TIME

See How Ebola’s Spread Compares to Other Deadly Outbreaks

These three charts compare Ebola to other disease outbreaks

When the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) compared Ebola to AIDS last week, he introduced a new note of urgency to the outbreak. As was the case in the early days of HIV, there are currently no approved drugs to treat Ebola, and the virus carries the potential to cause untold devastation—not to mention a lot of panic.

But as an epidemic, Ebola has far more in common with other diseases. Here’s a comparison of Ebola’s impact over the past 19 weeks to other recent outbreaks that, like Ebola, have no known cure or vaccine.

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)

MERS is a viral respiratory illness first reported in Saudi Arabia in September 2012. The World Health Organization has since reported 853 MERS infections, of which at least 301 were fatal, as of Sept. 30, 2014. Close contact seems to spread MERS, but it’s unclear exactly how the infection travels.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

The 2003 SARS outbreak in Hong Kong lasted nine weeks before flatlining, but spread far faster than Ebola. SARS is transmitted more easily from person to person, often from an infected person’s coughs and sneezes. The Ebola virus is not considered airborne because larger droplets of bodily fluids are required for transmission. Over 8,000 cases were reported, with a 10 percent fatality rate. SARS was effectively contained after two months.

Marburg Virus

The Marburg virus, named after the city in Germany where it was discovered, belongs to the same family of viruses as Ebola, which cause severe internal bleeding. And like Ebola, human-to-human transmission occurs through close contact with blood or other bodily fluids, often infecting family members and health care workers. The most recent widespread outbreak of Marburg, in Angola in 2005, lasted 26 weeks and caused 374 infections and 329 deaths.

HIV, by contrast, spreads far slower. There is not comparable data for the first weeks of the HIV pandemic.

For outbreaks with no known cure, response teams seek to halt transmission through patient isolation and careful tracing of an infected person’s contact with others. With over 8,000 infected, containment of Ebola poses a greater challenge than similar outbreaks in recent history.

Methodology

Data compiled from periodic World Health Organization updates for Ebola, Marburg, SARS and MERS.

TIME ebola

Watch a Science Cop Take on the Ebola Fear Mongers

You'd be crazy not to be afraid of Ebola—but it's equally crazy to be too afraid.

Yes, Ebola has close to a 50% death rate; and yes that death is a very ugly, very bloody one. But the first appearance of a case in the United States does not mean we’re headed for an epidemic anything like the one that is causing so much suffering in West Africa.

The disease is not easy to catch and incubates for a relatively short time—which means that no one spends months or years as a symptom-free carrier. And proper isolation facilities in modern hospitals mean that if a person does fall ill here, the virus can be contained. But none of that is what you’ll hear from the fear mongers, who warn that a plague is among us and we must seal our borders to save ourselves from doom.

A Science Cop tells you what you need to know.

TIME animals

Robot Snakes Teach Scientists How Sidewinders Move

Elizabeth the robot snake gave scientists insight into sand dune travel

Scientists have finally figured out how sidewinder snakes work their way up sand dunes — thanks to the help of a robot snake (yes, a robot snake) named Elizabeth.

For a study published recently in Science, researchers observed that sidewinding rattlesnakes flattened themselves on steep dunes to maximize body contact with sand, rather than dig their bodies deeper into the dune, the BBC reports.

Researchers took their observations and contacted a lab that develops robot sidewinders to further explore the movement. After a robot snake named Elizabeth was unable to scale a desert dune in Egypt, they brought Elizabeth to a fake dune in Atlanta, where “she” ultimately found more success after researchers applied the flattening technique to her movements.

Following that breakthrough, playing with Elizabeth’s settings gave the scientists insight into how sidewinders move so effortlessly. As it turns out, an out-of-sync combination of left-and-right motions and up-and-down movements working their way down the body helps keep the sand stable underneath the snake, to avoid slipping. The flattening motion helps keep the snake’s contact with the sand at the ideal, moderate amount. Too much contact and the snake can slip; too little, and it can’t successfully scale.

