Data, Info and News of Life and Economy

Daily Archives: August 28, 2022

Chart: Bitcoin Down Below US$20,000 Again

Source : Trading Economics

Humour: News in Cartoons

Chart: Cost of Streaming vs Cable in the U.S.

In July, streaming surpassed cable consumption for the first time. Even so, the median price American consumers pay for streaming is $20-$30 per month, a far cry from the $79 per month the average cable plan costs.

Source : The Hustle

A Brief History of Wastewater Testing and Pathogen Detection

Since humans started building permanent structures in which to live, even as far back as the Babylonians around 4,000 B.C., we have sought to get our waste as far away from ourselves as possible.1 That effort has continued to the modern-day, where the sewers under our feet carry billions of gallons of waste (every day!) away from our most populated areas.2

It is the pinnacle of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’

But in flushing and forgetting our waste, we are also flushing a wealth of information about our biology and the infectious diseases that threaten our health. What if, we could use our waste to spot the outbreak of disease before a community even starts to show symptoms? It’s a powerful thought and one that could change public health. And it’s not new. The concept of pathogen detection through wastewater testing is centuries old.

Monitoring the Complexities of the Human Microbiome

What makes wastewater pathogen detection so valuable is the incredible quantity of microbes that live within our digestive tracts. These microbes, comprising the gut microbiome, play an incredible (though poorly understood) role in overall human health, for everything from digestion to cardiac health to the immune system.3,4 Viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other microbes form a complex system within the gut, competing with invading pathogens for attachment sites and nutrients, aiding in carbohydrate digestion, producing vitamins, and more. Many biological functions that need to be executed for us to survive are carried out by the human microbiome. We can find evidence of the organisms contained within it in the fecal matter we eliminate and draw conclusions about the health of the subject or community from where it came. While the concept of getting this waste far away from where we live may be as old as human settlement, the idea to utilize that same waste to monitor health and disease on both the individual and community level is a much more recent development, dating back to the 19th century.

Wastewater Surveillance Through the Centuries: A Timeline

The first waterborne disease to be scientifically documented was the Broad Street cholera outbreak of 1854 in London.5 Impressively, Dr. John Snow (the father of epidemiology, not of Winterfell) was able to convince local officials of the disease’s source and vehicle of transmission decades before germ theory had been proven.6 Snow managed this feat by comparing the water sources of disease-stricken and untouched households and tracked the outbreak to a single pump on Broad Street. Ever since, epidemiologists have looked to water for answers about how diseases are spread, and how they might be tracked without relying on large-scale individualized testing.

In the 1940s, epidemiologists utilized wastewater to track and contain disease outbreaks in the United States, particularly polio.7 The cell culture methods used were crude by today’s standards, but effective nonetheless, and wastewater surveillance remains a critical tool for eradicating polio across the globe.8 Still, many pathogens are either difficult or impossible to culture, and more efficient and cost-effective methods have been developed, like hybridization with radioactive cDNA probes to monitor Hepatitis A in the 1980s.9 It wasn’t until the 1990s, however, that the gold standard of wastewater pathogen detection techniques was brought to the front lines with PCR.10,11

Because PCR can be quick and efficient, detection of pathogens in wastewater can be done even before those infected start to show symptoms.12 Recently, innovative and highthroughput PCR-based workflows have been used for ongoing monitoring of the COVID-19 pandemic. As nasal swab testing was limited and often delayed in the early stages of the global spread of SARS-CoV-2, wastewater testing was suggested as a way to bypass some of the bottlenecks in our testing infrastructure and identify areas where outbreaks were just starting, long before case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths took off. Some universities used this strategy to identify which dormitories required individual testing. A recent study from a university may be good resource to add to this list (They used the KingFisher Flex platform). Here is the link to the preprint. Rapid, large-scale wastewater surveillance and automated reporting system enabled early detection of nearly 85% of COVID-19 cases on a University campus.

Modernizing the Approach to Wastewater Surveillance

While wastewater detection shows immense promise, both for the current pandemic and beyond, a detection method is only as effective as the quality of extracted proteins or nucleic acids (DNA or RNA) allows it to be. Our MagMAX Microbiome Ultra Nucleic Acid Extraction Kits can help with the challenging sample types required for microbiome detection and wastewater testing. And there’s a bonus: The kit is automation-ready, allowing higher throughput with Thermo Fisher’s KingFisher Flex sample purification system. Automated protocols require less hands-on time and enable faster workflows. Together, these products empower research and clinical laboratories to work smarter, not harder, and streamline processes to allow for high-throughput DNA/RNA extraction, suitable for many downstream applications.

KingFisher system-optimized kits, reagents, and protocols that can be used to maximize purity and yield for each extraction target and sample type. MagMAX kits are best suited for automated extraction of DNA or RNA due to their ease of use and reliability.

