WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said Wednesday it plans to ban the sale of non-tobacco-flavored electronic cigarettes amid a vaping crisis.

“The Trump Administration is making it clear that we intend to clear the market of flavored e-cigarettes to reverse the deeply concerning epidemic of youth e-cigarette use that is impacting children, families, schools and communities,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. “We will not stand idly by as these products become an on-ramp to combustible cigarettes or nicotine addiction for a generation of youth.”

Speaking to reporters following an Oval Office meeting with Azar and Ned Sharpless, the FDA's acting commissioner, President Donald Trump said vaping has been very profitable and has become a giant business in a very short period of time.

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"A lot of people think vaping is wonderful, is great ... It's really not," Trump said. "We have to find out the extent of the problems… it’s so new … but we’re going to find out."

Trump pledged "strong rules and regulations" and said he would report back in the next couple of weeks.

The American Vaping Association said it was disappointed in the president's decision to take direction from "anti-vaping activists," such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"A ban will remove life-changing options from the market that have been used by several million American adults to quit smoking," the association said.

The governor of Michigan, which last week became the first state to prohibit sales of most flavored e-cigarettes to curb the underage vaping epidemic, applauded the administration for following its lead, calling it "a bold step."

“This is great news for our kids, our families, and our overall public health," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. "Right now, companies are getting our kids hooked on nicotine by marketing flavors like apple juice, bubble gum, and candy.

The ban in Michigan, which will take effect in a few weeks, will cover both online and in-store sales of all e-cigarette flavors except tobacco.

San Francisco was the first major U.S. city to ban e-cigarettes, in a measure city supervisors passed unanimously in June.
Christina Meador is shown inside a T. rex costume at her sister's wedding in Nebraska

Life finds a way.

A U.S. woman whose sister told her to pick her own bridesmaid outfit showed up at the wedding in Nebraska last month in a T. Rex costume, much to the delight of the bride, groom and all their guests.

Christina Meador is shown in a dinosaur suit alongside a groomsman at her sister‘s wedding in Omaha, Neb.

“I regret nothing,” Christina Meador, the Jurassic maid of honour wrote in a Facebook post last month.

The post also includes a photo of the bride, groom and their wedding party lined up for their backyard ceremony. All of the bridesmaids can be seen holding sunflower bouquets in their hands (or in Meador’s case, in her tiny little T. Rex arms).

“When you’re the maid of honour and told you can wear anything you choose,” she wrote.

Joby and Deanna Adams share a kiss while Christina Meador stands nearby in a T. rex costume

Meador’s sister, Deanna Adams, appears to have been in on the joke from day one. She shared the wedding party photo last month and included a smiley face with the post. She also shared a screenshot of a conversation with Meador from July of 2018, in which they discussed the costume ahead of time.

“I think I found my bridesmaid’s outfit,” Meador wrote in the chat. “I get to choose for myself right?”

“Yup!” Adams replies.

Meador then sent a photo of the T. Rex costume.

“LMFAO,” Adams says. “Yas.”

Video from the outdoor wedding shows Meador, 38, walking up to the altar with a groomsman for the ceremony.

She bumps her Tyrannosaurus head on an overhanging roof at the start of the video, then offers the groomsman her dino-arm for the walk.

Meador’s original post has been flooded with (mostly) positive responses since the wedding.

A redacted set of records from the U.K. database. The “44” indicates +44, the U.K.’s country code and the “7” indicates a cell phone number.

Hundreds of millions of phone numbers linked to Facebook  accounts have been found online.

The exposed server contained more than 419 million records over several databases on users across geographies, including 133 million records on U.S.-based Facebook users, 18 million records of users in the U.K., and another with more than 50 million records on users in Vietnam.

But because the server wasn’t protected with a password, anyone could find and access the database.

Each record contained a user’s unique Facebook ID and the phone number listed on the account. A user’s Facebook ID is typically a long, unique and public number associated with their account, which can be easily used to discern an account’s username.

But phone numbers have not been public in more than a year since Facebook restricted access to users’ phone numbers.

TechCrunch verified a number of records in the database by matching a known Facebook user’s phone number against their listed Facebook ID. We also checked other records by matching phone numbers against Facebook’s own password reset feature, which can be used to partially reveal a user’s phone number linked to their account.

Some of the records also had the user’s name, gender and location by country.

This is the latest security lapse involving Facebook data after a string of incidents since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw more than 80 million profiles scraped to help identify swing voters in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Since then the company has seen several high-profile scraping incidents, including at Instagram, which recently admitted to having profile data scraped in bulk.

This latest incident exposed millions of users’ phone numbers just from their Facebook IDs, putting them at risk of spam calls and SIM-swapping attacks, which relies on tricking cell carriers into giving a person’s phone number to an attacker. With someone else’s phone number, an attacker can force-reset the password on any internet account associated with that number.

Sanyam Jain, a security researcher and member of the GDI Foundation, found the database and contacted TechCrunch after he was unable to find the owner. After a review of the data, neither could we. But after we contacted the web host, the database was pulled offline.

Jain said he found profiles with phone numbers associated with several celebrities.

Facebook spokesperson Jay Nancarrow said the data had been scraped before Facebook cut off access to user phone numbers.

“This data set is old and appears to have information obtained before we made changes last year to remove people’s ability to find others using their phone numbers,” the spokesperson said. “The data set has been taken down and we have seen no evidence that Facebook accounts were compromised.”

But questions remain as to exactly who scraped the data, when it was scraped from Facebook and why.

Facebook has long restricted developers‘ access to user phone numbers. The company also made it more difficult to search for friends’ phone numbers. But the data appeared to be loaded into the exposed database at the end of last month — though that doesn’t necessarily mean the data is new.

This latest data exposure is the most recent example of data stored online and publicly without a password. Although often tied to human error rather than a malicious breach, data exposures nevertheless represent an emerging security problem.

Mozilla, the creator of the popular Firefox browser, has announced it plans to block cryptominers by default. The move will ensure that third-party websites are unable to use the computational resources of visitors without consent.

The use of cryptominers – which is dubbed “cryptojacking” – allows websites to monetize their users without showing traditional advertising. Although this is visually inobtrusive, these scripts inevitably result in performance slowdowns and reduced battery life for mobile users. Experts from SonicWall estimate over 52.7 million visits to cryptojacker-infected websites were made during the first six months of 2019.

In addition, starting from today, Firefox will automatically block third-party tracking cookies. These are used by advertising networks to show relevant adverts based on previous browsing activity. For good reason, tracking cookies are widely regarded as intrusive and harmful to privacy.

Mozilla is currently rolling out these new privacy features across Firefox for both desktop and Android. Both new and existing users will be able to take advantage of these features.

Firefox users can now also block fingerprinting scripts – although, at present, Mozilla hasn’t elected to turn this feature on by default.

