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Twitter lampoons G-7 'family photo' of world leaders: 'Weirdest season of The Bachelor ever'

FOX News

Jeffrey Toobin returning to CNN with an awkward interview, Vice President Harris snapping at anchor when she was pressed on visiting the border, and Glenn Greenwald tearing into Jim Acosta over Trump photo-op round out today's top media headlines Twitter had some fun at the expense of the world leaders who attended the G-7 summit this week for what's been dubbed as the "family photo." The photo, which was taken at Carbis Bay in Cornwall, England, featured Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the front row and European Council President Charles Michel, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in the back. However, the exaggerated spacing between the leaders and their positions on the platform has sparked widespread mockery on social media. Many of them compared toys out of their package. "2021 McFarland Toys catalog is boring af," photojournalist J.M. Giordano said.


UK, US, Canada accuse Russia of hacking virus vaccine trials

Boston Herald

LONDON (AP) -- Britain, the United States and Canada accused Russia on Thursday of trying to steal information from researchers seeking a COVID-19 vaccine. The three nations alleged that hacking group APT29, also known as Cozy Bear and said to be part of the Russian intelligence service, is attacking academic and pharmaceutical research institutions involved in coronavirus vaccine development. Britain's National Cybersecurity Centre made the announcement, which was coordinated with authorities in the U.S. and Canada. "It is completely unacceptable that the Russian Intelligence Services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic," British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement. "While others pursue their selfish interests with reckless behaviour, the U.K. and its allies are getting on with the hard work of finding a vaccine and protecting global health."


