Troubles escalate at Ecuador’s dream research university

Yachay Tech University, launched in 2014, drew faculty from around the world to its brand new campus.


It was supposed to become Ecuador’s dream research university—an international hub for science and higher education, able to recruit top talent from around the world. Instead, 6-year-old Yachay Tech University, nestled in the mountains 2 hours north of Quito, has long been mired in conflicts. Now, Ecuador’s economic woes and shifting politics have stirred new turmoil that threatens the university’s drive for “independent” status, which would allow it to run its own affairs.

The past year, dozens of professors were fired or left because of salary reductions or alleged mistreatment, and those who remain have had to work extra shifts. The departures have left students struggling to enroll in courses or find thesis advisers, they say. On 13 October, Ecuador’s Higher Education Council (CES) ordered the university to file a “clear and accurate report” within 10 days answering complaints and inquiries from two professors and a group of students. They allege the university’s administration has violated professors’ rights and made long-term decisions with little transparency.

The turmoil—which follows a previous spate of firings in 2017—comes at a sensitive time. In Ecuador, new universities are established by the government but must go through a process called institutionalization, which includes awarding tenure to some faculty and democratically electing university leadership. Given the current chaos, Yachay Tech will almost certainly miss the 31 December deadline for doing so, sources say.

Many blame the problems on mathematician Hermann Mena, who became university president in August 2019. “He is breaking everything apart,” says Juan Lobos Martin, a Spanish materials scientist who came to Yachay when it opened in 2014 after completing a postdoc at the University of Pittsburgh. “We’ve lost a lot of professors who have a lot of experience and teach very well.”

Mena rejects the criticism. In an interview with Science, he said seven professors were justifiably fired; the others left because of salary cuts he had to make after Ecuador’s government cut Yachay Tech’s annual budget by 12%, or $1.8 million, creating a “very dramatic” financial situation. Administrative staff’s salaries, including his own, have been cut as well, Mena says, and the school has reined in unjustified travel and other expenses he deemed inappropriate. “Everything we have done has been strictly by law,” he says.

Then-Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa launched Yachay Tech in 2014, along with three other universities, as part of an effort to boost the country’s higher education system. It hired faculty from around the world, and its brand-new campus hosts the country’s most powerful supercomputer. Just last year, Nature Index ranked Yachay Tech first in Ecuador for original research output. But from the start, the university was beset by conflicts about its course that nine different presidents have been unable to solve.

Institutionalization has created fresh trouble. As part of the process, the university granted some 55 professors tenure starting in October 2018. But in March 2019, Ecuador’s Secretariat of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (Senescyt) suddenly froze the process after Mena, then a faculty member, and others claimed it was tainted by conflicts of interest. Senescyt ousted two presidents in the next 5 months and eventually elevated Mena to the top job.

Since then, Yachay Tech administrative officials with little or no scientific training have re-evaluated current professors based on their CVs and recent output, university researchers say. Some saw their salary cut by up to 40%. “The process is not transparent,” says Si Amar Dahoumane, a former biotechnology researcher at Yachay Tech. “Professors were not involved.” The university pressured those already promised tenure to sign away that right, says Lobos Martin, who himself was promised tenure on 1 March 2019. He says he refused to give in and has since lost his salary.

Right now, we have many problems and no information from the authorities.

Diana Estefanía López Ramos, Yachay Tech University Student Association

Foreigners, originally the majority of the teaching staff, bore the brunt of the scrutiny. More than 80% of the estimated 44 professors who left Yachay Tech since Mena took office are foreigners, faculty say, and of the few replacement hires, most are Ecuadorians. Computer scientist Israel Pineda, who is Ecuadorian, is dismayed the university fired its translator and appears to have given up on its ambition to teach in English. “All of our major presence right now is in Spanish,” Pineda says. “The university has to be international. Otherwise, we go right back to the traditional system that we have here” in Ecuador.

Some say politics plays a role. Ecuador’s current government appears not to have a strong interest in supporting the legacy of Correa, a leftist who poured money into social programs such as health and education, or in his dream of an international flagship institution. “Yachay started as a political university and that is the problem,” says Lobos Martin, who suspects the current government might let the university run itself into the ground. But others say Correa’s vision for Yachay Tech is just not sustainable given Ecuador’s shaky economy, which was facing challenges even before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Senescyt did not make its director, Agustín Albán Maldonado, available for an interview. A spokesperson for the agency emailed Science that Yachay Tech had made little progress toward autonomy until mid-2019, when Senescyt started to help the university. Senescyt is now working with Yachay Tech to create guidelines for moving the tenuring and institutionalization processes forward, according to the email.