Fingerprinting is another tactic employed by third-party advertising networks to track users across disparate websites. The tactic works by creating a snapshot of a computer’s configuration using sophisticated JavaScript programs. This is often unique enough to pinpoint a specific user.

In recent years, Mozilla has chosen to market Firefox by emphasizing the privacy and security features of the browser. This move will only increase the open-source browser’s value proposition.

Of course, Mozilla isn’t necessarily a trailblazer here. Opera introduced cryptojacker blocking in January of 2018.

Similarly, during that year, Google began delisting extensions with that mine cryptocurrencies in the background.

Sadly, it is yet to do anything about the prevalence of in-browser cryptojacking scripts, which frequently pop-up on adult and filesharing websites, as well as legitimate webpages that have been compromised by a third-party.

Lawyers for owners of 98,000 Volkswagen AG U.S. vehicles that had fuel economy labels that overstated efficiency will ask a U.S. judge for $26 million in attorney’s fees and costs, court documents show.

On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency said the largest German automaker must forfeit greenhouse gas emissions credits and lower the fuel economy ratings on those vehicles after it said vehicle software overstated real-world performance.

Volkswagen said on Friday it had agreed to a $96.5 million court settlement to reimburse 98,000 consumers. People who still own the vehicles are eligible for lump-sum payments ranging from $518.40 to $2,332.80 per vehicle.

The $26 million request, which involves $23.9 million in fees and $2.1 million in expenses, is separate from the $96.5 million, court filings show, while any uncollected consumer funds will be directed to “environmental remediation efforts.”

The settlement came after 15 months of negotiations.

The EPA said Volkswagen’s software lowered the fuel economy rating on 98,000 vehicles by about one mile per gallon, or 3.5%.

The software was on about 1 million 2013-2017 model year Audi, Bentley, Porsche and Volkswagen vehicles, the agency said. It caused the transmission to shift gears in a manner that sometimes optimizes fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions during the EPA-prescribed emissions test, but not under normal driving conditions, the agency said.

The vehicles getting lower ratings - and eligible for compensation - include versions of the Audi A8, Bentley Continental GT, Porsche Cayenne and VW Touareg. Not all of the five model years are covered by the court settlement.

The EPA said Volkswagen understated greenhouse gas emissions by about 220,000 metric tons and it would forfeit EPA credits and credits in the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy program.

The issue was discovered during an investigation by the EPA and California Air Resources Board into excess diesel emissions in hundreds of thousands of U.S. vehicles.

The German automaker admitted using illegal software to cheat U.S. pollution tests in 2015, triggering a global backlash against diesel vehicles that has so far cost it 30 billion euros ($33 billion) in fines, penalties and buyback costs. In May, it set aside an additional 5.5 billion euros in contingent liabilities.

Lawyers suing VW and Robert Bosch GmbH [ROBG.UL] in the United States over the diesel emissions scandal previously received $352 million in fees and costs.

The account of Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey was hacked on Friday afternoon, sending public tweets and retweets including racial slurs and curse words to 4 million followers before Twitter secured the account.

The social media company, co-founded by Dorsey, said the phone number associated with his account was compromised due to a security oversight by the mobile provider.

“This allowed an unauthorized person to compose and send tweets via text message from the phone number. That issue is now resolved,” the company said, adding separately that there was no indication that Twitter’s systems had been compromised.

One of the tweets from the hacked account said Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was innocent, while others contained derogatory comments about black people and Jews. There was also a tweet suggesting there was a bomb at Twitter’s headquarters.

The account posted a hashtag that was used during the apparent hacks of several YouTube stars last week.

The hack underscored potential vulnerabilities in the social media platform, which is widely used by world leaders and politicians, including U.S. President Donald Trump. It comes at a time when social media companies are facing scrutiny over management of their networks, privacy issues and security of user data.

The offensive tweets and retweets were deleted less than an hour after the incident. Some Twitter accounts named in the compromised tweets and retweets appeared suspended on Friday.

Screenshots of the tweets appeared to show they were sent through Cloudhopper, a mobile text messaging service that Twitter acquired in 2010. Twitter did not immediately respond when asked to confirm if the hack took place via Cloudhopper.

Security researcher Brian Krebs said it appeared that Dorsey was the victim of a SIM swapping attack in which a mobile provider is tricked or otherwise convinced to transfer a victim’s phone number to a SIM card controlled by someone else.

The Friday incident was not the first time that Dorsey’s Twitter account has been hacked. His account was compromised in 2016 by a group that also hacked the Twitter accounts of Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Twitter shares were down less than 1% in after-hours trade following the hack.

Gavin Newsom Gorvernor of California Source: Getty images

California is the biggest state yet to join a growing nationwide push to pay the first two years of tuition for all first-time community college students.

Governor Gavin Newsom will visit East LA College Thursday to talk about the expanded California College Promise program, which will now pay for two years of community college tuition for first-time, full-time college students in California.

Free tuition to two-year colleges is an idea that has been gaining traction in California for years. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti launched a program that provided tuition at Los Angeles Community College District Schools for the first year, starting with LAUSD’s class of 2017.

State lawmakers also proposed legislation to foot the bill for the first two years of tuition for first-time community college students. The bill estimated the cost at about $46 million a year.

Newsom’s first state budget included paying for two years of community college for all first-time, full-time students by expanding the California College Promise program, which already paid for one year of community college tuition. The state’s 2019-2020 budget includes $42.6 million to support a second year of tuition for approximately 33,000 students, according to the governor’s office.

“No one can argue with the fact that the full cost of attending institutions of higher learning is still far too high – both in California and across the country,” Newsom said in a statement. “But by offering two years of community college tuition-free, California is taking a meaningful step toward chipping away at the cost of higher learning for students and their families.”

California Community Colleges is the largest system of higher education in the U.S., serving about 2.1 million students, roughly one-quarter of community college students in the nation.

Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd Executive Chairman Jack Ma shake hands at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai, China, August 29, 2019.REUTERS/Aly Song

Elon Musk and Jack Ma matched wits publicly for the first time. And boy, they didn’t disappoint.

An onstage debate between China’s richest man and the Tesla Inc. boss left a largely Chinese audience both awestruck and dumbfounded as the pair sparred over everything from the existence of aliens to the preservation of human consciousness. Musk, alternating between tech visionary and larger-than-life Bond villain, argued that AI will soon surpass the human race; that civilization may end and hence humankind needed to explore the cosmos (specifically Mars); and that people are essentially dumb creatures circumscribed by genes.

But Musk, who appeared discombobulated at times following a late trans-Pacific flight, met his match in a fellow billionaire who parried him at every turn. The Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. co-founder espoused a focus on life on Earth and argued that machines will never surpass their makers. Ma, the more polished and down-to-earth speaker, also invoked familiar stances on education and the need for “Love-Q” or LQ in addition to IQ to survive the future. But overall, the Alibaba honcho came across as more reasonable than the erratic Musk, who several times trailed off into poorly articulated tangents such as the timeline of civilization or pace of technological change (“It does seem like a long time… Is that good or bad? I dunno.”)
Just about the only thing they agreed on was that the global population was on the brink of collapse thanks to current birth rates — a looming disaster the planet is ill-prepared to tackle.