[BBC]

TIME vaccines

How Words Can Kill in the Vaccine Fight

Farrow: Right ideas, wrong words
Farrow: Right ideas, wrong words NBC/Getty Images

To own the argument you've got to own the language. At the moment, the dangerous anti-vaxxers are winning that war

Chances are you wouldn’t sit down to a plate of sautéed thymus glands, to say nothing of a poached patagonian tooth fish; and the odds are you’d be reluctant to tuck into a monkey peach too. But sweetbreads, Chilean sea bass and kiwifruit? They’re a different matter—except they’re not. All of those scrumptious foods once went by those less scrumptious names—but few people went near them until there was something pleasant to call them. Words have that kind of power.

That’s true in advertising, in politics and in business too. And it’s true when it comes to vaccines as well—but in this case those words can have a lethal power. The bad news is that in the vaccine word game, the good guys (they would be the ones who know that vaccines are safe, effective and save from two to three million lives per year) are being caught flat-footed by the bad guys (those would be the ones whose beliefs are precisely opposite—and therefore precisely wrong).

The battle plays out on Twitter, with the handy—and uninformed—handle #CDCWhistleBlower repeatedly invoked by virtually every fevered anti-vax tweet like a solemn incantation. The term refers to Dr. William Thompson of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who supposedly blew the lid off of the great vaccine conspiracy by confessing to irregularities in a 2004 study that deliberately excluded data suggesting a higher rate of autism in African-American boys who had been vaccinated. Scary stuff alright, except that the study was poorly conducted, the data was left out for purely statistical and methodological reasons, and the paper itself has now been withdrawn. But the hashtag stain remains all the same—with the usually noble whistleblower label being put to low purpose.

Something similar is true with the widely cited Vaccine Injury Court, another frightening term, except that no such thing exists—at least not by that name. It’s true there is an Office of Special Masters which, under a smart 1986 law, hears the claims of parents who believe their children have been injured by vaccines. The panel was created to provide no-fault compensation in all such cases, since drugs that are as vital and are administered as widely as vaccines could never be manufactured or sold affordably if the companies themselves had to pour millions and even billions of dollars into defending themselves against claims.

It’s true too that the court has paid out about $2.8 billion to parents and families since 1989, but those awards are overwhelmingly for relatively minor side effects that are fully disclosed by the ostensibly secretive CDC for any parents caring to look on the agency’s website. And to put that $2.8 billion in perspective: The money went to 3,727 claimants over an approximate generation-long period during which 78 million American children were safely vaccinated, preventing an estimated 322 million illnesses and 732,000 deaths. If you’re crunching the numbers (and it’s not hard to do) that factors out to a .0048% risk of developing what is overwhelmingly likely to be a transient problem—in exchange for a lifetime of immunity from multiple lethal diseases.

But brace for more anyway because October is, yes, Vaccine Injury Awareness Month. Because really, what does a dangerous campaign of misinformation need more than 31 catchily named days devoted to itself?

Still, there’s no denying that catchiness works, and on this one the doctors and other smart folks are going to have to get off the dime. MSNBC’s Ronan Farrow—who either is or isn’t to your liking depending in part on whether MSNBC itself is—has emerged as a smart, persuasive, often brilliantly cutting advocate for the vaccine cause. And on his Oct. 10 show he deftly filleted the arguments of a vocal anti-vax mother whose child is undeniably suffering from a number of illnesses, but who wrong-headedly blames them on vaccines. In this show as in others he invites his audience to learn the truth about vaccines and to connect with him and one another via the handle #VaccineDebate.

And right there he tripped up. For the billionth time (as Farrow knows) there is no debate. Just as there is no climate change debate. Just as there is no moon-landings-were-faked debate. And just as there was nothing to the tobacco company’s disingenuous invention of a “cigarette controversy,” a fallback position they assumed when even they knew that cigarettes were killers and that they couldn’t straight-facedly say otherwise, so the best they could do was sow doubt and hope people stayed hooked.

