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Science

SCI COMMUN### Politics The U.S. presidential race was upended in the first days of October as President Donald Trump tested positive for the pandemic virus and spent 3 days in the hospital. He was aggressively treated with two experimental medicines—monoclonal antibodies and the repurposed antiviral remdesivir—and a steroid used in severe COVID-19 cases. Trump returned to the White House on 5 October saying people should not fear the disease. But public health specialists voiced astonishment when he re-entered the building maskless, trailed by questions about his medical condition and a lack of information about how staff members would be protected from infection. All that followed a rancorous first debate on 29 September between Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. Trump mocked Biden for having worn a mask at other times, despite evidence that the precaution reduces transmission of the virus. The president also left scientists puzzled when he described as a “disaster” Biden's role in the response to the H1N1 swine flu outbreak in 2009. Then-President Barack Obama, whom Biden served under as vice president, declared it a public health emergency 6 weeks before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. That flu killed an estimated 12,000 Americans—far fewer than the 210,000 U.S. deaths recorded so far from COVID-19. > “Very few don't have some sort of connection to Big Tech.” > > Doctoral student Mohamed Abdalla , in Wired , about a study he led of faculty members specializing in artificial intelligence at four leading research universities. He found 58% (48 of 83) had received a grant or fellowship from one of 14 large technology companies, which may distort research priorities. ### Conservation High-tech fake turtle eggs can spy on poachers and wildlife trafficking routes. The real eggs are a delicacy in Central America, and illicit trading of them adds to other hazards to the survival of turtle species that are threatened. Researchers slipped 101 decoy eggs with GPS trackers embedded (left) into nests on four Costa Rican beaches. The scientists tracked five eggs to learn where the poachers took them; the farthest ended up 137 kilometers inland, the multinational team reported on 5 October in Current Biology . The researchers did not share this information with authorities, noting ethical concerns; many poachers live in poverty, and in Costa Rica, buying the eggs is not illegal. But, the authors say, the study shows that law enforcement agencies could use the method. ### Public health Coronavirus guidelines issued last week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) again stirred controversy and concerns that undue political pressure had influenced some of its decisions. CDC announced that on 31 October it will lift an order barring cruise ships from sailing despite a recommendation by its director, Robert Redfield, to extend the ban until February 2021. The industry shut down in March after severe COVID-19 outbreaks occurred on multiple ships. Last week, CDC also drew fire for its updated guidelines on when colleges should test students and faculty and staff members for the pandemic virus. The agency recommended different frequencies of testing, including just a single, initial one, depending on circumstances such as whether students lived in residences with others who tested positive. Critics said the new guidelines should have recommended more regular testing of asymptomatic individuals. CDC addressed another uproar this week by acknowledging evidence that the virus can travel by air and infect people standing more than 2 meters apart in indoor spaces. The agency was faulted last month after it posted, and then withdrew, a draft suggesting otherwise. ### Infectious diseases An international program to reduce the risk of new zoonotic diseases, allowed to expire by the U.S. government in 2019 but extended until last month, will get a successor. On 30 September, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded a $100 million grant to help countries in Asia and Africa curb viruses jumping from animals to humans. The 5-year Strategies to Prevent Spillover program will have a different focus from its predecessor, PREDICT, whose termination was criticized by the scientific community: Rather than studying the drivers of spillover, it will seek interventions to reduce viral jumps, a USAID spokesperson says. A key goal is to “help partners at the country level build their expertise and ability to take action,” says veterinarian Deborah Kochevar of Tufts University, which leads a 13-institute consortium that won the grant. ### International affairs Yuri Orlov, the Russian physicist who championed human rights in the Soviet Union before being exiled in 1985, died on 27 September at age 96. Orlov helped organize the Soviet Union's branch of Amnesty International in 1973 and 3 years later co-founded the Moscow Helsinki Group, which monitored Soviet adherence to the civil rights provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords between the Soviet Union and the West. In 1977, Orlov was arrested and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor and exile in Siberia. After coming to the United States in a prisoner exchange, Orlov, an expert in particle accelerators, worked at Cornell University. He didn't think much of Russian President Vladimir Putin, writing in 2004 that “Russia is flying backward in time.” ### Governance Japan's new prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, has disrupted the process by which scientists are appointed to serve on the governing body of the country's leading academic society, the Science Council of Japan (SCJ). Researchers are criticizing the move as a threat to academic freedom. SCJ makes policy recommendations, promotes scientific literacy and international cooperation, and represents the interests of more than 800,000 scholars in virtually all academic disciplines. The prime minister customarily ratifies appointees recommended by SCJ for its governing body, the General Assembly. But according to an announcement last week, Suga withheld his blessing from six academics, in a list