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An important part of science is admitting when we’re wrong

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This week started with a whole lot of people getting very angry about someone being wrong on the internet. This time, it was computer scientist Steven Salzberg, who wrote a blog post on Forbes arguing that people should start vaccinating now — phase 3 clinical trials had just started. They seemed to be going well. Why not start passing out doses to willing, informed volunteers?

Well, a whole bunch of reasons, most of which boil down to some variation of that’s what the trials are there for. The evidence that’s needed to move something into the third level of human testing is pretty high — but not high enough to justify use on the broader population, as biostatistician Natalie Dean pointed out in a New York Times rebuttal of the Forbes post.

“It’s just fundamentally wrong to think that because there’s an emergency, that we should somehow throw out aspects of scientific research,” Alex John London, director of the Center for Ethics and Policy at Carnegie Mellon University told Verge reporter Nicole Wetsman this week.

In fact, Wetsman writes, sticking to the process, gathering the evidence, and making sure the vaccine actually works is what makes the vaccines we have today so safe. There are some things we can speed up, but widely distributing untested vaccines would be reckless.

Hundreds of people showed up online to point out the error of Salzberg’s ways. But instead of this dissolving into drama, or fading into the background of new Twitter fights and controversies, something very different happened.

“I was wrong,” Salzberg wrote in a new Forbes post. “After reading many of the responses to my article, some of them outlining the risks in greater detail, I have concluded that (1) the risks are greater than I presented them, and (2) the benefits are not as great as I had thought.”

It’s always a better feeling to be right on the first try. Doing background research first and challenging your own biases can avoid screw-ups before they happen. But having the flexibility to admit that we were wrong, like Salzberg did, will serve us well as we head through the next phase of the pandemic.

Many of the things we thought at the start of the pandemic were wrong. Asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people can transmit the virus. The virus probably does spread through the air. There’s a whole lot more that we just don’t know yet. Everyone is learning about this new, world-altering virus in real time, and that means that sometimes we get lost, or head down dead ends, or want to speed ahead, if only to make the suffering stop.

Rigorous examination of evidence and beliefs is part of what makes the entire process of science work, and it’s what brings us back toward the truth, even when we veer away from it. There’s only so much we can do to speed up science — but by working together, we might be able to keep ourselves on the right track.

Here’s what else was going on this week.

Research

Even Asymptomatic People Carry the Coronavirus in High Amounts
A study out of South Korea found that people who are infected with the coronavirus but don’t have symptoms have just as much of the virus in their bodies as people with symptoms. That doesn’t fully answer the question of how easily they transmit the disease, but it is alarming for people trying to track the virus’s spread. (Apoorva Mandavilli / The New York Times)

Immunology Is Where Intuition Goes to Die
On a good day, our immune system is bizarre. A pandemic lays out exactly how much we still don’t know about how this vitally important part of our body works. Take a deep dive into the complexities of the immune system and the field devoted to studying it here. (Ed Yong / The Atlantic)

Development

Novavax’s Covid-19 vaccine shows promising immune response, early data show
Let’s start off with the big caveat that these results are from a phase 1 trial that has not been peer-reviewed. The early results here are encouraging, but still not enough to say whether this vaccine will work. (Damian Garde / Stat)

Hydroxychloroquine can’t stop COVID-19. It’s time to move on, scientists say
This anti-malarial drug has sucked up time, attention, and money in the search for effective COVID-19 treatments. But it’s just not working out. Science News lays out exactly why it’s time to ditch this treatment and move on to things that might actually work. (Tina Hesman Saey / Science News)

Perspectives

The cupcakes, the gift bags full of dollar-store toys and candy, the afternoon my daughter spent in her bedroom eating pizza and watching a movie with a friend … March 12 was our last futile glimpse of normalcy before the reality of the pandemic truly settled in.

— Journalist Willy Blackmore writes about his experience with COVID-19 in “COVID-19 Is Horrible — So Is Worrying You’ve Infected Someone” for New York Magazine‘s Intelligencer.

How Did I Catch the Coronavirus?
Contact tracing in the US is in bad shape. Carolyn Kormann takes readers on her frustrating quest to figure out where she got the virus, even after taking precautions. (Carolyn Kormann / The New Yorker)

A pregnant woman with covid-19 was dying. With one decision, her doctors saved three lives.
A harrowing oral history of how doctors successfully treated a pregnant woman with COVID-19. (Caitlin Gibson / The Washington Post)

More than numbers

To the more than 19,405,013 people worldwide who have tested positive, may your road to recovery be smooth.

To the families and friends of the 712,906 people who have died worldwide — 161,367 of those in the US — your loved ones are not forgotten.

