Before we present this week’s Weekend Reads, a question: Do you enjoy our weekly roundup? If so, we could really use your help. Would you consider a tax-deductible donation to support Weekend Reads, and our daily work? Thanks in advance. The week at Retraction Watch featured a journal reversing three retractions, retractions for “irreconcilable differences,” and … Continue reading Weekend reads: Lessons from the downfall of Brian Wansink; “scientific terrorism” redux; why Cochrane booted a member
In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, the North Carolina Coastal Federation on Thursday issued a strong warning for residents hoping to take a swim: Stay out of ocean and intracoastal waters.
(Tokyo Metropolitan University) Researchers from Tokyo Metropolitan University and the FIRC Institute of Molecular Oncology (IFOM) in Italy have succeeded in depleting AND-1, a key protein for DNA replication, by using a recently developed conditional protein degradation system. Consequently, they were able to gain unprecedented access to the mechanism behind how AND-1 works during DNA replication and cell proliferation in vertebrate cells, demonstrating that AND-1 has two different functions during DNA replication mediated by different domains of AND-1.
A federal proposal to freeze cars’ emissions standards argues that climate change isn’t worth fighting at the tailpipe, but scientific research suggests otherwise.
It’s easy to think that cities and startups operate at opposite ends of the spectrum. Startups are known for moving quickly and breaking from the traditional ways of doing things. Cities have to play the rules and are often restricted by bureaucratic processes. So it’s no surprise that when startups tackle public issues—think dockless bikes and the last-mile problem, or the many apps trying to make commuting less awful—they might be reluctant to work with the government.
To Jay Nath, the former chief innovation officer of San Francisco, that kind of thinking wastes skills and innovation that could be used directly to solve government challenges. “To date, we’ve seen mostly solutions from the private sector rebranded for the public sector,” he says. It’s much harder to find products that are designed specifically to meet a government’s needs.
For startups, that’s a business opportunity. The government-technology sector is a $424 billion industry that Nath says remains largely untapped. “It’s not just dozens or hundreds of different challenges, but I think it’s in the thousands, if not tens of thousands, that haven’t been filled by the marketplace,” he said.
That’s why, in 2014, Nath led San Francisco’s launch of a new residency program for startups, which embedded entrepreneurs inside the city government. The goal was to help them understand the regulatory hurdles that often intimidate small companies from partnering with the government. It worked—so much so that the Startup in Residence (or STiR) program expanded regionally in 2016, and is now growing to 31 cities in the U.S. and Canada, including larger ones like San Jose, California, and mid-size cities like Peoria, Illinois.
And Nath, who left the mayor’s office in February to oversee the expansion as the CEO of the civic tech nonprofit City Innovate, hopes it can finally bridge the two sides.
When startups are accepted into the STiR program, they spend four months inside the government, interviewing and working with various departments as they develop a product for the city. During this time, the startups dive deep into the challenge they’re trying to solve and essentially learn how city government works. They’ll learn about the various policies and stakeholders, and they’ll even get a class on the municipal work culture. (Lesson one: leave those shorts and flip flops at home.) The goal is to obtain a contract, though that depends on how those four months go.
Perhaps more importantly, STiR aims to level the playing field so that small startups can get involved. And it does so by simplifying the often messy government procurement process. Come October, Nath expects, his organization will have worked with the cities to issue roughly a hundred “startup friendly” requests for proposals (RFPs)—a process that can takes months, even years. “Rather than having a really complex RFP that only a handful of firms and tech firms are capable of responding to, [we want to be] inclusive about who can solve the [city’s] problem,” Nath said.
The residency program represents a break from the hackathons and app contests that cities like to host, which Nath says are great for generating interest, but often draw in hobbyists who aren’t ready to enter into a contract.
