DNA links 5,500 year old remains of aboriginal woman found in Canada and her 200 x great-grandaughter who still lives nearby
Scientists have traced a genetic descent from the 5,500 year-old remains to a second set of 2,500 year-old female remains found nearby and, amazingly, to a woman still living close to both prehistoric sites on British Columbia’s northern coast.
The study used DNA samples from 60 modern members of the indigenous Tsimshian, Haida and Nisga’a tribes from the Metlakatla First Nation. The samples were compared with mitochondrial DNA extracted from the teeth of four ancient people: two skeletons aged 6,000 years and 5,500 years unearthed in an ancient shell midden on Lucy Island, and two skeletons aged 5,000 years and 2,500 years found on Dodge Island.
Three living individuals had DNA matches with the older Dodge Island skeleton, and three of the skeletons matched at least one living person. The oldest Lucy Island skeleton didn’t match any living relatives, but did match a 10,300-year-old skeleton previously unearthed on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.
The team was surprised by the genetic link between the 5,500-year-old Lucy Island female and the 2,500-year-old Dodge Island female, but was elated to find they both had the exact same mitogenome of a living Tsimshian woman – a kinship covering at least 200 generations.
Previous DNA research suggests that 95% of all Native Americans can trace their mitochondrial ancestry to 6 women who lived between 18,000 and 21,000 years ago. The mitochondrial signatures that these ‘founding mothers’ left behind aren’t found in Asia, which suggests that they arose in Beringia, the now-submerged land bridge which connected Asia to North America during the last Ice Age.
However, the genetic picture which followed their descendants’ migration into North America around 15,000 years ago has proven difficult to understand – mainly due to the effects of European colonization from the 16th century onwards, which, as well as adding European DNA into the mix, effectively snuffed out many indigenous genetic lineages.
Which makes this living mitochondrial link particularly important.
Study leader Ripan Malhi, said: “It’s a rare lineage. In my mind, I expect that lots of these rare lineages would have gone extinct after European contact and colonization because of the high mortality that was associated with contact.”
Study co-author and Metlakatla treaty official, Joycelynn Mitchell, added: “It’s very exciting to be able to have scientific proof that corroborates what our ancestors have been telling us for generations. It is amazing how fast technology is moving to be able to prove this kind of link with our past.”
Here is why you should swear at work, according to science.
It’s something Americans do about 80 times a day according to a 2016 study. Yet more so than walking into a meeting 35 minutes late with a fresh latte in hand, swearing in the workplace is still seen as taboo. In fact, a 2015 survey found that 81% of employers believed swearing at work “brings an employee’s professionalism into question.”
But just like movie producer Darryl Zanuck, who in 1946 infamously said the TV would just be a fad, this opinion isn’t aging well. Study after study on this subject have all come to the same conclusion, cursing has many benefits in both our private and professional lives. Let’s dive into a few of them.
On a personal level, people who swear often lie less frequently, have higher levels of integrity and emotional intelligence, possess a larger vocabulary and are linked with having higher IQs. Cursing conveys feelings and opinions not captured by everyday language so people are able to glean more about the other party from conversations and end up making stronger connections leading to greater trust. Choosing the appropriate kind of word (mild or strong) demonstrates that you understand the mentality of the person that you’re speaking to so they’re more inclined to believe you.
Swearing even has health benefits. Stubbed your toe? A well-timed “ah, crap, come on!” can actually reduce the discomfort you feel and increase your pain tolerance. In one study from the U.K.’s Keele University, participants were able to keep their hand submerged in ice water for 50% longer when they were uttering curses instead of using neutral language. The next time you need a little help getting through that butt-kicking HIIT class, try some fun four-letter words. Frequent swearers also have increased circulation, elevated endorphins, and an overall sense of calm, control, and well-being. No prescription required.
In the workplace, cursing can actually help you get ahead. Research indicates cursing increases the effectiveness and persuasiveness of an argument. The most cohesive and productive teams in sectors like manufacturing and IT joke with each other using lots of profanity and trust each other more for it. For sales, swearing can translate into more wins when both sides do it, 18% more to be exact, based on analysis from Gong of more than 73,000 of its sales calls.
Despite all the studies espousing its numerous benefits, cursing is still somewhat taboo, especially in a professional setting. According to the same analysis, prospects feel more comfortable swearing than sales reps but even so tend to wait until later-stage calls to do it. But once the prospect does add a little color to the conversation, sales reps increase their cursing by 400%, potentially leading to a better outcome.
Because it’s still not as socially acceptable for women to swear, they tend to feel less comfortable doing it, so men curse on sales calls 39% more, but in casual situations, women and men curse just as often. With both genders, S-bombs are more popular than the F-word, accounting for 65% of recorded obscenities versus 32%.
Interestingly, humans aren’t even the only ones who do it, chimpanzees are also proponents of profanity (cats probably do too but there’s no data on this yet). In one particular group, they used sign language to make the motion for “dirty” the same way we would use different variations of the word “crap.”
Americans are swearing more than they ever have, but this trend isn’t translating to the workplace and there’s still a taboo associated with swearing. So the next time you’re in a brainstorm, working in a team, or just need help hitting your quarterly sales target, think about dropping the first curse because “sh*t” may indeed be a magic word.
Women in Croatia fear further erosion of long-held abortion rights.
In August, Karla, a 37-year-old mother of two, found herself in a worrisome situation. She was pregnant and was struggling to find a licensed clinic to perform a medical abortion in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.
According to her doctor she had been one of the small percentage of women for whom the morning-after pill was ineffective. One private clinic told her it could only do a surgical abortion due to the coronavirus pandemic. A public hospital told her doctor its internal politics wouldn’t allow the procedure to be performed.
