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SCI COMMUN### Astronomy Talk about a sharper image: A recently constructed imaging sensor array (above) that will be used when the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile opens in 2021 has captured a world-record 3200 megapixels in a single shot. It recorded a variety of objects, including a Romanesco broccoli, at that resolution, which is detailed enough to show a golf ball clearly from 24 kilometers away. The sensor array's focal plane is more than 60 centimeters wide, much larger than the 3.5-centimeter sensors on high-end consumer digital cameras, says the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, which built the array. When the telescope, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, begins operating next year, it will image the entire southern sky every few nights for 10 years, cataloguing billions of galaxies each time. The surveys will shed light on mysterious dark energy and dark matter, which make up most of the universe's mass. With its repeat coverage, the telescope will make the equivalent of an astronomical movie in order to discover objects that suddenly appear, move, or go bang. ### Biomedicine Corticosteroids given orally or intravenously should be the standard therapy for people with “severe and critical” COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in new guidelines issued last week—but they should not be given to patients with mild cases. In June, a large U.K. trial named Recovery first showed that the steroid dexamethasone cut deaths among ventilated COVID-19 patients by 35% after 28 days of treatment. That result was confirmed by a WHO-sponsored metaanalysis published in JAMA on 2 September that included Recovery and six other studies testing dexamethasone, as well as two other corticosteroids—hydrocortisone and methylprednisolone. Many countries, including the United States, had already included corticosteroids in their national treatment guidelines. But WHO's recommendations will be important as a signal to low- and middle-income countries, says Martin Landray, one of Recovery's principal investigators. ### Public health COVID-19 virus particles drifting through a Chinese apartment building's plumbing may have infected some residents, a study has found, raising fears of yet another way that the disease could spread. The case echoes a 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that spread through the pipes of a Hong Kong apartment building. Such transmission is difficult to prove. But scientists suspect that aerosolized coronavirus may have spread from the bathroom of a Guangzhou family of five through a floor drain and into the building's wastewater pipes. Two middle-aged couples living in apartments above the family later contracted COVID-19. The study appeared last week in Annals of Internal Medicine . ### Conservation A plan to reforest a cross-continental strip of Africa to hold back expansion of the Sahara Desert and the semi-arid Sahel has made little progress—even though the project is halfway toward its planned completion date in 2030, a report says. Participating countries have planted only 4 million hectares of trees and other vegetation for the Great Green Wall, well short of the 100 million planned to stretch 7000 kilometers from Senegal to Djibouti, says the report by the Climatekos consulting firm, presented on 7 September at a meeting of the countries' ministers. Supporters predicted the project would also create jobs and capture carbon dioxide. Scientists have said creating grasslands may be more effective than planting trees to resist desertification, The Guardian reported. ### Philanthropy Rice University last week received a $100 million gift for materials science. It is the largest to date in that discipline recorded in a database of gifts for engineering maintained by The Chronicle of Philanthropy . The funding will be used to pair materials science with artificial intelligence to advance the design and manufacturing of new materials, for applications that include sustainable water systems, energy, and telecommunications. The donor was the Robert A. Welch Foundation, which supports chemistry research in Texas. ### Conservation Scientists hailed a move last week by the European Union to ban the use of lead ammunition near wetlands and waterways. The European Chemicals Agency has estimated that as many as 1.5 million aquatic birds die annually from lead poisoning because they swallow some of the 5000 tons of lead shot that land in European wetlands each year. Its persistence in the environment is also considered a human health hazard. The EU Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) committee approved the ban after years of controversy. The German delegation, which had abstained in a July vote on the issue, changed its stance to support the measure after a letter from 75 scientists and petitions signed by more than 50,000 people called for it to do so. The European Commission and the European Parliament are expected to formally approve the ban, allowing it to go into effect in 2022. REACH may debate a complete ban on lead ammunition and fishing weights later this year. ### Chemical weapons Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition politician, was poisoned with a nerve agent “identified unequivocally in tests” as a Novichok, an exotic Sovietera chemical weapon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on 2 September. Navalny fell ill on 20 August after drinking a cup of tea at a Siberian airport. He was flown to Berlin and this week emerged from a coma. German military scientists at the Bundeswehr Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology in Munich haven't released details of their tests, but they had clear targets to hunt for: Like other nerve agents, Novichoks bind to the enzymes acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase, creating a telltale conjugate compound. Novichok agents came to wide public notice in 2018 after one was used in an assassination attempt against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom. The attack prompted nations to push for a crackdown on Novichok agents, and last year they were added to the list of toxic chemicals regulated under the Chemical Weapons Convention. ### COVID-19 In one of the largest surveys of Americans since COVID-19 lockdowns began, a majority reported having some symptoms of depression, up from one-quarter in a prepandemic survey. The prevalence of symptoms graded as moderate to severe tripled, to 27.8% of respondents. A research team compared results from two surveys used to screen for depression: one administered to more than 5000 people in 2017 and 2018 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the other given to 1400 people in early April by NORC at the University of Chicago. Prevalence of depression symptoms rose in all demographic groups and especially among individuals facing financial problems, job loss, or family deaths. The increases in self-reported symptoms are larger than those recorded in previous surveys after large-scale traumatic events in other countries, including outbreaks of the severe acute respiratory syndrome, H1N1, and Ebola, the authors write in the 2 September issue of JAMA Network Open . ### A U.S. vaccine leader's vow: Politics stays out “I would immediately resign if there is undue interference in this process.” So said Moncef Slaoui, scientific director of Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. effort to quickly develop a vaccine for COVID-19, in an interview with Science . To date, Warp Speed has invested more than $10 billion in eight vaccine candidates. Three are now in large-scale efficacy trials, and interim reviews of their data by independent safety and monitoring boards could reveal evidence of protection as early as October. Slaoui, an immunologist who formerly headed vaccine development at GlaxoSmithKline, answered questions from Science last week about how Warp Speed operates and addressed concerns that political pressure before the 3 November U.S. presidential election may lead to an emergency use authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine before it is proven safe and effective. (On 8 September, nine companies developing vaccines for the pandemic coronavirus pledged not to seek a premature authorization.) “It needs to be absolutely shielded from the politics,” Slaoui says. “Trust me, there will be no [authorization request] filed if it's not right. … The science is what is going to guide us. … And at the end of the day, the facts and the data will be made available to everyone who wants to look at them and will be transparent.” Slaoui defended Warp Speed's decision to not consider vaccines made of whole, inactivated viruses, a time-tested approach. China has three such vaccines in efficacy trials, but he worries they could cause serious side effects in people who receive them. Slaoui also said if it had been his choice, the United States would have participated in COVAX, a mechanism for countries to invest collectively in vaccines and share them; the Trump administration declined to join. The full interview—one of Slaoui's most detailed since taking the job in May—is at .


