The UN’s latest climate meeting ends positively


But there is a lot more to do if global warming is to be stopped

HOSTING COP24, the latest of the UN’s annual climate summits, in Katowice was meant to symbolise the transition from an old, dirty world to a new, clean one. Spiritually, the city is the home of Poland’s coal miners. Today, it is replete with besuited management consultants and bearded baristas. The venue itself was on top of a disused mine in the city centre.

Ahead of the two-week powwow, which concluded on December 15th, many feared the meeting would instead highlight the unresolved contradictions involved in that transition. So it came as a relief when nearly 14,000 delegates from 195 countries managed—more or less, and a day late—to achieve the gathering’s main objective: a “rule book” for putting into practice the Paris agreement of 2015, which commits the world to keeping global warming “well below” 2°C relative to pre-industrial times, and preferably within 1.5°C.

This outcome was far from assured. Setting an abstract goal, as governments had in Paris, is simpler than agreeing on how to go about reaching it. Technicalities—what counts as a reduction in emissions, who monitors countries’ progress and so on—can be politically thorny. Poland’s right-wing government, which presided over the talks, lacks both friends (alienated by, among other things, its anti-democratic attacks on judicial independence) and green credentials. Observers were braced for a diplomatic debacle.

Implementing the judgment of Paris

The summit got off to an inauspicious start. At the outset Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, declared that his country cannot reasonably be expected to give up its 200 years’ worth of coal reserves. In France, his opposite number, Emmanuel Macron, caved in to massive protests and suspended a planned fuel-tax rise intended to help curb greenhouse-gas emissions from transport. Days earlier, Brazil had withdrawn its offer to host next year’s summit after Jair Bolsonaro, the president-elect who takes office in January and who would love to follow his American counterpart, Donald Trump, out of the Paris deal, said his government had no interest.

Despite these early setbacks, negotiators resolved most of 2,800-odd points of contention in the rule book’s pre-summit draft. Michal Kurtyka, the amiable Polish bureaucrat who chaired the proceedings, turned apparent haplessness into a virtue, by leaving delegates space to thrash out their differences.

Poor countries won firmer assurances that rich ones would help pay for their efforts to curb their greenhouse-gas emissions and to adapt to rising sea levels and fiercer floods, droughts, storms and other climate-related problems. The rich world, for its part, cajoled China into accepting uniform guidelines for tallying those emissions. Thus stripped of their most powerful voice, other developing countries reluctantly followed suit. If any cannot meet the standards, they must explain why and present a plan to make amends. This concession, long demanded by the Americans, may not persuade Mr Trump to keep the United States in the deal. But it could make things easier for any successor who wished to re-enter it after Mr Trump has left office.

Besides haggling over the rules, a handful of countries—including big polluters such as Ukraine—used the jamboree to announce plans for more ambitious “nationally determined contributions” (or NDCs, as the voluntary pledges countries submit under the Paris deal are known). The city councils of Melbourne and Sydney, in Australia, joined a growing number of national and local governments intent on phasing out coal. So did Israel and Senegal. In the wake of Brazil’s desertion, Chile stepped in to organise next year’s summit, which convention dictates should happen in Latin America. The Paris compact has thus not come apart at the seams.

Predictably, for negotiations that need to balance the interest of nearly 200 parties, no one leaves Katowice entirely happy. Vulnerable countries, such as small island states imperilled by rising seas, worry that the findings of a recent UN-backed scientific report outlining the dire consequences of another half a degree of warming, on top of the 1°C which has happened since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, have been underplayed. Rich countries grumble that poor ones can still get away with emitting too much carbon dioxide.

Mr Kurtyka was also unable, because of Brazilian objections, to break an impasse on carbon trading. This is an arrangement that allows big belchers of CO{-2} to offset emissions by paying others to forgo some of theirs. Brazil balked at proposals intended to prevent double-counting in such trading, because it believed they penalised its large stockpile of carbon-trading instruments, such as promises not to chop down patches of the Amazon. As a result, the issue has been kicked into the long cassava.

The direction of travel is, nevertheless, correct. Earlier in the meeting Ottmar Edenhofer, a veteran German climate policymaker who is director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, had feared that Katowice would mark “the beginning of the end of the Paris agreement”. For all its shortcomings, the compromise which emerged is not that.

But after all is said and done, the 2°C goal (let alone the 1.5°C aspiration) still remains a distant prospect. The current set of NDCs puts the world on course for more or less 3°C of warming—and Kiribati and the Marshall Islands at risk of submersion. Campaigners, who spiced up the stodgy talks with a dash of sit-ins and marches, were right to decry the lack of ambition as unequal to the task of sparing future generations from climate catastrophe. The rule book is itself no nostrum for the planet’s man-made fever. The only real medicine would be firmer commitment to decarbonising economies. And, as Mr Macron is finding, that medicine can be bitter.

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U.S. Appeals Court Narrows Trump Birth Control Ruling


A U.S. appeals court on Thursday narrowed an order that had blocked President Donald Trump’s administration from enforcing new rules that undermine an Obamacare requirement for employers to provide insurance that covers women’s birth control.

Last year two federal judges, one in Philadelphia and one in Oakland, California, had blocked the government from enforcing rules allowing businesses or nonprofits to obtain exemptions from the contraception policy on moral or religious grounds. The Justice Department appealed both rulings.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said on Thursday the injunction issued in California should not apply nationwide, but only within the five states that sued over the policy. California’s attorney general filed the case, along with AGs in Delaware, Virginia, Maryland and New York.

Despite the 9th Circuit ruling, a nationwide injunction issued by the Philadelphia judge is still in effect while that case is under appeal at the 3rd Circuit, a spokesman for Pennsylvania’s attorney general said on Thursday.

A U.S. Justice Department spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment. At the time the California injunction was issued, a spokeswoman said: “This administration is committed to defending the religious liberty of all Americans.”

One 9th Circuit judge, an appointee of Republican President George H.W. Bush, said he would have revoked the California injunction altogether.

The cases are among several that Democratic state attorneys general filed after the Republican Trump administration revealed the new rules which targeted the contraceptive mandate implemented as part of 2010’s Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.

The rules would let businesses or nonprofits lodge religious or moral objections to obtain an exemption from the law’s mandate that employers provide contraceptive coverage in health insurance with no co-payment.

Conservative Christian activists and congressional Republicans praised the move, while reproductive rights advocates and Democrats criticized it.

The New Internet Police Protecting You From Freedom of Thought and Speech


Before the Internet was launched in 1992, our thoughts, values and beliefs were informed by our family and friends and by the books, magazines and newspapers we read and by what we heard on radio and saw on television. If we wanted to communicate with each other we would pick up the telephone, write a letter or meet face to face.

The Internet changed everything.

The World Wide Web gave us electronic access to free, uncensored information on our computers, tablets and cell phones and the ability to instantly share that information with each other. It connected us together in a virtual public square, where we could do our own research and talk about our personal experiences, and express what we think and believe and how we feel about important issues that affect our lives.

