Forge Friday Roundup - September 6, 2019

September 6, 2019

In today’s Roundup: immigrant children traumatized by family separation; Facebook tackles deepfakes; impact of mass shootings on legislation; neural network gets to know chimps in the wild; philosophical differences about biobanking; math lays bare the machinations of gerrymandering; NIST offers guidance on cyber resiliency; vitamin E possible culprit in vaping hospitalizations; uBiome gets flushed; why some women are refusing ultrasounds during pregnancy; bracing for brain-reading tech; much more:

AI, Statistics & Data Science
  • “Facebook has directed its team of AI researchers to produce a number of highly realistic fake videos featuring actors doing and saying routine things. These clips will serve as a data set for testing and benchmarking deepfake detection tools. The Facebook deepfakes will be released at a major AI conference at the end of the year.” MIT Technology Review’s Will Knight gives us a preview of Facebook’s strategy aimed at pre-empting viral deception and manipulation using AI-generated “deepfake” videos by creating its own exemplars to stimulate research and the development of countermeasures.
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    Image credit: Satya Deep via Unsplash

  • MIT Technology Review reports on a new deep-learning algorithm developed by a group of researchers led by Oxford’s Daniel Schofield that can not only successfully identify chimpanzees in video footage using facial recognition technology but can also differentiate them by sex. According to the study published recently in Science Advances, although the algorithm was twice as accurate as compared to human experts, it did at times mistake a chimp’s bum for its face. Importantly, the study used a relatively unprocessed video stream and did not rely on a frame-based analysis approach.
  • Voting modeled as a game sheds light on the pernicious effects of gerrymandering in a new Nature article by Stewart and colleagues. Meanwhile, the North Carolina State Supreme Court has struck down gerrymandered voting district maps, ruling them unconstitutional. The Raleigh News and Observer reports that mathematical arguments by Duke professor Jonathan Mattingly, who testified as an expert witness for the NC Democratic Party and the advocacy group Common Cause, may have been persuasive to the three-judge panel.
  • In a new study published in Lancet Digital Health, Faes and colleagues explore whether automated deep learning models can be developed to aid in clinical diagnosis with training input from clinicians without any background in programming or machine learning.
  • “Brain data is the ultimate refuge of privacy. When that goes, everything goes. And once brain data is collected on a large scale, it’s going to be very hard to reverse the process.” Vox’s Sigal Samuel puts humans’ brain rights first in the list of things that need to be molded into regulations as brain-reading tech moves from science-fictional speculation into the realm of the possible.
  • At the New England Journal of Medicine, Ida Sim underlines the chief functional and regulatory aspects of mobile technology and devices in disease diagnosis, management and prevention.  (H/T @EricTopol).
  • “It’s going to be a long time before computers are powerful enough for us to be able to resolve all of the physical processes governing hurricanes.” In a Q&A podcast/article, Duke Pratt School of Engineering’s Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Andrew Bragg responds to why hurricanes are so unpredictable, even in the present technological age (H/T@DukeEngineering).

Basic Science, Clinical Research & Public Health
  • “More than a million Americans have donated genetic information and medical data for research projects. But how that information gets used varies a lot, depending on the philosophy of the organizations that have gathered the data. Some hold the data close, while others are working to make the data as widely available to as many researchers as possible — figuring science will progress faster that way. But scientific openness can be constrained by both practical and commercial considerations.” NPR’s Richard Harris explores the philosophical nuances – and real-world implications – of different approaches to allowing access to vast troves of biological and genetic data being amassed in large-scale biobanks.
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    Image credit: PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay

