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Eerily on the mark, a gene detective’s coronavirus findings raise hope and fear in equal measure – Economic Times

Posted: March 27, 2020 at 8:46 am

By Robert Langreth

In a few short weeks, Seattle-based biologist Trevor Bedford, 38, has emerged as one of the most famous epidemiologists in the world. His frequent tweets are seized upon by many of the globes top scientists and health policy makers. So far he has more than 170,000 Twitter followers, with thousands more joining every day.

But, unlike traditional epidemiologists, this disease detective working from his lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, doesn't do field work to track down Covid-19 patients contacts. Instead, Bedford and a handful of colleagues spanning the globe from Seattle to Basel, Switzerland, and Wanaka, New Zealand analyse hundreds of virus genomes from patient samples to trace where outbreaks came from, how they spread from one corner of the Earth to the next and, most important, detecting early signs of infection clusters.

The teams analytic approach relies on tracking how viruses mutate over time as they spread from person to person. In the case of the coronavirus, whose RNA consists of about 30,000 genetic bases or letters, it mutates about twice a month. These minor mutations tend not to change the potency of the virus. But they provide clues for genetic detectives to chart how they shift subtly over time, allowing them to create sprawling family trees, or phylogenies, that show how the coronavirus has spread from one part of the world or country to the next.

So far Bedfords findings, which he summarizes promptly on Twitter, have been eerily on the mark, fueling his sudden celebrity status among fellow scientists and public health experts.

Trevor Bedford offered some of the most careful analysis of this pandemic from the very beginning, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb wrote in a March 14 tweet. His estimates on the emerging epidemic in U.S. should be taken very seriously.

Three weeks ago, when U.S. authorities still thought they might have the coronavirus somewhat under control, Bedford was among the first to argue that it had already been circulating undetected in the Seattle area for weeks. Virus-genome analyses suggested to Bedford that the very first patient in Washington in January, a 35-year-old man who had recently visited Wuhan, China, somehow infected someone else, allowing the disease to spread undetected for all that time around the Seattle area.

There are some enormous implications here, Bedford said in a nine-part Twitter thread on February 29 that has since been retweeted thousands of times. I believe we're facing an already substantial outbreak in Washington State that was not detected until now due to narrow case definition requiring direct travel to China.

This genome work differs markedly from traditional epidemiology that focuses heavily on identifying infected patients and tracking all their contacts. Instead of talking to people about who they have been in contact with and shoe-leather epidemiology, we use the genetics of pathogens to see how they are spreading and how they are transmitting around the world, says Emma Hodcroft, a molecular epidemiologist at the University of Basel who works closely with Bedford.

Genome sequencing has gradually become a more and more powerful tool over for tracking diseases. In the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, genome analyses helped trace the origin to a transmission strain that had been missed, allowing the disease to spread quietly for months in Sierra Leone. But that work took months to perform. Recently, genome sequencing has become a standard tool for tracing the source of bacteria-tainted produce.

Twitter has also become a crucial tool. Bedford says he has long written Twitter threads to accompany his scientific papers. But the coronavirus has moved so swiftly he hasn't had time for scientific papers lately. Once the first genome came out in January, I basically started doing science over Twitter, he says.

Along with the science sometimes comes an inspirational call to arms. We can bring this epidemic under control, he wrote in a thread that was retweeted 5,000 times. This is the Apollo program of our times. Let's get to it.

In his 19-part March 18 Twitter thread, Bedford offers way to do just that. One path out of the crisis, he says, could be via a massive effort to roll out in-home testing kits and drive-through sites to spot cases early on and then combine those with cellphone location data to trace all the previous movements of those who test positive.

He says he finds his newfound Twitter fame a bit bewildering. This has been very, very surreal, says Bedford, who's been working 16-hour days since the outbreak started. I am getting all this attention for doing this, and meanwhile everyone else's lives are being upended in terrible ways.

One of his key collaborators, Richard Neher, is a computational biologist at the University of Basel. Neher says the two scientists hit upon the idea of tracking virus evolution in real time using an interactive website after meeting at a conference at the University of California Santa Barbara in 2014. Their original idea was focused on influenza evolution, with the goal of helping vaccine makers predict which strains are likely to spread around the world in the next flu season. But over time their website,, evolved to include data from multiple outbreaks including Zika, Enterovirus D68 and Ebola.

When the coronavirus hit, Bedford and Neher had customized software ready to roll for rapidly analyzing hundreds of virus genomes. We hit the ground running here because all of this basic infrastructure was in place, Neher says.

Since then, Nextstrain has become a 24/7 operation, staffed with researchers at Bedfords and Nehers labs in Seattle and Basel, along with another scientist in New Zealand. With global coverage, someone is always on call to start analyzing data as soon as a new viral genome is released to, a website where scientists are posting the information. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to analyze a new viral genome, allowing the website to be updated frequently.

