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"Thought I'd Share First": An Analysis of COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories and Misinformation Spread on Twitter

arXiv.org Machine Learning

Background: Misinformation spread through social media is a growing problem, and the emergence of COVID-19 has caused an explosion in new activity and renewed focus on the resulting threat to public health. Given this increased visibility, in-depth analysis of COVID-19 misinformation spread is critical to understanding the evolution of ideas with potential negative public health impact. Methods: Using a curated data set of COVID-19 tweets (N ~120 million tweets) spanning late January to early May 2020, we applied methods including regular expression filtering, supervised machine learning, sentiment analysis, geospatial analysis, and dynamic topic modeling to trace the spread of misinformation and to characterize novel features of COVID-19 conspiracy theories. Results: Random forest models for four major misinformation topics provided mixed results, with narrowly-defined conspiracy theories achieving F1 scores of 0.804 and 0.857, while more broad theories performed measurably worse, with scores of 0.654 and 0.347. Despite this, analysis using model-labeled data was beneficial for increasing the proportion of data matching misinformation indicators. We were able to identify distinct increases in negative sentiment, theory-specific trends in geospatial spread, and the evolution of conspiracy theory topics and subtopics over time. Conclusions: COVID-19 related conspiracy theories show that history frequently repeats itself, with the same conspiracy theories being recycled for new situations. We use a combination of supervised learning, unsupervised learning, and natural language processing techniques to look at the evolution of theories over the first four months of the COVID-19 outbreak, how these theories intertwine, and to hypothesize on more effective public health messaging to combat misinformation in online spaces.


Elementary Effects Analysis of factors controlling COVID-19 infections in computational simulation reveals the importance of Social Distancing and Mask Usage

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11th, 2020. With half of the world's countries in lockdown as of April due to this pandemic, monitoring and understanding the spread of the virus and infection rates and how these factors relate to behavioural and societal parameters is crucial for effective policy making. This paper aims to investigate the effectiveness of masks, social distancing, lockdown and self-isolation for reducing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infections. Our findings based on agent-based simulation modelling show that whilst enforcing a lockdown is widely believed to be the most efficient method to quickly reduce infection numbers, the practice of social distancing and the usage of surgical masks can potentially be more effective than enforcing a lockdown. Our multivariate analysis of simulation results using the Morris Elementary Effects Method suggests that if a sufficient proportion of the population wore surgical masks and followed social distancing regulations, then SARS-CoV-2 infections can be controlled without enforcing a lockdown.


Mediating Artificial Intelligence Developments through Negative and Positive Incentives

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

The field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going through a period of great expectations, introducing a certain level of anxiety in research, business and also policy. This anxiety is further energised by an AI race narrative that makes people believe they might be missing out. Whether real or not, a belief in this narrative may be detrimental as some stake-holders will feel obliged to cut corners on safety precautions, or ignore societal consequences just to "win". Starting from a baseline model that describes a broad class of technology races where winners draw a significant benefit compared to others (such as AI advances, patent race, pharmaceutical technologies), we investigate here how positive (rewards) and negative (punishments) incentives may beneficially influence the outcomes. We uncover conditions in which punishment is either capable of reducing the development speed of unsafe participants or has the capacity to reduce innovation through over-regulation. Alternatively, we show that, in several scenarios, rewarding those that follow safety measures may increase the development speed while ensuring safe choices. Moreover, in {the latter} regimes, rewards do not suffer from the issue of over-regulation as is the case for punishment. Overall, our findings provide valuable insights into the nature and kinds of regulatory actions most suitable to improve safety compliance in the contexts of both smooth and sudden technological shifts.


Where Automation Is Being Used In the Digital Workplace

#artificialintelligence

It's clear many enterprises are turning to artificial intelligence to increase productivity and meet business goals. What's less clear is where and how exactly it is being used in the workplace. One recent global study took a look at how IT departments are evolving in the current health crisis to maintain business continuity and meet the needs of customers. The Evolution of IT report from Logic Monitor, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based IT performance monitoring company, analyzed survey responses from 500 IT decision-makers from North America, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand during the COVID-19 pandemic. The results showed many organizations are turning to AI and automation to address the problems created by the closure of physical offices and the rise of remote work.


