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Life on Venus? Astronomers See Phosphine Signal in Its Clouds

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On such worlds, “as far as we can tell, only life can make phosphine,” Dr. Sousa-Silva said. She has long studied the gas, on the theory that finding it being emitted from rocky planets that orbit distant stars could be proof that life exists elsewhere in the Milky Way.

Here on Earth, phosphine is found in our intestines, in the feces of badgers and penguins, and in some deep sea worms, as well as other biological environments associated with anaerobic organisms. It is also extremely poisonous. Militaries have employed it for chemical warfare, and it is used as a fumigant on farms. On the TV show “Breaking Bad,” the main character, Walter White, makes it to kill two rivals.

But scientists have yet to explain how Earth microbes make it.

“There’s not a lot of understanding of where it’s coming from, how it forms, things like that,” said Matthew Pasek, a geoscientist at the University of South Florida in Tampa. “We’ve seen it associated with where microbes are at, but we have not seen a microbe do it, which is a subtle difference, but an important one.”

Dr. Sousa-Silva was surprised when Dr. Greaves said that she had detected phosphine.

“That moment plays in my mind a lot, because I took a few minutes to consider what was happening,” she said.

If there really was phosphine on Venus, she believed there could be no other obvious explanation than anaerobic life.

“What we find circumstantially also makes complete sense with what we know thermodynamically,” she said.

The team needed a more powerful telescope, and the scientists next used the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, in Chile, in March 2019.

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chrisamico
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The Intercept Promised to Reveal Everything. But It Didn't Protect a Source.

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The startling carelessness about protecting Ms. Winner was particularly mystifying at an organization that had been founded on security. The Intercept had hired leaders in digital security, Ms. Clark and Micah Lee, for just such situations. Mr. Cole did not involve them at all.

Mr. Cole and Mr. Esposito said they’d been pushed to rush the story to publication, but Mr. Cole also acknowledged that failing to consult with the security team was a “face plant.”

The Intercept’s leaders argued in 2017, and still contend, that the narrative laid out by the Justice Department in its prosecution of Ms. Winner was shaped to make The Intercept — a thorn in the government’s side — look bad. And Ms. Winner’s own carelessness — she printed the document at work — could easily have gotten her caught even if The Intercept had been more cautious. But they also knew they had made real journalistic errors.

And so a key question was who to blame for this catastrophe and what consequences they should suffer. Ms. Dombek, who undertook the internal investigation, concluded that the editors — Ms. Reed and Mr. Hodge — needed to take responsibility. Others, including Mr. Greenwald, were demanding that Mr. Cole and Ms. Reed be fired, and The Intercept provide a public reckoning. (Mr. Greenwald later relented, and said he understood the desire not to “scapegoat” for an institutional failure.)

On July 11, 2017, Ms. Reed published a post on The Intercept announcing that First Look would pay for Ms. Winner’s legal defense. Ms. Reed also announced that an “internal review of the reporting of this story has now been completed.”

“We should have taken greater precautions to protect the identity of a source who was anonymous even to us,” she wrote. “As the editor in chief, I take responsibility for this failure, and for making sure that the internal newsroom issues that contributed to it are resolved.”

But the drama didn’t end there.

Mr. Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, an investigative reporter who is the third founder of The Intercept, publicly demanded a more thorough investigation, and in response to their pressure, the company commissioned a second internal report, by a First Look lawyer, David Bralow. Mr. Bralow’s report, issued four months later, cited as central issues the decision to share the document with the N.S.A., Mr. Cole’s discussion of the postmark and the publication of the identifying markings.

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chrisamico
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What Windows 95 Changed

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What Windows 95 Changed

Twenty five years ago today, Microsoft released Windows 95. It was undoubtedly a technical leap forward, but its biggest, most lasting impacts are about how it changed popular culture's relationship to technology.

