questions as to why -- for all the taxpayer dollars going to NIH research -- there haven't been more gains when it comes to Americans' overall health. He also talks about how tribalism in American culture has fueled vaccine hesitancy, and he advises his successor on how to persevere on research of politically charged topics -- like guns and obesity and maternal health -- even if powerful lobbies might want that research not to get done. In regard to Americans not getting healthier over the last 12 years, NPR asked Collins why there haven't been more gains and what role NIH should play in understanding these trends and trying to turn them around. Here's what he said:
Well, sure, it does bother me. In many ways, the 28 years I have been at NIH have just been an amazing ride of discoveries upon discoveries. But you're right, we haven't seen that translate necessarily into advances. Let's be clear, there are some things that have happened that are pretty exciting. Cancer deaths are dropping every year by 1 or 2%. When you add that up over 20 years, cancer deaths are down by almost 25% from where they were at the turn of the century. And that's a consequence of all the hard work that's gone into developing therapeutics based on genomics, as well as immunotherapy that's made a big dent in an otherwise terrible disease.
But we've lost ground in other areas, and a lot of them are a function of the fact that we don't have a very healthy lifestyle in our nation. Particularly with obesity and diabetes, those risk factors have been getting worse instead of better. We haven't, apparently, come up with strategies to turn that around. On top of that, the other main reason for seeing a drop in life expectancy -- other than obesity and COVID -- is the opioid crisis. We at NIH are working as fast and as hard as we can to address that by trying to both identify better ways to prevent and treat drug addiction, but also to come up with treatments for chronic pain that are not addictive, because those 25 million people who suffer from chronic pain every day deserve something better than a drug that is going to be harmful.
In all of these instances, as a research enterprise -- because that's our mandate -- it feels like we're making great progress. But the implementation of those findings runs up against a whole lot of obstacles, in terms of the way in which our society operates, in terms of the fact that our health care system is clearly full of disparities, full of racial inequities. We're not -- at NIH -- able to reach out and fix that, but we can sure shine a bright light on it and we can try to come up with pilot interventions to see what would help.
Huge 20-Year Study Shows Trickle-Down Is a Myth, Inequality Rampant
Inequality has remained persistently high for decades, and a new report
shows just how stark the divide is between the richest and poorest people on the planet. Insider reports:
The 2022 World Inequality Report, a huge undertaking coordinated by economic and inequality experts Lucas Chancel, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman, was the product of four years of research and produced an unprecedented data set on just how wealth is distributed. "The world is marked by a very high level of income inequality and an extreme level of wealth inequality," the authors wrote. The data serves as a complete rebuke of the trickle-down economic theory, which posits that cutting taxes on the rich will "trickle down" to those below, with the cuts eventually benefiting everyone.
They argue in the new report that the last two decades of wealth data show that "inequality is a political choice, not an inevitability." For instance, when it comes to wealth, which accounts for the values of assets people hold, researchers found that the "poorest half of the global population barely owns any wealth at all." That bottom half owns just 2% of total wealth. That means that the top half of the world holds 98% of the world's wealth, and that gets even more concentrated the wealthier you get. Indeed, the richest 10% of the world's population hold 76%, or two-thirds of all wealth. That means the 517 million people who make up the top hold vastly more than the 2.5 billion who make up the bottom. The world's policy choices have led to wealth trickling up rather than down.
One group in particular has seen its share of global wealth swell. The report notes that "2020 marked the steepest increase in global billionaires' share of wealth on record." Broadly, the number of billionaires rose to a record-number in 2020, with Wealth-X finding that there are now over 3,000 members of the three-comma club. Billionaire gains are a well-documented trend: The left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies and Americans for Tax Fairness found that Americans added $2.1 trillion to their wealth during the pandemic, a 70% increase. Some of the solutions that the authors propose to help alleviate this disparity center around taxation. "It would be completely unreasonable not to ask more to top wealth-holders in the future, especially in light of the social, developmental and environmental challenges ahead," they write.
That means expanding wealth taxes like property taxes to all different types of wealth, and to make taxes progressive -- meaning they increase with net worth.
UAE To Shift To Saturday-Sunday Weekend in Line With Global Markets
The United Arab Emirates will shift to a working week of
four and half days with a Saturday-Sunday weekend from the start of next year to better align its economy with global markets, but private companies will be free to choose their own working week. From a report:
The oil-producing Gulf state, the region's commercial, trade and tourism hub, currently has a Friday-Saturday weekend. From Jan. 1, however, the weekend will start on Friday afternoon, including for schools, a government circular said. "Each company, depending on the sector they operate in and what suits and serves their business best, can choose the weekend they decide for their employees," Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation Abdulrahman al-Awar told Reuters. Over the past year, the UAE has taken measures to make its economy more attractive to foreign investment and talent at a time of growing economic rivalry with Saudi Arabia.