We should probably continue our practice of eliminating our waste from the places we live, but that doesn’t mean we have to flush the countless opportunities to improve our health by leveraging the vast information contained in such undesirable substances and sample types. From studying how disruptions of microbiota contribute to cancer to stopping the next global pandemic in its tracks, the answer could be in what we put in our toilets.

Source : ThermoFisher Scientific

Whataboutism or, the Tu Quoque Gambit

B.D. McClay wrote . . . . . . . . .

Cast your mind back for a moment. It is the week after the Oscars, and everybody is talking about one thing: Will Smith slapping Chris Rock, an event practically engineered to generate opinions. For some, however, this cultural focus on a celebrity spat was a problem. “Your periodic reminder that this was the headline a week ago today but you may not have read it because an actor slapped another actor at an awards show,” ran a tweet above a picture of a headline reading “UN warns Earth ‘firmly on track toward an unlivable world.’” “The craziest thing about Will Smith slapping Chris Rock,” went another, “is that for the past 7 years the US and UK have backed a war against Yemen that killed 400,000 civilians and starved 17 million more.”

To such reproaches, there is a stock response that goes like this: “I can walk and chew gum at the same time,” often coupled with attestations of attention paid in the past. If such attestations cannot be produced, other ripostes include reminding your accusers that they do not know you, that you are just one person, and that they should be directing their own hostile attention toward some worthier target. What about that guy? What about his lapses? Why aren’t you so concerned about him? Why are you so mad at me about my consumption of celebrity gossip? Why am I singled out for this particular attention? What is your agenda?

The online term for this move is whataboutism, though more formally it is usually a variant of the tu quoque gambit, in which someone who is outraged by one thing but not visibly outraged by another is called a hypocrite, a bad faith interlocutor, even if no real mismatch between values and actions is present. If you are angered by the treatment of the Uyghurs in China, do you really have standing to be angry, given the treatment of migrants at the United States border or the detainees in Guantánamo? If you think Vladimir Putin suppresses dissent, where is your anger when Twitter or Facebook refuses to allow actors on their platforms whom they believe to spread “misinformation”?

What about whataboutism? Attention is finite, the record of how we spend it public, and it is easy enough to check if somebody who tweets every day about Ukraine has ever tweeted about Yemen. Many people are inclined to give somebody they trust a pass; behavior that might attract loud condemnation of a stranger might be ignored if done by a friend. Sometimes, such inconsistencies, added up, indicate that somebody is untrustworthy, that her commitments are insincere, and that there is something manipulative about her public persona. But most of the time, I would hazard, they indicate that people do not live their lives striving for perfect consistency.

It is unlikely, though not impossible, that someone sickened by China’s campaign against the Uyghurs is indifferent to the plight of migrants or supportive of retaining the detention center at Guantánamo. But it is undeniably true that how somebody feels or posts online is not going to do anything to help any of these people, and even truer that scolding someone about his selective outrage will not.

The Internet, however, has only one currency, and that currency is attention. On the Internet, we endlessly raise awareness, we platform and deplatform, we signal-boost and call out, and we argue about where our attention should be directed, and how. What we pay attention to and the language in which we pay attention are the only realities worth considering, which is one reason why stories are so often framed by the idea that nobody is talking about a problem, when the problem is often quite endlessly talked about—just not solved. Why isn’t the media covering this story? is a common refrain that is just as often accompanied by a link to an article about the story, which is how the complainer learned about it in the first place.

Attention can be paid and registered in many forms, but you pay attention online by making it known that you are paying attention. Your own expenditure is worthless unless other people are paying attention to you. As they do in regard to the currency of the analog world, people feel as though they get to judge how other people pay attention. Even though most actions are undertaken with some idea of gaining attention, to do something out of a blatant desire to attract attention is gauche and discrediting. People whose job is to translate attention into real money—celebrities, “influencers,” and so on—are often left walking a thin and ridiculous line. They must draw attention to some larger event going on in the world lest they be judged selfish, but their attempts to do so mostly underscore that drawing attention to something means very little.

Most scrutiny of how other people spend their money is driven by the zero-sum fact that a buck spent here cannot be spent there. But with attention, the zero-sum fact, as everyone acknowledges, is that one cannot pay attention to everything. Yet lapses in attention are always subject to judgment. Sure, you can’t pay attention to everything. But to this? Now, that is telling.

However, given that attention is finite, in the grand scheme of things, paying attention to what other people are paying attention to should probably rank pretty low in budgetary priorities. But since attention is also, as currencies go, pretty worthless when it comes to solving any real problem, it is most profitably spent harassing other people. Malicious intent or willful lack of attention can be diagnosed through any number of avenues: simply not tweeting about a subject, or tweeting about the wrong subject at the wrong time, or drawing attention to the wrong thing at the wrong time.

