We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—Verily’s quick takes on the happenings of this week.
Twitter and Facebook face accusations of censorship and election interference
Explosive emails unveiled in an exposé published by the New York Post purport to show that the Biden family was involved in corrupt business practices in both Ukraine and China. What’s more, released photos and videos from a confiscated laptop show presidential candidate Biden’s son Hunter engaging in “sex acts” with an alleged prostitute before falling asleep with a crack pipe hanging from his mouth.
Most concerning are the emails between Hunter and a Ukrainian official that show that the then-Vice President’s son introduced the Ukrainian gas executive to his father, seemingly refuting Biden’s claim that he knew nothing about Hunter’s Ukrainian business ventures. Biden’s lawyer, meanwhile, told media outlets years ago that rumors of any information regarding Biden family dealings with Ukraine or China are “widely discredited conspiracy theories.”
Facebook and Twitter, both suppressed the New York Post’s report in a move that many are calling outright censorship and election interference. Facebook stated, “that it was reducing distribution of links to the New York Post story while it underwent third-party fact-checking.” Twitter took the approach of “blocking all users from sharing the article via its website,” even going so far as to block the account of White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany in retaliation for her sharing the URL. Nonetheless, despite Twitter’s suppression of the news, hashtags trended on the platform as citizens protested what they call “Big Tech censorship.” At the same time, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced that it will subpoena Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey over his decision to censor the sharing of the New York Post piece. —ML
Scientists win Nobel Prize for Hepatitis C discovery
Last week, three researchers were awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in medicine for their work on identifying Hepatitis C, which took place from the 1970s to the 1990s.
Harvey Alter, Michael Houghton, and Charles Rice focused their efforts on solving a medical mystery: why were patients suffering liver damage after blood transfusions, even though the blood they received had been screened for Hepatitis A and B? It turned out that a third disease, Hepatitis C, was lurking in the blood supply and elsewhere. The virus can spread through water, drug use, sexual activity, and other exchanges of bodily fluids, and it can result in liver cancer and cirrhosis, which are often fatal.
The scientists’ work led not only to an accurate screening test and better safety for hospital patients, but also new medicines that can treat the infection effectively, putting the possibility of eradication in sight. Experts say millions of lives have been saved as a result. More work remains to be done however: 400,000 people still die every year as a result of Hepatitis C. Approximately 71 million people worldwide have the virus, many of them unaware that they are infected. More than 50,000 Hepatitis C cases occur in the United States annually.
The Nobel Prize carries with it an award of $1.1 million which will be split evenly between the three winners. —Margaret Brady
Princeton University agrees to fork over back pay to female professors
A nearly decade-long investigation by the federal government of Princeton University’s labor practices has resulted in a nearly $1 million settlement for female professors at the Ivy League school. The U.S. Labor Department’s probe showed that between 2012 and 2014, 106 woman professors experienced pay disparities, likely in violation of equal protection law.
According to the terms of the “early resolution conciliation agreement” the school entered into with the feds, $925,000 in back pay and at least $250,000 in future pay will go to the women affected. The university will also pursue “proactive compliance” in the future with special trainings and ongoing pay analysis.
The agreement does not require Princeton to admit any guilt, and representatives for the school claimed that Princeton’s own internal investigation showed no such discrimination. The university challenged the Labor Department’s findings, saying that it was based on a flawed statistical algorithm. A spokesperson said the school came to terms with the agreement to avoid an expensive and lengthy legal process. The investigation was led by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. Princeton accepts federal funds as part of its operations, so it is technically a government contractor. —MB
Trump tests negative for COVID-19
President Trump has tested negative for coronavirus on multiple days and is not contagious to others, according to White House physician Dr. Sean Conley. Dr. Conley confirmed the test was not done in isolation and that the president tested negative using the Abbott BinasNOW antigen.
Two weeks ago Trump revealed his diagnosis when he tweeted that he and the First Lady were quarantining in the White House after testing positive for the virus. The President then went to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. —Melanie Wilcox
Senator Kamala Harris cancels next few weeks of travel after staff tests positive for COVID
Senator Kamala Harris has canceled all campaign travel through the weekend after her communications director and a flight crew member tested positive for COVID-19. Senator Harris has tested negative three times this week.
While vice presidential candidate Harris shared an October 8 flight with the two COVID-19 diagnosed individuals, all parties wore masks and were not within six feet for more than 15 minutes, according to the Biden campaign. Since Harris “was not in close contact, as defined by the CDC, with either of these individuals during the two days prior to their positive tests,” the Biden campaign manager said in a statement, “there is no requirement for quarantine.” —Mary Rose Somarriba
Netflix is indicted for child exploitation
Weeks after the internet erupted in controversy over French-produced, Netflix-owned film Cuties, the movie is under indictment by a Texas grand jury for child exploitation and promotion of “lewd visual material depicting a child.” Tyler County’s district attorney prosecuting the case against the media giant also pointed fingers at the company’s chief executives, calling their dismissal of the public’s outcry an example of how they “recklessly tolerated” the film’s problematic nature.
A spokesperson for Netflix responded to the lawsuit by reiterating the network’s support of the film, telling Fox news that “this charge is without merit and we stand by the film.” Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos fired back at the lawsuit, telling reporters at an event, “It’s a little surprising in 2020 America that we’re having a discussion about censoring storytelling.”
Michelle and Barack Obama have found themselves embroiled in the Cuties controversy as online critics pointed out that the Obamas had recently inked a $50 million production deal with the streaming network and used to employ both Sarandos and his wife. One news writer claimed the First Lady’s silence “has not gone unnoticed” and is “undermining her brand as ‘America’s mom’ and chief defender of female empowerment across the globe.”