Opinion

#artificialintelligence

At the same time, AI is being twisted by authoritarian regimes to violate rights. The Chinese Communist Party is reportedly using AI to uncover and punish those who criticize the regime's pandemic response and to institute a type of coronavirus social-credit score--assigning people color codes to determine who is free to go out and who will be forced into quarantine. As the world begins to recover from the pandemic, nations face a stark choice about what vision of artificial intelligence will prevail. As Group of Seven nations meet this year under the organization's U.S. presidency, there is a critical opportunity to shape the evolution of AI in a way that respects fundamental rights and upholds our shared values. That is why G-7 technology ministers will agree Thursday to launch the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence, or GPAI, together with other democratic countries.


Is China Winning the AI Race?

#artificialintelligence

CAMBRIDGE – COVID-19 has become a severe stress test for countries around the world. From supply-chain management and health-care capacity to regulatory reform and economic stimulus, the pandemic has mercilessly punished governments that did not – or could not – adapt quickly. From Latin America's lost decade in the 1980s to the more recent Greek crisis, there are plenty of painful reminders of what happens when countries cannot service their debts. A global debt crisis today would likely push millions of people into unemployment and fuel instability and violence around the world. The virus has also pulled back the curtain on one of this century's most important contests: the rivalry between the United States and China for supremacy in artificial intelligence (AI).


Australia tells U.S. it has no intention of hurting relationship with China

The Japan Times

Washington – The United States and close ally Australia held high-level talks on China on Tuesday and agreed on the need to uphold a rules-based global order, but the Australian foreign minister stressed that Canberra's relationship with China was important and it had no intention of injuring it. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper held two days of talks in Washington with their Australian counterparts, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defense Minister Linda Reynolds, who had flown around the world for the meetings despite the COVID-19 pandemic and face two weeks of quarantine on their return. At a joint news conference, Pompeo praised Australia for standing up to pressure from China and said Washington and Canberra would continue to work together to reassert the rule of law in the South China Sea, where China has been pressing its claims. Payne said the United States and Australia shared a commitment to the rule of law and had reiterated their commitment to hold countries to account for breaches, such as China's erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong. She said the two sides had also agreed to form a working group to monitor and respond to harmful disinformation and would look at ways to expand cooperation on infectious diseases, including access to vaccines.


