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Monthly Archives: June 2021

經濟學家錢楠筠﹕美應爭取中國貧民支持 誘使中國政府合作

不少西方國家就人權問題對華採強硬措施,但這些措施是否有效?今年 4 月,美籍華人經濟學家錢楠筠 (Nancy Qian) 曾撰文分析,制裁等策略或難有成果。她認為,西方國家應把焦點放在爭取中國脫貧人口的支持。今日錢楠筠進一步在媒體 Project Syndicate 表示,美國可採取將工廠遷到中國貧困農村等策略,換取經濟回報之餘,在華帶動有利美國的氛圍,誘使中國與美國合作,「因為哪怕是專制政府,也必須對其公民喜好負責。」

錢楠筠曾在 Project Syndicate 撰文分析指,西方諸國用制裁等手段對付中國,或難達到目標。有效的對華取態應要注意,在 GDP 全球第二大的數字背後,中國其實仍是貧窮國家,仍有數以億計的人民力圖脫貧,而中國政府必須取得這些人民的支持。

今日(29 日)Project Syndicate 再發表一篇錢楠筠的訪問。她進一步解釋,現時美國對華經濟與外交政策傾向被動,要改變現狀,美國政府應主動與中國建立合作關係,例如與中國貧困人口建立互信,具體方法如將工廠遷到中國貧困農村,提供就業機會;對貧困農村地區銷售的美國產品(如 KFC)提供補貼;甚至安排專業運動團隊到周邊地區,鼓勵貧困年輕人進行體育活動。

錢楠筠認為,這些行動能為美國換來經濟及政治回報,因這會在中國帶動對美有利的氛圍;也能推動中國政府對美採取更為合作的態度,「因為哪怕是專制政府,也必須對其公民喜好負責」。

中國半數人口脫貧仍須十年以上

訪問中錢楠筠亦被問及,中國政府現行的五年計劃能否有效提高人均 GDP (per capita GDP)。錢楠筠稱,中國仍須超過十年才能使半數人口脫貧。她指,貧窮農村地區需要技術和資源,如良好教育和醫療等,才能與現代經濟融合。問題是哪有錢。錢楠筠說,如今在中國,教育與醫療等資源只有最富裕地區才足夠,很難要求貧窮地區做到自給自足,更何況世界銀行發布的《2030 年的中國》報告顯示,人均 GDP 增長會逐漸下跌,中國更加需要大幅度的資源重新分配,才能舒緩貧困。錢楠筠指,中國的挑戰將是如何在資源重新分配的同時,不會令沿海及城市地區人口經濟放緩問題惡化。

曾指西方強硬對華手段或難達到目標

錢楠筠曾於 4 月 30 日發表題為 The Two Sides of Chinese GDP(《立場》譯﹕中國 GDP 兩面睇)的文章。錢楠筠指,西方對中國近年的國際舉動以強硬手段回應,如美國加強在南中國海的軍力、多國對中國實施制裁,以及可能以人權為由杯葛北京冬奧等。然而歷史經驗證明,這些手段往往難以達到目標。比如俄羅斯就在 2014 年起已受西方經濟制裁,但最近仍然在烏克蘭興風作浪。1980 年莫斯科奧運和 1984 年洛杉磯奧運都有過杯葛行動,但後來證明這些行動對冷戰影響甚微。至於軍事行動,則甚至可能在目標國家引起反效果,造成反感,變相加強民眾對政府的支持。文章指,許多中國人已經覺得,西方正試圖重新在政治上壓倒中國。

若這些措施無效,甚麼有效?錢楠筠指向經濟。

錢楠筠指,很多人以為中國富有,但其實中國總括來說仍是貧窮國家。她指,大多經濟學家都過於關注國內生產總值 (GDP),而忽略人均國內生產總值。她指,根據 ProQuest 資料庫所示,2011-21 年間《紐約時報》、《華爾街日部》與《華盛頓郵報》共有 5,963 份文章討論中國 GDP,而只有 305 份文章討論人均 GDP。

以 2019 年為例,中國 GDP 是 14.34 兆美元,是全球第二大,僅次於美國(21.7 兆美元)而遠高於日本(5 兆美元)。這數字反映政府擁有的所有資源,能幫助我們理解中國公共投資規模等,但它卻對中國人的實際生活沒有多大參考價值。