of 105 put forward, who work in the social sciences, law, and the humanities. All six had criticized legislation adopted by Japan's previous government, in which Suga was chief cabinet secretary. His failure to appoint them violated a law governing SCJ, said Satoshi Ihara, secretary general of the Japan Scientists' Association. ### Policy Mexican scientists this week blasted a move by the national legislature to eliminate 109 trust funds run by public research centers and government institutes, one-third of them devoted to science and technology. The government wants to use the money, some $3 billion in total, for the coronavirus pandemic. The funds support everything from student scholarships and emergency maintenance of equipment to major research projects at dozens of government centers. The money also helps pay for biosecurity and biotechnology research, fighting climate change, and disaster relief. On 6 October, Mexico's Chamber of Deputies approved a bill to terminate the funds, but with “reservations” that require further debate; it is expected to pass in the Senate. The plan is “a brutal blow” and the worst hit to Mexican science in 50 years, says Antonio Lazcano, an evolutionary biologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, University City. ### Virology There's been a new case of infection with Alaskapox virus, a recently discovered pathogen that's related to smallpox. Alaska state health authorities reported on 30 September that they had found the virus in a woman from the Fairbanks area with a mild, gray skin lesion on one arm, similar to one seen in 2015 in the first known patient, also a woman from Fairbanks. Human infections with pox-viruses are on the rise, presumably because vaccination against smallpox—which offers some protection against related viruses—was halted after that deadly disease was eradicated 40 years ago. But the Alaska cases are no cause for alarm: There is no evidence the virus can be transmitted between humans—scientists think it came from wild mammals—and the lesions went away by themselves. ### Medicine prize goes to discoverers of virus that destroys the liver The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded this week for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus, one of the most common causes of liver cancer. The prize went to Harvey Alter of the U.S. National Institutes of Health; Michael Houghton of the University of Alberta, Edmonton; and Charles Rice of Rockefeller University. The hepatitis C virus, transmitted via blood, can cause chronic inflammation of the liver that quietly destroys the organ over decades, ultimately leading to cirrhosis and cancer. The laureates did work over 3 decades to identify the virus and show it was responsible for unexplained cases of hepatitis in people who received blood transfusions. They also developed a test to screen blood donations for the virus, which has nearly eliminated the risk of hepatitis from blood transfusions. Their research ultimately led to a successful treatment for the disease, which has cured millions of people. But about 71 million people worldwide still have chronic hepatitis C, and transmission continues via contaminated medical equipment, sharing drug injection needles, and from infected mothers to newborns during birth. The disease causes few acute symptoms, and testing in many developing countries is limited. ### Black hole hunters receive physics prize The Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded for pioneering discoveries regarding black holes—self-sustaining gravitational fields so intense that nothing, not even light, can escape. Roger Penrose, a mathematician at the University of Oxford, received half of the $1.1 million prize for his theoretical work, conducted in part with the late Stephen Hawking, that proved a black hole would be stable and thus could be a real astrophysical object and not a mere mathematical curiosity. Astronomers Reinhard Genzel of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and Andrea Ghez of the University of California, Los Angeles, share the other half of the prize for deducing the presence of the supermassive black hole that lies in the heart of our Galaxy. Since the 1990s, Genzel and Ghez have led rival research groups that observed stars there, 26,000 light-years from Earth. They found ones orbiting a heavy, unseen object, called Sagittarius A*, at incredible speeds—some of the most convincing evidence for a behemoth black hole, with the mass of millions of Suns. ### Fauci: ‘Skunk at the picnic’ On 23 September, in the relative calm before President Donald Trump's coronavirus infection was revealed, Anthony Fauci relaxed at home after tangling earlier that day with U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R–KY) during a hearing on COVID-19. Fauci still had 200 emails in his inbox to read that night, but the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who also serves on the White House's Coronavirus Task Force, sat down with Science to discuss the pandemic and research on vaccines. (Read the full interview at [scim.ag/FauciOctober][1].) Some excerpts: On his showdown with Paul: “I said to myself, you know, ‘I'm sorry, I'm not gonna disrespect him, but I'm not gonna let him get away with saying things that are cherry-picked data.’” (Paul had suggested that the United States follow Sweden's COVID-19 policies because it had a lower death rate from the disease.) On speaking bluntly at the White House: “I'm walking a fine line of being someone who is not hesitant to tell the president and the vice president what they may not want to hear. There are some people in the White House, who, even when I first started telling it like it was in the task force meetings, they were like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ That's when I got that nickname ‘the skunk at the picnic.’ … I say, ‘I'm sorry, I'm not trying to undermine the president. But there is something that's called reality.’” On the state of the pandemic: “Yes, there are parts of the country that are doing well. But this country is a big forest, and when you have fires in some parts of the forest, the entire forest is at risk.” [1]: http://scim.ag/FauciOctober


