Science TECH_Social

New addiction-treatment center helps alcoholics drink in moderation

Most alcoholics might consider drinking moderately to be impossible, but an up-and-coming Canadian rehab company is purportedly helping them achieve it. The Alavida Clinic, which began serving patients in Toronto last week, offers patients a “harms-reduction” approach that it says may be a viable option for compulsive drinkers who have repeatedly tried and failed to abstain from drinking.

“People come to us and they set their goals for change — and that goal may be a reduction in drinking all the way up to achieving abstinence,” said Lindsay Killam, Alavida Health’s clinical program director.

The clinic runs a brick-and-mortar facility in Vancouver that first opened in September 2016 and has seen seen more than 150 patients through the present day. It claims that 75% of its patients have achieved lower-risk drinking levels through its program.

There is no physical Alavida office in Toronto yet. But patients can undergo evaluation, enroll in the program, and receive ongoing support through phone and video chat.

The Alavida program prescribes patients Naltrexone, a drug that blocks the brain from registering alcohol consumption’s pleasurable effects. Patients take the pill an hour before drinking and can consume alcohol but will not feel the euphoric “rush” of an alcohol-induced buzz and thus feel little inclination to drink excessively. Coupled with the pill regimen are counseling sessions with a doctor and a cognitive behavioral therapist for up to six months.

The goal is to break patients’ excessive cravings for alcohol by training their brains to no longer find alcohol intensely rewarding. Moderate use of alcohol then becomes a possibility, according to Killam, because the brain “resets” to not having a problematic relationship with alcohol any longer.

Business NONE TECH TECH_Technology

Waymo’s driverless ridesharing service goes public

Waymo is test-driving fully autonomous, driverless cars on public roadways in Arizona with an eye toward launching a fully robotic ride-sharing service, Chief Executive John Krafcik said Tuesday. He said that the company will invite members of the public to go on rides in them in and around Phoenix in the next few months.

“Because we see so much potential in shared mobility, the first way people will get to experience Waymo’s fully self-driving technology will be as a driverless service,” Krafcik said.

While Waymo isn’t the only company currently testing self-driving cars, it is the first in the nation to put a self-driving car on a public roadway with no human behind the wheel. Google and other companies pursuing driverless cars have always put a human in the driver’s seat to intervene if the car makes a mistake. Waymo is the first to report giving its cars total control and the first to make plans to let regular passengers ride in them.

These test passengers will hail the cars via a smartphone app, like they would a typical human-driven Lyft or Uber. A Waymo employee will accompany them in the first few rides. If these rides are successful, passengers will start to ride in the vehicles all on their own. They will be able to stop the car at any time by pressing an emergency button, however.

Some states have enacted legislation restricting or banning driverless cars, but Arizona is not one of them. There is no federal law against driverless cars, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Waymo will roll out the driverless service to the general public at some point after these initial test runs, Krafcik said.

Business NONE TECH TECH_Technology

India is on track to double its renewable-energy output by 2022

India’s fast-growing economy and population are consuming energy at a surging pace, but the country’s renewable-energy capacity seems to be growing fast enough to keep up. The Indian government estimates that India will meet two-fifths of its electricity needs with renewables by 2030, even though the country’s overall energy needs are likely to double by 2024.

India now gets 59 gigawatts of energy from renewable sources and aspires to reach 175 gigawatts by 2022, Power and Renewable Energy Minister R K Singh told reporters recently. He said that this target number would include 100 gigawatts of solar energy and 60 gigawatts of wind power.

India’s solar panels have reached a milestone 30% efficiency, and the prices for solar will likely decline, he added. However, analyses indicate that India will have to invest around U.S. $100 billion to meet its 2022 renewable-energy goal.

The International Energy Agency shares the Indian government’s optimism. In a report last month, the agency projected that Indian renewable capacity will “more than double” by 2022.

China is presently the world’s largest generator of renewable energy. It has attained 360 gigawatts of capacity and has already exceeded its 2020 solar PV goal this year.

But India and China are not the only places where renewable energy is set to flourish, the International Energy Agency said. It’s report forecasts that global renewable capacity in 2022 will total 1,000 gigawatts—the size of half of the entire world’s coal capacity. Solar energy would constitute a dominant share of this growth, according to the report.

“What we are witnessing is the birth of a new era in solar PV. We expect that solar PV capacity growth will be higher than any other renewable technology through 2022,” said Fatih Birol, the agency’s executive director.


TSC_Global Politics

Mexico tourism plummets in the face of cartel violence

Mexico’s hotels are reporting a 10% drop in occupancy this year and 35,000 reservation cancellations, as tourism drops amid deepening fears over drug-related violence near tourist hotspots. Cancun, Los Cabos, and other locales have witnessed rising gun violence, grisly murders, and other crimes in the past year, and large numbers of would-be American visitors are staying away.

The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning about violence south of the border in August. Carlos Gosselin, head of the hotel association for Cancun and Puerto Morelos, said that group tourism “automatically” went down in August after it went out.

