cabbage growing on agricultural field

The Daily Dose: Big Tech is moving into agriculture and not everyone’s thrilled about it.

The public health community continues to grapple with the realization that the current crop of vaccines may lose some of their protective properties as a result of new SARS-CoV-2 variants. They’re keeping a happy public face while quietly acknowledging that they’ll need to be “tweaked” in order to remain effective. Governments are also joining in the vote-of-confidence campaign. Per Reuters, “Western governments rushed to offer support for the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccination after South Africa halted its roll-out when research showed it offered minimal protection against mild infection from a variant spreading there. The arrival of vaccines has given hope that scientists can tame a pandemic that has killed 2.3 million people worldwide. But if vaccines are less effective against new variants, they may need to be tweaked and people may need booster shots.”

The move of Big Tech into the global food supply chain has people worried. An op-ed in Al-Jazeera by members of GRAIN, highlight the things that most concern them, from Big Data exploiting farms to tech giants buying up food delivery services. According to the article, “In a new report, our organisation GRAIN looks at how Big Tech is promoting industrial agriculture and contract farming and undermining agroecology and local food systems through its development of digital agriculture platforms. As the report shows, the consequences are particularly severe for small farmers in the Global South.”

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The Trump presidency provided a boon of data for researchers who study conspiracy theories. Nature reports that they’ve already started digging into that slush pile of data and are “working to make sense of the deluge of data that they’ve collected from platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. It’s been a lesson in modern populism: a world leader amplified once-obscure conspiracy theories, with each tweet and retweet strengthening the ideas and emboldening their supporters. Now, researchers are retooling to understand — and prepare for — what comes next.” Good luck.

The African scientific community are seizing the initiative from their foreign counterparts who engage in helicopter research, especially when it comes to genomic research. Per Science, “Bolstered by the internationally funded Human Heredity & Health in Africa (H3Africa) Initiative, which sponsored Fatumo as a postdoc, these researchers hope to one day use their data to bring genetically tailored medicine to people who in some places still struggle to get electricity and basic health care. The work is beginning to close a wide gap in who benefits from the human genome revolution. ‘There’s this genomics expansion across the world,’ says Neil Hanchard, molecular geneticist at Baylor College of Medicine. ‘Why should Africa be left behind?’” Why, indeed. Nobody should be left out of the benefits science has proven it can provide.

Thanks for reading. Happy Monday. Let’s be careful out there.

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