NASA uses Artificial Intelligence to find new Craters on Mars

#artificialintelligence

Pasadena, CA – Sometime between March 2010 and May 2012, a meteor streaked across the Martian sky and broke into pieces, slamming into the planet's surface. The resulting craters were relatively small – just 13 feet (4 meters) in diameter. The smaller the features, the more difficult they are to spot using Mars orbiters. But in this case – and for the first time – scientists spotted them with a little extra help: artificial intelligence (AI). It's a milestone for planetary scientists and AI researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, who worked together to develop the machine-learning tool that helped make the discovery.


These educators show what it takes to be named 'teacher of the year' amid a pandemic

Los Angeles Times

Rhiannon Chavez has always been an animated teacher, and her fourth-grade classroom is her theater. She sings, dances and gesticulates during her lessons, engaging her 23 students at 186th Street Elementary School in Gardena. But distance learning has elevated these tactics to a whole new level. Now, as she teaches into a computer screen from her home in San Pedro, she pours every last bit of energy into making sure that her enthusiasm is infectious enough to span the digital divide. From one of her three computer monitors screens she leads the children in a song about rounding numbers, her hand movements and facial expressions are bigger and more spirited than ever.


Police Commission to review LAPD's facial recognition use after Times report

Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday said it would review the city Police Department's use of facial recognition software and how it compared with programs in other major cities. The commission did so after citing reporting by The Times this week that publicly revealed the scope of the LAPD's use of facial recognition for the first time -- including that hundreds of LAPD officers have used it nearly 30,000 times since 2009. Critics say police denials of its use are part of a long pattern of deception and that transparency is essential, given potential privacy and civil rights infringements. Commission President Eileen Decker said a subcommittee of the commission would "do a deeper dive" into the technology's use and "work with the department in terms of analyzing the oversight mechanisms" for the system. "It's a good time to take a global look at this issue," Decker said.


LAPD used facial recognition software tied to wrongful arrests

Mashable

When you want the public to trust your use of controversial facial recognition technology linked to two prominent wrongful arrests of Black men, it's perhaps best not to claim you aren't using it in the first place. The Los Angeles Police Department was on the defensive Monday after a Los Angeles Times report found that, despite previous statements to the contrary, the LAPD does in fact use facial recognition tech -- often, in fact. What's more, the software in question, a product of South Carolina company DataWorks Plus, is itself no stranger to controversy. According to the Times, over 300 LAPD officers have access to facial recognition software, and the department used it almost 30,000 times between November of 2009 and September of this year. In 2019, LAPD spokesperson Josh Rubenstein painted a very different picture of his department's relationship with facial recognition tech.


The LAPD has used facial recognition software 30,000 times since 2009

Engadget

For years, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) hasn't given a clear answer on whether it uses facial recognition in its policing work. On Monday, the agency told The Los Angeles Times it has used the technology nearly 30,000 times since late 2009. The LAPD uses the Los Angeles County Regional Identification System (LACRIS), a database of more than 9 million mugshots maintained by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. At one point, more than 500 LAPD personnel had access to the system, though the department claims that the number is closer to 300 in recent months. Josh Rubenstein, a spokesperson for the LAPD, said he couldn't be sure how many arrests LACRIS has helped the police department make.


