Background radiation linked to longer life and lower cancer mortality; AI surveillance ramping up to keep tabs on the Wuhan coronavirus; Surprising diversity revealed by ancient skeletons in Mexico; Satellite photos of Wuhan before and after the coronavirus quarantine; and a Steem essay discussing the security risks of "smart buildings"
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- Background radiation impacts human longevity and cancer mortality: Reconsidering the linear no-threshold paradigm - It is commonly believed that radiation follows a "linear no-threshold" model for exposure and risk, and therefore that no level of exposure should be thought safe. In contrast, my father-in-law, who is a retired Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) engineer has argued at many dinner table conversations that this model is naive and that radiation is like most other phenomenon. In short, dose matters. Giving my father-in-law the opportunity to say, "I told you so", this study calls the linear no-threshold model into question, finding that "exposure to a high background radiation displays clear beneficial health effects in humans". In particular, the researchers compared longevity and background radiation levels for the entire US population, and they found that people who live in areas with higher amounts of background radiation live an average of 2 1/2 years longer with the difference caused, in part, by lower mortality rates from a number of different cancers. -h/t Daniel Lemire
- How AI Is Tracking the Coronavirus Outbreak - Harvard's John Brownstein is part of an international effort to use social media posts, web content, and other data to monitor the spread of coronavirus. To accomplish this, the team is looking for mention of specific symptoms that are tied to geographic regions where potential cases have been reported by doctors. Although the rate of increase in the number of new cases in recent days has been slowing, it's not clear yet whether that's part of a larger trend, and Brownstein notes that the team has been stepping up surveillance efforts in the US because it is critical to quickly identify emerging new cases. Aside from proactive surveillance, Johns Hopkins University has also set up an interactive web site to visualize the outbreak, based upon official numbers from countries around the world. At the time I'm writing this (Monday morning), Johns Hopkins is reporting 40,574 total cases, with 12 in the US. Although it is very difficult to distinguish the flu-like symptoms from reports of the common flu, the article notes that another team has already seen success, when they were able to identify a cluster of coronavirus reports and report it to the WHO on December 30 (previously covered in Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for February 9, 2020). In addition to identifying new cases, Brownstein also says that the technique has the potential to improve the time it takes to identify the ages, genders, and locations of people who are most at risk.
- Ancient skulls from Mexico surprisingly diverse - A new article in PlosOne adds fuel to the debate about the peopling of the North American continent. Four skeletons were discovered by underwater archaeologists in a limestone cave system that used to be above ground. The skeletons were dated to 9,000-13,000 years ago, and the skulls were analyzed with CT scans and X-rays. At this age, first author Mark Hubbe says that they are among the first human dwellers on the continent. In contrast to South American remains, which are typically quite homogeneous, these skulls revealed great diversity. By comparing the skulls to reference selections, the researchers determined oldest skull contained features that make it similar to North American arctic populations, the second has features matching European references, the third had features that corresponded to Asian and Native Americans, and the fourth matched arctic populations as well as some modern South American references. The article concludes with this:
The study of these rare remains illustrates that we are probably still underestimating the biological diversity of early Americans and suggests that the process of human occupation of North and South America was much more complex than previously thought.-h/t archaeology.org
Update: For context, although Hubbe says that the people found in this Mexican cave were among the first human dwellers on the continent, we learned in Curating the Internet: Science and technology micro-summaries for September 7, 2019 that the Meadowcroft site in Pennsylvania was home to hunter/gatherers as early as 19,000 years ago, so it would seem that Meadowcroft predates this site by at least 6,000 years.
- Satellite images show how coronavirus brought Wuhan to a standstill - MIT Tech Review has side-by-side satellite photos with images of a variety of locations in Wuhan before and after the city was mostly idled by quarantines for the Wuhan coronavirus. The photos are connected by a slider that lets the browser sweep the entirety of the photo from before to after. The city has a population of 11 million, but under quarantine the highways and transportation centers look like a ghost town to the satellites. Photo locations include a train station, airport, and the site of some undeveloped land that was turned into a hospital. Descriptions don't do it justice, so click through to see the images.
- STEEM Why Smart Buildings Are Vulnerable To Hackers - Using Building Automation Systems (BAS) to save money by controlling things like lights and temperature, so-called smart buildings are emerging in many cities and towns. However, any new automation technology comes with security flaws, so these smart buildings are also vulnerable to attacks by hackers. According to the CyberSecurity firm, Kapersky, up to 40% of smart buildings are at risk from "malware, ... spyware, phishing scams, and worms", all of which can be used to extort ransom from a building-owner. In response to this threat, @twr suggests that every organization must take steps to establish standards, understand its risk tolerance, and facilitate communication so that all stakeholders - not just technology stakeholders - understand the risk that is associated with their BAS. (A beneficiary setting of 10% has been applied to this post for @twr.)
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