Clinical trials are better, faster, cheaper with big data

Clinical trials have never been more in the public eye than in the past year, as the world watched the development of vaccines against covid-19, the disease at the center of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. Discussions of study phases, efficacy, and side effects dominated the news. The most distinctive feature of the vaccine trials was their speed. Because the vaccines are meant for universal distribution, the study population is, basically, everyone. That unique feature means that recruiting enough people for the trials has not been the obstacle that it commonly is.

“One of the most difficult parts of my job is enrolling patients into studies,” says Nicholas Borys, chief medical officer for Lawrenceville, N.J., biotechnology company Celsion, which develops next-generation chemotherapy and immunotherapy agents for liver and ovarian cancers and certain types of brain tumors. Borys estimates that fewer than 10% of cancer patients are enrolled in clinical trials. “If … Read the rest

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JBS Foods, the meat supplier hit by a ransomware attack, admits it paid $11 million in ransom

The beef aisle of your grocery store might get a little less crowded. | Scotty Perry/Bloomberg via Getty Images

JBS Foods, the world’s largest meat producer, ultimately paid $11 million in ransom.

JBS Foods, the world’s largest meat supplier and a recent ransomware victim, revealed on June 9 that it paid $11 million to hackers. The chief executive of the company’s United States division, Andre Nogueira, said it was a deal to prevent future attacks.

Nogueira told the Wall Street Journal that making the payment was a “very painful” but necessary decision — even though the company was able to restore most of its systems from its own backups. The payments were made in bitcoin, as is typically the case in these attacks. The revelation comes after the CEO of Colonial Pipeline, which was attacked weeks earlier, admitted to paying roughly $4.5 million in ransom and as a spate of … Read the rest

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The next Venus missions will tell us about habitable worlds elsewhere

When the DAVINCI+ and VERITAS missions to Venus were given the green light by NASA last week, the scientific community was stunned. Most had expected that NASA, which hadn’t launched a dedicated mission to Venus in 30 years, would be sending at least one mission to the second planet from the sun by the end of the decade. Two missions, however, blew everyone’s mind. 

Maybe NASA anticipated something we’re only just wrapping our heads around: DAVINCI+ and VERITAS will have a tremendous impact not just when it comes to Venus and solar system exploration, but also when it comes to our understanding of habitable, life-bearing worlds outside our solar system itself. 

As our exoplanet discoveries continue to pile up (and we’ve spotted over 11,000 possible exoplanets so far) we need to learn whether an Earth-sized planet is more likely to look like Earth, or more likely to look like Venus. “We don’t know … Read the rest

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TikTok’s Trump problem is now TikTok’s Biden problem

President Biden reversed Trump’s executive order attempting to ban social media app TikTok. | Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Biden reversed Trump’s executive order banning TikTok, but he’s still pursuing a broader crackdown on Chinese tech.

It’s official: Biden has reversed Trump’s executive order banning TikTok in the United States, bringing to a close a period of uncertainty over the immediate fate of the wildly popular social media app. But TikTok’s problems with the US government are far from over.

On Wednesday morning, Biden issued an executive order that revoked Trump’s prior executive order banning TikTok over national security concerns. (Trump’s order never actually went into effect because US courts struck it down.) Biden’s executive order also called for a broader US government review of all apps with ties to “a foreign adversary,” like China. This means that TikTok and other Chinese-affiliated companies could potentially face more restrictions in the … Read the rest

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The Brood X cicadas are here — and yes, there’s an app for that

A few weeks ago, Michelle Watson woke up to a deafening, steadily oscillating screech. “What the heck is that noise?” she wondered.

She went outside to her yard and saw hundreds of beady-eyed insects enrobed in a thick shell of gold emerging out of the ground and crawling up the trees. What Watson was seeing was the emergence of thousands of Brood X cicadas, part of a billions-strong insect swarm that has lain dormant for 17 years before arising to “scream,” mate— all over about three thunderous weeks.