There are three billion people on the Internet communicating with each other. 1 Except for the printing press created in the 15th century, there is no other single means of communication that has had as profound an impact on freedom of thought and speech as the World Wide Web.

Yes, the Internet has changed everything. And, now, everyone needs to know how the Internet is changing.

In the very near future you may not be able to find information about vaccine science, policy and law published on websites like NVIC.org and TheVaccineReaction.org or be able to connect with us on social media platforms to have an open conversation about it. With the cancellation of net neutrality in the U.S. in 2017,3 the two decade forging of public-private business partnerships between governments and politically powerful corporations and institutions has cleared the way for factual information about health to be censored as “fake news” and quietly removed from the Internet if it does not conform with public health policy and government recommendations for use of pharmaceutical and food products.

Has the Internet been hijacked by Wall Street? It sure looks that way.

An electronic wall is being built to block you from getting information you want so you only get information someone else decides you need. An electronic burning of the books has begun, and the people are being silently herded into a virtual Dark Age. While this censorship is starting with conversations about health and vaccination, it will not end there.

Those who have bought and control the Internet now have the power to restrict or block any kind of information they do not want you to see or talk about with your family, friends and others you connect with online.5

So who is doing the judging of what is truth and what is “fake news” online?

The Internet Police Thinking and Speaking for You

Web of Trust6 and Snopes,7 both for-profit enterprises, have attempted to police the Internet for the past decade by rating websites for “trustworthiness” or branding articles published online as “true” or “false,” even as they themselves became embroiled in controversy about trustworthiness.10 But Snopes and Web of Trust are rookies compared to the professional SWAT team hired this year by a new corporation, NewsGuard Technologies, Inc., to rate websites and online publications so, in their own words, they can quote “fight false news, misinformation and disinformation.”11 12 13 14 15 16 17 NewsGuard is collaborating with The Paley Center for Media,18 Google,19 Microsoft,20 21 Publicis,22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 schools, libraries32 and other institutions to protect you and your children from news and perspective they think will harm you and society.

There is no question that “fake news” is a real problem in both mainstream and alternative media when demonstrably false information is deliberately disguised as fact. However, it is also a real problem when demonstrably factual information or perspective is mislabeled as “fake news,” simply because it criticizes government policy or threatens the bottom line of corporations selling government recommended commercial products like liability free vaccines.

One of the most politically powerful public-private partnerships today is the lucrative one that has been forged by the pharmaceutical industry with government,33 34 35 36 37 38 mainstream media39 and wealthy philanthropic foundations with political agendas.40 41 42 43 44 45

NVIC Giving a Voice for the Vaccine Injured, Defending Human Rights

It has been 25 years since the nonprofit charity founded in 1982 by parents of vaccine injured children, the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), began posting vaccine information on the Internet. Our mission is to prevent vaccine injuries and deaths through public education and to protect the ethical principle of informed consent to medical risk taking, which serves as the foundation for the ethical practice of medicine.46 The co-founders and parent representatives of NVIC have a long, transparent public record of consumer advocacy, including working with Congress to secure vaccine safety informing, recording, reporting and research provisions in the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 and serving on federal vaccine advisory committees and testifying in congressional and state legislative hearings.47 48

We represent and give a voice to a vulnerable minority, the ones for whom the risks of vaccination turn out to be 100 percent. But we also represent and give a voice to people who believe that the human right to freedom of thought, speech, conscience and informed consent must be protected.49

Verifiable Facts About Vaccination Not “Fake News”

Ten years before the birth of the Internet, one of the best-kept secrets in America was that vaccines can and do cause injury and death and that some individuals are more vulnerable to being harmed by vaccination. In 1982, an Emmy award winning television documentary DPT: Vaccine Roulette produced by consumer reporter Lea Thompson alerted parents and pediatricians that the whole cell pertussis vaccine in DPT shots could brain damage children.50 51 It was a mainstream media outlet – NBC – that blew the whistle on the pharmaceutical industry’s neglect, and the medical establishment’s denial of DPT vaccine reactions, and the 50-year failure of industry and government to improve the safety of a vaccine mandated for all children to attend school.

These are verifiable facts: the truth, not “fake news.”

Three years later in 1985, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich published DPT: A Shot in the Dark, a book that further documented the risks and failures of the old crude whole cell pertussis vaccine.52 A year later, Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act. In that legislation, for the first time the US government acknowledged that FDA licensed and CDC recommended vaccines can and do injure children.53 54

Since the 1986 Act was passed, the government has awarded four billion dollars in compensation to thousands of children and adults who have suffered permanent injuries, or whose loved ones have died after being given federally licensed and recommended vaccines.55

These are verifiable facts: the truth, not “fake news.”

Between 1991 and 2013, the National Academy of Sciences published a series of reports on vaccine adverse effects.56 These reports confirmed that vaccines can cause brain and immune system disorders, and that genetic, biological and environmental risk factors make some individuals more vulnerable to being harmed but doctors don’t know how to identify them because of gaps in vaccine science.57

These are verifiable facts: the truth, not “fake news.”

More than 684,000 adverse events following vaccination, including hospitalizations, injuries and deaths, have been reported to the federal government since 1990.58 This number is estimated to represent less than one percent of all vaccine adverse events that have actually occurred.59

These are verifiable facts; the truth, not “fake news.”

The U.S. government now recommends that children receive 69 doses of 16 vaccines between the day of birth and age 18, with 50 doses given before the age of six,60 which is triple the number of vaccinations given to children in 1983.61 Almost all of these vaccinations are mandated by states for children to attend school62 and some children are being refused medical care and adults are being fired from their jobs if they don’t get every one of them, even after suffering vaccine reactions and deterioration in health.63 64 65 66 67

Vaccine policy and mandates have helped to create a global vaccine market now projected to bring in a staggering $57 billion dollars for drug companies by 2025.68 69

These are verifiable facts, not “fake news.” But very soon you may not be able to get this information or talk about it online.

It is already happening.

Discrimination and Censorship: NVIC’s Information Targeted Online

Traffic to NVIC’s websites has fallen more than 50 percent since net neutrality was cancelled last year and access to our online information was restricted by suppressive algorithms and rating systems.70

Although NVIC takes a pro-education, pro-informed consent position and does not make vaccine use recommendations, NVIC’s Pinterest account was recently suspended.71 The reason given was that Pinterest takes action “against accounts that repeatedly save content that includes harmful advice, misinformation that targets individuals or protected groups or content that originates from disinformation campaigns” and that Pinterest operators “don’t allow advice when it has immediate or detrimental effects on a Pinner’s health or on public safety. This includes promotion of false cures for terminal or chronic illnesses and anti-vaccination advice,” adding that they rely on “information from national and internationally recognized institutions like the CDC and WHO World Health Organization” to guide their judgments.

NVIC is awaiting the judgment of NewsGuard Technologies about whether our weekly online journal newspaper The Vaccine Reaction will be given a green or red rating, which will send a signal to major search engines and social media platforms with the power to preserve or censor and make information disappear from the Internet.

Censoring Information for The Greater Good?