It’s not clear what will happen if the university misses the 31 December deadline, but some students worry about Yachay Tech’s survival. “It’s one of the few universities, if not the only one, that trains scientists,” says Diana Estefanía López Ramos, a biomedical engineering student and president of the Student Association. “Right now, we have many problems and no information from the authorities.” Mena’s critics hope the CES inquiry will uncover some answers—and push Mena to rethink his decisions.

Mena acknowledges that “it seems that communication has not been the best,” and says misinformation is circulating. His team will make key documents public soon, he says, and this week, the university posted a video about the controversies surrounding the tenuring process online. Mena says he still has confidence in the school’s future. “The point is that Yachay is not a project anymore, we are a university,” he says. “And the idea is to make it sustainable.”

*Correction, 23 October, 2:30 p.m.: A previous version of this article implied that Spyridon Agathos was removed from his position as president of Yachay Tech at the time Senescyt froze the tenuring process. Agathos stepped into the position when the process was frozen and was asked to step down a few months later.

Want to make nice with the neighbors? Try sacrificing a few llamas

L. M. Valdez

Some 500 years ago, four elaborately adorned llamas looked out over a low, grassy plain in the Acari Valley near the southern coast of what is now Peru for the last time. The animals, whose mummified remains were found in 2018, were ritually sacrificed and buried beneath the floor of a building. Now, researchers think they know why: They were a “getting to know you” present from the Inca Empire to their recently conquered neighbors.

By the beginning of the 15th century, the Inca civilization was concentrated in the southern mountain stronghold of Cuzco. In the 1430s, the Inca began to expand their territory by annexing surrounding lands—often peacefully, but by force if necessary. Histories of the region recorded by Spanish colonists argue the Inca peacefully annexed the Acari Valley around this time.

To shore up their support with the locals, they might have sacrificed the llamas to local deities in the plaza of a site known as Tambo Viejo—three white llamas to the Sun god and one brown llama to the creator god—along with several guinea pigs, the researchers suspected. Llama sacrifice was a hallmark of the ancient Inca Empire—the animals were second only to human beings in terms of their value as sacrificial offerings.

Radiocarbon dating supported the theory: The llamas were likely killed between 1432 and 1459, the researchers report today in Antiquity. The lack of cut or stab wounds suggests they may have been buried alive, similar to some Inca human sacrifices. The ritual would likely have been accompanied by a huge banquet meant to cement a good relationship with the local people—good for the neighbors, but not for the llamas.

U.S. cities struggling to meet lofty climate goals

Tuscon, Arizona, has seen greenhouse gas emissions grow by 39% since 1990, the biggest increase among the 100 largest U.S. cities, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution.


Originally published in E&E News

Most major U.S. cities that have signed on to the climate fight with pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions are failing to meet their goals or haven’t even started to track local progress, according to a survey by the Brookings Institution.

The report, “Pledges and Progress,” looked for climate policy and actions in the nation’s 100 most populous cities, finding that two-thirds have made commitments to address citywide emissions.

President Donald Trump’s rejection of the Paris climate accord after he took office sparked a strong response at the local level. Mayors joined governors, business leaders and academics in taking the “We Are Still In” pledge to help meet targets for cutting emissions under the 2015 Paris Agreement. The pledge now lists 3800 signers.

“At their best, the plans have exemplified the hope that ‘bottom-up’ actions could add up to a powerful approach to climate mitigation, especially given rollbacks in federal policy under the Trump administration including the government’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement,” the report said.

But the Brookings analysis found that actions taken by cities aren’t matching up with their pledges to address climate change.

Among the 100 largest cities, only 45 set specific targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions during the past decade and inventoried emissions levels within city boundaries as baselines for measuring progress.

Twenty-two more cities have made general pledges to address emissions. But the Brookings analysis found they haven’t set emissions targets or inventoried current emissions levels.

“Half the cities aren’t doing anything,” said David Victor, co-chair of the Brookings Initiative on Energy and Climate.

Although there are Republican mayors in the climate action ranks, he said the split has obvious partisan roots.

Among the 45 cities fully engaged in the campaign, two-thirds are falling behind the emissions targets they set. “On average, all cities in the report need to cut their annual emissions by 64% by 2050 in order to reach their respective goals,” the authors wrote.

Mark Muro, senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, said there are some encouraging local efforts, including in San Diego; Richmond, Virginia; Greensboro, North Carolina; and Cincinnati. Several cities in California, including Oakland, San Francisco, and Riverside, have the biggest climate gains by percentage emissions reductions.

Los Angeles is by far the pace setter in reducing carbon emissions within its boundaries. That is in large part the result of municipal ownership of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which has helped speed action on closing coal-fired power plants. Greenhouse gas emissions in Los Angeles, assessed at 54 million metric tons in 1990, had dropped to 29 million metric tons in 2013.

