Big pharma says drug prices reflect R&D cost. Researchers call BS
At the end of September, a spot of good news: Relyvrio, a new drug for treating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—or ALS, a neurological disorder without a cure—was approved in the United States. The ALS community rejoiced; the drug’s authorization was described as a “long-sought victory for patients.”
But the next day, the price of the medicine was revealed: $158,000 a year. This was far higher than what the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, an independent nonprofit that analyzes health care costs, had estimated would be a reasonable price, which it deemed to be between $9,100 and $30,700.
Elon Musk's SpaceX Isn't Willing to Fund Starlink In Ukraine, Wants Pentagon to Pay for It
In yet another maneuver that will surely confirm whatever it is you already think about him, Elon Musk’s SpaceX is asking the U.S. government to pay it some $400 million over the next 12 months to continue providing satellite-based internet to Ukrainian forces, according to a report by CNN and more or less confirmed in a tweet by Elon Musk early Friday morning.
Back in February when Russia invaded Ukraine, Musk sent Starlink terminals to Ukraine's forces, providing them with internet service powered by SpaceX satellites. The service has proved useful as Russian forces targeted Ukrainian infrastructure, but has also faced outages and other service issues. Some 20,000 terminals, which are required to connect to the internet service, have been sent to Ukraine.
But, according to a SpaceX letter to the Pentagon from September obtained by CNN, SpaceX is looking for the Pentagon to start paying them for what it says is the full cost of providing that service, which could be as high as $400 million over the next year. According to that same letter, various governments are already paying a portion of the terminal costs as well as about 30 percent of the monthly expenses for connecting them to the internet.
“We are not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine, or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time,” the SpaceX letter to the Pentagon said, according to CNN. SpaceX did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment and did not immediately reply to a Motherboard inquiry.
The letter was sent weeks before Musk very publicly injected himself into the geopolitics of the Ukrainian conflict, tweeting a poll on October 3 with a proposal for Ukraine to end the war by ceding vast swaths of territory to Russia that may or may not have come after Musk spoke with Putin but delighted Russian officials nonetheless. The poll prompted widespread ridicule. One of the most noteworthy responses to that poll came from Andrij Melnyk, an international lawyer and Ukrainian diplomat, who replied, “Fuck off is my very diplomatic reply to you @elonmusk.”
On Twitter—where else?—Musk said SpaceX’s letter to the Pentagon was “just following his recommendation” in response to a Kyiv Post correspondent pointing out the connection, even though the letter was sent almost a month before his Twitter poll.
The backpedal comes as Musk faces numerous intersecting crises: SpaceX—a company with a valuation of $127 billion in which Musk is the largest shareholder—losing lots of money due to the war in Ukraine, a personal liquidity crunch because he needs to finance a purchase of a social media company he is being forced to make against his will because he changed his mind after agreeing to buy it, and Tesla stock—where most of Musk’s wealth is tied up—has declined 37 percent this year.
Sign up for Motherboard’s daily newsletter for a regular dose of our original reporting, plus behind-the-scenes content about our biggest stories.
Junk cellphones on Earth would stack higher than the International Space Station
Alongside National Dessert Day, National Boss's Day, and World Egg Day, October 14 is also International E-waste Day. To celebrate, the unfortunately named WEEE Forum (that's waste electrical and electronic equipment) has compiled some grim reading.…
Amber Heard's Vicious Online Trolls Are Coming for Angelina Jolie Now
Last week, shortly after Angelina Jolie filed a counterclaim against her former spouse Brad Pitt that included detailed allegations of abuse that she says Pitt inflicted on her and their children, some corners of the internet exploded with hate against one of the actors—but not the one you might think.
Jolie, the recipient of the alleged violence from Pitt, was vilified online almost instantly.
As the allegations surfaced, many people online jumped to Pitt’s defence. One YouTuber claimed Jolie wants to “destroy” Pitt and accused her of waging a “smear campaign” against him.
“She is angry and she is out for blood,” another Twitter user said.
The counterclaim itself, filed in Los Angeles, alleges serious violence from Pitt: “Pitt grabbed Jolie by the head and shook her, and then grabbed her shoulders and shook her again before pushing her into the bathroom wall,” the counterclaim states. It also alleges that Pitt “struck” one child and “choked” another, before pouring alcohol on the family.
But Jolie getting hate, instead of Pitt, follows an eerily familiar pattern that played out repeatedly during the Amber Heard and Johnny Depp trial, where both accused each other of defamation and abuse. Throughout the proceedings, social media hate flocked Heard—calling her a ‘liar,” “manipulator,” and a “bitch.” The attacks against her were so bad, some experts believe they influenced the verdict.
The Heard-Depp trial, according to Twitter analytics tool Bot Sentinel, was also marked by “one of the worst cases of platform manipulation and flagrant abuse from a group of Twitter accounts.”
Today, the misogynistic pile-on targeting celebrities doesn’t seem to be relenting—and it may even be on the rise.
“Back in June, I warned everyone that accounts targeting Amber Heard would eventually shift focus to a new victim, and unfortunately, I was correct,” tweeted Christopher Bouzy, the founder of Bot Sentinel. “The same insidious tactics used against Amber Heard are now being used against Angelina Jolie, and it's only going to get worse.”
According to multiple experts, the Depp-Heard trial, which ended with an overwhelming win for Depp, helped create a “playbook” for online hate against women that can now be used against women like Jolie as well as women who aren’t famous. In fact, several Twitter accounts compared Jolie to Amber Heard last week (“AH 2.0”) and in the UK, an abuser accused of physically assaulting his girlfriend while drunk nicknamed her girlfriend “Amber Heard” in his phone, the survivor said in court.
Westworld actor Evan Rachel Wood, 34, has also been the target of hate as her former partner Marilyn Manson sues her for physical abuse allegations she made against Manson, whose legal name Brian Warner.