The new Internet Police scrubbing the World Wide Web of information they do not want you to see or talk about is part of the larger culture war going on today in our country and in many countries.72 73 When it comes to vaccination, discrimination and censorship is justified in the name of public safety and The Greater Good.74 75

Who’s greater good? Who among us in society should be given the power to take away our freedom to seek and obtain knowledge, to engage in rational thinking, to speak in the public square and follow the judgment of our conscience when making decisions about what we are willing to risk our lives and our children’s lives for?

In America, where the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution guarantees civil liberties to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority, we cannot wait any longer to publicly discuss and answer that question. It is a question that needs open public discussion, not censorship, because what is at stake affects not only freedom of thought and speech, but the loss of autonomy, the first and most sacred of all natural rights that protects every one of us from exploitation by wealthy corporations and politically powerful institutions.

Taking Positive Action with Eyes Wide Open and No Fear

In this time of oppression, we cannot know what needs to be done unless we go forward with our eyes wide open, understanding the new reality without fearing it. It is time to collect, preserve and cherish the good books, articles, films, videos and podcasts that have been published about vaccination and share them with our family and friends; time to save and download to our computers and external hard drives the written and video information still online that we want to keep and share with our children and our grandchildren. Time to expand the open public record by attending, testifying at and recording every legislative hearing, every town hall gathering, and every federal vaccine advisory committee meeting where people discuss vaccination or attempt to eliminate the human right to autonomy and censor freedom of thought and speech.

If the doors to the Internet are closing, we can still stand up and speak in the smaller public squares that have always been there. We can come together and talk the old fashioned way, meeting in cafes, hotels, churches and in the privacy of our own homes. We can set up telephone trees and stay in touch by mail the way we did before the Internet. We can still use the World Wide Web to create private messaging and host webinars. We can create new ways of communicating with each other using more secure channels for uncensored conversations about vaccination and health.

No matter what happens to the Internet, the best way to not lose touch with us is to register today for the free online NVIC Advocacy Portal, which is a secure communications network that puts you in electronic contact with your own legislators and provides you with real time information about vaccine-related legislation moving in your state. Taking that action provides us with an address to send you information in the mail, which also happens if you make a charitable donation to NVIC in any amount.

Today, everybody knows somebody who was healthy, got vaccinated and was never healthy again. NVIC has been here for 36 years telling the truth about vaccination and advocating for better quality vaccine science, higher government vaccine safety licensing standards, more humane public health policies and protection of informed consent rights. The truth about vaccination is out there now and the truth will shine bright and clear in the end, no matter who tries to stop it from being known.

It’s your health, your family, your choice and our mission continues: No forced vaccination. Not in America.


Referecnes

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2 Rushe D, Gambino L. US regulator scraps net neutrality rules that protect open internet. The Guardian Dec. 14, 2017.

3 McDonald SM. Net Neutrality’s End Will Let Power Eat the InternetForeign Policy Magazine Oct. 17, 2018.

4 Horgan C. What the Facebook, Google and Twitter algorithms hide from youMacLeans Nov. 8, 2017.

5 Bridle J. Outnumbered: From Facebook and Google to Fake News and Filter-Bubbles. The Guardian Aug. 1, 2018.

6 Web of Trust. About Us.

7 Snopes. About Us and FAQ.

8 Martin AJ. Browsers nix add-on after Web of Trust is caught selling users’ browsing histories: Did the users consent to this? The Register Nov. 7, 2016.

9 Leetaru K. The Daily Mail Snopes Story and Fact Checking the Fact Checkers. Forbes Dec. 22, 2016.

10 VanGrove J. Who owns Snopes.com? Dispute puts future of fact-checking site in question. San Diego Union July 24, 2017.

11 NewsGuard. Website Homepage of NewsGuard Technologies, Inc. and About Us: Why Should You Trust Us?

12 US Securities and Exchange Commission. NewGuard Technologies, Inc. Notice of Exempt Offering of Securities Mar. 5, 2018.

13 NewsGuard Technologies, Inc. Brill and Crovitz Announce Launch of NewsGuard to Fight Fake News. Mar. 5, 2018.

14 Morgan D. New venture aims to combat “fake news” on social media with warning labelsCBS News Mar. 5, 2018.

15 Varshney A. NewsGuard – The Truth Potion For Fake NewsTech Week June 27, 2018.

16 Lapowsky I. : NewsGuard Wants to Fight Fake News with Humans, Not AlgorithmsWired Magazine Aug. 23, 2018.

17 NewsGuard Technologies, Inc. NewGuards’ Misinformation SWAT Team Issues Red Ratings to Two Networks Publishing Dozens of Hoax Websites. Oct. 29, 2018.

18 Mercola J. Beware: New Plan to Censor Health WebsitesMercola Newsletter Dec. 4, 2018.

19 Abrams L. NewsGuard Browser Extension Aims to Alert You to Fake News Sites. Bleeping Computer Aug. 26, 2018.

20 Fischer S. NewsGuard launches first product with help from Microsoft. Axios Aug. 23, 2018.

21 Burt T. Defending against disinformation in partnership with NewsGuard Microsoft Aug. 23, 2018.

22 Publicis Groupe. Brill and Crovitz Announce Launch of NewsGuard to Fight Fake News. Global Newswire Mar. 3, 2018.

23 AdBrands. Publicis Health: Advertising and Marketing Assignments. June 22, 2018.

24 PDI A Publicis Health Company. Pharmaceutical Sales Strategies for Vaccines.

25 Bloomberg. Publicis Groupe SA and Board Committees and Members

26 Publicis Groupe. Publicis Groupe Announces Important Nominations and its Transformation Plan. Business Wire Dec. 2, 2015.

27 Microsoft. Publicis Groups and Microsoft announce partnership for Marcel AI platform. Jan. 29, 2018.

28 Weissbrot A. How Publicis Media Helps Clients Navigate the Convergence of Media and Commerce. AdExchanger Apr. 25, 2018.

29 Bloomberg. Publicis Groupe’s Levy Sees Ad Industry Heading the Way of Retail. Bloomberg’s The David Rubenstein Show July 11, 2018.

30 Oster E. GSK Sends $1.5 Billion Media Account to PublicisAd Week Oct. 5, 2018.

31 Publicis Groupe. 2017 Annual Results. Publicis Health (Novartis (USA), Genentech (USA), Shire (USA), Adapt (USA), AMAG (USA), Sunovion (USA), Clinigen Group (Global), Purdue (USA), Merck & Co (USA), Intarcia Therapeutics (USA), Flexion Therapeutics (USA), AbbVie (USA), Ipsen (USA), Emmaus Life Sciences (USA), Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical (USA), AcelRx Pharmaceuticals (USA), Merck KGaA (USA), Roche (UK), AstraZeneca (USA), Hospital Corporation of America (USA), Stryker Corporation (USA), Swanson Health Products (USA), Alcon Laboratories (USA), Boehringer Ingelheim (USA), Paratek Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer Inc. (USA), Biogen Inc. (USA), Galderma (Europe). Feb. 8, 2018.