“Most people believe that we have too many people on the planet. This is an outdated view,” Musk told the World AI Conference in Shanghai, as Ma nodded. “Assuming there’s a benevolent AI, the biggest problem the world will face in 20 years, is a population collapse. Not explosion. Collapse.”

The showdown was the highlight of the conference, which kicked off on a rainy Thursday in the shadow of a U.S.-Chinese conflict that has at times appeared to pull the world to the brink of chaos. The Tesla and SpaceX founder’s very presence at a government-backed conference on artificial intelligence was a signal to Washington, which is trying to contain China’s ascendancy and growing prowess in cutting-edge technology.

From Jack Ma to Tencent Holdings Ltd. founder Pony Ma, the leading lights of China’s internet industry gathered in Shanghai this week to showcase the country’s latest advances in artificial intelligence. And Musk, whose moment on stage brought droves of camera-toting spectators out of their seats, effectively lent credence to China’s vision of becoming the world leader in the technology by 2030 just as Donald Trump wages a campaign to rein in the world’s No. 2 economy.

While the billionaire entrepreneur was careful to steer clear of the trade war or longer-term geopolitical tensions, he spoke freely on almost everything else — including the possibility that life as we know it may end abruptly. “We don’t have much time,” Musk said. “This is the first time in the 4.5 billion-year history of Earth that we’ll be able to extend life beyond Earth,” he added. “Let us secure the future so the light of consciousness is not extinguished.”

The debate at times turned heated, especially when Ma questioned his opponent’s belief that AI may someday prevail over the human race. “The biggest mistake I see people making is to assume they’re smart,” Musk countered. AI will be “much smarter than the smartest human you will ever know.”

Ma likened the view that humans won’t be able to compete with their machine inventions in most aspects of life — Musk’s stance — to people of a century ago trying to out-run cars they manufacture. “I never in my life say human beings will be controlled by machines, it’s impossible,” said Ma, eliciting Musk’s trademark Bond-villain chortle and the retort: “I very much disagree with that. The biggest mistake I see people making is to assume they’re smart.”

It didn’t all go according to script. At one point, Ma surprised listeners — the spectacle was livestreamed — when he appeared to do a 180 on his infamous advocacy of slavish work hours. On Thursday, he proclaimed that people should be able to in fact work 12-hour weeks, a seeming reversal of comments just months prior that it’s a privilege to work “996,” or nine to nine, six days a week.

A man who allegedly threatened to injure and kill a Hispanic woman in South Florida, as well as all Hispanics in Miami, was arrested in Seattle on Friday.

Eric Lin, 35, of Clarksburg, Maryland was charged with making threatening communications, according to a criminal complaint filed in Miami.

Between May 30 and Aug. 13, Lin allegedly sent multiple threats to injure and kill the woman and her family members, according to the Justice Department.

In his messages, he also expressed adoration, allegedly, to Adolf Hitler, and vowed to kill all Hispanics in Miami and other places.

“The time will come when Miami will burn to the ground — and every Latin man will be lined up against a wall and shot and every Latin woman raped or cut to pieces,” Lin allegedly wrote on Aug. 8.

He then allegedly wrote the following day, “Nowhere is safe in this world, if you run to Spain we will attack Spain, if you run to Great Britain we will attack Great Britain, if you run to Germany we will attack Germany, if you run to Russia Putin will give you back to ‘US.’”

Additionally, Lin allegedly thanked President Donald Trump, whom he expects to launch a “racial war” that would keep minorities “in line.”

“I thank God everyday President Donald John Trump is president and that he will launch a racial war and crusade to keep the n*****s, s***s and Muslims and any dangerous non-White or ethnically or culturally foreign group ‘in line.’ By ‘in line’ it is meant they will either be sent to ‘concentration camps’ or dealt with ruthlessly and vigorously by the United States military.”

Lin (right)

According to Heavy.com, Lin used the names Eric Schopenhauer and Jake Howard on Facebook. Posts available to the public reportedly show “extremist fascist and Nazi ideology” and call for a violent race war against Hispanics, Blacks and Muslims — consistent with messages he allegedly sent.

Lin was arrested after planning to send $10,000 to a man named Chris, whom he had allegedly hired to go to Miami and “beat up this s**c who insulted me.” He said that Chris did not need to kill her.

“You don’t need to kill her. Hurt her. So at most you will be charged with kidnapping. Nothing will happen to you if you get the right lawyers. She’s a s**c who hates White Americans. I doubt the FBI would care much about her. I don’t care if I have to pay you $1 million or more I want this done.”

Lin in 2010

His Facebook account, which is currently inaccessible, reportedly indicates that he attended the University of Maryland, where he studied evolutionary psychology. This information, however, cannot be confirmed as of this writing.

Interestingly, court records show that he changed his name from Zhaoyuan Cheng to Eric Lin in 2005. He has a number of cases under his belt, including various types of harassment in Maryland cities between 2008 and 2012.

In 2010, he was arrested after breaking into a house, where he “took a shower, had lunch and went on Facebook as if he was living there.” He was found but managed to flee with a stolen Sig-Sauer assault rifle.

Lin appeared before a federal judge on Monday. He is yet to enter a plea.

If you have ever spent time with children, you know that they think much differently than adults.
They see the world in a unique and special way. With their imaginations, they create stories and games and sometimes may invent something incredibly useful.
Sophie Rapson is in fourth grade. She had to invent something for the “Invention Convention” at her school.

The only guidelines for the project were to make something that has never been made before.
Sophie had an idea and with just a few thing and a little help from her mom she made something that could save lives!

She created a device that will help parents from forgetting their children in the car, and she calls it the “Baby-forget-me-not”!
In the video below you will meet Sophie, and she will explain how her invention works.

I’m sure you were impressed that this fourth grader designed something so practical all on her own!

Facebook's crypto endeavor Libra is stroking immense scrutiny from all quarters.| Source: Shutterstock

Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook is reportedly working on a back-door content-scanner for WhatsApp, tantamount to a wiretapping algorithm. If the reports are correct, Facebook will scan your messages before you send them and report anything suspicious.

It’s a huge violation of privacy and renders WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption pointless.

Facebook will do the same thing with its new currency, Libra, scanning transactions through the Calibra wallet. Facebook is building a mass-surveillance currency and we should push back with force.

