Researched by: Aarthi Ramnath & Priyanka Gulati
Nicola Sturgeon quits her job
Leader of the Scottish National Party and the First Minister of Scotland has unexpectedly resigned—saying the "time is now" for her to stand down, adding that it is "right for me, for my party and for the country." She insisted that the decision has little to do with escalating tensions with the UK government—over Scottish independence and a proposed transgender law. The reasons she offered were uncannily similar to those given by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern:
Sturgeon said she could no longer give her full energy to the job, and that she felt she must say so now. "I have been wrestling with it, albeit with oscillating levels of intensity for some weeks," the 52-year-old leader said. "Giving absolutely everything of yourself to this job is the only way to do it." She said it was difficult to have a private life, noting it was hard to "meet friends for a coffee or go for a walk on your own" and observed that there was a "brutality" to life at the top.
CNN has more on what this means for the bid for Scottish independence.
A Thai miracle ends in tragedy
Remember the 12 boys extricated from a flooded cave in Thailand in 2018—after being trapped for more than two weeks? The world was riveted by the rescue operation—and sighed with relief when the children emerged unscathed. But one of them—17-year-old Duangphet "Dom" Phromthep—was found dead in his room at an English sports academy. The cause of death is still unknown. But it is a sad end to one of the greatest feel-good stories in recent times. (NPR)
Mumbai is #2… in air pollution!
The financial capital is now the second most polluted city in the world—with an AQI (Air Quality Index) of 163. It has raced past the usual suspect Delhi—which is way below at #6. (Indian Express)
The epic fails of AI chatbots
Last week, everyone picked on Google’s chatbot Bard for getting facts wrong about the James Webb Space Telescope during its demo. This time, it’s the turn of Bing—Microsoft’s search engine now powered by ChatGPT. An independent researcher Dmitri Brereton has found that it often has missing data—and even makes shit up when it doesn’t have answers. This is a common problem with AI chatbots, politely called ‘hallucinations’. In one exchange, it couldn’t even get the year right—insisting “I’m sorry, but today is not 2023. Today is 2022.”
Notably, Brereton pointed out that while Bard was immediately panned for making mistakes, no one paid any attention to problems with Bing’s demo: “Bing AI got some answers completely wrong during their demo. But no one noticed. Instead, everyone jumped on the Bing hype train.” Also interesting: Bard’s mistakes cost Google $100 billion in market value but Microsoft’s stocks have remained stable. (The Verge)
Takeover bid targets Tottenham Hotspurs
Iranian-American billionaire Jahm Najafi is getting ready to launch a $3.75 billion takeover bid. The chairman of the investment fund MSP Sports Capital is working with a consortium of investors—and is close to making a formal bid. Yes, there is Arab money involved here, as well: “The bid is structured so that MSP and its partners will put forward 70% of the purchase price, while backers from the Gulf, mainly from Abu Dhabi, will contribute the remaining 30%.” Najafi’s other investments include Formula 1 team McLaren Racing and X Games. The main takeaway: the Premier League is heading for a major shakeup—with owners of Manchester United and Liverpool looking to sell, as well. (Financial Times, paywall, Reuters)
Mystery of the Musk epidemic
On Monday, everyone’s ‘For You’ timelines were swamped with Elon Musk’s tweets—days after he fired engineers for a drop in his engagement rates on the platform. He was especially furious that his Super Bowl posts got less impressions than that of President Biden—which sparked a company-wide emergency.
According to Platformer, Twitter has now introduced a special tweak to make him happy:
Twitter deployed code to automatically “greenlight” all of Musk’s tweets, meaning his tweets will bypass Twitter’s filters designed to show people the best content possible. The algorithm now artificially boosted Musk’s tweets by a factor of 1,000—a constant score that ensured his tweets rank higher than anyone else’s in the feed.
Musk happily acknowledged that Twitter users were being force-fed his tweets with this icky meme:
But the good news is that Twitter seems to have dialled down the Musk-attack—until the next great meltdown? The bad news for Tesla investors: Musk says he expects to stay in his job as CEO until the end of the year: “I think I need to stabilise the organisation and just make sure it’s in a financial healthy place.” (Platformer)
A surprising study on face masks
A rigorous study by Cochrane Review—considered the “gold standard of evidence-based medicine”—has found “little to no” evidence that wearing face masks reduces Covid infections in a community. There was not much difference when they compared surgical masks with N95 masks, or when they compared surgical masks with nothing.