U.S. may help others buy non-Huawei telecom gear, says Washington official

The Japan Times

Beijing – The United States is willing to help other countries finance purchases of next-generation telecommunications devices from Western providers so they can avoid buying from Chinese technology giant Huawei, a U.S. official said Thursday. Washington is lobbying European and other allies to exclude Huawei Technologies Ltd., which the U.S. sees as a security threat, as they upgrade to 5G networks. Australia, Japan and some others have imposed restrictions on Chinese technology, but Huawei's lower-cost equipment is popular with developing countries and is making inroads into Europe. Giving Huawei even a small 5G role would allow Beijing to expand its "surveillance state" by eavesdropping on phone and other network-based systems, said Keith Krach, a U.S. undersecretary of state for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment. "There's lots of financing tools and those kinds of things that I think many countries like us are willing to help provide, because we recognize this danger," Krach said on a conference call with reporters.


China Won't Win the Race for AI Dominance

#artificialintelligence

Once upon a time, Japan was widely expected to eclipse the United States as the technological leader of the world. In 1988, the New York Times reporter David Sanger described a group of U.S. computer science experts, meeting to discuss Japan's technological progress. When the group assessed the new generation of computers coming out of Japan, Sanger wrote, "any illusions that America had maintained its wide lead evaporated." Replace "computers" with "artificial intelligence," and "Japan" with "China," and the article could have been written today. In AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, which unsurprisingly became an instant bestseller, former Google China President Kai-Fu Lee argues that China's unparalleled trove of data, culture of copying, and strong government commitment to artificial intelligence give it a major leg up against the United States.


US will see an 'exponential explosion' in COVID-19 cases if it relaxes lockdown measures early

Daily Mail - Science & tech

Ending the US coronavirus lockdown too early could lead to an explosion of new coronavirus cases, according to a study modelling the spread of the virus. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created a model showing the spread of the deadly virus using publicly available data from Wuhan, Italy, South Korea and the USA. The authors say that any immediate or near-term relaxation of quarantine measures already in place in the US would lead to an'exponential explosion' in COVID-19 cases. It comes as President Donald Trump announced a new three-phase plan to reopen the country that'allows' governors to decide when their states should come out of lockdown measures. The plan provided only a general idea of how and when states would be able to reopen - shying away from specific details or a timeline.


Trump's WHO attack accelerates breakdown in global cooperation

The Japan Times

U.S. President Donald Trump's broadside against the World Health Organization is another blow to international institutions designed to help nations confront global crises -- and may leave countries even less prepared for the next one. Trump's move on Tuesday to suspend WHO funding amid a pandemic that has cost at least 130,000 lives is the latest salvo in a broader struggle between the U.S. and China over global leadership. Both countries are courting other nations and public opinion as they cover up their own shortcomings in the pandemic and position themselves for the post-virus world. China -- widely criticized for missteps early in the outbreak -- has ramped up efforts to send medical supplies to hard-hit nations, even as reports emerged that much of that gear was faulty or expired. The U.S., meanwhile, announced $300 million in aid to countries fighting the virus but rebuffed requests for the most essential gear while receiving donations from the governments of Egypt, Taiwan and Vietnam among others.


A machine learning methodology for real-time forecasting of the 2019-2020 COVID-19 outbreak using Internet searches, news alerts, and estimates from mechanistic models

arXiv.org Machine Learning

We present a timely and novel methodology that combines disease estimates from mechanistic models with digital traces, via interpretable machine-learning methodologies, to reliably forecast COVID-19 activity in Chinese provinces in real-time. Specifically, our method is able to produce stable and accurate forecasts 2 days ahead of current time, and uses as inputs (a) official health reports from Chinese Center Disease for Control and Prevention (China CDC), (b) COVID-19-related internet search activity from Baidu, (c) news media activity reported by Media Cloud, and (d) daily forecasts of COVID-19 activity from GLEAM, an agent-based mechanistic model. Our machine-learning methodology uses a clustering technique that enables the exploitation of geo-spatial synchronicities of COVID-19 activity across Chinese provinces, and a data augmentation technique to deal with the small number of historical disease activity observations, characteristic of emerging outbreaks. Our model's predictive power outperforms a collection of baseline models in 27 out of the 32 Chinese provinces, and could be easily extended to other geographies currently affected by the COVID-19 outbreak to help decision makers.


Researchers Will Deploy AI to Better Understand Coronavirus

#artificialintelligence

In the months since the novel coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China, last December, almost 2,000 research papers have been published on the health effects of the new virus, possible treatments, and the dynamics of the resulting pandemic. This outpouring of research is a testament to the speed with which science can tackle big problems. But it also presents a headache for anyone wanting to stay up to date with the literature, or hoping to mine it for insight about the virus, its behavior, or possible treatments. Naturally, some believe that artificial intelligence may help. Monday, the White House announced a project in collaboration with tech companies and academics to make a huge amount of coronavirus research accessible to AI researchers and their algorithms for the first time.