“It’s a scary feeling, knowing it’s not up to you, that it’s up the clinic to agree,” she recalls, “but I was so determined to get what I needed I knew I was going to get it done.”
For Karla – who wanted to give only her first name – it wasn’t the right time to have a third child, a deeply personal decision which she says was compounded by the pandemic.
Abortion up to the 10th week of pregnancy was legalised in 1978 when Croatia was part of the former Yugoslavia. Since independence in 1991, numerous attempts have been made by the Catholic Church and ultra-conservative groups to change this inherited law.
In 2003 conscientious objection was established in the country, giving doctors the right to refrain from carrying out abortions. It’s estimated 60 per cent of practitioners invoke this right today, meaning more Croatian women must travel to neighbouring countries for support or else undergo illegal abortions.
The clinic that finally admitted Karla for a medical termination delivered her two children. This time it was a completely different experience. In the waiting room heavily pregnant women were seated next to her and she could hear the steady beat of babies’ hearts from nearby ultrasounds. She was the first one in the clinic that day and the last one to be seen.
“The doctor I had for my consultation was respectful but the doctor who administered my pill was really unprofessional and rude towards me. Throughout the whole process she just wanted to be done with me. I could handle it, but I kept thinking about other young women who can’t stand up for themselves,” she says.
The constitutional court reaffirmed the constitutionality of access to abortion in 2017 and tasked parliament with updating the law by spring 2019. This hasn’t happened. The ruling means abortion cannot be outlawed although the revisions could make access even more difficult.
“The government is aware most people here still support a woman’s right to choose,” says activist Sanja Cesar, “on the other hand, the Catholic Church and their associated organisations have strong influence on our government, so they are afraid to start a public debate on abortion.”
About 86 per cent of Croatians define themselves as Catholic yet it’s generally accepted that many do not attend Mass on a regular basis. Nonetheless the anti-abortion movement has become increasingly loud in public discourse.
In the past, the church was the primary creator of the anti-abortion narrative in Croatia. Today several ultra-conservative organisations such as Ordo Iuris, Vigilare and In the Name of the Family are leading the charge. These opaque groups are not only calling for more restrictive laws around women’s reproductive health, but they are also contributing to the growing anti-LGTBQ+ rhetoric sweeping the country.
Stjepo Bartulica, a far-right MP and ardent anti-abortion campaigner, feels people are not waiting for orders from the Vatican. “Before you would expect a bishop in Zagreb to be the first to criticise something the government has done. Now they are more cautious so it’s the lay groups who are bolder in action,” he told The Irish Times from his office in the Sabor, Croatia’s parliament.
The 51-year-old is annoyed that the ruling conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) government hasn’t acted on the issue of abortion and firmly believes there is strong support for more restrictive measures. “This is something that Croatia’s democracy has failed to address, we have addressed many other human-rights issues, but abortion is still seen as taboo by our political class,” he argues.
The most pressing concern for pro-choice activists is the possibility of mandatory counselling being added to the law, which they argue would allow for more delays. Lana Bobic, a theologian, also believes such a move would be a signal to the country that “women are not capable of making big decisions on their own”.
Cesar is concerned it would lead to more women seeking illegal abortions, compromising their health and making it a more unpleasant experience.
Karla’s interactions with the doctor who administered her pill became so unbearable that she stopped going for her check-ups. Instead she went to her private doctor to ensure there were no complications.
“The whole system is structured to make abortion, which is legal, unapproachable,” she says. “It’s not easy from a financial perspective. It’s not easy to find good information online. It’s scary when you’re a woman to know that most of the decisions are made by men and you’re the last one to be consulted. That’s what we need to change.”
In Chile’s arid Atacama desert, Tabita Daza Rojas is trying to scrape together enough money to finish construction on her home before her baby, due anyday, arrives.Eight hundred kilometers to the south, in La Pintana, a suburb of the capital Santiago, Cynthia González is nursing her 2-month-old boy. But she needs to buy milk to supplement her body’s supply, and is worried about how she’ll afford it.Rojas and González come from different backgrounds, have different lives and ambitions. Yet they — and at least 170 other women at the time of writing — share a common reality: they all claim to have fallen pregnant while taking Anulette CD, an oral contraceptive pill manufactured by Silesia, a subsidiary of the German pharmaceutical company, Grünenthal.Without the option to legally terminate their pregnancies, if they wanted to, or any real accountability from the government or the drug companies, the women, represented by the Chilean sexual and reproductive rights group Corporación Miles, are preparing to file a class action lawsuit in the civil courts.In a region where barriers to women’s reproductive rights are the norm, CNN has identified a government health agency quick to shift the blame to these women, as well as a history of poor production quality and previous issues relating to oral contraceptives in Grünenthal’s Chilean factory — its gateway to Latin America.
Tabita Rojas’ story
In March 2020, after discovering an ovarian cyst her physician worried could have been caused by her contraceptive implant, Rojas’s doctor at her local health clinic advised she take the pill instead, prescribing Anulette CD.Rojas didn’t give the switch much thought; she had taken oral contraceptives before and agreed it made sense for her health.Plus, after giving up her place on a forensic criminology program at 17 because she’d gotten pregnant, the now 29-year-old was once again excited about her future.”I had to put all that aside and dedicate myself to my son,” said Rojas, who had a second child two years later, and provides for her family by doing seasonal work at a grape packing plant.By early 2020, however, things were changing. Her children — boys now aged 11 and 9 years old, both with learning difficulties — were more independent, and were spending more time with their father. As part of a government urbanization in her hometown Copiapó, Rojas had been given a small piece of land on which to build a house. She had been saving up money and planned to move out of the home she and her children had been sharing with three other family members.And, she was in love.Early on in the relationship, Rojas and her boyfriend had decided not to have children together. “It was going to be impossible to provide for someone else,” she said.But in September 2020, just five months after Rojas began taking Anulette, she found out she was pregnant again. She would later learn, after seeing it posted on Facebook, that her tablets were from a batch that had been recalled by Chile’s public health authority, the Instituto de Salud Pública de Chile (ISP) the month before.”I was about to finish the second [box of three prescribed] when I found out about the problem,” she said. By then she was already six weeks pregnant.
