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News

Health researchers report funder pressure to suppress results – Nature

Government agencies such as health departments might be more inclined to intervene if findings from a study they commissioned are not as expected or if they are heavily invested in the health intervention — such as an education or health programme — being trialled, she adds.

A 2016 inquiry into the delayed publication of research commissioned by UK government agencies identified cases in which publication was “manipulated to fit with political concerns”. More recently, the British Medical Journal reported four instances of politicization and suppression of science in the United Kingdom during the COVID-19 pandemic.

http://archive.today/2021.08.20-134039/https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02242-x

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News

British head of science-funding body Wellcome Trust is accused of a ‘chilling’ bid to stifle debate on Wuhan lab leak theory – The Mail on Sunday

So it is curious that since the Covid pandemic began, this hugely influential figure has been at the heart of the scientific establishment’s efforts to stifle debate on the origins of the virus that emerged in Wuhan.

The Oxford, Edinburgh and London-educated infectious diseases expert has claimed scientists ‘know’ Covid was not created in a lab, suggested such an idea was a ‘conspiracy theory’ and insisted that ‘evidence’ indicates it spilled over naturally from animals. 

Now, The Mail on Sunday can reveal that emails from America’s top infectious disease chief, Anthony Fauci, show how Farrar played a key role behind the scenes in marshalling top scientists’ response to concerns over the virus’s origins, even demanding secrecy on their discussions.

Crucially, he was a central figure behind two landmark statements published by leading science journals that helped to silence dissident views, arguing against the plausibility of ‘any type of laboratory-based scenario’.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9680085/British-head-science-funding-body-Wellcome-Trust-accused-chilling-bid-stifle-debate.html

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Opinion

Beijing’s useful idiots – UnHerd

Science journals have encouraged and enforced a false Covid narrative

Bear in mind that in the heat of this pandemic, papers printed in important journals were peer-reviewed within 10 weeks; one rattled through the process in just nine days for Nature. But, like Petrovsky, I have heard similar stories from many other frustrated experts who confronted the conventional wisdom that this lethal virus was a natural spillover event. Some could not even get letters published, let alone challenge those key papers promoting the Chinese perspective which have since turned out to be flawed or wrong.

Only now is acceptance emerging that the science establishment colluded to dismiss the lab leak hypothesis as a conspiracy theory, assisted by prominent experts with clear conflicts of interest, patsy politicians and a pathetic media that mostly failed to do its job. And yet, at the heart of this scandal lie some of the world’s most influential science journals. These should provide a forum for pulsating debate as experts explore and test theories, especially on something as contentious and fascinating as the possible origins of a global pandemic. Instead, some have played a central role in shutting down discussion and discrediting alternative views on the origins, with disastrous consequences for our understanding of events.

https://unherd.com/2021/06/beijings-useful-idiots/

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Publications

How kids’ immune systems can evade COVID – Nature

Young children account for only a small percentage of COVID-19 infections — a trend that has puzzled scientists. Now, a growing body of evidence suggests why: kids’ immune systems seem better equipped to eliminate SARS-CoV-2 than are adults’.

“Children are very much adapted to respond — and very well equipped to respond — to new viruses,” says Donna Farber, an immunologist at Columbia University in New York City. Even when they are infected with SARS-CoV-2, children are most likely to experience mild or asymptomatic illness.

Another clue that children’s response to the virus differs from that of adults is that some children develop COVID-19 symptoms and antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2 but never test positive for the virus on a standard RT-PCR test. In one study, three children under ten from the same family developed SARS-CoV-2 antibodies — and two of them even experienced mild symptoms — but none tested positive on RT-PCR, despite being tested 11 times over 28 days while in close contact with their parents, who had tested positive.

https://web.archive.org/web/20201211205033/https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-03496-7

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Publications

No evidence for increased transmissibility from recurrent mutations in SARS-CoV-2 – Nature