Days after the Depp-Heard verdict, a Manson supporter tweeted, “They’re already panicking another famous woman may be exposed as a liar… And they have good reason to.” The account also referred to Wood as “Amber Heard 2.0.
For many, the current tone of online misogyny feels like a stark reaction to the progress made during the post-#metoo era.
“The pendulum analogy comes in,” said Mandi Gray, a University of Calgary researcher and gender justice expert. “When there are small steps of progress that are made, whether it’s for gender equality or any other type of equality, the pendulum will always swing the other way; it's a constant back and forth.”
Unsurprisingly, media watchdog Media Matters found that some conservative news sites declared the “end of MeToo” after Depp won big in his defamation suit against Heard. Fox Sports’ Clay Travis went on Hannity after the verdict dropped and said, “That jury said, we are not #BelievingAllWomen. This is the end of #MeToo.” Conservative YouTuber Steven Crowder tweeted, “Johnny Depp defeated #MeToo.”
“People feel emboldened,” gender-based advocate Farrah Khan told VICE News.
“It's an emboldenment across the board of misogyny—and hate across the board towards women—that people are more comfortable being open with,” Khan added. “This online harassment and hate is framed as men behind the bush, or a troll behind a computer, when it’s actually orchestrated hate against women.”
A desire to empathize with men, or “himpathy,” compounds the problem, Khan said, with people rationalising abusive behaviour away by pointing to issues like Depp’s and Pitt’s substance abuse and addiction. Many sites have published headlines sympathetic to Pitt, emphasizing his “misery” following his split with Jolie or how “sick to his stomach” he is over abuse allegations. (He denies allegations of abuse.)
Vitriol on social media can also work in concert with legal action to create a difficult situation for survivors, said Gray, a gender expert on the link between defamation suits and reported sexual assault.
When people face a lawsuit and online backlash, they sometimes have to face the impossible decision of either opting to remain silent or becoming spectacle, Gray said.
And these patterns are stark: Jolie, Wood, and Heard have all been sued by the men they’ve accused. Depp and Manson launched defamation suits against their former partners for statements they made about their experiences with abuse. Meanwhile, Pitt allegedly tried to get Jolie to sign a non-disclosure agreement that would prevent her from ever speaking out about abuse allegations, a move that Jolie called “abusive” and “controlling” in her counterclaim.
NDAs are also an effective lever, Gray said.
Convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein compelled his employees and accusers in Hollywood to sign NDAs, and his former assistant Zelda Perkins actually broke her NDA in order to speak out against him. The late and disgraced former Fox News network chief Roger Ailes as well as Bill Cosby and former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly also employed NDAs against alleged victims.
Khan also believes that the intense hate transpiring online doesn’t just latch onto celebrities; it's also targeting her fellow advocates, journalists covering gender, and anyone speaking out publicly against misogyny.
“This isn’t just celebrities. This is linked to our daily lives… Celebrities stand in as an example, but make no mistake: This is about hatred of women,” Khan said.
Though Jolie, Heard, and Wood are white women who benefit from having conventionally attractive looks, fame, and money, that’s not the case for most survivors.
That’s partly why advocates have repeatedly warned that the visible hate targeting famous women like Jolie and Heard could result in a chilling effect that will silence survivors who worry they’ll face similar—or worse—backlash if they report.
Gray said Depp’s win could be viewed as “permission” for perpetrators to pursue defamation suits that “silence quite effectively all discussion around sexual violence, gendered violence.” And, it “sends a message to others who are considering reporting [violence] or speaking about it in general terms,” she added. “The internet is a hostile place and oftentimes that translates into the real world.”
“Our ‘social location’, so our ability, employment, race, shape how we are targeted,” Khan said. “Do we feel safe even disclosing? And how is the violence addressed by police and workplaces?”
Black and Indigenous women, for example, are more likely than white women to experience sexual assault and rape. They’re also the least likely to be believed by police.
Inequitable treatment of survivors is obvious in the celebrity world, especially to women of color. “When Lupita came forward, the way that people dealt with that was very different than when white women came forward,” Khan said, referring to the moment Lupita Nyong’o shared her own experience of sexual assault at the hands of Weinstein, who is currently under trial in Los Angeles, where he faces a second round of criminal sexual assault charges.
In the meantime, it’s worth paying attention to these patterns playing out in Hollywood because of their influence and possible ripple effects. Khan said Depp’s victory created a blueprint “where instantly there is a PR machine behind creating her as a perp… we see that with Jolie, we already see that started with Evan Rachel Wood.”
“This is a playbook and as a public we've seen the results of that,” Khan added.
FDA Finally Recognized the Widespread Adderall Shortage
The Food and Drug Administration announced a national shortage of Adderall, one of the most commonly prescribed treatments for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Teva Pharmaceuticals, the largest supplier of Adderall in the U.S., is experiencing manufacturing delays with several doses of the medication expected to be on backorder until March, according to a statement published by the FDA on Wednesday.
A prior labor shortage at Teva put the medication on backorder in August. Since then, several other companies have reported shortages. Despite Adderall production from other manufacturers, there is not enough supply to meet current demand, according to the FDA.
The Teva shortage is mostly impacting generic immediate-release tablets, which include the 10, 20 and 30 milligram doses. Three other companies are also experiencing shortages: Epic Pharma has all doses listed on backorder, Rhodes Pharmaceuticals does not have 5 milligram doses available and SpecGX is estimating supply constraints for 20 and 30 milligram doses through January.
“We continue to use all the tools we have available to help keep supply available for patients and will provide public updates regarding the Adderall shortage, ” the FDA said.
The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), a group that represents tens of thousands of pharmacists, listed a shortage of Adderall on its website in August. Dr. Erin Fox, senior director of drug information and support services at University of Utah Health which compiles the drug shortage data for ASHP, told Motherboard earlier this month that she first began receiving reports of shortages in early April.