On February 21, 2021, Chile’s health authority wrote Tabita Rojas in response to her questions about the Anulette CD controversy. (R) The ISP’s August 24, 2020 alert recalling the first batch of defective Anulette pills. Source: Tabita Rojas, ISP
Rojas’ neo-natal ultrasound in September 2020 revealed she was approximately 6 weeks pregnant. Source: Tabita Rojas
The blister packs of the Anulette CD birth control pills Rojas had taken for nearly three months before finding out they had been recalled in August 2020. Source: Tabita Rojas
‘I was never happy with this pregnancy’
The details may differ but similar scenarios have been playing out across Chile. A mother of four, González, who had been on Anulette for eight months, got pregnant for the fifth time in May 2020.She tells CNN that she took her contraceptive “religiously every morning,” before adding: “Because we women set an alarm for those kinds of pills.”The news devastated her. Her personal life was complicated and her finances extremely limited after she lost the market stall where she sold second-hand clothes.”I was never happy with this pregnancy,” González said. “If you only knew all the nights I spent crying thinking that I didn’t want to [have the baby]. I had no options.”Alluding to Chile’s strict abortion laws that forbid a woman from terminating a pregnancy except for three reasons (if the pregnancy is a result of rape, if the fetus is incompatible with life outside the womb, or if a woman’s life is at risk), González spoke about her upset and how she tried to conceal her growing tummy.”I hid the pregnancy for a long time, so that they wouldn’t ask me: ‘Hey, another child, and whose is it, because you are no longer with your husband’ — and having to explain that we were separated. It was already a complicated situation for me, let alone to go around telling everyone.”Anulette CD is a 28-day combined oral contraceptive — one of the most common forms of birth control.It contains synthetic versions of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which are produced naturally by the ovaries. The hormones work to prevent ovulation — meaning no egg is released by the ovaries — as well as thicken the lining of the cervix to make it harder for sperm to pass through. The pill also makes the lining of the uterus thinner so that if an egg is fertilized it cannot implant and begin to grow.Pill regimens typically involve taking 21 “active” pills that contain the hormones and seven “non-active” or “placebo” pills, to maintain a daily routine, during which time a person bleeds.
How the contraceptive pill works
The menstrual cycle is the process by which the body prepares for pregnancy every month. Controlled by multiple hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, it is the time between the first day of a period and the day before the next period begins. On average the cycle lasts 28 days, but this can vary.
The cycle involves ovulation, where an egg is released from one of the ovaries.
Pregnancy happens when sperm enters a vagina, travels through the cervix and uterus (womb) to the fallopian tubes and fertilizes a released egg. Once fertilized, the egg starts to grow, traveling to and implanting itself into the lining of the uterus.
When an egg isn’t fertilised and pregnancy doesn’t happen, the egg is reabsorbed into the body and the thickened lining of the uterus sheds and exits the vagina as a period.
Birth control pills work by controlling the menstrual cycle, to prevent pregnancy. There are many different types of birth control pill but one of the most common is the 28-day combined oral contraceptive. With these, you take one pill every day, at the same time, for 28 days.
The first 21 pills are active, as they contain artificial versions of estrogen and progesterone. The remaining seven pills in the packet are inactive pills that contain no hormones, often referred to as “sugar pills” or “placebos.”
The 21 active pills prevent ovulation, meaning that no egg will be released from the ovaries.
They also help to prevent pregnancy by thickening the mucus around the entrance to the womb, making it harder for sperm to enter and reach an egg, and by making the lining of the uterus thinner, so if an egg is fertilised there is less chance of it implanting into the women and being able to grow.
In the case of the women in Chile – the pills that they were provided were defective according to the ISP. In one batch, the placebo (a blue pill) had been found where the active pills (a yellow pill) should have been, and vice versa. In another batch there were missing and crushed pills. Users say these instances resulted in unwanted pregnancies.
Source: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Healthline, Planned Parenthood, UK National Health Service (NHS)The first batch — 139,160 packs of Anulette pills, according to its manufacturer — were recalled on August 24, 2020 after healthcare workers at a rural healthcare clinic complained that they had identified 6 packets of defective pills.In them — based on information from the ISP — the placebo (a blue pill) had been found where the active pills (a yellow pill) should have been, and vice versa.In its online notice, published on August 29, the ISP said that the makers of Anulette CD, a company called Laboratorios Silesia S.A. (Silesia), had been made aware and were withdrawing the defective lot. The ISP then advised health centers to quarantine any packets they had from the affected batches.Then, a tweet was sent from the ISP account alerting its followers to the recall. But without a nationwide campaign to more directly inform the public, the recall went largely unnoticed.A week after the first recall, on September 3, the same error was detected in 6 packets from a different batch at a clinic in Santiago. Here, tablets were also missing, but others were crushed, according to the ISP. By the time the problems were flagged, Silesia said it had already distributed 137,730 packs to health centers.This time the ISP said it would be suspending Silesia’s registration until the laboratory was able to improve its quality and production processes. But it was too little, too late.In total, according to the manufacturer’s own accounts, 276,890 packets of Anulette CD from the two defective lots — all with a January 2022 expiry date — had been distributed to family planning centers across Chile.Surprisingly, on September 8, less than a week after Silesia’s suspension, the ISP issued another document reversing its earlier decision. In the memo, which was uploaded to its website, the health authority said Anulette CD could once again be distributed. It claimed that the flaws in the packaging could be easily detected, and passed the responsibility of doing so, and of informing users of the service, onto healthcare workers.The Ministry of Health told CNN in an emailed statement that they informed the public health service “to inform users of this situation and take pertinent actions,” and said that they provided support and counseling for reproductive health workers to support “women who may have been affected by problems in the quality of contraceptives.”But Rojas said she was only informed by her local clinic about the defective pills after she went in for a prenatal checkup. And Rodriguez told CNN no one has contacted her.ISP director Heriberto Garcia defended the decision to put Anulette back on the market, saying in a video interview with CNN: “Just because it [one pack] belongs to the batch doesn’t mean it was bad.”