COVID-19 is caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which jumped into the human population in late 2019 from a currently uncharacterised animal reservoir. Due to this recent association with humans, SARS-CoV-2 may not yet be fully adapted to its human host. This has led to speculations that SARS-CoV-2 may be evolving towards higher transmissibility. The most plausible mutations under putative natural selection are those which have emerged repeatedly and independently (homoplasies). Here, we formally test whether any homoplasies observed in SARS-CoV-2 to date are significantly associated with increased viral transmission. To do so, we develop a phylogenetic index to quantify the relative number of descendants in sister clades with and without a specific allele. We apply this index to a curated set of recurrent mutations identified within a dataset of 46,723 SARS-CoV-2 genomes isolated from patients worldwide. We do not identify a single recurrent mutation in this set convincingly associated with increased viral transmission. Instead, recurrent mutations currently in circulation appear to be evolutionary neutral and primarily induced by the human immune system via RNA editing, rather than being signatures of adaptation. At this stage we find no evidence for significantly more transmissible lineages of SARS-CoV-2 due to recurrent mutations.

https://web.archive.org/web/20201125121534/https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-19818-2

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Publications

No evidence for increased transmissibility from recurrent mutations in SARS-CoV-2 – Nature

We do not identify a single recurrent mutation in this set convincingly associated with increased viral transmission. Instead, recurrent mutations currently in circulation appear to be evolutionary neutral and primarily induced by the human immune system via RNA editing, rather than being signatures of adaptation. At this stage we find no evidence for significantly more transmissible lineages of SARS-CoV-2 due to recurrent mutations.

https://web.archive.org/web/20201125121534/https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-19818-2

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Publications

Post-lockdown SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid screening in nearly ten million residents of Wuhan, China – Nature

Stringent COVID-19 control measures were imposed in Wuhan between January 23 and April 8, 2020. Estimates of the prevalence of infection following the release of restrictions could inform post-lockdown pandemic management. Here, we describe a city-wide SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid screening programme between May 14 and June 1, 2020 in Wuhan. All city residents aged six years or older were eligible and 9,899,828 (92.9%) participated. No new symptomatic cases and 300 asymptomatic cases (detection rate 0.303/10,000, 95% CI 0.270–0.339/10,000) were identified. There were no positive tests amongst 1,174 close contacts of asymptomatic cases. 107 of 34,424 previously recovered COVID-19 patients tested positive again (re-positive rate 0.31%, 95% CI 0.423–0.574%). The prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in Wuhan was therefore very low five to eight weeks after the end of lockdown.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-19802-w

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Publications

What the data say about asymptomatic COVID infections – Nature

Now, evidence suggests that about one in five infected people will experience no symptoms, and they will transmit the virus to significantly fewer people than someone with symptoms. But researchers are divided about whether asymptomatic infections are acting as a ‘silent driver’ of the pandemic.

https://web.archive.org/web/20201118211843/https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-03141-3

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News

Stillbirth rate rises dramatically during pandemic – Nature

A slew of studies from around the world has reported a disturbing trend: since the coronavirus pandemic started, there has been a significant rise in the proportion of pregnancies ending in stillbirths, in which babies die in the womb. Researchers say that in some countries, pregnant women have received less care than they need because of lockdown restrictions and disruptions to health care. As a result, complications that can lead to stillbirths were probably missed, they say.

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02618-5

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News

Scientists build army of 1 million microrobots that can fit inside a hypodermic needle – Cnet

Controlling movement in these tiny machines requires the researchers to shine a laser on minuscule light-sensitive circuits on their backs, which propels their four legs forward. They’ve been designed to operate in all manner of environments such as extreme acidity and temperatures. One of their chief purposes, the researchers say, could be to investigate the human body from the inside

https://www.cnet.com/news/scientists-build-army-of-1-million-microrobots-that-can-fit-inside-a-hypodermic-needle/

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Publications

Electronically integrated, mass-manufactured, microscopic robots – Nature

Fifty years of Moore’s law scaling in microelectronics have brought remarkable opportunities for the rapidly evolving field of microscopic robotics. Electronic, magnetic and optical systems now offer an unprecedented combination of complexity, small size and low cost, and could be readily appropriated for robots that are smaller than the resolution limit of human vision (less than a hundred micrometres). However, a major roadblock exists: there is no micrometre-scale actuator system that seamlessly integrates with semiconductor processing and responds to standard electronic control signals. Here we overcome this barrier by developing a new class of voltage-controllable electrochemical actuators that operate at low voltages (200 microvolts), low power (10 nanowatts) and are completely compatible with silicon processing. To demonstrate their potential, we develop lithographic fabrication-and-release protocols to prototype sub-hundred-micrometre walking robots. Every step in this process is performed in parallel, allowing us to produce over one million robots per four-inch wafer. These results are an important advance towards mass-manufactured, silicon-based, functional robots that are too small to be resolved by the naked eye.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2626-9