Motherboard previously spoke with patients from across the country who said they have been experiencing difficulty accessing Adderall. Patients described persistently reaching out to pharmacies with varied luck, and many chose to ration their medication in anticipation of being unable to access it, or were considering other treatments.
The FDA’s announcement suggested alternative therapies like extended-release Adderall and said that patients should speak with their doctors to determine the best treatment option until supply is restored.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for Adderall prescriptions spiked following the easing of telehealth restrictions, which allowed the medication to be prescribed without an in-person medical evaluation.
Since Adderall is classified as a schedule II controlled substance, prescriptions typically cannot be refilled earlier than 30 days since it was last filled, and there are also typically restrictions on how many pills a patient can get at a time. Amid the shortage, even tightly scheduled pharmacy trips and consistent communication with doctors cannot guarantee a month’s supply of Adderall.
According to Fox, Adderall shortages typically last anywhere from four to eight months before products are fully restocked.
There’s a Mobile Vasectomy Clinic Nicknamed ‘The Nutcracker’ (Yes, Really)
The first World Vasectomy Day since the fall of Roe v. Wade is next month, and Dr. Esgar Guarín has a unique plan to commemorate it: He’ll be traveling across Iowa in a mobile vasectomy clinic and offering 40 free vasectomies.
Yes, really. The clinic, jokingly nicknamed “the Nutcracker,” is even decorated with images of sperm, the Associated Press reported.
“It’s a very particular moment in reproductive rights in the United States. And we need to talk about it,” Guarín told the Associated Press.
Health care professionals across the country have reported a surge in requests for vasectomies since the Supreme Court overturned Roe. One Florida urologist and vasectomy told VICE News that his vasectomy registrations tripled the week after the June ruling. Florida has now banned abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The next month, an Iowa doctor told the Des Moines Register that his health care center had seen a 90 percent jump in emailed requests for vasectomies. “Every email has a sense of desperation,” the doctor said. “‘I want to get this done as urgently as possible.’”
(One Motherboard writer even got a vasectomy in July in response to Roe’s overturning.)
Planned Parenthood’s website has seen a 53 percent increase in searches for vasectomy information, a spokesperson told the Associated Press. Planned Parenthood is planning to partner with Guarín, whose tour will kick off in November with performing 60 free vasectomies at Planned Parenthood clinics in Missouri. One of the doctors who will be working with Guarín said that she sometimes plays songs like “Great Balls of Fire” and “The Nutcracker Suite” during appointments with vasectomy patients.
Compared to tubal ligations, the sterilization procedure for people with uteruses, it’s far easier to reverse vasectomies. Vasectomies also tend to be easier and cheaper.
“At least men are waking up in our country and saying this is something we can do. That’s very nice,” Guarín told VICE News in July. “The problem to me is that it took restricting the right of an individual to be able to make decisions about her own body for men to start waking up.”
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
A 15-Year-Old Mass Shooter Killed 5 People In Raleigh
A 15-year-old shot and killed five people on a walking trail in Raleigh, North Carolina on Thursday evening.
The teenager evaded police capture for hours before he was finally cornered and arrested. His identity has not been revealed, but eye-witnesses told local media that the shooter was dressed in camouflage gear.
The shooting began on Thursday at about 5 pm along the Neuse River Greenway, a residential area in the northeast of the city, the police said.
At 5:13 pm, officers from a number of law enforcement agencies responded to an active shooter cal. Residents were told to stay indoors as the officers searched the area for the shooter.
Police searched door-to-door in the Hedingham neighborhood and along the Neuse River Trail for hours before containing the suspect in an area off Old Milburnie Road.
By 8 pm, the suspect was cornered in a barn off Buffaloe Road, a law enforcement source told ABC11, and by 9.40 p.m. the Raleigh Police Department tweeted that the suspect was in custody.
The shooter was transferred to an area hospital where he remains in critical condition.
Among the five people who were killed by the shooter was 29-year-old Gabriel Torres, an off-duty police officer on his way to work and a 16-year-old male. Two other people were injured including a police officer, who was treated for his injuries in hospital before being released. The other injured person, a 59-year-old man, remains in the hospital in critical condition.
Officers were seen searching a home on Friday morning near the site of the shooting.
At a press conference on Friday morning, Raleigh Police Department Chief Estella Patterson shared few details about the shooting while praising her officers response to the incident.
“We don't have answers as to why this tragedy occurred,” Patterson said. “What I can tell you is that the Raleigh Police Department and the Raleigh community is resilient and we stand strong and we will heal and we will be stronger as a result of what has occurred.”
“Tonight, terror has reached our doorstep,” Governor Roy Cooper said at a news conference at Raleigh city hall on Thursday night. “The nightmare of every community has come to Raleigh. This is a senseless, horrific and infuriating act of violence that has been committed.”
Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin echoed his sentiments and called for tighter gun control. “This is a sad and tragic day for the city of Raleigh. We must stop this mindless violence in America. We must address gun violence.”
Thursday’s mass shooting was the 25th mass killing this year according to a Mass Killings database maintained by the Associated Press, USA TODAY, and Northeastern University. A mass killing is defined as when four or more people are killed excluding the perpetrator.
The age of the shooter is also important to this case. In recent years there has been a noticeable downward shift in the age of those perpetrating mass shootings; six of the nine deadliest mass shootings in the U.S. since 2018 were perpetrated by people who were 21 or younger. Prior to 2000, the vast majority of mass shootings were perpetrated by men in their mid-20s, 30s and 40s.
This year alone has seen two mass shootings perpetrated by 18-year-olds. In Buffalo, an 18-year allegedly shot and killed 10 people at Topps Supermarket in May, and weeks later, in Uvalde, an 18-year-old shot and killed 19 students and 2 teachers in a massacre at Robb Elementary School.
