Tracking the effects of climate change on Arctic animals is no easy task


Hello, Earthlings! This is our weekly newsletter on all things environmental, where we highlight trends and solutions that are moving us to a more sustainable world. (Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday.)

This week:

  • Tracking the effects of climate change on Arctic animals is no easy task
  • The Paris Accord, 5 years later
  • Why so many tampon applicators end up on beaches

Tracking the effects of climate change on Arctic animals is no easy task

(David Grémillet)

The climate in the Arctic is rapidly changing and new research offers the first large-scale look at how animal species in the region are adapting.

Built by a team of international researchers, the Arctic Animal Movement Archive pulls together more than 200 animal tracking studies by universities, governments and conservationists from the last 30 years. And a large amount of data came from here in Canada.

“We worked for three years to … bring a lot of people together to create the archive,” said Gil Bohrer, a civil and environmental engineer at Ohio State University and one of the lead authors of the study, which was recently published in the journal Science.

The archive features tracking information collected from GPS devices worn by 86 species that live across the Arctic and subarctic regions from Canada to Greenland to Russia — everything from puffins to wolves to seals. 

Data like that is difficult to obtain, given the costs of getting to the Arctic and the process of tagging animals for long periods. “You need to buy a sensor, which is typically not cheap, and then you need to catch the animal and install the sensor — and you need to be lucky [in order] for that sensor to keep working,” said Bohrer. 

Allicia Kelly, a wildlife biologist for the government of the Northwest Territories, contributed monitoring data on boreal caribou and barren-ground caribou to the archive, two species that are at risk in Canada. She stressed the challenge of collecting this information, as well as the implications for the animals themselves. 

“It’s really intense to capture and collar animals, especially for the animals, so this data that we collect is hard-won, it’s valuable and we have a responsibility to squeeze as much as we can out of it.”

Researchers processed and standardized animal GPS data from the studies done over the last three decades and uploaded it using a program called Movebank.

Analyzing some of the data, researchers found young golden eagles, for example, shifted their migration patterns and some Northern caribou species are giving birth one week earlier compared to a decade ago. 

“This shift in the timing of when they calve has not occurred in the southern populations of our study. So from this we can see how caribou are perhaps adapting to environmental changes,” said Kelly. 

The archive will continue to grow, with some data automatically being added in real time through satellite networks and GPS trackers, so researchers can follow and monitor changes in this changing environment. It’s also in a standard format, so much easier to access.

“There’s different types of equipment that are used across different studies, and sometimes just the process of getting that data together, getting it cleaned so that you can use it in the same way, is really time-consuming,” said Kelly. 

That’s time that could be spent focusing on finding answers to new questions and exploring how these changes in the Arctic will impact not only animals but also local and Indigenous communities who depend on them.

“Understanding how [animals are] responding to threats from climate change and other pressures is really important to be able to mitigate those changes where we are able, or understand and adapt to them as they happen,” said Kelly.

Tashauna Reid


Reader feedback

In response to Nicole Mortillaro’s piece last week on the adverse environmental effects of light pollution, Helen Dylla wrote, “Like escalators that slow down when no one is using them, there should be a similar system for lights dimming when no one is in the area.”

Ronald Quick wrote, “Does reduced night lighting increase criminal activity? Sounds like many monitored cameras are essential to give police a chance.”

Old issues of What on Earth? are right here.

There’s also a radio show! This week, What on Earth host Laura Lynch explores what the U.S. election results mean for climate action, and whether Joe Biden’s win might influence Canada’s agenda. Listen on CBC Radio One on Sunday at 12:30 p.m., 1 p.m. in Newfoundland, on any time on podcast or CBC Listen.


The Big Picture: The Paris climate agreement

Five years ago next month, amid much jubilation and hope, 195 countries came together under the Paris Accord, a collective pledge to keep global warming this century under 2 C (from pre-industrial times) by striving to stay below 1.5 C. Although the agreement was vague on the pathways to this goal, it was a call to arms to reduce carbon emissions. It took effect on Nov. 4, 2016. Four days later, Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency and began the process of pulling the world’s second-biggest emitter out of a “totally disastrous” agreement that would “punish the American people while enriching foreign polluters” (his words). The U.S. officially left the Paris Accord on Nov. 4, 2020, the day after the U.S. election. Given Joe Biden’s victory, the departure is likely to be short-lived, as the Democratic president-elect has said he has every intention of returning the country to the agreement. Environmentalists acknowledge the Paris Accord is flawed — it is neither a cure-all for climate change nor is it enforceable. (Indeed, few countries are on target to meet their own goals.) Even so, the mere existence of the agreement has served as a cudgel to compel many companies — from banks to retailers to furniture manufacturers to, yes, fossil-fuel producers — to do what they can to curtail emissions.

