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DAILY DOSE: North Korea outbreak worsens; Scientist calls out forensic scientists as fakes.


The Covid-19 outbreak in North Korea appears to be gathering momentum. According to the Associated Press, “Six people have died and 350,000 have been treated for a fever that has spread “explosively” across North Korea, state media said Friday, a day after the country acknowledged a COVID-19 outbreak for the first time in the pandemic… The North’s Korean Central News Agency said of the 350,000 people who developed fevers since late April, 162,200 have recovered. It said 18,000 people were newly found with fever symptoms on Thursday alone, and 187,800 are being isolated for treatment.” The North Korean healthcare system has been crippled by Western sanctions and the fear is that a flood of Covid-19 infections will quickly overwhelm the system.


By now, everyone has heard of crime scene investigators who use science to unlock the secrets of a crime scene and the criminal associated with it. Books, TV shows, and movies have adopted the forensic examiner as hero. Unfortunately, a British researcher is doing his best to deflate that image. His weapon of choice? Science. Per Science, “Dror, a researcher at University College London (UCL), has spent decades using real-world cases and data to show how experts in fields as diverse as hospital care and aviation can reverse themselves when presented with the same evidence in different contexts. But his most public work has involved forensic science, a field reckoning with a history of unscientific methods. In 2009, the National Research Council published a groundbreaking report that most forensic sciences—including the analysis of bullets, hair, bite marks, and even fingerprints—are based more on tradition than on quantifiable science. Since then, hundreds of studies and legal cases have revealed flaws in forensic sciences.”


It’s hard not to get the feeling Science in under siege around the world. The latest example comes from Australia. Per Nature, “Scientists in Australia are despondent ahead of the country’s election next week. They say neither the government nor the main opposition party have made sufficient pledges to address issues surrounding research funding, low morale and job insecurity — issues that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated. “There’s a very dark mood in science in Australia at the moment,” says Darren Saunders, a biomedical scientist at the University of Sydney. “It’s pretty shocking actually. It’s pretty sad. A lot of people have had a really tough time of it.” Opinion polls suggest that voters could oust the government, led by prime minister Scott Morrison of the conservative Liberal–National coalition, on 21 May. Polls report that the opposition centre-left Labor Party, led by Anthony Albanese, would receive 54% of votes. But some political analysts are reluctant to predict the result after the coalition defied the polls and won the last election.”


In what may be a key development in humanity’s effort to establish off-Earth colonies, scientists appear to have made a significant achievement in interstellar agriculture. Per the BBC, “Scientists have grown plants in lunar soil for the first time, an important step towards making long-term stays on the moon possible. Researchers used small samples of dust collected during the 1969-1972 Apollo missions to grow a type of cress. Much to their surprise, the seeds sprouted after two days. ‘I can’t tell you how astonished we were,’ said Anna-Lisa Paul, a University of Florida professor who co-authored a paper on the findings. ‘Every plant – whether in a lunar sample or in a control – looked the same up until about day six.’ After that, differences emerged. The plants grown in moon soil started to show stress, developed more slowly and ended up stunted. But those involved say it is a breakthrough – and one that has earthly implications.” Beyond scaling up the amount of plants grown on lunar soil, the next logical step in the game is growing crops in Martian soil.

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

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