The early iterations of the program are promising. In San Francisco, the first STiR program saw over 200 applicants, of which six were selected. One was Binti, which aims to make the application process for becoming foster parents faster and easier. “I started Binti trying to help families navigate the process, but the government controls that process, so we … were helping families navigate a process that we had no control over,” Binti founder Felicia Curcuru said last week in a webinar hosted by City Innovate. “And so I realized I wanted to work in government, but I didn’t know how to get started.“
Today, Binti has expanded to work with 32 counties across California, and at least one agency in 11 states. Binti’s success story highlights yet another barrier that startups face when considering whether to work with the government: the ability to scale beyond the city borders.
That’s why, in choosing which cities to launch STiR, Nath says they are looking for a diverse set of challenges that apply to different cities, though he can’t say what the specific challenges are just yet. “We are seeing sort of a reflection of the kind of challenges that governments are facing broadly,” he told CityLab, adding that he’s seen a lot of issues related to mobility and Vision Zero, as well as streamlining certain governmental processes and engaging the community.
When the STiR program expanded regionally in 2016, it also gave room for entrepreneurs to expand the scope of their ideas. In West Sacramento, Ryan Luginbuhl was responding to the wildfires ravaging California communities when he came up with the idea behind Govrock, a platform for connecting residents to local volunteer opportunities. As part of Cornell University’s alumni group, he was matching those displaced by the fire with alumni offering to help and wanted a system that could automate that process and speed it up during disasters.
So he went to hackathons, where he met cofounder Sarah Daniels, and local emergency preparedness meetings in hopes of turning his idea into an actual product. It wasn’t until he got accepted to West Sacramento’s STiR program that he and his cofounders reformulated Govrock to help the city engage different communities’ “day-to-day” volunteering opportunities, and in turn create a database of communities that the city can quickly mobilize when disasters strike.“So maybe volunteers who are helping out with painting in the park [can be called on] for sandbagging during an emergency,” Luginbuhl said.
The four months, Daniels added, allowed the group to interview every department—from fire to police to health departments—and conduct user testing. Access to those different agencies is now allowing Govrock to expand its services. Currently the group is combing through the city health data to understand who are part of the vulnerable communities, so the city can actively reach out to them during emergencies when 911 centers are overwhelmed.
The initial idea was to partner up with large companies, Daniels said, but they soon realized they needed to engage local officials in order for it to really be of help. Getting access to those datasets and understanding the privacy laws surrounding them is one key to developing their product.
In fact, that’s something that Nath emphasized as a main goal of the program. Essentially, this is his answer to companies like Uber, who parachute into cities and run into regulatory trouble. Innovative as they may be, “those solutions are often hoisted onto communities without any input,” he said “So it’s important that the government is at the table when these emerging technologies are being discussed to safeguard the public’s interest.”
Uncover the truthiness and nothing but the truthiness as Neil deGrasse Tyson sits down with Stephen Colbert, comic co-host Adam Conover, author Sophia McClennen, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Rev. James Martin, SJ, to investigate the science of satire.
NOTE: StarTalk All-Access subscribers can watch or listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: //www.startalkradio.net/all-access/the-truthiness-with-stephen-colbert/
Photo Credit: Brandon Royal.
Many people with acne are negatively impacted by perceived social stigma around the skin condition, a new study from Ireland has found.
Researchers report some of the details of how Salmonella shuts down an immune pathway after infection.
New findings shed light on the potential for strategies for prevention and intervention that could improve longevity and quality of life after traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Painful sex due to menopause isn’t the most comfortable topic to talk about, but actress and “Curb your Enthusiasm” star Cheryl Hines is opening up about the “painfully awkward conversation” to help educate more women about the possible treatments.
In February, after years in the making, the Funk Music Hall of Fame and Exhibition Center (also known as The Funk Center) held its grand opening in Dayton, Ohio. Why funk music? Why Dayton?
Although there are a number of museums dedicated to pioneering forms of popular music created by Black Americans—including soul (Memphis’ Stax Museum and the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum), jazz (the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and the New Orleans Jazz Museum in New Orleans), and for hip hop, the in-development Hip Hop Hall of Fame Museum in NYC—this is the first to honor funk. And it’s fitting that it is the city that’s been called “The Land of Funk.”