(Patrick Kovarick/Getty Images)

Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web

  • It’s only been a few days since the results of the U.S. election were announced, but president-elect Joe Biden has already laid out new plans to tackle climate change. Among the $1.7 trillion earmarked for new green investments, the Biden administration plans to fund “negative-emission technologies” — that is, methods of getting greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, including carbon-capture technology and plant-based sequestration.

  • What role will hydrogen have in future energy? A Bloomberg opinion piece suggests it might not live up to the hype for powering cars (battery vehicles are more efficient) but that it’s likely to play a crucial role in how we revamp our energy systems — by being the most effective backup solution for power grids.
  • Last year, socialist Bolivian President Evo Morales fled his country after an election result giving him a fourth term was bitterly contested. There were rumours that Morales had been forced to leave by political forces who wanted a more pro-business government — what many called a “coup.” Morales’s party won re-election recently, and Morales returned from Argentina (although he will have no role in the new government). This week, he claimed again that access to the country’s reserves of lithium (key to making batteries for laptops and electric vehicles) was behind the upheaval. “There’s a lot of concern in the United States over lithium, and this coup was for lithium,” Morales said.

Why so many tampon applicators end up on beaches

(Submitted by Rochelle Byrne)

During her annual cleanups along the shores of Lake Ontario, Rochelle Byrne has come across hundreds of plastic tampon applicators. “When I started finding those on beaches, I was a little bit confused,” she said.

Unlike litter such as coffee cups, plastic bags or cigarette butts, tampon applicators aren’t usually discarded on the shoreline. So Byrne, executive director of the non-profit A Greener Future, did some research to find out why they were ending up there. “It’s because people flush them down the toilet.”

Although they’re not listed as one of the items in the upcoming Canadian ban on single-use plastics, tampon applicators are frequently found in shoreline cleanups and don’t easily degrade.

They’re nowhere nearly as abundant as other shoreline litter — for example, the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup found more than 680,000 cigarette butts and 74,000 food wrappers last year.

Still, between 3,000 and 3,500 tampons and applicators are found on the country’s beaches annually, said Kate Le Souef, manager of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. She estimates that applicators alone make up 80 per cent of that number.

But why are tampon applicators ending up on our shores in the first place?

Today in Canada, many tampons are sold with an applicator, which helps the user insert the tampon. While tampon applicators are only used for a few seconds, plastic takes a long time to degrade. “Because they’re hard plastic, they float,” Le Souef said. “[They] last a long time in the water.”

These applicators are often found on shorelines along with condoms and needles, items that usually originate in the same place — the toilet. 

These items aren’t supposed to be flushed, but if they are, they should be filtered out at sewage treatment plants. The fact that they’re ending up on beaches is “an indicator that there’s sewage being discharged in the area,” said Mark Mattson, founder of the non-profit Swim Drink Fish, a group that monitors the water in Lake Ontario.

That shouldn’t occur, but Mattson said it does in certain circumstances. In cities with older sewage systems, the same pipes take both sewage and rainwater to the treatment plant. If there’s a big rainstorm, the sewers get too full — and it’s all released into waterways, untreated.

On their websites, tampon companies say not to flush their products. But Byrne said, “I think it comes down to just the convenience of flushing.” For one thing, she said, it’s an easy way to make signs of a tampon disappear. 

The idea of keeping menstruation discreet may be at the root of this plastic problem, said Sharra Vostral, a professor at Purdue University who’s studied the history of menstrual pads. 

“We’re operating under this assumption that we need to hide periods,” she said. Vostral described how pads and tampons are designed to be as discreet as possible to help people “pass” as if they’re not menstruating. Flushing these products has helped hide periods for decades. 

These ways of thinking about menstruation may be at the root of why so many tampon applicators end up in the sewage system. Challenging those attitudes, Vostral said, is the first step toward change.

“I don’t think it’s realistic to say everyone’s going to jump up and embrace their periods,” she said. “But just making it neutral instead of stigmatized is a big shift.” 