Bedford sees his work as expanding, not replacing, the utility of existing virus-tracing methods, providing new data streams to complement traditional epidemiology. And while the evidence he gathers stops short of proving a chain of transmission, my suspicion is almost everything we have seen in the Seattle area is part of the same transmission chain, he says.

He started analyzing coronavirus genomes from China as soon as they began to flow into public databases on January 10th. At the time, health authorities were claiming that the virus had limited ability to spread between people. But Bedford found something alarming: The viral genomes were too similar to derive from viruses from different animals infecting people on multiple occasions. Instead, the genome data suggested that someone had acquired it from a single infected animal around early December and it had been spreading from person to person ever since.

This genomic data represented one of the first and strongest indications of sustained epidemic spread, Bedford said in a Jan. 31 blog post. I spent the week of Jan 20 alerting every public health official I know.

Bedford and Neher are limited by the amount of genome data that is available. So far almost 1,000 patients have had their viral genomes analyzed, out of more than 350,000 people who have been infected. There are few virus genome sequences from New York, which has surpassed Washington as the hardest-hit state in the country. Overwhelmed testing centers often don't have manpower to spare to do genome analysis when so many people are having trouble getting test results.

Even so, a basic picture is emerging: Most of the coronavirus clusters now spiraling out of control in Europe and the United States likely date back to community spread that had been quietly percolating for many weeks.

We were thinking , Neher says, it was all in China and China's problem, but that was not true."

Eerily on the mark, a gene detective's coronavirus findings raise hope and fear in equal measure - Economic Times

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Researchers Look At How The Coronavirus Is Mutating And Possible Consequences : Goats and Soda – NPR

Posted: at 8:46 am

A colorized image of cells from a patient infected with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The virus particles are colored pink. The image was captured from a scanning electron micrograph. NIAID/Flickr hide caption

A colorized image of cells from a patient infected with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The virus particles are colored pink. The image was captured from a scanning electron micrograph.

As the new coronavirus continues to spread around the globe, researchers say the virus is changing its genetic makeup slightly. But does that mean it is becoming more dangerous to humans? And what would the impact be on any future vaccines?

"In the literal sense of 'is it changing genetically,' the answer is absolutely yes," says Marc Lipsitch, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard University. "What is in question is whether there's been any change that's important to the course of disease or the transmissibility or other things that we as humans care about."

So far, "there is no credible evidence of a change in the biology of the virus either for better or for worse," says Lipsitch.

Coronaviruses like all viruses change small parts of their genetic code all the time.

"Viruses mutate naturally as part of their life cycle," says Ewan Harrison, scientific project manager for the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium, a new project that tracks the virus in the United Kingdom.

Like flu and measles, the coronavirus is an RNA virus. It's a microscopic package of genetic instructions bundled in a protein shell. When a virus infects a person, the string of genetic instructions enables the virus to spread by telling it how to replicate once it enters a cell. The virus makes copies of itself and pushes them out to other cells in the body. Infectious doses of the virus can be coughed out in droplets and inhaled by others.

Inevitably, viruses "make mistakes in their genomes" as they copy themselves, says Harrison. Those changes can accumulate and carry over to future copies of the virus. Researchers are using these small, cumulative changes to trace the pathway of the virus through groups of people.

So far, researchers who are tracking the genetic changes in SARS-CoV-2 the official name for the coronavirus say it seems relatively stable. It acquires about two mutations a month during this process of spread, Harrison says about one-third to one-half the rate of the flu.

Coronaviruses differ from flu viruses in another key way that reduces the number of mutations. They proofread their own genomes when they copy themselves, cutting out things that don't seem right. "They maintain this ability to keep their genome pretty much intact," says Vineet Menachery, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch. "The mutations that they incorporate are relatively rare."

This added proofreading function means that coronaviruses are also one of the largest RNA viruses. They're about 30,000 nucleotides long double the size of flu viruses. But at 125 nanometers wide, they're still microscopic; 800 of them could fit in the width of a human hair.

Nonetheless, their relatively larger size means "they have a lot more tools in their tool belt" compared with other RNA viruses, says Menachery in other words, more capability of fighting off a host's immune system and making copies of themselves.

Researchers are on alert for changes that might affect how the coronavirus behaves in humans. For instance, if the coronavirus developed ways to block parts of our immune system, it could hide out in our bodies and establish itself better. If it evolved to bind more strongly to human cells, it could enter them more efficiently and replicate more quickly.

But it's not as if the coronavirus needs to become more potent to survive and thrive. It's already replicating itself around the world very successfully, says Justin Bahl, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Georgia. "The viruses themselves are not actually under much pressure to change."

Selective pressures could come from introducing treatments and vaccines that are effective against a narrow group of coronavirus strains. If that happens, strains that aren't targeted by these measures would likely proliferate.

The small genetic changes that researchers have observed so far don't appear to be changing the function of the virus. "I don't think we're going to see major new traits, but I do think that we're going to see different variants emerge in the population," says Bahl.