Twitter Acquires, Shuts Down Would-Be Slack Rival Quill
has acquired Quill, a business-focused messaging service meant to compete against the likes of Slack. According to TechCrunch, "Quill is not making the cut in the acquisition: it will be winding down as an app" as Twitter works to incorporate many of its features into its own service. From the report:
Quill notes in a brief announcement on its site that users will be "able to export your team message history until 1pm PST, Saturday, December 11th 2021, when we will be turning off our servers and deleting all data." It will issue refunds for all active teams. But the team and its IP are joining the flock: Specifically, Quill's people will be joining Twitter's Experience organization to work on messaging tools, specifically Twitter direct messages. Pettersson will be taking a role as product manager, reporting into the Conversations team under Oji Udezue, Twitter tells me.
DMs have long been a source of interest for Twitter observers, and some have wondered when and if Twitter would ever seek to develop them into a more standalone product (something that they've toyed with apparently) and possible business line. That would make some sense, given the huge boom we've seen in messaging apps in recent years, and the moves so many other open-ended social media platforms have made to boost their own direct messaging businesses. Now, with Twitter making more moves to diversify its business, maybe this could be an opportunity to rethink DMs too.
Giant Study Finds Viagra Is Linked To Almost 70% Lower Risk of Alzheimer's
fahrbot-bot shares a report from ScienceAlert:
Usage of the medication sildenafil -- better known to most as the brand-name drug Viagra -- is associated with dramatically reduced incidence of Alzheimer's disease, new research suggests. According to a study led by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic, taking sildenafil is tied to a nearly 70 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's compared to non-users. That's based on an analysis of health insurance claim data from over 7.2 million people, in which records showed that claimants who took the medication were much less likely to develop Alzheimer's over the next six years of follow up, compared to matched control patients who didn't use sildenafil.
It's important to note that observed associations like this -- even on a huge scale -- are not the same as proof of a causative effect. For example, it's possible that the people in the cohort who took sildenafil might have something else to thank for their improved chances of not developing Alzheimer's. Nonetheless, the researchers say the correlation shown here -- in addition to other indicators in the study -- is enough to identify sildenafil as a promising candidate drug for Alzheimer's disease, the viability of which can be explored in future randomized clinical trials designed to test whether causality does indeed exist.
Ubisoft Becomes First Major Gaming Company To Launch In-Game NFTs
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Decrypt:
Today, the publisher behind Assassin's Creed and Just Dance revealed Ubisoft Quartz, a platform that lets players earn and purchase in-game items that are tokenized as NFTs on the Tezos blockchain. Quartz will launch first in the PC version of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint, the latest online game in the long-running tactical shooter series. Quartz will launch in beta on December 9 in the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Brazil, and Australia. Ghost Recon Breakpoint players who have reached XP level 5 in the game can access the NFT drops. Ubisoft's release says that players must be at least 18 years old to create a Tezos wallet for use with the game.
Ubisoft is referring to its NFT drops as "Digits" and plans to release free NFTs for early adopters on December 9, 12, and 15, with further drops planned for 2022. An infographic shows items such as weapon skins and unique armor and apparel, along with a message that teases future initiatives: "This is just the beginning" [...] Much of Ubisoft's announcement today highlights the difference in environmental impact between the proof-of-stake Tezos blockchain and the energy-intensive Bitcoin. Tezos claims that a single transaction on its network uses "more than 2 million times less energy" than Bitcoin, the leading cryptocurrency. It also suggests that a single Tezos transaction uses about as much energy as a 30-second streaming video, whereas a Bitcoin transaction is estimated to measure up to the environmental impact of a full, uninterrupted year of streaming video footage.
Missouri Planned To Thank 'Hacker' Journalist Before Governor Accused Him of Crimes
Two days before Missouri governor Michael Parson (R) accused a newspaper reporter, Josh Renaud, of "hacking" for reporting about a fixed flaw in a state website, the state government of Missouri was planning to publicly thank Renaud for alerting them of the flaw, emails show in a public records request. Two days later, however, the Governor publicly accused Renaud of crimes. Also in the request, emails show that a day before the article was published the state's cybersecurity specialist informed other state officials that "this incident is not an actual network intrusion." [Instead, the state's database was "misconfigured," which "allowed open source tools to be used to query data that should not be public."]
St Louis Dispatch reporter, Josh Renaud, had discovered that the state's website was exposing the Social Security Numbers of teachers and other school employees in the HTML code of the state's site. He informed the state who fixed the flaw, and he delayed publishing the article until after the flaw was fixed. The article was published on October 14. The same day, Governor Parson accused Renaud of cyber crimes. A week later, Parson doubled down after criticism.