On the Nature and Types of Anomalies: A Review

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

Anomalies are occurrences in a dataset that are in some way unusual and do not fit the general patterns. The concept of the anomaly is generally ill-defined and perceived as vague and domain-dependent. Moreover, no comprehensive and concrete overviews of the different types of anomalies have hitherto been published. By means of an extensive literature review this study therefore offers the first theoretically principled and domain-independent typology of data anomalies, and presents a full overview of anomaly types and subtypes. To concretely define the concept of the anomaly and its different manifestations the typology employs four dimensions: data type, cardinality of relationship, data structure and data distribution. These fundamental and data-centric dimensions naturally yield 3 broad groups, 9 basic types and 61 subtypes of anomalies. The typology facilitates the evaluation of the functional capabilities of anomaly detection algorithms, contributes to explainable data science, and provides insights into relevant topics such as local versus global anomalies.


GPT-3 Creative Fiction

#artificialintelligence

What if I told a story here, how would that story start?" Thus, the summarization prompt: "My second grader asked me what this passage means: …" When a given prompt isn't working and GPT-3 keeps pivoting into other modes of completion, that may mean that one hasn't constrained it enough by imitating a correct output, and one needs to go further; writing the first few words or sentence of the target output may be necessary.


'Touchless touchscreen' could fight future epidemics, researchers say

The Independent - Tech

Cambridge University researchers have developed a "no-touch touchscreen" that uses artificial intelligence to predict a user's intention before their hand reaches the display. The screen was originally designed for use in cars, but the engineers who built it claim it could also have widespread applications during a pandemic. The "predictive touch" technology can be retrofitted to existing displays and could be used to prevent the spread of pathogens on touchscreens at supermarket check-outs, ATMs and ticket terminals at railway stations. Studies have shown that coronavirus can remain on plastic and glass for anywhere between two hours and a week, meaning touchscreens in public places need to be constantly disinfected to prevent transmission. "Touchscreens and other interactive displays are something most people use multiple times per day, but they can be difficult to use while in motion, whether that's driving a car or hanging the music on your phone while you're running," said Simon Godsill from the university's department of engineering.


Death Rate Among COVID-19 Patients In ICU Falls: Study

International Business Times

Death rate among COVID-19 patients admitted to intensive care units (ICU) across the world has reduced compared to the toll at the beginning of the pandemic, according to a new study. The result of the study offered a beacon of hope to the coronavirus patients in the ICUs by finding the fatality rate among those in intensive care has fallen by almost a third in Europe, America and Asia. While new cases continued to surge in some parts of the world, coronavirus-related fatalities were also showing signs of waning, according to a research team headed by Tim Cook, a consultant in anesthesia and intensive care medicine of England's Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust. Researchers said, overall, ICU deaths dropped from almost 60% in March to around 42% at the end of May. The difference in ratio meant thousands of lives were saved and reflected the rapid learning process that took place on a global scale as to what types of drugs work against the deadly virus, an article published on WebMD, stated.