According to a Forbes report, Facebook is experimenting with a blacklist filter and content-scanner for WhatsApp. The algorithm would read messages before they are sent and detect suspicious activity.
“[It] will include embedded content moderation and blacklist filtering algorithms… will run locally on the user’s device, scanning each cleartext message before it is sent and each encrypted message after it is decrypted.”
If anything suspicious is found, your message will be sent to Facebook central servers for further investigation.
“When it detects violations it will need to quietly stream a copy of the formerly encrypted content back to its central servers to analyze further, even if the user objects, acting as true wiretapping service.”

Those same back-doors are being built into Facebook’s cryptocurrency wallet, Calibra.

According to Calibra’s own terms and conditions, the wallet provider will send transaction data back to Facebook in various circumstances:
“The limited cases where [account information or financial data] may be shared reflect our need to keep people safe, comply with the law, and provide basic functionality to the people who use Calibra.”
In other words, there’s a back-door for Calibra to send information to Facebook if there’s suspicious activity or if the government demands it.

When Libra’s project lead David Marcus was grilled in Congress earlier this month, he was unable to answer a question on censorship. Wisconsin senator Sean Duffy asked whether alt-right personalities who have been banned from Facebook could use Libra:
“With regard to your network, can Milo Yiannopoulos or Louis Farrakhan use Libra?” 

“I don’t know yet,” Marcus replied.
There’s a strong chance Facebook could blacklist users or transactions.

Despite Facebook’s promise to evolve into a fully permissionless, decentralized system, there are huge question marks over Facebook’s control of the ecosystem.


Regulators are bearing down on Facebook, threatening to quash the project before it gets going. In the company’s latest quarterly report, Zuckerberg admitted the Libra project could be severely delayed and may not even launch at all.
“In addition, market acceptance of such currency is subject to significant uncertainty. As such, there can be no assurance that Libra or our associated products and services will be made available in a timely manner, or at all.”
Libra has faced pushback from the president of the United States, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, and the Treasury Secretary, not to mention hundreds of Congress members.

Source: ccn
Scientists used machine learning to reveal new scientific knowledge hidden in old research papers.

Using just the language in millions of old scientific papers, a machine learning algorithm was able to make completely new scientific discoveries.

In a study published in Nature on July 3, researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory used an algorithm called Word2Vec sift through scientific papers for connections humans had missed. Their algorithm then spit out predictions for possible thermoelectric materials, which convert heat to energy and are used in many heating and cooling applications.

The algorithm didn’t know the definition of thermoelectric, though. It received no training in materials science. Using only word associations, the algorithm was able to provide candidates for future thermoelectric materials, some of which may be better than those we currently use.

“It can read any paper on material science, so can make connections that no scientists could,” researcher Anubhav Jain said. “Sometimes it does what a researcher would do; other times it makes these cross-discipline associations.”

To train the algorithm, the researchers assessed the language in 3.3 million abstracts related to material science, ending up with a vocabulary of about 500,000 words. They fed the abstracts to Word2vec, which used machine learning to analyze relationships between words.

“The way that this Word2vec algorithm works is that you train a neural network model to remove each word and predict what the words next to it will be,” Jain said. “By training a neural network on a word, you get representations of words that can actually confer knowledge.”

Using just the words found in scientific abstracts, the algorithm was able to understand concepts such as the periodic table and the chemical structure of molecules. The algorithm linked words that were found close together, creating vectors of related words that helped define concepts. In some cases, words were linked to thermoelectric concepts but had never been written about as thermoelectric in any abstract they surveyed. This gap in knowledge is hard to catch with a human eye, but easy for an algorithm to spot.

After showing its capacity to predict future materials, researchers took their work back in time, virtually. They scrapped recent data and tested the algorithm on old papers, seeing if it could predict scientific discoveries before they happened. Once again, the algorithm worked.

In one experiment, researchers analyzed only papers published before 2009 and were able to predict one of the best modern-day thermoelectric materials four years before it was discovered in 2012.

This new application of machine learning goes beyond materials science. Because it’s not trained on a specific scientific dataset, you could easily apply it to other disciplines, retraining it on literature of whatever subject you wanted. Vahe Tshitoyan, the lead author on the study, says other researchers have already reached out, wanting to learn more.

“This algorithm is unsupervised and it builds its own connections,” Tshitoyan said. “You could use this for things like medical research or drug discovery. The information is out there. We just haven’t made these connections yet because you can’t read every article.”

The growing concentration of the world’s wealth has been highlighted by a report showing that the 26 richest billionaires own as many assets as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of the planet’s population.

In an annual wealth check released to mark the start of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the development charity Oxfam said 2018 had been a year in which the rich had grown richer and the poor poorer.

It said the widening gap was hindering the fight against poverty, adding that a wealth tax on the 1% would raise an estimated $418bn (£325bn) a year – enough to educate every child not in school and provide healthcare that would prevent 3 million deaths.

Oxfam said the wealth of more than 2,200 billionaires across the globe had increased by $900bn in 2018 – or $2.5bn a day. The 12% increase in the wealth of the very richest contrasted with a fall of 11% in the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population.

As a result, the report concluded, the number of billionaires owning as much wealth as half the world’s population fell from 43 in 2017 to 26 last year. In 2016 the number was 61.

Among the findings of the report were:

  • In the 10 years since the financial crisis, the number of billionaires has nearly doubled.
  • Between 2017 and 2018 a new billionaire was created every two days.
  • The world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, saw his fortune increase to $112bn. Just 1% of his fortune is equivalent to the whole health budget for Ethiopia, a country of 105 million people.
  • The poorest 10% of Britons are paying a higher effective tax rate than the richest 10% (49% compared with 34%) once taxes on consumption such as VAT are taken into account.

Oxfam’s director of campaigns and policy, Matthew Spencer, said: “The massive fall in the number of people living in extreme poverty is one of the greatest achievements of the past quarter of a century but rising inequality is jeopardising further progress.

“The way our economies are organised means wealth is increasingly and unfairly concentrated among a privileged few while millions of people are barely subsisting. Women are dying for lack of decent maternity care and children are being denied an education that could be their route out of poverty. No one should be condemned to an earlier grave or a life of illiteracy simply because they were born poor.

“It doesn’t have to be this way – there is enough wealth in the world to provide everyone with a fair chance in life. Governments should act to ensure that taxes raised from wealth and businesses paying their fair share are used to fund free, good-quality public services that can save and transform people’s lives.”

The report said many governments were making inequality worse by failing to invest enough in public services. It noted that about 10,000 people per day die for lack of healthcare and there were 262 million children not in school, often because their parents were unable to afford the fees, uniforms or textbooks.

Oxfam said governments needed to do more to fund high-quality, universal public services through tackling tax dodging and ensuring fairer taxation, including on corporations and the richest individuals’ wealth, which it said were often undertaxed.

A global wealth tax has been called for by the French economist Thomas Piketty, who has said action is needed to arrest the trend in inequality.

The World Inequality Report 2018 – co-authored by Piketty – showed that between 1980 and 2016 the poorest 50% of humanity only captured 12 cents in every dollar of global income growth. By contrast, the top 1% captured 27 cents of every dollar.