“We expect that there are many more women with this problem, especially because the State has not claimed any responsibility.”Laura Dragnic, legal coordinator at Corporación Miles
So, it was left to Chilean civil society to raise the alarm. The sexual and reproductive rights group, Miles, ran a social media campaign and used its networks to get the word out.”It was after [posting on Instagram] when we started receiving emails from people saying that they were already pregnant because they were consuming Anulette,” said Miles’ legal coordinator Laura Dragnic.By October 2020, some 40 women had gotten in touch. According to Miles, following multiple media appearances by its staff, another 70 women came forward. The number now stands at 170, but Dragnic expects it to grow as rural women or those without access to the internet or television are still to be reached.”We expect that there are many more women with this problem,” she said, “especially because the State has not claimed any responsibility and has not made any statements or any serious compromises [to the abortion rules] for the affected women.”Seven days after Dragnic spoke to CNN, and six months after the first recall, the health authorities announced that Anulette’s manufacturers had been charged a series of fines totalling approximately 66.5m Chilean pesos (approximately USD $92,000).Miles and their partners are calling for the government to pay financial reparations to the affected women, and to provide access to safe and legal abortions for those who wish to terminate their pregnancy.
Multiple recalls at Grünenthal’s Santiago factory
Grünenthal, in whose Santiago factory Anulette CD is manufactured, began operating in Chile in 1979. The privately-owned German pharmaceutical company, which reported a €340 million (US $405 million) profit in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, is best known for its product tramadol, an opiate pain killer, classified as a controlled substance in numerous countries.In 2017, the company increased its Chilean investments by opening what it called “Latin America’s most modern women’s health products plant” — a US $14.5m facility. While only a small part of Grünenthal’s portfolio, the investment was enough to place it among “the three biggest pharmaceutical companies in Chile.”But CNN has uncovered that production issues began soon after the factory opened, and have affected a range of oral contraceptives marketed not just by Silesia S.A. but also Grünenthal’s other Chilean subsidiary, Andrómaco.
16 and trying not to get pregnantIn 2018, Tinelle, a contraceptive pill from Silesia’s portfolio, was voluntarily taken off the market after a decision to switch the sequence of the active and placebo tablets (keeping the same numbers of each but placing them in a different order) which — by the Grunenthal spokesperson, Florian Dieckmann’s admission — “confused [patients] about the new sequence of the pills.” Dieckmann said that the pills were put back on the market after Silesia “further clarified the instruction on the aluminium foil on how to follow the right sequence of tablets.”Two further oral contraceptives, Minigest 15 and 20, manufactured by Andrómaco at the Grünenthal Chilean plant, were recalled in October 2020 after the public health authority, the ISP, said that they were found during stability testing to contain an insufficient amount of the active ingredient: the hormones.Grunenthal’s spokesperson said that at the time of packaging, the tablets had “the correct amount of active ingredient” in them, adding that the “tablets are exposed to excessive temperatures and humidity over the products entire shelf life under laboratory conditions” and that it is “unlikely that the tablets are exposed to these conditions for a long time in real world circumstances.Based on a Freedom of Information request by Miles, which CNN then followed up on, the production of Anulette CD has had the most problems, according to the ISP’s own records.Between August 6 and November 18, 2020, health clinics across Chile reported a wide range of issues with the pills including small holes found in the tablets; pills that had orange and black spots; wet and crushed tablets; and packaging that wouldn’t release the entire pill effectively, leaving trace amounts of the pill stuck inside.In total, the ISP received 26 different complaints about 15 different batches of Anulette pills, yet only 2 batches were recalled.”It is important to clarify that not all complaints of the products end in market recalls,” the ISP explained. “Those that are withdrawn…are those in which critical defects are detected and this was the case of the recalled batches.”Aside from publishing details of the above recalls on its website, the ISP allegedly did little else to notify women, and despite its apparent challenges, Grünenthal remains the Chilean government’s leading provider of oral contraceptives.According to the ISP, 382,871 women are prescribed Anulette CD, and between May 2019 and January 2020, Grünenthal secured at least US $2.2 million in contracts that CNN has seen.The Ministry of Health did not answer CNN’s written questions and declined an invitation to be interviewed.
The blame game
While no one is denying the production problems, Grünenthal, its Chilean subsidiaries and government representatives, all seem intent on shifting some of the blame away from the faulty packets of the pill and onto each other.Dieckmann explained that the company discovered that the problems stemmed from an issue on the production line issue which caused some pills to move during the packaging process. That led to some packages with “empty cavities, some tablets misplaced or crushed tablets,” he said but stressed that the efficacy of the contraceptive had not been compromised.The spokesperson also pointed out that combined oral contraceptives are not 100% effective. According to the World Health Organization, the combined oral contraceptive pill every year results in less than 1 pregnancy in every 100, “with consistent and correct use.””So I think it’s important background, right?” Dieckmann said, noting that those statistics rise when the pill isn’t taken consistently or correctly.