For context, when Windows 95 was released in August of 1995, only about 30% of American homes had any computer at all. Less than 10% had any form of internet access — and virtually none had broadband. There were no smartphones, of course.

But more broadly, computers and software were basically not yet something one talked about in polite company. You might have had a friend who “worked in computers” (we didn’t say “work in tech” yet) or call IT for support for your printer at work. But software was not part of culture, and the term "apps" wouldn't come into wide usage for more than another decade. In those days, most job listings didn’t even yet ask for “familiarity with MS Office” (ask your parents what that meant) and the PlayStation hadn’t been released yet in the U.S. or Europe.

The broader business world had started paying a lot more attention to tech just a few weeks before Windows 95 arrived, when Netscape's milestone IPO in early August of 1995 shocked everyone with its extraordinary debut, and kicked off the dot com boom to come. But consumer marketing of PC technology was in its infancy; Intel had just named the Pentium not long before — before that, its chips were just referred to by their model numbers, which read like the license plate on a car, not a brand name. And even the Pentium name really only became famous when a bug was found in the early chips. Jokes about that were as far as pop culture really engaged with tech.

Into that world, Microsoft did a mass consumer launch of… an operating system. A computer's operating system is software that lets other software do interesting things. It's perhaps most abstract product possible. And Microsoft famously put some real money into it — they did a big launch event in Redmond and got Jay Leno to host it, and even licensed the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” as a theme song, tied to the operating system's signature Start button feature. A lot of retrospective views of Windows 95 tend to focus on the kitsch value of Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry doing a VHS training video about the product, but the truth is, Friends was not a huge hit yet at the time (let alone a cultural phenomenon) and the video was a fairly obscure release at the time.

But splashy, big-budget ads for Windows 95 were ubiquitous in primetime TV in that era when everyone was still watching TV with ads. And as Brad Silverberg (then the SVP in charge of the Windows 95 launch) notes, "The Stones tv ad was so great because it was a kickass song, completely on message (Start), and showed everyday people around the world doing everyday things with the Win95 PCs."

Wildly, Microsoft's effort worked. For the first time ever, lots of consumer enthusiasts lined up to buy software at stores as it released at midnight. Before that point, that kind of widespread consumer enthusiasm had been limited to album releases and movie opening. Now, technology was part of the new world of fan culture. That fan enthusiasm had been slowly building for almost 2 years by the time of launch. Trade magazines had been writing about “Chicago”, the codename for the product, and geeks tried out the early public betas of the operating system — helping popularize the idea of a “beta” as a pre-final version of something in common usage.

There were even the early hints of toxic fandom that we're wildly familiar with now. Windows enthusiasts were sometimes oddly exuberant advocates for their preferred operating system, diehard fans of Apple (which was then a small player in a very precarious position) felt the new operating system ripped off their favorite OS, and partisans of IBM's offering called OS/2 Warp were the bane of every tech writer of the time, complaining about their favorite software being overlooked with all the fervor and indignation of today's most angry online comic book movie fans.

Despite that noise in the market, Windows 95 was inarguably a hit. And it changed how the rest of the tech industry worked. Modern tech culture and tech trade press still basically follow the conventions that developed back then. Reporters breathlessly cover new codenames and rumors and beta releases, and late night TV hosts don’t just joke about apps, they deliver their shows through them. When Apple talks about new version of its operating system as part of its annual events, they have all the production values of a high-end TV show.

And as a product, Windows 95 itself was fine. The user interface and design were certainly a leap forward over previous generations. There were decided user benefits in making it easier to configure computers, and it set the stage for later innovations where a normal person could plug in a mouse or keyboard into their computer and it would probably work. But the most lasting impact is how it changed the broader cultural perception of technology.

In the 80s, there had been a movie series “Revenge of the Nerds”; its last sequel came out only a year before Windows 95 did. The public perception of Microsoft founder and figurehead Bill Gates was as a caricature almost perfectly defined by the nerds seen in movie and on TV, only missing the tape on his broken glasses. Tech was seen as for those people — nerds who were walking punchlines.

