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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Evolution
The evolution of the EITI and next steps for tackling extractive industries corruption – Brookings Institution
Posted: July 31, 2020 at 6:34 pm
Since 2002, one of the highest-profile efforts to increase natural resource transparency in resource-rich countries has been the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a multistakeholder initiative consisting of countries, companies, and civil society organizations. Any attempt to grapple with issues of transparency, governance, and anti-corruption in the natural resource sector must proceed with an understanding of the groundwork laid by the organization and the lessons learned from its experiences. As the EITI nears its 20-year anniversary, the time is ripe to analyze evidence surrounding EITIs successes in opening up extractive industries data, along with its shortcomingsand its potential. Charting the EITIs evolution and journey through the mechanisms of transparency, accountability, and participation can illustrate the ways in which truly effective natural resource governance can take root.
Today, the governments of 53 countries commit themselves to implementing the set of disclosure requirements known as the EITI Standard. (While the Obama administration committed the United States to EITI implementation in 2011, the Trump administration withdrew the country from the initiative in 2017.) While the EITIs original focus was on transparency in revenue collection, the Standard has expanded to cover a wide variety of resource-related data, including contracts with extractive companies, data on resource production, and extractives-related employment numbers. In other words, the Standard now encompasses much of the natural resource value chain, the sequence of resource governance decisions beginning with the decision to extract a resource and ending with government spending of resource-derived revenues. To date, $2.64 trillion in natural resource revenues have been disclosed by EITI-implementing countries.
The EITI was launched after academics in the 1990s and early 2000s began to note that large endowments of natural resources, far from ensuring a countrys economic future and the well-being of all its citizensas had been suggested by previous theories of development economicsin fact served to undermine economic growth and corrode institutions. At the same time, governments the world over were making deals with oil, gas, and mining companies that purportedly required that some of the revenue be returned to the state in the form of royalties, taxes, and other proceeds. These windfalls could have been the basis for a significant improvement in the material lives of these states citizens. But, too often, they were not.
Efforts to discover where of all the money was going had been stymied, with little information regarding how that money was spentor indeed, even how much governments received from extractive projectsmade publicly available. This opacity limited peoples ability to gauge whether their governments were using the resource wealth to benefit all citizenswho exercise sovereign rights to their countries resource endowments under international lawand so in turn inhibited their ability to hold their governments to account.
At least, that was the theory when the EITI was founded in 2002: that a flood of data about the money would unleash a wave of citizen engagement, which in turn would drive down corruption and improve development outcomes. But reality is far more complicated, and mechanisms beyond transparency are needed to more fully effect change.
Research has shown that while transparency is an important precondition for fostering accountability and ultimately reducing corruption, it is not, by itself, sufficient to promote change.
For example, a recent success stemming from EITIs transparency model demonstrates that its disclosure regime is often only the first link in a chain leading to reduced corruption. In 2017, the nonprofit investigative organization Global Witness analyzed the Democratic Republic of the Congos 2014 EITI report. It found discrepancies which showed that the mining conglomerate Glencore may have paid more than $75 million between 2013 and 2016 to Dan Gertler, a businessman previously accused of bribing senior officials there. Spurred on by these and numerous other accusations of corruption, the United States imposed sanctions on Gertler in 2017. Those sanctions, in turn, may have prompted the then-president of the DRC, Joseph Kabila, to not run for reelection.
The EITI, as this example illustrates, is largely reliant on othersincluding infomediaries, such as journalists and civil society organizationsto translate technical information (which includes all resource-related disclosures) for a general audience. This, in turn, helps foster the participatory civic engagement that is critical to promoting accountability.
From the EITIs inception to the present, transparency has been at the core of the its work, while participatory and accountability mechanisms were often weak or absent. To be sure, the EITIs model requires all implementing countries to form multistakeholder groups (MSGs) consisting of representatives from government, industry, and civil society to oversee EITI implementation and thereby to presumably foster participation. But many MSGs are not representative of society as a whole, and (with a few exceptions), only operate at the national level, leaving critical stakeholders at the regional and city levels out of the discussion. Moreover, the EITI has been criticized for prioritizing the release of data and diminishing the decisionmaking authority of national MSGs. As a result, while some MSGs have become legitimatearenasfor dialogue,in other places they often prove less able to impact decisions or prompt policy changes that are responsive to their concerns.
What participatory efforts like MSGs can missand what is increasingly recognized by academics and practitioners as a critical part of the pictureis an intentional focus on accountability mechanisms. Pioneering work by Jonathan Fox has argued in favor of a sandwich strategy to foster social accountability, which requires an opening from above in the form of commitment by reformists with power over policy implementation along with more traditional citizen engagement efforts that push from below. The mutually reinforcing mechanisms of the sandwich strategy can both strengthen citizen participation efforts and create accessible and responsive institutions.
Of course, a key challenge of the sandwich strategy involves the difficulty of finding powerful policymakers willing to engage with transparency and participatory efforts. Here, one useful tactic is to remove the roadblocks that can inhibit pro-reform policymakers. A requirement first introduced in the 2016 EITI standard could be of use in tackling this challenge: the mandatory disclosure of beneficial ownership information beginning in 2020. Beneficial owners (i.e., the real owners or those who benefit from the profits) of extractive companies often hide behind shell companies and other unaccountable corporate entities, making it impossible to tell if the real owners are, in fact, government officials themselves. These politically exposed persons, as they are known, are fundamentally unable to serve in the role of reformists committed to effective governance in natural resource management, since their personal interests override common interests. Furthermore, murky ownership schemes can fuel perceptions of corruption and trigger citizens to lose confidence in government institutions. While beneficial ownership disclosures are also unlikely to be a panacea for fostering top-down accountability efforts, they will greatly assist in the identification of those government officials who can never serve that role.