And that slower rate of change is potentially good news for treatments and vaccines. Researchers think that once a person gains immunity against SARS-CoV-2, either by recovering from an infection or by getting a future vaccine, they will likely be protected against the strains in circulation for "years rather than months," predicts Trevor Bedford, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in an assessment shared on Twitter.

Projects such as the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium will use these genetic drifts to track the path of the virus and figure out if there are hospitals or community hubs that are hot spots for contagion, according to Harrison. This will give public health officials a sense of where and how the virus is being transmitted now.

Will the coronavirus surge when schools reopen? Will new strains emerge that develop resistance to drugs or vaccines that are introduced? To answer such questions, Harrison says, the long-term plan is to track the virus in real time and see how it changes as it spreads.

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Researchers Look At How The Coronavirus Is Mutating And Possible Consequences : Goats and Soda - NPR

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IntegraGen Announces Leading U.S. Cancer Center to Use MERCURY Cloud-based Tool for Oncology Sequencing Data Interpretation and Reporting – Yahoo…

Posted: at 8:46 am

Regulatory News:

IntegraGen (Paris:ALINT), a company specializing in the transformation of data from biological samples into genomic information and diagnostic tools for oncology, today announced Dana-Farber Cancer Institute will utilize the companys MERCURY cloud-based software as part of their analysis and reporting process for sequencing data obtained from tumors of cancer patients. Dana-Farber plans to utilize MERCURY to assist in the analysis of sequencing data obtained from small and large targeted gene sequencing panels as well as data derived from whole exome and genome sequencing.

"Genomic profiling of tumors can assist in the identification of pathogenic molecular alterations which drive a patients cancer and enable the implementation of precision medicine-based approaches to treatment," stated Annette S. Kim M.D., Ph.D., Co-Director of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institutes new Interpretive Genomics Program within the Department of Oncologic Pathology. The program is Co-Directed by Keith L. Ligon, MD PhD, Director of the Dana-Farber Center for Patient Derived Models. "MERCURY provides us with a tool to rapidly interpret large scale and complex genomic sequencing data with the added ability of customization to meet our specific analysis and reporting needs to support clinical research and clinical trials."

"IntegraGen is excited about Dana-Fabers decision to utilize MERCURY and look forward to interacting with another world leader in cancer care related to the utilization of our cloud-based bioinformatic tools," said Larry Yost, General Manager of IntegraGen, Inc. "We are convinced that the use of MERCURY will aid in the better understanding of the etiology of a patients cancer and assist with the realization of the benefits of precision medicine by transforming large-scale sequencing data into actionable results. We are also looking forward to continuing the development and expansion of our genomic interpretation software tools in North America."

MERCURY is a user-friendly genomic interpretation tool for oncology designed to assist pathologists and oncologists to rapidly transform raw data obtained via high-throughput sequencing into a clinical molecular report for clinical and research use. The cloud-based tool minimizes the complexity, time and cost associated with the clinical interpretation and identification of variants that may be of interest in the therapeutic management of patients. MERCURY utilizes the Google Cloud technology to ensure a secure environment for data analysis and storage which is compliant with the latest information security requirements.

About IntegraGen

IntegraGen is a company specializing in the analysis of the human genome and performs adaptive and quickly interpretable analyses for academic and private laboratories. For the management of cancers, which are characterized by a genetic disruption of cells, IntegraGen provides researchers and doctors with universal and individualized therapeutic guidance tools allowing them to adapt the treatment to the patient's genetic profile.

IntegraGen has forty-six employees and generated revenue of 8.3 million in 2019. Based in the Gnopole d'Evry, IntegraGen is also located in the United States in Cambridge, MA. IntegraGen is listed on Euronext Growth in Paris (ISIN: FR0010908723 - Mnemo: ALINT - Eligible PEA-PME).

For more information, visit

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Contacts IntegraGen Bernard COURTIEUPresident and CEO

Laurence RIOT LAMOTTEChief Financial Tel: +33 (0)1 60 91 09 00

NewCap Investor and Media RelationsLouis-Victor Tel: +33 (0)1 44 71 98 53

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IntegraGen Announces Leading U.S. Cancer Center to Use MERCURY Cloud-based Tool for Oncology Sequencing Data Interpretation and Reporting - Yahoo...

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University of Birmingham joins COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium – insideHPC

Posted: at 8:46 am

The UK government has backed their leading clinicians and scientists this week with new resources to map how COVID-19 spreads and evolves using whole-genome sequencing. Through a 20 million investment, the consortium will look for breakthroughs that help the UK respond to this and future pandemics, and save lives.

The COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium COG-UK comprised of the NHS, Public Health Agencies and academic institutions including the University of Birmingham will deliver large scale, rapid sequencing of the cause of the disease and share intelligence with hospitals, regional NHS centres and the Government.

Samples from patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 will be sent to a network of sequencing centres which currently includes Birmingham, Belfast, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford and Sheffield.The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institutewill provide large-scale sequencing capacity and additional support.