— Menaka Raman-Wilms


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Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNalty



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Ecological insights from three decades of animal movement tracking across a changing Arctic


Ecological insights from three decades of animal movement tracking across a changing Arctic



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indian economy: Will the light shine on India’s economy? Tracking the Diwali spend and looking at post-festival recovery


A bit of retail therapy helps. Especially when the times are tough. So, late October, Chhaya Pereira, 43, a Mumbai-based private sector executive, decided to indulge in some retail relief. The biking enthusiast walked into a Honda showroom with her entrepreneur husband and 20-year-old son to check out its newly launched CB350 H’Ness that costs Rs 2.26 lakh. “I loved it,” she says. Within five minutes, she decided to buy it. “Booking the bike





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Applicant tracking software: how recruiters use ATS to vet resumes


CAREERS’ panel of expert recruiters answers a reader’s question each week. Have a question? Email careers_qs@news.com.au

What is ATS software, and does your organisation use it?

Justin Hinora

Executive consultant,

Hender Consulting

Used appropriately and not exclusively to assess candidate suitability, applicant tracking software can be a useful way of electronically tracking applicants, assist with workflow and compliance and can sift through top applicants to reduce time-to-hire while still finding quality candidates. However, there is no substitute for a professional and experienced human to determine candidate suitability. Relying on software to shortlist candidates is poor practice. We use cloud-based software which is both an ATS and CRM system, which is a really useful system to manage and search for both passive and active candidates, as well as previous applicants already in our system.

media_cameraHender Consulting executive consultant Justin Hinora. Picture: Mike Burton

Andrew Sullivan

Managing director,

Sullivan Consulting

ATS stands for applicant tracking system and it’s a common tool that recruiters use throughout the recruitment process. Essentially, it’s a database that stores candidate information in a way that’s helpful for managing each stage of recruitment. At Sullivan Consulting, we use ATS software to help things run smoothly. It allows us to see candidates alongside the job they’ve applied for and track each candidate’s progress across the various stages, such as first and second-round interviews through to reference and qualification checking. For us, ATS software is a useful way of managing the recruitment process so that we can provide a positive recruitment experience for all candidates.

Sullivan Consulting managing director Andrew Sullivan. Picture: Tricia Watkinson
media_cameraSullivan Consulting managing director Andrew Sullivan. Picture: Tricia Watkinson

Alexandra Rosser

Head of Organisational Psychology Consulting,

Stillwell Management Consultants

Applicant tracking system software is designed to assist recruiters and hirers to manage candidate and client data in a central location. It typically has integrations with calendars, time sheets, pay details, job boards, etc. Some organisations use its semi-sophisticated AI to match candidates to job advertisements but we believe the technology still has a way to go to be useful in this function. Our firm uses ATS.

Stillwell Management Consultants organisational psychology consulting head Alexandra Rosser. Picture: Mike Burton
media_cameraStillwell Management Consultants organisational psychology consulting head Alexandra Rosser. Picture: Mike Burton

Lisa Morris

Director,

Hays

Anybody who works in recruitment, from recruitment companies such as Hays to mid to large organisations with large talent acquisition functions, will likely have an ATS, or applicant tracking system, in one form or another. Most people are aware that one job ad can elicit hundreds of responses. Many of these may be inappropriate, yet all must be screened to identify the suitable candidates to shortlist. With the aid of an ATS, this time-consuming process can be dramatically reduced, allowing recruiters and hiring managers to focus on engaging with skilled and experienced professionals. An important aspect of an ATS is CV parsing. CV parsing software ensures the automatic processing of data from a CV. The software uses a preliminary scan to analyse a candidate’s skills, experience, education and even job titles. By parsing, the data obtained from a CV is directly translated to a structured candidate profile in a recruitment system. This way a recruiter or hiring manager immediately has access to a large amount of information regarding a candidate. That’s why it’s so important to optimise your CV. An ATS can also be used to post vacancies, know where vacancies are in the cycle and review cost for each hire. They can highlight if we don’t have enough activity on a particular vacancy and the metrics provided can drive the performance of the recruitment team.

Hays director Lisa Morris. Picture: Matt Loxton
media_cameraHays director Lisa Morris. Picture: Matt Loxton

News Corp has partnered with HR technology company Shortlyster to develop the Australian National Talent Registry, an initiative to help get Australians back to work, as COVID-19 has left hundreds of thousands of people either jobless or with reduced working hours.

