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FDA chief walks back key claim about convalescent plasma for Covid-19

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The gloved hand of a nurse hangs a bag of plasma on a hook.The US Food and Drug Administration this week granted emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma as a treatment for Covid-19. | Guillermo Legaria/Getty Images

The White House is leaning on regulators to authorize treatments for Covid-19 before the election.

The Food and Drug Administration whipped up a fierce controversy Sunday when it decided to grant an Emergency Use Authorization, or EUA, for convalescent plasma to be used as a treatment for Covid-19. And by Monday night, FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn admitted on Twitter he had overstated the effectiveness of the treatment.

I have been criticized for remarks I made Sunday night about the benefits of convalescent plasma. The criticism is entirely justified. What I should have said better is that the data show a relative risk reduction not an absolute risk reduction.

— Dr. Stephen M. Hahn (@SteveFDA) August 25, 2020

The FDA’s decision came after many experts, including Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had warned the agency there wasn’t enough evidence to fast-track authorization for the novel treatment.

But Hahn said Sunday in a statement that he was “encouraged by the early promising data that we’ve seen about convalescent plasma,” adding that “plasma from patients who’ve recovered from Covid-19 has the potential to help treat those who are suffering from the effects of getting this terrible virus.”

President Trump, meanwhile, described the treatment as a “breakthrough.”

Convalescent plasma is already being used to treat dire cases of Covid-19 and is being studied by several research groups. But many scientists and doctors immediately responded to the announcement with concerns that there wasn’t yet sufficient data about its effectiveness to warrant an EUA.

“The evidence [the FDA is] drawing on is not ready for primetime,” said Jeremy Faust, an attending physician in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School.

The authorization came after President Trump publicly pressured federal agencies to approve drugs and vaccines for Covid-19 ahead of the November election, raising alarm that the FDA is bowing to political pressure to greenlight unproven treatments.

And White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows made it clear that Trump is leaning on the FDA. “If they don’t see the light, they need to feel the heat because the American people are suffering,” he told ABC on Sunday. “This president knows it, and he’s going to put it on wherever — the FDA or NIH or anybody else — to make sure that we deliver on behalf of the American people.”

The deep state, or whoever, over at the FDA is making it very difficult for drug companies to get people in order to test the vaccines and therapeutics. Obviously, they are hoping to delay the answer until after November 3rd. Must focus on speed, and saving lives! @SteveFDA

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 22, 2020

Such pressure has moved the FDA before; for instance, the agency rushed an EUA in March for the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine after President Trump repeatedly touted the drug as a “game changer” despite flimsy evidence for its effectiveness. The EUA was then revoked in June after the agency said the drug was “unlikely to be effective” and could cause serious side effects like heart arrhythmias.

But in a Twitter thread, Hahn pushed back, saying that the decision to green light convalescent plasma was made based on the data, not political considerations.

Media coverage of FDA’s decision to issue emergency authorization for convalescent plasma has questioned whether this was a politically motivated decision. The decision was made by FDA career scientists based on data submitted a few weeks ago.

— Dr. Stephen M. Hahn (@SteveFDA) August 25, 2020

With more than 170,000 people across the United States dead from Covid-19, there’s an urgent need to find effective treatments. And as the November election approaches, President Trump is desperate for good news. But even the appearance of political pressure could undermine confidence in government agencies and their backing for other treatments and vaccines, adding to the long list of public health missteps and confusion around the pandemic.

The FDA is playing up weak evidence to justify its EUA for convalescent plasma

Plasma is the liquid part of the blood that includes proteins used for clotting (as opposed to serum, which is the liquid part of blood leftover after blood clots). With convalescent plasma therapy, doctors harvest plasma from people who have recovered from Covid-19 and transfuse it to people who are currently suffering from an infection.

The idea is that the plasma from people who have successfully withstood the virus contains antibodies, which can interfere with how a pathogen works or mark it as a target for elimination. This passive immunity can then keep the disease in check or help the recipient’s immune system eradicate it. It’s an approach that’s been around for more than a century and used with varying degrees of success for other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS.

But Covid-19 is a markedly different disease, and so far, no randomized control trials — the gold standard of evidence — on convalescent plasma have been completed.

The FDA memo outlining the EUA for convalescent plasma cites just two randomized controlled trials, both of which were stopped early — one because it failed to recruit enough participants and the other because they found that the patients that were receiving plasma already had high levels of antibodies. Both found little to no benefit from the treatment, but they remain some of the best-constructed studies.

The memo also cites a handful of observational and retrospective studies as the basis for its decision. It was one of these retrospective studies that served as the basis for the White House’s boldest claim about the effectiveness of convalescent plasma to treat Covid-19.

During Sunday’s press conference, Hahn reported that convalescent plasma would yield a 35 percent improvement in the survival rate of Covid-19 patients.

“A 35 percent improvement in survival is a pretty substantial clinical benefit,” said Hahn during a Sunday press conference. “What that means is, if the data continue to pan out, if 100 people are sick with Covid-19, 35 would have been saved with the administration of plasma.”