What is perhaps most frustrating about the deployment of whataboutism is that some form of it is in fact a necessary moral appeal. In the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I sometimes saw people bringing up the situation in Yemen. That situation is indeed horrifying, and it is one in which the United States is complicit up to its neck. Though it takes a similar form, I do not really consider invoking Yemen to be by itself a form of whataboutism, for one simple reason: It is an effort to widen the sphere of outrage, not to make expressing outrage impossible. The point is not that individuals have no standing to express the view that Russia’s actions toward Ukraine are deplorable unless they have hitherto condemned every misdeed of the United States, but that their moral instincts should not stop at Russia’s actions.

Ideally, a widening moral sympathy should also involve new spheres of action, but sometimes, maybe most of the time, it does not. What an everyday American can do about the situation in Yemen is hardly clear. Attention is so highly prized in the world of online manners partly and precisely because action itself is so limited. The images coming out of Ukraine are gut wrenching, but there is nothing most Americans can do except donate to an international aid organization. Any individual can boycott cotton produced by the forced labor of Uyghurs, but absent a broader organized movement, a boycott serves only to reduce personal complicity without making anybody’s life better. And even a broader movement may barely shift the needle.

But the other great crime of whataboutism is that it solidifies the online sense that the appearance of paying attention is paramount—not actually paying attention. It is true that we have a moral duty not to ignore the suffering of others, even if attention itself is not the highest good or an especially efficacious one. Most forms of paying attention involve reading and listening, not talking. Caring about something and staying informed is not synonymous with public speech about it. The paranoid impulse to believe that everybody is judging you for what you do and do not talk about is as corrosive as always targeting people’s motives and only rarely their claims.

As a remedy, I propose a solution that, like many antidotes, involves a little of the original poison. When somebody accuses another person of selective attention, ask yourself how often you have seen this particular person default to that retort, and how often you have seen him engage with the other person’s claims. If you come to the conclusion that the accuser is generally fixated on motives, add him to a little list titled “Clowns.” Remove the clowns from your sphere of attention, and keep the people whom you judge to be worth taking seriously. Repeat as often as necessary. Then log off.

Source : Hedge Hog Review

COVID Virus’ Incubation Time Gets Shorter With Each New Variant

If you get infected with COVID-19, the time from infection to possible onset of symptoms — the incubation period — is significantly shorter now than it was at the beginning of the pandemic, new research shows.

Researchers in China who looked at data from 142 different studies found that people who got infected with the Alpha variant — the one that emerged in Wuhan in late 2019 — had an incubation period averaging five days.

By the time the Omicron variant arrived, incubation had shortened to less than 3.5 days, on average, the investigators reported.

The findings have real-world importance, because “identifying the incubation period of different variants is a key factor in determining the isolation period” for folks testing positive for COVID-19, the research team explained.

The new study was led by Min Liu, of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Peking University’s School of Public Health in Beijing.

The researchers examined data on incubation periods from a myriad of studies conducted throughout the pandemic. A total of more than 8,100 COVID-19 patients were included.

“The findings of this study suggest that SARS-CoV-2 has evolved and mutated continuously throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” Liu’s group said. The virus has constantly changed in terms of its ability to transmit between people, its level of severity, and its incubation period.

Focusing on incubation, the researchers found that the early Alpha variant COVID virus had an average incubation of five days before symptom onset.

When the Beta variant emerged in May 2020, that incubation rate had shortened to about 4.5 days.

The more highly transmissible Delta variant came on the scene in 2021. Its incubation period was even shorter, about 4.4 days, on average.

Incubation time became significantly shorter with the advent of the Omicron variant, however: Just 3.4 days, on average, according to the Chinese team.

They noted that when COVID-19 first emerged in its Alpha variant, its five-day incubation period was much longer than that seen with other common viral illnesses.

For example, common colds caused by coronavirus have an incubation of about 3.2 days; influenza’s incubation is just under two days, and rhinoviruses (the most common cause of colds) have an incubation of about a day and a half.

Liu and colleagues stressed that the numbers in their study are only averages, and incubation for any one COVID-19 patient could still vary widely. “In this study, the shortest mean incubation reported was 1.8 days and the longest incubation was 18.87 days,” they pointed out.

A shortening of the average incubation period for COVID-19 over time could affect recommendations for self-isolation.

“At present, some countries around the world require close contacts to be isolated for 14 days,” Liu’s group said. “However, with the shortening of the incubation period of new variants, the isolation period can be adjusted appropriately to reduce the pressure on the health system.”

The findings were published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Source: HealthDay