In Lesotho, women say they’re finding their abortions on Facebook“I’m not trying to say that it’s the woman’s fault,” Dieckmann said, before adding that correct and consistent use was a “factor that I think we have to look at here.””Women say, ‘I was on the pill, I still became pregnant — why is that?’ That’s what’s happened,” he said, referencing the statistics.The Grünenthal spokesperson told CNN that the company could not speak to their individual cases, as it has not been directly contacted by any of the affected women.Addressing the controversy on the Chilean public broadcaster in December 2020, Silesia’s medical director, Leonardo Lourtau, said in addition to the company being responsible for visually checking the packaging, health officials should have also done so and, “obviously, the people who take the medicine as well.”And Garcia of the ISP suggested it was important to look at how birth control efficacy might change when interacting in the body with other products, such as antibiotics, tobacco or alcohol. “I am not saying that she has drunk a lot of alcohol or that she is a smoker, but I am telling you the background.”Despite Garcia’s assertions, most reproductive health experts widely agree that there is no evidence to suggest that smoking diminishes the effectiveness of the pill; that alcohol will only do so if a person throws up soon after taking it; and that only one type of antibiotic, those based on rifampicin, can affect oral contraceptives.
Drug recalls are not unusual, but it is hard for those campaigning on behalf of the women not to perceive an injustice here: Grünenthal continues to see its factory as the key to reaching 168 million women in Latin America, while the women who take its products have to remain vigilant or risk pregnancy. The risk is heightened, reproductive rights groups say, by the fact that these women, already poor and marginalized, can’t count on the robust support of the government should the undesired happen.Paula Avila Guillen, Executive Director at the New York Women’s Equality Center, a not-for-profit that advocates for and monitors reproductive rights in Latin America, told CNN that if the recall was about bad meat, the entire country would have known immediately, and the product immediately taken off the market. “But when it comes to women and reproductive health, they just don’t care,” she lamented.And so, Miles and its partners, writing to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and to the United Nations, have called the situation “a clear situation of systemic discrimination against women.”Meanwhile, back in Copiapó, at 38 weeks pregnant, Rojas has now accepted her fate. She will once again have to put aside her dreams for the future of her child, another baby boy. They’ll name him Fernando.
Sweeping reforms to Sudan’s 1991 Penal Code have been passed into law, including the removal of the death penalty for apostasy. Previously, Sudan was one of only 14 countries to impose capital punishment for leaving Islam and was ranked as the ninth worst country in the world for its treatment of the non-religious by Humanists International’s 2019 Freedom of Thought Report. Humanists UK has welcomed this reform as a significant move towards freedom of religion or belief in Sudan, and hopes that this is the first step towards full decriminalisation.
These reforms have also seem a ban on female genital mutilation come into force, a moratorium on the use of public flogging as a punishment, the relaxation of the prohibition on alcohol for non-Muslims, and ending the requirement for women to seek male permission to travel with their children. This followed on from earlier reforms last year that repealed the ‘decency laws’ which had imposed corporal punishment on women for breaches of dress-code.
The apostasy law was regularly used before its repeal, including in the case of Mohammad Salih, who in 2017 faced the death penalty after requesting the religion section on his national ID card be changed from Islam to non-religious. He only avoided it as he was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial. In 2014, Mariam Yahya Ibrahim narrowly avoided the death penalty after she was charged with apostasy for marrying into a Christian family.
However, apostasy and ‘religious insult’ will remain criminal offences in Sudan, so there is more work to be done to see freedom of religion, belief, thought, and expression be upheld.
Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘We are delighted that Sudan has taken this bold leap forward towards realising the right to freedom of religion or belief for its citizens, as well as improving the protection of women and removing brutal practices that have no place in the modern world. We hope that this will open a path to further reform in the future to decriminalise apostasy entirely, and for the 13 countries that still impose the death penalty for blasphemy or apostasy to also abolish this practice.’
The 13 countries which maintain the death penalty for blasphemy or apostasy are Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Experimental Blood Test Detects Cancer up to Four Years before Symptoms Appear.
For years scientists have sought to create the ultimate cancer-screening test—one that can reliably detect a malignancy early, before tumor cells spread and when treatments are more effective. A new method reported today in Nature Communications brings researchers a step closer to that goal. By using a blood test, the international team was able to diagnose cancer long before symptoms appeared in nearly all the people it tested who went on to develop cancer.
“What we showed is: up to four years before these people walk into the hospital, there are already signatures in their blood that show they have cancer,” says Kun Zhang, a bioengineer at the University of California, San Diego, and a co-author of the study. “That’s never been done before.”
Past efforts to develop blood tests for cancer typically involved researchers collecting blood samples from people already diagnosed with the disease. They would then see if they could accurately detect malignant cells in those samples, usually by looking at genetic mutations, DNA methylation (chemical alterations to DNA) or specific blood proteins. “The best you can prove is whether your method is as good at detecting cancer as existing methods,” Zhang says. “You can never prove it’s better.”
In contrast, Zhang and his colleagues began collecting samples from people before they had any signs that they had cancer. In 2007 the researchers began recruiting more than 123,000 healthy individuals in Taizhou, China, to undergo annual health checks—an effort that required building a specialized warehouse to store the more than 1.6 million samples they eventually accrued. Around 1,000 participants developed cancer over the next 10 years.
Zhang and his colleagues focused on developing a test for five of the most common types of cancer: stomach, esophageal, colorectal, lung and liver malignancies. The test they developed, called PanSeer, detects methylation patterns in which a chemical group is added to DNA to alter genetic activity. Past studies have shown that abnormal methylation can signal various types of cancer, including pancreatic and colon cancer.
The PanSeer test works by isolating DNA from a blood sample and measuring DNA methylation at 500 locations previously identified as having the greatest chance of signaling the presence of cancer. A machine-learning algorithm compiles the findings into a single score that indicates a person’s likelihood of having the disease. The researchers tested blood samples from 191 participants who eventually developed cancer, paired with the same number of matching healthy individuals. They were able to detect cancer up to four years before symptoms appeared with roughly 90 percent accuracy and a 5 percent false-positive rate.