Evidence to date suggests that a bundled approach of transparency, accountability, and participatory (TAP) mechanisms is most effective in promoting effective governanceof natural resources and beyond. (Indeed, the EITI itself acknowledges that implementing the Standard is not a silver bullet to solve all corruption issues, but instead can be a tool to identify and address weaknesses in natural resource management.) Bottom-up citizen engagement efforts rely on transparency in policy, actions, and expenditure, so that citizens are aware of government officials actions and can work to hold them to account. Avenues for citizens to participate in the policy process and express their concerns to government officials further this work, and receptive, accountable policymakers committed to reform are indispensable for responding effectively to citizen concerns.
The Leveraging Transparency to Reduce Corruption (LTRC) project adds another hypothesis to this TAP troika: that careful attention to contextual factors; consideration of the implementation gap within TAP programs; and attention to natural resource-specific complementary institutions, structures, and programs that are likely to significantly interact with TAP interventions are needed to have a greater chance of success. (See here and here for more on the TAP-Plus hypothesis and the pilot studies we are undertaking to test it).
The EITI has achieved successes in producing high-quality open data across the natural resource value chain in implementing countries. Now, it is time to test new strategies by developing country-adapted and evidence-informed strategies toaddresscorruption and to achieve sustainable development goals.
Research and editing assistance from Joseph Glandorf. Editing assistance from Robin Lewis.
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Posted: at 6:34 pm
Dating apps have evolved to enable users to find social connections generally as well as romance, and in doing so are giving brands more opportunities to create moments which are worth talking about.
Writing for WARC, Chase Buckle, trends manager at GlobalWebIndex, parses the figures from the research agencys custom coronavirus research, which shows increased smartphone usage across 20 countries since March.
He reports that 46% of single millennials and 43% of single Gen Z say theyve used an online dating app or service via any device in the past month. Increased mobile usage, more time spent at home with fewer distractions, and the need to remain connected are likely key drivers of dating app uptake, he notes.
The virus has also changed how people interact: the app is no longer simply an initial introductory space that is quickly left as singles meet up in person. Lockdown and social distancing has meant theres a greater focus on slower dating. (For more details, read Love in lockdown: Online dating during COVID-19.)
Users are taking the time to get to know the other person, spending longer messaging or video calling, and theyre doing activities together virtually. This has all led to a greater demand for more sophisticated features and support from dating apps that go beyond mere matchmaking, Buckle notes.
Tinder, for example, recently announced that it will begin to test video chat in its mobile dating apps in select markets. It had previously tested video chat before the COVID-19 outbreak and didnt see any significant adoption, but that will change this behaviour is one that will stick, says Buckle.
In our latest wave of coronavirus research, 41% of Gen Z say they plan to continue video calling more frequently after the outbreak. Expect to see this behaviour become the norm.
Brands looking to leverage dating apps in their marketing campaigns need to recognise this change of pace and rethink what makes them unique environments to advertise in.
People are using these apps to enjoy themselves, and theyre more likely to engage with brands that celebrate this idea of fun, he says.
Sourced from WARC
Posted: at 6:34 pm
In a biopic about the mating rituals of anglerfish, its unclear what would earn the film its R-rating: the sex or the violence.
Born into an inky deep sea world, the males of certain anglerfish species exist solely to sniff out their mates. Upon locating his lady (who might be up to 60 times his size), the male will nip at her belly. His mouth then dissolves in a sludge of chemicals that physically fuse him to his bioluminescent bride, forever commingling his blood and tissues with hers.
This grotesque ritual, called sexual parasitism, looks just as bizarre as it sounds. To an immunologist, though, the aesthetics of this macabre form of unholy matrimony arent actually the weirdest part.
Two genetically distinct animals, no matter how much in love, shouldnt be able to merge their flesh without serious consequences, said Dr. Thomas Boehm of the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics. Its the same reason that transplanted organs often get rejected by a recipients body: Vertebrate immune systems are built to wage war on any foreign matter.
And yet, some male anglerfish are full-time grafts the ultimate live-in boyfriends. It really is a mysterious phenomenon, Dr. Boehm said.
With the help of modern genetic sequencing, Dr. Boehm and his colleagues may have solved this deep sea dilemma. Anglerfish have largely jettisoned a branch of the immune system thats been a fixture of vertebrate bodies for the last 500 million years, they report in a study published Thursday in Science. The adaptation may help the clingiest of couples stick together.
Its a substantial sacrifice to make, even for sex: Similar changes would be lethal for humans and no other animals have yet been documented doing the same.
This is some of the cooler science Ive read in a while, said Jesyka Melndez Rosa, an evolutionary biologist and expert in the genetics of the immune system at the University of Puerto Rico who wasnt involved in the study. It just goes to show, nothing is sacred.
Anglerfish have good reason to resort to extreme evolution. Thousands of feet below the surface of the sea, where the suns rays dont shine, both food and friends are scarce. Many males never actually manage to find a female. So if they do meet up, what better thing to do than to bite and hold and stay that way? said Theodore Pietsch, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Washington and an author on the study.
Thats probably why sexual parasitism has supposedly evolved multiple times across the anglerfish family tree. In some cases, the attachments are temporary the boys hop on and off as they please. In others, though, the males become permanent fixtures on the females.
These longer-lasting hookups come with a price. After males glom onto their girls, their innards rapidly atrophy until little more is left than a bulbous pair of testes, fringed with gills, protruding from the females flank like a sperm-filled saddlebag. Theres basically no integrity at this point, Dr. Pietsch said.
