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Eli Fennell
Living La Vida Científica
Living La Vida Científica
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Experimental HIV Vaccine Passes First Human Trial Round

A new type of HIV vaccine candidate has been found safe and seemingly effective in the first experimental round of trials on hundreds of healthy adult humans and rhesus monkeys.

The Ad26 prime, Ad26 plus gp140 boost HIV vaccine candidate, a mosaic type of vaccine against many strains of HIV, showed no major adverse effects on humans and monkeys, induced robust immune responses, and in monkeys provided nearly 70% protection against viral challenge (we cannot deliberately infect humans, thus we have data for this only from the monkeys, but since the data is otherwise similar, this is nonetheless encouraging for humans).

The vaccine candidate, one of only four of its kind to advance to human testing in the past generation, will now proceed to a second larger round of human testing. If the results hold up, this may become the first HIV vaccine candidate effective enough to be recommended for widespread usage.

#BlindMeWithScience #Epidemiology #HIVVaccine
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Love this flick! Can't go wrong with Tom Hanks. Not exactly "Based On A True Story", but the real story is pretty strange, as well.

This is the kind of role only Tom Hanks can master.
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"The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom." - Isaac Asimov
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How Big Tech Uses Link Redirects To Spy On You and Lie To You

Have you ever wondered why major online platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and others typically redirect you to the URL you thought you clicked on, by first sending you to a different URL, such as Twitter's built-in link shortener, which then redirects to the actual target URL?

The following article discusses how these companies have used what was intended to be a type of HTML Error Redirect, e.g. for when a site moves a given Page or Post from one URL to another and redirects from the old one, to instead gather data on things like your IP Address, track the spread of various URL shares across a social network (and beyond, in some cases), etc...

It also, deliberately or not, creates an appearance that more of the Internet is part of, say, Facebook than really is part of it, which at least appears to have worked in some developing markets, where polls show people often confuse a single social network or platform as synonymous with The Internet. They also leave users less secure, and slow down the loading of web pages quite noticeably in many cases.

More to the point, though: there is no good technical reason to do this and, indeed, every argument against it, as it is the equivalent of, say, your phone company redirecting all your calls through an intermediary phone number in order to allow them to gather more data about their users.

Really, imagine if you dialed a number on your phone, and frequently saw your phone first dial a different number, then somehow switch mid-call to the intended number. Who would tolerate this? Especially upon being told that it served no purpose but to pad the bottom line of the company? And especially as this would add unnecessary additional wait time to each call you made!

Yet, this is increasingly the reality of the internet: the manipulation of a legitimate and useful web standard, for purposes for which it is more-or-less explicitly not intended, and which arguably breaks the addressing standards the Internet and World Wide Web were built upon.

#BigTech #SocialMedia #FakeNews
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Wisdom is the hardest thing to obtain in this world, because it requires a commitment, for a major portion of your life, to fearlessly challenge and be willing to change your own ideas, as good reasons present themselves for you to do so, such as the hard lessons of experience.

But since we tend to invest our sense of identity into our ideas about things, giving up our ignorances ends up for most people being like giving up some important and defining part of ourselves. They won't do it, or at least not enthusiastically.

So, although nearly everyone agrees that Wisdom is more desirable than Ignorance, we end up sticking with the Ignorance we know over the Wisdom we don't.

This is why it has been said that to become Wise, one must die to the life of Ignorance. Because to even consider to give up much, most, perhaps all of how one has defined oneself until that moment, can often feel like actual death, or at least a great loss.

Our Self of this moment is never anything but a sandcastle on the beach, and the tide is always coming in. Whomever invests their sense of identity, meaning, or purpose in such a thing, will in the end be swept out along with it.
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Orca Who Won't Give Up Stillborn Calf Captivates World

An Orca known to the world as Tahlequah has been dragging her stillborn calf with her for nearly three weeks, and the world has taken notice.

While evidence of grieving amongst Orcas isn't new, the sheer commitment the mother has displayed to drag the literal dead weight of the child, dozens of miles each day, is being rightly called unprecedented, and heartbreaking.

One silver lining in this is that it has drawn attention to this struggling Orca family, with efforts currently underway to try to keep the youngest calf of the family alive by feeding it antibiotic-laced salmon (as it is at risk of both starvation and disease).

