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Covid-19: New scientific model can predict virus peaks of contamination in Europe

Issued on: 25/09/2020 – 17:26Modified: 25/09/2020 – 17:29

A team of researchers has revealed a pio..

Issued on: Modified:

A team of researchers has revealed a pioneering model that aims to predict the rate of propagation of Covid-19 in each country in Europe.

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It was battle stations on September 24 when Brussels demanded European countries immediately tighten their control measures in the face of the spread of Covid-19, in order to avoid a second wave of the pandemic. The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention singled out 13 European countries with alarmingly rising rates of infection, including France and Britain.

French Minister of Health Olivier Véran preempted the announcement on September 23, when he declared new restrictions to prevent soaring rates of the virus in all French territories.

Although the race against a second wave of Covid-19 is well underway on the continent, a team of scientists has set about modelling the future trajectory of the virus's spread in Europe. Their simulations, published on September 23 in the scientific journal Nature, predict that all European countries will have reached the peak of the second wave of the pandemic by January 2021 at the latest.

Model borrowed from particle physics

France may not have long to wait as the next peak is predicted for the beginning of October. In the United Kingdom, the number of new infections looks set to continue to rise until mid-November. Poland and Sweden, two countries relying on herd immunity to fight the virus, are expected to keep rising until the beginning of next year.

To achieve these predictions, a team of scientists, led by French National Centre for Scientific Research physicist Giacomo Cacciapaglia, has adopted an innovative approach to simulate the temporal evolution of the epidemic: particle physics. Researchers have applied an equation typically used to predict the interactions between tiny physical elements to the trajectory of the coronavirus.

"We found that by applying this model, we obtained a result that was consistent with what happened during the first wave and we wanted to test it to try to anticipate what might happen," says Cacciapaglia, speaking with FRANCE 24.

The advantage of this method lies in its simplicity. Compared to mathematical models traditionally used in epidemiology, "there are far fewer parameters that need to be included in the equation in order to carry out the simulations", explains Cacciapaglia.

In this case, the researchers only took into account the total number of Covid-19 infections in each country and also any movements within a territory and between European States from March to July 2020. There was no need to take into account factors such as levels of social distancing, the average number of people per household or other criteria that are required in other models.

It is this simplicity that made it possible to construct projections at a wider European level. "The more parameters we integrate, the more variations are possible in each territory and this is what can make large-scale modelling difficult," says Cacciapaglia.

Virus spreading faster in France than expected

The other side of the coin is that this model, because of its simplicity, only allows "one aspect of the epidemic to be controlled, that is the speed of spread of the virus", Cacciapaglia points out. It gives no indication of the scale of the epidemic, as in the precise number of cases, or the mortality rate.

It was also necessary for scientists to assume thRead More – Source

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Pope expresses support for same-sex civil union laws in new documentary

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 17:54

Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals s..

Issued on:

Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals should be protected by civil union laws, in some of the clearest language he has used on the rights of gay people.

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"Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it," Pope Francis says in the documentary "Francesco" by Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky.

"What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that," he said.

The pope appeared to be referring to when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires and opposed legislation to approve same sex marriages but supported some kind of legal protection for the rights of gay couples.

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh told Reuters that the pope's comments in the film were some of the clearest language the pontiff has used on the subject since his election in 2013.

The pope, who early in his papacy made the now-famous "Who am I to judge?" remark about homosexuals trying to live a Christian life, spoke in a section of the film about Andrea Rubera, a gay man who with his partner adopted three children.

Rubera says in the film that he went to a morning Mass the pope said in his Vatican residence and gave him a letter explaining his situation.

He told the pope that he and his partner wanted to bring the children up as Catholics in the local parish but did not want to cause any trauma for the children. It was not clear in which country RuberaRead More – Source

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Popping the digital filter bubble

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 10:36

Ever wondered why 2 people can search for the same thing online and ..

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 10:36

Ever wondered why 2 people can search for the same thing online and get 2 totally different results? The answer is online echo chambers and digital filter bubbles – social media and search engines that skew our access to information and algorithms that artificially promote content they think should suit us. Those invisible chains shrink our freedom to learn and be confronted with new ideas. Want to break free? France 24 can help you pop the filter bubbles around you!