The registry aims to connect jobseekers, whose employment does not have to have been directly affected by the coronavirus pandemic to participate, with employers on cultural-fit and psychological level, not just qualifications and experience.

It is free for jobseekers to sign up. To sign up, visit adelaidenow.com.au/careers

Originally published as Your work questions answered: applicant tracking software



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Location Data Obtained By CBP Comes From Phone Apps, Is Capable Of Tracking People On Both Sides Of The Border


from the what-Carpenter-decision? dept

More details are coming out about federal law enforcement’s purchases of location data from data brokers. In February, the Wall Street Journal reported ICE and CBP were both purchasing large amounts of data from Venntel, using this information to track down people in this country illegally. Supposedly the data was “anonymized,” which the CBP felt was enough to dodge any Constitutional concerns. Of course, the more data you have, the easier it is to de-anonymize it. And if it was truly anonymous and unable to be converted into traceable human beings, there would be no reason for ICE and CBP to be purchasing it.

This led to some Congressional scrutiny. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform opened up an investigation into federal agencies’ purchases of location data from Venntel. This investigation didn’t stop the CBP from re-upping its contract with the now-controversial broker and continuing to explore the edges of this legal gray area.

A couple of months later, it was revealed the IRS was also buying location data from Venntel, presumably in hopes of tracking down tax cheats. This led to Senators Ron Wyden and Elizabeth Warren asking the IRS’s oversight to look into this. The Inspector General has already replied, stating an investigation is underway to determine whether the IRS’s warrantless acquisition of this location data complies with the Supreme Court’s Carpenter decision, which enacted a warrant requirement for cell site location data.

More documents obtained by Motherboard explain where all this controversial data is coming from. It’s not Google or cell providers’ towers, but from any phone app that harvests location data for their multiple Big Data overlords.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) bought access to “global” location data harvested from ordinary apps installed on peoples’ phones, meaning it could track devices even outside of U.S. borders, according to a document obtained by Motherboard.

[…]

“I know I could find signals in non-U.S. territory but they may have been U.S. users/devices,” a former worker for Venntel, the company that CBP bought the location data from, told Motherboard.

This explains CBP and ICE’s interest in this particular data. Looking for illegal entrants gets a whole lot easier when you can start tracking them from the other side of the border. It’s far more useful to these agencies than it is for the IRS, which apparently couldn’t find the suspect it was looking for in Venntel’s database.

This is also why CBP feels compelled to keep throwing money at a vendor targeted by a Congressional investigation and (indirectly) by IRS oversight. It’s too valuable not to have, no matter what the Fourth Amendment implications are.

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

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–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: 4th amendment, border, cbp, data, ice, location data, location info, phone apps



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Uni + brain power = fast tracking for business post COVID-19



SOUTHERN CROSS UNIVERSITY and NSW Government have joined forces to accelerate business innovation in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID-19 R & D challenge is aimed at helping small to medium businesses develop their ideas that could address the impact of COVID-19 and release them to market within 12 months.

The R & D challenge is the first of three challenges and has a total funding pool of $500,000 dollars available for this round.

Ben Roche, Vice President (Engagement) at Southern Cross University said he believes the region will once again show its innovative nature in the health and wellbeing sector.

“The Northern Rivers and Coffs Coast is renowned for its track record in developing saleable enterprises that respond to new economic opportunities that address collective challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the need for such products and solutions, so we are enthusiastic about the response our Innovation District will receive.

“In exploring the health and wellbeing theme of the challenge, the first Innovation Challenge will focus on how can we grow our resilience to future shocks while positively growing the health and wellbeing of the people in our region. This may include businesses developing new products from existing production processes, new forms of service provision in a COVID safe world or new technologies or approaches that enhance our resilience to withstand future pandemics.”

Skills and Tertiary Education Minister Geoff Lee said the challenge represented a great opportunity to support the university sector and local business.

“We know our universities are doing it tough, which is why we are continuing to support their world-leading research and collaborate with business to bring products to market,” Mr Lee said.

“This includes the funding to run these challenges and the opportunity for the state’s 11 universities, NSW CSIRO and businesses to take these developments to consumers.”

For further details on the challenge, see Southern Cross University’s website.





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Tracking Covid-19 Live Updates: Global Coverage


Going remote has had a host of effects, said Paula Hannaford-Agor, director of the Center for Jury Studies at the National Center for State Courts. More people are appearing for their court dates, but jury pools are skewing whiter, more male and younger, Ms. Hannaford-Agor said, probably because of the need for access to technology to participate.