There remains concern for Tahlequah herself, however, due to the effort of dragging the calf corpse, and immediately following a pregnancy to boot. Unfortunately, it will ultimately be entirely up to her if she can let go and continue with her life or if, as sometimes happens with humans, this will prove a loss she can't recover from.

(Article Paywalled. Open this in an Incognito Browser Tab if you want to bypass the Paywall.)

#BlindMeWithScience #Tahlequah #Orca
washingtonpost
washingtonpost
washingtonpost.com
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We have become a society of experts in the art of removing the dust motes from each other's eyes. We have even fine tuned our most disruptive technologies to further this purpose. It turns out, though, we're not much better at the art of removing the planks from our own eyes than we've ever been, and there's no Mass Market Demand for Disruptive Introspection or Cutting Edge Absolution to match our demand for new ways to emblazon one another with Scarlet A's.
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Sound Waves May Be Antigravitational

Sound waves are traditionally thought of as massless waves, and therefore not exactly governed by gravity, with any upward molecular motion countered by equal downward motion.

A new paper in the preprint journal arXiv argues that, in fact, sound waves (or, rather, the quasiparticles of sound vibration called phonons, which to be clear are not real particles but behave much like particles) have a slight positive mass. While you might expect this to mean they would fall under gravity (if perhaps very slowly), as other masses would do, in fact the opposite would be true: the sound waves would move slowly against gravity, in effect falling up instead of down.

This is because sound waves propagate more quickly through less dense media, and in an atmosphere under gravity like our own, this will be below the sound wave. This difference in speed above and below the wave causes it to gradually deflect upwards.

While this is of minimal interest for understanding sound waves here on Terra Firma, it has potential implications for exotic phenomenon such as near Speed of Light sound waves observed in neutron stars.

#BlindMeWithScience #Physics #Acoustics
Live Science
Live Science
livescience.com
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ACM Updates 'Hippocratic Oath of Computing'

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), "the world's largest scientific and educational computing society" (Wikipedia), is one of the most influential voices in computing ethics.

Periodically they issue a Code of Ethics. The last time they updated it was in 1992, when few people had heard of the Internet or World Wide Web, and as such is a bit outdated.

Now the ACM has issued an updated Code for computing ethics, a result of more than two years of revision. While not quite as prominent in computing circles as the Hippocratic Oath is for medical practitioners (whom, contrary to popular belief, rarely in fact ever swear the oath formally), and not well known in general, the ACM Code of Ethics is as close as there comes to such an ethos.

Given the social debates taking place over the role and responsibilities (if any) of major platform hosts and providers, in terms of managing misinformation, moderating abusive behaviors, whether or not to develop technologies which may have violent or oppressive uses, or otherwise, this updated code may take on a renewed significance, and indeed seems to anticipate this by its design.

It's definitely worth a read, and should perhaps be mandatory teaching for aspiring computing professionals and researchers.

#ACM #Computing #Ethics
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Machine Learning Finds Over 40K 'Missing Scientists' on Wikipedia

Wikipedia has become an immense online trove of data about persons, places, things, and even concepts. It is so ubiquitous that, even if one repeats loudly and ceaselessly that it is by no means perfect, it will nonetheless continue to profoundly shape our knowledge of the world.

It is not, though, without its flaws, and it will not do to simply accept these, not when the platform in question is so prominent and influential. It must keep improving.

One possibility for improvement is to minimize human bias with the help of Machine Learning. And one area where this can be immediately invaluable is in identifying prominent Scientists who lack Wikipedia entries.

A new Machine Learning tool called Quicksilver, from AI Startup Primer, searched Wikipedia for mentions of prominent Scientists and found over 40K missing Scientists, i.e. with no Wikipedia page. Reflecting a general cultural bias, a disproportionate share of these were female Scientists

The purpose of the tool, though, is not to just highlight discrepancies we already knew existed. It also generates a basic Wikipedia friendly Draft Page, with proper structure and citations. Simply pointing out a problem in itself rarely solves it. This a problem solving tool.

Primer emphasizes that this may have many more applications, such as in identifying and updating dormant pages. It also may present new challenges in combatting automated misinformation campaigns, depending upon how Wikipedia itself and other online crowdsourced information platforms respond to this technology.

And it is not without risk of bias itself, due to inevitable biases in source materials. It is a potentially significant improvement, however, if not a Silver Bullet, if carefully applied and vetted.

#BlindMeWithScience #AI #MachineLearning
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