Controversial facial-recognition software used 30,000 times by LAPD in last decade, records show

Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Police Department has used facial-recognition software nearly 30,000 times since 2009, with hundreds of officers running images of suspects from surveillance cameras and other sources against a massive database of mugshots taken by law enforcement. The new figures, released to The Times, reveal for the first time how commonly facial recognition is used in the department, which for years has provided vague and contradictory information about how and whether it uses the technology. The LAPD has consistently denied having records related to facial recognition, and at times denied using the technology at all. The truth is that, while it does not have its own facial-recognition platform, LAPD personnel have access to facial-recognition software through a regional database maintained by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. And between Nov. 6, 2009, and Sept. 11 of this year, LAPD officers used the system's software 29,817 times.


Coronavirus may have surfaced in Los Angeles just before Christmas

FOX News

The coronavirus may have been in Los Angeles around Christmas, before the novel coronavirus was officially identified in the United States, according to researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Washington. The team of researchers discovered a spike in patients with acute respiratory failure and coughs at UCLA Health hospitals and clinics around late December 2019, when they analyzed health records, according to a press release from the university. The findings published in a report in the Journal of Medical Internet Research suggest that novel coronavirus may have been surfacing in the area months before the first case was officially identified. Researchers said an increased number of patients with respiratory complaints starting in late December 2019 and continuing through February 2020 suggests SARS-CoV-2 community infections were present prior to official awareness of cases in the U.S. (iStock) The team of researchers analyzed more than 10 million UCLA Health System outpatient, emergency department and hospital facility records between Dec. 1, 2019, and Feb. 29, 2020 – months just before there was an awareness of the presence of the novel coronavirus in the United States. They discovered patients seeking treatment for coughs in the outpatient clinics "increased by over 50% and exceeded the average number of visits for the same complaint over the prior five years by more than 1,000," the study press release stated.