News at a glance

Science

SCI COMMUN### Human rights Researchers are joining a rising chorus of international protest over the jailing of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. More than 840 Russian scholars at home and abroad have signed a letter calling for an “open and honest” investigation into the politician's near-fatal poisoning in Siberia in August 2020. European defense labs determined he'd been exposed to a Novichok nerve agent—a finding the Russian government has rejected. When Navalny returned to Moscow on 17 January, authorities arrested him on an alleged parole violation, and last week he was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison. Russians took to the streets nationwide, and police have arrested more than 11,000. The letter also calls on Russian authorities to end Navalny's “persecution” and “begin an open dialogue with society.” The letter “is a warning,” says Alexander Kabanov, a pharmaceutical chemist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, one of the signers. “Brutal suppression of peaceful demonstrators will lead the country to catastrophe.” ### Planetary science The arrivals lounge at Mars begins to fill up this week with two probes checking in, both from nations venturing to the Red Planet for the first time. The United Arab Emirates's Hope mission arrived in orbit on 9 February. The spacecraft will examine martian atmosphere and climate from a higher vantage point than most other satellites to get a global perspective. It will also seek to help scientists understand how hydrogen and oxygen escape from the lower atmosphere into space. China's Tianwen-1, which includes an orbiter, lander, and rover, was due to arrive this week after Science went to press. Its orbiter, which aims to study Mars's atmosphere and magnetic field as well as mapping its surface geology, will hold onto its landing cargo for several months. When the rover eventually touches down, it will use ground-penetrating radar to study subsurface features. NASA's Perseverance rover is expected to join the party on 18 February, and head straight to the Jezero crater. ### COVID-19 South Africa this week halted plans to widely roll out a COVID-19 vaccine produced by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford after a clinical trial in the country showed it had an efficacy of less than 25% against mild and moderate disease. Researchers blamed a virus variant that dodges key antibodies and has become widespread in that country. Scientists are still hopeful that the two-dose vaccine may do better against serious disease. The recent trial in 2000 people was too small, and its participants too young, to determine whether it does, but South Africa may further test it in 100,000 people. It's “a very plausible scenario” that the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine offers protection against serious illness, Katherine O'Brien of the World Health Organization said at an 8 February press conference. Other scientists also cautioned against dismissing the value of the shots; AstraZeneca has priced its vaccine for wide use in developing countries, at a cost less than that of other COVID-19 vaccines. The company projects it can produce 3 billion doses this year for about $3 each. A similar COVID-19 vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson also protected less well against mild and moderate disease in South Africa than elsewhere, but still convincingly warded off severe illness and death, even in those infected with the new variant, named B.1.351, which has now been found in people in more than 40 countries. ### Public health An international team that spent almost a month in Wuhan, China, investigating the origins of COVID-19 on behalf of the World Health Organization (WHO) has firmly rejected the idea that the pandemic resulted from a lab accident. A “detailed discussion” with staff at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, along with other evidence, showed it was “extremely unlikely” that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease escaped from the lab, mission chief Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO food safety scientist, said at a 9 February press conference. Allegations of a lab mishap, or even a deliberate release, circulated widely in the past year and soured U.S.-Chinese relations. The WHO team will no longer pursue that notion, but hopes to further investigate other hypotheses about how the virus jumped from animals to humans, Embarek added. ### Therapeutics Treating people who have COVID-19 with the antibody-rich blood plasma of recovered patients received a controversial boost last year, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized its emergency use. Some scientists decried the decision, saying the benefits of such convalescent plasma were small and not solidly supported by data. Last week, the agency revised its authorization, requiring any plasma used to meet a minimum threshold of antibodies and restricting treatment to hospitalized patients early in their disease or people who have poor antibody production themselves. Agency officials said the changes came after a review of recent clinical trials—two were stopped because they found no benefits to patients, but several others had more encouraging data. The officials said they still believe convalescent plasma is a low-risk treatment that may help against COVID-19 in certain cases. ### Science communication Facebook this week said it would take new steps to combat misinformation about all vaccines, including those for COVID-19, and about the disease itself. The social media giant and its subsidiary Instagram will remove posts containing certain debunked claims about vaccines, including that they cause autism, as well as the assertion that getting a COVID-19 vaccine is riskier than the disease itself. In addition, when users search the platforms using search terms related to debunked claims about vaccines, Facebook will provide validated information in response. ### Environment Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the leading source of satellite data about deforestation in the Amazon, is facing staff and budget cuts as the country's military gears up a parallel service. Citing financial constraints, the Brazilian science ministry this month suspended payments for 107 fellowships that supported nearly one-quarter of INPE's technical staff—just as the institute was preparing to launch the country's first homemade satellite. INPE may lose 15% of its total funding under a proposed budget for this year, which also includes a 34% cut for the science ministry. Meanwhile, the Brazilian air force signed a contract in December 2020 to buy a satellite imaging system to help monitor the Amazon and “complement” existing data. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has heavily criticized INPE in recent years for revealing steep increases in deforestation and fire activity in the Amazon, and he fired INPE Director Ricardo Galvão in 2019. Critics fear the recent cuts are an attempt to undermine the institute's influence. ### Global warming Elon Musk, aerospace and electric vehicle entrepreneur and the world's wealthiest person, announced this week details of a $100 million prize he has funded to spur the development of technology to affordably capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and store it. The 4-year contest will be administered by the XPrize Foundation, with by far the largest award of any technical competition it has run. To avoid the worst impacts of global warming, many climate scientists now believe atmospheric CO2 removal will be necessary, even if rapid reductions in emissions begin this year. A few companies have tested prototype technologies, but none has yet proved affordable and effective enough for mass deployment. ### Astronomy The Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO), a dream of radio astronomers for nearly 3 decades, drew closer to reality last week as its governing body met for the first time and began to review plans to begin construction this year. Participating nations ratified a treaty for the project late last year. As the world's biggest radio observatory, with thousands of antennas planned at sites in Australia and South Africa, the €2 billion project could see the universe's first stars and galaxies. External experts have green lighted a design. The SKAO negotiated funding contributions with the six nations signed up so far—Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, and the United Kingdom—and others expected to join soon; the payments will be based on each country's volume of astronomy research. The additional countries are Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. ### History of science The U.S. Postal Service this week issued a stamp commemorating Chien-Shiung Wu, a Chinese-American nuclear physicist who proved that the universe knows its right hand from its left. In 1956, Wu and her team studied the emission of electrons in the radioactive decay of cobalt-60. They found that with respect to the nucleus' spin, the electron emerges in one way more often than the other, violating a mirrorlike symmetry called parity. Parity violation has become a foundation of modern particle theory, and it earned the 1957 Nobel Prize for the two theorists who suggested it might occur—but not for Wu, who died in 1997. Now, she joins a far more selective club than Nobelists: the eight other physicists who have appeared on U.S. stamps. ### Funding India's budget for 2021–22 includes money to create a research funding agency, along the lines of the U.S. National Science Foundation, to boost the scientific capacity of universities and colleges not in the country's top tier of institutions. The proposal includes a total of $6.9 billion over 5 years for the new National Research Foundation, some of it newly appropriated and the rest repurposed from other research programs. Supporters hope the new agency will accelerate the nation's science by funding grantees at thousands of institutions that have historically received almost no national research money. The budget aims to sustain current levels of support for India's hundreds of top-tier universities. ### Biomedicine Late-stage clinical trials of cancer treatments led by scientists in lower income countries are more likely to identify successful therapies that benefit patients than analogous studies in high-income countries, researchers report. They examined 694 phase 3 oncology trials published from 2014 to 2017, including a subset that reported whether the interventions provided a substantial benefit to patients. Just under half of 21 trials by authors in low- and middle-income countries reported a substantial benefit versus only one-third of 145 conducted by groups in high-income countries. What's more, trials in lower income countries were more likely to report statistically significant benefits, such as a halt to tumor growth, according to the study published 28 January in JAMA Oncology . Its authors attribute the differences to “a level of pragmatism” among cash-strapped scientists in lower income countries; funding limitations may encourage them to adopt productive trial designs. The authors call for these studies to receive adequate funding. ### Social media Many scientists share tweets containing links to published journal articles, hoping it will speed discussions of the latest science. But half of the links examined in a recent study drew no clicks, and another 22% drew just one or two. Zhichao Fang of Leiden University and colleagues analyzed 1.1 million links on Twitter to scholarly articles published from 2012 to 2017. Only about 10% of links received more than 10 clicks, according to the paper published 23 January in the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology . The authors could not track the outcome of all the tweeted links, only those created using the [bit.ly][1] link-shortening service. The study is one of the first about whether people engage with the content of scholarly tweets beyond clicking Twitter's like and retweet buttons. [1]: http://bit.ly