Dayton not only participated, but contributed mightily to the genre of funk that found its main commercial success in the 1970s. At the time, Dayton’s black population was at the end of a three-decade swell—from 1940 to 1970, nearly 54,000 black people migrated to Dayton, while the city lost about 32,000 whites. Black residents concentrated in West Dayton, in part due to a history of redlining, and because of restrictive covenants that prevented the sale of east-side homes to black people, and that mortgage lenders were required to include if they wanted loans ensured by the FHA. The funk musicians in West Dayton produced countless hits that reached the R&B Top 10 charts, sometimes crossing over to the pop charts, from the mid-1970s through mid-1980s.
The Funk Center’s opening is part of a continuing movement to brand and market Dayton as “The Land of Funk,” to quote the 1980 hit “Fantastic Voyage,” by Lakeside. (Trivia: Lakeside’s original name was the Ohio Lakeside Express.) A few blocks from the museum, along a concrete wall under a rail line, is the 21-panel “Land of Funk” mural, depicting the major funk bands of Dayton. It was shepherded by visual artist Morris Howard with Brittini Long of Montgomery County Juvenile Courts, and painted with young artists in HAALO (Helping Adolescents Achieve Long-Term Objectives).
Of course, one of the panels honors the legendary Ohio Players, who enjoyed two number-one pop hits in 1975 and 1976, first with “Fire,” and then “Love Rollercoaster,” and kicked off the successes of the area. They, like many other Dayton funk musicians including the Troutman brothers (of Zapp), remained in the city even at the height of their success, creating a model for the Dayton’s young musicians to follow.
The items on view at The Funk Center were often donated by the artists themselves—paraphernalia from recording sessions, concerts, and photo shoots. Led by Dayton native and dedicated CEO and president David R. Webb, the center is located not in West Dayton, but on the east side, on Third Avenue. And, as many people in Dayton have a connection to funk, it is perhaps only to be expected that before the museum opened, there were others vying to create a Dayton funk institution. The Funk Center aims to stake claim of this period of music by telling the stories of the people and city that brought so much funk to radios, dance floors, and concert arenas during the heyday of funk—a time when musicians ruled in Black popular music.
Visitors can see the wicker chair that the lead vocalist and guitarist of the Ohio Players, Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner, sat in for the cover of his solo Sugar Kiss album; on view are original costumes for the band Slave, designed by local artist and schoolteacher Delora Buford-Buchanan; and for Heatwave, who scored major hits in the mid-1970s with “Boogie Nights” and “The Groove Line.” There are also the instruments used by Faze-O to record hits such as the 1977 song, “Riding High.” (More trivia: The “O” in Faze-O stands for “Ohio.”)
Also on display are the original album artwork proofs for Platypus, a funk-rock band signed to Casablanca Records. While Platypus didn’t have chart hits like the other Dayton bands, their dance-friendly music was considered ahead of its time, and their 1979 self-titled debut album was recently reissued on CD by Big Break Records in the UK.
Among the rare photographs and memorabilia items celebrating Dayton funk are several unique gems, which will make music lovers thankful that the Funk Center exists. For example, on display is the bicycle horn used in Slave’s number R&B chart stomper, “Slide” (1977). The artifact is a reminder of the ingenuity of musicians and the way many incorporated signature, unusual sounds. This is especially true in the case of Slave, a band that enjoyed its first hit while many of its core members were still students at Roth High School (which has since evolved into Thurgood Marshall High School) on Hoover Avenue in West Dayton.
While the Funk Center is an invaluable resource for preserving the history of funky Daytonians, its end goal is to be a resource of all funk music and musicians. Artists like the legendary Parliament-Funkadelic leader George Clinton have pledged to donate items to the Center. While the location lacks the massive square footage of, for example, the neighboring Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland (which included no funk artifacts in its “Cleveland Rocks” room during my last visit), the quality of stories told by the museum’s items, well-appointed and stacked from floor to ceiling, as well as the support of the original artists, will soon make the Funk Center, and a trip to Dayton, Ohio, the next holy grail visit on the list of noteworthy cities in the story of Black music and history in this country.