32 NewsGuard Technologies, Inc. Free Browser Plug In for Libraries and Educators.

33 National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Public Private Partnerships.

34 NVIC. How NIH Uses U.S. Tax Dollars to Secure Profits for Vaccine Developers and ManufacturersThe Vaccine Reaction May 2, 2018.

35 Perry S. Revelations of CDC’s industry funding raise questions about some of its decisionsMinn Post May 28, 2015.

36 Biotechnology Industry Organization. BIO Praises Vaccine Access, Certainty, and Innovation Act of 2015. BIO Press Release Feb. 6, 2015. List of BIO members, including AstraZeneca, BioCSL, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, MedImmune, Merck, Monsanto, Novartis, Pfizer, Sanofi Pasteur.

37 Hilzik M. The 21st Century Cures Act: A huge handout to the drug industry disguised as a pro-research bountyLos Angeles Times Dec. 5, 2016.

38 NVIC. National Vaccine Information Center Calls 21st Century Cures Act “A Worlf in Sheep’s Clothing” and Urges Presidential Veto to Protect Public HealthBusinessWire Dec. 8, 2016.

39 Rein L. Public relations and advertising are a ‘black box’ in government spendingWashington Post Oct. 14, 2015.

40 Gates Foundation. Bill and Melinda Gates Pledge $10 Billion in Call for Decade of Vaccines. January 2010.

41 GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance. About Us and Partnering with Business

42 Storeng KT. The GAVI Alliance and the ‘Gates approach’ to health system strengthening. Global Public Health 2014; 9(8): 865-879.

43 Birn AE. Philanthrocapitalism, past and present: The Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation and the setting(s) of the international/global health agendaHypothesis 2014; 12(1).

44 Belluz J. The media loves the Gates Foundation. These experts are more skepticalVox June 10, 2015.

45 Curtis M. Gated Development: Is the Gates Foundation Always A Force for Good? Global Justice Now June 2016.

46 National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC). About Us.

47 NVIC. Barbara Loe Fisher, NVIC Co-Founder Bio.

48 Fisher BL, Williams K, Wrangham TK. NVIC Statement to GAO on Implementation of the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) in the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986. July 11, 2014.

49 Fisher BL. The Moral Right to Philosophical, Conscientious and Personal Beief Exemption to Vaccination. National Vaccine Advisory Committee Presentation May 2, 1997.

50 Trebbe AL. Local TV Honors Its Own Channel 4 and 7 Sweep EmmysWashington Post June 27, 1983.

51 NBC. Lea Thompson, “Dateline NBC” Correspondent.

52 Institute of Medicine. Appendix B: Pertussis Vaccines: A Brief Chronology (1985). In: Adverse Effects of Pertussis and Rubella Vaccines; National Academies Press 1991. https://www.nap.edu/read/1815/chapter/13

53 NVIC. National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986.

54 Myers PH. Fixing the Flaws in the Federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. 63 Admin. L. Rev. 785 (2011).

55 HRSA. Vaccine Injury Compensation Program Data. Nov. 1, 2018.

56 NVIC. Institute of Medicine Reports and NVIC Statements.

57 Institute of Medicine Committee to Review Adverse Effects of Vaccines. Evaluation of Biologic Mechanisms of Adverse Effects: Increased Susceptibility. (p. 82). Washington, D.C. The National Academies Press 2012.

58 MedAlerts. Search the VAERS Database: 684552 Cases in the Database. Data as of Oct. 14, 2018.

59 Ross L. Electronic Support for Public Health Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (ESP: VAERS). Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) 2011.

60 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Recommended Immunization Schedules for Persons Aged 0 Through 18 Years, United States, 2018.

61 CDC. Recommended schedule for active immunization of normal infants and children 1983.

62 NVIC. State Law and Vaccine Requirements.

63 American Academy of Pediatrics. Medical Versus Nonmedical Exemptions for Child Care and School AttendancePediatrics August 2016.

64 Edwards K, Hackell JM. Countering Vaccine Hesitancy. Pediatrics 2016; 138(3).

65 Nelson R. New AAP Policy on Patient Dismissal for Vaccine Refusal May “Erode Solidarity” Among PediatriciansInfectious Disease Advisor May 24, 2018.

66 Tuttle B. Workers are Being Fired for Refusing to Get Flu Shots. Time Nov. 15, 2015.

67 NVIC. Cry for Vaccine Freedom Wall.

68 Meticulous Market Research. With 7.9% CAGR Vaccines Market to Hit $57.5 Billon by 2025MedGadget Nov. 19, 2018.

69 Market Study Report. United States Vaccines Market is Projected to Reach US$21 Billion threshold by 2025PM Live Nov. 23, 2018.

70 Jones B. Welcome to 2018. There’s No Net Neutrality. We Made Dystopia a Reality. Futurism Nov. 22, 2017.

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72 Fisher BL. Vaccination: Defending Your Right to Know and Freedom to Choose. NVIC Newsletter Nov. 3, 2014.

73 Martin B. Censorship and free speech in scientific controversiesScience and Public Policy 2015; 42(3): 377-386.

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75 Debate.org. Is censorship of the Internet for the greater good?

Yemen: The impact of war on people’s lives


Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) humanitarian affairs officer Alex Dunne writes from Yemen, where years of conflict have decimated public health systems and left millions without access to care. A version of this article was originally published in the Irish Independent.

Some days, as I get ready to go to work here in Sana’a, I hear the deep drone sound of fighter jets from the Saudi-Emirati Led Coalition (SELC) fly overhead. Since the escalation of the current conflict in 2015, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical facilities have been hit by airstrikes several times, with deadly and life-changing consequences for patients, staff, and the communities which depend on the services.

MSF staff have also been detained and shot at. An explosive device has been planted in one of our hospitals, and, in perhaps the most egregious attack, armed men entered an MSF-supported hospital and shot at a patient while he was lying on the operating table. Miraculously, he survived.

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Yemen:

Yemen: The impact of war on people’s lives

Recently, we took the difficult decision to close one of our projects in the governorate of Ad Dhale, southern Yemen. The decision was taken after a string of security issues, which culminated in a targeted attack on our staff house and a subsequent attack on our supported hospital several days after.

Far from being unique, these incidents are simply further examples of the most vulnerable populations in Yemen being denied the lifesaving aid they need.

The medical needs across Yemen

MSF significantly increased its work in Yemen at escalation of the conflict. As of today, we have treated some 110,000 patients for cholera, delivered nearly 60,000 babies, and provided medical care to over 800,000 emergency room patients. We have been responding to the needs of the population as best as we can but the medical humanitarian gap that exits in the country is huge—even in comparison to other conflicts to which we have responded.

A father holds his child at the neonatal department of the MSF “Mother and Child” Hospital in Taiz.
YEMEN 2018 © Matteo Bastianelli

Working right across the country—and on both sides of frontlines—the medical concerns we see are either a direct result or a consequence of this brutal and underreported conflict.