Oxfam said that in addition to tackling inequality at home, developed nations currently failing to meet their overseas aid commitments could raise the missing billions needed to tackle extreme poverty in the poorest countries by increasing taxes on extreme wealth.

China’s rapid growth over the past four decades has been responsible for much of the decline in extreme poverty but Oxfam said World Bank data showed the rate of poverty reduction had halved since 2013. In sub-Saharan Africa, extreme poverty was on the increase.

Oxfam said its methodology for assessing the gap between rich and poor was based on global wealth distribution data provided by the Credit Suisse global wealth data book, covering the period from June 2017 to June 2018. The wealth of billionaires was calculated using the annual Forbes billionaires list published in March 2018.

Elon Musk  wants to drill holes in China. The Tesla founder has tweeted to reveal that his tunnelling and transportation startup, The Boring Company, will be launch in China later this month.

Musk is due to speak at an AI conference, called the World Artificial Intelligence Conference, taking place in Shanghai on August 29-31. Replying to a tweet about the event he announced: “Will also be launching The Boring Company  China on this trip.”
Another Twitter user chipped into the conversation to ask whether the company would also do underwater tunnels — to which Musk replied simply “yes“.

A securities filing last month revealed that the The Boring Company had raised its first outside investment via the sale of $120M in stock. So the company has some extra cash sloshing around to plough into new ventures.

It also recently landed its first commercial contract: $48.7M to build and operate an underground “people mover” in Las Vegas, focused on the Las Vegas Convention Center.

This underground ‘people mover’ is not, as you might imagine, a tried and tested metro train system. The plan apparently involves building two tunnels: One for vehicles (Musk does also sell electrics cars) and a second tunnel for pedestrians who will be carried in (modified) Tesla cars. The latter fully autonomous, under the plan.

Current generation Teslas are not capable of driving themselves, merely offering driving assistance features to humans. But autonomous driving inside a tunnel is about as much of a controlled environment you could hope for — without, y’know, sticking cars together on rails and making a driverless train (like the one that’s been serving London’s Docklands area since 1987).

The Las Vegas contract specifies three months of safety testing before Musk’s modified Teslas will be allowed to whisk people through the tunnel.

Another design that The Boring Company has proposed — for an ambitious Loop system from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore — is still on the drawing board, having attracted major safety concerns by failing to meet several key national safety standards, including lacking sufficient emergency exits and not taking note of the latest engineering practices.

So perhaps, in looking to expand The Boring Company by taking his spade to the Far East, Musk is hoping for a more accommodating set of building standards to drive an electric truck through.
Scientists used machine learning to reveal new scientific knowledge hidden in old research papers.

Using just the language in millions of old scientific papers, a machine learning algorithm was able to make completely new scientific discoveries.

In a study published in Nature on July 3, researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory used an algorithm called Word2Vec sift through scientific papers for connections humans had missed. Their algorithm then spit out predictions for possible thermoelectric materials, which convert heat to energy and are used in many heating and cooling applications.

The algorithm didn’t know the definition of thermoelectric, though. It received no training in materials science. Using only word associations, the algorithm was able to provide candidates for future thermoelectric materials, some of which may be better than those we currently use.

“It can read any paper on material science, so can make connections that no scientists could,” researcher Anubhav Jain said. “Sometimes it does what a researcher would do; other times it makes these cross-discipline associations.”

To train the algorithm, the researchers assessed the language in 3.3 million abstracts related to material science, ending up with a vocabulary of about 500,000 words. They fed the abstracts to Word2vec, which used machine learning to analyze relationships between words.

“The way that this Word2vec algorithm works is that you train a neural network model to remove each word and predict what the words next to it will be,” Jain said. “By training a neural network on a word, you get representations of words that can actually confer knowledge.”

Using just the words found in scientific abstracts, the algorithm was able to understand concepts such as the periodic table and the chemical structure of molecules. The algorithm linked words that were found close together, creating vectors of related words that helped define concepts. In some cases, words were linked to thermoelectric concepts but had never been written about as thermoelectric in any abstract they surveyed. This gap in knowledge is hard to catch with a human eye, but easy for an algorithm to spot.

After showing its capacity to predict future materials, researchers took their work back in time, virtually. They scrapped recent data and tested the algorithm on old papers, seeing if it could predict scientific discoveries before they happened. Once again, the algorithm worked.

In one experiment, researchers analyzed only papers published before 2009 and were able to predict one of the best modern-day thermoelectric materials four years before it was discovered in 2012.

This new application of machine learning goes beyond materials science. Because it’s not trained on a specific scientific dataset, you could easily apply it to other disciplines, retraining it on literature of whatever subject you wanted. Vahe Tshitoyan, the lead author on the study, says other researchers have already reached out, wanting to learn more.

“This algorithm is unsupervised and it builds its own connections,” Tshitoyan said. “You could use this for things like medical research or drug discovery. The information is out there. We just haven’t made these connections yet because you can’t read every article.”

The culture of planned obsolescence in electronics produces a huge amount of toxic waste unlikely to go anywhere but a landfill for the next millennium or so. Nature produces some of the strongest and most versatile substances we’ve ever encountered, so why not use them instead? That’s what Finnish design house Aivan has attempted with this concept pair of headphones made from fungus, bioplastics, and other natural materials.

The idea was to replace everything they could with naturally-derived materials, of which there’s a great variety — but some can be a bit difficult to get your hands on.

As Dezeen reports, the Korvaa headset, everything you see here is natural in origin, although that doesn’t mean they just picked it up in the forest.

The main structure of the headphones is 3D-printed, using a bioplastic created as a byproduct of yeast processing lactic acid. The polylactic acid polymer is strong but flexible enough to be used as the crown and cup shell.

The padded earpieces are made from a protein known as hydrophobin that, like artificial foam, is made up of many tiny bubbles — but these are produced by a fungus and reinforced with plant cellulose. They’re covered with mycelium, another fungus-derived material that’s leathery and flexible.

And on top of those would be a mesh created by spinning out synthetic spider silk — something Bolt Threads is trying to do at scale for ordinary garments.

To be clear, these headphones don’t work — they’re just a prototype or concept product right now. But the point wasn’t to create a fully functioning replacement for your existing headphones. Rather the idea is to show that those headphones don’t need to be made, as they are now, entirely of non-biodegradable materials.

“This was certainly only a surface scratch into where biology-engineered materials are going, and what we can do with them in the future,” one of the group’s designers, Thomas Tallqvist, told Dezeen.

The headphones will be on display at a couple design shows in Finland — here’s hoping someone from Audio Technica or Sennheiser drops by and gets inspired.

Photos by the Library of Congress

This birthday gift to the United States may have gone down in history as one of the sweetest gestures of international appreciation for the country’s independence.

Two years ago, the Library of Congress’s website published the entirety of a Polish birthday card that was given to the United States on the 150th anniversary of when America claimed independence.