Coronavirus impact

But roadblocks facing mayors in the climate campaign were obvious even before the coronavirus pushed the nation’s economy into a dramatic downturn.

The Brookings results point to the challenges faced by cities whose climate commitments diverge from policies at the state level. Another challenge for cities is the limits within which they operate. City governments can’t control everything that happens within their borders.

For example, when Pittsburgh inventoried greenhouse gas emissions in 2013, it estimated an annual citywide total of 4.8 million metric tons. Emissions from operations directly under City Hall control came to just 115,069 metric tons. The city government plans more reductions in part by buying refuse trucks that run on lower-emission compressed natural gas. Its Parking Authority is teaming with Duquesne Light Co. to bring 16 new electric vehicle chargers to city parking lots.

These are marginal changes in a city and county with nearly 694,000 registered passenger vehicles. Most of them run on gasoline engines that pump out carbon emissions.

So the city has to leverage policy where it can have greatest impact, Grant Ervin, Pittsburgh’s chief resilience officer and climate policy planner, told E&E News. “There’s a whole other side of our work that is really about developing a comprehensive land use strategy for the city of Pittsburgh, which is, effectively, how to use land at its most effective way to reduce carbon by reducing vehicle miles traveled.”

Boston is among the major cities with climate commitments. It joined the Metro Mayors Climate Mitigation Commitment in 2016 and pledged to achieve a carbon neutral economy by 2050.

Last year, the Boston Green Ribbon Commission issued a blueprint for reaching the midcentury goal. “It requires an electricity grid that is powered by renewable sources of energy and a large-scale reduction in the use of oil and natural gas for transportation, space heating, and hot water,” the report said.

The Boston blueprint said the city needs more public transportation that could replace personal cars. And the remaining cars need to be battery-powered or powered by some other carbon-free source of energy. That means that Boston’s success could hinge on efforts to build wind power installations off its Atlantic coast.

One major challenge for the city of Boston is its buildings, which are responsible for two-thirds of the city’s carbon emissions. That includes the electricity they use and the oil and natural gas burned for heat and hot water.

Between 2000 and 3000 buildings annually will have to undergo a deep retrofit to install electric heating and hot water systems along with improvements in insulation for windows, walls and roofs. Authors of the Boston report said achieving those goals requires a large, experienced workforce that does not exist today.

“New forms of project financing will be needed to provide the upfront capital necessary for deep retrofits and enable building owners to realize future energy cost savings, health improvements, and better comfort,” the authors said.

Such solutions will have to come not only from federal incentives and energy policy, said Victor of Brookings, but also from an outpouring of experimentation and pioneering at the local and state level.

“One of the great priorities [is] to make sure there is license for the heartland to innovate and act,” he said.

This story also appears in Energywire.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. Copyright 2020. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals. 

Early approval of a COVID-19 vaccine could cause ethical problems for other vax candidates, and ‘upcycling’ plastic bags

a plastic bag with a purple filter and the podcast symbol overlay

Zeev Barkan/Flickr

First up, host Sarah Crespi talks with Staff Writer Jon Cohen about some tricky ethical questions that may arise after the first coronavirus vaccine is authorized for use in the United States. Will people continue to participate in clinical trials of other vaccines? Will it still be OK to give participants placebo vaccines?

Next, producer Meagan Cantwell talks with Bert Weckhuysen, a professor at Utrecht University, about a process for taking low-value plastic like polyethylene (often used for packaging and grocery bags) and “upcycling” it into biodegradable materials that can be used for new purposes.

This week’s episode was produced with help from Podigy.

Listen to previous podcasts.

About the Science Podcast

Download a transcript (PDF).

Like humans, male chimps mellow with age

For all its drawbacks, aging brings a benefit: Social relationships generally improve. Older individuals have fewer but closer friendships, avoid conflicts, and are more optimistic compared with younger adults. Now, 20 years of data on chimpanzees suggest they, too, develop more meaningful friendships as they age.

The finding challenges a long-standing assumption that humans mellow with age because we are aware of our approaching mortality. Simply put, “You don’t have time for all this negativity in your life, so you shift toward more positive thinking,” says Zarin Machanda, a primatologist at Tufts University and an author of the new study. But finding the same pattern in chimps suggests a simpler explanation: It could be an evolved trait found in a wider range of species. The new study “should make us think twice” about the roots of some human behaviors, says Ian Gilby, a behavioral ecologist at Arizona State University, Tempe, who was not involved in the work.

