CHICAGO — Three U.S. Army soldiers are accused of conspiring to buy firearms in Tennessee and illegally sell them in Chicago, where the weapons were traced to at least one mass shooting and other gun attacks, according to a criminal complaint filed this week. Demarcus Adams, 21, Jarius Brunson, 22, and Brandon Miller, 22, members stationed at Fort Campbell in Clarksville, Tennessee, are charged with multiple offenses, including wire fraud, transferring a firearm to an out-of-state resident, money laundering, conspiracy and other gun-related counts. The federal investigation began when Chicago ...
In the feverish rush to study the coronavirus as it scorched its way across the planet, the unprecedented demand for information has put any mistakes under the glare of world attention and tested public trust in science, experts say.
Although serious problems are rare, in a health emergency even small errors can ripple through scientific research and onto the internet, magnifying people's uncertainty.
"I think the combination of a pandemic with social media and people deliberately putting out misinformation, that gets a lot of people thinking that all science is fraudulent, which it is not," scientific integrity consultant Elizabeth Bik told AFP.
Bik has dedicated her career to ensuring mistakes -- or worse -- do not slip through the net.
The microbiologist scours the finer details of scientific papers, looking for faulty methodology, suspicious repetitions, incoherent data or unreported conflicts of interest.
She publishes her discoveries on Twitter, on her blog and in comments on the scientific platform PubPeer, then lets the authors or the editors of scientific journals respond or take action.
It has not always made her popular -- she has faced an online backlash and even legal action -- but she is adamant that the pressure to publish quickly heightens the risk of mistakes.
One high-profile example came last year when the Lancet medical journal withdrew a study that found hydroxychloroquine -- touted as a treatment by the then-US President Donald Trump among others -- was ineffective against Covid-19, and even dangerous.
The paper came under scrutiny from fellow scientists, whose concerns over the reliability of the underlying data highlighted serious problems with the research.
Ultimately hydroxychloroquine was found by other reputable studies not to work against the coronavirus, but the retraction spread confusion.
Bik said that the incident made many people worry that "all science papers cannot be trusted".
- 'Race to publish' -
With research funding and even job security often linked to how many articles an individual or institution publishes, scientists have long complained of incentives to hurry through study papers.
Catherine Paradeise, a sociologist and professor emeritus at the University of Marne-la-Vallee in France told AFP that the pressures can have adverse effects.
She points to a tendency to put quantity ahead of quality or "fiddle a little bit with the conditions of a study" to save time.
Her concern was echoed in a March report commissioned by a committee of the French senate.
Investigators said they found "a systematic problem inherent to the world of research" that could lead to unethical practices due to "the race to publish and pressure to produce positive results".
One of the investigating senators said that Covid had served to "amplify the difficulties of scientific integrity" and to degrade "confidence between society and the world of science".
- Safety nets -
Most research institutions have review mechanisms that ensure studies meet standards accepted by the international scientific community.
"Verifying integrity is how we guarantee that science is carried out in a satisfactory way and serves a purpose," Paradeise said.
In the early 1990s when the US created the Office for Research Integrity (ORI). Their main concern was ensuring funding was being put to good use -- a worry shared by private businesses.
"There were enough scandals for the US legislature to decide to be pickier about where to put their financing," said Ghislaine Filliatreau, a scientific integrity delegate at the Inserm research institute.
"When we do research we have to retrace everything we do, it's fundamental to best practices... we have to be able to ask those involved to show us their lab notes, their protocols, tell us who did what during the experiment," she added.
But she stressed that serious cases -- like extensive plagiarism or fabrications of experiments or results -- are rare.
- 'Blind trust' -
Bik stumbled into her role by accident in 2013, when she did an internet search of a sentence from one of her papers.
"I think that was the moment that sort of changed my life in retrospect, because I did find that my sentence had been used by another group," she said.
Bik found lines taken from other people's work throughout the whole study.
The discovery started almost a decade of scientific digging and since 2019, her full-time job.
The seasoned whistleblower is widely supported by her peers, although she is no stranger to online hostility.
But the pandemic has unleashed a harsher response from some corners of the scientific world.
When Bik raised concerns about what she saw as anomalies in dozens of studies by controversial French doctor Didier Raoult, several of which claimed to show the benefits of treating Covid patients with hydroxychloroquine, she was subjected to an intense backlash.
Bik was even doxxed -- her private information published online -- by a member of Raoult's team.
She is now being sued by Raoult for harassment and an investigation was opened on May 2 -- an escalation that many fear will have a severe chilling effect on scientific debate.
More than 1,000 researchers around the world have signed an open letter supporting her.
One of the co-signatories told Science magazine that legal threats pose a "substantial threat to science as a social system".
It has not put Bik off her mission.
"Scientists have always trusted each other's work," she said.
"I think I'm here to say that we maybe should not all blindly trust each other's work."