而更能反映民眾收入的是人均 GDP。2019 年中國的人均 GDP 是 8,242 美元,僅處於黑山 (Montenegro) 和博茨瓦納 (Botswana) 之間。若計算以購買力平價 (Purchasing power parity) 的人均 GDP,也就是經生活指數作調整的收入,中國則只有 16,804 美元,排全球第 86 位,比全球平均的 17,811 美元更低,位處南美國家蘇里南 (Suriname) 和波斯尼亞和黑塞哥維那 (Bosnia and Herzegovina) 之間。而美國與歐盟以購買力平價計算的人均 GDP,分別是 65,298 美元和 47,828 美元,分別是中國約 8 倍和 6 倍。

錢楠筠進一步指,除上述外,考慮到中國的收入不均與美國和印度相近,可知數以億計的中國人仍然貧窮。中國政府亦曾表示,現時有 6 億人每月收入僅達 1,000 人民幣。錢楠筠指,中國已經意識到,為保存民眾支持,中國政府必須大幅提高這些貧窮人口的收入。

「若要有效應對中國,其他國家應該記住﹕有別於第一印象,它不是龐大經濟體 (economic monolith)。在世界第二大 GDP 背後,是數以億計只想脫貧的人。」


Source : The Stand News

Humour: News in Cartoons

Infographic: 从10.56%到25% 提升中國全民科学素质

Source : 新华网

“地球系统数值模拟装置”在怀柔科学城落成启用

  6月23日上午,“十二五”国家重大科技基础设施“地球系统数值模拟装置”在北京怀柔科学城落成启用,这是我国首个研制成功的地球系统数值模拟大科学装置,是怀柔科学城建设又一里程碑的成果,也是综合性国家科学中心从建设为主向建设与运行并重转变的重要标志。“地球系统数值模拟装置”的建成将服务于应对气候变化、生态环境建设、双碳愿景目标、防灾减灾等国家重大需求,为国际气候与环境谈判提供有力的科学支撑。

  中国科学院副院长张涛,北京市副市长、市政府秘书长靳伟,中国科学院秘书长汪克强,北京市政府副秘书长刘印春出席活动。中科院大气物理研究所院士曾庆存,怀柔区委书记、怀柔科学城党工委书记戴彬彬,密云区委书记潘临珠分别致辞。中科院大气物理研究所所长曹军骥发布地球数值模拟系统主要成果,怀柔区委副书记、区长、怀柔科学城党工委副书记于庆丰出席。

  此次落成的“地球系统数值模拟装置”位于怀柔科学城东区,是我国首个具有自主知识产权,以地球系统各圈层数值模拟软件为核心,软、硬件协同设计,规模及综合技术水平位于世界前列的专用地球系统数值模拟装置。其核心软件是中国科学院大气物理研究所经过长期科研攻关,自主研发的地球系统模式,集成耦合了包含大气、海洋、陆面、植被生态、大气化学、海洋生化、陆地生化在内的7个分系统模式,能够模拟大气圈、水圈、冰冻圈、岩石圈、生物圈的演变规律,可对地球的过去进行反演、对现在进行观察、对未来进行预测。

  新落成启用的“地球系统数值模拟装置”整体性能与国际先进水平相当,具备地球表层各圈层的模拟能力,能够更全面地考虑地球系统的各种过程,特别是全球生态和生物地球化学过程及其与气候系统的相互作用,并在此基础上建立起“生态-气温-二氧化碳浓度-碳排放量”的清晰关系,对温室气体核算、未来升温预估提供有力的模拟支撑,助力碳达峰、碳中和愿景目标的实现。同时,“地球系统数值模拟装置”建设的“区域高精度环境模拟系统”也将显著提升我国应对环境问题的能力,使我国防灾减灾水平跃升到新高度,并为建设“美丽中国”提供支撑。

  当前,怀柔科学城“十三五”时期布局的29个科学设施平台全部开工,部分装置设施平台进入科研状态并产出创新成果。围绕“科学+城”,怀柔、密云两区教育、医疗、交通、住房等城市综合服务功能日益完善,一座“远看是花园、近看是家园”的百年科学城正在拔地而起。