Machanda and colleagues gathered data from the Kibale Chimpanzee Project, which has tracked wild chimpanzee behavior in Uganda’s Kibale National Park since 1987. Because chimps are socially similar to humans—they live in large groups and engage in both cooperative and antagonistic relationships throughout their lives—they serve as an ideal test group for studying changes in social behavior. The researchers zeroed in on the males, who had more purely peer-to-peer relationships than females.

Combing through 21 years of behavioral logs on 21 chimps aged 15 through 58, the researchers found that older males (aged 35 and up) had more mutual friendships than younger ones, they report today in Science. Older “friends” would sit together and groom one another on a regular basis, whereas younger chimps were more likely to engage in one-sided relationships, in which they groomed preferred elders who rarely returned the favor.

That makes sense to Gilby, who suspects that younger males groom older, dominant ones to rise in the group hierarchy. But as males age and fall in rank, they stop competing for dominance and “tend to give up,” he says. Forming these cooperative relationships with peers could help older males maintain their status, helping them fend off challenges by younger and fitter chimps.

The researchers also found that older males had fewer aggressive interactions with other members of the group. “They’re not getting drawn into scuffles all the time, in the way a younger chimpanzee might be,” says Alexandra Rosati, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and an author of the study.

The findings wouldn’t surprise most primatologists, says Gilby, who has observed these types of one-sided and mutual male relationships during field research. But the evidence that we and our closest relatives share a social aging pattern challenges the idea that these behaviors are uniquely human. Rather than being tied to our mortality, they could be an adaptive response that improves the mating success or group rank of older chimps.

Rosati is eager to see whether other chimpanzee groups—and female chimpanzees—also experience this mellowing with age. She says the theory could also be tested in other long-lived social species, like bonobos, elephants, and orcas. Next, however, she and Machanda will take a deeper look at how social bonds might benefit aging chimps—and whether the same mechanisms could be at work in humans. “There is a lot more to learn,” Gilby says.

Why bird brains are more brilliant than anyone suspected

Although bird brains are tiny, they’re packed with neurons, especially in areas responsible for higher level thinking. Two studies published last month in Science explore the structure and function of avian brains—revealing they are organized similarly to mammals’ and are capable of conscious thought.

Watch the video above to learn how “bird brain” is becoming an insult of the past.

‘There’s only one chance to do this right’—FDA panel wrestles with COVID-19 vaccine issues

This COVID-19 vaccine trial in Florida and others could be disrupted if the Food and Drug Administration authorizes one vaccine before others.

Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

Concerns raised yesterday by an advisory group to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may once again tap the brakes on Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government’s $10.8 billion push to rapidly move candidate COVID-19 vaccines from concept to communities.

As new U.S. cases of the pandemic coronavirus set a daily high of more than 75,000, FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) held a 9-hour virtual meeting to discuss a regulatory pathway that could permit the widescale use of a COVID-19 vaccine that has only minimal evidence of safety and efficacy. A so-called emergency use authorization (EUA) could use preliminary data from vaccine efficacy trials now underway to shave many months off the standard approval process, and FDA wanted VRBPAC to weigh in about the wisdom of taking this shortcut. The hearing, live-streamed on YouTube, drew intense interest, and some of the committee members—a mix of academics, consumer representatives, and government scientists—had an unsettling but clear message to FDA: Hold your horses.

Several VRBPAC members worried an EUA could contribute to the public’s growing hesitancy toward COVID-19 vaccines by fueling the perception that FDA was compromising its famously high standards. Sheldon Toubman, an attorney on the committee who represents consumers, flat out urged FDA not to issue an EUA for a COVID-19 vaccine, arguing that the agency should stick to the traditional approval process. “There’s only one chance to do this right,” Toubman said. “And if we do it wrong, then we’re done for, it’ll be years. Because there’s already a serious problem with a lack of trust, and the [lack of] trust will become so severe at that point, we won’t be able to dig out of it.”

The committee also discussed the possibility that an early authorization of a vaccine could disrupt many of the COVID-19 vaccine efficacy trials now underway, derailing attempts to obtain the most robust—and convincing—safety and efficacy data. And several members worried FDA’s most recent guidance for vaccine companies that might seek an EUA still does not have stringent enough safety criteria.

Four candidate vaccines selected by Operation Warp Speed now are in efficacy trials, which are comparing the incidence of COVID-19 disease in at least 30,000 participants who blindly receive either a vaccine or a placebo. They are designed to end when they have about 150 cases of symptomatic disease, but independent monitoring boards will tell investigators whether a vaccine looks like it’s working at 50 cases and again at 100 cases. FDA guidance issued in June says the agency will consider issuing an EUA for a vaccine if it shows at least 50% efficacy at any of these analyses.