In order to conduct virtual hearings, Ms. Hannaford-Agor said, courts must develop technical expertise, train jurors and other participants, and watch their behavior closely.

Only a handful of courts have tried to conduct full jury trials remotely. The trial in Alameda, a hot spot for asbestos litigation, involves a claim by Ronald Wilgenbusch, a retired admiral who has mesothelioma, that he became ill because he was exposed to asbestos manufactured by Metalclad Insulation.

The trial began June 29 with the jury in the courtroom but witnesses and most of the lawyers on video. After a juror developed a fever in late July, the trial became all virtual, over the defendants’ objections.

David Amell, a lawyer for Mr. Wilgenbusch and his wife, Judith, who is also a plaintiff in the case, said the pandemic had been a “windfall” for asbestos defendants because it offered them more opportunities to delay proceedings involving terminally ill clients.

Metalclad, for its part, has complained of repeated changes in procedure, a lack of written guidelines and a failure to adequately test the streaming technology.

Actually, a Chinese virologist didn’t prove that the virus was created in a lab.

Every day, Times reporters debunk false and misleading information that is going viral online.

Kevin Roose, who covers technology for The Times, writes:

This week, Tucker Carlson hosted a Chinese virologist named Dr. Li-Meng Yan on his Fox News show. Dr. Yan, who has made regular appearances in conservative media outlets this year, claimed to have “solid scientific evidence” that the novel coronavirus is “not from nature,” that it was created in a lab under a Chinese military program, and that it was spread intentionally outside China as part of a biowarfare plot.



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Tracking Viral Misinformation Ahead of the 2020 Election


Credit…Logan Cyrus/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

President Trump introduced a new element into his assault on voting by mail, twice promoting Twitter posts on Thursday that seemed to raise questions about whether members of the military could count on receiving their ballots.

In continuing his monthslong assault on mail-in ballots, he also pointed to mistakes affecting fewer than 1,000 ballots in Michigan and North Carolina as evidence of his baseless claims of a “rigged election.”

Ballot printing and mailing errors are nothing new, and have affected Republican and Democratic candidates alike. In the 2016 presidential election, for example, an Arkansas county misspelled Hillary Clinton’s name as “Hilliary,” which officials said was a typo they did not have time to correct before Election Day.

But such errors do not equate to “a rigged election,” as Mr. Trump put it, and there is no evidence that members of the military are being targeted to receive faulty ballots or that they will not receive them on time.

In Michigan, more than 400 military and overseas ballots that incorrectly listed a Libertarian candidate as Mr. Trump’s running mate were downloaded from a state database on Tuesday, The Detroit News reported. For context, Michigan has issued some 45,000 absentee ballots of more than 500,000 ballots requested.

The issue occurred for about two hours on Tuesday, and the state sent instructions to local election officials alerting them of the error and how to fix it. A spokeswoman for the Michigan secretary of state said it was unclear how many ballots were mailed out to voters, but the state would still accept any incorrect ballots that were returned.

There is no evidence that the issue was widespread or that Jocelyn Benson, the Democratic secretary of state, “purposely” listed the wrong running mate, as Mr. Trump and others have suggested on social media. Ms. Benson said on Twitter that the error occurred because of “an unintended computer glitch that was caught & quickly corrected.”

In Mecklenburg County, N.C., fewer than 500 voters accidentally received two ballots, according to The News and Observer. The county had received more than 116,000 absentee ballot requests as of Thursday, out of more than 863,000 statewide. Election officials said the mistake was unlikely to lead to double voting, as the ballots contained specific codes for each individual voter.

This week, Tucker Carlson hosted a Chinese virologist named Dr. Li-Meng Yan on his Fox News show. Dr. Yan, who has made regular appearances in conservative media outlets this year, claimed to have “solid scientific evidence” that the novel coronavirus is “not from nature,” that it was created in a lab under a Chinese military program, and that it was spread intentionally outside China as part of a biowarfare plot.

But none of Dr. Yan’s claims are justified by the scientific evidence. The vast majority of scientists who have studied the coronavirus agree that it originated naturally, and spread to humans from an animal species, such as a bat. And although scientists can’t rule out the possibility that the virus originated in a lab studying animals such as bats, it is vanishingly unlikely that it was genetically engineered and intentionally released.