Stay safe, everyone.

Source : TheVerge ScienceRead More

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Science

Too bright to breed

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Night light from coastal cities overpowers natural signals for coral spawning from neighboring reefs.

PHOTO: NOKURO/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Most coral species reproduce through broadcast spawning. For such a strategy to be successful, coordination has had to evolve such that gametes across clones are released simultaneously. Over millennia, lunar cycles have facilitated this coordination, but the recent development of bright artificial light has led to an overpowering of these natural signals. Ayalon et al. tested for the direct impact of different kinds of artificial light on different species of corals. The authors found that multiple lighting types, including cold and warm light-emitting diode (LED) lamps, led to loss of synchrony and spawning failure. Further, coastal maps of artificial lighting globally suggest that it threatens to interfere with coral reproduction worldwide and that the deployment of LED lights, the blue light of which penetrates deeper into the water column, is likely to make the situation even worse.

Curr. Biol. 10.1016/j.cub.2020.10.039 (2020).

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SpaceX launches Starlink app and provides pricing and service info to early beta testers

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SpaceX has debuted an official app for its Starlink satellite broadband internet service, for both iOS and Android devices. The Starlink app allows users to manage their connection – but to take part you’ll have to be part of the official beta program, and the initial public rollout of that is only just about to begin, according to emails SpaceX sent to potential beta testers this week.

The Starlink app provides guidance on how to install the Starlink receiver dish, as well as connection status (including signal quality), a device overview for seeing what’s connected to your network, and a speed test tool. It’s similar to other mobile apps for managing home wifi connections and routers. Meanwhile, the emails to potential testers that CNBC obtained detail what users can expect in terms of pricing, speeds and latency.

The initial Starlink public beta test is called the “Better than Nothing Beta Program,” SpaceX confirms in their app description, and will be rolled out across the U.S. and Canada before the end of the year – which matches up with earlier stated timelines. As per the name, SpaceX is hoping to set expectations for early customers, with speeds users can expect ranging from between 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s, and latency of 20ms to 40ms according to the customer emails, with some periods including no connectivity at all. Even with expectations set low, if those values prove accurate, it should be a big improvement for users in some hard-to-reach areas where service is currently costly, unreliable and operating at roughly dial-up equivalent speeds.

Image Credits: SpaceX

In terms of pricing, SpaceX says in the emails that the cost for participants in this beta program will be $99 per moth, plus a one-time cost of $499 initially to pay for the hardware, which includes the mounting kit and receiver dish, as well as a router with wifi networking capabilities.

The goal eventually is offer reliably, low-latency broadband that provides consistent connection by handing off connectivity between a large constellation of small satellites circling the globe in low Earth orbit. Already, SpaceX has nearly 1,000 of those launched, but it hopes to launch many thousands more before it reaches global coverage and offers general availability of its services.

SpaceX has already announced some initial commercial partnerships and pilot programs for Starlink, too, including a team-up with Microsoft to connect that company’s mobile Azure data centers, and a project with an East Texas school board to connect the local community.

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Erratum for the Report “Meta-analysis reveals declines in terrestrial but increases in freshwater insect abundances” by R. Van Klink, D. E. Bowler, K. B. Gongalsky, A. B. Swengel, A. Gentile, J. M. Chase

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S. Rennie, J. Adamson, R. Anderson, C. Andrews, J. Bater, N. Bayfield, K. Beaton, D. Beaumont, S. Benham, V. Bowmaker, C. Britt, R. Brooker, D. Brooks, J. Brunt, G. Common, R. Cooper, S. Corbett, N. Critchley, P. Dennis, J. Dick, B. Dodd, N. Dodd, N. Donovan, J. Easter, M. Flexen, A. Gardiner, D. Hamilton, P. Hargreaves, M. Hatton-Ellis, M. Howe, J. Kahl, M. Lane, S. Langan, D. Lloyd, B. McCarney, Y. McElarney, C. McKenna, S. McMillan, F. Milne, L. Milne, M. Morecroft, M. Murphy, A. Nelson, H. Nicholson, D. Pallett, D. Parry, I. Pearce, G. Pozsgai, A. Riley, R. Rose, S. Schafer, T. Scott, L. Sherrin, C. Shortall, R. Smith, P. Smith, R. Tait, C. Taylor, M. Taylor, M. Thurlow, A. Turner, K. Tyson, H. Watson, M. Whittaker, I. Woiwod, C. Wood, UK Environmental Change Network (ECN) Moth Data: 1992-2015, NERC Environmental Information Data Centre (2018); .

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