FDA has committed to seeking VRBPAC’s feedback if a COVID-19 vaccine company does request an EUA. Doran Fink, deputy director of FDA’s vaccine division, cautioned the committee that permitting the use of a weakly effective COVID-19 vaccine could do more harm than good—and not only because of its impact on trials of other candidates. “It could do so by providing a false sense of security that interferes with measures to reduce [COVID-19] transmission,” Fink cautioned, citing effective nonmedical interventions such as wearing masks and social distancing.

Researchers from the Reagan-Udall Foundation, a nonprofit set up by Congress to “advance the mission of the FDA,” told the committee about sobering findings from its COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence Project, which underscored misgivings held by people in underrepresented communities and “frontline workers” in service, retail, and health care settings. Some people interviewed “would want to wait months, or even years, before choosing to receive a vaccine” because of widespread distrust of government and the health care system itself, the foundation researchers noted. The country’s racial and ethnic disparities also played a role, especially given the infamous Tuskegee experiment in which Black men were denied syphilis treatment so researchers could better understand the disease. “The more they study me, the more they know how to get rid of me,” one interviewee told the researchers.

President Donald Trump repeatedly pushed for a COVID-19 vaccine EUA before the 3 November elections, but FDA effectively removed that possibility earlier this month when it issued a second guidance that added a safety stipulation: Two months must have passed after at least half the people in the trial have received all doses of the vaccine, in order to see whether side effects emerge over time. Several committee members and public commenters contended that 2 months was not long enough, however, and urged FDA to extend this to at least 6 months.

Committee member Paul Offit, a vaccine researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, noted that EUAs already issued for COVID-19 treatments have created confusion about how early approval might be granted to a vaccine. Under pressure from the Trump administration, FDA issued EUAs for hydroxychloroquine and convalescent plasma based on the standard that they “may be effective”—a “very low bar” that did not require convincing efficacy data from a randomized, controlled trial. Neither treatment actually works, Offit asserted, adding that those EUAs tainted the validity of the process. “I think we have a language problem,” said Offit, who argued for renaming the process. A vaccine EUA, in contrast, requires evidence of efficacy and at least some safety assurances, which is much closer to the full approval process.

FDA explicitly asked the committee for guidance on what the meeting’s chair, epidemiologist Arnold Monto of the University of Michigan School of Public Health, referred to as “a very thorny issue”: whether an EUA for a COVID-19 vaccine could undermine efforts to assess the safety and efficacy of that product and other candidates as well. Before the meeting, Pfizer, which has one of the candidates furthest along in efficacy trials, put the dilemma in sharp focus in a letter it submitted to FDA.

If FDA granted the company an EUA, a senior vice president for the company wrote, Pfizer would want FDA’s approval to give those in the placebo arm its vaccine—a step that would then compromise the ability of the 2-year study to continue to gather comparative safety and efficacy data of the vaccine and the placebo. A representative from Moderna, which also has a candidate that’s far along in efficacy trials, told the committee that “participants are beginning to ask when they will know if they receive study vaccine or placebo.”

“Once a decision is made to unblind an ongoing placebo-controlled trial, that decision cannot be walked back,” Fink noted, stressing that future data from the control arm “is lost forever.”

The FDA representatives suggested a way out of the dilemma: Instead of receiving an EUA, a vaccine could be approved for “expanded access,” which would limit its use to select populations at high risk of COVID-19. This pathway typically is reserved to allow the use of experimental treatments in patients who have life-threatening conditions, but it has been used before for vaccines, such as one for meningitis B in college students. Because access to the vaccine would be limited, the approach has the advantage of allowing efficacy trials to continue.

Offit suggested after the meeting that to keep collecting vital vaccine efficacy data from trials, FDA may well need to use a mechanism like expanded access—or create a new one—that’s somewhere in between an EUA and full approval. “They just don’t have a lot of leeway right now,” Offit said.

As U.S. election nears, researchers are following the trail of fake news


It started with a tweet from a conservative media personality, accompanied by photos, claiming that more than 1000 mail-in ballots had been discovered in a dumpster in Sonoma county in California. Within hours on the morning of 25 September, a popular far-right news website ran the photos with an “exclusive” story suggesting thousands of uncounted ballots had been dumped by the county and workers had tried to cover it up.

In fact, according to Sonoma county officals, the photos showed empty envelopes from the 2018 election that had been gathered for recycling. Ballots for this year’s general election had not yet been mailed. Even so, within a single day, more than 25,000 Twitter users had shared a version of the false ballot-dumping story, including Donald Trump Jr., who has 5.7 million followers.

This election season, understanding how misinformation—and intentionally propagated disinformation—spreads has become a major goal of some social scientists. They are using a variety of approaches, including ethnographic research and quantitative analyses of internet-based social networks, to investigate where election disinformation originates, who spreads it, and how many people see it. Some are helping media firms figure out ways to block it, while others are probing how it might influence voting patterns.

