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À partir d’avant-hierArs Technica

Scandal of kids posing as researchers continues to grow in South Korea

Par Beth Mole
Not one of the young alleged science-wizzes involved here.

Enlarge / Not one of the young alleged science-wizzes involved here. (credit: Getty | H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock )

More South Korean researchers are accused of fraudulently adding the names of children and teens to their published scientific manuscripts as part of an ongoing college admissions scandal, according to a report by Nature.

The kids—middle and high school students—are listed as co-authors on scientific findings that they allegedly had no hand in. Many of these claimed science-wizzes are researchers’ own children or children of their friends. The authorships, in some cases, are thought to give the children a leg-up in the country’s fiercely competitive college admissions.

As in the US, there is currently intense scrutiny in South Korea over how the country’s elite get their children into colleges.

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A personality quiz for fans of math and history: Are you a Newton or a Leibniz?

Par Jennifer Ouellette
Arch-rivals Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz famously fought over the credit for inventing calculus.

Enlarge / Arch-rivals Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz famously fought over the credit for inventing calculus. (credit: Ben Orlin)

Math teacher Ben Orlin writes and draws the (aptly named) blog Math With Drawings and is the author of a new book, Change Is the Only Constant: The Wisdom of Calculus in a Madcap World. To mark its publication, he devised this entertaining accompanying quiz. You can read the Ars interview with Orlin here.

Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz have a lot in common. Birthdates in the 1640s. Fatherless childhoods. Colossal egos. Show-stopping wigs. Most of all, each had the honor of bringing calculus into the world. But when it comes to personalities, Newton and Leibniz are like night and day, or England and France, or derivatives and integrals. They’re rivals. Opposites, even. Do you belong on #TeamNewton or #TeamLeibniz? Take this quiz to find out!

What do you like to do online?

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Limits, schlimits: It’s time to rethink how we teach calculus

Par Jennifer Ouellette
Twenty-eight tales make up this entertaining, illustrated exploration of the intersection between calculus and daily life.

Enlarge / Twenty-eight tales make up this entertaining, illustrated exploration of the intersection between calculus and daily life. (credit: Ben Orlin)

Calculus has a formidable reputation as being difficult and/or unpleasant, but it doesn't have to be. Bringing humor and a sense of play to the topic can go a long way toward demystifying it. That's the goal of math teacher Ben Orlin's new book, Change Is the Only Constant: The Wisdom of Calculus in a Madcap World, a colorful collection of 28 mathematical tales connecting concepts in calculus to art, literature, and all manner of things human beings grapple with on a daily basis.

His first book, Math with Bad Drawings, after Orlin's blog of the same name, was published last year. It included such highlights as placing a discussion of the correlation coefficient and "Anscombe's Quartet" into the world of Harry Potter and arguing that building the Death Star in the shape of a sphere may not have been Darth Vader's wisest move. We declared it "a great, entertaining read for neophytes and math fans alike, because Orlin excels at finding novel ways to connect the math to real-world problems—or in the case of the Death Star, to problems in fictional worlds." And now, he has taken on the challenge of conveying the usefulness and beauty of calculus with tall tales, witty asides, and even more bad drawings.

Calculus boils down to two fundamental ideas: the derivative, which is a way of measuring instantaneous change, and the integral, which describes the accumulation of an infinite number of tiny pieces that add up to a whole. "The derivative is all about isolating a single moment in time, and the integral is all about gathering together an infinite stream of moments to develop a holistic picture," Orlin told Ars.

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Watch this beautifully disgusting liver fluke parasite explore man’s innards

Par Beth Mole
These are the only worms we'll welcome (and if you want 'em flat, you can smash 'em). If you want to see a large image of the flatworm in this story, however, <a href='//cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Screen-Shot-2019-11-08-at-3.53.01-PM.jpg'>here you go</a>.