Watson had spent the past 20 years in Las Vegas, but moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Georgia last year. She’d seen social media posts about the cicadas, which emerge once in a generation across a huge swath of the eastern United States, but figured they were just the usual summer bugs that she’d heard her entire life. “I thought, ‘What’s … Read the rest

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A company you’ve probably never heard of caused half the internet to go dark

Websites, including the New York Times and Amazon, were impacted by the Fastly outage Tuesday morning. | Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Countless websites, including major news outlets, were offline after an outage at Fastly, a cloud computing provider.

Swaths of websites went down on Tuesday morning after an outage at the cloud computing services provider Fastly. Internet users were unable to access major news outlets, e-commerce platforms, and even government websites. Everyone from Amazon to the New York Times to the White House was affected.

At around 6:30 am ET, Fastly said it applied a “fix” to the issue, and many of the websites that went down seemed to be working again as of 9 am ET. Still, the outage highlights how dependent, centralized, and susceptible the infrastructure supporting the internet — especially cloud computing providers that the average user doesn’t directly interact with — actually is. This … Read the rest

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Which US vaccine plans actually helped hard-hit communities?

Long before the first covid-19 vaccines went into arms, certain groups in the US felt the impact of the pandemic more severely: those who whose jobs had to be done in person, who were suddenly labeled “essential”; those who were shut out from government assistance; and certain communities of color.

Officials promised that the vaccine drive would be different, and that equity would be a priority. So far about 63% of US adults have gotten at least one covid-19 shot, and President Joe Biden has set a goal of increasing that to 70% by July 4. But many people in hard-hit communities still haven’t received effective communication about vaccines, and they may continue to face practical barriers to getting shots. As a result, their communities are still more severely affected. In Washington, DC, for example, the racial gap in covid-19 cases has grown rather than shrunk since vaccines became widely … Read the rest

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Apple’s iOS 15 will come with better privacy for people who pay for it

Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, talking about the latest round of iOS privacy features. | Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The next iOS will make it harder for newsletters, marketers, and websites to track you.

Apple announced on Monday at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) that its upcoming iOS 15 update will give iPhone users even more insight and control over their own data. Among other updates, you’ll soon be able to see who your apps are sharing your data with; you’ll be able to stop trackers from detecting if and when you open emails; and you’ll be able to keep your internet activity more private. This is good news for you, but not great news for the data brokers that use your data to make money.

To illustrate just how seriously Apple takes its users’ privacy, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, Craig … Read the rest

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AI still sucks at moderating hate speech

For all of the recent advances in language AI technology, it still struggles with one of the most basic applications. In a new study, scientists tested four of the best AI systems for detecting hate speech and found that all of them struggled in different ways to distinguish toxic and innocuous sentences.

The results are not surprising—creating AI that understands the nuances of natural language is hard. But the way the researchers diagnosed the problem is important. They developed 29 different tests targeting different aspects of hate speech to more precisely pinpoint exactly where each system fails. This makes it easier to understand how to overcome a system’s weaknesses and is already helping one commercial service improve its AI.

The study authors, led by scientists from the University of Oxford and the Alan Turing Institute, interviewed employees across 16 nonprofits who work on online hate. The team used these interviews … Read the rest

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Elon Musk says he’s breaking up with bitcoin

With a single tweet, Tesla CEO Elon Musk can move the crypto market. | Christophe Gateau/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

How Elon Musk affects bitcoin prices, in one chart.

As Elon Musk tweets go, so goes the crypto market. The billionaire and Tesla CEO has been tweeting about crypto a lot, too, sending the price of bitcoin — as well as dogecoin — up and down with fewer than 280 characters.

Musk’s tweets, while not necessarily posted for his own financial gain, can greatly affect investors in cryptocurrency. They also raise questions about the solidity of a market that can be so easily swayed, especially as retail investors increasingly flock to cryptocurrencies. The cryptocurrency exchange platform Coinbase in April became the first major cryptocurrency company to go public in the US, signifying the mainstreaming of blockchain-based currencies like bitcoin, ethereum, and dogecoin.

Musk’s cryptocurrency tweets in the past few weeks … Read the rest

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