• A New Study About Color Tries to Decode ‘The Brain’s Pantone’

    At first, Conway was pretty skeptical that he would get any results. “The word on the street is that MEG has very crappy spatial resolution,” he says. Essentially, the machine is good at detecting when there’s brain activity, but not so great at showing you where in the brain that activity is. But as it turned out, the patterns were there and they were easy for the decoder to spot. “Lo and behold, the pattern is different enough for the different colors that I can decode with upwards of 90 percent accuracy what color you were seeing,” he says. “That’s like: holy crap!”

    Chatterjee says that Conway’s MEG approach allows neuroscientists to flip traditional questions of perception upside down. “Perception is usually taken as the known quantity”—in this case, the color of the spiral—“and then researchers tried to figure out the neuronal processes leading to that,” he writes. But

  • The Last, ‘Ultra-Cold’ Mile for Covid-19 Vaccines

    It is likely that, to get vaccines into these areas, the ultra-cold shipments will have to be taken out of their special packaging, broken up into smaller lots, and transported various distances—maybe a few miles, maybe a few hundred. That will start a countdown clock ticking on the vaccine’s viability. The recipients might be small clinics that possess only normal refrigerators. Or they might be local pharmacies or individual doctors’ offices, if they exist—218 of the 3,141 counties in the US have no doctor at all. Two nationwide pharmacy chains have contracted with HHS to administer Covid-19 vaccines in nursing homes.

    “Some of this is going to be received by a clerk at a CVS or a Walgreens pharmacy, somewhere in rural America, who’s had very little cold-chain training or expertise,” predicts Joseph Battoe, CEO of Varcode, a Chicago-based company making barcodes that record when a medical package’s cold

  • Climate Change Is Intensifying the Tsunami Threat in Alaska

    This story originally appeared in High Country News and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

    Tucked against glacier-capped mountains, the Begich Towers loom over Whittier, Alaska. More than 80 percent of the small town’s residents live in the Cold War-era barracks in this former secret military port, whose harbor teems every summer with traffic: barnacle-encrusted fishing boats, sightseeing ships, sailboats, superyachts and cruiseliner monstrosities. This summer, coronavirus travel restrictions put a damper on tourism in the usually buzzing port. Then came warnings of a potentially devastating tsunami.

    Whittier residents have been mindful of tsunamis for generations. In 1964, the Good Friday earthquake was followed by a 25-foot wave that crushed waterfront infrastructure, lifting and twisting rail lines and dragging them back to sea. The Good Friday earthquake—which killed 13 people here and caused $10 million worth of damage—still occupies Whittier’s memory.

    With tons of rock and rubble precariously perched

  • Pfizer Seeks Vaccine Approval, the CDC Urges Restraint, and More Coronavirus News

    Pfizer seeks FDA approval for its vaccine, the CDC urges Americans to avoid Thanksgiving travel, and the federal pandemic response draws renewed concern. Here’s what you should know:

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    Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is first to seek emergency use authorization in the US

    Pfizer and BioNTech are applying for emergency use authorization from the FDA today for their coronavirus vaccine, the first to seek approval in the US. The news comes just days after the companies announced they had the data needed to seek emergency use and found the vaccine to be 95 percent effective and safe. The vaccine requires two doses a couple weeks apart, and the companies say recipients are protected from SARS-CoV-2 28 days after receiving the first shot. It will need to be transported and stored at incredibly cold temperatures.


  • Iowa’s Covid Wave and the Limits of Personal Responsibility

    “That’s the major problem here,” says Perencenevich. “Clearly, so much of containing this virus comes down to personal responsibility, but there have to be guardrails.”

    Without hard and fast rules, the people who run individual businesses and school districts have been on their own to decide whether or not to require masks and social distancing, and to set limitations on the number of people allowed inside stores, gyms, salons, bars, restaurants, and classrooms. Some counties did enforce mask mandates, including Johnson County, where the University of Iowa is located. And cases there were lower than counties without mask mandates, until students returned to campus in the early fall.

    Matt Everson, the director of the Iowa Association of Small Businesses, says his members favor the flexibility to figure out which precautions they’re going to take, rather than a government mandate. Especially in a rural state, where delivery often isn’t an option

  • How a Medication for OCD Ended Up in a Covid-19 Trial

    Generally, up to a fifth of people with mild Covid-19 symptoms progress to severe disease. In the UWash trial, 6 of 72 patients (8.3 percent) in the placebo group deteriorated—as measured by indicators like shortness of breath, oxygen saturation dropping below 92 percent, or people being hospitalized to treat these conditions. However, as the researchers reported November 12 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, none of the 80 participants who took fluvoxamine worsened or went to the hospital during the study period. If the findings hold up in a larger study planned for later this year, they would suggest that fluvoxamine could “keep a lot of people out of the hospital, so that the hospitals won’t get overwhelmed while we wait for the vaccines to become widely available,” says Reiersen.

    Just six patients reported episodes of nausea, a common side effect of the antidepressant—and five of