Why blanket travel bans won’t work to stop omicron


Countries are slamming their borders shut again. Since the omicron variant was discovered in southern Africa and reported to the World Health Organization last week, more than 50 countries have imposed border controls. They target mostly South Africa and Botswana, which reported the first cases, but also neighboring countries in the region.  The aim was … Read more

We built a database to understand the China Initiative. Then the government changed its records.


Since the US government launched the China Initiative in 2018, the main source of information about it has been press releases on the Department of Justice’s China Initiative webpage announcing arrests, charges, and indictments.  But the record is incomplete. Civil rights groups that have been concerned about the initiative from the start—especially its potential for … Read more

Renewables are set to soar


Construction of solar farms, wind turbines, and other sources of renewable power will soar over the next five years as nations set stricter climate policies and more ambitious emissions targets. New renewable electricity capacity will set another record this year, at 290 gigawatts, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency. That’s roughly … Read more

We won’t know how bad omicron is for another month


The discovery of the omicron variant of covid-19 in southern Africa shows how sequencing the genes of a virus can give an early alert to dangerous-looking changes in its genome. Omicron has more than 30 mutations, some of which have previously been seen in other variants and are thought to make viral transmission faster. Others … Read more

We still don’t know enough about the Omicron variant to panic


The news: Just five days ago, South African scientists informed the World Health Organization that they’d identified a new covid-19 variant. The situation has escalated rapidly since then. The variant, known as B.1.1.529, has already been identified in many countries across the world, and was designated a variant of “concern” by the WHO on Friday, which … Read more

NASA wants to use the sun to power future deep space missions


In August 2022, a NASA probe called Psyche will set out to explore a giant metallic asteroid called Psyche 16, to help scientists learn more about how planets form. The way Psyche reaches its target, though, will be different from typical NASA missions.   Building on technology used in previous missions, including Dawn and Deep Space 1, solar power will help propel Psyche into deep space. If that proves successful, it could be the start of a … Read more

Can Afghanistan’s underground “sneakernet” survive the Taliban?


When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in August, Mohammad Yasin had to make some difficult decisions very quickly. As the country reeled from the shock of the insurgent takeover, the 21-year-old—whose name has been changed to protect his safety—snuck into his small place of business and got to work.  He began erasing some of the … Read more

Machine learning improves Arabic speech transcription capabilities


Thanks to advancements in speech and natural language processing, there is hope that one day you may be able to ask your virtual assistant what the best salad ingredients are. Currently, it is possible to ask your home gadget to play music, or open on voice command, which is a feature already found in some … Read more