A reading list for uncertain times

Science

From an incisive ethnography of predictive policing to a compelling indictment of technology-enabled learning tools, the books on this year's fall reading list offer valuable context to the myriad challenges currently facing humanity. Dive deep into a public health disaster shrouded in secrecy, sit with the uncomfortable questions raised by a fictional foray into the future of intimacy, confront the challenges to sustainable development posed by environmental racism, and learn what a QR-coded chicken in rural China portends about the future of agriculture. When you are through, sit back and marvel at the odds stacked against humanity from the start with an entertaining romp through evolution and then leave your earthly worries behind with an ambitious tour of the Solar System. —Valerie Thompson Reviewed by Ivor Knight 1 Through a series of chance events, the pathogen we now know as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 emerged in 2019 and infected millions of humans within a span of 6 months. But chance has driven more than just the planet's latest pandemic. In his new book, A Series of Fortunate Events: Chance and the Making of the Planet, Life, and You , Sean B. Carroll takes readers on an entertaining tour of biological discovery that emphasizes the dominant role played by chance in shaping the conditions for life on Earth. Along the way, he provides insights and humor that make the book a quick, lively read that both educates and entertains. Carroll begins with one of the most consequential chance events to have occurred in the history of our planet: the Cretaceous-Paleogene asteroid impact on the Yucatán Peninsula that resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs and expansion of mammals. Given Earth's rotational speed, if the asteroid had hit 30 minutes earlier or later, scientists believe it would have made a much less consequential impact, landing in either the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean. If that had happened, there might still be dinosaurs today, but no humans. As he does throughout the book, Carroll compares the example from science with an example from popular culture, describing the comedian Seth MacFarlane's good fortune to have narrowly missed (by 30 minutes) one of the flights that was hijacked on 11 September 2001. Fundamental topics such as the roles that mutation and natural selection play in the evolution of diverse life-forms, the genetics of human reproduction, cellular mechanisms of acquired immunity, and the development of cancer are all treated within a framework where chance dominates. Carroll explains in detail how chance creates the genetic diversity upon which natural selection acts and results in the richness of species on Earth, as well as how random combinations among just 163 gene segments make possible a human immune system that can produce up to 10 billion different antibodies. Readers will likely be particularly interested to learn that their genome is only one of the 70 trillion possibilities that could have been produced by their parents. Written in a conversational style, the book reads like an updated version of Jacques Monod's 1970 Chance and Necessity that speaks directly to the reader, making complex subject matter more accessible. There is also a suggested reading list and an extensive bibliography included for further exploration. Carroll's central argument, that we are all here by luck, is certainly clear and compelling. What we choose to do with that luck, however, is where things really get interesting. Books such as this remind us to make our unlikely time here count. Reviewed by Gillian Bowser 2 Does a hurricane discriminate between the wealthy and the poor? Do earthquakes target specific victims? How does systemic racism influence development goals? In academic explorations of sustainable development and environmental responsibilities, our assumptions about the relationship between income and energy consumption remain largely rooted in the idea that social inequalities decrease as countries develop, thus reducing environmental inequality. No such relationship appears to actually exist. In his sobering but essential new book, Unsustainable Inequalities , economist Lucas Chancel explores the intersections of social justice and environmental sustainability with a focus on global goals established at the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which informed the underlying philosophy of the 2015 Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) ([ 1 ][1]). Framing his narrative through the lens of intragenerational economic inequalities, he identifies social inequality as a core driver of environmental unsustainability that leads to a vicious circle wherein the rich consume more and the poor lose access to environmental resources and become increasingly vulnerable to environmental shocks. In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development issued a report called “Our Common Future” that defined sustainable development as “development that meets the need of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” ([ 2 ][2]). The idea of intergenerational environmental equity became a cornerstone concept, shifting climate policy toward the common but differentiated responsibilities enshrined in the UNFCCC. Yet questions about intergenerational responsibility and the equitable impacts of climate change and environmental degradation remain. Environmental racism, wherein communities of color are disproportionately exposed to environmental risks, is inseparable from social justice, Chancel argues, and the attainment of sustainable development that also protects the environment across generations is “extremely difficult” without first addressing economic inequality within a single generation. The notion that we may be able to attain sustainable development and achieve equal responsibility for environmental degradation feels more unreachable than ever in a world upended by a global pandemic. In prepandemic times, many nations had already failed to implement or participate in local and global environmental justice efforts, and taxation schemes to level responsibilities for environmental pollution have proven wildly unpopular. And while Chancel argues that common indicator frameworks such as the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals encourage nations to learn from one another, the continued rise of social inequality is a stark reminder of the difficult road ahead. Reviewed by Kanwal Singh 3 As the pandemic forces so many school systems and learning institutions to move online, the desire to educate students well using online tools and platforms is