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US Forecasters Predict ‘Extremely Active’ Atlantic Hurricane Season

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has updated its prediction for this year’s North Atlantic hurricane season, saying it will be “extremely active,” possibly record breaking.NOAA and its National Climate Prediction Center gave their initial seasonal predictions in May. But in its August update, issued late Thursday, forecasters say the 2020 season has already broken records, with nine storms through the end of July, five of them hitting the U.S. mainland. Historically, NOAA says only two named storms form by early August.  In a teleconference with reporters, NOAA’s lead hurricane forecaster, Jerry Bell, said they now see 19 to 25 named storms during the season ending November 30.  Bell say seven to 11 of those are expected to become hurricanes and three to six could become major hurricanes.  Those numbers include the nine storms already recorded this season.Bell says oceanic and atmospheric conditions are now even more hospitable for hurricane formation and intensification than they saw in May, when they predicted 13 to 19 named storms. He said these conditions are predicted to continue for the next several months.  Bell does not believe 2020 will break the record for storms set in 2005, when there were 28 names storms as warmer oceans and other atmospheric conditions were more favorable.  But he believes 2020 will be one of the stronger seasons on record.   NOAA reminded people in hurricane-prone regions to keep the COVID-19 pandemic in mind when making hurricane preparations, particularly if they are required to evacuate their area.

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New Study Shows Human Ancestors Had ‘Complicated Love Life’

Researchers have confirmed that hundreds of thousands of years ago, Neanderthals mated with at least four other contemporary species of ancient humans, or hominids, and the evidence lives on in the genes of modern men and women.A study published Thursday in the science journal PLOS Genetics shows how researchers from Cornell University analyzed the genomes, the complete genetic “map,” from Neanderthals, a prehistoric human ancestor called Denisovans, and modern humans.Analysis of the genomes revealed new evidence of gene flow between these species, bolstering earlier theories that the species intermated. The researchers found 3% of the Neanderthal genome came from interbreeding with other ancient humans that lived at the same time.The new study estimates this intermixing happened between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago — far earlier than previous estimates indicated.The researchers also found that 1% of the Denisovan genome contained genetic material that came from an “archaic human ancestor” that was neither human, nor Neanderthal, nor Denisovan. They suggested it came from Homo erectus, an early human ancestor believed to be the first to spread to what is now Eastern Europe and parts of Asia.Homo erectus looked much like we do today, but with elongated legs and shorter arms. They are believed to have outlived contemporary hominids, dying out as recently as 117,000 years ago.The new study suggests that 15% of the genetic pieces that came from Homo erectus have been passed on to humans today. They suggest it split off from the lineage that would become modern humans about 1 million years ago, which would fit the timeline for intermingling with its contemporary hominid species.The genome for Homo erectus has not been sequenced so it is difficult to precisely figure out how all the different human ancestors got together. But the researchers theorize that migration habits combined with the fact that all four species did overlap for several thousand years made it likely that they intermingled.

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Citing Security Concerns, Trump Orders Bans on TikTok, WeChat

U.S. President Donald Trump Thursday ordered sweeping bans on two Chinese consumer apps.He ordered the bans prohibiting U.S. companies from doing business with ByteDance, the owner of the video-sharing app TikTok, and Tencent, the owner of the messenger app WeChat. The executive orders targeting the Chinese companies go into effect in 45 days.Whether Trump has the legal authority for such actions is not immediately clear, analysts said.The move comes amid data collection and privacy concerns the Trump administration and U.S. lawmakers have expressed about the apps. However, no evidence has been cited to support the claims.Both companies have said they do not share their data with the Chinese government.“I am the first to yell from the rooftops when there is a glaring privacy issue somewhere,” mobile security expert Will Strafach told The Associated Press last month. ”But we just have not found anything we could call a smoking gun in TikTok.”Analysts said they expect China to retaliate.Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that the U.S. would not allow U.S. stores to sell Chinese apps because of security concerns.Millions of people around the world use the two apps.