Little more than 30 seconds spent listening to Farrow talk about vaccines makes it unmistakably clear where he stands—but the very fact that we now live in a hashtag culture means that it’s by no means certain he’s going to get that 30 seconds. So step up your game, smart people. You want to get the vaccine message out, do it in a way that works in the 21st century. And if that means a hashtag, why not #VaccinesWork or #VaccinesAreSafe or #VaccinesSaveLives. Of course, there’s also the more thorough and satisfying #AntivaxxersDon’tKnowWhatThey’reTalkingAboutSoPleaseStopListeningToThem, but that gets you exactly halfway to your 140-character limit. So keep it brief folks—and make it stick.

TIME Bizarre

Here Are the Most Terrifying Pictures of the Sun You’ll Ever See

A NASA photo taken Oct. 8 appears to look like Jack-O-Lantern. NASA/GSFC/SDO

The sun looks like it's ready for Halloween

Just in time for Halloween, NASA released photos of the Sun on Wednesday—and it’s looking a lot like a Jack-O-Lantern, and it’s kind of terrifying.

The images, produced by NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio, aren’t photoshopped, but they do combine images from two wavelengths that typically emit gold and yellow.

The difference in the photo’s brightness is a result of different levels of energy and light emissions from the surface of the sun. More energy emitted results in a brighter appearance.

TIME gender

I’m Beautiful, But Hire Me Anyway

Physical attractive ought not work against you—but in HR offices it might
Physical attractive ought not work against you—but in HR offices it might Johnny Greig; Getty Images

Employers often discriminate against attractive women. Here's why—and what the women themselves can do about it

It has ranked among the top ten irritating TV ads of all time. “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful,” pouted actress and model Kelly LeBrock back in 1980, tossing her hair coquettishly as she shilled for Pantene shampoo. What few people realized at the time was that the tag line came close to describing a real type of discrimination. It wasn’t in the form of jealousy from other women, as the commercial implied; that trope has never really held up to much scrutiny. But beautiful women do face other challenges; a study published just the year before the Pantene ad ran showed that attractive women often encounter discrimination when applying for managerial jobs—with beauty somehow being equated with reduced authority or even competence. The authors called it the “beauty is beastly” effect.

What the study didn’t address, says Stefanie Johnson, assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is what women are supposed to do about it. Neither did a study she herself conducted in 2010 which showed that the effect applied to a wide range of jobs normally thought of as masculine.

But a new study Johnson and two colleagues just published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes does tackle the question more directly. The improbable-sounding conclusion: if you’re beautiful and female, acknowledge it. Simple as that.

Well, not quite that simple. The research doesn’t suggest attractive women say straight out, “Yes I know, I’m gorgeous.” It is, says Johnson, “a little more subtle than that.” What she and her colleagues did was to recruit 355 students, male and female, and ask them to evaluate four fictitious candidates for jobs in construction—three male and one female. The applications included photos, and the female applicant was either unusually attractive or unusually unattractive—qualities evaluated by an independent crowdsourcing group.

In some cases, the attractive woman made no reference to either her appearance or her gender in the written application. In others, she referenced her appearance, but subtly, writing something like “I know I don’t look like a typical construction worker, but if you look at my resume, you’ll see that I’ve been successful in this field.” In still others, the attractive woman referred to her gender in a similar way (“I know there aren’t many women in this industry”), but not her beauty.

The unattractive female applicants did the same (although the “I known I don’t look…” part was may have been seen as a mere reference to her gender). In general, the “employers” tended to hire attractive women more often if they alluded either to their gender and to their beauty. With the unattractive woman, referencing gender directly made no difference—but referencing appearance made them less likely than average to be hired.

The study does have holes—rather gaping ones, actually. For one thing, the construction industry is not remotely typical of the field in which gender bias usually plays out. Like it or not, there is a real reason most construction workers are men—and that’s because they are, on average, physically larger than women and have greater upper body strength as a result. It’s the reason we have women’s tennis and men’s tennis, a WNBA and an NBA and on and on. As with the less attractive candidates in the study, the attractive ones’ reference to their appearance might well have been interpreted to mean simply that the typical applicant appears—and is—male. Johnson’s findings would carry a lot more weight if her hypothetical candidates were applying for the kinds of positions in which the gender wars really do play out—vice president of marketing in a large corporation, say.