The stakes are high, researchers say. “This narrative that you’re not going to be able to trust the election results is really problematic,” says Kate Starbird, a crisis informatics researcher at the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public. “If you can’t trust your elections, then I’m not sure democracy can work.”

In 2016, Russian operatives played a major role in spreading disinformation on social media in an attempt to sow discord and influence the U.S. presidential election. Foreign actors continue to interfere. But researchers say the bulk of disinformation about this year’s election has originated with right-wing domestic groups, attempting to create doubt about the integrity of the election in general, and about mail-in voting in particular. An analysis by the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), a multi-institution collaboration, showed that the false story about the Sonoma ballots was spread largely by U.S.-based websites and individuals with large, densely interconnected social media networks. “They’re just sort of wired to spread these misleading narratives,” says Starbird, who is an EIP collaborator.

Much of the election disinformation EIP has tracked so far originates in conspiratorial corners of the right-wing media ecosystem. “What we’re seeing right now are essentially seeds being planted, dozens of seeds each day, of false stories,” says Emerson Brooking, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, which is part of EIP. “They’re all being planted such that they could be cited and reactivated … after the election” by groups attempting to delegitimize the result by claiming the vote was unfair or manipulated.

So far, most of the disinformation EIP has documented focuses on election integrity. But as Election Day draws near, Starbird and Brooking expect to see more attempts to create confusion about voting procedures and attempts to suppress turnout—by raising fears about violence at polling places, for example.

Election deception can take various forms on social media. Joan Donovan, research director of Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, has been doing digital detective work on Facebook groups targeting Latinos with pro–President Donald Trump messages that appear to be run by non-Latinos who have assumed fake identities. These groups coordinate their campaigns and recruit participants on public message boards or chat apps, allowing researchers to observe their operations; the postings also provide clues the researchers can follow to investigate who the members are and what motivates them.

Purveyors of disinformation have become expert at exploiting the dynamic between social and mainstream media, researchers say. Right-wing conspiracy groups like QAnon—which promotes a false narrative that a cabal of cannibalistic, Satan-worshiping pedophiles are trying to bring down Trump—have learned how to create content and “trade up the chain” of social media users and hyperpartisan websites with increasingly large followings, Donovan says. When the falsehoods start to get traction, mainstream media outlets often feel compelled to debunk them, which can end up further extending the story’s reach. Several stories that had been circulating in QAnon networks got mainstream coverage around the time of the first presidential debate, for example, including unfounded claims that former Vice President Joe Biden might take performance-enhancing drugs or cheat by wearing an earpiece during the debate. “What we’re seeing is that the ways in which news media traditionally operate is now being turned into a vulnerability,” Donovan says.

Not all election disinformation is coming from the bottom up, however. Yochai Benkler, co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, and colleagues recently examined how claims of potential fraud associated with mail-in ballots entered public discourse. The researchers analyzed more than 55,000 online news stories, 5 million tweets, and 75,000 posts on public Facebook pages between March and August. They found that most spikes in media coverage and social media activity on the topic were driven by Trump himself—either through his own hyperactive Twitter account, press briefings, or appearances on the Fox TV network. “Donald Trump has perfected the art of harnessing mass media to disseminate and reinforce his disinformation campaign,” the researchers write in a preprint posted earlier this month.

EIP is working with social media companies to help them refine and clarify their policies so they can react more quickly to disinformation. Several companies have taken recent steps to flag or remove content, or make it harder to share—steps experts say are welcome, if long overdue. (Some platforms are also trying to nudge users toward better habits, as with Twitter’s recent experiment with prompts that appear when someone tries to share a link to an article they haven’t opened, encouraging them to read it first before sharing.)

The impact of disinformation on the election won’t be easy to measure. Some clues, however, might come from a research collaboration with Facebook aimed at studying the platform’s impact on this year’s election. The company has given 17 academic researchers access to data on the Facebook activity of a large number of users who’ve consented to be involved. (Facebook expects between 200,000 and 400,000 users to volunteer.) Participants agree to answer surveys and, in some cases, go off Facebook for a period of time before the election to help researchers investigate the effects Facebook use on political attitudes and behavior.

Among other things, the Facebook users will be asked at different times to rate their confidence in government, the police, large corporations, and the scientific community. “We’re able to look at things like changes in attitudes and whether people participated in the election and link it to their experiences on Facebook and Instagram,” including exposure to election disinformation, says Joshua Tucker, one of the project’s coordinators and a professor of politics and co-director of New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics.

