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“Future Human” logo

As I write this letter, the long-predicted fall surge of Covid-19 is beginning in countries across the Northern Hemisphere. In the United States alone, more than 204,000 people have died from the coronavirus. People of color are bearing the brunt of the virus’s devastation, which has been immeasurably compounded by a long history of racist policy. Dry, hot winds threaten even more wildfires in heat-scorched California, which has lost 3.6 million acres this year alone. Sea ice in the Arctic has reached its second-lowest point in 40 years of recorded history. Nearly one in eight American households is going hungry.

The world we’ve created is threatening the survival of our species in an unprecedented way. …

A science journalist asks: How do we reach the people who need it most?

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Credit: FilippoBacci / Getty Images

These days, I wake up every morning to notifications on my phone broadcasting the latest Covid-19 case count — 12.4 million in the United States by today’s tally — and scream inside my heart.

I scream because 12.4 million people could’ve avoided Covid-19 if they, the people around them, or their local leaders heeded the scientific advice on how to stop the spread. I scream because it isn’t their fault: I scream because it seems like there’s been a failure to communicate the risks to the public, and as a science journalist, I feel complicit.

Of course, the bewilderment I feel in my waking moments isn’t a fair evaluation of the wide range of public health and science messaging about Covid-19, which at its very best has been clear, compassionate, and expert-driven, and at its worst confusing, uninformed, and mired in ugly politics. I have nothing but admiration for the tireless work of my colleagues and peers, and the scientists they work with, in trying to get the word out to as many people who are willing to listen. And many people do listen — just not enough of them. …

All Tomorrow’s Kitchens

A weekly roundup of everything bringing humans closer to a food-secure future

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All Tomorrow’s Kitchens, a weekly series from Future Human, rounds up advances in food and agricultural science, tech, business, and culture bringing all humans closer to a food-secure future.

A new bill could return stolen land to Black farmers

After the Civil War, the federal government promised land to newly freed Black people. This promise didn’t quite come true: Land was often either given to Black people then taken away, or never granted at all. For those that did obtain land, racist policy and white supremacy in the following years made it hard for them to hold on to it. …

Everything that happened in the race to find a coronavirus vaccine this week

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Image: Malte Mueller/Getty Images

After several weeks without a change, there are now 13 vaccines in phase 3 clinical trials — up two from last week — and six approved for limited use. Still none have been approved for general use, but that could change soon.

Pfizer takes the lead in the vaccine race

Hot off last week’s news that its vaccine is 90% effective, based on early results from a late-stage trial, Pfizer announced on Wednesday that it had finished its trial and its full results show 95% effectiveness. In the announcement, the company, which developed the vaccine in partnership with the German biotechnology firm BioNTech, said it would submit to the U.S. …

Electronic medical implants can come with serious security risks

The collision of technology and medicine has resulted in the future that early science fiction writers dreamed of: One where electronic medical devices are implanted into the body, making people truly bionic.

At Future Human, we’ve written a lot about these devices and the ways they can revolutionize medical treatment. In October, staff writer and resident biotech expert Emily Mullin wrote about a tiny device, snaked through the jugular vein into the brain, that can read the thoughts of paralyzed people, allowing them to type. Earlier this year, she wrote about a scientist who got a deep brain stimulation device implanted into his brain to help him control his alcoholism as well as a tiny implant that could wake people from comas. …

Multiple teams are pursuing a promising pathway for treatment

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Credit: Evgenyi_Eg / Getty Images

While all eyes are on Pfizer’s and Moderna’s injectable Covid-19 vaccine, researchers elsewhere are pursuing treatments that take a different route: up the nose. Scientists are hoping that the right molecules, spritzed into the nostrils via a nasal spray, could provide protection from Covid-19 infection, at least temporarily.

The nose isn’t the only path into the body for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, but it is a major one. Some cells in the nasal passages have high numbers of viral receptors compared to other cells in the body, which may also be the reason why people with Covid-19 tend to lose their sense of smell and taste. Now, multiple teams of scientists are looking for ways to block the virus from getting into nasal cells. …

All Tomorrow’s Kitchens

A weekly roundup of everything bringing humans closer to a food-secure future

Image for post
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All Tomorrow’s Kitchens, a weekly series from Future Human, rounds up advances in food and agricultural science, tech, business, and culture bringing all humans closer to a food-secure future.

It’s the fast food of the future, and they called it the McPlant

This week’s biggest story about the future of food is that McDonald’s is developing a plant-based line of product called, to the internet’s glee, the McPlant. The fast-food behemoth will start testing its meat-free burger next year, and a plant-based chicken substitute could follow, CNBC reported Monday. …

Everything that happened this week in the race to find a coronavirus vaccine

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Credit: Malte Mueller/Getty Images

There are still 11 vaccines in phase 3 clinical trials and six approved for limited use — no change from last week. None have been approved for general use yet, but the race is heating up.

Pfizer’s vaccine appears to be 90% effective. The biggest news of the week came from vaccine front-runner Pfizer, which released preliminary data on Monday showing that its vaccine is 90% effective. Though the results were released via press release and not a peer-reviewed paper, many scientists were optimistic. Efficacy of 90% is much higher than the Food and Drug Administration’s requirement of 50%. …

New research points to the power of aggressive non-pharmaceutical interventions

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Photo by Jordan Hopkins on Unsplash

Nearly eight months into the Covid-19 pandemic, the psychological impacts of social distancing have taken their toll. In Europe, where countries have begun their second wave of coronavirus lockdowns, people are coping with pandemic fatigue. Americans are feeling it too, though lockdowns haven’t yet been implemented in the U.S., despite the average daily case count surpassing 110,000 new cases per day.

It hasn’t been easy. Recent research published in Science Advances, however, is a reminder that sacrificing the ability to socialize and see family and friends pays off in a big way.

In the modeling study, researchers show that the U.S. could have saved 59,000 more people and prevented over a million cases of Covid-19 by May 3 if it had implemented social distancing rules and business closures just two weeks sooner — starting on March 1, 2020, as opposed to March 15, when most restrictions in the U.S. began. Had they started just one week earlier, on March 8, the model suggests that 600,000 cases and 32,000 deaths could have been avoided. The team, led by Sen Pei, PhD, of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, built the model using county-level data on positive cases and death counts collected between February 21 and May 3. …

In an open letter addressed to President-elect Joe Biden published in Scientific American today, Benjamin Santer, PhD, a climate researcher and U.S. National Academy of Sciences member, urges Biden to restore public trust in science and scientists.

The Trump administration, he writes, made federally funded science agencies subordinate to the president’s ego, and Americans — battered by the impacts of climate change and mountain pollution — have suffered as a result. “You must convince the women and men working in these agencies that their new prime directive is not political loyalty to one person — the new directive is ‘get the science right,’” he writes.

Read the rest of the open letter in Scientific American:

About

Yasmin Tayag

Senior editor, Future Human and OneZero at Medium, writer at Medium Coronavirus Blog. Previously at Inverse. Covering the science that’s shaping the future.

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