In the most extreme version of this trait, females of some species will host up to eight male consorts at a time.
To figure out how the fish tissues tolerate each other, the researchers sequenced the genes of 10 types of anglerfishes. They found that two of the most decorated species, where females sported entourages of males, had lost their ability to produce functional antibodies and T cells two types of immune system sentinels that greatly underpin the bodys ability to distinguish its own cells from unfamiliar ones, and annihilate inbound threats.
That strategy comes in handy when animals must contend with germs or cancerous cells, said Zuri Sullivan, an immunologist at Yale University who wasnt involved in the study. The so-called adaptive immune system, to which antibodies and T cells belong, also helps the body remember past encounters with pathogens so they can be vanquished again. It provides this huge benefit, Ms. Sullivan said. Its a big thing to lose.
Similar genetic changes were present in anglerfish that melded monogamously, though to a lesser degree. These more faithful fish still had genes that allowed them to manufacture a limited selection of disease-fighting antibodies, for instance.
Least altered of all were the ephemeral attachers, who seem to have retained the genes for T cells and a blunted antibody response. In general, the less durable the bond, the more intact the immune system, Dr. Boehm said. That pattern makes sense: Short-lived flings between partners can withstand some tissue rejection, but the stakes are far higher when a relationship is for keeps.
Dr. Boehm said the data so far point to the possibility that deterioration of anglerfish immunity preceded the rise of sexual parasitism. But figuring out the order of these events is really a chicken or egg situation, Dr. Melndez Rosa said.
The researchers also dont yet know how anglerfish manage to ward off infections. But theres more to the immune system than antibodies and T cells; perhaps other members of this complex cavalry have risen in the ranks to compensate, Ms. Sullivan said. Clearly, these animals are doing fine, she said.
Finding these answers will likely require finding more rare deep sea anglerfish. It took several years to amass 31 specimens with enough DNA to analyze, Dr. Boehm said. But the researchers are up for the challenge.
We are not quite sure what lessons the anglerfish will teach us, Dr. Boehm said. But we know they have done something really incredible.
Posted: at 6:34 pm
Some whales are wonky. You might not know it to look at them, but their skulls are actually incredibly asymmetrical. This mysterious feature helps with echolocation, the way that whales work out where things are by making sounds and sensing how they are reflected back.
But this wonkiness isnt present in all whales. My colleagues and I recently conducted research to find out why and when wonky whales started to evolve in a different way to their symmetrical cousins. We now know wonky whale skulls first appeared around 30 million years ago, and that they continued to become even more asymmetrical as the creatures evolved into the modern species we know today.
In order to understand how wonky whales got this way, we needed to look at how they lived and adapted in the past. Fortunately for us, the whale fossil record is so remarkably represented that scientists have even called the whale a posterchild of evolution. Complete skulls and skeletons stretch right back to the earliest whales of 50 million years ago, and more fossils are dotted throughout whale history, right up to the living animals we know today.
With this record, were able to see that whales nostrils have moved from the tip of their snout to the top of their head, an evolutionary tactic to make for easy breathing at the surface of the water. And the skulls of whales with teeth (which technically includes dolphins, as well as species such as sperm whales) have become more lopsided, with the bones on one side in different positions to the same bones on the other side.
This is because of a mass of fatty tissue called a melon that toothed whales use for echolocation. The melon and the soft tissue needed for echolocation are positioned leftwards above the skull on toothed whales, giving them a bulbous forehead and also causing the bones in the skull underneath to grow skewed to the left. As toothed whales evolved, their skulls got wonkier.
But why dont all whales have this wonkiness? The first whales were called archaeocetes (which literally means ancient whales). They evolved from walking on land to being fully aquatic in a relatively short 8 million years or so.
We know that archaeocete fossils have wonky rostrums (or snouts). This might be a distortion of the fossils or a feature that helped archaeocetes work out which direction sounds were coming from underwater.
Then, around 39 million years ago, whales diverged into two groups: those with teeth in their mouths, known as the odontocetes, and those with baleen (rows of bristles that allow whales to filter food from the water), known as the "mysticetes.
At some point, the toothed whales evolved wonky skulls and echolocation. However, the mysticetes, which include the big baleen whales (such as blue whales), diverged down a completely different evolutionary path. They evolved baleen and filter feeding and skulls that are more symmetrical than both the archaeocetes and the toothed whales.
We wanted to understand why, and exactly when, this happened. So to track asymmetry in the evolution of the whale skull, we produced 3D scans of 162 skulls, 78 of which were fossils. By mapping this wonky shape change in the skull across the whale family tree, we could track precisely when in evolutionary history it first appeared and in which families it evolved.
Based on analyses of these skulls, naso-facial asymmetry (wonkiness) appears to have first evolved around 30 million years ago. This was after the transition from archaeocetes to modern whales, and after the split between the odontocetes and the mysticetes. Around the same time this wonkiness was appearing, these early toothed whales were evolving high-frequency hearing and complex echolocation.
We also confirmed that early ancestors of living whales had little cranial asymmetry in the naso-facial area and likely were not able to echolocate. As such, its likely that baleen whales have never been able to echolocate.
Most surprisingly, this asymmetry has reached its highest levels in some specific animals such a sperm whales and narwhals and other species that live in deep or extreme environments.
This suggests that animals living in these complex environments, including belugas that live in icy, cluttered waters and river dolphins that live in shallow, murky rivers, have evolved a different echolocation ability such as a more diverse or discrete sound repertoire to help them navigate and hunt, and with it the bones around the nasal and face have become more asymmetrical.