  • “Prenatal care providers who spoke with STAT reported varying numbers of patients who refused ultrasound. Some often encountered skepticism, while others more frequently cared for women who were on the opposite end of the spectrum: getting far more ultrasounds than they needed at new standalone clinics that offer 3D and 4D scans. All of them suggested the deviations from recommended scans were a new cause for concern.” At STAT News, Megan Thielking’s exploration of women’s reasons for refusing pregnancy ultrasounds provides a microcosm of the larger issues that surround the question of how to balance the risks and benefits of medical diagnostics – and how to talk to patients about that balance.
  • In a JAMA original investigation, Smith-Bindman and colleagues highlight the persistent increase in medical imaging including CT and MRI scans for both adults and children in the United States and Canada over the last 15 years. However, it remains to be seen whether the imaging was necessary when prescribed and whether it led to better patient outcomes.
  • “Developing a health care workforce prepared for the complex needs of older adults—who have the highest use of health care services and increasingly live with chronic conditions and disabilities—requires engaging community-based providers and caregivers who attend to social and environmental health determinants. Yet, the primary care workforce is ill-equipped to meet the demands of a growing geriatric population.” At Health Affairs blog, Jennifer Jurado Severance and Janice Knebl shine a spotlight on an increasingly acute healthcare challenge – the looming shortage of a workforce capable of caring for the nation’s older adults.
  • Business Insider’s Erin Brodwin and Emma Court report on the final demise of erstwhile Silicon Valley sweetheart uBiome, a poop-testing startup with a $600 million venture capitalist lottery ticket, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this week following a FBI raid at its San Francisco headquarters in April exposing flawed test data and dubious billing practices.
  • Aspen Institute’s Jon Solomon presents recent findings from the institute’s new State of Play 2019 report that highlights recent progress in the world of youth sports, including an increase in kids between 6 and 12 engaging in team sports for the third consecutive year. However, the report underscores that some kids – particularly those from lower-income households – are not benefitting equally from these trends.
  • “The Department of Defense is a microcosm of the nation — we recruit from the nation. So the nation’s problems are ours as well.” New York Time’s Dave Philipps quotes Laura Mitvalsky, the director of health promotion and wellness at the Army Public Health Center, as he reports findings from a new Defense Department Study showing one in five US Navy sailors to be obese, making the Navy’s figure the highest among the steadily growing obesity rates trend across all other national armed services.
  • “Children separated during the Trump administration’s ‘zero tolerance policy’ last year, many already distressed in their home countries or by their journey, showed more fear, feelings of abandonment and post-traumatic stress symptoms than children who were not separated, according to a report Wednesday from the inspector general’s office in the Department of Health and Human Services.” Frontline and the Associated Press report on harm visited on immigrant children by family separation policies enacted at the U.S. southern border.
  • As a spate of severe respiratory problems and even deaths linked to vaping causes increasing public health concern, a number of state agencies are suggesting that vaping products containing vitamin E may be the culprit, but the FDA says more investigation is needed. Ars Technica’s Beth Mole reports.
  • “Investors have enormous power over whether a startup company survives. They take advantage of that power to harass startup founders, which federal civil-rights laws have allowed them to do with legal impunity.” In an article for the Atlantic, Aspen Institute’s Ginny Fahs, one of four tech veterans behind the #MovingForward movement now drawing attention to the problem of investor-entrepreneur harassment in the venture capital world, calls for legislative measures from states with thriving VC communities to curb it. 
  • “Solar panels might seem like they’re in direct competition with plants. One is catching sunlight to do photosynthesis, the other wants to take it to push electrons….In reality, it’s not a zero-sum game. Some plants will burn in direct sun, after all, and so there are plenty of food crops that would be happy to share their space with panels. And as a new study led by the University of Arizona’s Greg Barron-Gafford shows, the combination isn’t even necessarily a compromise—there are some synergies that can bring significant benefits to a solar-agriculture.” Ars Technica’s Scott Johnson introduces readers to the new field of “agrivoltaics,” which early research suggests provides a “win-win” scenario both for growing certain kinds of crops and for generating power via solar panel arrays.
  • ScienceNews’ Bruce Bower reports on a new paper published in Science Advances in which researchers present findings from a new analysis of a finger bone unearthed in 2008 and used to study the Denisovans (ancient humans identified in 2010), showing similarities between the bone and those from ancient humans. The findings have uncovered more mysteries about the interactions of ancient humans and could potentially rewrite the history of our ancestors.

Communications & Digital Society
  • “This ritual might make me more mindful, but mostly by making my self-loathing more self-aware. Now, instead of tapping the Twitter icon to load the app, I tap it to load the Screen Time nag screen, which reminds me that I’m a bad person for using Twitter too much. Then I tap “ignore,” ensuring the prophecy gets fulfilled.” The Atlantic’s Ian Bogost chronicles his somewhat less than 100% successful attempt to use one problematic technology to counter another.
  •  “Looking for Vaccine Info?” CNN’s Jacqueline Howard reports on Facebook and Instagram, in their effort to curb vaccine misinformation, announcing new informational pop-up windows that will appear on both social media platforms as users search for or access vaccine-related content, directing international users to the WHO website and American users to the U.S. CDC website for reliable information on vaccines.
  • Draft of a new special report by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) lays down the fundamentals of cyber resilience (an popular umbrella term for the combined areas of informational security, business continuity and organizational resilience) and provides a much-needed framework for better organizational application of security and cyber resiliency design concepts (H/T @eperakslis).

  • Kaiser Health News’ Michelle Andrews highlights how vaccination exemptions remain a controversial issue in New York as the state passes strict regulations on school vaccination requirements as children head back to school in the fall. There were no new reported cases of measles in August in New York City, according to officials and with the new laws, New York joins four states that do not permit religious exemptions to vaccinations: California, Maine, Mississippi and West Virginia. However, California Governor Gavin Newsom is insisting on major “last-minute changes” to an important vaccine legislation that could loosen similar immunization exception rules for California schoolchildren. Newsom going backwards on his earlier promise of signing the bill is creating “confusion and new conflict at the state Capitol,” report L.A. Times’ Melody Gutierrez and Taryn Luna report.
  • “We’re not being bankrupted by unnecessary medical care. We’re being financially crippled by high-priced procedures and drugs.” At Forbes, Duke’s Peter Ubel reviews a new costs and spending study by Harvard researchers published in Health Affairs that highlights a “price problem” in Medicare expenditures, with the top 10% chronically expensive patients accumulating more in outpatient costs and medical expenses.
  • In a First Opinion for STAT, Aravive’s Chief Scientific Officer Gail McIntyre has harsh words for so-called copycat drugs, lamenting how “the drug development process has turned into an exercise in me-tooism — at patients’ expense,” and calls for patients to be put at the center of clinical trials.
  • “I feel so strongly that hardworking Missourians across the state deserve affordable healthcare so that they don’t have to decide between their medications and putting food on the table.” The Kansas City Star’s Crystal Thomas quotes Dr. Heidi Miller’s statement on behalf of Healthcare for Missouri, a group on a campaign to expand Medicaid in Missouri.
  • In a post for Georgetown University’s health policy blog Say Ahhh!, Tricia Brooks writes about the almost 1 million children who have lost their health insurance due to recent changes by the Trump administration between December 2017 and May 2019 and provides recommendations to increase enrollment of children in public insurance programs.
  • A new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper by Luca and colleagues finds that media coverage of mass shootings “evokes large policy responses” – but the eventual results of those responses are often negligible at the national level; at the state level, the actual outcomes may be a loosening of gun restrictions, depending on the party in control of the respective state legislatures (H/T @DKThomp).