If you’ve recently purchased 365 Everyday Value White Corn Tortilla Chips and have a milk allergy, beware: Whole Foods this week announced a recall of the chips because the product may contain “undeclared milk,” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.
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What We’re Following
Give us the keys: Uber and Lyft want to play nice. The ridehailing companies made some big promises this week to bolster their eco-friendly bona fides by doubling down on the fight against private cars. Uber announced a new fund for supporting mass transit and vowed to advocate for congestion pricing. Lyft expanded its “Ditch Your Car” program to 35 cities, giving out ride credits, bikeshare memberships, and public transit passes to people who literally lock their car keys away for a month.
These moves aren’t without self-interest: Both companies are in the bike-sharing business and are testing new subscription models that could expand into public transit. These green promises also come just as we’re learning whether or not the companies actually make traffic worse. As CityLab’s Linda Poon reports today, these startups want to grow into “societal partners,” but that takes us back to a question they never quite answered in the beginning: Are they really going to share?
More on CityLab
Old School Problems
Half of the schools in Camden, New Jersey, are more than 80 years old. Most school buildings are abandoned well before that point, but Camden’s weren’t—and now the city is paying the price. Bottled water and canceled classes are the most visible consequences of failing plumbing and air conditioning systems. There are also disturbing levels of neurotoxins that can cause ongoing health issues like autism, asthma, and ADHD for public school students. And the toxic air isn’t just confined to Camden’s schools—it wafts and weaves around the struggling industrial city. Today on CityLab, visual storyteller Ariel Aberg-Riger takes a look at the Toxins of Camden.
What We’re Reading
Trump administration predicts a 7-degree rise in global temperatures by 2100, as it freezes fuel efficiency standards (Washington Post)
The SEC is suing Elon Musk in a move that could oust him from Tesla (New York Times)
How a “solar battery” could bring electricity to rural areas (The Verge)
How urban farms in New York schools are raising food to fight inequality (Curbed)
Photography that turns architecture into abstract art (Wired)
All living beings need cells and energy to replicate. Without these fundamental building blocks, living organisms could not exist. Little was known about a key element in the building blocks, phosphates, until now. Researchers have now provide compelling new evidence that this component for life was generated in outer space and delivered to Earth in its first one billion years by meteorites or comets.
It was “horseplay,” some have claimed. It was a youthful indiscretion committed decades ago, others have said, urging forgiveness. But the attempted sexual assault California professor Christine Blasey Ford has alleged Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh committed in 1982 could have been, if proven, a crime. At yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Democratic Senators asked why the FBI had not yet opened an investigation into Kavanaugh’s conduct, as Blasey Ford has requested. But regardless of whether FBI action proceeds, local or state police could investigate, too.
This week, 11 representatives from Montgomery County in the Maryland House signed a letter calling on the Montgomery County Police Department to do just that. Local police could, they say, probe Blasey Ford’s claim that, at a high school house party in Montgomery County, Maryland, she was pushed into a room by Kavanaugh or his friend Mark Judge, then pinned to a bed by Kavanaugh, who attempted to remove her clothing as he lay on top of her. Judge allegedly alternated between egging Kavanaugh on and telling him to stop as he attempted to assault her. Before more could happen, Blasey Ford says, she fled the house. But she says she remains traumatized today.
On Thursday, in Blasey Ford’s sworn testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, she relived the incident again in detail. Kavanaugh denied the incident entirely, claiming that his handwritten 1982 calendar shows that the party in question never even happened.
Blasey Ford has not pressed charges, nor has she indicated a desire to do so: She says she’s sharing her story not to lock Kavanaugh up, but to offer the country context about his character before Congress votes on whether to confirm him to the country’s highest court. She requested an FBI investigation to corroborate her account more than a week ago. No investigation has proceeded yet.