  张涛指出,中国科学院将围绕“聚人气、聚科研气”的目标,助推北京怀柔综合性国家科学中心建设,认真落实好设备的调试工作,确保装置稳定、高效运行。同时,充分发挥装置在美丽中国、海洋强国建设,以及防灾减灾、实现“双碳”目标等方面的关键作用,早日产出一批具有引领作用的重大创新成果。中国科学院将积极参与建设,支撑怀柔科学城建设成原始创新的策源地,助力北京国际科创中心建设。

  靳伟指出,要充分发挥装置的作用,开展前沿技术研究和核心技术研发。同时,要进一步推进重大项目落地,坚持“科学+城”,全力为科研工作者提供一流的服务,创造良好的学习、工作和生活环境,让广大科研工作者安心、舒心、称心,心无旁骛的潜心研究。

  戴彬彬在致辞中表示,“地球系统数值模拟装置”落成启用,是怀柔科学城从建设为主向建设与运行并重转变的又一重要标志,也是院市合作、怀密联动共建综合性国家科学中心的里程碑成果。怀柔区将以此为契机,围绕“聚人气、聚科研气”目标,全力推进科学设施建设运行,为北京国际科技创新中心建设贡献力量。

  启动仪式后,与会人员还参观了科普展厅。


Source : 北京市怀柔区人民政府

100 Years of Chaos

Bill Blain wrote . . . . . . . . .

“My little baby is all grown up and saving China.”

This Morning – The big event this week is how China celebrates 100 years of it’s Communist Party. What does it mean for markets, and where is China likely to go from here?

Lots going on this week in terms of the data and the end of Q2 – across financial markets investors will be scrabbling to ring fence returns made this year, and figure out where they are going to come from in the remaining quarters. Just how vulnerable, or resilient markets prove to be – well, that is always the question.

However, the really big event this week is China celebrating 100 years of the CCP on Thursday. Actually, no one knows the exact date the cadre first assembled in a Shanghai smoky room – as he grew the cult, Mao only chose July 1st as an auspicious date for the commemoration years later. He who wins writes the histories.. More than a few market speculators fear the Chinese may decide to do something silly to mark the day – I suspect lots of very long dull speeches.

There are lots of questions around the 100 years of Chinese Capitommunism.

How has communism thrived and survived in China when it so spectacularly failed in Russia, Eastern Europe and Cuba? How does the cult of Xi compare to the cult of Mao? How sustainable is the party’s role and control of the state? Can China take on the west economically and win? What about the aspirations of the Chinese people?

You will find a multitude of opinions, answers and imaginings in the press this week.

In the words of the old Chinese curse, the CCP’s rule has been “interesting”. Chaotic recovery paralleling the Soviet Union is one reading of Chinese history post-Communist victory in 1945. Just like in Russia the initial state collectivisation/industrialisation plans following the civil war caused untold misery and deaths through starvation as it became clear the revolutionary government lacked skills and personnel – who had fled the nation.

Famine was followed by the purges of the Cultural Revolution shoring up the Party’s status, before the spikes in the ongoing chaotic sequence dampened. From the 1980s New Economic Polices (initially straight out the Soviet playbook) moved the political sequence onto less volatile growth track incorporating a thousand flowers and capitalism with Chinese characteristics from 1980. Where Russia failed – the state effectively captured by the kleptocracy of Oligarchs – China proved more stable.

The CCP succeeded on two levels. Its survived, and despite the unpleasantness, it delivered its side of the bargain with the people – jobs and rising prosperity. To stay on track – its demonstrated ruthlessness, clamping down hard in Tibet, Hong Kong and Xinjiang. In 1989 when the process generated just a little too much freedom and aspirations, leading to near revolution out of Tiananmen Square.

Today we see the Chinese economy challenging the US in terms of scale – but not in terms of per capita. We see the Chinese military challenging the US hegemony. But, don’t forget; 55 years ago we though the USSR would win the race to the moon. Much is being written on how successful China will be as the challenger state to the USA – but none of it is set in the stone of history yet!

The CCP faces far more friction and strife than we perceive from the west.