The new study “offers several interesting approaches in the quest for a blood-plasma-based cancer-screening test,” says Colin Pritchard, a molecular pathologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research. It will be important, though, for another research team to independently validate the findings in a different group of people before the test can be considered for clinical use, he says.
Usha Menon, a professor of gynecological cancer at University College London, who also did not participate in the study, observes that Zhang and his colleagues’ method provides a robust, preliminary baseline test—an “essential first step” toward a commercial cancer-screening product. “The authors are not suggesting that they have a test that can be used clinically at this stage,” she says. “They are clear that what they have is a robust preliminary demonstration of early detection of multiple cancer types four years prior to conventional diagnosis.”
Most likely, such a test would first target high-risk populations, Menon says. And it would require devising a second panel of tests to enable clinicians to determine the specific cancer type and rule out false positives.
Zhang believes such a feature could be developed with more work, and he agrees that further studies are needed. Given the challenges in repeating an effort of this magnitude, a government-industry partnership, he says, would ideally undertake the follow-up research. An ideal test would target the most common cancers, as Zhang’s study did, as well as the deadliest ones. “There are cancers where early detection can make a really big difference,” he says. Pancreatic cancer, for example, is the next target Zhang and his colleagues are working on.
If and when cancer blood tests do become available, Pritchard warns, they probably will not be able to detect all cancers before they become symptomatic. “One cancer might have a very long lead time, where another is very short,” he says. “Cancers that grow very quickly might not be detected even if someone is, for example, doing an annual screening.” It’s possible, too, that some types of malignancies may never be detected by blood tests because they do not produce a measurable signal in blood plasma.
“We are still a ways away from having an accurate blood-based ‘pan-cancer’ screening test. But it is not impossible to achieve,” Pritchard says. “There are several large efforts underway, with some promise for the future.”
Uber, Lyft algorithms charge more for rides to non-white neighborhoods.
A new study that analyzed over 100 million ride-sharing trips in Chicago has come to some disturbing conclusions that some suspected all along: both Uber and Lyft are using algorithms that discriminate against riders seeking to travel to non-white neighborhoods.
Salon reports that researchers at George Washington University in Washington D.C cross-referenced the rides with census data to get an up to date snapshot of the racial demographics of the areas traveled to. And based on that analysis, study authors, Aylin Caliskan and Akshat Pandey found that when passengers were either picked up from or headed to minority and/or lower-income neighborhoods they were charged more per mile.
“While demand and speed have the highest correlation with ride-hailing fares, analysis shows that users of ride-hailing applications in the city of Chicago may be experiencing social bias with regard to fare prices when they are picked up or dropped off in neighborhoods with a low percentage of individuals over 40 or a low percentage of individuals with a high school diploma or less,” Caliskan and Pandey wrote in their conclusion.
“Unlike traditional taxi services, fare prices for ride-hailing services are dynamic, calculated using both the length of the requested trip as well as the demand for ride-hailing services in the area,” the authors explained.
The study continued with the assertion that Uber determined the demand for rides using machine learning models, using forecasting based on prior demand to determine which areas drivers will be needed most at a given time. The usage of machine learning to forecast demand may improve ride-hailing applications’ ability to provide service. However, it is also known to adopt policies that display demographic disparity in online recruitment, online advertisements, and recidivism prediction.
In response to the research, a representative from Lyft reached out to Salon with a statement. They denied that race was a factor involved in pricing.
“This analysis is deeply flawed. The researcher acknowledges that the study was not based on actual demographic data of rideshare users. In fact, the study makes clear that speed and demand have the highest correlation with algorithmically generated fares and that individual demographic data is neither available to rideshare companies nor used in the algorithms that determine pricing,” the statement read.
“There are many factors that go into dynamic pricing — race is not one of them. We appreciate the researchers’ attempt to study unintentional bias, but this study misses the mark.”
The World’s Most Technologically Sophisticated Genocide Is Happening in Xinjiang.
Two recent disturbing events may finally awaken the world to the scale and horror of the atrocities being committed against the Uighurs, a mostly secular Muslim ethnic minority, in Xinjiang, China. One is an authoritative report documenting the systematic sterilization of Uighur women. The other was the seizure by U.S. Customs and Border Protection of 13 tons of products made from human hair suspected of being forcibly removed from Uighurs imprisoned in concentration camps. Both events evoke chilling parallels to past atrocities elsewhere, forced sterilization of minorities, disabled, and Indigenous people, and the image of the glass display of mountains of hair preserved at Auschwitz.
The Genocide Convention, to which China is a signatory, defines genocide as specific acts against members of a group with the intent to destroy that group in whole or in part. These acts include (a) killing; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm; (c) deliberately inflicting conditions of life to bring about the group’s physical destruction; (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. Any one of these categories constitutes genocide. The overwhelming evidence of the Chinese government’s deliberate and systematic campaign to destroy the Uighur people clearly meets each of these categories.
Over a million Turkic Uighurs are detained in concentration camps, prisons, and forced labor factories in China. Detainees are subject to military-style discipline, thought transformation, and forced confessions. They are abused, tortured, raped, and even killed. Survivors report being subjected to electrocution, waterboarding, repeated beatings, stress positions, and injections of unknown substances. These mass detention camps are designed to cause serious physical, psychological harm and mentally break the Uighur people. The repeated government orders to “break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins”; “round up everyone who should be rounded up”; and systematically prevent Uighur births demonstrate a clear intent to eradicate the Uighur people as a whole.