The University of Birmingham, led byNick Loman, Professor of Microbial Genomics and Bioinformatics in theInstitute of Microbiology and Infection, have deployed a real-time genome sequencing facility established at the University capable of sequencing genomes of the virus causing COVID-19 from patients in the West Midlands in less than 24 hours.

Professor Loman says: This is a remarkable collaboration which brings together Birmingham and the UKs incredible depth of expertise and knowledge in viral sequencing and genomics. An open and distributed model of sequencing involving both academia, the NHS and our public health bodies is the right way to ensure results are delivered quickly to decision-makers. We are now well positioned to return deep insights into understanding the rapidly-accelerating pandemic of COVID-19, easily the most pressing infectious disease emergency we have faced in two generations in the UK.

The governments investment is well-timed to accelerate the pace of viral genome sequence production and ensure this information is openly available to epidemiologists and virologists worldwide. This will provide an unprecedented real-time view of COVID-19 virus evolution.

Understanding viral evolution is important for understanding how the virus is spreading in local, national and international settings. It provides valuable epidemiological information revealing the chains of transmission that must be stopped in order to stop this outbreak.

We also stand to observe how the virus adapts to a human host over time, and how human interventions including drug treatments and eventually vaccines, exert pressure on the virus.

The consortium benefits from two major initiatives in which the University of Birmingham has played a pivotal role: ARTIC and CLIMB.The CLIMB project,which recently secured funding for a further five years with the CLIMB-BIG-DATA project, will provide the data analysis pipelines, computing and storage capacity required to analyse the large genome datasets produced by the consortium, as well as facilitating national and international research capabilities.

The ARTIC project,funded by a Wellcome Trust Collaborative Award, is a collaborative project to put genomics at the heart of outbreak response. Dr Josh Quick, a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow in the Institute of Microbiology and Infection rapidly developed a method for sequencing coronavirus, released to researchers back in January, and which has already been widely adopted across the world. This method builds on work previously successfully used to trace epidemics of Ebola virus and Zika virus.

Dr Quick says: Based on previous experiences with Ebola and Zika virus we were able to rapidly develop an approach to sequencing the COVID-19 virus rapidly using a targeted method. The importance of this method is that it works well even when only miniscule amounts of virus are present in the sample, something we commonly see. It has been used to generate the first genomes from countries including Brazil, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with nanopore sequencing and we have helped over 50 groups in over 20 countries establish genome sequencing capabilities in their own labs.

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University of Birmingham joins COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium - insideHPC

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Rockefeller-Led Team Launches Initiative to Study COVID-19 Genetic Vulnerability – GenomeWeb

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NEW YORK An international team of researchers led by a group at Rockefeller University has launched a project to determine if inborn errors of immunity (IEI) can cause life-threatening COVID-19 in previously healthy younger patients.

The group believes that the project will identify genetic pathways involved in COVID-19 development in patients that get severely ill and lead to new preventative and therapeutic strategies.

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Rockefeller-Led Team Launches Initiative to Study COVID-19 Genetic Vulnerability - GenomeWeb

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Trump Is Now Openly Trying to Censor His Critics. He May Succeed. – Slate

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Trump Is Now Openly Trying to Censor His Critics. He May Succeed. - Slate

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This Was Never Just About Woody Allen. It Still Isn’t. – The Nation

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Every high-profile controversy discloses a deeper reality, and the one involving Woody Allen and the off-again, on-again publication of his memoir is no different. There is the despised celebrity and then the despised many, who have no power and for whom a sex accusation or conviction may make their very existence criminal. There is one damned book and then the damned many, banned by the thousands by state and federal prison authorities. There is one attention-seeking crowd of private censors and then the crowd working less noisily, organizing morality campaigns to remove books from school, university, and public libraries. Every year the American Library Association puts out a Top 10 Most Challenged Books list. In 2017 the list included Sex Is a Funny Word, a sex education book, challenged because of fears it might lead children to ask questions about sex. Since 2015, half the titles have had queer subjects.Ad Policy

Censorship is rarely called by its true name among those who practice it. History groans with the righteous justifications of private interests bent on erasing words and people they dont like. New excuses cant hide the old reflex. They do make it easy, though, to mistake the moral scold for the rebel spirit. Some scenes from the long contest between the vice cop of the mind and the champion of free thought offer a clarifying light.

Beginning in the 19th century, Anthony Comstock and his New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (supported by J.P. Morgan, William Dodge, Samuel Colgate, and The New York Times) ruined thousands of writers lives and destroyed hundreds of thousands of pounds of books and pamphlets, many by women, in the service of protecting innocent girls. Comstocks successor, John Sumner, took up the cause in the 1910s, pressuring publishers into melting the printing plates for obscure, supposedly obscene novels, and in 1920 he and his crowd invoked the safety of young girls to get Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, lesbian heroes of the avant-garde press, arrested and prosecuted for daring to be the first in the world to publish Ulysses. Sumner also got the Post Office to burn some 20,000 copies of The Little Review, where the women had been serializing James Joyces masterwork. The vigilantes of decency had already scared off dozens of men in the reputable book trade from publishing anything by Joyce. When Dubliners finally got into print in Europe, a private citizen bought up the entire edition and had it set ablaze in Dublin. Joyce called it a new and private auto-da-f.