It is no longer a revolutionary party. It is the party of state. Its longevity will depend on how it adapts to an ever changing political landscape. Its biggest threat may be its size. Xi is merely the first among his cohort of party princelings, the children of the generation purged during the cultural revolution, to have reached the top. Like any good classical hero, his primary concern is to secure and hold his powerbase; purging rivals, dispensing with term limits on office, and launching his own Xi cult to out-shine previous emperors.

The reality is the CCP mirrors the Dynasties that have shaped China’s. Typically they fell because they became ossified and unable to react to counter new threats – there is a danger the same is happening to the party of Xi.

But, give Xi credit. He’s strengthened the party and yoked it successfully under his patronage. The party presents a simple choice to Chinese who want to get on in business – join the party and do our bidding in return. That’s also a recipe for corruption. Meanwhile, the core working population (in urban areas) get their jobs and rising standards of living demonstrated nightly on the Televiewer – last night it was China’s Mar’s rover, while all sources of dissent are quietly crushed by the state apparatus.

China has one standout advantage over its rivals. Homogeneity.

There isn’t much talk about diversity in the Chinese Congress – Han culture doesn’t have much truck with outsiders. It rejoices in how fragmented the distrusting tribes of the West have become. It’s not just race or tribe, Xi will be laughing at the increasing polarisation and fracture between Republicans and Democrats, and the way in which Western commercial and business exceptionalism is being assaulted from within by the ill-considered consequences of Wokery, ESG tomfoolery and a growing fearfulness to speak out or criticise.

When it comes down to predicting the future I always go with the simple manta – it will not be a bad as we think, nor will it be as good as we hope. The reality is China is part of the global economy. It is exciting and full of opportunity, but it’s also repressive and breaches much of what we can accept morally – the Uyghurs and Hong Kong being the obvious abuses.

I reckon China boils down to a number of scenarios:

  • China is brought down by the increasing bureaucracy of the Party’s attempts to control everything, or, it succeeds in finding the balance between control and economic freedom, while building the bones of its new surveillance capitalist state innovating tech and finance.
  • China’s botched human rights, and wolf-warrior diplomacy, closes doors and markets around the globe, forcing the Middle Kingdom’s economy to domesticise, or, the next generation of CCP leaders come early and steer China back onto an open trade, capitalist economic accommodation with the west.
  • Trade wars and embargos stifle Chinas efforts to invent and innovate, causing its economy to decline medium term, or China sets its own tech ecosystem that competes directly with the west in global markets.

These are all scales. They usually find balance. My own guess is China will increasingly struggle to balance the bureaucracy of state vs wealth, its ageing demographics will slow growth, it will be forced to adopt a more measured diplomatic role (scaling back on geopolitical tensions), while a mature Chinese tech sector could prove a massive spur to the development of the next generation of tech advances in the West.

On the other hand… lots of observers reckon its classic Thucydides Trap which originally posited the Peloponnesian Wars between Sparta and the rising strength of Athens became inevitable. Carthage and Rome is another example….

Hope not…


Source: Morning Porridge

Graphene Can be Used to Detect COVID-19 Quickly, Accurately

Researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago have successfully used graphene — one of the strongest, thinnest known materials — to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus in laboratory experiments. The researchers say the discovery could be a breakthrough in coronavirus detection, with potential applications in the fight against COVID-19 and its variants.

In experiments, researchers combined sheets of graphene, which are more than 1,000 times thinner than a postage stamp, with an antibody designed to target the infamous spike protein on the coronavirus. They then measured the atomic-level vibrations of these graphene sheets when exposed to COVID-positive and COVID-negative samples in artificial saliva. These sheets were also tested in the presence of other coronaviruses, like Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS-CoV.

The UIC researchers found that the vibrations of the antibody-coupled graphene sheet changed when treated with a COVID-positive sample, but not when treated with a COVID-negative sample or with other coronaviruses. Vibrational changes, measured with a device called a Raman spectrometer, were evident in under five minutes.

Their findings are published in the journal ACS Nano.