As for what happens next in the lawsuit, a director at a prominent Texan law school’s First Amendment Clinic observed that “the district attorney is obviously willing to prosecute and put resources into it. And there are great principles involved from Netflix’s standpoint as well, they will fight with good attorneys. . . . It’s a case that certainly is not likely to end in the trial court either, as there will be constitutional issues raised. It's going to be an interesting case to watch.” —Mariel Lindsay
Singapore pays families to have a baby during the pandemic
Singapore is set to offer couples a “baby bonus” for delivering a newborn during the global coronavirus pandemic. The one-time payment is meant to support households in which COVID-19 and its economic shutdowns may have put a damper on plans to add to the family.
Exact details, including the amount that will be handed out, are still being worked out. But the payments are just the latest effort by the government in Singapore to stabilize the country’s extraordinarily low birth rate. Already, families can access benefits equivalent to more than $7,000 for having a baby.
Despite that available windfall, last year the birth rate in Singapore was unchanged from a low of 1.14 births per woman’s lifetime, well under the rate of 2.1 births which is necessary for a population to sustain itself.
Singapore is one of a growing number of countries that are facing a demographic winter. Far from the dire predictions of the “Population Bomb” decades ago, dozens of nations are predicted to lose half their populations by the end of the century, leading to likely economic trouble as a smaller proportion of young people must work to support an aging, and declining, populace. Traumatic episodes like the coronavirus pandemic certainly don’t help policy makers desperate to reverse the trend. —MB
The Netherlands okays euthanasia for kids under 12
In yet another expansion of the Dutch practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide, the government announced this week that doctors will now be allowed to end the lives of terminally ill children under 12.
Previously, euthanasia was permitted for adults and children 12 and older, as well as babies under a year old, with parental consent. Doctors were already allowed to withhold nutrition for sick kids whose ages fell in between one and twelve, so that such children would die sooner of starvation instead of later from their illness. Under the new regulation, two doctors must agree to the procedure and a child’s parents must also agree that the patient’s “unbearable and endless suffering” justifies killing them.
The country first legalized euthanasia for adults in 2002. Today, euthanasia is a common cause of death in the Netherlands, accounting for nearly 5 percent of all deaths, roughly about the same percentage as die in the United States from car accidents. Only 91 percent of patients killed under the euthanasia law are terminally ill; the rest suffer from psychiatric conditions like depression.
Earlier this year Dutch euthanasia practice expanded when the Supreme Court ruled that dementia patients could be administered euthanasia based on requests made before they became symptomatic. Previously, doctors needed to reconfirm with patients that they hadn’t changed their mind. The case stemmed from an episode in which a patient fought back against the doctor’s needle and had to be held down for the lethal injection. —MB
Mattel releases Susan B. Anthony Barbie doll
In commemoration of the 200-year anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, Mattel is releasing a Susan B. Anthony Barbie doll as part of their ongoing “Inspiring Women” series. Started in 2018, the “Inspiring Women” Barbie collection includes an impressive array of female American icons. Ranging from activist Rosa Parks to nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale. Also on the growing list are tennis icon Billie Jean King, astronaut Sally Ride, and jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald.
Mattel published an ode to Susan B. Anthony on their website as they unveiled the latest Barbie doll, writing that Susan B. Anthony, “made a defiant move . . . she voted in the presidential election and was arrested at her home. . . . This bold act, coupled with Susan’s determined spirit, helped pave the way for passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, which prevents a woman from being denied the right to vote on the basis of sex.”
The doll, dressed in a long black dress, lace collar and cameo brooch, also dons Anthony’s signature glasses and Victorian-age hair bun. —ML
Tasmanian Devils return to Australia after thousands of years
The creatures known as Tasmanian Devils once lived on mainland Australia, before thousands of years ago, when the arrival of dingoes in the environment spelled their doom. Eventually the animals were confined to the nearby island of Tasmania, from which they derive their modern name. All that is changing though, thanks to a conservation effort that is reintroducing the devils to mainland Australia.
Eleven of the marsupials have been released into the wild there, following an earlier trial of fifteen animals. The program is run by Aussie Ark, a conservation organization with an ambitious plan to “rewild” the environment. “In 100 years, we are going to be looking back at this day as the day that set in motion the ecological restoration of an entire country," CNN quoted Tim Faulkner, president of Aussie Ark.
The move is especially good news for Australia, where deadly wildfires earlier this year are estimated to have killed billions of animals. —MB
Good News of the Week
Study shows COVID-positive moms don’t have to be separated from their newborns
A new study published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics has shown that moms who have been infected with the coronavirus can stay with their newborns, breastfeeding and bonding without a high risk of infecting their babies.
During the pandemic, some hospitals were taking babies away from postpartum mothers with COVID in a bid to protect the vulnerable infants from the virus. But the study, conducted on 101 infants in New York City during the height of the first wave of the pandemic, showed no evidence of “vertical transmission”—that is, infection from mother to child.
“For the majority of women, they should at least be reassured that they don’t need to be separated from their babies. The likelihood of transmission in that setting with proper precautions—masks, hand and breast hygiene—is pretty low,” Today quoted Dr. Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, who co-authored the analysis. —MB
Watch of the Week
This week, Kelly Clarkson hosted a socially distanced Billboard Music Awards, in which singer John Legend dedicated his performance of “Never Break” to his wife Chrissy Teigen. The heart-wrenching song has added meaning after the couple recently announced losing their third child in an unexpected pregnancy loss.
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