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Social networks have revolutionised how we access information. In France, over a quarter of people get their news from social networks – second only to television. And for young people, the change is even more drastic: 47% of the under-35s say their primary source of information is social media (Ifop, 2019). And we’re not just passive consumers of information online now – everyone can also generate content, leading to a vast quantity of news and views online.

Sifting through that ever-growing mountain of information forces search engines and social media to use algorithms – to sort the wheat they think will interest us, from the chaff they assume won’t. For Jérôme Duberry of the University of Geneva, it’s a simple calculation: “if a web-user has a given profile, then they will be fed information of a certain type”. Posts that seem to appear at random on our Twitter or Facebook timelines are in fact carefully chosen according to what the platform already knows about us – interests, friends, “likes”. Highlighting content that is tailored specifically to our interests filters out topics from outside our comfort zone – reinforcing our beliefs.

Online rights are human rights

But social networks are only one aspect of the digital echo chambers. Search engines are also key – once again due to their reliance on algorithms. Google’s search results are generated from our own online history, mixed with that of thousands of other users. The goal for the search engine is to maximise user engagement by finding results that are most likely to prompt interest (and sales) from the user – and so generate advertising revenue.

For Jérôme Duberry, those gatekeepers limit our access to knowledge: “it’s as if there was someone standing in front of the university library, who asks you a bunch of questions about who you are, and only then gives you access to a limited number of books. And you never get the chance to see all the books on offer, and you never know the criteria for those limits.”

The consequences of these so-called Filter Bubbles are far-reaching. For Tristan Mendès France, specialist in Digital Cultures at the University of Paris, “being informed via social networks means an internet user is in a closed-circuit of information”.

Blinkered online views, democratic bad news

For many academics, those echo chambers could threaten the health of our democracies, suggesting the algorithms could contribute to the polarisation of society. By limiting our access to views similar to our own and excluding contradictory opinions, our beliefs may be reinforced – but at the expense of a diversity of opinions.

And that could undermine the very basis of our democracies. For Jerôme Duberry, the Filter Bubbles “could lead to us questioning the value of a vote. Today, we lend a great deal of importance to the vote, which is the extension of a person’s opinion. But that individual’s opinion is targeted by interest groups using an impressive array of techniques.”

That isn’t the only distortion that algorithms have created. They have also allowed more radical views to predominate. Youtube’s algorithm is blind to the actual content of a video – its choice of what will be most visible is made according to which videos are viewed all the way to the end. But for Tristan Mendès France, “it is generally the most activist or militant internet users that view videos all the way through”. That provokes “extra-visibility” for otherwise marginal content – at the expense of more nuanced or balanced views, or indeed verified information.

Escaping the echo chamber

So what happens to the spirit of debate in a world where your online habits reinforce your beliefs? Is the echo chamber a philosophical prison? And how easy is it to get back out into the fresh air of contradictory views?

In the US, the movement opposing algRead More – Source

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‘Well, this is Iceland’: Earthquake interrupts Prime Minister’s interview

Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post wh..

Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post when her house started to shake, visibly startling the Icelandic leader."Oh my god, there's an earthquake," she said with a gasp. "Sorry, there was an earthquake right now. Wow."But Jakobsdottir quickly pivoted back to the matter at hand, laughing: "Well this is Iceland" and continuing her response to the question."Yes I'm perfectly fine, the house is still strong, so no worries," she later added.Jakobsdottir, 44, has been Iceland's Prime Minister since 2017.The 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck on Tuesday afternoon 10 kilometers southwest of Hafnarfjordur, a coastal town near the capital of Reykjavík, according to the United States Geological Survey, which measures quakes worldwide.The tremble led to reports of damage around the capital. Earthquakes are common in Iceland, which boats a sweeping landscape dotted with dozens of volcanoes. Jakobsdottir isn't the first world leader to be interrupted by a quake this year; in May, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was discussing lifting coronavirus restrictions

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