Ekpar Asat (brother of one of the present authors) is an emblematic example of how Uighurs are targeted regardless of their recognition as model Chinese citizens by the Communist Party. Asat was praised by the government for his community leadership as a “bridge builder” and “positive force” between ethnic minorities and the Xinjiang local government. But Asat still suffered the same fate as over a million other Uighurs and disappeared into the shadows of the concentration camps in 2016. He is held incommunicado and is reported to be serving a 15-year sentence on the trumped-up charge of “inciting ethnic hatred.” Not a single court document is available about his case.
In 2017, Xinjiang waged a brutal “Special Campaign to Control Birth Control Violations,” along with specific local directives. By 2019, the government planned to subject over 80 percent of women of childbearing age in southern Xinjiang to forced intrauterine devices (IUDs) and sterilization. The goal is to achieve “zero birth control violation incidents.” Government documents reveal a campaign of mass female sterilization supported by state funding to carry out hundreds of thousands of sterilizations in 2019 and 2020. This goes far beyond the scale, per capita, of forced sterilization inflicted on women throughout China under the past one-child policy.
To implement these policies, the Xinjiang government employed “dragnet-style” investigations to hunt down women of childbearing age.To implement these policies, the Xinjiang government employed “dragnet-style” investigations to hunt down women of childbearing age. Once apprehended, these women have no choice but to undergo forced sterilization to avoid being sent to an internment camp. Once detained, women face forced injections, abortions, and unknown drugs. And statistics show that the government is meeting its birth prevention goals.
Between 2015 and 2018, population growth rates in the Uighur heartland plummeted by 84 percent. Conversely, official documents show that sterilization rates skyrocketed in Xinjiang while plunging throughout the rest of China, and the funding for these programs is only increasing. Between 2017 and 2018, in one district, the percentage of women who were infertile or widowed increased by 124 percent and 117 percent, respectively. In 2018, 80 percent of all IUD placements in China were performed in Xinjiang despite accounting for a mere 1.8 percent of China’s population. These IUDs can be removed only by state-approved surgery—or else prison terms will follow. In Kashgar, only about 3 percent of married women of childbearing age gave birth in 2019. The latest annual reports from some of these regions have begun omitting birth rate information altogether to conceal the scale of destruction. The government has shut down its entire online platform after these revelations. The scale and scope of these measures are clearly designed to halt Uighur births.
With Uighur men detained and women sterilized, the government has laid the groundwork for the physical destruction of the Uighur people. At least half a million of the remaining Uighur children have been separated from their families and are being raised by the state at so-called “children shelters.”
What makes this genocide so uniquely dangerous is its technological sophistication, allowing for efficiency in its destruction and concealment from global attention. The Uighurs have been suffering under the most advanced police state, with extensive controls and restrictions on every aspect of life—religious, familial, cultural, and social. To facilitate surveillance, Xinjiang operates under a grid management system. Cities and villages are split into squares of about 500 people. Each square has a police station that closely monitors inhabitants by regularly scanning their identification cards, faces, DNA samples, fingerprints, and cell phones. These methods are supplemented by a machine-operated system known as the Integrated Joint Operations Platform. The system uses machine learning to collect personal data from video surveillance, smartphones, and other private records to generate lists for detention. Over a million Han Chinese watchers have been installed in Uighur households, rendering even intimate spaces subject to the government’s eye.
The Chinese government operates the most intrusive mass surveillance system in the world and repeatedly denies the international community meaningful access to it. It is therefore incumbent on us to appreciate the nature, depth, and speed of the genocide and act now before it’s too late.
Recognizing or refusing to name this a genocide will be a matter of life or death. In 1994, by the time U.S. officials were done debating the applicability of the term to the situation in Rwanda, nearly a million Tutsis had already been slaughtered. A document dated May 1, 1994, at the height of the genocide, by an official in the Office of the Secretary of Defense stated: “Genocide finding could commit [the U.S. government] to actually ‘do something.’” Four years later, President Bill Clinton stood before Rwandan survivors and reflected on his administration’s historic failure and vowed: “Never again must we be shy in the face of the evidence.”
With the passing of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, the U.S. government has begun to take steps in the right direction to avoid another human catastrophe. Seventy-eight members of Congress have followed up with a call for the administration to impose Magnitsky sanctions on the responsible Chinese officials and issue a formal declaration of the atrocity crimes, including genocide. So far, the administration has officially imposed Magnitsky sanctions on four Chinese officials and an entity in charge of the Orwellian surveillance system and responsible for the expansion of the internment camps in Xinjiang. The U.S. government must now make an official determination of genocide. This will not be difficult, as U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus has already asserted that “what has happened to the Uighur people … is potentially the worst crime that we have seen since the Holocaust.”
A formal declaration of genocide is not simply symbolic. It will catalyze other countries to join in a concerted effort to end the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang. It will also prompt consumers to reject the over 80 international brands that profit off genocide. Furthermore, the determination will strengthen legal remedies for sanctioning companies that profit from modern slavery in their supply chains sourced in China and compel business entities to refrain from profiting from genocide and commit to ethical sourcing.
In our interconnected world, we are not only bystanders if we fail to recognize the genocide as we see it. We are complicit.
LeBron James Helps To Pay Fees Of Floridians With Felony Convictions So They Can Vote.
A voting rights group founded by NBA superstar LeBron James is raising funds to help people in Florida with felony records pay outstanding court debts that prevent them from voting, the group announced Friday.
More Than A Vote, a campaign the Los Angeles Lakers player started with other Black athletes and artists last month to fight Black voter suppression, is partnering with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), a group that helped end Florida’s lifetime voting ban for most people with felony convictions in 2018. They hope to raise $100,000.
Miami Heat Forward Udonis Haslem, who’s also a member of More Than A Vote, said in a statement that the thinking is simple: “We believe that your right to vote shouldn’t depend upon whether or not you can pay to exercise it.