But after Windows 95 arrived, tech quickly became a standard part of people’s lives. The Internet became mainstream, homes got connected, and software became something everyone uses. Eventually, smartphones put a computer in everyone's pocket, not just in their homes, and software became "apps" — and became part of our lives.

Operating systems went from a product that we buy to a fundamental capability that's bundled with the entire tech ecosystems where we live our lives. We don't pay for operating systems directly anymore by purchasing them, but instead we pay with surveillance of our data or by being sold connected cloud services or by the cost being bundled into our devices. Operating systems are both ubiquitous and invisible, and there are now people for whom their allegiance to the operating system of their phone or video game console or even personal computer is part of their identity.

And the Start button is still pretty cool.



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chrisamico
14 days ago
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Multiple Causes of Death | FlowingData

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A certain group cherrypicked a percentage from the Covid-19 weekly updates page maintained by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. On the page, a table shows other causes of death associated with Covid-19 deaths. The table description reads:

For 6% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned. For deaths with conditions or causes in addition to COVID-19, on average, there were 2.6 additional conditions or causes per death. The number of deaths with each condition or cause is shown for all deaths and by age groups.

I can see how this could be easily misinterpreted. A sentence or screenshot from the CDC page says 6 percent, and people might think this means only a small percentage of Covid-19 deaths were actually from Covid-19. But all it means is that for 94 percent of recorded Covid-19 deaths, other causes were entered on the death certificate.

Here’s what the form looks like for the part that lists causes of death:

Notice the four lines, a to d, to provide multiple causes. There’s a line for immediate cause and three more lines for underlying causes that led to that immediate cause.

For 6 percent of Covid-19 death certificates, there was only one line filled out that specified the disease. The remaining certificates listed other causes — such as respiratory failure or cardiac arrest. With Covid-19 deaths, the disease leads to other things or makes existing conditions worse.

The chart below shows other causes of death listed with Covid-19, a.k.a. comorbidity.

It is common for other causes of death to be listed with Covid-19.

As of writing this, the Covid-19 death count in the United States is at about 184,000. These deaths are very real.

But again, I can still see how the 6 percent figure bubbling across one’s feed could lead to confusion. So let’s look at a different cause of death that’s maybe more relatable: vehicle accidents.

If someone died in a car accident, you would probably say the cause of death was the car accident. However, the death certificate would likely list multiple causes like a head injury or a broken neck.

It is also common for other causes of death to be listed in this case.

Just because an additional cause of death is listed doesn’t mean the vehicle accident didn’t happen. Someone still died because of the car accident.

Covid-19 death estimates from the CDC should be interpreted in a similar way. Just because 94% of the deaths involved other causes doesn’t mean Covid-19 didn’t happen. People are still dying from Covid-19.

Notes

The vehicle accident data comes from CDC WONDER. There are several categories of accidents you can look at, but in this example I used “Person injured in unspecified motor-vehicle accident”, or ICD-10-CM code V89.2.


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chrisamico
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Tennis's Bryan Brothers Say They Are Retiring Ahead of U.S. Open

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Mike and Bob Bryan, the most successful doubles team in tennis history, say they are retiring, effective immediately.

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chrisamico
28 days ago
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Is The Electoral Map Changing?

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PUBLISHED AUG. 25, 2020, AT 5:36 PM

Is The Electoral Map Changing?We looked at how 16 battleground states have voted in the last five presidential elections to see how they might go in 2020.

By Elena Mejia and Geoffrey Skelley

From one presidential election to the next, the battleground states that make — or break — the election remain largely the same. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t gradual (and sometimes, not so gradual) shifts underway. We zoomed in on how 16 battleground states have voted relative to the country as whole since 2000 — or how much more Republican or Democratic they are relative to the nation1 — and we found an electoral map undergoing a series of changes, some steady and others abrupt.