Intel Is Taking Its Self-Driving Company Mobileye Public In 2022
Intel announced that it
will take public its self-driving technology company Mobileye, the Israeli company it
acquired for $15.3 billion in 2017. The Verge reports:
The chipmaker said that by listing Mobileye's shares on the stock market, it hopes to unlock more value for Intel's shareholders. Intel will remain the majority shareholder in Mobileye. In a statement, Intel heralded its acquisition of the company as a noteworthy success, noting that Mobileye's revenue in 2021 was 40 percent higher than the previous year. An IPO "provides the best opportunity to build on Mobileye's track record for innovation and unlock value for shareholders," Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger said.
Founded in Jerusalem in 1999 by Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram, the company develops systems and chips to help vehicles navigate autonomously and provide warnings for collisions. Tesla originally used Mobileye chips for its Autopilot system but severed ties with the company after a fatal accident where Tesla claims Mobileye's technology was unable to distinguish between a laterally crossing truck and the sky behind it. Its EyeQ4 chip is currently used in the NIO ES6 and ES8, Nissan's ProPilot 2.0, VW's Travel Assistant in the Passat and Golf, the Ford Mustang Mach-E, as well as the F-150 truck.
Mobileye is currently working on four different products that offer varying levels of automation, including an advanced driver assist system (ADAS) that it currently supplies to 25 companies and a "premium" ADAS that will launch with Zeekr, an electric vehicle brand owned by China's Geely. Neither ADAS system will include lidar, the sensor that uses lasers to determine the real-time location of objects on the road. Mobileye's other two products will use lidar and are more advanced in their automation technology. [...] Mobileye also aspires to operate its own robotaxis [...].
The CIA Is Deep Into Cryptocurrency, Director Reveals
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard:
There's a long-running conspiracy theory among a small number of cryptocurrency enthusiasts that Bitcoin's anonymous inventor, Satoshi Nakamoto, was actually the CIA or another three-lettered agency. That fringe theory is having a fresh day in the sun after CIA Director William Burns said on Monday that the intelligence agency has "a number of different projects focused on cryptocurrency" on the go. Burns made his comments at the tail end of a talk at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Summit. After discussing everything from the possible Russian invasion of Ukraine to the challenges of space, someone in the audience asked if the agency is on top of cryptocurrencies, which are currently at the center of the ransomware epidemic that U.S. officials are attempting to get a handle on and stamp out.
Here's what Burns said: "'This is something I inherited. My predecessor had started this, but had set in motion a number of different projects focused on cryptocurrency and trying to look at second- and third-order consequences as well and helping with our colleagues in other parts of the U.S. government to provide solid intelligence on what we're seeing as well.'" Cryptocurrencies "could have enormous impact on everything from ransomware attacks, as you mentioned, because one of the ways of getting at ransomware attacks and deterring them is to be able to get at the financial networks that so many of those criminal networks use and that gets right at the issue of digital currencies as well," Burns said.
Darpa Funded Researchers Accidentally Create the World's First Warp Bubble
The Debrief just reported that DARPA just "accidentally" created the world's first warp bubble. From the article:
Warp drive pioneer and former NASA warp drive specialist Dr. Harold G "Sonny" White has reported the successful manifestation of an actual, real-world "Warp Bubble." And, according to White, this first of its kind breakthrough by his Limitless Space Institute (LSI) team sets a new starting point for those trying to manufacture a full-sized, warp-capable spacecraft.
There's also a video of the announcement, The Very First Warp-Bubble Created by DARPA Funded Team.
The World's Relentless Demand for Chips Turns Deadly in Malaysia
Before this year, no one worried too much about the global supply chain, beyond specialists in the field. The role of developing nations like Malaysia or the Philippines
warranted little attention. From a report:
But the coronavirus outbreak has been a wake-up call for chief executives, prime ministers and consumers around the world, as shortages disrupted production of everything from iPhones and F-150 pickups to Nike sneakers. The tragedy in Muar shows the little-understood human cost of keeping supply chains running in a pandemic. While politicians in Washington and Paris urge suppliers to step up production of semiconductors and government officials in countries like Malaysia give special exemptions to powerful corporations, employees like Hani put their lives at risk.
The duty of the government is to look after the workers' interest more than the country's or the companies' interest," said Zaid Ibrahim, a former law minister in Malaysia. "Of the three -- the government, companies and workers -- the most vulnerable are the workers. I wish we could have avoided these tragedies." Malaysia is a case study in the conflict between people and profit. The government spent decades attracting foreign investment and diversifying its economy beyond rubber and tin. The country now accounts for 13% of the world's chip testing and packaging, a key step in producing the semiconductors that go into automobiles, smartphones and other devices. Some 575,000 people were employed in the electrical and electronics industry in 2020, working with global chipmakers such as STMicro, Infineon Technologies AG, Intel Corp. and Renesas Electronics.