There is historical precedent, however, for young mass shooters in the U.S. In 1996, 14-year-old Barry Dale Loukaitis shot and killed his algebra teacher and two students at Frontier Middle School in Washington State. And in 2013, 15-year-old Nehemiah Griego shot his parents and three younger siblings in South Valley, New Mexico. In 2008, Nicholas Waggoner Browning killed his two parents and two siblings in Maryland just before his 16th birthday.
Patterson refused to answer any questions during the press conference relating to the identity or motive of the shooter, but Gov. Cooper said those questions will eventually be answered.
“Today we're sad. We're angry, and we want to know the answers to all the questions,” Cooper said. “Those questions will be answered, some today and more over time but I think we all know the core truth. No neighborhood, no parent, no child, no grandparent, no one should feel this fear in their communities. As policymakers, we cannot and we will not turn away from what has happened here. We must be resolved to make changes, and to succeed.”
How Koch Industries, Fake Scientists, and Rush Limbaugh Invented Climate Denial
This is excerpted from the new book “The Petroleum Papers” by frequent VICE News contributor Geoff Dembicki, which pulls from hundreds of confidential documents to tell the story of how oil companies have been lying to the public since at least 1959.
On June 5, 1991, an organization closely connected to Koch Industries held one of the world’s first events devoted to climate change denial. Meeting at the Capital Hilton hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., dozens of academics, many of them male, white, and balding, gathered to attack the growing scientific consensus on global warming that James Hansen had helped bring to the public’s attention only three years earlier.
“The notion that global warming is a fact and will be catastrophic is drilled into people to the
point where it seems surprising that anyone would question it, and yet, underlying it is very little evidence at all,” claimed one participant. “Nonetheless, there are statements made of such overt unrealism that I feel embarrassed.”
“Global Environmental Crises: Science or Politics,” as the conference was titled, was hosted by the Cato Institute think tank. The issue of climate change was so new at this point that most conservative organizations didn’t have a clearly defined position on it.
But the Cato Institute entered the arena of public debate ready to brawl. “Many may find it surprising that respected scientists challenge all of the media-hyped environmental ills,” reads a conference brochure. “Concern about global warming, for example, has become a part of the American psyche—despite scientific uncertainty.” Attendees saw this as an ominous trend: “We are seemingly marching toward a new world order of population control, economic planning and ‘sustainable development.’”
This conspiratorial attack against what was then considered neutral mainstream science was entirely consistent with the Cato Institute’s broader mission and strategy—and with the business interests of Koch Industries. When Charles Koch founded the think tank in the mid-1970s, he proceeded to give it as much as $20 million in start-up funding from his own private fortune during its early years. He saw the organization as the generator of ideas that could build support for a radically limited public sector.
Government’s only legitimate role, Charles said in a speech around this time, is to “serve as a night watchman, to protect individuals and property from outside threat, including fraud. That is the maximum.”
The Cato Institute’s goal of “lower taxes, looser regulations and fewer government programs for the poor and middle class all corresponded to the Kochs’ accumulation of wealth and power,” as Jane Mayer writes in Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.A brochure from the conference.
By the 1990s, Koch Industries had grown into a fossil fuel behemoth, employing thousands of people to run a vast network of oil pipelines across the United States and Canada, in addition to gas plants, petrochemical facilities, coal mines, and automobile dealerships. The “cash cow” of this empire continued to be the company’s Pine Bend Refinery in Minnesota, which processed crude oil from Alberta. A Goldman Sachs analysis from the 1980s estimated the value of Koch Industries’ refining assets was as high as $1 billion.
As the processing capabilities of Pine Bend grew, Koch Industries was looking to get more actively involved in the Canadian oil sands, where it had held large exploratory mineral leases for decades. The company was considering building an open-pit bitumen mine in the Fort Hills area of northern Alberta, not far from where major companies such as Imperial Oil and Suncor had their base of operations. The idea was that this new source of heavy oil sands crude could be shipped via pipeline to Pine Bend. “As the demand for heavy crude continues to grow at Koch’s Minnesota refinery, we intend to meet that demand with heavy crude from Canada,” Koch Exploration president Steve Kromer explained.
Koch Industries, like the other oil companies expanding their operations in the Canadian oilsands, had a keen sense of emerging environmental issues that posed a threat to its profits.
In the newfound conversations about climate change happening during the late 1980s and early 1990s, it saw the potential for a vast expansion of government powers culminating in regulations and taxes.
“The economic, societal and personal consequences of such changes have been ignored,” the Cato Institute’s conference brochure argued. “Instead of accepting more regulation and possibly jeopardizing our common future, Cato is bringing together those scientists and policy analysts who offer alternative perspectives on environmental crises.”
Opening the conference in a program entitled “Global Warming: Catastrophic? Manageable Change? Beneficial?” was a biological sciences professor from the University of Virginia named Patrick Michaels. The title of his speech, “The Political Science of Global Warming,” proved apt. Michaels was not a climate scientist, but he had just spent the previous months working on an experimental media campaign to convince average Americans in three test communities that global warming wasn’t real.
That campaign was organized by Southern Energy, a major coal-burning electric utility, as well as the Edison Electric Institute, a utility trade group whose members also relied heavily on coal.
These organizations saw in the public’s newfound awareness of climate change a threat to their polluting business models.
Teaming up with Simmons, a public relations and marketing firm, they conducted public opinion research in Fargo, North Dakota; Flagstaff, Arizona; and Bowling Green, Kentucky. Of five hundred adults interviewed over the phone by researchers, 82 percent claimed to have some knowledge of global warming, a topic that was still quite novel in U.S. media.
Worryingly for the coal utilities, more than one-third of respondents backed “federal legislation without any qualification or cost,” according to campaign documents that were later leaked.