Enlarge / These are the only worms we'll welcome (and if you want 'em flat, you can smash 'em). If you want to see a large image of the flatworm in this story, however, here you go. (credit: Photo OP / Getty Images)

Doctors in California found a throng of flatworm parasites overrunning a man’s innards—and they caught one of the little beasts on a horrifying video.

The case began innocently enough: a 40-year-old man arrived at an emergency room complaining of fatigue that had progressively gotten worse over a three-month period.

Doctors ran blood tests that determined the man was anemic. They also found that he had high levels of white blood cells called eosinophils, which usually indicate an infection or some other type of disease. Last, they noted elevated alkaline phosphatase levels, which can be a sign of liver trouble.

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Elisabeth Moss gets the gaslighting treatment in Invisible Man trailer

Par Jennifer Ouellette

Elizabeth Moss plays a woman who thinks her abusive ex-lover has risen from the dead to haunt her in The Invisible Man.

A young woman believes she is being tormented by the ghost of her abusive ex-boyfriend, only to discover something far worse in The Invisible Man, Universal Pictures' rebooted adaptation of the classic science fiction novel by H.G. Wells. Judging by the trailer, the new movie will deviate considerably from the source material in some interesting ways to bring Wells' tale into the 21st century.

(Spoilers for the 1897 novel and 1933 film below.)

First serialized and then published as a book in 1897, the novel tells the story of a scientist named Griffin, whose research into optics leads him to invent a means of turning himself invisible by chemically altering his body's refractive index to match that of air. Wells cited Plato's Republic as one of his influences, notably a legend involving a magic ring that renders a man invisible, which Plato used to explore whether a person would behave morally if there were no repercussions for bad behavior. The novel opens with Griffin taking a room at a village inn, clad in long coat, hat, and gloves and his face swathed in bandages. He mostly keeps to himself, performing chemistry experiments in his room, but eventually his landlady discovers that he is invisible beneath the heavy clothing.

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Sacklers get extra bankruptcy protections as legal experts call for probe

Par Beth Mole
Protesters hold up sign that says

Enlarge / WHITE PLAINS, WESTCHESTER, United States - Oct. 10, 2019: Protesters holding banners outside the courthouse. (credit: Getty | Erik McGregor)

A federal bankruptcy judge on Wednesday extended "extraordinary" protections for the mega-rich Sackler family amid a call from legal experts for a special examiner to investigate the family's finances and role in the opioid crisis.

The Sacklers own and control OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma, which has largely been blamed for helping to spark the opioid crisis that now kills 130 people in the United States each day. The Sacklers and Purdue face around 2,000 lawsuits from states, cities, and municipalities, all alleging that they aggressively marketed their opioids and misled regulators, doctors, and patients about the drugs' addictiveness.

Purdue filed for bankruptcy in September as part of a tentative settlement agreement with over 2,600 plaintiffs. But the Sacklers—who have an estimated worth of $13 billion— have not filed for bankruptcy. Moreover, state attorneys general have accused the family of quietly siphoning some of Purdue's $35 billion from OxyContin sales into their own pockets and out of reach from litigation.

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Alzheimer’s drug that failed early tests now dubbed effective, heads to FDA

Par Beth Mole
Multistory glass office building.

Enlarge / The exterior of the headquarters of biotechnology company Biogen in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (credit: Getty | Boston Globe)

An experimental treatment for Alzheimer's disease is headed to the Food and Drug Administration for approval—despite the fact that it flunked a "futility analysis" and was abandoned by its maker just months ago.

In March, biotech company Biogen halted two Phase III clinical trials of the antibody drug aducanumab after the analysis of preliminary data suggested it was destined for failure. The decision to ditch the closely watched drug sent Biogen's future and stock into a tailspin. Shares fell more than 25% the day of the announcement, slashing about $18 billion from the company's market value, according to Bloomberg at the time.

But that March decision was based on data collected only through December 2018. Additional data from those intervening months kept rolling in—and it told a different story, according to Biogen.