This evolutionary path of toothed whales becoming ever more asymmetrical suggests that their skulls and the overlying soft tissues may continue to get wonkier as their echolocation techniques become more specialised.
These findings remind us not only of the complex evolutionary pathways that cetaceans have undergone to become the superbly adapted iconic ocean inhabitants that we know today, but also that despite living alongside some of the largest animals that have ever existed, there is still a lot for us to learn about them.
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Posted: at 6:34 pm
Sponsored by Pulsara
By Rachel Zoch, EMS1 BrandFocus Staff
Technology is a fact of life and an integral part of modern medicine. EMS1 sat down to discuss the evolving role of technology in EMS with Kris Kaull, co-founder of EMS1.com and currently chief marketing officer for Pulsara. We asked him how EMS agencies can best leverage current and future tech tools to enhance patient care, and whats next for EMS overall.
What do you think is the minimum technology standard for EMS agencies right now?
Thats a good question. Times are changing in that were less hardware dependent and more connectivity dependent, so I believe the bare necessity is access to mobile-first technology. That device or computer, I should say that you carry in your pocket is an untapped, invaluable resource, from communications to reference lookup to even documentation, coordination, communication and collaboration.
The minimum tech standard should be smartphone technology, and then connectivity, whether thats dedicated WiFi from the ambulance or through cell service. Connectivity is really the name of the game, and what device we use today may or may not be the device we use tomorrow, so its important to steer clear of focusing too much on hardware. Instead, we should be focusing on the value that being connected brings to the clinician and the teams they work with.
In the back of the ambulance, I envision a future environment where everything is connected. To do that, you need dedicated bandwidth. For public safety, FirstNet provides the first high-speed, wireless broadband dedicated to first responders. In the future, were going to see much greater cell coverage with technologies such as Quality of Service, Priority, and Preemption, aka QPP, even in rural areas.
What about the medical devices themselves?
As new medical devices come onto the market whether its AEDs and heart monitors, the stretcher or any device youd expect to see in the back of an ambulance they will all be smart. Ideally, these devices connect with each other so that the story of the care being provided to the patient is centrally located for documentation and then communicated with the entire care team in real time.
Of course, thats easier said than done. Getting every company on the same standard and allowing different hardware devices to all work together and share information will be a challenge. Not a technical challenge a people challenge. The difficulty will be aligning corporate agendas to a unified vision.
So its not so much that agencies should be adopting a specific technology, but rather a goal of communication and interconnectivity?
Exactly. Thats actually a mindset that needs to change we buy technology, and because we spend a lot of money in capital dollars on hardware, we think it should last 20 years. That kind of thinking simply isnt true anymore.
When purchasing a technology solution for the back of the ambulance, we need to be thinking about how it can adapt and change for what we need in the future. Those solutions need to be flexible and scalable for the unknown. We dont know what we dont know. Thats the tough part.
In EMS, we have a tendency to create one-off solutions for disasters or the next big thing. Instead of building a specific solution or technology or a plan around COVID-19 or the opioid epidemic, we need to leverage existing or new technologies that can be used for all illnesses and injuries, for small or large events and for short and extended incidents. Thats a big paradigm shift from what weve historically done.
We need to be asking, Can I use this technology across the board, and is it scalable to adapt and change for my clinical needs? Its why I use the example of the mobile phone: How I use this mobile phone today may or may not be how Ill use this technology tomorrow, and the needs of my ambulance service may change tomorrow. A mobile phone is simply a platform for other solutions.
What are the biggest challenges EMS faces when it comes to technology in the next five years?
EMS is at a crossroads. Instead of being the prehospital provider, which is a common term now, we are becoming out-of-hospital clinicians. I often hear people asking, How do we better communicate between the back of the ambulance and the emergency department? That question is fundamentally flawed because it automatically labels EMS with the limited scope of transport only. The better question is, How do we better communicate as a healthcare team?
With mobile integrated health and the expanded scope of community paramedicine, well be that out-of-hospital caregiver, not prehospital. The COVID-19 pandemic had already rapidly modified our scope to meet the unprecedented needs. We are not just one step in a linear progression from the time of injury to arrival at the hospital. Instead, we are another access channel for healthcare and ongoing wellness in our communities, and theres a lot of discussion around technology and how we communicate.
EMTs and paramedics need to be able to communicate dynamically with different people, for different needs, for different patients, each and every call. And the technologies to allow them to do that in a safe and secure, HIPAA-compliant way will need to be dynamic and able to cross different organizations, not just from point A to point B, not just from the back of the ambulance to the emergency department.
How is Pulsara addressing these challenges, including HIPAA compliance?
The technology is really about connecting the people. Who are the people that need to be connected, and how do we do that on the fly? And, because every call is different, how do we connect the right people at the right time with a simple tap? Thats what Pulsara does. It allows EMS services or hospital facilities, nursing homes, standalone emergency departments, urgent cares, and referring hospitals all to be on the same network with each other and to be able to communicate in real time.
Pulsara is fully HIPAA-compliant. Its encrypted at both ends, meaning at the senders end on their smart device, as well as the receivers end and at rest. For example, EMS personnel show up on scene of a car crash, they take photos of the scene and the injuries. Those images are sent with the patient alert to the hospital requesting the trauma team. The hospital then alerts all the caregivers within the hospital that are part of that trauma team on their smart devices. At the end of the day, none of the sensitive data is actually on the phone. None of those photos are in the camera roll. It was all done within a HIPAA-compliant, secure encrypted app.