Leading virologists and public health officials have disputed Dr. Yan’s claims about “suspicious” features of the virus that she claims indicate human engineering.

“The most straightforward explanation for the ‘suspicious’ genetic traits is natural recombination with other coronaviruses,” Alex Berezow, a microbiologist, wrote in an article for the American Council on Science and Health.

Credit…YouTube

Still, Dr. Yan’s explosive claims quickly went viral on social media. A video clip of her Tucker Carlson show appearance has gotten two million views on YouTube, and nearly a million views on Facebook. Conservative influencers like Dennis Prager, Mike Huckabee and David J. Harris Jr. have also shared her claims.

On Wednesday, Facebook and Instagram began flagging posts from Mr. Carlson’s show about Dr. Yan’s claims, saying that they repeated information about the coronavirus “that multiple independent fact checkers say is false.”

Credit…Facebook

Twitter suspended Dr. Yan’s account on Wednesday, which provoked another round of viral posts, including accusations by Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri that Twitter was “openly on the side of Beijing.”

A Twitter spokesman declined to comment.

Public health authorities, including the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have also noted that while the exact source of the virus is still unknown, the evidence strongly suggests a natural origin. “The sequences from U.S. patients are similar to the one that China initially posted, suggesting a likely single, recent emergence of this virus from an animal reservoir,” explained a post on the C.D.C.’s website.

In addition, a closer look at Dr. Yan’s study — which appeared on the open-access site Zenodo, and was not peer-reviewed — raises questions about her political motivations.

The study’s first page lists support from the “Rule of Law Society & Rule of Law Foundation,” a pair of anti-China organizations spearheaded by Guo Wengui, the exiled Chinese billionaire, and Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, who was arrested last month on unrelated fraud charges. Neither organization has a history of sponsoring scientific research, and Mr. Guo and Mr. Bannon have spent months advancing baseless theories about the coronavirus’s origins.

The unproven theory that the virus originated in a Wuhan lab has become a popular talking point on the right. Mr. Trump and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, have advanced the theory, though U.S. intelligence agencies have not reached a conclusion on the issue.

Dr. Yan has become an increasingly popular guest on right-wing shows, and has made several appearances on Mr. Bannon’s “War Room” podcast this year, in which she echoed the points she made on Mr. Carlson’s show this week. In one July appearance, she claimed, without evidence, that the virus was engineered in a lab, and was “not from nature.”

Two tweets from President Trump Thursday morning erroneously sought to blame states that are automatically mailing out ballots to registered voters for the likely delays and baselessly stated that the results “may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED,” an assertion dismissed by elections experts.

One of the earliest Twitter accounts to circulate false online rumors that the wildfires in Oregon had been started by activists was one that began as a parody, according to research by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

The account, called @ScarsdaleAntifa and purporting to represent an anti-fascist group from Scarsdale, N.Y., was started in 2017 by a user of the message board 4chan and tried to “troll or confuse” antifa supporters, according to the lab, which investigates misinformation.

The account staged and promoted a fake protest in 2017, using images from other protests. But this month, the account started deleting all of its previous posts. Once its history of trolling was erased, it posted a new claim: that members of its group had set wildfires to raise awareness about climate change.

The message was amplified by other inauthentic accounts and shared hundreds of times, the researchers found. Although Twitter appeared to suspend the account on Sept. 12, screenshots of its claims continued to be shared in conservative Facebook groups. Claims that anti-fascist groups had started the wildfires were also shared by Paul J. Romero, a former Republican candidate for Senate in Oregon, and boosted by followers of the conspiracy theory Qanon.

There is no evidence that antifa has played a role in starting the fires.

The rumors overwhelmed local law enforcement agencies, leading them to plead with the public to verify information before sharing it. Some residents defied evacuation orders because of the misinformation.

Video

Cinemagraph
Credit

More than a week after wildfires began blazing in Oregon, Washington and California, false and exaggerated claims about the fires’ origins are still spreading like, well, wildfire.

The latest, most viral rumor involves Domingo Lopez Jr., a 45-year-old man who was arrested in Portland, Ore., on Sunday, and again on Monday, on suspicion of starting a series of small fires. During one of these arrests, the police photographed a bottle with a wick attached, a Molotov cocktail they said Mr. Lopez had used to start one of the fires.

Local news reports noted at the time that all of the fires Mr. Lopez was suspected of setting were quickly extinguished, and that no people or buildings were harmed. They also noted that Mr. Lopez was taken for a mental health examination after his arrests.