The goal of the utility-led campaign, which was given the name “Informed Citizens for the Environment,” was to shift what people thought and believed about climate change. “Reposition global warming as theory (not fact),” read a strategy document. “Target print and radio media for maximum effectiveness.” The optics of coal interests leading an advertising effort to confuse the public weren’t great, so they decided to “use a spokesman from the scientific community” to deliver their message.
Throughout the spring of 1991, Michaels was their man. The University of Virginia professor met with editors and writers at media outlets across the three test communities and appeared on local radio shows. “We believe it is wrong to predict that higher levels of carbon dioxide will bring a catastrophic global warming,” he claimed. The goal was to make it seem as though these ideas were being generated organically by ordinary people. “Change often begins with one person,” Michaels would say after disputing the validity of climate science.
“You can make a difference by sharing what you’ve learned with others.”
The campaign also hired Rush Limbaugh, the prominent far-right talk radio host, to tape ads that would air with his show. “I know you’ve been seeing more and more stories about the global warming theory,” Limbaugh said in one ad. “Stories that paint a horrible picture. Stories that say the polar ice caps will melt . . . Well get real! Stop panicking! I’m here to tell you that the facts simply don’t jibe with the theory that catastrophic global warming is taking place.”
That was the message Michaels delivered to the Koch-backed Cato Institute conference, which took place only a month after his work on the Informed Citizens for the Environment campaign.
It was still early days in the climate debate, but Koch Industries had already settled on an effective strategy. Getting a credentialed scientist to poke holes in the rapidly strengthening scientific consensus was a useful way to distract people’s attention from the real interests that were threatened by governments taking action on the crisis.
“We can look down the road a little way and see an industry under siege,” one member of the Koch network, an oil executive from Oklahoma named Lew Ward, predicted during this period.
“We are not going to let that happen.”
NIST thinks US public should weigh in on CHIPS Act programs
Momentum is building behind the US CHIPS Act, which aims to revitalize semiconductor manufacturing in America. Now, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is set to ask for public input on two of the programs authorized under the legislation.…
Massive Energy Beam Pointed at Earth Appears to Break the Laws of Physics, Scientists Say
An intense jet of energy in space appears to be traveling seven times faster than the speed of light—a feat that is considered physically impossible in our universe. Though this rapid pace is only an optical illusion, according to a new study, it still represents a blast of energy shooting towards us at very nearly the speed of light.
The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has captured incredible views of the jet—which was ignited by an unprecedented collision between two hyperdense objects, called neutron stars—that led to one of the most important breakthroughs in astronomical history at the time it was discovered in 2017.
While the jet did not actually break the cosmic speed limit, it raced right up to the edge of this impassable threshold, reaching at least 99.97 percent of the speed of light, which translates to about 670 million miles per hour. Scientists led by Kunal Mooley, an astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology, used Hubble and other telescopes to clock the jet’s “superluminal motion,” meaning the trippy illusion of faster-than-light speed, in a study published on Wednesday in Nature.
“We have demonstrated in this work that precision astrometry with space-based optical and infrared telescopes is an excellent means of measuring the proper motions of jets in neutron-star mergers,” Mooley and his colleagues said in the study. “The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) should be able to perform astrometry much better than that with the HST, owing to the larger collecting area and smaller pixel size.”
The crash between these neutron stars was so explosive that it created ripples in the very fabric of spacetime, known as gravitational waves. Even though the merger happened a whopping 140 million light years away, scientists were still able to detect these subtle waves when they passed through Earth in August 2017.
The event, named gravitational wave (GW) 170817 after the date it was discovered, quickly earned a momentous place in space history. For starters, it was the first time that scientists had ever identified waves from a merger between two neutron stars. A handful of gravitational waves formed by mergers between black holes had been discovered at that point, but collisions between neutron stars had remained elusive.
The nature of the objects is important because black hole mergers do not produce visible light, and can only be spotted through the novel process of gravitational wave astronomy. In contrast, collisions between neutron stars, which are compact roiling objects formed by the explosive deaths of large stars, do produce luminous blasts of radiation.
The possibility of capturing two different signals of the same event—in this case with gravitational waves and a light signal—can produce a wealth of insights that are impossible to discern from only one observational technique.
For this reason, scientists hustled to get as many telescopes as possible pointed at the place in the sky where GW170817 originated to look for the radiant explosion from the mergers, including the jets that these events shoot out into space. Sure enough, the brilliant aftermath of the collision was spotted by dozens of telescopes, which followed the eruption as it faded. The achievement marked a major advance in the field of multi-messenger astronomy, which describes the observation of multiple types of signals from the same event.
Now, five years later, Mooley and his colleagues have added more detail to this astronomical mosaic with observations from Hubble, as well as from the European Space Agency’s Gaia observatory and several radio arrays on Earth involved with the field of very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI). The team was able to see the jet slamming through a blob of material that had been blasted into space from the merger, which accelerated the mass to high speeds.
By measuring the motion of the blob, the researchers were able to show that the jet appears to be outpacing the speed of light sevenfold. As far as we know, nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, except for the expansion of the universe itself. The illusory effect of the superluminal motion stems from the ultra-relativistic speed of the jet, which is traveling just slightly slower than the light it emits.
The matter in the jet is just barely trailing its luminous light particles, known as photons, from our perspective on Earth. Because of this effect, photons that the jet emits in the early phases of its eruption can end up arriving at Earth around the same time as photons emitted at later stages, because the jet is more or less keeping pace with its own light output. This trippy phenomenon makes it seem as if the jet is moving faster than light-speed, a result that would shatter our understanding of physics, when in fact the jet is merely moving near light-speed, a result that is still pretty dang mind-boggling.