© 2021 AFP
The GOP is going to war against popular progressive ballot initiatives -- and 'that should terrify all of us'
Progressive activists have run up a string of victories in recent years passing ballot initiatives at the state level that have included increases in the minimum wage, legalized pot, and the expansion of Medicaid.
NBC News reports, however, that Republicans have found various ways to resist implementing these initiatives, even when they pass by significant margins.
Additionally, the state GOP lawmakers are working on ways to make it more difficult for ballot initiatives to get put before voters in the first place.
In Idaho, for example, Republicans recently "passed a law that required organizers to gather signatures from all of the state's 35 districts" rather than simply getting a set number of signatures statewide for an initiative to make it onto a ballot.
"That means that future organizers will have to travel to far-flung sections of the rural state, potentially increasing costs of any ballot initiative by millions of dollars for a process that most idealize as a grassroots one," notes NBC News. "Local organizing groups have complained it makes a ballot initiative nearly impossible."
Jim Jones, a former Republican Idaho state attorney general, tells NBC News that he no longer identifies with his party because of the way it has worked to limit democracy.
"They've essentially — not just here in Idaho but in other states, too — attempted to make the initiative process inoperable, so that people don't have a way of getting around a recalcitrant legislature," he explains.
Kelly Hall, the executive director of the progressive Fairness Project, was even more blunt about the challenges her organization faces in trying to organize future ballot initiatives.
"Increasingly partisan state legislatures are realizing that the only way that they can hold onto power is by limiting who can vote and making it harder for people to vote on issues themselves," she said. "That should terrify all of us."
In interviews with USA Today's Will Carless, three men with ties to the Wisconsin chapter of the far-right Proud Boys confessed that they expected something more along the lines of a drinking club when they joined up -- only to find the organization riddled with racism, homophobia and some members glorifying murder and rape.
According to 40-year-old Army veteran Daniel Berry, a friend at a Wisconsin VFW recommended the Proud Boys to him by pointing out, "The group was vocal in its support for then-President Donald Trump, whom Berry had voted for. They called themselves 'Western chauvinists' and said they welcomed true men. That sounded about right for Berry, who considers himself a dyed-in-the-wool patriot," so he checked them out and sent them an email.
What he found later -- after being invited into a private chatroom -- disgusted him.
"Berry and two other men, who asked not to be named because they fear violent repercussions from members of the Proud Boys, provided a unique view into an organization that has become a magnet for racists and violent extremists," the report states. "Their accounts reveal the face of a group that masks itself as a harmless, multiracial drinking club, one that reaches new members by preaching free speech and patriotism. At least in Wisconsin, the men said, the Proud Boys stands less for brotherhood and more for the racial hatred espoused by outmoded organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nations."
Calling the Proud Boys a "cult," Berry said he expected to find discussions about national security and red-meat conservative issues like gun rights.
After joining, a visit to a second chatroom revealed an entirely different organization.
"Participants in the chatroom didn't use their real names. But upon joining, applicants were required to send Proud Boys leaders a copy of their state-issued ID cards," the report states, marking the next step to acceptance.
Then came a link to a Telegram chatroom.
"The second chatroom was swamped with every type of shocking content imaginable, the men said, with participants posting photos and videos of people getting killed and seriously injured. Users swapped the most explicit pornography they could find, often featuring people defecating. The images flowed in a septic tide of racist, antisemitic and homophobic banter," Carless wrote.
According to one of the other recruits who asked that his name not be revealed, "Videos of Muslims being set on fire or blown up? Check. Memes intended to laugh at Holocaust-era Jews? Check. Pictures of women being raped? Check. Memes poking fun at raped women? Check. I could go on, but you get the point."
Berry -- who quit the group -- added that protestations against the content were met with scorn ("Fit in or f*ck off") and it was best to remain quiet.
"And so it was in your best interest, if you want to stay with the group, to just roll with what they were saying, and basically get on board with that inflammatory stuff," he explained.
With the report noting that the Proud Boys have found fertile ground recruiting young, white loners looking for acceptance, Samantha Kutner of the Intuitive Threat Assessment, which specializes in studying violent extremism, said the Wisconsin group is not an outlier when it comes to violent or racist rhetoric.
"It's true that for some Proud Boys, involvement might be just meeting up once a month with the boys and drinking and complaining about the wife and then going home," she explained. "But when you look at the group as a whole, and its aims, they are a violent, crypto-fascist, extremist organization."
As for Berry, who quit five months ago, he revealed he "heard from someone inside the Wisconsin Proud Boys that his life has been threatened. He stopped leaving the house when his wife is home. He sleeps during the day and keeps vigil at night, walking the perimeter of his property and relying on his guard dog to warn him of intruders."
I was in the wrong, not just in joining the group, but the things that I did," he admitted. "I did this to myself, and I am not the good guy here."
You can read more here.
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