Joyce is but a name we know. Avowed protection from deviance, dirt, degeneracy, and the corruption of children led to such routine burning of unknown titles by unknown authors in the Western world that when the Nazis torched the library and archive of the great Magnus Hirschfelds Institute for Sexual Science in 1933, the act reverberated most forcefully among Hirschfelds fellow Jews, sex radicals, and researchers, who were already habituated to stepping cautiouslystudying womens sexual satisfaction in the United States, for instance, under the camouflage of maternal health. Depending on ones point of view, Hirschfeld might be categorized as a sexual psychopath (an American synonym for homosexual in the 1930s), part of a group to be watched, suspected, obliterated, or as a founder of the worlds first gay rights organization and a giant in the study of human sexuality (that would be current historys view; thank you, sexual liberation). One final example from a vast history: During the Red Scare and the interrelated though oft-ignored Lavender Scare, Cold War centurions in industry, the arts, media, unions, and other organizations cast themselves as defenders of democracy against radical contagion and guardians of wholesome (straight, marital) sexuality in their effort to shut people up, lock them up, oust them from their jobs, exile them, and deprive others of the freedom to see, read, know, be.

There is an element of the absurd in raising Ronan Farrows censorious zeal and Hachettes cowardly decision to pulp Woody Allens memoir, Apropos of Nothing, on the heels of such weighty history. The books resurrection by Skyhorse Publishing, announced as we went to press, does not lessen it. These are absurd times, when censors masquerade as justice warriors. For them, the degenerate man, as Allen has been labeled, is the real object of erasure. For Hachette, the cowardice was threefold, actually: first, in keeping its acquisition of Allens book a secret from Farrow, who as an author with its Little, Brown division did deserve the courtesy of a heads-up. Second, in caving to the crowd, including protesting staffers, who invoked allegiance to Farrow and victims rights to validate their censors reflex; third, in couching its public explanation of the betrayal of an author (Allen) and the destruction of a book in the soothing language of commitmentto challenging books, conflicting points of view, and a stimulatingwork environment. Hachette ought simply to have said what it meant: We fear the crowd. The crowd has power. Our US revenues dropped in 2019, so we chose the power side over the pervert.Related Article

Farrows duplicity is more obvious. He made his first splash promulgating one side of a family drama, convicting Allen of child molestation in the public minddespite copious reasons for doubt, including official investigations finding no abuse (which I discussed years ago in The Nation) and his brother Mosess severe rebuttal in a 2018 blog postand lamenting media industry efforts to obstruct his own writing about Hollywood.

Free speech for me but not for thee, as Nat Hentoff famously condensed it, is an ignoble political standard. Farrow, of course, is laden with emotion, with loyalty to his mother, Mia, and sister, Dylan, and his own lifetime of exposure to their accusing narratives. He cannot be dispassionate about Allen, and its preposterous to think he should be. Its preposterous as well that others who care about writing, ideas, independent thought, and the freedom to see should lash their intellect to Farrows prejudices. More disturbing is the pretense that theres high principle in cleansing the public sphere of anyone whos been declared a public demon.Current Issue

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For the crowd in this case, the weasels way out of complicity in censorship took routes, all of them dead ends. Censorship is an act of the state. Businesses are free to do what they want. Who needs another book by Woody Allen? Hes had his day in the sun. Hes rich; he can self-publish (and, look, his book will still come out in France). This is a down payment on justice and accountability; the powerful have always had a platform, finally the powerless have a voice. Free speech is a bourgeois construct to maintain the social order, so why care about it for Woody fucking Allen? Such were the sentiments floating in the suspect air after the staff walkout that preceded Hachettes decision to pulp the book. So brave, power agent Lynn Nesbit said of the walkout. I feel moved almost to tears. Nesbit represents not just Ronan Farrow but also Dylan and Mia, who have both profited off accusations against Allen via book contracts and considerable flattery in the press.

It requires no illusions about the social order or the free marketplace of ideas to understand that the dead end is the point at which someone commands someone else to shut up. The problem with private censorship is not so different from the problem with the nondisclosure agreement. But under the cover of #MeToo, censorship and the will to shun and silence are being renovated as social goods when exercised by the self-declared forces of good, on behalf of the good, as if definitions of whats good, whats progress, arent always politically contested. Its remarkableat a time when scientists are purging their work of dangerous terms like climate change and fetal tissue and transgender in order to maintain federal fundingthat anyone might feel confident that their own claim to purity cant boomerang.Related Article

The cowing power of the crowd suits the authoritarian spirit of the time, and some traditional defenders of free speech have gone soft or silent. The ACLU did not respond to a request for comment after the book was quashed. The Writers Guild issued no statement. PEN America issued a wobbly statement, which left Allen twisting in the wind, though its CEO, Suzanne Nossel, did slam Hachettes decision on the radio. Index on Censorship, by contrast, took swiftly to social and other media to defend principle. At the National Coalition Against Censorship, Christopher Finan criticized Hachette and pointed to the continuing relevance of The Freedom to Read Statement, first issued by librarians and publishers during the Cold War. Amid the current enthusiasm for moral cleansing, its propositions bear study, particularly one that states, No art or literature can flourish if it is to be measured by the political views or private lives of its creators. No society of free people can flourish that draws up lists of writers to whom it will not listen, whatever they may have to say.