Russia sowing seeds of world instability, Ash Carter warns

The Japan Times

OXFORD, ENGLAND – U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter accused Russia on Wednesday of sowing seeds of global instability and questioned whether Moscow genuinely wants a viable cease-fire in Syria. In a hard-hitting speech at Oxford University, Carter emphasized deep skepticism about Russian intentions in Syria, even as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry prepared to fly to Geneva for more talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Their discussions last weekend, on the sidelines of an economic summit in China, failed to produce a nationwide cease-fire in Syria or a U.S.-Russian military cooperation agreement. Russia is a firm supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and their joint military operation has sometimes targeted the anti-Islamic State rebels backed by the Obama administration. The Russian Foreign Ministry said Kerry and Lavrov would hold their next round of talks Thursday and Friday.


Covid-19 news: Mixed progress on coronavirus vaccine as US stocks rise

New Scientist

A preliminary test in only eight volunteers suggests the first coronavirus vaccine to be tested in people seems to be safe and can stimulate an immune response against the virus. Antibodies generated by the volunteers were able to stop the virus from replicating in human cells in the laboratory and the levels of antibodies in their blood were similar to those previously detected in recovered covid-19 patients. Tal Zaks of Moderna, the US firm developing the vaccine, said that if the next stages go well, it could be widely available by the end of this year or early next year. The US stock market was up sharply today following the announcement. However, it remains to be seen if such speedy testing and manufacturing of a vaccine is really possible – no vaccine has ever been produced in less than five years. Meanwhile, a trial of another vaccine, developed by researchers at the University of Oxford found it wasn't able to stop six rhesus macaque monkeys from becoming infected with the ...