So youre adding a purpose-built tool for first responders to that familiar smartphone, rather than them needing a new device or mode of communication.
Yes. Healthcare providers from physicians to nurses to lab techs to allied health to paramedics use what they normally use in their real life. Take that same car crash example. If its easier to FaceTime or make a phone call or text the hospital with those images, thats what they do, including physician to physician; even if its against policy and not secure.
The key to great design isnt to change the behavior of what they do naturally. I would argue that if live video, messaging, sending photos and recording audio are a well-thought-out, good way to communicate day-to-day, then its probably a good way to communicate about the patient within that setting. The only difference is that we need to put safeguards around it so that we can be protected and we know where that data is, whos seen it and that we are protecting the community and the providers from needless liability.
When an entire region is using the same communication platform, it enables the opportunity for transparent communications without a lot of back and forth. Ineffective communication, especially during transitions of care, is the No. 1 cause for medical errors in healthcare.
Whats the difference between sharing data and communicating?
I do think theres a difference between communication and data. Let's go back to the future concept that all medical devices in the back of the ambulance are smart devices. And, for the sake of this example, lets agree that they are all seamlessly interoperable with each other. Ideally, theres an opportunity for all that data to automatically flow into one clear, chronological picture within the documented patient care report. Its good for streamlining the paramedic workload, its good for quality assurance, its good for consistency of patient care, its good for billing its good for a number of things. That is data.
And then theres also communication. You are sharing data, but its about sharing the right information at the right time with the right people for the right patient. So, what are the key pieces of data that I need now in real time in order to mobilize the right resources and then make the right decisions for my patient? Thats what communication is.
Data and communications are partners in patient care, but we often blur the lines and say that interoperability, smart machines, wearables, health information exchanges, data repositories, or post care documentation are the same as communicating, but they arent. When treating and transporting the trauma patient from the car crash, the paramedic may have access to a thousand pieces of data.But at that moment, the emergency department doesnt need to know all 1,000 data points. They simply need to know key pieces of information so that they have the right people and resources available upon EMS arrival at the hospital.
Whats next for EMS?
The EMS industry must be proactive to the ongoing and changing needs of our communities. In preparation, we should be incorporating technologies, processes and leadership skills that allow us to scale and change accordingly.
If you want a glimpse into the future of EMS, just take a look at what you do in your regular life. So, if my mother, whos in her late 60s, can video chat with my nephew whos 3, and they dont need an instruction book, thats probably a good way to transfer information. We should consider communicating in a similar fashion in the back of the ambulance.
Note: The above conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity. This article originally appeared in 2020 EMS Trend Report: Heed industry warning signs, commit to change.
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Read Next: 3 ways your smartphone can improve communication between EMS and hospital EDs
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Posted: at 6:34 pm
As any hearing aid user learns fast, the auditory experience is created in the brain, not the ear. Surrounded by continual background noise in almost all environments, the human mind instinctively filters and pays attention to what is important, whether completely ignoring familiar traffic noises in favour of conversation, or picking out a mention of your own name across a crowded room.
Once you introduce the mediation of a device headphones or a hearing device however this delicate interaction between our eardrums and our brain is disrupted, and any background noise has more impact. While headphones can physically block some ambient sounds, background noise from transport to media to other people has an inevitable impact on concentration and productivity, particularly in the workplace.
Active and hybrid noise-cancelling technologies are improving all the time, and by filtering out lower-frequency sound waves and using feed-forward technology to directly cancel out unwanted inputs in the high frequency spectrum, impressive results can be achieved, optimised for different environments. But for truly effective noise cancellation, EPOS is deploying artificial intelligence (AI) in its latest headsets like the ADAPT 600, mimicking the way the human brain learns to filter and prioritise audio inputs like that flight path noise in your new apartment, which after a few weeks you simply dont notice.
As VP of R&D, Jesper Kock, described in a recent interview, the AI learns what the user needs it to do, in a process which is not unlike human learning, like when youre a parent to a small child you teach them how to ride a bike by teaching them the basics You look after them and give them feedback.
We start in just the same way with an AI neural network we teach it about EPOS sound quality and performance in our products. Then we teach it what we want to aim for, and the system ultimately becomes self-learning, arriving at solutions and detail that we couldnt have programmed.
So instead of having maybe 10 pre-configured noise reduction settings in a really high-end hybrid noise reduction headset, the AI can react in real-time to continually changing inputs in the users actual surroundings. It can intelligently optimise not only for voice pick-up, but to block out repetitive sounds and distractions enabling users to eliminate the continental disruption and distraction which plagues the modern workplace and so many other environments.
In an era where many of us are learning to work from new locations, having tech which comes on the journey with us both literally and metaphorically is a powerful success factor. Adaptive noise cancellation technology which continually adjusts to the changes as you experience them brings a new dimension of focus and peace, in any environment.
And the future will only get smarter, as Kock elaborated:
I can see AI providing input on other parameters, for example, reacting to the way you talk: your tone of voice, the words that you use, identifying if you are tired or angry or anxious
The device will know more about yourself than you do, and will be able to provide advice to you as a result.
These kinds of advanced biometrics may sound dangerously deep in the uncanny valley, but the explosion of AI voice assistants in the home as well as the workplace demonstrates growing acceptance of voice-driven technologies, which are enhancing our environments in undreamed of ways, and recent global events have only accelerated existing trends.
I think the 2020s are set to be a truly transformative decade when it comes to tech empowering the workplace, Kock continued. The overarching objective to encourage greater tech collaboration and integration in our daily lives will never have felt so present. These trends will not only optimise work performance and productivity but also dramatically improve employee health and well-being.