“U.S. citizens have been the victims of violent crimes, including homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery in various Mexican states,” the warning stated.

Mexican authorities opened 31% more homicide investigations in the first six months of 2017 than they did in the first six months of last year. Homicides rose even in some areas that had long been presumed safe from cartel violence, such as Baja California Sur, Veracruz, and Mexico City.

Gunman opened fire at a Cancun nightclub in January and killed five people, including one U.S. citizen, Alajandra Vullanueva Ibarra of Denver, Colo. And in June, an ice cooler containing two severed heads turned up at a resort in Cabo San Lucas while a cooler with two mangled corpses appeared two days prior in Cabo. Police found six more dead bodies near the same two resorts in March.

Mexican tourism—from the United States and elsewhere—had been on a growth spurt. A Fox News report indicated 35 million international travelers to Mexico in 2016, a 9% increase from the year before.

NONE SCI Science TECH_Social

DNA analysis shows Easter Islands did not have Native American contact before European arrival

Researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz have found evidence that the original inhabitants of Rapa Nui were more isolated than previously thought, a new study published in Current Biology reports.

Scientists generally agree that the ancient Polynesians first settled the remote spit of land — also called Easter Island — sometime before 1200 A.D. However, as nobody knows whether or not the early islanders had any contact with the Indigenous South Americans, few people can agree on what happened next.

 A 2014 DNA study of archaeological evidence collected from sweet potato crops in the region showed that the islanders mixed with Native American populations before Europeans first arrived in 1722. This has been the leading theory since that time. However, the new research shows this is not true.

The team found this by looking at the genomes of five different Rapa Nui islanders using samples that were taken from the Ahu Nau Nau site. This revealed that three of the individuals lived before European contact — sometime between 1445 and 1624 — while the other two lived after that contact between 1815 and 1945.

Though researchers thought they would find ample evidence of intermingling with Native Americans, none of the islanders that existed before European contact had Native American genes.

“We found no evidence of gene flow between the inhabitants of Easter Island and South America,” said lead author Lars Fehren-Schmitz, a professor of biological anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, according to “We were really surprised we didn’t find anything. There’s a lot of evidence that seems plausible, so we were convinced we would find direct evidence of pre-European contact with South America, but it wasn’t there.”

The team states there could be numerous reasons for the conflicting findings between the recent study and the one in 2014.

The first is that all three ancient individuals simply never came into contact with Native Americans. However, that is unlikely because American ancestry is known to have been evenly distributed across the population.

Another reason for the discrepancy is that Native American ancestry may relate to the mixed European and South American ethnicity of the crews that came to the island. This is the most likely cause because many of the the ships that landed on Rapa Nui multiple times had workers from South America.

The new study casts doubt on the previous research, but that does not mean intermixing never happened. It simply means there could be new scenarios that were previously unknown.

Scientists have always been a bit wary of the claim of Native American ancestry on Rapa Nui, and this could show that it did not in fact occur. While the research reaches no definitive conclusions, the team believes it could help open the door for further investigations.

“What our study tells us is that we have to dig deeper and we have to do that jointly as geneticists and archaeologists and anthropologists, to see if there is any other kind of traces that we can work with that give us a better idea of what might have happened,” explained Fehren-Schmitz, according to ABC Online.

Business NONE

Federal regulators crack down on private student loan debt-collection tactics

Tens of thousands of student-loan borrowers could get relief from private student loan debts, following a settlement Monday between the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts and its debt collector, Transworld Systems. Per the settlement, the federal agency ruled that the student loan holder and Transworld must pay at least $21 million in compensation for using illegal and sometimes fraudulent collection practices to extract debt payments from borrowers.
The National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts is the nation’s largest holder of student loan debt, with more than 800,000 private student-loan debts in its portfolio. According to the federal agency, the student-loan holder and Transworld sued borrowers without providing enough proof that they owed the debts and used legal measures to collect on debts that were by law too old to sue over. The companies won some court cases against their borrowers by issuing false statements and misleading documents in court, the agency also alleged.
The National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts and their debt collector sued consumers for student loans they couldn’t prove were owed and filed false and misleading affidavits in courts across the country,” said Richard Cordray, director of the CFPB, in a statement.
The trust will pay at least $19.1 million in civil penalties, under the settlement’s terms, while Transworld pays another $2.5 million. The companies will also submit to independent audits of every loan debt that they own to any consumers who suffered needless harm, and both must cease any lawsuits on debts whose statutes of limitations have expired.