There are around 1.4 million Floridians with felony convictions, the FRRC said. And as of 2016, one in five Black citizens in Florida were disenfranchised. As Politico noted, as many as 775,000 people in Florida with felony convictions face financial penalties that render them ineligible to vote until they can pay them.
Those penalties come in the form of restitution, court fines or other fees associated with their past convictions. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Florida’s rule blocking people from voting if they have any of those outstanding fees, which Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed into law last year. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued the law disenfranchises people “simply because they are poor.”
The FRRC, which has already raised more than $1.5 million for its fines and fees program, hopes teaming up with James’ campaign will raise awareness around the issue.
“This partnership will improve lives and strengthen our democracy,” FRRC executive director Desmond Meade said, adding, “We look forward to the positive impact it will have on our communities and the lives of those who are hoping to vote and have their voices heard.”
While the deadline to register for Florida’s August primary has already passed, residents have until Oct. 5 to register for the presidential election on Nov. 3. Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, currently holds a 13-point lead over President Donald Trump in the state, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday.
The One Percent Are Cheating Us Out of a Quarter-Trillion Dollars in Taxes Every Year.
The next time you hear conservative politicians insist they want “law and order,” hate “looting,” and believe America can’t afford new government programs, show them two landmark reports that emerged in the last twenty-four hours. The data in those analyses tell the story of conservative politicians letting billionaires and corporations brazenly evade laws and effectively loot hundreds of billions of dollars from the public treasury — all while those same politicians plead poverty to justify cutting the social safety net during a lethal pandemic.
The first report came from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which found that between 2011 and 2013, $381 billion in taxes went unpaid every single year. Couple that data with recent Harvard University research showing that the top one percent of income earners are responsible for 70 percent of the tax gap, and you see the full picture: The wealthiest sliver of the population is depriving the American public of about $266 billion of owed tax revenue every year.
That tax gap didn’t just magically happen — it is the result of conservatives’ huge cuts to the Internal Revenue Service’s enforcement budget, which resulted in a particularly precipitous decline in audit rates for the superrich. In fact, the $266 billion figure could be an understatement, because the congressional budget analysts were estimating the tax gap that existed before those IRS budget cuts.
“With the money that these tax cheats owe, this year alone, we could fund tuition-free college for all, eliminate child hunger, ensure clean drinking water for every American household, build half a million affordable housing units, provide masks to all, produce the protective gear and medical supplies our health workers need to combat this pandemic, and fully fund the U.S. Postal Service,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, who requested the CBO study. “That is an absolute outrage, and this report should make us take a long, hard look at what our national priorities are all about.”
“Shifting Over $1 Trillion in Profits Every Year to Corporate Tax Havens”
Just after the congressional report was released, the Tax Justice Network released a separate study showing that newly released international data prove “that instead of declaring profits in the countries where they were generated, multinational firms operating around the world are shifting over $1 trillion in profits every year to corporate tax havens” — moves that deprive governments of $330 billion in tax revenue that is owed but that is not being paid.
The study noted that just four small countries — the UK, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Luxembourg — “are together responsible for half of the world’s corporate tax avoidance.”
The United States alone is losing about $60 billion of revenue a year because of these corporate tax evasion schemes, according to Reed College economist Kimberly Clausing.
In case you thought the tax haven shenanigans were just limited to corporations, jog your memory and recall the Panama Papers and Credit Suisse scandals that spotlighted how wealthy individuals have gotten in on the offshore schemes.
We Know How to Fix Things, But Our Political System Is Rigged
At a time when the social safety net is being shredded in the name of budget austerity, the ruling class refusing to pay owed taxes is a grotesque form of looting. So what is Washington doing in response to all this?
On the domestic front, Donald Trump began his presidency proposing more IRS budget cuts, but this year, the White House is pushing for an increase. At the same time, though, Trump’s Justice Department is prosecuting far fewer criminal cases referred by the IRS: over the last 5 years, such prosecutions have dropped by more than 66 percent, according to data compiled by Syracuse University researchers.
On the international front, Trump’s 2017 tax cut bill included several provisions that “encourage American-based corporations to shift profits offshore,” according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. The administration has also recently moved to roll back rules designed to crack down on so-called corporate inversions, whereby companies incorporate offshore in order to avoid tax liabilities. And thanks to Trump’s coronavirus legislation, firms that already pulled the inversion maneuver could now be rewarded with Federal Reserve bailouts, according to Bloomberg News.
The problem here isn’t that we lack the knowledge to fix things — the problem is our political system.
The lawmakers with the power to truly beef up enforcement and crack down on profit shifting operate inside a machine that runs on legalized bribery. Some of them are trying to do the right thing, but most of them are bankrolled, in part, by big donors and corporate interests that are enriched by lax tax enforcement and offshore tax evasion. Those bought-and-paid-for lawmakers will publicly insist they want “law and order” and oppose looting, but they’ll allow widespread looting and tax lawlessness to continue, while they pretend there’s no money to pay for anything.
Meanwhile, because advocacy groups, voting blocs, and political leaders tend to be organized around specific programs and issues (say, Medicare or public education), there remains no large mobilized constituency organized around the general goal of cracking down on tax cheating — even though such a crackdown could provide new resources for key programs and issues.
Maybe all of this can change. Maybe the rise of grassroots-funded elected officials can break the link between corruption and policies that encourage tax theft. And maybe one day we will see more explicit organizing, movement building, and public education around the tax issue — it has started to happen in the UK, where some celebrities have made tax fairness their cause, so maybe it can happen here.
But if it doesn’t happen, millions will continue fighting over a few budget crumbs while the one percent keeps taking bigger and bigger bites of the revenue pie.