more pressing than ever. But as Justin Reich illustrates in his new book, Failure to Disrupt , there are no easy solutions or one-size-fits-all tools that can aid in this transition, and many recent technologies that were expected to radically change schooling have instead been used in ways that perpetuate existing systems and their attendant inequalities. The first half of the book discusses the brief histories, limited successes, and challenges of three types of large-scale technology-driven learning environments: instructor-guided, such as lectures taught through massive open online courses (MOOCs); algorithm-guided (e.g., Khan Academy); and peer-guided (e.g., the online coding community known as Scratch). Reich gives a solid accounting of the conditions needed for success with these models, the difficulties and limitations involved in adopting them in K–12 schooling, and the challenges that arise when we attempt to compare different approaches to one another. He argues that although we might think that the availability of a technology is its biggest limiter, the truth is that educational systems are simply not constructed to allow for experimentation and new ways of learning. Reich describes himself as committed to “methodological pluralism.” He supports the use of an array of learning tools and mechanisms, although he confesses to a particular admiration for peer-guided environments. He argues, however, that the incentive structures in formal education do not encourage the more innovative and deeper learning that can blossom in these environments. If we insist on maintaining current methods of assessment and ranking, which center on individual achievement, then peer-guided instruction will remain relegated to the sidelines. The second part of the book expands on the challenges of implementing educational technologies. Reich's main argument here is that educational systems are inherently conservative and that change will happen, albeit slowly and incrementally, only if technology designers, teachers, and administrators work in partnership to understand the desired learning goals and the parameters that define and constrain the learning environments. One of the most intractable pieces of the educational technology puzzle is the need to effectively conduct large-scale assessment, especially when the skills being assessed are not things that computers can do. Here, Reich cites a humorous example of an automated grading system giving high marks to an essay that begins with the technically grammatically correct sentence: “Educatee on an assassination will always be a part of mankind.” At the end of the book, Reich offers four questions that he finds especially useful to consider when examining a new large-scale educational technology. Perhaps the most useful question is the first: “What's new?” Despite what “edtech evangelists” might claim, new technologies often have closely related ancestors that can help predict their success, he argues. In the end, however, new technologies alone are unlikely to have a substantial impact on schooling. We must also be open to changing educational goals and expectations according to the possibilities offered by emergent technologies. Reviewed by Arti Garg 4 In Blockchain Chicken Farm , Xiaowei Wang reveals the myriad ways that technology is transforming our lives. They unveil, for example, the unexpected connections that exist between industrial oyster farming in rural China, livestream-fueled multilevel marketing schemes in the United States, and the app-enabled gig economy in which Chinese influencers participate. Following the threads of places and people woven together by new technologies, Wang helps readers trace the patterns emerging in the tapestry of our tech-infused world. Each chapter provides a view into not just how we use technology but why and to what end. Emphasizing the often-hidden human engine that powers our app-driven economy, Wang exposes the flaw in our tendency to conflate societal and cultural aspirations with the promises of technology and challenges us to honestly measure what value technology delivers. In the 21st century, they argue, we demand that technologists solve the problems that our governments and communities have not. In doing so, we inadvertently empower companies to exploit and amplify those same problems. Most of Wang's vignettes relate to Chinese agriculture. This decision, which roots the narrative in the visceral language of human sustenance, grounds the heady subject matter. The titular example takes readers to the GoGoChicken farm in Sanqiao, a “dreamlike” village that sits in one of the poorest regions in China. Here, Wang introduces the straw-hatted “Farmer Jiang,” who has partnered with his village government and a blockchain company to sell free-range chickens via an e-commerce site. Jiang's chickens sell for RMB 300 (∼$35) each, an amount equal to 6% of the average annual household income in that part of China. Wang explains that high-profile failures of regulatory oversight have left many Chinese with a deep distrust of the food supply chain and that upper-class Chinese urbanites will pay a premium for reassurance about food safety, which, in this case, takes the form of a vacuum-sealed chicken that comes with a QR code revealing blockchain-logged details of its life on the farm. Wang suggests that Americans, driven by concerns over animal welfare, may desire similar reassurance about their food's provenance. In both China and America, they observe, technology allows the upper class to buy its way around governmental and societal shortcomings at prices that are out of reach for most people. Technology does not correct the intrinsic problems, and most cannot reap the benefits of the technological “solutions.” Without resorting to an overly romanticized notion of rural wisdom, Wang treats individuals like Jiang, whose future remains uncertain owing to the vagaries of e-commerce supply chains, with respect and empathy. Because of this, they largely succeed in their goal of reframing our understanding of technology as neither the cause of nor the solution to our problems but rather as a force reshaping the human experience in fundamental ways. Reviewed by Heather Bloemhard 5 The Secret Lives of Planets by Paul Murdin includes a plethora of information about our Solar System. Murdin covers planets, asteroids, moons, dwarf planets, and more, approximately one per chapter. Even exoplanets—the planets that orbit a star other than our Sun—are referenced frequently, although not in their own chapter. Using only a few images, Murdin illustrates the historical and physical concepts that surround each of these elements in prose peppered with anecdotes from