The early sex radicals and avant-garde feminists, who really were brave, recognized that the struggle to expand the realm of freedom had to include the freedom to write, read, see, and be seen, all of which broadened knowledge ofhence possibilities forhuman experience. (Its notable that Sylvia Beach, also a lover of women, was the first to publish Ulysses in its entirety, from her bookshop in Paris in 1922, thus providing the basis on which the men at Random House were able to orchestrate the landmark Supreme Court ruling on obscenity years later.) Vice, a term that in those days covered almost any writing about sex and any nonconformist behavior, was the point of a spear that helped enforce every social hierarchy and intensify every form of repression. We dont use the word much today, but the vice cop of the mind is still on the beat, allowing a certain kind of sex talkthe stories of abuse and accusationbut making it unanswerable, deciding who is worthy to speak, who is not, and who should hide. Skyhorses bet on a market for Allens book while much of society is housebound should not obscure that larger and unlovely reality.

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This Was Never Just About Woody Allen. It Still Isn't. - The Nation

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Reporters Without Borders: If the Chinese press were free, the coronavirus might not be a pandemic – Hong Kong Free Press

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In ananalysispublished on March 13th, researchers from the University of Southampton suggest that the number of cases of coronavirus in China could have been reduced by 86% if the first measures, which were taken on January 20th, had been implemented two weeks earlier. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) demonstrates, based on the events in the early days of the crisis, that without the control and censorship imposed by the authorities, the Chinese media would have informed the public much earlier of the seriousness of the epidemic, saving thousands of lives and possibly avoiding the current pandemic.

Photojournalists at the National Peoples Congress. Photo: Lukas Messmer/HKFP.

October 18: Chinese press could have reported the chilling results of a pandemic simulation

The John Hopkins Center for Health Security, in partnership with the World Economic Forum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, carries out asimulatedcoronavirus pandemic onOctober 18th, 2019, andalertsthe international community to the chilling results: 65million deaths in 18months.

If the Chinese internet were not isolated by an elaborate system of electronic censorship and the media were not forced to follow the instructions of the Communist Party, the public and the authorities would have undoubtedly been interested in this informationcoming from the United States, which echoed the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic of 2003. SARS infected 8,000 people and caused more than 800 deaths, mostly in China.

December 20: the Wuhan city authorities could have informed journalists

One month after thefirst documented case, the city of Wuhan already has 60patients with an unknown SARS-like pneumonia, several of whom havefrequentedthe Huanan fish market. Despite the situation, the authorities do not see fit to communicate this information to the media.

If the authorities had not hidden from the media the existence of an epidemic outbreak linkedto a very popular market, the public would have stopped visiting this place long before its official closure on January 1st.

December 25: Doctor Lu Xiaohong could have expressed fears to the press

Doctor Lu Xiaohong, the head of gastroenterology at Wuhan City Hospital No. 5, beginshearingcases ofinfectionaffecting medical staff on December 25 and suspects from the first week of January that the infection is transmissible between humans.

If journalists sources in China did not face severe penalties ranging from professional reprimand to heavy prison terms, Doctor Lu Xiaohong would have taken responsibility for alerting the media, forcing the authorities to take action, which only happened three weeks later.

Dr. Li Wenliang.

December 30: whistleblowers early warning would have been picked up by the media

The director of the emergency department at Wuhan Central Hospital, Ai Fen, and a group of doctors launch an alert regarding a SARS-like coronavirus. Eight of them, including DoctorLi Wenliang, who later died from the illness, will bearrestedby Wuhan police on January 3rd for circulatingfalse rumors.

If the press and social media had been able to freely relay the information transmitted by whistleblowers on December 30th, the public would have realised the danger and put pressure on the authorities to take measures limiting expansion of the virus.

December 31: social media would have relayed the official alert in China

Chinaofficially alertsthe World Health Organisation (WHO) on December 31st but at the same time forces the WeChat discussion platform tocensora large number of keywords referring to the epidemic.

Without censorship, the social network WeChat, which has a billion active users in China, could have enabled journalists to broadcast reports and precautionary advice contributing to better compliance with the rules recommended by the health authorities.

World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo: U.S. Mission Geneva/Eric Bridiers.

January 5: the scientific media would have disseminated the coronavirus genome earlier

Professor Zhang Yongzhens team at the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre manages to sequence the virus onJanuary 5th, but the authorities seem reluctant to make the genome public. On January 11th, the day China confirms its firstdeathfrom the virus, the researchers leak information on open source platforms, which will result in the punitive closure of their laboratory.