Credit…Portland Police Bureau

Still, right-wing websites and conservative media influencers ran with the story about Mr. Lopez and his Molotov cocktail — often omitting from their headlines the fact that none of those fires caused any damage, or were related to the larger blazes that have driven thousands of people from their homes.

“Man Arrested for Starting Oregon Fire Gets Released Without Bail, Sets 6 More Fires,” read one headline, by the pro-police news outlet Blue Lives Matter. The article was shared roughly 40,000 times on Facebook. Breitbart, the far-right news site, also shared the story, getting more than 27,000 Facebook shares on a post whose headline also left out the details of the fires.

Credit…Portland Police Bureau

Dinesh D’Souza, the right-wing filmmaker, posted a meme with Mr. Lopez’s mug shot, in which he cast doubt on the scientific claims that the wildfires were caused by global warming.

As The New York Times’s Michael Grynbaum and Tiffany Hsu reported on Tuesday, many conservative media figures, including Rush Limbaugh and Tucker Carlson, have aligned themselves with President Trump in an effort “to generate a deep skepticism of the notion that climate change is a factor in the fires devastating the West Coast.” Some of these figures have been pushing the unfounded narrative that arsonists and antifa sympathizers are responsible for setting the wildfires.

Law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have dispelled that rumor, and scientists say that climate change is the primary factor behind the blazes.

President Trump on Wednesday shared a doctored video from his Twitter account of Joe Biden, his Democratic opponent, playing a song from the stage of a campaign event in Florida. The original video showed Mr. Biden playing “Despacito.” In the doctored version, Mr. Biden instead played N.W.A.’s anti-police anthem “____ tha Police.” Twitter has labeled the video “manipulated media,” but allowed it to stay up.

Several months ago, Seane Corn, a yoga teacher and Instagram influencer in Los Angeles with more than 100,000 followers, started noticing something odd happening on her social media feeds. Many of her peers in the online wellness community were sharing posts that seemed aligned with QAnon, the vast pro-Trump conspiracy theory that falsely alleges that a cabal of satanic pedophiles and cannibals runs the world.

Not all of these posts mentioned QAnon explicitly. Some were making milder appeals to stop child sex trafficking. Others were advocating against mask-wearing or pushing baseless conspiracy theories about Covid-19. Most were wrapped in the same Instagram-friendly pastel-colored aesthetics that you might use to advertise a crystal healing workshop or a book of Rumi poems.

“Every 5 posts, there would be a pink square with a pretty font, and it would say ‘Covid is a hoax,’” Ms. Corn said in an interview.

Eventually, Ms. Corn and other concerned wellness influencers decided to fight back. On Sunday, they posted a “wellness community statement” accusing QAnon of “taking advantage of our conscious community with videos and social media steeped with bizarre theories, mind control and misinformation.”

Credit…Instagram

For years, QAnon was seen as a fringe right-wing phenomenon, populated by President Trump’s most hard-core supporters. But in recent months, it has made inroads with groups outside Mr. Trump’s base, including vaccine skeptics, natural health fans and concerned suburban moms. Its followers have hijacked the online #SaveTheChildren movement, and inserted QAnon messaging into claims about child exploitation and human trafficking.

These moves appear to have broadened the movement’s appeal. In a New York Times Op-Ed this month, Annie Kelly, a researcher who studies digital extremism, noted that QAnon’s “ranks are populated by a noticeably high percentage of women.” Conspirituality, a podcast about the intersection of New Age spirituality and far-right extremism, has compiled a list of roughly two dozen wellness influencers who have posted QAnon-related content.

Ms. Corn said that the wellness community’s emphasis on truth-seeking and self-improvement makes it particularly vulnerable to a conspiracy theory like QAnon, which is all about sowing distrust in mainstream authorities under the guise of “doing your own research.” She said that QAnon’s motto — “where we go one, we go all” — was classic “yoga-speak,” and that many of the QAnon-related posts she had seen, like a YouTube video that called President Trump a “light healer,” seemed to have been carefully made to appeal to New Age sensibilities.

“They’re using the same music we might use in meditation classes,” Ms. Corn said. “It does things to the body, it makes you more available and open.”

Ms. Corn said that she had lost some followers after her anti-QAnon post, but gained others who were grateful that she spoke out. And she said she worried that the conspiracy theory might still be gaining steam among wellness fans.