News from a postpandemic world

Science

We asked young scientists to imagine this scenario: You are a science writer in the year 2040 working on a news story that answers this question: What do you hope or fear will be the long-term effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic? A selection of their responses, arranged as a newpaper, is below. Follow NextGen Voices on Twitter with hashtag #NextGenSci. Read previous NextGen Voices survey results at . —Jennifer Sills Today, scientists confirm that 1000 previously endangered species have been removed from the Vulnerable list. Biodiversity renewal has been under way since the COVID-19 pandemic 20 years ago led many governments to reevaluate their priorities. Hunting practices and bushmeat consumption were constrained to limit the transmission of new pathogens through human contact with the meat and biofluids of wild animals. Deforestation was restricted worldwide when it became clear that land-use modifications and climate change were important drivers of vector-borne diseases. COVID-19 claimed many lives, but the political and environmental changes the pandemic inspired have likely saved many more by protecting the world's biodiversity. Joel Henrique Ellwanger Department of Genetics, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, 91501-970, Brazil. Email: joel.ellwanger{at}gmail.com Science and technology research budgets, now classified as an arm of the national defense force, could rival traditional military spending in a few years' time. This newfound prioritization of science was shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, which made clear that the previous conception of military force is impractical when the enemy is invisible and formidable. The unprecedented redirection of financial resources to scientific communities to help find a cure and vaccines, along with the increased demand for scientific experts, expanded technological frontiers and gave science a well-deserved space in governance. Mpho Diphago Stanley Lekgoathi The South African Nuclear Energy Corporation, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa. Email: mpho.lekgoathi{at}necsa.co.za In response to the 50th wave of COVID-19, which hit New York City last month, the U.S. government has announced that the first spaceship designated for in-orbit medical treatment of COVID-19 patients will soon transport 10,000 residents from high-risk zones to Space. Scientists say that prolonged stay in Space colonies with exposure to controlled gamma radiation from cosmic dust may help weaken the virus's strong affinity to lung tissue. “We will do all we can to protect our residents on Earth. Unlike 2019, we are prepared for this challenge,” said the President in a Capitol Hill address. The Senate has voted to fund the treatment expenses for everyone on the flight. Kartik Nemani Layered Materials and Structures Lab, Department of Mechanical and Energy Engineering, Purdue School of Engineering and Technology, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, IN 46202, USA. Email: snemani{at}purdue.edu Workers at major corporations staged a walk-out today, the 20th anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, to protest what some have deemed invasive monitoring. Many fears subsided when the first SARS-CoV-2 vaccine was broadly distributed in 2023, but subsequent zoonotic viruses emerged faster than society could prepare for them. With the world economy precariously weak, a cautious arrangement was reached: Workers could return to their jobs if they submitted to routine infection checks. At first, these were relatively innocuous temperature probes and cough tracking. However, with the 2029 advent of low-cost RNA wastewater screening by smart toilets and ubiquitous wall-mounted infrared heat sensors, infected employees could be pinpointed before displaying acute symptoms. Later, an eCommerce/fitness-tracking consortium released artificial intelligence algorithms that combined smartwatch health metrics and recent online search history. Corporate Wellness Boards used the results to justify mandatory quarantines. Employees cried foul. The debate rages on in our courts and on the Giganet about whether the public good is served by exposing the “viral status” of the few. Michael A. Tarselli Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening, Oak Brook, IL 60523, USA. Email: mtarselli{at}slas.org Earlier this month, 21 individuals were quarantined in Kampala, Uganda, after a man was diagnosed with Marburg hemorrhagic fever by the local laboratory of the International Center for Disease Prevention (ICDP). The patient, who has now fully recovered, may have been infected at the veterinary clinic where he worked in close contact with possible animal carriers. “This is a virus that spreads easily through bodily fluids and historically has been transmitted to caregivers,” said Dr. Icuaf, director of the ICDP. Once again, the localized presence of centers with efficient testing capabilities made it possible to identify patient zero and contain the outbreak at its inception. As a result, “no deaths occurred, and everyone who might have been exposed has been quarantined while we monitor their health,” added Dr. Icuaf. The ICDP was instituted in 2021 as a global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which marked a revolution in public awareness of science-based policy. The cost of crisis prevention is now routinely compared with the predicted price of managing such a crisis after it has occurred. Ahmed Al Harraq Cain Department of Chemical Engineering, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA. Email: aahme22{at}lsu.edu One of the world's leading universities is launching a large-scale screen of potential antiviral and antibacterial drugs on human volunteers. The substances show promising results in vitro but have not been tested on animals. To compensate for the risk of side effects, all volunteers will receive generous payment. “Drugs showing promising effects on mice could be ineffective on humans, making drug development expensive and slow,” explained the leading scientist of the drug screen. Human rights experts warned against granting permission to conduct the study. “Offering payment for causing physical harm targets the economically vulnerable and violates basic human rights,” they