Now, this conclusion comes with two caveats. One, Cochrane only looked at randomised controlled trials—which are of the highest quality. But it limited the dataset since there have been very few of these studies. Two, this doesn’t tell us very much about whether you personally should wear a mask or not:
The trials considered in the review compared groups of people who masked with those who didn’t in an effort to estimate how effective masking is at blunting the spread of COVID in a general population. The population-level detail is important: It indicates uncertainty about whether requiring everyone to wear a mask makes a difference in viral spread. This is different from the impact of individual masking, which has been better researched.
So it could mean that masks protect individuals—but don’t make much of a difference at the population level—and we need more randomised trials to understand why. The Atlantic and Slate have lots more nuance and detail.
Very good news about eye drops
Researchers have found that low-concentration atropine eye drops—typically used to dilate pupils before an eye exam—can actually help stave off myopia in kids. The children were divided into three groups—high dosage, low dosage and placebo. And here’s what they found:
After two years, just 28% of the children in the higher-dose group developed myopia, compared with 46% of those in the lower-dose group and 53% of the children in the placebo group.
Now, they don’t know exactly why this is happening. And there’s a catch—or two. For starters, myopia can be postponed but not prevented, at least for now. But delaying it still has benefits—since myopia tends to progress quickly in young kids and tapers off after puberty. And the high dosage has side-effects:
Because it dilates pupils and blurs vision, atropine makes it hard to see up close or to stand bright lights. "The children had difficulty reading. They would wear photochromatic glasses to shade against the glare," says Dr. Donald Tan… "We realised, yeah, atropine does work, but we've got to reduce the dose so we can reduce some of these side effects. Otherwise it will never be practical."
Great news about male contraception
Ok, so this was a trial study on mice, but it is still encouraging news. Cornell researchers have developed a drug that temporarily stops sperm from swimming its way to an egg—and therefore prevents pregnancy. And sorta like Viagra, it works within a short window—to be taken just before you’re ready to get down and dirty:
The drug blocks a protein called soluble adenylyl cyclase (or, as the researchers are calling it, “sAC”) that is critical for sperm motility. Under a microscope, the drugged swimmers look like they’re floating along, the tail of each sperm no longer furiously wagging. The effect kicked in within 30 minutes after taking the drug and lasted for over two hours.
The not-so-great news: Researchers are nowhere close to testing it on men. Their next trial will be on rabbits—and they want something that will work for a longer period, say, for a day. Perfect for that dirty weekend:) Well, we’re all for anything that doesn’t put the entire burden of contraception on women. (Bloomberg News)
Speaking of penises: A global study has found that the average erect penis has grown by 24% over the past 30 years. The finding is mystifying since male fertility rates have been dropping over the same period. USA Today has more on why this research has sparked a fierce debate—and lots of questions.
Pharrell Williams has a new gig
The rapper has a new feather in his fashion cap. Williams has been named as the menswear creative director for Louis Vuitton—replacing Virgil Abloh, who died in 2021. His first collection will be revealed in June at the Paris Fashion Week. This isn’t Williams’ first foray into haute couture. He co-founded the highly successful streetwear brand called ‘Billionaire Boys Club’ in 2003. And he has done collabs with Adidas, Moncler and Chanel. (BBC News)
Three things to see
One: This one is for everyone who was excited when Rishi Sunak became the prime minister for the UK. You’ll be happy to know that Indian-origin Nikki Haley is throwing her hat into the US presidential ring. She announced her intention to vie for the Republican nomination with this video. It’s a bit long and boring—but all the good bits about denying racism in the US are loaded up front. (The Washington Post )
Two: Waiting for PC’s next big starring role in Hollywood? Get ready for ‘Love Again’—where she plays a woman who sends text messages to her dead fiancé. Except the number is owned by her love interest played by Sam Heughan. Oh, Celine Dion plays matchmaker—and sings its theme song. And it has a cameo by Nick Jonas. (CNN)