If the Chinese authorities were transparent, they would have immediately communicated the coronavirus genome sequence to the scientific media, saving the international community precious time in their research for the development of a vaccine.

January 13: the international community would have anticipated the risk of a pandemic

The first case of coronavirus infection outside of China, a tourist from Wuhan, is reported in Thailand.

If the international media had had full access to information held by the Chinese authorities on the scale of the epidemic before January 13th, it is likely that the international community would have taken stock of the crisis and better anticipated it, reducing the risk of the epidemic spreading outside China and possibly avoiding its transformation into a pandemic.

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Reporters Without Borders: If the Chinese press were free, the coronavirus might not be a pandemic - Hong Kong Free Press

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Free Expression and the Coronavirus Pandemic – Blogging Censorship

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The National Coalition Against Censorship is closely following developments in the United States that could threaten our civil liberties as responses to the coronavirus pandemic test governments and social structures worldwide. During a global public health crisis, medical needs are, understandably, prioritized. But our needs are many-faceted. As governments work to limit the spread of COVID-19, we must vigilantly protect our rights to freedom of speech and expression and defend our ability to both share and access information. And as public spaces, schools and cultural institutions shutter, however temporarily, we must look for ways to continue civil discourse, to promote artistic and cultural expression and to engage with one another as fellow citizens and humans.

NCAC continues to track and monitor pandemic-related issues that threaten to chill free speech or infringe on our rights to express ourselves, share information, think, create and explore ideas. We will update this list as the situation develops. If you have specific censorship concerns or questions, please reach out.

In the days before a national state of emergency was declared, it was revealed that Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) meetings regarding the coronavirus had been classified since January. HHS oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among other agencies. Meetings were held in a secure area usually reserved for military or intelligence operations. In addition to preventing information from being shared with the public, holding classified meetings prevents health, legal, and other experts without upper level security clearance from participating. As Defending Rights and Dissent writes, It is an abuse of the classification process to classify deliberations about a public health crisis. The American people have a right to know the extent of the threat posed by the coronavirus and what steps to take. They have a right to accurate public health information. Government officials should not be covering up information in order to downplay the extent of the threat or hide their own missteps. And now more than ever, we need strong whistleblower protections. (Emphasis ours)

It can be tempting, in times of crisis, to label dissent as dangerous. But our democracy demands participation, and we must be allowed to access dissenting views and express our own. Disagreement and debate are crucial to thoughtful decision-making.

We must be able to question our governments response to this pandemic from all angles. In an attempt to write the legacy theyd prefer, Chinese censors have taken harsh steps to track and punish those criticizing the government online, rather than allow a robust and necessary assessment of how the pandemic began, spread and was handled. What happens next time, when no lessons are permitted to be remembered? The Chinese government has also expelled US journalists, limiting dissemination of accurate information about the virus from its source.

Another example of overbroad control of information is Morocco. Authorities there have criminalized misinformation in misguided efforts to prevent panic, but their power to punish speech has been extended to voices critical of the government and its response to the crisis.

Censorship of science by the US government takes the form of distorting, discouraging, and redacting research results for political reasons. The final result is suppression of vital information. (See here for information on censorship of climate science and stem cell research.) The Trump Administration has shown a willingness to muzzle scientists and early attempts to keep discussions of coronavirus classified raise concerns about the motivations behind overly stringent control on vital scientific information and medical expertise, as well as about its human cost.

Scientists and medical professionals must be free to share their knowledge and recommendations, even when it puts pressure on governments.

Nations across the globe are instituting travel restrictions and full bans on entry for non-citizens. Travel bans can violate Americans First Amendment right to receive information by preventing citizens from interacting with the ideas and viewpoints of foreign nationals. Freedom of speech includes the ability to facilitate the free international exchange of people and ideas. These bans can be particularly devastating to artists and cultural producers vulnerable for speaking out in repressive regimes.

The nature of COVID-19 and its spread make these choices understandable, but we must ensure that these restrictions are medically necessary and as limited as possible within the recommendations of experts. Broad, indefinite travel restrictions can easily be manipulated by political motivations, as seen during the Ebola outbreak in 2014.

In the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak in the US, containment strategies involved the use of increased surveillance and tracking. These methods of infection-mapping can be useful, and necessary, during such times. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) cautions, though, that, any extraordinary measures used to manage a specific crisis must not become permanent fixtures in the landscape of government intrusions into daily life. There is historical precedent for life-saving programs such as these, and their intrusions on digital liberties, to outlive their urgency. EFF lays out principles for data collection and digital monitoring of potential carriers of COVID-19:

As Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of theSurveillance Technology Oversight Project, told the New York Times: We could so easily end up in a situation where we empower local, state or federal government to take measures in response to this pandemic that fundamentally change the scope of American civil rights. Read more here

As a growing number of Americans work from home, or have their employment curtailed entirely, and practice social distancing, social media platforms are becoming increasingly important spaces for gathering, sharing news and disseminating information. Some have criticized the platforms for allowing misinformation to proliferate or for not cracking down on racist speech relating to the coronavirus. Social media companies are adapting their rules about what information is allowed in real time as the pandemic spreads. Largely, though, platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been praised for their management of information that could be damaging to public health and for providing access to social connection in a time of physical disconnection.