“We have been developing graphene sensors for many years. In the past, we have built detectors for cancer cells and ALS. It is hard to imagine a more pressing application than to help stem the spread of the current pandemic,” said Vikas Berry, professor and head of chemical engineering at the UIC College of Engineering and senior author of the paper. “There is a clear need in society for better ways to quickly and accurately detect COVID and its variants, and this research has the potential to make a real difference. The modified sensor is highly sensitive and selective for COVID, and it is fast and inexpensive.”

“This project has been an amazingly novel response to the need and demand for detection of viruses, quickly and accurately,” said study co-author Garrett Lindemann, a researcher with Carbon Advanced Materials and Products, or CAMP. “The development of this technology as a clinical testing device has many advantages over the currently deployed and used tests.”

Berry says that graphene — which has been called a “wonder material” — has unique properties that make it highly versatile, making this type of sensor possible.

Graphene is a single-atom-thick material made up of carbon. Carbon atoms are bound by chemical bonds whose elasticity and movement can produce resonant vibrations, also known as phonons, which can be very accurately measured. When a molecule like a SARS-CoV-2 molecule interacts with graphene, it changes these resonant vibrations in a very specific and quantifiable way.

“Graphene is just one atom thick, so a molecule on its surface is relatively enormous and can produce a specific change in its electronic energy,” Berry said. “In this experiment, we modified graphene with an antibody and, in essence, calibrated it to react only with the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Using this method, graphene could similarly be used to detect COVID-19 variants.”

The researchers say the potential applications for a graphene atomic-level sensor — from detecting COVID to ALS to cancer — continue to expand.

A provisional patent has been submitted based on this work.


Source: University of Illinois Chicago

The Last—And Only—Foreign Scientist in the Wuhan Lab Speaks Out

Michelle Fay Cortez wrote . . . . . . . . .

Danielle Anderson was working in what has become the world’s most notorious laboratory just weeks before the first known cases of Covid-19 emerged in central China. Yet, the Australian virologist still wonders what she missed.

An expert in bat-borne viruses, Anderson is the only foreign scientist to have undertaken research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s BSL-4 lab, the first in mainland China equipped to handle the planet’s deadliest pathogens. Her most recent stint ended in November 2019, giving Anderson an insider’s perspective on a place that’s become a flashpoint in the search for what caused the worst pandemic in a century.

The emergence of the coronavirus in the same city where institute scientists, clad head-to-toe in protective gear, study that exact family of viruses has stoked speculation that it might have leaked from the lab, possibly via an infected staffer or a contaminated object. China’s lack of transparency since the earliest days of the outbreak fueled those suspicions, which have been seized on by the U.S. That’s turned the quest to uncover the origins of the virus, critical for preventing future pandemics, into a geopolitical minefield.

The work of the lab and the director of its emerging infectious diseases section—Shi Zhengli, a long-time colleague of Anderson’s dubbed ‘Batwoman’ for her work hunting viruses in caves—is now shrouded in controversy. The U.S. has questioned the lab’s safety and alleged its scientists were engaged in contentious gain of function research that manipulated viruses in a manner that could have made them more dangerous.

It’s a stark contrast to the place Anderson described in an interview with Bloomberg News, the first in which she’s shared details about working at the lab.

Half-truths and distorted information have obscured an accurate accounting of the lab’s functions and activities, which were more routine than how they’ve been portrayed in the media, she said.

“It’s not that it was boring, but it was a regular lab that worked in the same way as any other high-containment lab,” Anderson said. “What people are saying is just not how it is.”

Now at Melbourne’s Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, Anderson began collaborating with Wuhan researchers in 2016, when she was scientific director of the biosafety lab at Singapore’s Duke-NUS Medical School. Her research—which focuses on why lethal viruses like Ebola and Nipah cause no disease in the bats in which they perpetually circulate—complemented studies underway at the Chinese institute, which offered funding to encourage international collaboration.

A rising star in the virology community, Anderson, 42, says her work on Ebola in Wuhan was the realization of a life-long career goal. Her favorite movie is “Outbreak,” the 1995 film in which disease experts respond to a dangerous new virus—a job Anderson said she wanted to do. For her, that meant working on Ebola in a high-containment laboratory.