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Doctors Ask Medical Schools to Drop MCAT Tests During Pandemic

A professional society of 163,000 physicians, trainees and fellows of internal medicine in the United States is asking medical schools to waive the entrance exam because the COVID-19 pandemic has made testing unmanageable. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.The American College of Physicians (ACP) suggests the schools look at applicants holistically – considering factors including grades and experience – and dispense with the Medical College Admission Test – known as the MCAT – for entrance year 2021.“Applicants have experienced disruptions in taking the MCAT examination, whether due to personal health and safety concerns, vendor-initiated scheduling changes, or difficulties in accessing testing centers,” the ACP stated.“Furthermore, applicants of color and those from lower socioeconomic groups are disproportionately impacted by factors such as venue changes to distant testing centers. The ACP is concerned that mandatory MCAT testing in the midst of the current public health emergency will increase disparities in career opportunity among people of color and those of lower socioeconomic status,” it added.COVID-19 has made standardized testing for college entrance exams difficult, at best, because arranging for large groups of students to sit for exams in person increases the odds the disease will be shared. The germs are spread through droplets emitted during breathing, sneezing and coughing. It can also be contracted by touching a surface on which it has landed and then touching one’s face, where it makes its way to the eyes, nose or mouth.  Several universities, including most of the top schools in the U.S., have waived the testing requirement for standard entrance exams during the pandemic.Harvard Drops SAT/ACT Scores for New AdmissionsIvy League schools lessen demand on applicants during COVID“ACP supports the needs of learners as they pursue entry into medical school in the midst of the current COVID-19 public health emergency,” said Dr. Jacqueline W. Fincher, the group’s president. “Now more than ever, during these challenging times facing health care, we need to help reduce barriers for students who seek to continue their education and training on a path to join the physician workforce and medical community, which continues to fulfill a vital need in our country.”The American College of Physicians is the largest medical specialty organization in the U.S. with members in more than 145 countries worldwide, according to its website. 

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SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Blasts Off From Cape Canaveral

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida early Friday, carrying 57 Starlink satellites for the company’s internet satellite constellation system.The rocket also carried two spacecraft for Spaceflight customer BlackSky. Shortly after releasing those satellites, and about an hour-and-a-half after launch, the spacecraft released the bundle of Starlink Satellites. It was the tenth batch of such satellites launched by the company.With Friday’s launch, SpaceX has deployed nearly 600 Starlink satellites in a rapidly expanding fleet of spacecraft designed to provide high-speed internet transmission to users anywhere in the world. Service in the northern United States and Canada is expected to start later this year.The first stage of the rocket returned to earth as planned after launch, with a clean landing on a drone ship.Friday’s launch marked a busy week for the commercial space company. On Sunday the Crew Dragon capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, bringing two NASA astronauts back to Earth from the International Space Station. The flight was the first to orbit NASA astronauts from U.S. soil since the space shuttle was retired in 2011.Two days later, SpaceX engineers in Boca Chica, Texas, carried out the first up-and-down test flight of a prototype upper stage for the company’s planned heavy-lift Starship rocket system.

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Trump Orders Bans on 2 Chinese Apps, Citing Security Concerns

U.S. President Donald Trump Thursday ordered sweeping bans on two Chinese consumer apps.He ordered the bans prohibiting U.S. companies from doing business with ByteDance, the owner of the video-sharing app TikTok, and Tencent, the owner of the messenger app WeChat. The executive orders targeting the Chinese companies go into effect in 45 days.Whether Trump has the legal authority for such actions is not immediately clear, analysts said.The move comes amid data collection and privacy concerns the Trump administration and U.S. lawmakers have expressed about the apps. However, no evidence has been cited to support the claims.Both companies have said they do not share their data with the Chinese government.“I am the first to yell from the rooftops when there is a glaring privacy issue somewhere,” mobile security expert Will Strafach told The Associated Press last month. ”But we just have not found anything we could call a smoking gun in TikTok.”Analysts said they expect China to retaliate.Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that the U.S. would not allow U.S. stores to sell Chinese apps because of security concerns.Millions of people around the world use the two apps.