Verizon Once Again Expands Its Snoopvertising Ambitions
reporting for TechDirt:
Back in 2008, Verizon proclaimed that we didn't need additional consumer privacy protections (or opt in requirements, or net neutrality rules) because consumers would keep the company honest. "The extensive oversight provided by literally hundreds of thousands of sophisticated online users would help ensure effective enforcement of good practices and protect consumers," Verizon said at the time.
Six years later and Verizon found itself at the heart of a massive privacy scandal after it began covertly injecting unique user-tracking headers into wireless data packets. The technology allowed Verizon to track users all over the internet, and the company neither bothered to inform users it would happen, or gave users any way to opt out. It took security researchers two years before security researchers even realized what Verizon was doing. Verizon ultimately received a $1.35 million fine from the FCC (a tiny portion of what Verizon made off the program), but still uses the same tech (albeit with functioning opt-out) today.
A few years later and it's not clear Verizon has actually learned all that much. The company last week began expanding its data collection and monetization once again, this time via a new "Verizon Custom Experience" the company says will help it "personalize our communications with you, give you more relevant product and service recommendations, and develop plans, services and offers that are more appealing to you." In reality that means Verizon is expanding the collection of data on the websites you visit, the people you communicate with, and the apps you use.
Airplane Landings at Risk of Delays on FAA Move To Ease 5G Risk
Airliners, private planes and helicopters may have to
limit landings in low-visibility conditions and follow other restrictions under a government directive to ensure safe operations once a new band of 5G mobile-phone service starts in January. From a report:
The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday issued two orders laying out potential flight restrictions that could cause severe restrictions at major airports during bad weather.
"The FAA is working closely with the Federal Communications Commission and wireless companies, and has made progress toward safely implementing the 5G expansion," the FAA said in a statement. "We are confident with ongoing collaboration we will reach this shared goal." The agency said in a press release that it believes "the expansion of 5G and aviation will safely co-exist" and stopped short of specific restrictions. But the two airworthiness directives lay the groundwork for what could be severe limitations across the nation's aviation system if the regulator believes the signals -- from a part of the spectrum called the "C-Band" that the mobile carriers have procured to expand their service -- threaten safety.
Senate Confirms FCC Chair Rosenworcel To Another Term, Narrowly Avoiding a Republican Majority
The Senate voted 68-31 to confirm Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, the first woman to hold that title,
to another five-year term, narrowly avoiding a Republican majority at the agency once her current term was set to expire at the end of the year. From a report:
Rosenworcel gained the support of key Republicans, including Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Roger Wicker, R-Miss. President Joe Biden waited a historically long period to nominate Rosenworcel as well as former FCC official Gigi Sohn to a commissioner role. That prolonged period threatened to temporarily give the two Republicans on the commission a majority, since Rosenworcel would have had to leave the commission at the New Year if she was not confirmed to another term by then. While the role of acting chair, which sets the agenda for the agency, would go to the remaining Democrat on the commission until a permanent chair could be confirmed, the agency would likely not have been able to push forward anything but the most bipartisan of measures. Even with Rosenworcel's confirmation, the commission is set to remain stalemated on more controversial issues until a fifth commissioner is confirmed. Biden has signaled a desire to return to the net neutrality rules adopted by the FCC during the Obama administration, which were later repealed by the agency under former President Donald Trump. Republicans on the commission have continued to signal opposition to reclassifying broadband providers under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, which the industry has argued would unfairly open the possibility of price regulation of their services. Companies subject to the reclassification included internet service providers like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, parent company of CNBC owner NBCUniversal.
An Amazon Server Outage is Causing Problems for Alexa, Ring, Disney Plus, and Others
Problems with some of the Amazon Web Services cloud servers are
causing slow loading or failures for significant chunks of the internet. From a report:
The company's widespread network of data centers powers many of the things you interact with online, so as we've seen in previous AWS outage incidents, any problem can have massive ripple effects. People started noticing problems at around 10:45AM ET. There are reports of outages for Disney Plus streaming, as well as games like PUBG, League of Legends, and Valorant. We've also noticed some problems accessing Amazon.com, as well as other Amazon products like the Alexa AI assistant, Kindle ebooks, Amazon Music, or Ring security cameras. The DownDetector list of services with spikes in their outage reports runs off nearly any recognizable name: Tinder, Roku, Coinbase, both Cash App and Venmo, and the list goes on.