Posted: at 6:33 pm
The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy voted to approve the CPA Evolution model, which it has been developing with the American Institute of CPAs, in an effort to require more technology skills from CPAs to pass the Uniform CPA Examination and qualify for state CPA licenses.
The vote Monday by NASBAs board of directors came after the AICPAs governing council approved the CPA Evolution initiative in May (see story).
The changes will affect how young accountants train to become CPAs, although many colleges, universities and state boards have effectively been making such changes in recent years as much of the accounting profession has long been leveraging technology to do auditing, financial reporting and taxes.
Its going to affect two areas of licensure, explained Daniel J. Dustin, NASBA vice president of state board relations. One is with education. We currently have an exposure draft out for comment. It was released on May 26 and the comment period ends on August 31. Its really to update the Uniform Accountancy Act model rules for the CPA Evolution initiative. What we tried to do was change what we were doing with the model rules to really modify them to be more in alignment with where a lot of state boards are today. In many ways, it doesnt impact a lot of boards with respect to the rules. The other area of change is the structure of the Uniform CPA Examination. What were hoping is that beginning in January of 2024 the examination will consist of three core sections, followed by a candidate passing one of three disciplines. So, its still a four-section exam.
NASBA anticipates the exam will be no more than 16 hours, the same as it is today.
The Uniform Accountancy Act provides a model that state boards of accountancy can use to update their statutes and rules in their own jurisdictions. In May, NASBA released the Uniform Accountancy Act (UAA) Model Rules exposure draft to propose the various changes in the education requirements for licensure under the CPA Evolution initiative. The goal is to encourage uniformity among the 55 different jurisdictions in the U.S. Once it receives support from the various boards of accountancy for the exposure draft, NASBA will start encouraging the state boards to implement the model statutory and rule changes in education, starting as early as this fall. Ultimately the changes will start to show up in the exam in Jan. 2024.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has led to delays in sittings for the Uniform CPA Exam this year and wider flexibility in how the test is administered, but Dustin doesnt anticipate that will affect the timing of the CPA Evolution initiative.
A lot of the preliminary work in the next year or two is going to be involved with task forces, both on the education and the examination side, and certainly technology like Zoom and Webex allows us to hold a lot of virtual meetings, he said. So, we dont anticipate that COVID-19 will inhibit us from evolving over the next few years. We witnessed the fact that Prometric test centers had to close down for about eight weeks because of the pandemic, but certainly by 2024 and the rollout of this initiative, we should be well beyond that and it shouldnt have an impact.
Probably the most noticeable update will be in the technology proficiency expected from CPAs in the three core sections of the exam and in each of the disciplines tested. One of the changes in education is to include more technology, both in the accounting and in the business areas, said Dustin. One of the focuses as we evolve the CPA Exam as well as the exam content is to include more technology-related content. Last year, the AICPAs examination team issued an exposure draft to modify the content to include some technology, but the CPA Evolution initiative will actually mean that we will begin another process with the AICPA examination team to do a practice analysis to determine just how prevalent technology is for individuals with one to two years of experience who work in CPA firms, and then enhance the exam by testing in those areas some more. That will be both in the core and in the discipline.
He sees the changes as being more relevant to how CPAs actually do their work today. I think its really going to mean the evolution of how the exam is structured, that certainly entry-level CPAs today have to have higher-order skills in order to do the job that theyre required to do when they come into a firm, said Dustin. Its no longer ticking and tying accounts. Its using higher-order skills and analyzing accounts, to work with clients to help them make key business decisions.
NASBA plans to offer more resources for accounting educators to help their students learn about whats needed to pass the exam in 2024. The Uniform CPA Exam is a national exam that all jurisdictions use, so its anticipated right now that the rollout will be in January of 2024, said Dustin. Were working on a lot of other aspects, including resources for educators in the near term.
The changes received widespread support from state boards around the country. It was really great to see both at the NASBA meeting last October as well as several webinars weve held in the winter and spring the amount of positive feedback that we received form state board members and state board executive directors with respect to the current model of the initiative, so weve been really encouraged by the feedback, said Dustin. Collectively the AICPA and NASBA have received more than 3,000 comments from various stakeholders, and overall its been a very positive process to date. I just think that a lot of our board members have been very positive with respect to where we are to date, and its encouraging to think that its going to continue that way as we move forward.
For more information about the CPA Evolution initiative, visit evolutionofcpa.org.
Posted: at 6:33 pm
I've talked before about how the PS5 is a drastic design departure from previous PlayStation consoles, but I've never focused on the DualSense controller, itself a major shakeup to the DualShock line. PlayStation's controllers have all had similar form factors, so much so that the DualShock 2 and 3 are nearly identical. The DualSense is very clearly the odd one out in the family. Let's take a trip down memory lane and see how we got to this point.
Get your hands on it before it sells out
The PS5 isn't available for preorder just yet, but a few retailers are letting fans sign up for notifications so they don't miss out. The DualSense should hopefully make all of its upcoming games more immersive than ever before.
There have been plenty of unreleased PlayStation controllers over the years I'm sure no one can forget the PS3 boomerang but for our purposes will stick with the official controllers that released alongside PlayStation consoles. These are the ones we've all come to known as the DualShock lineup, now accompanied by the DualSense, set to launch with the PS5 this holiday.
The original PlayStation controller, pictured above on the left, isn't technically a DualShock controller. The name is derived from the two vibration motors found inside the shell, and these weren't introduced until 1997 when Sony released a controller with two analog sticks and rumble technology. This was the very first DualShock controller in all of its wired glory. It has your now iconic face buttons triangle, square, circle, and X, along with a symmetrical thumbstick layout, a D-pad, Start and Select buttons, triggers (L2, R2), and bumpers (L1, R1). The Analog button that can be seen in the center provides compatibility with the PlayStation Analog Joystick.