Since fighting began, the public health system in Yemen has essentially collapsed. Public medical facilities have an extremely limited supply of medicines, and salaries for medical staff have largely not been paid since August 2016. It is difficult to comprehend the scale of the crisis but picture [Ireland’s] Health Service Executive (HSE) unable to pay its staff for nearly three years and you can better imagine the current state of medical care in Yemen. And health care is only one of the essential services upon which the population depends for survival that has been degraded by the conflict.

This degradation is having a devastating impact on the health of Yemen’s 27 million people and is a result of Yemen’s ongoing conflict, embargo, attacks against medical facilities and an economy pushed into freefall—from both internal and external forces.

As a result, the medical consequences of the conflict we witness in our hospitals are not ordinary—but they are relatively predictable in such a situation. We see a resurgence in deadly vaccine preventable diseases (cholera, measles, and diphtheria), a monumental gap in maternal and pediatric care, acute hunger, and an urgent need for an increase in care for war-wounded patients.

This is without even considering the lack of capacity to adequately treat noncommunicable and chronic illnesses requiring treatment such as cancer, diabetes, and [kidney disease]. MSF can only monitor and treat these diseases as best we can, all across the country.

Although these outcomes are comparable to what we witness working in other conflict zones, the scale of their impact is further compounded by the practical disregard of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict here in Yemen.

The need for a massive scale-up of humanitarian aid

There needs to be a massive increase in quality, independent, primary health care in Yemen. We have been calling for this over the past three years, yet we still do not witness the type of improvement needed on the ground.

What we do see is that humanitarian actors are facing obstructions in their work from all parties and at all levels. Organizations operating in Yemen are often constrained by “administrative” hurdles in assessing locations and providing relief in many parts of Yemen. This results in an inability to adequately monitor and assess the impact of their programs across the country.

Every day, MSF faces these challenges too—in the import of lifesaving drugs, the securing of exit and entry visas, and in ensuring the safe movements our medical humanitarian staff. Nevertheless, in spite of these risks, we are doing all we can to provide lifesaving care in the country.

Humanitarian dilemma

Another dilemma faced in Yemen is that the main parties in the conflict, Saudi Arabia, UAE, USA, and the UK, are also the main donors of humanitarian assistance via the UN—providing some 71 percent of the relief assistance in 2018. Bombing hospitals with one hand and writing the check to rebuild them with the other distorts the perception—and security—of aid and independent humanitarian organizations in Yemen like ourselves. States not linked to this conflict should further increase their humanitarian funding to respond to this crisis.

Light at the end of the tunnel for UN climate talks


KATOWICE, Poland (AP) — A deal on the rules that govern the Paris climate accord appeared within grasp Saturday, as officials from almost 200 countries worked to bridge remaining differences after two weeks of U.N. talks in Poland.

The 2015 Paris Agreement was a landmark moment in international diplomacy, bringing together governments with vastly different views to tackle the common threat of global warming. But while the accord set a headline target of keeping average global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) — or 1.5 C (2.7 F) if possible — much of the fine print was left unfinished.

The meeting in Poland’s southern city of Katowice was meant to finalize how countries report their emissions of greenhouses gases — a key factor in man-made climate change — and the efforts they’re taking to reduce them. Poor countries also wanted assurances on financial support to help them cut emissions, adapt to inevitable changes such as sea level rise and pay for damage that’s already happened.

“We’ve come a long way,” Canada’s environment minister, Catherine McKenna, told The Associated Press ahead of a planned plenary meeting Saturday afternoon. “There’s been really late negotiations, there’s been big group negotiations, there’s been shuttle diplomacy all through the night, and now we are coming to the wire.”

One major sticking point during the talks was how to create a functioning market in carbon credits. Economists believe an international trading system could be an effective way to drive down emissions and raise large amounts of money for measures to curb global warming.

“We want billions to flow into trillions. And I’m someone who believes that it’s not just about national governments,” McKenna said. “Ultimately the market is going to play a huge role in the cleaner solutions that we need, supporting countries and being efficient and how we do this.”

Emerging economies such as Brazil have pushed back against rich countries’ demands to cancel piles of carbon credits still lingering from a system set up under the 1997 Kyoto accord. “There are still a range of possible outcomes and Brazil continues to work constructively with other parties to find a workable pathway forward,” said the country’s chief negotiator, Antonio Marcondes.

The talks in Poland took place against a backdrop of increasing concern among scientists that global warming is proceeding faster than governments are responding to it. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that while it’s possible to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial times, this will require a dramatic overhaul of the global economy including a shift away from fossil fuels.

Alarmed by efforts to include this in the final text of the meeting, the U.S., Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait blocked endorsement of the report mid-way through the talks, prompting uproar from vulnerable countries and environmental groups.

While some officials questioned the format of the meeting, which has grown to a huge event with tens of thousands of participants, the head of Greenpeace International, Jennifer Morgan, stressed how important it was to bring all countries of the world together on the issue.

“We need a multilateral process especially for the poorest and smallest countries that don’t go to G-20,” she said, referring to the Group of 20 major and emerging economies that met recently in Argentina. “But the lack of ambition by some rich countries, like the European Union, is worrying, especially as we are staring the 1.5 report in the face.”

The Doomsday Clock is now 2.5 minutes to midnight, but what does that really mean?


It’s later than you think.

 

It made headlines recently when the Doomsday Clock was shifted from three minutes to midnight to a new setting of two and a half minutes to midnight.

That is the nearest the clock has been to midnight for more than fifty years. The body responsible for the clock said, “the probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon”.

 It should be an urgent warning to world leaders.

The idea of a Doomsday Clock was conceived by the editorial staff of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which was founded by many of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project.

When that publication graduated from being an internal newsletter among the nuclear science community to being a formal magazine in 1947, the clock appeared on the cover. The magazine’s founders said the clock symbolised:

the urgency of the nuclear dangers that [we] – and the broader scientific community – are trying to convey to the public and political leaders around the world.

The clock was set at seven minutes to midnight. Two years later, with the news that a nuclear weapon had been tested by the USSR, the communist state centred on modern Russia, the clock was moved to 11.57.

In 1953, the USA first tested the hydrogen bomb, a fusion weapon much more powerful than the fission bombs that had destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

 The USSR followed a few months later and the clock was advanced to 11.58 with a warning there was a real chance that:

from Moscow to Chicago, atomic explosions will strike midnight for Western civilisation.

Then there was a period of modest progress. It gradually became apparent that the new weapons were so powerful that only a deranged leader would consider using them against a similarly armed enemy, given the inevitability of catastrophic retaliation.

In 1963, after they had been continuously testing more and more deadly weapons, the USA and the USSR signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited atmospheric testing. The clock was moved back to 11.48.

It was a false dawn. The two super-powers simply shifted their testing of new weapons to underground facilities, while other countries such as Britain, France and China developed their own nuclear arsenals.

doomsday-clock

The clock gradually moved closer and closer to midnight until the mid-1980s when it stood at 11.57. Then Mikhail Gorbachev assumed the leadership of the USSR and began a series of negotiations to ease tensions and reduce the risk of nuclear war.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 effectively marked the end of the so-called Cold War between communism and capitalism. The subsequent collapse of the USSR led to large reductions in the nuclear arsenals, and by 1991 the clock had moved back to 11.43.