With this new study, Mooley and colleagues have presented a roadmap for discovering similar features in future unions of neutron stars. These efforts might unravel some of the mysteries of these explosive events, such as the potential link between neutron star mergers and highly luminous flashes known as short gamma-ray bursts.
“Our study represents, to our knowledge, the first proper motion constraint on the Lorentz factor”—which is a special measurement of moving objects—“of a gamma-ray-burst jet indicating ultra-relativistic motion,” the researchers said in the study.
“The combination of optical astrometry and radio VLBI measurements (with current observing facilities) may be even more powerful, and could deliver strong constraints on the viewing angles of neutron-star mergers located as far away as 150 megaparsecs,” equivalent to nearly 500 million light years, “as long as they have favorable inclination angles and occur in relatively dense environments compared with GW170817,” the team concluded.
CYBER: Nuclear War 101
On this episode of Cyber we talk about an old technology that suddenly feels very new. The bomb. That’s right, this episode is all about nuclear weapons. Thanks to Moscow’s war in Ukraine and Putin’s implicit and explicit threats to use them should Russian territory be threatened, everyone is afraid of nuclear weapons once again. Able Archer? Passé. Cuban Missile Crisis? Old news. These days it’s all about hypersonics, tactical nukes, and even cruise missiles powered by a nuclear engine.
At least that’s the claim.
On this episode of Cyber, the Arms Control Wonk himself, Jeffrey Lewis, comes on to answer all your burning questions about nuclear weapons. Lewis is a professor at the Middlebury Institute, a member of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, and the host of the Arms Control Wonk podcast.
Stories discussed in this episode:
Is There a Threat of Nuclear War with Russia? Experts Weigh In.
Putin Puts Russia’s Nuclear Deterrent Forces on High Alert
Putin Demonstrates New Missiles With Visualization of Nukes Hitting Mar-a-Lago
Nuclear War Anxiety Is Back. Here’s How to Manage It.
We’re recording CYBER live on Twitch and YouTube. Watch live during the week. Follow us there to get alerts when we go live. We take questions from the audience and yours might just end up on the show.
Subscribe to CYBER on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts.
Sign up for Motherboard’s daily newsletter for a regular dose of our original reporting, plus behind-the-scenes content about our biggest stories.
People Are Now Making Fake Selfies With AI
Algorithmically-generated art has been proliferating over the past few months, sparking intense debate and pearl clutching about whether AI will make human artists obsolete—now there’s a new, frightening development that threatens another sacred art form: the selfie.
An algorithmic selfie-generation tool went viral after images it generated were shared on Twitter by Fabian Stelzer, an AI enthusiast, on Tuesday. In a thread, Stelzer ran his own selfies through online tools that provide custom tweaks to the popular Stable Diffusion model multiple times to create all sorts of selfies. His technique generated selfies in various painting styles, portraits using specific film genre or movie director stylizations, an image of him at Woodstock, and another of him as a woman.
Startup studio Stability.AI’s Stable Diffusion is one of many machine-learning systems that takes text prompts and generates pictures, trained on datasets of billions of pictures that are annotated and labeled based on what they depict. Over time, the system can be trained to associate certain words and phrases with certain types of images, aesthetics, places, and so on. A cottage industry has popped up around the model and others like it, with several websites letting users "tune" the model and add custom embeddings. One website, called drawanyone, claims to be able to do this with just five source images and one hour. Perhaps as a testament to this ease of use, a few replies to Stelzer’s thread include people making their own AI-derived selfies.
“I was pretty struck that it worked so well using only a handful of reference images to train an embedding of myself into the model,” Stelzer told Motherboard. “The selfies I uploaded may have been a bit samey though, so I’ll train a new one on a more diverse set of poses and expressions.”
Stelzer is behind other similar algorithmic generation projects, such as SALT—which bills itself as "the world's first fully AI-generated multiplot 'film'—a web6 internet adventure where your choices create a 1970s lo-fi sci-fi universe." Images are created with algorithmic generation tools like Stable Diffusion, but also Midjourney and DALL-E 2. Voices are generated using audio generation tools such as Synthesia and Murf. Stelzer is also using GPT-3 to help generate the film's script. And as each chunk of the film is created, viewers are able to vote on what happens next to help drive the plot of future installments and films.
“[Algorithmic systems] are at least as big as the invention of photography and film, and if we include large language models such as GPT-3, probably as big as the invention of the printing press. The impact on media, culture and the fabric of reality will be pretty profound,” Stelzer told Motherboard.
“I think that the open source community approach adopted by Stability.AI will ultimately turn out to be safer than closed corporate approaches where you still end up with malicious actors, but a much smaller community of people who can work with these systems competently,” he added.
Students Are Using AI to Write Their Papers, Because Of Course They Are
innovate_rye’s professors know them as a first-year biochemistry major, and an “A” student. What their professors don’t know about them is that they’re using a powerful AI language model to finish most homework assignments.
“It would be simple assignments that included extended responses,” innovate_rye, who asked to use their Reddit handle to avoid detection by their college, told Motherboard. “For biology, we would learn about biotech and write five good and bad things about biotech. I would send a prompt to the AI like, ‘what are five good and bad things about biotech?’ and it would generate an answer that would get me an A.”
Without AI, innovate_rye says the homework they consider “busywork” would take them two hours. Now homework assignments like this take them 20 minutes.
“I like to learn a lot [and] sometimes schoolwork that I have done before makes me procrastinate and not turn in the assignment,” innovate_rye explains. “Being able to do it faster and more efficient seems like a skill to me.”
innovate_rye isn’t alone. Since OpenAI unveiled the latest application programming interface (API) for its widely-used language model, GPT-3, more students have begun feeding written prompts into OpenAI’s Playground and similar programs that use deep learning to generate text. The results continue the initial prompt in a natural-sounding way, and often can’t be distinguished from human-written text.