And when we say entirety, we mean all 111 volumes of well wishes – including 5.5 million signatures from the Polish people.

The Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship, which also served as a thank you from the Polish people who were grateful for American aid during World War I, were presented to President Calvin Coolidge in 1926. The collective 30,000 pages are rich in color and history, with pressed flowers, drawings from famous Polish artists, and notes from religious, social, business, military, and educational institutions.

The signatures basically serve to represent about one sixth of the Polish population from that time. As the volumes took eight months to create, they were also delivered some time after the Fourth of July.

But they were appreciated all the same.

To summarize the message of the Declarations, the Polish committee in charge of the project wrote: “Noble Americans, your national holiday is sacred not for you alone. It finds a warm reverberation over the whole world.”

“We, the people of Poland, send to you, citizens of the great American union, fraternal greetings [and] . . . our deepest admiration . . . for the institutions which have been created by you.

“In them, Liberty, Equality and Justice have found their highest expression and have become the guiding stars for all modern democracies.”

“With eternal gratitude in our hearts,” the Poles declared, “we . . . desire . . . to wish your country and your nation all possible prosperity. . . . Long live the United States of America!”
In the US, it's cheaper to build and operate wind farms than buy fossil fuels.

This week, the US Department of Energy released a report that looks back on the state of wind power in the US by running the numbers on 2018. The analysis shows that wind hardware prices are dropping, even as new turbine designs are increasing the typical power generated by each turbine. As a result, recent wind farms have gotten so cheap that you can build and operate them for less than the expected cost of buying fuel for an equivalent natural gas plant.

Wind is even cheaper at the moment because of a tax credit given to renewable energy generation. But that credit is in the process of fading out, leading to long-term uncertainty in a power market where demand is generally stable or dropping.

A lot of GigaWatts

2018 saw about 7.6 GigaWatts of new wind capacity added to the grid, accounting for just over 20% of the US' capacity additions. This puts it in third place behind natural gas and solar power. That's less impressive than it might sound, however, given that things like coal and nuclear are essentially at a standstill. Because the best winds aren't evenly distributed in the US, there are areas, like parts of the Great Plains, where wind installations were more than half of the new power capacity installed.

Overall, that brings the US' installed capacity up to nearly 100GW. That leaves only China ahead of the US, although the gap is substantial with China having more than double the US' installed capacity. It still leaves wind supplying only 6.5% of the US' total electricity in 2018, though, which places it behind a dozen other countries. Four of them—Denmark, Germany, Ireland, and Portugal—get over 20% of their total electric needs supplied by wind, with Denmark at over 40%.

That figure is notable, as having over 30% of your power supplied by an intermittent source is a challenge for many existing grids. But there are a number of states that have now cleared the 30% threshold: Kansas, Iowa, and Oklahoma, with the two Dakotas not far behind. The Southwest Power Pool, which serves two of those states plus wind giant Texas, is currently getting a quarter of its electricity from wind. (Texas leads the US with 25GW of installed wind capacity.)

Despite having a lot of wind installed, the US uses far more power from other sources.

So while wind remains a small factor in the total electricity market in the US, there are parts of the country where it's a major factor in the generating mix. And, given the prices, those parts are likely to expand.

Plummeting prices

In the US, the prices for wind power had risen up until 2009, when power purchase agreements for wind-generated electricity peaked at about $70 per MegaWatt-hour. Since then, there's been a very steady decline, and 2018 saw the national average fall below $20/MW-hr for the first time. Again, there's regional variation with the Great Plains seeing the lowest prices, in some cases reaching the mid-teens.

That puts wind in an incredibly competitive position. The report uses an estimate of future natural gas prices that show an extremely gradual rise of about $10/MW-hr out to 2050. But natural gas—on its own, without considering the cost of a plant to burn it for electricity—is already over $20/MW-hr. That means wind sited in the center of the US is already cheaper than fueling a natural gas plant, and wind sited elsewhere is roughly equal.

Those black bars are the price of gas. Blue circles are wind, while yellow are solar.

The report notes that photovoltaics have reached prices that are roughly equivalent to wind, but those got there from a starting point of about $150/MW-hr in 2009. Thus, unless natural gas prices reverse the expected trend and get cheaper, wind and solar will remain the cheapest sources of new electricity in the US.

The levelized cost of electricity, which eliminates the impact of incentives and subsidies on the final prices, places wind below $40/MW-hr in 2018. The cheapest form of natural gas generation was roughly $10 more per MegaWatt-hour. Note that, as recently as 2015, the US' Energy Information Agency was predicting that wind's levelized cost in 2020 would be $74/MW-hr.

Built on better tech

Why has wind gotten much cheaper than expected? Part of it is in improved technology. The report notes that in 2008, there were no turbines installed in the US with rotors above 100 meters in diameter. In 2018, 99% of them were over 100m, and the average size was 116m. In general, the turbine's generator grew in parallel. The average capacity for 2018 installs was 2.4MW, which is up 5% from the year previous.

The area swept by the blades goes up with the square of their length. Thus, even though blade length and rated generating capacity are going up in parallel, the actual potential energy input from the blades is growing much faster. This has the effect of lowering what's called the specific power of the wind turbine. These lower specific power turbines work better in areas where the wind isn't as strong or consistent. On the truly windy days, they'll saturate the ability of the generator to extract power, while on a more typical day when the winds are lighter or erratic, they'll get more out of them.

So even though more turbines are being built at sites without the best wind resources, we're generating more power per turbine. The capacity factor—the amount of power generated relative to the size of the generator—for projects built in the previous four years has now hit 42%, a figure that would once have required offshore wind. That has dragged the capacity factor of the entire US wind industry up to over 35% for the first time last year.

Each year, the capacity factor of newly installed projects is typically higher than that of the years prior.

The economics of these low-wind designs are so good that 23 existing sites were "repowered," with new, larger rotors replacing older hardware on existing towers. One thing that may be encouraging this is that older plants (those a decade old or more) seem to see a small dip in capacity factor over time. But the reason for this isn't clear at this point, so it's something that will have to be tracked in the future.

Better grid management also helped the economics of wind. At times, strong winds can cause wind farms to produce an excess of power relative to demand, causing a farm's output to be reduced. This process, called curtailment, remained a small factor, with only 2% of the potential generation lost this way. Put differently, if the curtailed electricity had been used, it would have only raised the average capacity factor by 0.7 percentage points.

Overall, given these economics, it's clear that the economic case for wind energy will remain solid as the tax credits for the construction of renewable energy fade out over the next few years. But the vanishing credits are causing lots of developers to start projects sooner rather than later, so we may see a bubble in construction for the next couple of years, followed by a dramatic drop off.