argued. However, doctors and politicians praise the idea, referring to the COVID-19 epidemic. “Developing a new drug through the traditional process can take years. Testing multiple potential candidates on coronavirus-infected people saved thousands of lives before basic research had a chance to catch up. Next time, we want to be prepared,” explained the health minister. Anna Uzonyi Department of Molecular Genetics, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, 7610001, Israel. Email: anna.uzonyi{at}weizmann.ac.il Results published today from a 20-year experiment show that a “lottery” grant funding scheme is superior to traditional peer-review assessment panels. For decades, researchers have debated the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of selecting grant recipients through a peer-review process, given the documented biases that hinder diversity and equitable decision-making. “It was a controversial move at the time, but the results are clear,” said the lead author of the study. The funding experiment, which began in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, was introduced to preserve the workforce employed on short-term contracts. During that year, pandemic-related budget cuts and social restrictions impeded the traditional peer-review process. “The lottery not only reduced peer-review bias but also added millions of dollars per year to the sector in hours saved by academics no longer devoting time to peer review,” said the lead author. “That time was spent on doing more experiments, mentoring colleagues, or achieving a healthier work-life balance.” Ken Dutton-Regester Department of Genetics and Computational Biology, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Brisbane, QLD 4006, Australia. Twitter: @stemventurist As the debate continues on the efficacy of educational methods, most universities now use a combination of in-person, remote, and technology-enhanced classrooms. The rapid expansion of evidence-based strategies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, audio and video tools, three-dimensional environments, and simulations across disciplines began during the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision to move education to a computer-based environment to protect the health and safety of students and staff transformed the educational conversation. In the increasingly technology-enhanced world, discussions about how to teach a science class online, how to facilitate lab experiences, and how to conduct experiments with new constraints swept the research community. A nuanced understanding emerged about true online pedagogy versus synchronous, remote meetings. Two decades later, we see the results of this transformation. Rachel Yoho Department of Environmental and Global Health, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32603, USA. Twitter: @rachel_yoho A stunning 200,000 people attended the grand opening ceremony of the 2040 Olympics yesterday in New Delhi, India. It has been 20 years since such a public event could take place safely. Only with the recent release of clothing and shoes made of technologically advanced materials that instantly kill viruses could the social distancing that began with the COVID-19 pandemic be relaxed. For added peace of mind, all attendees at the ceremony consented to the skin implantation of Viroclean, a new chip-based device that sounds an alarm when it detects viruses in the air. Sudhakar Srivastava Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, 221005, India. Email: sudhakar.srivastava{at}gmail.com This weekend, at the Coachella 2040 music festival, three aerosol biosurveillance sensors detected a SARS-like virus in the air. Smartphone tracing, using the opt-in U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) geospatial health app developed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, identified two potential index cases. The CDC outbreak prevention team mobilized regional contact tracers to intercept and test both individuals within an hour of first detection. One individual tested positive for a variant of the 2019 SARS-CoV-2 strain, previously thought to be eradicated, and is undergoing treatment in quarantine. Michael Strong Center for Genes, Environment, and Health, National Jewish Health and University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, Denver, CO 80206, USA. Email: strongm{at}njhealth.org Last week's 15th annual Pan-global Remote Integrated Sciences Meeting (PRISM) attracted more than 100,000 attendees from more than 160 countries. Scientists, educators, students, entrepreneurs, policymakers, and industry experts from fields spanning the physical, biological, and social sciences logged on to the online venue, enabled by virtual reality. Advanced machine learning algorithms provided recommendations for presentations relevant to each participant based on both their expertise and potential for interdisciplinary collaboration. As usual, the highlight of the meeting was the virtual poster sessions, driven by interactivity and streamlined to optimize small-group scientific conversation across fields. Many junior scientist attendees were surprised to learn that such events were nearly unheard of before PRISM grew from the increasing move toward virtual conferences during the coronavirus pandemic over 20 years ago. “My adviser told me that when she was a grad student, big conferences were all held in person,” writes one anonymous Ph.D. student. “Can you imagine having a giant conference like this in some random convention center, with tens of thousands of scientists spending hundreds of dollars on fuel-inefficient flights and hotel booking, lugging around printed posters and just milling around for a week trying to find the optimal talks to attend? Insane.” Yifan Li Department of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA. Twitter: @iWonderWhyly Today, cell-based meat consumption has surpassed farm-produced meat for the first time. The transition began with the meat shortages and near collapse of the meat supply chain during the COVID-19 outbreak. With thousands of workers packed into poorly ventilated and unhygienic facilities, meat processing plants were hotspots for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. A global meat shortage emerged as production rates were slashed. Most