Once again, there were optimistic hopes of an era of peace and an end to the threat of nuclear weapons. It was not to be. The political system in the US made it almost impossible to scale back arms production.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, negotiated in the 1970s, aimed to prevent the spread of weapons beyond the five nations that had already acquired them.

But those countries did not implement their promise to disarm, so inevitably other nations decided that they would be more secure if they had nuclear weapons: India, Pakistan and Israel. The clock moved forward again year by year, reaching 11.53 by 2002.

New threats

Since then, the managers of the Doomsday Clock have added new threats to the original fear of nuclear war. In 2007, they said “climate change also presents a dire challenge to humanity” and advanced the clock to 11.55.

More recent annual reports have warned that:

international leaders are failing to perform their most important duty – ensuring and preserving the health and vitality of human civilisation.

The change should be welcomed. Even if nuclear weapons did not exist, climate change and the accelerating loss of biodiversity are serious threats.

Damage to ecosystems is already taking place; climate change is causing loss of life and property, as well as affecting natural systems.

At the same time, the nations with nuclear weapons are still testing new devices and more sophisticated delivery systems.

The number of weapons has dropped from its peak of over 60,000 to about 10,000. But that is still enough firepower to wipe out civilisation several times over.

And there are new players, including North Korea and perhaps Iran. As the 2017 report said:

It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.

This really is a call to arms and deserves more attention from our media.

What’s Hot at 2014 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium?


The San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium is the largest meeting on this subject in the world, and once again promises to have breaking news for clinicians who treat this disease. Medscape Medical News reports a few hints about what will be presented this year after interviewing all 3 of the symposium cochairs.

“The meeting is being held here for the 37th consecutive year,” noted Ismail Jatoi, MD, PhD, professor and chief of the division of surgical oncology and endocrine surgery at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, which is a partner for the meeting. “It draws participants from around the world, and it offers a global forum for discussion and exchange of ideas on breast cancer research, and on the diagnosis and treatment of the disease.”

Kent Osborne, MD, from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, which is another partner for the meeting, noted that for the last few years there has been a focus on HER2-positive (HER2+) breast cancer, with several new targeted agents showing large benefits. But this year there is more of a focus on estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer, he said.

This is a much larger patient population — about 75% of all breast cancers are ER+ compared with about 20% to 25% that are HER2+.

Endocrine therapy plays a big role in the treatment of ER+ breast cancer, so when resistance develops, it creates a big problem. Research into elucidating the pathways involved in the development of endocrine resistance has shown that one pathway involved is PI3 kinase (PI3K), and the hope is that inhibiting this pathway could potentially restore responsiveness to endocrine therapy.

PI3K inhibitors are a relatively new class of agents, and they are looking for a place in breast cancer, Dr Osborne commented.

The first report of a blinded, randomized clinical study evaluating a PI3K inhibitor in patients with metastatic breast cancer (Abstract S2-02) will be presented at the meeting. The PI3K inhibitor in the study is pictilisib (under development by Genentech), and it is being used in combination with fulvestrant, compared with fulvestrant alone, in patients who progressed after first-line therapy with an aromatase inhibitor (AI) in metastatic disease.

“I think this is important, as this is a first,” said Carlos Arteaga, MD, director of the breast cancer program at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, Tennessee. He is also current president of the American Association for Cancer Research, another of the three partners for the meeting.

“It will be interesting to see the results of this trial, Dr Osborne said.”I think the expectation is that blocking this secondary inhibitory pathway as well as the endocrine receptor will be beneficial.”
Dr Arteaga noted that about 40% of patients with ER+ breast cancer have a PI3K mutation, but it is not clear if that mutation is causally associated with the development of resistance to treatment. “So from this study we will be able to see if this approach is helpful only in women who have this mutation, or in the whole population,” he commented.

Is Ovarian Suppression Necessary?

A much anticipated presentation at the meeting concerns the remaining results from the Suppression of Ovarian Function Trial (SOFT), specifically the results from the portion of that trial that compared tamoxifen alone with tamoxifen in addition to ovarian suppression for the adjuvant treatment of young women with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer (Abstract S3-08).

These results are eagerly anticipated, as they will give context to previous results already reported from SOFT and also from the Tamoxifen and Exemestane Trial (TEXT). A joint analysis from both of these trials was presented earlier this year at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting and simultaneously published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

This joint analysis showed that when the drugs were used together with ovarian suppression, the aromatase inhibitor exemestane was significantly better than tamoxifen at reducing breast cancer recurrence.

However, at the time the results were presented, experts questioned the need for ovarian suppression — which was achieved in these premenopausal women (median age 43 years by use of triptorelin, a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonist, or by oophorectomy or ovarian radiation.

“We need to figure out who really needs this because an AI plus ovarian suppression is going to have more toxicity than just tamoxifen,” said Claudine Isaacs, MD, from the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, DC.

Dr Isaacs, who was not involved in the studies, explained that in the United States tamoxifen alone is the adjuvant endocrine standard of care for premenopausal women. She and several other experts said at the time that they would wait to see the remaining results from SOFT — which will now be presented in San Antonio — before making up their minds about this new adjuvant treatment approach.

Dr Arteaga commented that the results from the joint analysis of SOFT and TEXT had already led to some “shift in thinking.” He has colleagues who have used the approach of exemestane and ovarian suppression in patients who were at high risk, for example with a lot of positive nodes.

But will the new data support wider use of this two-pronged approach?

A major consideration for patients during and after treatment is quality of life, and this will be reported for the two tamoxifen arms of SOFT, with and without ovarian suppression, in a related presentation (Abstract S3-08).

First Data on PD Inhibition in Breast Cancer

Novel immunotherapies that act by inhibiting the programmed death (PD) pathway have shown some very exciting results in melanoma and some other cancers, Dr Osborne commented. These immune checkpoint inhibitors are showing benefits even in difficult-to-treat tumor types.

“Now at this meeting we will be hearing the very first results with PD inhibition in breast cancer,” Dr Osborne said. They come from a Phase 1b trial with pembrolizumab (Keytruda, Merck & Co) in patients with advanced triple-negative breast cancer, some of whom had been heavily pretreated patients and had recurrent/metastatic disease (Abstract S1-09).

Another first is the Phase 3 randomized trial that compares accelerated partial breast irradiation using intensity-modulated radiotherapy versus whole breast irradiation; Five-year survival results will be reported (Abstract S5-03).

There will also be a special session on radiotherapy for breast cancer in countries with limited resources. “We are seeing more and more participants from developing countries, so this will be relevant to them, but it should be of interest to everyone who uses this modality,” commented Dr Jatoi.

Long-Term Data on Chemoprevention

The meeting will also hear for the first time very long-term results from the use of tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer in women who are at high risk for the disease. Results will be presented for 16 years of follow-up (Abstract S3-07) from the International Breast Cancer Intervention Study I, which randomized over 7000 patients to tamoxifen or placebo for five years.