NONE SCI Science

Human beings are still physically evolving, says study

Genes for Alzheimer’s, asthma, and many other ailments are actually becoming rarer in humans over time, and the human genome as a whole is continuing to evolve under the guiding force of natural selection. These are the conclusions of a study of DNA of more than 210,000 people from the United States and Great Britain, the results of which were published recently in PLoS Biology.
The researchers tracked 8 million mutations among them and observed the frequency with which each mutation appeared in other humans’ genomes. Mutations responsible for Alzheimer’s disease and heavy smoking were both less frequent in older people—i.e., people with longer life spans. Longer-living people were also less likely to have genetic mutations for heart disease, cholesterol, asthma, or obesity.
Since these humans live longer, they would presumably be able to pass on their non-mutated genomes through their children, the researchers inferred. The researchers described this process as the same natural selection that has been changing the human form since our prehistoric evolution from primates.
“It’s a subtle signal, but we find genetic evidence that natural selection is happening in modern human populations,” Joseph Pickrel, an evolutionary geneticist at Columbia University and the New York Genome Center, said in a news release.
The researchers noted other genetic mutations that they said were less obviously harmful, depending on the environment. For example, genetic variants causing greater or lesser fertility changed over time. They attributed these fluctuations to environmental influence: Greater fertility may be more beneficial in one time period but less so in another.

Business Media NONE TECH TECH_Technology

Apple owes Ireland more than $15 billion in back taxes

The Irish government is setting up an escrow fund to facilitate the collection of an estimated 13 billion Euros–$15.2 billion—in back taxes from Apple Inc. The arrangement is the product of months of intensive negotiations between Ireland, Apple, and the European Union and resolves European Union complaints from a year ago that the Irish government had been giving the iPhone giant an unacceptably lenient break on corporate taxes.
A custodian appointed jointly by Apple and the government will oversee the new account, which Apple will deposit funds into until it has paid the tax debt in full, said the Irish finance ministry in a statement. One or more investment managers will also help manage the funds.
The case dates back to August 2016, when the EU’s Competition Commission ruled that Ireland had been giving Apple a special corporate tax break and that the deal broke state-aid rules. The commission ordered Apple’s tax dues to be recalculated in accordance with EU regulations, resulting in a 13 billion-Euro back-tax obligation that Apple was on the hook to pay.
Ireland was supposed to have collected the balance from Apply by January, but negotiations and court appeals dragged out the process past this deadline. The Irish finance ministry and Apple both said that they are working to resolve the situation.
“The European Commission’s case against Ireland has never been about how much Apple pays in taxes, it’s about which government gets the money,” said Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock. “The United States government, the Irish government and Apple all agree we’ve paid our taxes according the law. Since virtually all of our research and development takes place in the United States, according to the law, we pay the majority of our taxes in the U.S.”

NATURE NONE NWT_Environment SCI Science

Humpback whale herds swim in NYC waters for the first time in a hundred years

Most Americans don’t think of whale-watching as an activity one can do in New York City, but conservationists say that may start to change. Large herds of humpback whales are appearing in the waters outside the city for the first time in a century, and researchers give credit to municipal and state environmental clean-up efforts.

“Because of the improvement of the water quality, algae and zooplankton have multiplied, giving good food for the menhaden [a small fish eaten by whales], which have returned in numbers that the fishermen say they have not seen in their lifetimes,” said Paul Sieswerda, founder of Gotham Whales, a nonprofit that tracks whales, seals, and dolphins in the New York City region.

This nonprofit takes tourists out on paid boating trips to scan for whales and the other wildlife listed above. Until just a few years ago, tours such as these might have been impossible: Humpback whales were virtually extinct in the Hudson River and other river ways in the region from the early 1900s on. Heavy industrial pollution and overfishing of the Bronx, Hudson, and other rivers had wiped out the plankton, small fish, and other aquatic life that were the whales’ food sources.

New York enacted clean-water and clean-air legislation starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the rivers’ health slowly began to improve. Over time, some smaller fish species made slow comebacks.

Sieswerda said that the whales started to appear again in 2011. And in 2014, he and his colleagues counted 106 whales in the waters outside the city. And that November, passersby photographed a whale swimming in the water facing the Statue of Liberty.

NONE Science

Sub-Sahara African countries are facing a huge danger of invasive species

A new study shows that invasive species continue to threaten the balance of the ecosystems around the world, with sub-Saharan Africa being the most vulnerable. The study puts the blame on first world nations, saying that they could be more responsible in how the pests are spread.

A group of researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Australia examined the distribution of approximately 1300 varying kinds of invasive species. They wanted to see the impact the pathogens and pests have on the flow of trade and the agricultural production of various countries around the world.

“By identifying the countries and regions that are most vulnerable, governments can make informed decisions on the deployment of resources to protect their borders and agricultural industries,” said Dr. Dean Paini, head of the team.

They discovered that developing countries south of the Sahara are at more risk of experiencing massive losses if these pests spread to their territories. In a discovery that was hardly surprising, the scientists came up with the conclusion that countries such as China and the United States are the greatest threat to weaker countries in as far as pests are concerned.

This is due to the fact that these two nations have the biggest industries that deal with the export of agricultural inputs and produce, and have widespread networks of trade partners. They also have an alarmingly large number of invasive species.

However, China and the United States have the advantage of having solid structures and policies to deal with the potential damage by these invasive species.