When AeUsako_ was a high school senior last spring, they used OpenAI to generate an entire essay about contemporary world affairs. They told Motherboard that, while they didn’t ace the assignment—they lost points for failing to cite outside sources—they did learn that plagiarism-checking algorithms wouldn’t flag the AI-generated text.
“Because I used Open AI I didn’t feel the constant anxiety of needing to focus all my time on writing it,” AeUsako_, who also asked to use their online pseudonym, told Motherboard.
George Veletsianos, Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning & Technology and associate professor at Royal Roads University says this is because the text generated by systems like OpenAI API are technically original outputs that are generated within a blackbox algorithm.
“[The text] is not copied from somewhere else, it’s produced by a machine, so plagiarism checking software is not going to be able to detect it and it’s not able to pick it up because the text wasn’t copied from anywhere else,” Veletsianos told Motherboard. “Without knowing how all these other plagiarism checking tools quite work and how they might be developed in the future, I don’t think that AI text can be detectable in that way.”
It’s unclear whether the companies behind the AI tools have the ability to detect or prevent students from using them to do their homework. OpenAI did not comment in time for publication.
Peter Laffin is a writing instructor and founder of the private tutoring program Crush the College Essay. He says that tools like OpenAI’s are emblematic of other compensation techniques that technology has produced in the last decade, such as cloud-based typing assistants that are meant to help struggling writers.
“In literacy education, particularly for developing writers, instructors are looking for the level of desirable difficulty, or the point at which you are working yourself just as hard so that you don’t break but you also improve,” Laffin told Motherboard. “Finding the right, appropriate level of desirable difficulty level of instruction makes their capacity to write grow. So if you are doing compensation techniques that go beyond finding that level of desirable difficulty and instructing at that place, then you’re not helping them grow as a writer.”
Veletsianos notes that it’s probable that we are past the point of no return with AI-generated text, and that students aren’t the only ones being courted.
“We can also begin to see where this technology might generate a lecture on the fly and all sorts of questions around the lecture,” he said. “I’m not saying that the system we have is the best system but I am saying these are conversations we need and ought to have to see how we can use these tools to improve not just efficiency of teaching, but its effectiveness and engagement as well.”
While Laffin acknowledges that a reevaluation of effective education is necessary, he says this can happen when looking at the types of prompts educators assign students, noting a difference between the regurgitation of facts and information discovery. However, he worries that products like OpenAI’s text generator will make essay writing a moot point.
“We lose the journey of learning,” said Laffin. “We might know more things but we never learned how we got there. We’ve said forever that the process is the best part and we know that. The satisfaction is the best part. That might be the thing that’s nixed from all of this. And I don’t know the kind of person that creates more than anything. Beyond academics, I don’t know what a person is like if they’ve never had to struggle through learning. I don’t know the behavioral implications of that.”
Meanwhile, innovate_rye eagerly awaits GPT-4, which is anticipated to be trained on 100 trillion machine learning parameters and may go beyond mere textual outputs. In other words, they aren’t planning to stop using AI to write essays anytime soon.
“I still do my homework on things I need to learn to pass, I just use AI to handle the things I don’t want to do or find meaningless,” innovate_rye added. “If AI is able to do my homework right now, what will the future look like? These questions excite me.”
Marauders Is An Extraction Shooter For Evil Little Rats
The pistol, which is too worn to be reliable, rattles in my hand. The slide is loose, and I know the gun is prone to jam. When I round a corner and see a man with a rifle, I fire off three shots. Two hit him in the chest, sinking into his armor and bruising his ribs, and the third goes high and wide over his shoulder. I turn and run through identical hallways, as the man raises his rifle behind me. Emerging into a cafeteria, I press your body behind a thick metal table.
The man rushes into the room, and past the table behind which I am crouched. I lean and pull the trigger three times. The first shot catches him at the base of the skull, just underneath his helmet, and is lethal. The second shot goes, again, up and to the right on account of the light pistol’s awkward recoil. The third shot never comes, as the pistol’s slide finally makes a snapping noise, and the assembly freezes. The man hits the ground. I hear half a dozen sets of footsteps, and the quick chatter of gunfire. I grab the rifle off of the man’s body, and stuff his ammunition into the bag on my back, and I run.
You will probably spend a lot of your time running in Marauders, the Cold-War themed space extraction shooter recently released in early access by Small Impact Games.
Extraction shooters have been slowly gaining prominence and popularity since the beta release of Escape From Tarkov, arguably the blueprint upon which much of the genre has been built. These games are defined by their compelling loops, which combine the tense, fast paced combat and scavenging of battle royales with the consequential, long term progression of survival games. Each new addition to the genre takes its own approach to the details: Tarkov prioritizes technical precision, Hunt: Showdown encourages careful planning and deliberate shootouts, and Marauders, the genre’s newest high-profile addition, wants to turn you into an evil little rat.
The game abandons Hunt: Showdown’s objective-driven play, and instead encourages players to focus on looting as much as they can, and getting out as quickly as possible. You spawn into a large map in one of a handful of ships, which you can build or steal, and then slowly pilot your way to a station. Upon arrival, breach the station through an airlock, at which point you’ll set yourself to scavenging for materials. These range from locked resource caches belonging to specific factions, piles of war bonds, and crafting materials. The game also includes bounties, which can add a bit of structure to your looting, encouraging you to look for specific objects like helmets for a reward.
When it comes time to escape, you hop in a ship or escape pod, and go back out into space. Of all of Marauders’ features, its space combat feels the most underbaked. Ships are slow and heavy. They encourage long strafes, punctuated with bursts of cannon fire. The first few times, this can be exciting, but eventually the slow, drifting combat begins to feel rote.