Much of the data to date in this field of chemoprevention has been from short-term follow-up, Dr Osborne commented, and this shows that blocking the estrogen receptor does lead to a decrease in breast cancer incidence in the short-term (5 to 7 years’ follow-up).

However, as Dr Arteaga pointed out, ER+ve breast cancer has a very long latency, and late recurrences, so “these early results cannot be seen as a final victory,” he said.

“We will have to see if this holds up over time,” Dr Osborne commented. There has been some speculation that in the short term, the estrogen blockade is actually inhibiting very small breast cancers that were already there, but could not be detected, he explained.

“So some of this short-term effect is actually suppression rather than prevention,” Dr Osborne commented. “But now with these long-term results, we will have a real idea of the prevention effect.”

These long-term data will also give a better picture of the side effects of chemoprevention, which is not widely used mainly because of concern over potential toxicity, both experts commented.

Long-term Results on Fat Reduction Diet

Another set of long-term results will be presented for a diet intervention study (Abstract S5-08), specifically the final survival analysis at a median of 15 years’ follow-up from the Women’s Intervention Nutrition Study.

This study was conducted in nearly 2500 women with early-stage breast cancer (79% ER+) who received standard care; half were randomized to the diet intervention arm of the study, which specifically targeted fat intake reduction through regular individual counseling sessions with dieticians.

After a median of five years on this low-fat eating plan, the women in this intervention arm had significantly reduced fat intake (from 29.2% to 20.3% of calories, P < .0001) and had significant weight loss (-2.7 kg, P = .005), whereas the women in the control group showed no change.

But did this lifestyle intervention improve overall survival? The answer will be revealed in a late-breaking presentation (Abstract S5-08).

Will TILs Data Inform Response?

Dr Arteaga drew attention to a new analysis of the Alliance N9831 trial that will look at correlations between the presence of stromal tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) and the clinical outcomes with adjuvant trastuzumab (Herceptin, Genentech; Abstract S1-06).

“I think this is important because one of the concepts of how trastuzumab works is that it brings immune cells to tumor cells, and facilitates the destruction of HER-2 tumor cells by host immune cells,” he explained. If these results show a correlation between TILs and benefit from adjuvant therapy with trastuzumab, they may lead the way to “a refinement” in the use of adjuvant HER2- therapy, he suggested.

This may lead to a way of identifying which women are likely to do well on trastuzumab alone, and which women may need more potent HER2 therapy, such as trastuzumab in combination with another HER2 targeted agent (eg, lapatinib (Tykerb, GlaxoSmithKline), pertuzumab (Perjeta, Genentech), or TDM-1 ado-trastuzumab emtansine (Kadcyla, Genentech). “These are very costly drugs, and not everyone needs a combination…so these data may help us to make rational choices,” Dr Arteaga commented.

He also highlighted the BOLERO-1 study, again in HER2 breast cancer, but in patients with advanced disease who are receiving trastuzumab plus chemotherapy, plus or minus everolimus as first-line line therapy (Abstract S6-01). “There are no data on this, so I expect a large audience to come and listen to these results,” he said.

One focus for the educational sessions is triple-negative breast cancer, which is “particularly difficult to treat, because we have no targeted therapies,” commented Dr Jatoi. “At the moment, the only treatment we have to offer these patients is chemotherapy,” he said. “This is an area of research that is obviously very important…and I think it will continue to be important for some time, as more and more people around the world look for ways of better ways of treating this disease.”

Another area of intense research is hereditary breast cancer, which accounts for about 10% of the disease. “We need to learn how to better tailor treatments for women who harbor the mutations, but also how to manage women who are at increased risk of breast cancer because they have these mutations…we can offer the screening, surgery, chemoprevention,” he said.

Dr Jatoi himself will be chairing a session on contralateral prophylactic mastectomy (CPM), rates of which are increasing around the world, he said. “Women who have unilateral breast cancer are choosing to have both breasts removed…this is a perplexing trend,” he commented. It’s perplexing because the rates for contralateral breast cancer are decreasing, but the rates for CPM are increasing, and they are increasing dramatically, he said. It is not just in the United States, he noted, it has also been reported in Europe and Asia. The increase also cannot be entirely explained by increased testing for BRCA mutations (which increase the risk for breast cancer, and for which prophylactic mastectomy can be recommended). This topic will be explored in the Critical Science Forum, held from 1 PM to 2 PM, on Wednesday, December 10.

Ebola can be turned into bioweapon, Russian & UK experts warn .


Concerns that the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly a 1,000 lives in West Africa in recent months, can be used by as biological weapon are far from being groundless, Russia’s Federal Medical-Biological Agency (FMBA) said.

A handout picture taken and released on August 7, 2014 by the Spanish Defense Ministry shows Roman Catholic priest Miguel Pajares, who contracted the deadly Ebola virus, being transported from Madrid's Torrejon air base to the Carlos III hospital upon his arrival in Spain. (AFP Photo)

“Such possibility exists,” Vladimir Nikiforov, who heads the Department of Infectious Diseases at the FMBA’s Institution of Advanced Training, acknowledged at a press conference in Moscow.

“Actually, this virus can be used in the form of a spray, which can lead to very big trouble,” the disease expert is cited as saying by the RIA-Novosti news agency.

It’s very hard to track down efforts to create bioweapons, despite the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in place since 1972, he said.

“Biological weapons are nothing like a nuclear bomb… In order to make a nuclear bomb, one would require a uranium mine, a nuclear power plant and so on,” but biological weapons “are made in a small laboratory, which can be easily camouflaged,” Nikiforov said.

“You know that there are rogue states. And here’s the thing, I can’t guarantee that some country isn’t preparing something of the kind,” he added.

AFP Photo/Leon Neal

Nikiforov words are echoed by his counterpart from Cambridge University, Dr Peter Walsh, who warned the UK public that a terrorist could use the Ebola virus to create a dirty bomb.

The biological anthropologist told the Sun newspaper that he fears “large number of horrific deaths” if “a group manages to harness the virus as a power then explodes it as a bomb in a highly populated public area.”

According to Walsh, there are just a few labs in the world, which possess the Ebola virus, and they are extremely well-protected.

“So the risk is that a terrorist group may seek to obtain the virus out in West Africa,”
he said.

At least 961 people have died in the Ebola outbreak, which started in Guinea this March. It quickly spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, infecting in total over 1,700 people.

On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced an international health emergency over Ebola, calling the current outbreak the most severe since the virus was first identified in humans back in 1976.

“The likelihood is that things [with Ebola] will get worse before they get better,”
Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s head of health security, warned.

Meanwhile, the US health authorities have eased safety restrictions on an experimental TKM-Ebola drug, which could clear the way for its use to treat patients infected with the deadly virus.

On Thursday, Russia’s former chief medical officer, Gennady Onischenko, said that he can’t rule out the possibility that the Western African outbreak is suspicious.

“I am concerned about the prevalence and pathogenicity of the situation, which is too much even for Ebola. Too many people are dying. I don’t rule out that there’s something artificial here… What is happening with Ebola there, could there also be something man-made about it?”
he said.