Anderson’s career has taken her all over the world. After obtaining an undergraduate degree from Deakin University in Geelong, Australia, she worked as a lab technician at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, then returned to Australia to complete a PhD under the supervision of eminent virologists John Mackenzie and Linfa Wang. She did post-doctoral work in Montreal, before moving to Singapore and working again with Wang, who described Anderson as “very committed and dedicated,” and similar in personality to Shi.

“They’re both very blunt with such high moral standards,” Wang said by phone from Singapore, where he’s the director of the emerging infectious diseases program at the Duke-NUS Medical School. “I’m very proud of what Danielle’s been able to do.”

On the Ground

Anderson was on the ground in Wuhan when experts believe the virus, now known as SARS-CoV-2, was beginning to spread. Daily visits for a period in late 2019 put her in close proximity to many others working at the 65-year-old research center. She was part of a group that gathered each morning at the Chinese Academy of Sciences to catch a bus that shuttled them to the institute about 20 miles away.

As the sole foreigner, Anderson stood out, and she said the other researchers there looked out for her.

“We went to dinners together, lunches, we saw each other outside of the lab,” she said.

From her first visit before it formally opened in 2018, Anderson was impressed with the institute’s maximum biocontainment lab. The concrete, bunker-style building has the highest biosafety designation, and requires air, water and waste to be filtered and sterilized before it leaves the facility. There were strict protocols and requirements aimed at containing the pathogens being studied, Anderson said, and researchers underwent 45 hours of training to be certified to work independently in the lab.

The induction process required scientists to demonstrate their knowledge of containment procedures and their competency in wearing air-pressured suits. “It’s very, very extensive,” Anderson said.

Entering and exiting the facility was a carefully choreographed endeavor, she said. Departures were made especially intricate by a requirement to take both a chemical shower and a personal shower—the timings of which were precisely planned.

Special Disinfectants

These rules are mandatory across BSL-4 labs, though Anderson noted differences compared with similar facilities in Europe, Singapore and Australia in which she’s worked. The Wuhan lab uses a bespoke method to make and monitor its disinfectants daily, a system Anderson was inspired to introduce in her own lab. She was connected via a headset to colleagues in the lab’s command center to enable constant communication and safety vigilance—steps designed to ensure nothing went awry.

However, the Trump administration’s focus in 2020 on the idea the virus escaped from the Wuhan facility suggested that something went seriously wrong at the institute, the only one to specialize in virology, viral pathology and virus technology of the some 20 biological and biomedical research institutes of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Virologists and infectious disease experts initially dismissed the theory, noting that viruses jump from animals to humans with regularity. There was no clear evidence from within SARS-CoV-2’s genome that it had been artificially manipulated, or that the lab harbored progenitor strains of the pandemic virus. Political observers suggested the allegations had a strategic basis and were designed to put pressure on Beijing.

And yet, China’s actions raised questions. The government refused to allow international scientists into Wuhan in early 2020 when the outbreak was mushrooming, including experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who were already in the region.

Beijing stonewalled on allowing World Health Organization experts into Wuhan for more than a year, and then provided only limited access. The WHO team’s final report, written with and vetted by Chinese researchers, played down the possibility of a lab leak. Instead, it said the virus probably spread via a bat through another animal, and gave some credence to a favored Chinese theory that it could have been transferred via frozen food.

Never Sick

China’s obfuscation led outside researchers to reconsider their stance. Last month, 18 scientists writing in the journal Science called for an investigation into Covid-19’s origins that would give balanced consideration to the possibility of a lab accident. Even the director-general of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the lab theory hadn’t been studied extensively enough.

But it’s U.S. President Joe Biden’s consideration of the idea—previously dismissed by many as a Trumpist conspiracy theory—that has given it newfound legitimacy. Biden called on America’s intelligence agencies last month to redouble their efforts in rooting out the genesis of Covid-19 after an earlier report, disclosed by the Wall Street Journal, claimed three researchers from the lab were hospitalized with flu-like symptoms in November 2019.

Anderson said no one she knew at the Wuhan institute was ill toward the end of 2019. Moreover, there is a procedure for reporting symptoms that correspond with the pathogens handled in high-risk containment labs.

“If people were sick, I assume that I would have been sick—and I wasn’t,” she said. “I was tested for coronavirus in Singapore before I was vaccinated, and had never had it.”

