SIGNIFICANT PAPER RETRACTION.
The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) formally retracted its support for a 2009 paper on “excited delirium,” a controversial term critics argue has enabled justifications for police use of excessive force, especially towards Black men. The term, said to describe a state of unusual strength, pain tolerance, and erratic behavior, has been utilized in legal settings to explain deaths during police restraint, embedding itself in policing practices. The withdrawal implies the term cannot be used as a cause of death or in member testimony in legal cases. Earlier, California banned its use in autopsy reports and police descriptions, and various medical entities, like the National Association of Medical Examiners and the American Medical Association, have opposed listing it as a death cause or recognizing it as a diagnosis. The retraction follows numerous instances where “excited delirium” was cited in cases of custodial deaths and police trials, casting a shadow over its legitimacy and ethical implications in policing and legal scenarios. (Associated Press)
EU DROPS THE BALL ON GLYPHOSATE.
European Union (EU) governments failed to reach a conclusive stance on extending the EU approval for the use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Bayer AG’s Roundup weedkiller, for an additional 10 years. A “qualified majority” vote needed the support or rejection from 15 countries, representing at least 65% of the EU population, but neither was attained. A reattempt to achieve a clear decision is slated for the first half of November, as a decision is imperative by December 14, given the expiration of the current approval the next day. In a previous instance, the EU granted a five-year extension for glyphosate after similar difficulties in obtaining support for a 10-year period. While the World Health Organization’s cancer research agency in 2015 suggested that glyphosate was probably human-carcinogenic, several global agencies, including the U.S. EPA and the European Chemicals Agency, have deemed it non-carcinogenic. Bayer defends the chemical’s safety, citing numerous studies and its widespread use over decades. Despite abstaining votes from countries like France and contentious public and scientific opinions, Bayer remains hopeful for glyphosate’s approval in the upcoming voting session. (Reuters)
OUTCRY OVER HARBARIUM RELOCATION.
The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, which hosts a globally significant herbarium of over 7 million specimens, faces controversy over plans to relocate the collection nearly 60 kilometers away, to the Thames Valley Science Park (TVSP). Kew’s management highlights the necessity for the move due to space shortages, safety concerns, including fire and flood risks, and the impossibility of expanding within the existing World Heritage Site. However, over 15,000 petitioners, including many international plant scientists and Kew staff, express deep concern that moving the herbarium away from the current research labs and historic building will detrimentally impact research and collaborations. Critics also lament what they perceive as a lack of transparent dialogue about the decision-making process. Despite these apprehensions, Alexandre Antonelli, Kew’s director of science, anticipates that the relocation will pave the way for enhanced collaborations and more centralized, world-class facilities if the necessary funding is secured. A final decision from Kew management is expected in December, following further risk and negotiation assessments. (Science)
CLIMATE CHANGE MONEY.
Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel-prize-winning economist, has proposed an annual allocation of $300bn from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to assist poorer nations in battling the climate crisis. He stresses that the global combat against climate change requires the active participation of developing nations, which lack the financial means to implement changes at the necessary scale. During the IMF’s annual meeting in Marrakech, he highlighted the efficacy of the US Inflation Reduction Act—though costly and imperfect—in promoting green growth and employment. Stiglitz suggests that affluent countries should facilitate the creation of $300bn of IMF Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) yearly to finance a worldwide ecological transition. While such a plan would face hurdles in obtaining approval from the currently stalemated US Congress, Stiglitz remains a vocal advocate. He acknowledges the efforts to bolster the World Bank’s lending for green projects but calls for a more ambitious approach. SDRs, akin to a form of non-inflationary monetary creation, have previously been utilized in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Stiglitz views them as transformative assets capable of substantially aiding impoverished countries in their green initiatives. (The Guardian)
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MAPPING THE BRAIN.
The Brain Initiative Cell Census Network (BICCN), launched in 2017 by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), and involving numerous scientists, seeks to meticulously locate and characterize cells in human and animal brains. This is informed by properties such as gene expression and shape. So far, over 3,000 types of human cells have been categorized, providing insights that could pinpoint cells susceptible to mutations causing neurological diseases. One revelation from the network indicates that although some cells are specific to certain brain regions, regional variations often stem from different proportions of the same cell type. The voluminous data obtained offers a robust foundation but does not directly provide solutions for comprehending the human brain. Interestingly, appreciable variability among brains necessitates larger case numbers in human studies. The initiative, funded by the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the NIH, aims to chart an open-access map of the brain’s cells, similar to how astronomers, like Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler in the 1600s, paved the way for understanding celestial movements, which ultimately led to significant discoveries that shifted our worldview. (El Pais)
AIRTAG IS A CRIMINAL’S DREAM.
The Apple AirTag, designed to help users locate lost items, is now the subject of a class-action lawsuit as its technology has allegedly facilitated a wave of stalking incidents, sparking a surge in international cases and over 150 US police reports by April 2022. Plaintiffs argue that the AirTag’s accuracy, ease of use, and affordability have unintentionally revolutionized location-based stalking. Despite Apple’s safety enhancements like iOS alerts, chime features, and a tracking detect app, victims claim the measures are insufficient and have suffered serious consequences, even involving violent crimes. The lawsuit argues that Apple was forewarned about the stalking potential but rushed the product to market, and despite efforts to mitigate dangers post-launch, the enhancements are critiqued as still inadequate. The complainants, who have faced significant emotional and financial impacts, seek damages and a court order for Apple to cease alleged unlawful practices related to AirTags. Apple, facing allegations of negligence, violation of federal and state laws, and unjust enrichment, is expected to respond to the amended complaint by October 27. (Ars Technica)
AI READS ANCIENT TABLET.
A global contest that leveraged artificial intelligence has enabled a computer science student, Luke Farritor, to read previously illegible text inside a carbonized scroll from Herculaneum, buried since AD 79 by a volcanic eruption. Using a machine-learning algorithm that detected Greek letters on the rolled-up papyrus, based on minute differences in surface texture, Farritor managed to discern words, including “purple” (πορϕυρας). The achievement promises a new horizon in exploring hundreds of texts from the Greco-Roman era’s only surviving library. The Vesuvius Challenge, aiming to unravel these ancient secrets, offers various awards, with Farritor securing a $40,000 prize for his breakthrough. The Herculaneum library, encapsulating works unknown elsewhere, potentially revolutionizes our comprehension of ancient literature and history. Amidst the scrolls, many are still unopened, hosting Greek texts pertinent to Epicurean philosophy and more, offering a wealth of yet-to-be-discovered knowledge from an ancient world. This innovative approach might illuminate numerous obscured texts from antiquity, unveiling an “invisible library” to scholars and historians. (Nature)
NASA RECRUITS KIDS IN DESIGN CHALLENCE.
NASA has initiated a design challenge involving 72 student teams to engineer human-powered rovers, culminating in a competition in April at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Huntsville, Alabama. Marking the 30th anniversary of the Human Exploration Rover Challenge in 2024, this project invites high school and university students to devise, construct, and test lightweight, manually-propelled rovers, navigating a course mimicking the lunar and Martian surfaces and performing science-oriented mission tasks. Representing various educational institutions from 24 US states, DC, Puerto Rico, and 13 international nations, teams will follow NASA’s detailed guidelines throughout a nine-month period, undergoing design and safety reviews akin to NASA’s processes, while adhering to vehicle weight and size constraints. Points are awarded for design reviews and successfully meeting challenge criteria, with winners accumulating the most points. This educational endeavor, part of nine Artemis Student Challenges, aligns with NASA’s Artemis program objectives and underscores its commitment to fostering STEM education and careers. (NASA)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: Rosemary Ketchum.