his own career as an astronomer. While the book's tone is pleasant and conversational, the discussions are often technical in nature, and I worry that some readers may be frustrated by its many tangents and loose organizational structure. For example, in his discussion of the formation of Mercury, Murdin references the formation of exoplanets, the discovery of 'Oumuamua, and Earth's fossil record. The same chapter also refers to Earth and Venus to help explain orbital eccentricity and precession, but this analogy may fall short for lay readers. I was also disappointed that Murdin relied almost exclusively on the accomplishments of European men to tell the story of how our understanding of the Solar System emerged over time. He writes, for example, of Nicolaus Copernicus's revelations about the geometry of our solar system but neglects the work of Muslim astronomers who developed models of heliocentric orbits hundreds of years earlier. Murdin is far from alone in this misstep, but it is well worth striving to do better. Despite these criticisms, every reader will learn something from this ambitious book. Did you know, for example, that some scientists once believed there were oases of vegetation on Mars, or that others believed that martians might try to colonize Earth? From the exchange of planetary material by way of meteorites to the formation of asteroids, Murdin covers a wide range of astronomical topics, including the aurora of Jupiter, the mysteries of Uranus, and the potential of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn to support recognizable life. I found Murdin's personal recollections to be the most compelling feature of The Secret Lives of Planets . He tells the story of how, as a student, he observed the shadows cast by the tops of clouds of different heights on Venus using a telescope similar to the one used by Galileo and uses this anecdote as a starting point to explain what the Italian astronomer discovered about the planet. Recounting the time he observed the launch of Cassini-Huygens, a probe sent to Saturn's moon Titan, Murdin explains what scientists had hoped to learn from this mission and what they ended up discovering. He also discusses attending the 2006 International Astronomical Union conference, where a debate was held about the definition of a planet, and reveals what it was like to cast a vote on the final decision. In the end, there is much to recommend The Secret Lives of Planets as an introductory text on our solar system. Reviewed by Peter Reczek 6 Modern cancer therapies are often the result of years of targeted research and development, making it easy to forget that many of the field's early breakthroughs had as much to do with chance as they did with preparation. In The Great Secret , Jennet Conant recounts one such breakthrough, which was made in the wake of a deadly disaster. Conant's engrossing story is set in the Italian port town of Bari, which was used as an important staging area for the distribution of supplies supporting Allied troops as they pushed north through Italy during World War II. On 2 December 1943, a day that would later be referred to as “a little Pearl Harbor,” German military aircraft sank more than 20 Allied ships anchored in Bari, leading to the loss of more than 1000 Allied servicemen and Italian civilians. Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Alexander, a medical officer attached to General Eisenhower's headquarters in North Africa, was sent to coordinate medical relief efforts. In Bari, Alexander found “a nightmarish scene.” In the aftermath of the air raid, “The walking wounded staggered in [to the hospital] unaided, suffering from shock, burns, and exposure after having been in the cold water for hours before being rescued. Others had to be supported, as they cradled fractured arms in improvised slings or dragged mangled limbs…Almost all of them were covered in thick, black crude oil,” writes Conant. In addition to the acutely injured, Alexander discovered victims whose injuries had emerged days after the attack and could not be attributed to the percussive effects of the bombing. After analyzing the positions of the ailing seamen, Alexander reported that an American Liberty ship, the John Harvey , was the source of the problem, speculating that it likely contained a secret cache of nitrogen mustard (i.e., mustard gas). Both the American and British governments denied any such cache, but Conant reveals that Alexander persisted, and his controversial report—which, crucially, documented a decrease in white blood cell counts in the victims—was accepted by the Allied High Command with a classification of “Secret.” After the war, Colonel C. P. “Dusty” Rhoads, who had been Alexander's superior during the Bari investigation, reasoned that an agent that reduced white blood cells might be useful in treating some forms of leukemia. While serving as the first director of the Sloan Kettering Institute, Rhoads oversaw a clinical trial to test nitrogen mustards as potential therapeutic agents for the treatment of neoplastic disease. The results exceeded expectations. “In their first attempt to treat patients with inoperable lung cancer with nitrogen mustard, the Memorial team reported that of the thirty-five patients, 74 percent showed some clinical improvement” writes Conant. Many similar compounds, collectively known as alkylating agents, are still the foundation of the combination chemotherapy used to treat some forms of leukemia. Drawing largely from archival research, Conant relies on a loose conversational style to convey a fast-paced medical detective story that demonstrates how careful scientific observation can yield unexpected benefits and serves as a reminder of the difficult choices made by governments to balance public health and secrecy in matters of security. Reviewed by Esha Mathew 7 In quantum physics, entanglement is a property wherein two particles are inextricably linked. Put another way, entangled particles are never truly independent of each other, no matter the distance between them. It is fitting then that Entanglements is an anthology of short stories about inextricably linked people and the impact of emerging technologies on their relationships. A talented set of authors, with deft editing by Sheila Williams, explore the full spectrum of intimacy and technology to great effect. As an added visual treat, illustrations by Tatiana Plakhova punctuate each story with a blend of science, mathematics, and art that complements the subject matter. Even with the length limitations of a short story, the world-building in this compilation is frequently full and often insidiously terrifying, particularly in those stories that use the