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Trump Orders US Ban on WeChat, TikTok in 45 Days

U.S. President Donald Trump issued executive orders on Thursday banning any U.S. transactions with ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns video-sharing app TikTok, and Tencent, owner of the WeChat app, starting in 45 days.The orders come as the Trump administration said this week it was stepping up efforts to purge “untrusted” Chinese apps from U.S. digital networks and called the Chinese-owned short-video app TikTok and messenger app WeChat “significant threats.”The TikTok app may be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party, and the United States “must take aggressive action against the owners of TikTok to protect our national security,” Trump said in one order.In the other, Trump said WeChat “automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users. This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.”The order would effectively ban WeChat in the United States in 45 days by barring “to the extent permitted under applicable law, any transaction that is related to WeChat by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with Tencent Holdings Ltd.”Trump said this week he would support the sale of TikTok’s U.S. operations to Microsoft Corp if the U.S. government got a “substantial portion” of the sales price but warned he will ban the service in the United States on September 15.Tencent and ByteDance declined to comment.    

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Tensions Mount over China’s Industrial Espionage in US

Tensions between the U.S. and China are escalating at a dizzying pace, with July 24 marking the lowest point of bilateral relations in decades. On that day, the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas, was closed and taken over by U.S. officials.FILE – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, July 15, 2020.“We announced the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston because it was a hub of spying and intellectual property theft,” said Secretary of State FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies during an oversight hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, on Capitol Hill, Feb. 5, 2020 in Washington.The FBI created a special economic espionage unit in 2010, and currently has over 2,000 active cases related to Chinese counterintelligence operations in the U.S. FBI director Christopher Wray recently said the bureau is opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 minutes.Economic espionage is certainly nothing new. When the U.S. passed the Economic Espionage Act of 1996, the focus was on Israel and France, and China wasn’t really in the picture.Hvistendahl said the shift of focus started in the mid-2000s, when the business community decided to join the intelligence community to address the issue. These U.S. companies had previously hoped that if they kept their mouths shut, they could eventually break into the Chinese market and begin to see significant market growth.“By the mid-2000s, it became clear to many companies that it was just not going to happen, they were going to get shut out of the market eventually,” Hvistendahl told VOA. “So many CEOs started to be more vocal about some of the problems that they have received with China.”The impact on the U.S. economy through loss of intellectual property (IP) is one of the main concerns among U.S. policy makers. According to a 2017 report by the Intellectual Property Commission, the cost of IP theft for the United States is somewhere between $225 billion and $600 billion. And China is responsible for 71% to 87% of that figure. (The percentage varies annually.) Apart from economic loss, there is also loss of domestic production capabilities, loss of industries, and loss of jobs along the way.Eric Zhang, former chief representative of the Oklahoma Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Office in China, told VOA that America is also realizing the potential security threat posed by these China-related industrial espionage activities.“Espionage activities in other countries are mainly for economic gain, but China is different. Since Xi Jinping came to power, China has started to deem the United States as a competitor, especially in terms of military,” said Zhang. “In this sense, the purpose of Chinese industrial espionage is different from that of other countries. This is why the U.S. is very concerned now.”Full-scale effortUnder the Trump administration, federal authorities have launched full-scale efforts to ferret out economic espionage.In some high-profile cases, the FBI has recently arrested four Chinese research scientists in the U.S. who concealed their relations with Chinese military during their visa applications. Apart from the FBI, the Justice Department has also launched the China Initiative in 2018, with the goal of identifying and prosecuting those engaged in economic espionage, trade secret theft, hacking and other related crimes. Yet Zhang said that although there has been ample pushback, China has not slowed down its pace of stealing innovative technologies and trade secrets from developed countries.“Innovative technology is key to China’s economic growth, which is the top reason to legitimize CCP (Chinese Communist Party) rule. So if they can’t get anything from the U.S., I think Beijing will strengthen its economic espionage efforts in other developed countries,” Zhang said.Hvistendahl warns that when addressing the issue of industrial espionage and IP theft, the U.S. needs to be careful and avoid discrimination.“You have to keep in mind that much of the research force in the U.S. is ethnic Chinese. So you have to deal with the issue in a way that it’s fair, that doesn’t give way to allegations of racial profiling, ethnic bias,” she said.She added that it’s to America’s own benefit to keep the U.S. as an innovative place to which researchers from all over the world would want to come and study. 

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