The game is designed for one to four player squads, but I’ve only run solo games. Everything about the game feels scrappy: from the heavy but ramshackle ships and space stations, to the small field-of-view which encourages you to constantly check your many blindspots, to the dozens of footsteps that surround you at any given moment. Even the firearms are appropriately unreliable.
A handful of submachine gun rounds (the most common primary weapon class) will kill a lightly armored foe, but the weapons are extremely inaccurate, with intense recoil. This can lead you into messy, protracted gunfights, which devour your already limited ammunition. Alternatively, you can find yourself on the receiving end of another player’s high caliber rifle, taking you out with a single headshot.Screenshot by Small Impact Games.
This inconsistently high lethality is what makes Marauders encourage villainous, little rat-like play, especially as a solo player like myself. I know that fighting more than a single enemy is a death sentence, and the echoing sound of footsteps convinces me that enemies are everywhere. I sprint through rooms, most of which are empty, and sift through boxes of synthetic fibers and metal scrap. Eventually I stumble into a room with a person, and I panic and shoot. The person dies. Another room, I see a man with a rifle. He fires a heavy round at me, and I know that if I fight him I will die, so I run through the labyrinthine space station.
Where a game like Hunt: Showdown prioritizes meticulously crafted, distinctive maps, which players memorize to predict their foes’ approach, Marauders’ maps are filled with identical hallways, and symmetrical layouts. Getting lost is simple, and mapping the stations can feel impossible. This is exacerbated by the desperate, scrambling combat of a solo player. Forgetting which airlock your ship is docked at is common, forcing you to sprint around the base testing every exit as the clock ticks down on your oxygen. If you’re lucky, you’ll manage to startle and kill another player, allowing you to steal their Captain’s Keycard, and their ship. If you’re unlucky, you’ll be forced to exit through one of the station’s escape pods. If you’re unluckier still, you’ll asphyxiate.
Avoiding these fates requires as much luck as it does skill. Sometimes, even if you’ve managed to equip yourself well, you have a bad day. You spawn in, with full armor, and an NPC happens to land a few rifle shots on you early in a fight. You kill him, but you’re hurt. A minute later, before you’ve given yourself time to scavenge for healing items, his friend gets close with a shotgun. You miss your first two shots, and then you’re dead on the floor. Other times you will enter a ship with only a pistol, and, by stumbling upon enemies at the right moment, work your way up to the game’s most powerful firearms.
This scrabbling dynamism is what sets Marauders apart. The game, which draws heavily from the aesthetics of the Cold War, sees you play as a pirate, caught between two dying empires. Every ship and station you attack is ramshackle, and their stewards are poorly trained, but that doesn’t matter because they are so much bigger than you. You are a tiny thing which survives, crudely, until it is crushed underfoot.
The Metaverse is the internet no one wants
Comment The Metaverse, as the company formerly known as Facebook defines the term in its financial filings, is "an embodied internet where people have immersive experiences beyond two-dimensional screens."…
Aerobot designed for hell-world Venus first braves something worse: Nevada
Scientists have successfully launched a prototype aerial robotic balloon 4,000 feet high over a desert in Nevada to test whether it could one day be sent on a space mission to roam Venus' clouds.…
Rocket Report: Amazing view of Falcon 9 landing, spaceport suit Down Under
Welcome to Edition 5.14 of the Rocket Report! There is plenty of small rocket news this week to digest—from Japan to Washington to Australia, and back again. You should feel free to take your time reading it, as I'll be off next week, working on a book project. Thanks for your patience.
As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.
Virgin Orbit may seek more funding. Last December, when small-satellite launch company Virgin Orbit went public via a Special Purpose Acquisition Company, it set a target to raise $483 million. However the company only raised $228 million. So now, months later, therefore, Virgin Orbit appears to be seeking to raise additional capital, the London-based City A.M. publication reports.
Laugh all you want. There will be a year of the Linux desktop
Opinion It has become a running joke. "20xx will be the year of the Linux desktop." The punchline is, of course, it will never happen. But the real jape is that there will soon be a year of the Linux desktop. It's just not going to happen the way Linux fanboi have believed it will.…
AMD Ryzen 7 7700X review: Performance that’s great but a price that isn’t
Shortly after our review of the Ryzen 5 7600X and Ryzen 9 7950X were published late last month, AMD sent us a box containing the other two members of the Ryzen 7000 launch family: the $400 Ryzen 7 7700X, and the $550 Ryzen 9 7900X.
Absent a six-core member of the family in the $200 range, AMD's eight-core, 16-thread processors usually represent a sweet spot in the lineup—great gaming performance without being overkill and enough cores to handle fairly heavy professional workloads like photo and video editing and rendering without feeling slow.
That's still true of the 7700X, which handily outspeeds the six-core 7600X and costs $50 less than the first 8-core member of the Ryzen 5000 family did a couple of years ago. Right now, it has two problems. The first is that, like the other Zen 4 CPUs, it requires a substantial investment beyond the $400 that you'll spend on the CPU itself in the form of a pricey new motherboard and DDR5 RAM that's still quite a bit more expensive than DDR4. The second is that its out-of-the-box power settings aren't ideal—with a little tuning, the processor can run a little cooler and consume less power while delivering similar results. Here's what we found.
“So much screaming inside me“—Google Stadia shutdown stuns indie developers
Source Byte Studios Chairman of the Board Nikodem Swider had just put in one final late-night bug-squashing session. After four long months of porting work, his small Polish studio was finally ready to submit a near-final build addressing all of the “must fix” errors Google had identified before the game Jump Challenge could finally launch on Stadia.
Then, scrolling through the news on his train ride home, Swider saw what he called a “horror message” on his phone. Stadia was closing down. All his porting work would be for naught.
“I [thought] it was some rumor… it cannot be true,” Swider said in a YouTube video in the immediate aftermath of the shutdown. “[Then] I saw [it was an] official statement about Stadia.”