Elon Musk, one of the most successful entrepreneurs around the world and CEO of Tesla, gave his support to the Presidental candidate Andrew Yang. Mr. Musk shared his opinion about Yang on Twitter when he answered a comment made by the Twitter handle @HardcoreHistory. Andrew Yang is known for being a Bitcoin (BTC) supporter.

Elon Musk Supports Andrew Yang

A few days ago, the American political commentator and podcaster Dan Carlin (with the handle @HardcoreHistory) shared a tweet of Andrew Yang. The presidential candidate wrote in this tweet that he does not expect to agree with everyone but he is open to different approaches to face different challenges and solve problems.
Elon Musk answered to Carlin’s comment saying that he supports Yang. Yang is a candidate that has many times shown support for Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency market. The Democratic candidate is also a proponent of a universal basic income and he accepts campaign donations in Bitcoin and other digital assets.

The political action committee (PAC) Humanity Forward Fund has also joined forces with Opennode to raise funds from individuals and firm and back Yang’s presidential campaign.

The main proposal he is currently doing is to implement a universal basic income for all Americans aged over 18. These citizens will receive $1,000 per month independently of their employment situation.
Yang has to also debate for the next debate scheduled for September 12 this year. He will have to discuss different proposals with other candidates, including Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar.

Immediately after the tweet written by Elon Musk, Andrew Yang answered saying that his support “means a great deal.” He has also congratulated Musk for building the future.

As mentioned before, Elon Musk founded SpaceX and The Boring Company, co-founded Tesla, Neuralink, OpenAI and PayPal. Moreover, he has also been ranked 21st on the Forbes list of The World’s Most Powerful People.

In the United States, there are yet not clear regulations related to the cryptocurrency market and virtual currencies in general. There have been many companies that had issues to operate in the U.S. because they couldn’t deal with the local regulations.

Another presidential candidate that is in favour of digital assets and Bitcoin is John McAfee. Although he is not running with any of the traditional parties, he received a lot of attention due to the different proposals he made. 
A McDonald's worker has been fired after allegedly refusing to serve a paramedics wearing full uniform because staff "don't serve badges."

Sunstar paramedic Anthony Quinn said the fast food worker in Madeira Beach, Florida, refused to serve him and his colleague after telling both of them that "we don't serve your kind here."

Quinn discussed the incident in a post on Facebook. "I walk into McDonald's just to use the bathroom and an employee goes we don't accept officers in here," he wrote.

"I tell her I'm not an officer. She then says anyone with a badge. Then says it to my partner as he walks in to order food, says we don't serve your kind here.

"Just insane how people are," Quinn added.

Caspers, the company which runs the Madeira Beach McDonald's, apologized to the paramedic for the employee's actions and said they have since been fired.

"We are aware of the unfortunate incident that took place at one of our restaurants last night. We, like you, were upset and disappointed and took immediate action," a spokesperson told ABC Action News.

"The employee has been terminated. What occurred does not reflect the values of our brand, our franchise, or the love and admiration we have demonstrated consistently for our friends in law enforcement and first responders. We have reached out to offer our sincerest apology."

The company also confirmed to WTSP that the employee was "no longer with the organization."

Last year, two police officers claimed they were mocked and refused service while attempting to order food at a Burger King in Louisiana.

Two Assumption Parish sheriff's deputies wearing full uniform said workers jokingly told them they restaurant was completely out of food while they were trying to order through the drive-thru speaker.

"They sat there for an extended period of time before someone finally let them order," the department's public information officer, Lonny Cavalier, wrote in the Blue Lives Matter blog.

"[One officer] could hear them inside laughing, but no one would come to the window."

In a statement to WBRZ, Joe Clements of Crown Restaurants, who own the Burger King restaurant in question, said: "The actions of these team members do not reflect the values and beliefs of our organization, nor do they reflect the values and beliefs of the Burger King Brand.

"I have investigated the incident and have determined that certain team members refused service to multiple guests in our drive thru, including the two deputies, on that day. As a result, these individuals no longer work for our organization."

McDonald's famous golden arches catches sunlight March 14, 2001 at one of it's chain restaurants in Boston MA

Math is famously divisive. Some people like to say they’re not “math people” if they have trouble with the subject (though, that might not actually be a healthy approach). Well, guess who have turned out to be math people? Honeybees!

Devoted readers may recall some past stories on this front. Almost exactly a year ago, we learned that bees can understand basic numbers, including the semi-abstract concept of zero. Then, in February, scientists said they’d discovered not only that bees can count, but that they can also do basic arithmetic.

Now the honeybee-math trilogy is complete. With a new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the same international team of researchers behind those discoveries has announced that bees are also capable of linking numerical symbols to actual quantities, and vice versa.

That means honeybees can equate a symbol like the numeral 2 to the actual, abstract numerical quantity of 2 “things,” regardless of what the things are

This has all come as a bit of a shock, since the insects have under a billion neurons in their brains. They’re also pretty different evolutionarily from us and the other animals who’ve displayed an aptitude for math: pigeons, African grey parrots, rhesus monkeys and chimpanzees. But clearly, backbones aren’t everything, and honeybees have what it takes to ‘get’ numbers like few other species so far can. Today’s find not only buffs up the bees’ reputation a little bit more, but also provides insights into how other species process and communicate the very concept of numbers.

Practice Makes Perfect

So, how do you train bees to recognize that a given symbol means a specific “numerosity,” or amount of something? Or that a specific numerosity corresponds to a given symbol? The same way you get humans to learn it at an early age: practice.

The researchers trained 20 honeybees and marked each insect with a colored dot to identify them. Then they monitored the bees for about two to four hours each. Half learned to associate symbols with a numerical amount, and the other half the opposite, associating amounts with symbols. (In all cases, an upside-down “T” stood in for 3, and an “N” for 2.)

To train them, the researchers put the bees through a Y-shaped maze. In the first chamber, the base of the Y, the bees saw the thing they were being trained on — the symbol, or the numerical amount — and they then had to choose which leg of the Y to go into, one being labeled with a correct answer and the other a wrong one. Correct answers were rewarded with yummy sucrose, and wrong ones with icky quinine. (And don’t feel bad for any slow learners. “If a bee made an incorrect choice and started to imbibe the quinine, it was allowed to … collect sucrose to maintain motivation.” Don’t want any unmotivated bees!)

After the training, the bees were tested on how well they learned the concepts, by choosing between numerosity options they’d never seen before to represent the numerical quanitity (using different colors, for example, or different shapes of different sizes). And, for the most part, no matter what tricks the researchers threw at them, the bees could handle it, reliably identifying the right number of things, or the right symbol, depending on their training.

“Bees in both groups demonstrated significant learning,” the authors write, “demonstrating that bees learnt the two [symbols] had corresponding matching quantities associated with them.” Good for you, honeybees!

One-Way Learning

But there was one thing the bees couldn’t handle: reversing their training. The group that learned that N means 2, for example, couldn’t figure out that 2 corresponded to N, and vice versa. “While independent groups of bees are able to learn the association in either direction with similar performances in training and tests, it seems the association itself is not reversible,” the authors write.