Social media companies, however, have a complicated relationship with free speech. As private companies, they are free to set their own user guidelines and content standards. But as public spaces, many (including NCAC) argue that they have a responsibility to respect the principles of free speech and protect their users rights to express themselves. While both Twitter and Facebook frequently extol their commitments to free speech, they often struggle to balance user needs, commercial concerns and free speech protections. In an effort to protect its content moderators from COVID-19, Facebook is shifting most of its content moderation decisions to its algorithmic tools, however some of its most sensitive decisions are being moved to other staffers. Unfortunately, the automated tools used by Facebook often get decisions wrong such mistakes will be much more frequent while human moderators are mostly absent. The scarcity of human decision-makers will also inevitably complicate an already difficult appeals process.

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Free Expression and the Coronavirus Pandemic - Blogging Censorship

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Why TikTok Is The Worst Way To Waste Time In Quarantine – The Federalist

Posted: at 8:44 am

Quarantine got me on tik tok, Erin Foster told her 500,000 Instagram followers on Tuesday. Foster is hardly alone, but thats just about the worst place to be.

Communist China hampered the dissemination of information that could have prevented a pandemic, and were spending the resultant quarantine period passing time with a stupid app that censors on the partys behalf. Its easy to understand whyTikToks addictive appeal is heightened in a world of social distance. But if ever there were a time to resist the reach of Chinas long arm, its now.

Much like Britney Spears, TikTok is not that innocent. The app has been credibly accused of censorship on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party, and faces legal obligations to overturn its trove of data if the CCP asks. Vox outlined two major concerns about TikTok in December:

One of the more problematic implications is a 2017 Chinese law, which requires Chinese companies to comply with government intelligence operations if asked. That means that companies based in China have little recourse to decline should the government request to access data.

The second is what the Chinese Communist Party might do with that data.

TikTok collects data. As an app owned by Chinese company ByteDance, the CCP can access it. TikTok claims U.S. data is stored outside of China. But thats largely irrelevant, asAlex Stamos, director of the Stanford Internet Observatory told the Washington Post last fall. The leverage the government has over the people who have access to that data, thats whats relevant.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) echoed these concerns in a bipartisan letter to Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire sent in November (emphasis added): Security experts have voiced concerns that Chinas vague patchwork of intelligence, national security, and cybersecurity laws compel Chinese companies to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. Without an independent judiciary to review requests made by the Chinese government for data or other actions, there is no legal mechanism for Chinese companies to appeal if they disagree with a request.

As the Post pointed out, TikTok is not part ofthe Global Network Initiative, a collection of companies that have pledged to resist unlawful or overly broad requests from governments to access user data, the group confirmed.

The GNI does annual checkups of its members, including Facebook and Google, to ensure theyre keeping their promises, that report continued. But not TikTok.

Stamos further observed that TikTok is operating under a political censorship regime, and noted the Chinese government has no problem telling [its companies] where they should come down in political debates. For instance, content about the Hong Kong protests was noticeably light on the platform last year.

Consider alsothe case of New Jersey teenFeroza Aziz, whose account was suspended shortly after she posted a video explaining the CCPs oppression of Uyghur Muslims. At first, TikTok said Aziz was suspended for violating its terrorism rules in a separate video, a satirical clip about dating that included a picture of Osama bin Laden. Then the company changed its story, blaming ahuman moderation error, and restoring the video, rendering its initial excuse highly suspect.

As you might expect, TikTok claims it does not censor content in the United States based on the CCPs demands. Again, the app is owned by ByteDance, which owns Chinas version of TikTok. On Douyin, of course, a broad range of supposedly subversive topics are banned. After shuttering its comedy app, ByteDances founder issued an apology for deviation of socialist core values.

Thats whose app were using during these quarantines which, by the way, could probably have been prevented had the CCP not perpetrated a clear and despicable cover-up of the virus. The product youre using to pass the time while stuck indoors is owned by a company that is necessarily complicit with the bad actors in China who helped put us in this situation.

With kids home from school and adults home from work, people are turning to TikTok for entertainment, and understandably so. The app is fun. Celebrities are flooding it with content. But there is a legitimate ethical question as to whether bored Americans should spend their isolation time boosting the fortunes and influence of a company that is complicit with the communist government that cost us lives and jobs.

We have time to kill on TikTok because of communist Chinas cover-up. TikTok is complicit with communist China. We can probably find better way to entertain ourselves while we ride out this terrible storm Chinese communists helped send our way.

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Why TikTok Is The Worst Way To Waste Time In Quarantine - The Federalist

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