Some evidence suggests the impacts might not be as great as feared, says Deen Freelon, a political communication researcher at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. There’s a long history of research, for example, showing that political ads only have marginal influence on voters. And more recent studies have suggested misinformation did not have a major effect on the 2016 election. A study published in Science in 2019 found that 80% of exposure to fake news was concentrated within just 1% of Twitter users. A survey study reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found no evidence that that people who engaged with Russian troll accounts on Twitter exhibited any substantial changes in political attitudes or behavior.

Freelon, who was a co-author on the PNAS paper and is also a member of the Facebook collaboration, says he’s more worried about “second order effects” of disinformation on our culture, such as the general sense of paranoia and distrust it creates. “When people look at social media and can’t figure out what’s true and what’s not, it degrades the overall informational quality of our political conversations,” he says. “It inserts doubt into a process that really shouldn’t have any.”

The Moon may hold much more water than we think

The Moon’s soil, especially in polar regions, could hold substantial amounts of water.


Scientists have long suspected the Moon holds sizable reserves of water, secreted as ice in the deep cold of permanently shadowed craters near the poles. Two new studies tell us more about the possible extent of those reserves. One suggests the shadowy polar caches may cover an area equivalent to the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts combined; the other reveals traces of water elsewhere on the Moon’s surface, trapped in rocks or between the grains of lunar soil. That’s welcome news for NASA, which plans to return astronauts to the lunar surface in 2024 as a first step toward a permanent outpost and eventual journeys to Mars.

Water on the Moon would be good for more than just drinking. It can be chemically split into hydrogen and oxygen, yielding components for rocket fuel—and breathable air. Having ready supplies of water on the lunar surface would be a boon for colonists there, because it is so expensive to transport from Earth. A 2008–09 orbital expedition detected the signature of water in shadowy lunar hollows. But how much is there? 

To find out, Paul Hayne, a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and his colleagues estimated the number and size of permanently shadowed polar regions, where temperatures remain below –163°C. Any water in those areas would have likely come from meteorites, comets, and other objects that once slammed into the Moon’s surface. Most water would have vaporized, but some would have drifted through the sparse atmosphere until it reached a shadowy nook, only to deposit as frost on the ever-frigid rocks and soil.

Analyzing high-resolution lunar images, the team calculated that the Moon’s polar regions host about 40,000 square kilometers of permanently shadowed areas that could contain water, from kilometers-wide craters to shallow depressions in the meteorite-gouged terrain, they report today in Nature Astronomy. About 60% of that area is in the Moon’s southern hemisphere.

Although the researchers did not estimate how much water might be present, anything in these regions should be easy to harvest, Hayne says. It might be as simple as having a lunar rover drag icy rocks and soil into a sunlit spot and collect water as it evaporates. Just last week, NASA announced a $47 million commercial contract to send an ice-seeking drill to the Moon in 2023.

A second study follows tantalizing evidence that there may be water elsewhere on the Moon. As early as 2009, scientists detected a spectral signature suggesting the presence of water in sunlit areas of the Moon. But because that signature—a particular wavelength of infrared radiation—can also be absorbed by substances other than water, it wasn’t indisputable evidence.

So Casey Honniball, a lunar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and colleagues sought a different spectral signature that could be generated only by water. They used NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy telescope, an infrared instrument mounted in a converted Boeing 747 that cruises at about 14,000 meters, to look for infrared light at a wavelength emitted by water molecules. Their flights found that each kilogram of lunar soil along two narrow swaths of the Moon’s surface contains between 100 milligrams and 400 milligrams of water, or about one raindrop’s worth, the team reports today in Nature Astronomy. Almost all of that water, they note, would be locked in shadowed areas between grains of lunar soil, or trapped in glassy materials created when micrometeorites smacked the lunar surface.

The team’s finding is “very exciting,” Hayne says. He adds that if the water is so trapped, it would be relatively easy to melt the glassy materials and, in essence, “mine” the water.

That mining would be a boon to future Moon missions, says Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters. Understanding where water is will not only help NASA decide where to send astronauts, but it could also lighten their payloads—and make more room for scientific equipment to be carried aloft.

Dogs and cats became family—and got their shot at heaven—after World War II, gravestones reveal

Christopher Shire/

In 1896, a grieving woman showed up at the office of her Manhattan veterinarian with an unusual request: Her dog had just died, and she wanted to give it a proper burial. The sympathetic doc offered a spot in his apple orchard north of the city. Word caught on, and soon the vet was besieged with similar requests. Today, his former country retreat is the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery & Crematory, the first pet cemetery in the United States and the final resting place of more than 70,000 dogs, cats, and other animals.

A new study of more than 1000 pet gravestones reveals that since the time of that first burial, our relationship with our furry friends has changed dramatically, with many pets transforming from mere friends to full-fledged members of the family. Over time, pets were more likely to be memorialized with the family name, referred to as children, and even given figurative passage to heaven.