Swing states that moved sharply to the right in 2016How each state voted relative to the popular vote in presidential elections since 2000 and how it is currently forecasted to vote in 202080% confidence intervalin our 2020 forecastAVERAGE PARTISAN LEAN

Iowa

200020042008201220162020D+100R+10R+20Iowa moved more than 13points to the right of thecountry — the mostabrupt shift in 2016Iowa moved more than 13points to the right of thecountry — the mostabrupt shift in 2016

Ohio

200020042008201220162020D+100R+10R+20

Maine

200020042008201220162020D+100R+10R+20Maine’s rightward shiftearned Trump oneelectoral vote, breaking upthe state’s four electoralvotes for the first timeMaine’s rightward shiftearned Trump oneelectoral vote, breaking upthe state’s four electoralvotes for the first time

Michigan

200020042008201220162020D+100R+10R+20

Take Iowa and Ohio, which went from uber-competitive states to near blowouts for President Trump in 2016. Or Maine and Michigan, which hadn’t been all that competitive in 2008 or 2012, but lurched to the right in 2016. In other words, 2016 marked a significant departure from how these states had voted in recent years; each state swung 7 points or more to the right, the biggest swings in that election.

One explanation for why these four states moved so suddenly to the right is that they each have a large share of voters (at least 55 percent2) who are non-Hispanic white with less than a bachelor’s degree, a bloc that moved sharply toward the GOP in 2016. Additionally, Iowa and Maine rank among the most rural states in the country, which is another predictor of GOP-leaning politics. FiveThirtyEight’s forecast currently expects these states to step slightly to the left in 2020, but there’s a lot of uncertainty here, especially in a state like Maine where the error bars are particularly large. The next five states also shifted to the right in 2016, but they didn’t veer quite as far as the previous four did.

States that moved just slightly to the right in 2016How each state voted relative to the popular vote in presidential elections since 2000 and how it is currently forecasted to vote in 202080% confidence intervalin our 2020 forecastAVERAGE PARTISAN LEAN

Minnesota

200020042008201220162020D+100R+10R+20

Nevada

200020042008201220162020D+100R+10R+20This was the only timeNevada voted over 5points more Democraticthan the nationThis was the only timeNevada voted over 5points more Democraticthan the nation

Pennsylvania

200020042008201220162020D+100R+10R+20Trump’s support in ruralareas overcameDemocrats’ advantage incities like Philadelphia andMilwaukeeTrump’s support in ruralareas overcameDemocrats’ advantage incities like Philadelphia andMilwaukee

New Hampshire

200020042008201220162020D+100R+10R+20

Wisconsin

200020042008201220162020D+100R+10R+20

One reason why these states didn’t lurch as far to the right is that four of them3 have at least one large metropolitan area that votes heavily Democratic. This offsets the rest of those states, which usually vote far more Republican. However, as was true in the first four states we looked at, there has been a slow yet noticeable move to the right in these four states over the last several elections. FiveThirtyEight’s forecast anticipates that some of these states, like New Hampshire and Wisconsin, might bounce back slightly to the left in 2020, but also that others, like Minnesota, may continue to shift to the right.

On the other end of the spectrum, some 2020 battleground states moved to the left — considerably so — in the last election. These states predominantly lie in the South and West, and the following trio of traditionally red states could all be up for grabs this November.

Republican-leaning states that shifted to the left in 2016How each state voted relative to the popular vote in presidential elections since 2000 and how it is currently forecasted to vote in 202080% confidence intervalin our 2020 forecastAVERAGE PARTISAN LEAN

Arizona

200020042008201220162020D+100R+10R+20

Georgia

200020042008201220162020D+100R+10R+20

Texas

200020042008201220162020D+100R+10R+20College-educated votersin metro areas like Dallasand Houston are drivingTexas’s leftward shiftCollege-educated votersin metro areas like Dallasand Houston are drivingTexas’s leftward shift

Arizona, Georgia and Texas all moved at least 4 points to the left in 2016, and it’s possible they’ll move even farther in 2020. After all, the 2018 midterm elections showed these states could elect Democrats statewide, or at least, come very close. Democrats won a U.S. Senate seat in Arizona for the first time since 1988, while Republicans only narrowly won Texas’s Senate race and Georgia’s gubernatorial contest.