The DualShock 2 is nearly identical to its predecessor with some minor adjustments in the form of thumbstick textures and screws. This would also set the precedent for DualShock controllers to be entirely black when they would release. Under the hood, the technology was improved so that buttons were more pressure-sensitive and precise.
In terms of compatibility, the DualShock 2 can be used natively with both the original PlayStation and PS2 consoles, and the PS3 through the use of third-party peripherals.
What initially launched with the PS3 was actually called the Sixaxis controller due to its motion sensors, but it did not feature any vibration motors or haptic feedback for fear that these would affect its motion detection. The Sixaxis would eventually be phased out in favor of the DualShock 3, which included the previous rumble technology found in past DualShock's and also kept the motion sensors from the Sixaxis. All of its buttons remain the same, again with greater precision and tactile feedback, except it features a jewel PS button in the center instead of the Analog button.
Unlike previous DualShock controllers, the DualShock 3 is completely wireless through Bluetooth and can be charged via a mini-USB cable.
Up until the DualSense, the DualShock 4 was the biggest design departure from previous controllers. Not only is the casing more ergonomic, but a touchpad, light bar, and Share button were added, the latter of which would pave the way for instantly sharing content on social media. The touchpad is a versatile button that was severely underutilized, often acting as a glorified menu button for whatever game you're in.
Some games, like Ghost of Tsushima, take advantage of the touchpad's sensors and allow you to perform different actions by swiping in one of four directions across the pad. Its light bar, also underutilized, is primarily used with VR games and can act as a motion detector in games like Until Dawn, where players would need to hold the controller in a certain position to complete actions. The DualShock 4 also included a built-in speaker.
Now the DualSense marks a huge shakeup for PlayStation controllers. Right off the bat, you'll notice its two-tone color scheme and more ergonomic design. Sony put in a lot of work to ensure that the DualSense offers a level of immersion not found in DualShock controllers.
It features haptic feedback and adaptive triggers, allowing players to feel the tension and resistance of their actions in-game, like drawing a bowstring. The DualSense also has textured grips and thumbsticks that make it more comfortable to use over long periods of time. It keeps the touchpad and light bar found on the DualShock 4, but the light bar was moved to wrap around the touchpad on the DualSense. The DualSense is also charged through USB-C.
Get your hands on it before it sells out
The PS5 isn't available for preorder just yet, but a few retailers are letting fans sign up for notifications so they don't miss out. The DualSense should hopefully make all of its upcoming games more immersive than ever before.
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Posted: at 6:33 pm
Bees (as well as ants and wasps) are from a group of insects known as Hymenopterans which are famous for their complex eusocial societies founded on altruism. Pixabay
In recent times we have become acutely aware of the devastating effects of infectious diseases on human life. Less publicized, however, are diseases affecting wild animal populations, which have played a central role in the extinction of many species. As such, disease plays a vital role in the ecology and evolution of animals and understanding its spread is crucial for the preservation of the worlds biodiversity. Social animals, with their tight communities and genetically homogenous groups, are at particular risk of succumbing to disease. To protect themselves, primates and social insects have evolved a collection of behaviours that minimize the risk and severity of infection. These can be preventative, such as grooming in primates, or active, such as social fever in honeybees, during which the temperature of the hive during bacterial infection is raised by the coordinated action of the individual bees. These behaviours form what is called social or collective immunity.
Animals like honeybees and ants, with their complex social structures and long-lasting nests, are often taken as model organisms to study social immunity. They can fall victim to a variety of parasites, be they fungus, bacteria, virus or smaller insects. These parasites and their hosts have coevolved in an evolutionary arms race leading to amazing examples of cooperation within the colony. For example, the smallest caste of the leaf-cutting ants will hitchhike on the leaves transported to the colony by the larger workers and thereby prevent flies from laying eggs on them. Uptake of parasites into the colony is similarly prevented in honeybee nests by having specialized bees guarding the entrance. Returning workers showing signs of infection will be barred entry. This behaviour must have been selected for at the level of the colony, as it is obviously detrimental to the individual. In this way, social insects avoid infection by preventing the parasites entry into the nest altogether.
Even if a parasite does enter the nest, the hosts will attempt to prevent its establishment. One way this is done is through cleanliness. Ants, termites and wasps will coat their nest walls with antibacterial secretions and rapidly remove corpses from inside the nest. This prevents the growth of fungi and bacteria. In another case, African honeybees prevent the establishment of the small hive beetle by driving the parasite into a corner and encapsulating it with propolis, or bee glue. This process can take up to days and involves multiple bees cooperating to build the wall and ensure the beetle does not leave during its construction. Researchers have found sealed crevices with up to 200 individuals, with evidence of cannibalism between the beetles. European honeybees lack this behaviour and the small hive beetle can often lead to the collapse of the entire hive. Overall, it is the dedication of time by the colony to the task of cleaning and guarding against parasites that prevents their establishment.
One hopes that we learn from animals social immunity that the most natural response to an epidemic is altruism.