Perovskite solar cells become even more promising with cheaper materials.


Due to their rapid improvements in a short amount of time, perovskite solar cells have become one of today’s most promising up-and-coming photovoltaic technologies. Currently, the record efficiency for a perovskite solar cell is 15% and expected to improve further. Although the perovskite material itself is relatively inexpensive, the best devices commonly use an expensive organic hole-conducting polymer, called spiro-OMeTAD, which has a commercial price that is more than 10 times that of gold and platinum.

perovskite solar cells

In a new study, Jeffrey A. Christians, Raymond C. M. Fung, and Prashant V. Kamat from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana have found that copper iodide, an inexpensive inorganic hole-conducting material, may serve as a possible alternative to spiro-OMeTAD. Although the efficiency of perovskite solar cells containing copper iodide measured in this study is not quite as high as those containing spiro-OMeTAD, the copper iodide devices exhibit some other advantages that, overall, suggest that they could lead to the development of inexpensive, high-efficiency perovskite solar cells.

“The hole conductor is currently the most expensive part of perovskite solar cells,” Christians told Phys.org. “Other organic hole conductor alternatives to spiro-OMeTAD have been investigated, but these alternatives still remain very expensive. This is the first reported inorganic hole conductor for perovskite solar cells, and is much less expensive than previously reported hole conductor materials. This low-cost hole conductor could further lower the cost of these already inexpensive solar cells.”

Perovskite solar cells, as a whole, are attractive because perovskite is a class of materials with a particular crystal structure that is the same as that of calcium titanium dioxide. This structure gives solar cells high charge-carrier mobilities and long diffusion lengths, allowing the photo-generated electrons and holes to travel long distances without energy loss. As a result, the electrons and holes can travel through thicker solar cells, which absorb more light and therefore generate more electricity than thin ones.

Although this study marks the first time that copper iodide has been investigated for use as hole conductors in perovskite solar cells, copper-based hole conductors have previously shown promise for use in dye-sensitized and quantum dot-sensitized solar cells. Part of their appeal is their high conductivity. In fact, copper iodide hole conductors exhibit an electrical conductivity that is two orders of magnitude higher than spiro-OMeTAD, which allows for a higher fill factor, which in turn determines the solar cell’s maximum power.

Despite the copper iodide’s high conductivity, the results of the current study showed that perovskite solar cells made with copper iodide hole conductors have a power conversion efficiency of 6.0%, lower than the 7.9% measured here for cells with spiro-OMeTAD hole conductors. The researchers attribute this shortcoming to the fact that spiro-OMeTAD solar cells have exceptionally high voltages. In the future, they think that the voltages of copper iodide solar cells can be increased, in particular by reducing the high recombination rate. The researchers calculated that, if they could achieve the highest parameter values observed in this study, the resulting copper iodide solar cell would have an efficiency of 8.3%.

The researchers also observed that the copper iodide solar cells exhibited another surprising advantage, which is good stability. After two hours of continuous illumination, the copper iodide cells showed no decrease in current, while the current of the spiro-OMeTAD cells decreased by about 10%. The researchers plan to further improve the devices in the future.

“We are currently working to understand the cause of the low voltage in copper iodide-based perovskite solar cells,” Christians said. “With further work, we aim to increase the stability and improve the efficiency of these solar cells above 10%.

“The biggest challenge facing perovskite solar cells is long-term stability in a wide range of environments. The efficiency of the best perovskite solar cells is competitive with current commercial technologies, and they are potentially much cheaper. However, commercial solar cells must last 20-30 years with minimal degradation, and whether or not perovskite  are capable of this type of long-term stability is currently an unanswered question.”

Quantum Computers Check Each Other’s Work.


Image courtesy of Equinox Graphics

Check it twice. Quantum computers rely on these clusters of entangled qubits—units of data that embody many states at once—to achieve superspeedy processing. New research shows one such computer can verify the solutions of another.

Quantum computers can solve problems far too complex for normal computers, at least in theory. That’s why research teams around the globe have strived to build them for decades. But this extraordinary power raises a troubling question: How will we know whether a quantum computer’s results are true if there is no way to check them? The answer, scientists now reveal, is that a simple quantum computer—whose results humans can verify—can in turn check the results of other dramatically more powerful quantum machines.

Quantum computers rely on odd behavior of quantum mechanics in which atoms and other particles can seemingly exist in two or more places at once, or become “entangled” with partners, meaning they can instantaneously influence each other regardless of distance. Whereas classical computers symbolize data as bits—a series of ones and zeroes that they express by flicking switchlike transistors either on or off—quantum computers use quantum bits (qubits) that can essentially be on and off at the same time, or in any on/off combination, such as 32% on and 68% off.

Because each qubit can embody so many different states, quantum computers could compute certain classes of problems dramatically faster than regular computers by running through every combination of possibilities at once. For instance, a quantum computer with 300 qubits could perform more calculations in an instant than there are atoms in the universe.

Currently, all quantum computers involve only a few qubits “and thus can be easily verified by a classical computer, or on a piece of paper,” says quantum physicist Philip Walther of the University of Vienna. But their capabilities could outstrip conventional computers “in the not-so-far future,” he warns, which raises the verification problem.

Scientists have suggested a few ways out of this conundrum that would involve computers with large numbers of qubits or two entangled quantum computers. But these still lie outside the reach of present technology.

Now, quantum physicist Stefanie Barz at the University of Vienna, along with Walther and their colleagues, has a new strategy for verification. It relies on a technique known as blind quantum computing, an idea which they first demonstrated in a 2012 Science paper. A quantum computer receives qubits and completes a task with them, but it remains blind to what the input and output were, and even what computation it performed.

To test a machine’s accuracy, the researchers peppered a computing task with “traps”—short intermediate calculations to which the user knows the result in advance. “In case the quantum computer does not do its job properly, the trap delivers a result that differs from the expected one,” Walther explains. These traps allow the user to recognize when the quantum computer is inaccurate, the researchers report online today in Nature Physics. The results show experimentally that one quantum computer can verify the results of another, and that theoretically any size of quantum computer can verify any other, Walther says.

The existence of undetectable errors will depend on the particular quantum computer and the computation it carries out. Still, the more traps users build into the tasks, the better they can ensure the quantum computer they test is computing accurately. “The test is designed in such a way that the quantum computer cannot distinguish the trap from its normal tasks,” Walther says.

The researchers used a 4-qubit quantum computer as the verifier, but any size will do, and the more qubits the better, Walther notes. The technique is scalable, so it could be used even on computers with hundreds of qubits, he says, and it can be applied to any of the many existing quantum computing platforms.

“Like almost all current quantum computing experiments, this currently has the status of a fun demonstration proof of concept, rather than anything that’s directly useful yet,” says theoretical computer scientist Scott Aaronson at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. But that doesn’t detract from the importance of these demonstrations, he adds. “I’m very happy that they’re done, as they’re necessary first steps if we’re ever going to have useful quantum computers.”