What explains the leftward shift in these traditionally Republican states? For one thing, these states are more racially and ethnically diverse than most of the other states we’ve looked at — Arizona and Texas have large Hispanic populations, for instance, while Georgia has a sizable Black electorate — and people of color tend to vote more Democratic. But these fairly urban states have also seen their major metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Phoenix become increasingly Democratic because of the surge in college-educated voters. At present, the FiveThirtyEight forecast anticipates these states will lean similar to how they did 2016, although further shifts to the left are plausible.

For Democrats, the hope would be that those three states trend in ways similar to Colorado and Virginia, two formerly red states whose diverse and highly educated electorates have moved them to the left over the past two decades.

Former red states that now look like blue statesHow each state voted relative to the popular vote in presidential elections since 2000 and how it is currently forecasted to vote in 202080% confidence intervalin our 2020 forecastAVERAGE PARTISAN LEAN

Colorado

200020042008201220162020D+100R+10R+20White voters here areamong the likeliest in thenation to have a collegedegreeWhite voters here areamong the likeliest in thenation to have a collegedegree

Virginia

200020042008201220162020D+100R+10R+20

Colorado’s population is about one-fifth Hispanic and Virginia’s is about one-fifth Black, and both are only about two-thirds white. And white voters in these states are more likely to hold at least a four-year college degree than in the other states we’ve examined. Driven by increasingly Democratic vote shares in suburban and urban areas — especially around Denver and Washington, D.C. — Colorado and Virginia have moved far enough to the left that, in an environment in which Joe Biden leads by about 8 points nationally, they lie at the periphery of the competitive states.

That said, Florida and North Carolina are also racially diverse and home to a decent number of highly educated voters, but they haven’t become liberal bastions. Instead, they have tended to vote a bit to the right of the country with little variation in recent years.

And some states are just perennial swing statesHow each state voted relative to the popular vote in presidential elections since 2000 and how it is currently forecasted to vote in 202080% confidence intervalin our 2020 forecastAVERAGE PARTISAN LEAN

Florida

200020042008201220162020D+100R+10R+20A large share of the Latinovote is Cuban American, amore Republican-leaninggroupA large share of the Latinovote is Cuban American, amore Republican-leaninggroup

North Carolina

200020042008201220162020D+100R+10R+20

Florida is a hard state to categorize politically. It has an elderly population that usually leans toward the GOP, but it also has a large Hispanic and Black population that leans Democratic — with the caveat that a large share of its Latino vote is Cuban American, a group that has shifted toward Democrats over the last decade but remains far more Republican-leaning than other groups of Latinos. North Carolina is also a swing state, even though it has a fairly consistent Republican lean. North Carolina’s white college-educated population share isn’t that much smaller than Virginia’s, but it has a larger share of white voters who don’t have a four-year degree. Additionally, North Carolina’s white voters are somewhat more Republican-leaning, and the state tends to be more rural than Virginia. As things stand, the forecast model expects these states to vote more or less like they did in 2016 — so they’ll be as competitive as ever.

This is all to say that 2020 will be a pivotal year in understanding underlying trends within the Electoral College. Will states like Iowa or Ohio move further to the right? Georgia and Texas further to the left? Or should we expect more of a reversion to the mean? Suffice it to say that, with Trump on the ballot this November, many of the forces we saw in 2016 will be prevalent again in 2020. But those forces may also define the parties moving forward, which means this election could also tell us a great deal about how the electoral map will look beyond 2020.

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