If a parasite manages to establish itself within the nest, measures will be taken to minimize its spread and severity. Termites infected by fungus will signal to their peers not to approach them by hopping and bouncing erratically against the nest walls. In extreme cases, they might prompt their peers to encapsulate them to prevent the spread altogether. Ants will also implement their own version of social distancing, limiting contacts within castes. This localizes the infection to only a region of the nest, thereby protecting the queen. In one ant species, ants will heavily groom those exposed to the fungus. This spreads the fungus spores among the colony, lessening the severity of infection and priming the individuals immune system against the illness. This comes at a high risk to healthy individuals but serves to lower the overall threat to the colony. Altruism towards their peers is ultimately at the core of many of these social strategies. By cooperating to limit the spread, severity, establishment and uptake of parasites, social insects can avoid the worst effects of disease.
Collective immunity is not limited, however, to insects. Primates will frequently groom one another, for both social bonding and hygienic purposes. In the sea, cleaner shrimp and fish congregate to form cleaning stations, where they then feed on parasites of larger animals. These collectives are wonderful examples of interspecies cooperation. Microbes, themselves often the target of social immunity strategies, also exhibit collective immunity. When bacterial Staphylococcus aureus colonies are challenged with antibiotic gentamicin, some individuals begin to respire anaerobically. This reduces the pH, rendering the drug ineffective towards the whole colony. These bacteria incur a large cost to themselves in order to confer immunity to those that didnt change their metabolism. Strategies to prevent and fight disease are general and can be found in social species ranging from microbes to the great apes.
Behaviours contributing to collective immunity have been selected for by evolution to suit the particular parasites in the hosts environment, but human activity is upsetting this delicate balance. By introducing diseases to new locations and encroaching on animal habitats we are increasingly putting species at risk of extinction. In Hawaii, avian malaria carried by the non-native mosquito has been one of the driving factors for the extinction of many bird species. In North America, the small hive beetle is partly responsible for the falling population of honeybees. The increasing closeness between urban centres and wildlife is sure to produce future outbreaks of disease. During these, one hopes that we learn from animals social immunity that the most natural response to an epidemic is altruism.
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Posted: at 6:33 pm
Photo: Bronx Zoo, Monkey House, by Antigng / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0).
Better late than never, the Bronx Zoo yesterday apologized for imprisoning an African Pygmy, Ota Benga, as a display in its Monkey House in 1906. They left something out, though. But first, why did they choose this moment? From Fox News:
The chief executive of the [Wildlife Conservation Society], Cristin Samper, told the [New York] Times that the group had started digging into its history because of its 125th anniversary this year. Samper said that process, combined with conversations about racial injustice sweeping the country after the police killing of George Floyd, prompted the apology.
Did the impact of the multiple awards-winning documentary Human Zoos, by Discovery Institutes John West, now with 2.5 million views and powerfully documenting the horrific episode and others like it, play any role? They dont say. Were supposed to believe it was sheer coincidence, the 125th anniversary of the zoos opening combined with Black Lives Matter protests, that prompted them to start digging into the zoos history.
Well, fine. Let them save a bit of face. Its commendable, too, that they admit the role of pseudoscientific racism and eugenics in the story of Ota Benga, his humiliation and dehumanization. From the zoos statement:
Specifically, we denounce the eugenics-based, pseudoscientific racism, writings, and philosophies advanced by many people during that era, including two of our founders, Madison Grant and Henry Fairfield Osborn, Sr. Excerpts from Grants book The Passing of the Great Race (with a preface by Osborn), were included in a defense exhibit for one of the defendants in the Nuremberg trials. Grant and Osborn were likewise among the founders of the American Eugenics Society in 1926.
Whats missing, and its not fine, is any mention of where these evil ideas came from. What was the nature, the content, of the pseudoscientific racism that motivated Ota Bengas treatment? To be accurate, the racism wasnt eugenics-based it was evolution-based. That is left out.
For a candid and shocking treatment, I suggest watching Human Zoos.
Imprisoning and displaying an African man in a zoo was not an experiment in eugenics, although that phony science was in vogue at the time at the institutions of higher learning where today woke students and faculty lecture the country about its systemic racism. One human zoo, at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle, featured a display of supposedly primitive native people from the Philippines, the Igorot. The 1909 Exposition grounds became the campus of the University of Washington, from which professor and white fragility expert Robin DiAngelo now holds forth. Background like this never seems to make the cut.
The truth is that placing a man in the Monkey House was intended as an education for the public in Darwinian evolution. As John West has said, Ota Benga was only one of thousands of indigenous peoples who were put on display in America in the name of Darwinian evolution.
Though its article yesterday forgets to mention it (Racist Incident from Bronx Zoos Past Draws Apology), the New York Times understood that clearly in 1906. Brushing aside protests from black clergymen that the African should be given an education not put in the cage, the newspaper explained:
The suggestion that Benga should be placed in a school instead of a cage ignores the high probability that school would be a place of torture to him and one from which he could draw no advantage whatever. The idea that men are all much alike except as they have had or lacked opportunities for getting an education out of books is now far out of date.
In other words, Listen to the science! In fact, racial hierarchy was hailed as solid science at the time. The Times continued,
[T]he reverend colored brothers should be told that evolution, in one form or another, is now taught in the textbooks of all the schools, that it is no more debatable than the multiplication table.
The New York Times remains as haughty and scolding as it was 114 years ago. But they were right that evolution was (and is) taught in the textbooks of all the schools, as if it were as unquestionable as the multiplication table. The high school textbook at the center of the Scopes Trial in 1925, Civic Biology, informed students about the ranking of the human races, with the Ethiopian or negro type at the bottom, as a straightforward conclusion of evolutionary science.
Facing up to history, not tearing it down or hiding from its lessons, is necessary and healthy. The Bronx Zoo has gone a step in that direction, but not the whole way. They still shy from laying a hand on Darwinian theory. That would be going too far. The New York Times, in examining its own part in the same story, hasnt even taken a step.
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