The study is “a valuable contribution,” says Philip Howell, a historical geographer at the University of Cambridge and an expert on the changing relationship between humans and animals. “I don’t know that anyone has tried to do something like this before.”

Eric Tourigny had the idea of analyzing pet gravestones in 2014 while investigating the excavated remains of a mid–19th century house in downtown Toronto. The owners had buried a large dog in their backyard, and Tourigny, a zooarchaeologist at Newcastle University, began to wonder what pet graves could reveal about the changing status of dogs and cats in the home.

He turned to four of the largest pet cemeteries in the United Kingdom, including the country’s oldest, Hyde Park, which dates back to 1881. Then, Tourigny conducted what he says is the first systematic analysis of the writing and symbolism on pet tombstones, collecting data on 1169 grave markers from 1881 to 1991.

The proliferation of cemeteries themselves mark a turning point in our relationship with pets. Before then, many people “would throw the bodies in the river or the rubbish, or sell them for their skin or meat,” Tourigny says. Some owners also buried their pets in their backyards, as he had seen in Toronto. But few entertained the idea of internment in a dedicated public cemetery.

Tourigny chalks the shift up to Charles Darwin and other scientific luminaries of the time, whose writings put animals on more equal footing with humans. He also credits the growing sentimentality of the Victorian era, which made public displays of affection toward pets more acceptable.

The 1901 gravestone of a dog named Bobbit from the Hyde Park cemetery. The smaller text reads: “When our lonely lives are o’er and our spirits from this earth shall roam, we hope he’ll be there waiting to give us a welcome home.”

Eric Tourigny

Yet early pet gravestones tended to be simple, often featuring just the pet’s name and a date. “Darling Fluff,” one reads. “Maude. An old friend,” another.

After World War II, however, Tourigny noticed some big changes. Gravestones began to denote owners as “Mummy” or “Dad.” “Here Lies My Darling Pixie, Mommy’s Little Angel,” reads a 1976 marker. And “Fluffy” became “Fluffy Smith,” as pets took on the family name.

Only three gravestones before 1910—less than 1% of those surveyed—referred to a pet as a family member. And only six used surnames, Tourigny reports today in Antiquity. But after the war, almost 20% of grave makers described pets as family, and 11% used surnames. He also noticed more cat graves as time went on.

The changes dovetail with the rising status of pets in society. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, dogs—and eventually cats—began to live indoors in large numbers in the United Kingdom and the United States, thanks to the advent of flea shampoo and kitty litter. Families grew smaller and more prosperous, giving them more time to dote on their animal companions. And pet food, toys, and medicine became more sophisticated, in some cases rivaling those available to humans. “There was a greater willingness to identify pets as one of the family,” says Howell, who has written a book about dogs in the Victorian United Kingdom.

Pets evolved spiritually, as well. In the 19th century, religious icons like Christian crosses and Jewish Stars of David are rarely seen on pet gravestones, and there is only a tentative suggestion that owners might reunite with their beloved companions in the afterlife. “Could I think we’d meet again,” reads one 1900 headstone from Hyde Park. Just a few decades later, however, cats and dogs seem able to cross the pearly gates. “God bless until we meet again,” reads the 1952 tombstone of a cat named Denny.

Before 1910, only six pet grave markers (about 1%) sported either a religious symbol or allusion to heaven, compared with 104—or nearly 20%—after World War II, Tourigny found. Before then, he says, “Just saying your animal is going to heaven would have been very controversial.”

Still, Howell says—given that the study covers only four pet graveyards in the United Kingdom—it’s unclear whether the findings apply elsewhere in Europe, much less the rest of the world, where attitudes about pets may vary dramatically.

Tourigny’s data end in the early 1990s, when the cemeteries he surveyed ran out of space and stopped accepting pets. But it seems our relationship with dogs and cats has only grown stronger since then—as graveyards once again reveal. In 2016, for the first time, New York made it legal for pets to be buried with their owners in human cemeteries. “Four-legged friends are family for many New Yorkers,” the state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said at the time. “Who are we to stand in the way if someone’s final wish includes spending eternity with them?” uluslararası evden eve nakliyat, uluslararası evden eve nakliyat, kayseri evden eve nakliyat, kayseri asansör kiralama, kayseri evden eve nakliyat, uluslararası zati eşya taşımacılığı, kayseri asansör kiralama, kayseri kiralık asansör,, pancakeswap sniper, şirinevler escort, istanbul escort, beylikdüzü escort, avrupa yakası escort, canlı casino, elitcasino, Gaziantep escort, Antalya Escort, Antalya Escort, Şişli Escort , bodrum escort, betsmove giris, elitbahis ,