“A 35 percent improvement in survival is a pretty substantial clinical benefit,” FDA Commissioner @SteveFDA said in relation to the convalescent plasma emergency use authorization issued today. pic.twitter.com/Dd97vLSZeL

— U.S. FDA (@US_FDA) August 23, 2020

But other researchers said that Hahn’s 35 percent improvement in survival claim was wildly misleading. It came from a retrospective preprint study that hasn’t undergone peer review, so some of the methods and findings may have flaws that would ordinarily be caught in the review process.

“For the first time ever, I feel like official people in communications and people at the FDA grossly misrepresented data about a therapy,” Walid Gellad, of the Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing at the University of Pittsburgh, told the New York Times.

The study doesn’t compare patients who received convalescent plasma to patients who received a placebo, either. Rather, it compares patients who received plasma early versus those who received it later in their course of treatment.

Even within that comparison, the results showed that the seven-day mortality rate was 11.9 percent in patients who received plasma four days or more after they were diagnosed with Covid-19, while those who received plasma three days after diagnosis had a mortality rate of 8.7 percent. In other words, getting plasma to Covid-19 patients one day earlier reduced the absolute mortality by 3.2 percent.

And when the researchers compared the doses of convalescent plasma, they found that those that received the low dose had a seven-day mortality rate of 13.7 percent while those that received the high dose had a rate of 8.9 percent. That’s a only 4.8 percent improvement in absolute terms, but a 35 percent change in relative terms. It’s progress, but not the massive leap forward that Hahn and other officials made it sound like.

Faust pointed out that this retrospective study only sampled patients who were sick enough to go to the hospital. Out of those, the patients studied were only the ones who received convalescent plasma, were under the age of 80, and who did not receive mechanical ventilation.

“This big ‘breakthrough’ that they say is a 35 percent reduction in mortality, this is a subset of a subset of a subset in a retrospective study which has not been confirmed with a trial,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with the study itself for what it is; what’s wrong is to rely on it to say that there’s been a breakthrough.”

On Monday night, Hahn acknowledged, after much criticism, that he overplayed his hand. “What I should have said better is that the data show a relative risk reduction not an absolute risk reduction,” he wrote.

But for some researchers, it was not enough. A few responded on Twitter that they wanted a more forceful retraction of the claim and other statements Hahn made during the press conference.

You need to correct the 35 lives saved per 100 sick with covid-19 so people understand that was absolutely wrong, Steve. That there is no evidence to support that. That there is no evidence at this juncture to support *any* survival benefit. That we need RCTs.

— Eric Topol (@EricTopol) August 25, 2020

Let’s be clear: Convalescent plasma could be a viable treatment for Covid-19. However, the vast majority of people infected with the virus get better on their own. Determining whether a treatment can actually hasten recovery from the illness requires controlled clinical trials. This means randomly sorting people into two groups — one that receives the treatment and one that receives a placebo — and then monitoring their progress with the disease. Such data is still lacking for convalescent plasma.

And the FDA’s EUA may have made it harder to study the treatment, making ongoing clinical trials more difficult. It becomes harder to recruit patients into clinical trials for convalescent plasma where they may receive a placebo if they know that they could get the actual treatment from their doctor.

This treatment also carries risks. Plasma transfusions can lead to complications like acute lung injury and severe allergic reactions leading to anaphylactic shock. These are not common outcomes, but the risk isn’t zero. For people who are sick with Covid-19, it may be worth accepting some of these risks if there is a clear benefit. But if there isn’t, it becomes much harder to tolerate.

“You’re essentially asking people to play roulette with a treatment that may not work,” Faust said.

All this means that it’s crucial to establish that convalescent plasma carries benefits that outweigh its risks before clearing it for widespread use.

The FDA is undermining its own credibility at a critical time

National and international health agencies have made a number of missteps during the Covid-19 pandemic, from how the World Health Organization reversed course on whether the virus could be spread person to person to the back and forth in the US about wearing masks.

But the political pressure mounting on the FDA from the White House could end up being the most consequential erosion of credibility since it could undermine the public’s trust in treatments for Covid-19 as well as an eventual vaccine. With the perception that drugs are being issued to meet the president’s demands, patients may be reluctant to take them.

That’s why some health advocates are so distressed by the FDA’s authorization of convalescent plasma, which serves as yet another example of politics getting its way over science.

“Make no mistake, the FDA’s decision to grant an emergency use authorization for COVID-19 convalescent plasma on the eve of the Republican National Convention represents the most blatant politicization of FDA decision-making in history,” said Michael Carome, director of the Health Research Group at the watchdog group Public Citizen, in a statement. “Such action seriously damages the FDA’s credibility during the greatest public health crisis in 100 years.”

And if a vaccine for Covid-19 were to get an EUA before the November election — before phase 3 trials are complete — there will be concerns that it too was rushed. Fewer people might be inclined to get vaccinated, out of safety fears, making it harder to control the disease. That will have tremendous impacts on the lives of millions of people as they cope with the continued spread of the virus.

Building trust in public health agencies is therefore essential for ending the Covid-19 pandemic, but it will take time. Hyping weak results or unproven drugs undermines this fragile confidence.


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All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Open Sourced logo

Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.


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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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