Not only that, many of Anderson’s collaborators in Wuhan came to Singapore at the end of December for a gathering on Nipah virus. There was no word of any illness sweeping the laboratory, she said.

“There was no chatter,” Anderson said. “Scientists are gossipy and excited. There was nothing strange from my point of view going on at that point that would make you think something is going on here.”

The names of the scientists reported to have been hospitalized haven’t been disclosed. The Chinese government and Shi Zhengli, the lab’s now-famous bat-virus researcher, have repeatedly denied that anyone from the facility contracted Covid-19. Anderson’s work at the facility, and her funding, ended after the pandemic emerged and she focused on the novel coronavirus.

‘I’m Not Naive’

It’s not that it’s impossible the virus spilled from there. Anderson, better than most people, understands how a pathogen can escape from a laboratory. SARS, an earlier coronavirus that emerged in Asia in 2002 and killed more than 700 people, subsequently made its way out of secure facilities a handful of times, she said.

If presented with evidence that such an accident spawned Covid-19, Anderson “could foresee how things could maybe happen,” she said. “I’m not naive enough to say I absolutely write this off.”

And yet, she still believes it most likely came from a natural source. Since it took researchers almost a decade to pin down where in nature the SARS pathogen emerged, Anderson says she’s not surprised they haven’t found the “smoking gun” bat responsible for the latest outbreak yet.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology is large enough that Anderson said she didn’t know what everyone was working on at the end of 2019. She is aware of published research from the lab that involved testing viral components for their propensity to infect human cells. Anderson is convinced no virus was made intentionally to infect people and deliberately released—one of the more disturbing theories to have emerged about the pandemic’s origins.

Gain of Function
Anderson did concede that it would be theoretically possible for a scientist in the lab to be working on a gain of function technique to unknowingly infect themselves and to then unintentionally infect others in the community. But there’s no evidence that occurred and Anderson rated its likelihood as exceedingly slim.

Getting authorization to create a virus in this way typically requires many layers of approval, and there are scientific best practices that put strict limits on this kind of work. For example, a moratorium was placed on research that could be done on the 1918 Spanish Flu virus after scientists isolated it decades later.

Even if such a gain of function effort got clearance, it’s hard to achieve, Anderson said. The technique is called reverse genetics.

“It’s exceedingly difficult to actually make it work when you want it to work,” she said.

Anderson’s lab in Singapore was one of the first to isolate SARS-CoV-2 from a Covid patient outside China and then to grow the virus. It was complicated and challenging, even for a team used to working with coronaviruses that knew its biological characteristics, including which protein receptor it targets. These key facets wouldn’t be known by anyone trying to craft a new virus, she said. Even then, the material that researchers study—the virus’s basic building blocks and genetic fingerprint—aren’t initially infectious, so they would need to culture significant amounts to infect people.

Danielle Anderson
Anderson is convinced no virus was made intentionally to infect people and deliberately released—one of the more disturbing theories to have emerged.
Photographer: James Bugg/Bloomberg
Despite this, Anderson does think an investigation is needed to nail down the virus’s origin once and for all. She’s dumbfounded by the portrayal of the lab by some media outside China, and the toxic attacks on scientists that have ensued.

One of a dozen experts appointed to an international taskforce in November to study the origins of the virus, Anderson hasn’t sought public attention, especially since being targeted by U.S. extremists in early 2020 after she exposed false information about the pandemic posted online. The vitriol that ensued prompted her to file a police report. The threats of violence many coronavirus scientists have experienced over the past 18 months have made them hesitant to speak out because of the risk that their words will be misconstrued.

The elements known to trigger infectious outbreaks—the mixing of humans and animals, especially wildlife—were present in Wuhan, creating an environment conducive for the spillover of a new zoonotic disease. In that respect, the emergence of Covid-19 follows a familiar pattern. What’s shocking to Anderson is the way it unfurled into a global contagion.

“The pandemic is something no one could have imagined on this scale,” she said. Researchers must study Covid’s calamitous path to determine what went wrong and how to stop the spread of future pathogens with pandemic potential.

“The virus was in the right place at the right time and everything lined up to cause this disaster.”


Source : Bloomberg

The Miami Condo Collapse Is a Devastating Reminder of America’s Artificial Land Problem

Ryan Cooper wrote . . . . . . . . .