Still, as a starting point, her research has value, and she does appear to be onto something. “What we think may be going on,” Johnson says, “is that the person doing the [hiring] has an unconscious bias.” But when that bias is brought to the conscious level, triggered by the woman’s addressing it head-on (sort of, anyway), it loses force. “Once you acknowledge it,” says Johnson, “it goes away.”

The takeaway message, she argues, is not that you should feel sorry for good-looking women, since attractive people, both male and female, have all sorts of advantages overall. “It’s more that we’re exposing a more subtle form of sexism,” she says. “People are still stereotyping women.” That, all by itself, is a form of discrimination, even if in this case it’s a form few people think about.

TIME climate change

America’s Tiny Four Corners Region Is an Outsized Methane Hotspot

Methane Hot Spot
This undated handout image provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan, shows The Four Corners area — in red, left, is the major US hot spot for methane emissions. AP

But the hotspot predates the use of hydraulic fracking in the region, putting renewed attention on how older forms of natural gas production contribute to global climate change

One small spot in the U.S. Southwest is the surprising producer of the largest concentration of methane gas seen across the nation.

Levels of methane over the Four Corners region are more than triple the standard ground-based estimate of the greenhouse gas, reports a joint study of satellite data by scientists at NASA and the University of Michigan.

Methane is a heat-trapping gas whose increasing quantities in the atmosphere have fueled concerns about global climate change.

The methane “hotspot,” seen on the map as a small red splotch, measures just 2,500 square miles at the junctures of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah (for scale, the state of Arizona is about 113,000 square miles).

But the area generated an annual 0.59 million metric tons of methane between 2003 and 2009 — or, about as much methane as the entire coal, oil, and gas industries of the U.K. give off each year, says the report published in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The hotspot predates the Southwest’s controversial use of hydraulic fracturing. But the zone is over New Mexico’s San Juan Basin, home to thousands of wells that pull natural gas from coal beds, the study’s authors say. Natural gas is about 95 to 98% methane, and the authors suggest that the hotspot is best attributed to leaks and errors in the region’s natural gas production equipment.

“While fracking has become a focal point in conversations about methane emissions, it certainly appears from this and other studies that in the U.S., fossil fuel extraction activities across the board likely emit higher than inventory estimates,” said Eric Kort, assistant professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences at the University of Michigan and the first author on the paper.

“There’s so much coalbed methane in the Four Corners area, it doesn’t need to be that crazy of a leak rate to produce the emissions that we see,” added Kort. “A lot of the infrastructure is likely contributing.”

TIME Science

This Is Earth’s Biggest Storm This Year as Seen From Space

NASA/Reid Wiseman

NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman posted this shot from the International Space Station. 

Super Typhoon Vongfong is the strongest storm on Earth since the deadly Hurricane Haiyan swept through the Philippines last year, and it’s barreling up through the Western Pacific Ocean.

The storm, which was the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane, is slowly losing steam, but it’s expected to near South Korea and the Japanese mainland by early next week. See an image of the massive storm as spotted and tweeted by Astronaut Reid Wiseman aboard the International Space Station above.

 

TIME space

Researchers Just Discovered The Brightest Dead Star Ever Found

A rare and mighty pulsar (pink) can be seen at the center of the galaxy Messier 82 in this new multi-wavelength portrait, released on Oct. 8, 2014.
A rare and mighty pulsar (pink) can be seen at the center of the galaxy Messier 82 in this new multi-wavelength portrait, released on Oct. 8, 2014. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomers using NASA’s NuSTAR telescope array have found something beautiful about 12 million light-years from our planet Earth: The brightest dead star, or pulsar, ever found. It’s only called a dead star because it’s the leftovers from a supernova — this thing is still very much alive, pumping out around 10 million suns’ worth of energy, according to NASA. Scientists originally thought the pulsar, located in the Messier 82 galaxy, was a black hole, but it turns out that isn’t the case at all.

“You might think of this pulsar as the ‘Mighty Mouse’ of stellar remnants,” said Fiona Harrison, the NuSTAR principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, in a NASA release about the pulsar. “It has all the power of a black hole, but with much less mass.”

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