familiar as breadcrumbs to lure the reader in. The very first tale, “Invisible People” by Nancy Kress, begins with a mundane morning routine and carefully layers in a story about two parents reeling from an unsanctioned genetic experiment on their child. In “Don't Mind Me,” Suzanne Palmer uses the shuffle between high school classes as a foundation on which to build a story about how one generation uses technology to enshrine its biases and inflict them on the next. The ethical implications in these stories offer fodder enough for plenty of late-night discussions. It is also chilling how entirely possible many of the fictional futures seem. But looking forward need not always be bleak. This volume balances darker-themed stories with those in which technology and people collide in uplifting and charming ways. In Mary Robinette Kowal's “A Little Wisdom,” for example, a museum curator, aided by her robotic therapy dog–cum–medical provider, finds the courage within herself to inspire courage in others and save the day. Meanwhile, in Cadwell Turnbull's “Mediation,” a scientist reeling from a terrible loss finally accepts her personal AI's assistance to start the healing process. And in arguably the cheekiest tale in this compilation, “The Monogamy Hormone,” Annalee Newitz tells of a woman who ingests synthetic vole hormones to choose between two lovers, delivering a classic tale of relationship woes with a bioengineered twist. With such a dizzying array of technologies discussed in relation to a range of human emotion and behavior, readers may experience cognitive whiplash as they move from one story to the next. But it is definitely worth the risk. The 10 very different thought experiments presented in this volume make for a fun ride, revealing that human relationships will continue to be as complicated and affirming in the future as they are today. I would recommend the Netflix approach to this highly readable collection: Binge it in one go, preferably with a friend. Reviewed by Joseph B. Keller 8 The U.S. police system is experiencing a reckoning. Protesters across the country (and around the world) have taken to the streets, arguing that police brutality disproportionately harms minority communities, and the current value of policing is being debated by city councils, lawmakers, and members of the news media. Into this tumultuous context enters Sarah Brayne's book, Predict & Surveil: Data, Discretion, and the Future of Policing . A sociologist by training, Brayne synthesizes interview data and field notes from 5 years of observation within the Los Angeles Police Department, employing a firsthand ethnographic approach to reveal how big data are currently used in tech-forward police departments in America. She chronicles both consequential and mundane interactions between officers, civilians, and data. For example, she documents officers uploading license plate numbers, field interview notes, traffic citations, and potential gang affiliations onto a private industry data platform, as well as their active surveillance of hotspots in Los Angeles predicted to be criminogenic. This fly-on-the-wall perspective captures the human aspect of a police force grappling with automated systems and machine-learning decisions in real time, juxtaposing the experiences of individual officers with institutional directives being handed down from administrators and lawmakers. Many police departments contend that the adoption of predictive analytics can improve objectivity and transparency, reduce bias, and increase accountability. Yet Brayne's book reveals how few of these metrics actually improve with predictive policing and exposes the scant evidence that supports the idea that it reduces crime rates. On the contrary, she insists, predictive policing raises glaring civil rights concerns and reinforces harmful racial biases. We all leave digital traces throughout our daily lives, and innocent people can be caught in the dragnet and cataloged in a digital criminal justice system, where a case can be built from benign data. Police unions, Brayne notes, often vehemently oppose the tracking of their own officers. She records incidents of officers turning off their car locator signals, for example, as well as other tactics used to thwart tech-infused managerial oversight. Many officers view policing as an art form rather than a scientific system that can be optimized. To some, big data policing threatens their sense of police instincts and identity. “They worry that they will become nothing more than line workers and insist that their years of accumulated experiential knowledge is irreplaceable,” observes Brayne. Brayne's book raises timely issues relevant to mass surveillance and policing amid a growing debate about facial recognition systems, which makes their omission from this work notable. Although banned in several major American cities, these systems remain a common tool for identifying potential offenders, despite abundant evidence of dangerous inconsistencies. Predictive policing can drive societal inequalities, but Brayne suggests that reducing instances of general police contact may mitigate disparities. In addition to offering immediate recommendations for changing law enforcement in the digital age, she asserts that effective programmatic reforms are typically influenced by external social organizing and guided by communities. (The likelihood of real transformation from within the police system is small, she believes.) For judicial and policing institutions genuinely seeking reform, this book provides powerful observations and analysis that suggest how we can begin. 1. [↵][3]Paris Agreement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 12 December 2015, TIAS No. 16-1104. 2. [↵][4]World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future (Oxford Univ. Press, 1987). [1]: #ref-1 [2]: #ref-2 [3]: #xref-ref-1-1 "View reference 1 in text" [4]: #xref-ref-2-1 "View reference 2 in text"


Mail delivery resumes at L.A. public housing complex

Los Angeles Times

The U.S. Postal Service says that mail is again being delivered at Mar Vista Gardens, a public housing complex with more than 1,800 residents, after an outcry from local leaders over delivery being suspended. "The idea that a decision was made to delay mail in the middle of a pandemic is heinous," said U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), who initiated a formal inquiry into the decision. "How many of those packages were medications? How many were letters from loved ones? Last month, Culver City Post Office Postmaster Roderick Strong suspended delivery to the 43-acre complex in the neighborhood of Del Rey, stating that safety issues were putting mail carriers at risk.