A condo complex in south Florida partly collapsed out of nowhere Thursday morning. At time of writing, at least four people are confirmed dead and 159 others are still missing — making it likely one of the worst building collapse disasters in American history.

It is not yet known for certain what caused the collapse, but one probable culprit was the fact that the building had been built on reclaimed wetland, and as a result, had been sinking into the ground for decades. Scientist Shimon Wdowinski happened to study the area last year, and found that the building (which was built in in 1981) had been sinking at the rate of about 2 millimeters per year back in the 1990s. Even if some other factor was the proximate cause, the sinking surely made it worse — a building in such a situation can easily develop cracks in its foundation or other problems that compromise its structure.

It’s illustrative of a major problem in many American cities: reclaimed land. Big chunks of almost all American coastal cities are built on reclaimed land that will likely turn to soup as climate change causes ocean levels to rise.

Rising seas of course threaten any city that is at a low elevation. But reclaimed land — that is, new land space made by dumping fill into a lake, river, ocean, or wetland — is at particular risk, because it is much less stable than normal land. At best, reclaimed areas are made with concrete, rocks, sand, or other material that can be compacted into a fairly stable shape. At worst, they are made by throwing some dirt over the top of a pile of garbage, and building more city on top of it.

This literal trash foundation is unfortunately how big parts of numerous American cities have been built. Back in the 19th century, when there was little by way of environmental regulations or sane building codes, cites would often just dump their trash into any handy spot, and start slapping up buildings on top of the mess. U.S. Geological Survey maps show big chunks of the cities around San Francisco Bay are built on artificial fill, some of it garbage from the 1840s. The same thing is true of New York City.

Even the best reclaimed land tends to subside over time, as it has not had tens of millions of years to stabilize. For instance, the Kansai International Airport, built on an artificial island by world-class Japanese engineers in the early 1990s, still sank much more quickly than predicted and required expensive upgrades and protection to keep it from falling underwater. That process is accelerated by rising sea levels, as the ocean is effectively coming up to meet the land coming down, and because reclaimed land tends to become destabilized much more easily with more water contact. That in turn increases the vulnerability to earthquakes in seismically-active locations like Tokyo or San Francisco.

As Grace Mitchell Tada writes in The New York Times, in previous earthquakes much of the old San Francisco fill had liquified, causing immense structural damage to streets and buildings above it. Now rising oceans threaten the sea wall along the city’s northeast edge even more. This wall was built over a century ago to shore up the city’s edges and create over 500 acres of new land, where many of the city’s most popular attractions, biggest businesses, and key public services now sit. The aging sea wall has already subsided substantially, and rising seas only increase the danger. The government estimates that another major earthquake is likely to strike the region in the next 22 years, which could destroy the wall outright and possibly cause big chunks of the city to slough off into the bay:

During one of the most worrisome earthquake scenarios, described in Waterfront Resilience Program documents, when the ground spills into the bay, engineers fear that so, too, might the utility corridor, rupturing pipes and electricity lines. The historic pier sheds and bulkhead wharves would tumble into the water, and the wooden piles supporting them would splinter. Researchers predict that the land supporting near-shore blocks of the city — former marshland — will convulse like water just as in Kobe, displacing anything and anyone atop it. If the quake hits on a weekday, 40,000 people could be along the waterfront, many stuck in collapsed structures or piers over water. This same area, along the Embarcadero, holds the city’s disaster response services, including evacuation facilities and its emergency operation center, which would be cut off when most needed. Over $100 billion in building value and economic value are potentially at risk from sea wall collapse, not including pricey utility repair. Port engineers fear much of the sea wall itself would be irreparable. [The New York Times]

Reclaimed land is just one of a thousand different threats that are either going to be addressed soon or cause enormous disasters eventually. America and the world needs swift action to slash greenhouse gas emissions immediately, and huge upgrades to our infrastructure and social systems to deal with the oncoming damage that is already baked in from decades of political dithering. Every minute of delay will only make future problems worse.


Source : The Week

U.S. Personal Income Decreased MoM in May, 2021

Source : Trading Economics and Bloomberg

Infographic: China’s Social Credit System