“The letter came about because a number of my legislative colleagues were very concerned and wanted to do something,” said Ariana Kelly, who represents Montgomery County’s District 16 and was one of the 11 out of the county’s 24 representatives to sign the letter. “There was real frustration we weren’t getting an FBI investigation.”
The letter was crafted carefully, to respect Blasey Ford and other potential victims’ potential reticence to come forward themselves, says Kelly. “We request an investigation be conducted if Christine Blasey Ford or other complainants support such an investigation,” it reads.
The Montgomery County Police Department released a statement Monday saying it had not yet opened a local investigation, and that it wouldn’t do so until (or if) Ford, Ford’s lawyer, or another victim or victim’s lawyer requested it explicitly. “Typically, in a sexual assault case, the cooperation of the victim or witnesses is necessary,” the release states. “As with any criminal investigation, a determination must be made as to the jurisdiction where the alleged offense occurred and the specific details of the event to establish a potential criminal charge.”
Significantly, Ford’s particular allegation may be also be barred by the state’s time limit on prosecutions. Although Maryland is one of few states without a statute of limitations on felony charges of rape and attempted rape, the incident Blasey Ford described—a crime of attempted rape between two minors (a 17-year-old boy or 15-year-old girl)—would have been a misdemeanor in 1982, though it’s a felony now. Crimes prosecuted years later are still punished according to the laws of the time: You can’t be charged for a felony without knowing you’re committing one.
But since the state representatives drafted the letter and the Montgomery County Police deflected, more victims have come forward with allegations.
On Wednesday, Julie Swetnick, who grew up in the Washington suburbs, came forward with a statement alleging that Kavanaugh was present at parties where there were “gang rapes” and spiked alcohol to lower women’s inhibitions, and that she was raped at one of them. She, too, requested an FBI investigation of her claims.
Also on Wednesday, in the evening, Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee revealed they had interviewed two men who claimed that they, not Kavanaugh, assaulted Blasey Ford. “The news that broke [Wednesday] night is even more concerning to me,” said Kelly. “The Senate allegedly has two men who confessed to the alleged crime and we don’t even have their names: The police should start with them.” She and others have also encouraged the Senate to talk to the key witness, and alleged accomplice, Judge.
The mounting accusations against Kavanaugh have empowered other women to come forward with stories of sexual assaults committed in the ‘80s, and to speak frankly about their unwillingness to report incidents earlier for fear of doubt and retaliation.
To the man who assaulted me in the basement of that house decades ago:
I learned this week that there is no statute of limitations for felony sexual assault in Montgomery County, MD.
I sincerely hope your nights will be as sleepless as mine as I consider my next steps. /end
— casey mooney (@casey_connects) September 20, 2018
For Ford, Swetnick, and many other women unconnected to the Kavanaugh case, the question remains: What happens when allegations first come to light decades later? And how hard is it to pursue these kinds of challenges to the full extent of the law?
For an attempted assault case in Maryland like the one Blasey Ford describes (and that two anonymous men have apparently confessed to committing, but whose accounts Blasey Ford has dismissed); or the multiple instances of gang rape that Swetnick details, the proceedings would typically begin at the local level, with the Montgomery County Police Department or the state’s attorney’s office—no matter how late the incident is reported, and no matter whether the end-goal is prosecution.
In fact, it’s exceedingly rare for an assault to be reported in the days or even months following it: According to RAIN, 60 percent of assaults are never reported to local police at all. “States with long statutes of limitations—or states like Maryland that have no statutes of limitations for felonies—have made an affirmative decision that credible allegations should be taken seriously even when they arise years after the crime,” said Thiru Vignarajah, Maryland’s former deputy attorney general. “And that survivors and witnesses may not come forward at the time of the attack but still deserve justice.”
Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Kentucky are the other states in which the time restrictions for reporting these sexual crimes have been lifted. (If DNA evidence is introduced, more than half of states make statute of limitation exceptions—but rape kits are only used if rapes are reported almost immediately, and many of the kits that are used are piling up without being analyzed). The #MeToo era has seen states extending statutes of limitations, too: Last October, Montana widened its window for reporting sexual abuse to 10 years after a victim’s 18th birthday and in November, Oklahoma lifted its statute of limitations entirely for certain cases in which a minor was raped. After Bill Cosby was accused of sexual assaults stretching back more than a decade, California extended its statute of limitations, too (the ruling does not apply retroactively). Even in states where the reporting timeline is flexible, though, sexual assault cases carry a burden of proof that’s difficult to meet even in contemporaneous sexual assault cases.
“Prosecutions of sexual assaults when a significant period of time has passed are more likely to proceed when multiple victims come forward and where there is corroboration of the allegations,” said Vignarajah. “That is helpful in any case and certainly in sexual violence prosecutions. This is why thorough investigations are so important.”
Though there have been multiple accusations raised against Kavanaugh, it’s especially difficult to speculate on the likelihood of a ruling in the hypothetical, says Lisae C. Jordan, Executive Director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “Frequently they’re asking this question couched in sexual assault, but the law is much more complicated and requires much more information,” she said. “About which body parts [were touched], were there other people involved, how old the perpetrator was, how old the survivor was, what year it all happened. All of those things could be relevant.” And, she reiterates, Blasey Ford’s specific account is likely barred by Maryland’s statute of limitations for misdemeanor crimes.
But as Vignarajah wrote in an opinion column in the Washington Post, there are elements of Blasey Ford’s account that aren’t hypothetical at all. “Attempting a sexual assault with the aid of another person counts as attempted first-degree rape, just as restricting a victim’s breathing to stop her from shouting for help could fairly qualify as first-degree assault,” he writes. “Likewise, under Maryland law, using force to move a victim a short distance, even from one room to another, can amount to kidnapping, a crime that similarly has no limitations period.”
Lucille Baur, a spokesperson for the department, would not say whether declining to open an investigation without a specific request by a victim was police department policy for all cases, or all sexual assault cases, or for this case in particular. “There could be circumstances that develop that change what becomes appropriate for us,” she told CityLab Thursday. “We don’t know what would be reported to us, we don’t know what crime or crimes [were committed], and different types of crimes are investigated differently.”
The representatives challenge the fact that local law enforcement needs that express request to move forward, however. “We believe local law enforcement has the authority to investigate allegations of crimes without need for a formal complaint, and we further believe third parties have standing to bring such complaints,” the letter reads.
Separately, State Senator Cheryl Kagan wrote her own letter last week requesting a state-level investigation, but Maryland Governor Larry Hogan declined to open one. After Thursday’s hearing, Hogan is calling for a delay to the confirmation, and demanding an independent investigation (but still not a state-level one) be conducted.
If local proceedings don’t move forward as the Maryland House has requested, the FBI still has the ability to reopen the case, though it made no indication that it will. But as Senator Amy Klobuchar pointed out during Thursday’s hearing, when Anita Hill accused now-Supreme Court Justice (then-Supreme Court nominee) Clarence Thomas of sexual assault in 1991, George H. W. Bush ordered that an investigation into his conduct be reopened by the FBI. And it was.
If other claims of sexual assault are raised in the coming days in states with stricter statutes of limitations, they will be impossible to prosecute locally. These restrictions have been implemented for good reason, says Vignarajah. “One school of thought is that time limits bring closure, they reflect a decision by the legislature that after a certain point the allegations should be left in the past,” he said. “Others say statutes of limitations are to make sure the evidence is reliable and not stale.” Different states take different approaches, but the United States Senate is not bound by any such approaches.
Still, launching a local investigation has symbolic weight, even if it doesn’t present a realistic chance of delaying Kavanaugh’s confirmation, nor a clear pathway towards prosecution. “I think our goal was to exert external pressure and to make this request and make sure it was known that there’s strong public support for some action in terms of an investigation,” said Kelly. “We hear a lot from parents of current teenagers today about the message that a lack of an investigation is sending; that for some reason this investigation doesn’t matter, that you can get away with it.”
For the teenage girls—and boys—in Montgomery County today, she says, it matters a lot.