Researched by: Nirmal Bhansali & Aarthi Ramnath
A notable resignation at Ashoka University
The context: An Ashoka University professor’s working paper alleging vote manipulation in seats narrowly won by the BJP in 2019 sparked a heated—and not-at-all-useful debate. While there were legitimate questions raised about the conclusions (see: this excellent Big Story), the controversy turned into an ugly ideological war. And the university carefully distanced itself from Sabyasachi Das’ research.
What happened now: Das has resigned—and an economics professor has also quit “in solidarity.” The university claims it made “extensive efforts to dissuade him.” This is the second such controversy at Ashoka. In 2021, its vice chancellor Pratap Bhanu Mehta resigned due to pressure over his criticism of the BJP. One unnamed academic told The Telegraph:
When Pratap Bhanu Mehta and others quit, it was on points of personal expression. This is the first time that something like this is happening regarding research. It is a clear infringement of academic freedom, which is very worrying.
Reminder: Das’ paper has not been peer-reviewed or published—so the jury is still out on the soundness of its conclusions. (The Telegraph)
Russia vs Ukraine: Escalation in the Black Sea
The context: Last month, Russia ended a deal to allow free passage to Ukrainian ships carrying wheat and other grains through the Black Sea. And Moscow warned it would treat all ships heading to Ukrainian waters as military carriers.
What happened now: The Russian military boarded a cargo ship—firing warning shots after the ship’s captain failed to halt and permit an inspection. Although the vessel was allowed to continue after an inspection, it marks an escalation in the war—especially in the Black Sea. Why this matters:
Firing on a merchant vessel will ratchet up already acute concerns among shipowners, insurers and commodity traders about the potential dangers of getting ensnared in the Black Sea — the main route that both Ukraine and Russia use to get their agricultural produce to market.
Russia and Ukraine are among the world’s top agricultural producers, and major players in the wheat, barley, maize, rapeseed, rapeseed oil, sunflower seed and sunflower oil markets. Russia is also dominant in the fertiliser market.
Killer rains in Himachal Pradesh
The death toll from the heavy rains that have battered Himachal Pradesh since Sunday night has crossed 53. Landslides have blocked roads and buried homes. And the weather forecast has warned of more rains in the next few days. Watch a clip of a devastating landslide below. (The Hindu)
Spain’s thrilling World Cup victory
The women’s football team entered the final for the very first time—after beating Sweden in an incredibly dramatic game. After being tied 0-0 for 80 minutes, Spain scored—only to have Sweden equalise seven minutes later. But the Spaniards prevailed with a last-minute goal in the 89th minute. See the incredible goal below. (NBC News)
New York Times cracks down on AI bots
The Gray Old Lady has updated its Terms of Service to stop AI chatbots from getting free training lessons on its archive. This is “inclusive of text, photographs, images, audio/video clips, ‘look and feel,’ metadata, or compilations — from being used in the development of ‘any software program, including, but not limited to, training a machine learning or artificial intelligence (AI) system.’” Any such access will need the written permission of the Times.
Reminder: NYT recently signed a $100 million content deal with Google—which may or may not cover access for its chatbot Bard. And the Associated Press signed a deal with OpenAI to licence its archive. Why this matters: the era of tech companies profiting from free news content may be coming to an end. (The Verge)
No Argentinian beef for you!
The country has banned all beef exports as it rushes to protect the peso. The economy has been vulnerable ever since presidential candidate Javier Milei won the presidential primary on August 13:
The extremist libertarian politician won 30% of the overall vote—the highest share of any candidate—and has expressed a range of shocking positions, including creating a market for selling human organs and being open to selling children into slavery (a claim he later walked back). However, it is Milei’s pledge to abolish the Argentinian Central Bank—and consider replacing the peso with the US dollar—that caused the country’s stock market to plummet in the hours following the election results.
Quartz has more on the country’s economic crisis.
Meanwhile, in China: The government has stopped publishing its youth unemployment rates—after it hit an unprecedented peak of 21% in June. It is likely that the July data would have been worse, as an estimated 12 million graduates have now entered the workforce. Fortune via Yahoo News has more on China’s growing woes.
Meanwhile, in the US: Retailers are already selling Christmas-themed items in the midst of a sweltering August—hoping to lure cash-strapped shoppers to spend. They’re hoping people will choose to spread their holiday purchases over a longer period of time—rather than cut back. (Axios)
Flipkart’s gotta new loyalty program
The ecommerce platform is now going to reward you for how often you shop on Flipkart—as opposed to the value of your order:
Plus Premium…will offer additional benefits to users, including extra discounts on select products, early access to sales, and cashback in the form of SuperCoins… The company said customers with over four transactions in 12 months are eligible for the Plus membership, while customers with over eight transactions in 12 months are eligible to join the Plus Premium membership.
Hindu Business Line has more details.
One cool space thing to see
The European Space Agency released an amazing image of a cosmic ‘question mark’—captured by the James Webb Space Telescope. This big Q has been spotted for the very first time—and is a bit of a mystery. They suspect it may have been caused by two merging galaxies. (Space.com)