Which is kind of neat. Even the most math-phobic person is likely to have no trouble grasping the idea that if a symbol refers to a number of things, then the opposite is true as well — most school kids aren’t struggling with the very meaning of numbers, after all. But something in the way bees learned to understand these representations of numerosity kept them from making that connection.

Humans process numbers and symbols in different parts of their brains, so this finding suggests maybe honeybees do too, and just aren’t able to connect them as well. “Understanding how such apparently complex numerical skills are acquired by miniature brains will help enable our understanding of how mathematical and cultural thinking evolved in humans,” the authors write. “And possibly, other animals.”

As far as we know, humans are the only animals that have come up with math. But, it’s increasingly looking like we’re not the only ones who can do it.

More than two thirds (67 per cent) of children believe their generation will be worse off than their parents’, according to a YouGov survey for Britain’s biggest children’s charity.

The children, born around the turn of the millennium, blame lack of job opportunities, financial insecurity and rising house prices as the top three factors that will leave them with a bleaker future than their parents.

They believe they will be physically healthier than their parents’ generation, with just 15 per cent saying they would be less fit. However, almost seven in 10 (69 per cent) believe they will be less happy and have more mental health problems.

They blame social media for worsening mental health by increasing their exposure to unrealistically-high expectations of body image and lifestyles. Rising crime rates, declining youth clubs and services and growing social intolerance of  the young are also cited.

Almost two thirds (62 per cent) of the 1,030 16-24-year-olds polled by YouGov felt the Government cared more about older generations than their own.

Writing for today’s Telegraph, Javed Khan, Barnardo’s chief executive, warned of a looming mental health crisis with one in eight children affected - and called for urgent and sustained investment in mental health services from the £20 billion a year NHS funding settlement.
Study examined mental-health implications of high levels of screen time

High levels of screen time — spent on social media and television in particular — are linked to symptoms of depression, a new study suggests. (Shutterstock)

Screen time — and social media in particular — is linked to an increase in depressive symptoms in teenagers, according to a new study by researchers at Montreal's Sainte-Justine Hospital.

The research team, led by Patricia Conrod, investigated the relationship between depression and exposure to different forms of screen time in adolescents over a four-year period.

"What we found over and over was that the effects of social media were much larger than any of the other effects for the other types of digital screen time," said Conrod, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Montreal.

The researchers studied the behaviour of over 3,800 young people from 2012 until 2018. They recruited adolescents from 31 Montreal schools and followed their behaviour from Grade 7 until Grade 11.

The teenagers self-reported the number of hours per week that they consumed social media (such as Facebook and Instagram), video games and television.

Conrod and her team found an increase in depressive symptoms when the adolescents were consuming social media and television.

The study was published on Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, a journal published by the American Medical Association.

Low self-esteem

The study found that of all the forms of screen time, consuming social media can be the most harmful.

Conrod and her colleague, Elroy Boers, found that the increased symptoms of depression are linked to being active on platforms such as Instagram, where teens are more likely to compare their lives to glitzy images in their feeds.

"It exposes young people to images that promote upward social comparison and makes them feel bad about themselves," said Conrod.

"These sort of echo chambers — these reinforcing spirals — also continually expose them to things that promote or reinforce their depression, and that's why it's particularly toxic for depression."

They also tested to see if the additional screen time was taking away from other activities that might decrease depressive symptoms, such as exercise, but found that was not the case.

'A good pastime'

The most surprising finding for Boers was that time spent playing video games was not contributing to depressive symptoms.

The study suggests the average gamer is not socially isolated, with more than 70 per cent of gamers playing with other people either online or in person.

"The findings surprised us," he said. "Video gaming makes one more happy. It's a good pastime."

Patricia Conrod, left, is a professor of psychiatry at Université de Montréal. She worked on the study with Elroy Boers, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Sainte-Justine Hospital in Montreal. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

Dr. Martin Gignac, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Montreal Children's Hospital, said there has been an increase in the number of emergency-room visits at the hospital related to teens having suicidal thoughts and behaviour in recent years.

"I don't think that [social media] is the only reason, but it's one of the risk factors we should monitor," said Gignac, who was not involved with the study.

As online relationships supplant in-person communication, Gignac said it's important that young people learn when posting about their lives online is healthy, and when it can hurt.

He's hoping that schools expand programs teaching kids about healthy online activity, and that learning how to practise good "digital citizenship" eventually becomes a universal part of school curriculum.

Scant research

Boers said he was inspired to dig into examining the effects of screen time in adolescents because it's something that's very common among youth, but not something that's widely studied.

"I would almost compare it to smoking in the 1970s, where the very negative effects are still relatively unknown," said Boers.

Though depression can be debilitating at any age, when it is found in adolescents, it is also linked to substance use, lower self-esteem and poor interpersonal skills.

He said, on average, teens are spending six-to-seven hours in front of a digital screen per day.

"What we found is quite worrisome and needs further investigation," he said.

He and Conrod hope their research will be used by pediatricians and other health-care providers to help more effectively treat teens for depression.

According to a recent study in the Journal Science, planting a trillion trees at the global scale could be one of the most effective and efficient solutions to the climate change crisis. An initiative of planting trees globally could help in scrubbing a considerable portion of heat-trapping emissions from our atmosphere.

According to the scientists and researchers, a program at this vast level could contribute to removing around two-thirds of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions majorly caused by the industrial revolution and cutting of the trees at a huge scale.

The scientists worked hard in their research and used Google Earth mapping for getting to the conclusion that there is enough space on earth to plant even more than a trillion trees without disturbing the cities and farmlands. The study reveals that an area covered by the trees about the size of the United States could easily remove about 205 out of approximately 3 billion metric tons of carbon from our atmosphere.

According to Thomas Crowther, who is a climate change ecologist in Zurich endorsed the idea of planting a trillion trees by saying that “This is by far — by thousands of times — the cheapest climate change solution.” He further insisted that this step should be taken without any delay because it would have immediate results in eliminating the impending danger to the climate.

He further emphasized that “It’s certainly a monumental challenge, which is exactly the scale of the problem of climate change.”

Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Russia, and the United States have enough room available for reforestation.

However, according to Crowther, although it is an effective solution but not enough to control the climate crisis. He emphasized on the need to stop burning coal, oil, and gas.

Deforestation is the biggest reason for rapid climate change globally. Acres of rainforests are being cut down every day in Amazon for making space for agriculture. Cutting those trees are doubling the heat-trapping gases. While planting new trees is the best solution, stopping the deforestation would bring immediate benefits.

According to Chris Field, a scientist at Stanford University environmental told AP that this study makes sense, but it is an uphill task and won’t be easy to execute this plan. “The question of whether it is feasible to restore this much forest is much more difficult,” Field said in an email.