people turned to the plant-based meat alternatives available at the time. The meat industry's demise was sealed when cell-based meat entered the mainstream market the following year. Clean meat eliminated the negative effects of the meat industry, from pollution caused by runoff and antibiotics, to worker and animal cruelty, to the carbon footprint of livestock, which contributed 18% of greenhouse gas emissions at the time. Cell-based meat has been growing in popularity ever since, as traditional meat became ethically and environmentally unpalatable. JiaJia Fu Whittle School and Studios, Washington, DC 20008, USA. Email: jjnaturalist{at}gmail.com Global seafood supply now relies entirely on aquaculture. The turning point came when researchers optimized the breeding techniques for edible crabs, enabling high-valued crab species such as mud crabs and blue crabs to be mass-produced in full aquaculture settings. The prioritization of aquaculture was made possible by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. A 12-month closure of fisheries during the wave of global stay-at-home orders led to the rejuvenation of overexploited species such as sardines and mackerels, which had been on the verge of extinction, and made people recognize the fragility of the supply chain. Full investment in aquaculture research began the following year. Khor Waiho Institute of Tropical Aquaculture and Fisheries, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, Kuala Nerus, Terengganu, 21030, Malaysia. Email: waiho{at}umt.edu.my Next week, the United Nations will meet to assess whether the goals of the 2040 Agenda for Sustainable Development have been achieved. Unfortunately, reasons for optimism are scarce. Overexploitation of natural resources, CO2 emissions, and plastic waste continue to soar. The wealthiest sector of the population consumes 80% of the resources, and the poorest people increasingly suffer from extreme weather events, famines, and freshwater scarcity. We were already heading in this direction early in the century, when the short-term vision of corporations and policy-makers prioritized economic benefits over human and environmental health. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the negative trends. Since 2020, an array of wasteful practices increased, including the proliferation of single-use products and travel in private vehicles to avoid physical contact. After reviewing the past decade, the UN countries will discuss commitments to decrease inequality and pollution by 2050. Isabel Marín Beltrán Laboratory of Environmental Technologies, Centro de Ciências do Mar do Algarve, Universidade do Algarve, Campus de Gambelas, Faro, 8005-139, Portugal. Email: imbeltran{at}ualg.pt For the first time, global average air temperature is more than 2°C higher than the 20th-century global average. Scientists suggest that decisions made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic led to today's disastrous climate consequences. After the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016, scientists were hopeful. National governments were implementing increasingly ambitious measures to meet their commitments. But the economic fallout of the pandemic led growing economies such as India to relax environmental clearance guidelines for industries and infrastructure projects and cut funding allocated to environmental reforms. First-world countries such as the United States and China, instead of shifting toward renewable energy, boosted investment in fossil fuels, which in turn increased greenhouse gas emissions. Even after multiple warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, G20 nations neglected to follow the advice of scientists. Akash Mukherjee Department of Physics, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune, Pune, Maharashtra, 411008, India. Twitter: @aghori_AM A government report released yesterday warns of a potential spike in counterfeit immunity passports entering the market this coronavirus season. According to Jane London, the U.K. health minister, “There is a substantial increase in the number of illegal immunigrants crossing provincial and municipal borders. The public should be aware that just scanning someone's immunity passport is not enough anymore.” This report comes just 6 months after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first released notice that the “NextGen Immunity Passport” brand had been hacked, allowing scammers and tech-savvy citizens to falsify the immunity data they carry with them by law. Asked how businesses and town-guards were detecting falsified immunity passports at checkpoints, minister of national movement John Petersfield told journalists, “This is a police matter. Any further information about detection at this time will only help counterfeiters.” Widespread counterfeiting, as well as last year's false-negative scandal, has generated substantial public distrust in the use of the immunity passport system in movement legislation, now 19 years old. “We learned our lesson about free movement back in 2020,” said one government official who wished to remain anonymous, “but the immunity passport system is cracking, and we don't see a fix yet.” Tyler D. P. Brunet Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB2 3RH, UK. Email: tdpb2{at}cam.ac.uk


Covid-19 news: UK begins using dexamethasone to treat patients

New Scientist

Covid-19 patients in the UK are being treated with dexamethasone today after a UK trial of the drug found it could save lives. "The treatment is immediately available and already in use on the NHS," said health minister Matt Hancock. "It is not by any means a cure but it is the best news we have had," Hancock told parliament today. The UK's chief medical officers say it should be used immediately, according to the BBC. A preliminary study found that the steroid, which is already widely prescribed for treating allergies and asthma, reduces the risk of dying from covid-19 by a third for patients on ventilators, and by a fifth for those receiving oxygen. Dexamethasone should only be taken if prescribed by a doctor. Officials in Beijing, China confirmed 31 new coronavirus cases today, bringing the total to 137 in the last six days. The city is again restricting all non-essential travel. Schools, swimming pools and gyms are all closed from today.