“I’m afraid that well-meaning folks who don’t understand the complexity of this misinformation will be seduced” by QAnon, she said. “They’re rolling out the yoga mat right now, and it scares me.”





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Indigenous cat hunters with expert tracking skills could help protect native species, research says


Each week at the edge of the Gibson Desert in the most remote community in Australia, a group of Pintupi Traditional Owners — mostly women — follow fresh tracks by foot through the spinifex grasslands ready to catch and kill a feral cat.

Indigenous cat hunting is something that has been happening for more than a century at Kiwirrkurra, primarily for food.

But it is more than a tradition.

New research has now shown its value as one of the most effective ways of protecting threatened species in the area.

Researchers say Indigenous expert trackers could potentially be drawn upon to conduct targeted cat control.

Published online in the CSIRO’s journal Wildlife Research this month, the paper explored how effective cat hunting by Indigenous tracking experts was in reducing cat impacts on threatened species.

According to ecologist Rachel Paltridge, who was one four authors on the report, the answer is “very efficient”, particularly when looking at the population of the threatened bilby species in the area.

Feral Cat Hunting painting by Lydia Ward(Supplied)

Dr Paltridge said the abundance of cats at locations where cat hunting no longer occurred was 30 per cent higher than at locations where the practice does occur.

This meant less predation of the bilbies.

“About a tenth of the visitation rate that studies elsewhere have found.”

Woman smiling in front of bushland
Rachel Paltridge has studied bilbies for 20 years.(Landline: Nick Hose)

Cats major threat to native animals

According to the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment feral cats threaten the survival of over 100 native species in Australia.

The pest is a major cause of decline for many land-based endangered animals such as the bilby, bandicoot, bettong and numbat.

Public hearings are currently taking place for a parliamentary inquiry into the problem of feral and domestic cats in Australia.

A Northern Bettong looks to the camera with its paws together as it stands in undergrowth.
Feral cats are a huge threat endangered species including the bilby, bandicoot, bettong (pictured) and numbat.(Supplied: Stephanie Todd)

Over the course of five years 130 cats were caught in the Kiwrrkurra area, increasing in recent years.

The figures may seem like a drop in the ocean compared with the millions of feral cats in Australia, but Dr Paltridge says the area’s targeted and specific approach to hunting, that allows Indigenous trackers to seek out the biggest and most destructive cats, is its biggest benefit.

She said these cats were the most difficult to catch by trapping and baiting methods.

“And we need the method to be cheap and locally available so the program can be ongoing.”

Three woman, two of them Aboriginal, stand in front of a helicopter on country
Rachel Paltridge and rangers Mary Butler and Payu West recently conducted aerial surveys for bilbies across three areas of the Kiwirrkurra IPA.(Supplied)

Passing on knowledge

Cat hunting has been used as a method of conservation by the Kiwirrkurra Rangers for the past six years.

Ranger John West, who is an experienced cat hunter and also an author on the paper, says it is important for them to pass on the skills to younger generations.

“They are looking for where they belong, why they are tracking the cat, getting more ideas from us and learning why it’s really important so one day they can grow up and become a fast tracker.

“Bilbies are important for us to keep protecting.”

The bilby is an endangered desert-dwelling marsupial
The bilby is an endangered desert-dwelling marsupial.(Supplied: Australian Wildlife Conservancy)

For many, it is also an enjoyable pastime.

“Like in the past, we’re learning [to] keep going.

“We love hunting, going out for cat and for anything.

“Yuwa (yes) snake, goannas, kangaroos and turkey; yuwa palya (yes it’s good!).”

The Kiwirrkurra people burn on spinifex grasslands
Burning is a regular part of hunting on Kiwirrkurra country and an important aspect of rangers’ work.(Supplied)

Dr Paltridge said the effectiveness of the cat hunting showed Indigenous expert trackers could be drawn on to conduct strategic cat control in certain landscapes, in the same way that shooters were used in other locations around the country.

“If there was a project somewhere with a problem cat around an endangered species colony then these expert hunters could be called in as one of the techniques used.”

The frequency of feral cats in modern Australia may prove a challenge, however.

The Pintupi Traditional Owners are one of what is believed to be just two Aboriginal groups in Australia that continue to cat hunt on a regular basis.

“But there’s still a lot of good trackers, they may not have actually followed a cat but they’re still good at finding the track,” Dr Paltridge said.

Research is now being done on the impact of traditional fire management on the bilby population.

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