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So long, supply drops: Call of Duty gets rid of randomized loot boxes

Par Kyle Orland
This image of a <em>Call of Duty</em> supply drop falling to the ground can also symbolize the entire concept floating up and out of our lives.

Enlarge / This image of a Call of Duty supply drop falling to the ground can also symbolize the entire concept floating up and out of our lives. (credit: Call of Duty)

In a major reversal for the franchise, Activision has announced that the upcoming Call of Duty: Modern Warfare will not include a loot-box system. Specifically, the company says that "all functional content that has an impact on game balance, such as base weapons and attachments, can be unlocked simply by playing the game."

Loot boxes have been a staple of the Call of Duty franchise since 2014's Advanced Warfare, which included randomized "supply drops" of high-end gear that could be purchased with real money or in-game currency. More recently, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 introduced a loot-box system four months after its launch, a decision that led to a lot of money for the publisher and a lot of anger from franchise fans.

User interface elements from last month's Modern Warfare beta suggested Activision was planning to continue the tradition with a "Lootbox: Common Supply Drop" option in the upcoming game. But developer Infinity Ward took to Reddit earlier this week to offer some pushback on those reports, saying that "right now... we are definitely NOT working on any kind of supply drop or loot box system."

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After flooding US with opioids, industry giants offer $50 billion settlement

Par Beth Mole
Members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters hold signs while protesting during the McKesson Corp. annual meeting at the Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce in Irving, Texas, US, on Wednesday, July 26, 2017.

Enlarge / Members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters hold signs while protesting during the McKesson Corp. annual meeting at the Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce in Irving, Texas, US, on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Three of the nation’s largest drug distributors plus two big-name drug makers have reportedly offered a deal worth nearly $50 billion to settle more than two thousand opioid-crisis lawsuits, consolidated in federal court in Cleveland, Ohio. The first trial for the cases is scheduled to begin opening statements Monday.

The deal includes around $22 billion in cash, plus drugs and services valued at around $28 billion, according to sources familiar with the negotiations who spoke with Reuters.

Specifically, drug distributors McKesson Corp, AmerisourceBergen Corp, and Cardinal Health offered $18 billion in cash. Drug maker Johnson & Johnson offered another $4 billion. And finally, Israel-based Teva Pharmaceutical Industries offered to give away addiction medications and related services in a 10-year program that it estimated has a total value of $28 billion.

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Indigestion, save ends: Wendy’s releases a massive D&D-style tabletop RPG

Par Sam Machkovech
  • Yes, this Wendy's-themed tabletop RPG exists, and it's pretty robust. [credit: Wendy's ]

Unhealthy food and games have been official bedfellows for decades, beyond the snacks that line your average video- or board-gaming marathon. This includes licensed cereal characters in '70s and '80s board games, cartoon food icons as pixelated gaming mascots, and modern promotional games like Burger King's Sneak King and KFC's recent I Love You, Colonel Sanders.

It's not the subject matter we necessarily deem worthy of a brief at Ars, but this week, Wendy's got our attention by rolling a veritable D20 die down our clogged arteries and into our hearts.

On Thursday, the fast-food restaurant chain released Feast Of Legends: Rise From the Deep Freeze. This free, 97-page PDF slaps cheeseburgers, fried chicken, Frosty desserts, and French fries onto a Dungeons & Dragons-style adventure that revolves around the years-old Wendy's slogan of "fresh, never frozen" (a phrase that is literally chanted by townspeople in the village of, ahem, Freshtovia).

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Tesla produced a record-breaking 96,155 cars last quarter

Par Timothy B. Lee
An aerial view of the construction site of Tesla's manufacturing facility is seen on April 8, 2019 in Shanghai. The factory is expected to begin production before the end of 2019, which could help Tesla meet its goal to deliver at least 360,000 vehicles for the year.

Enlarge / An aerial view of the construction site of Tesla's manufacturing facility is seen on April 8, 2019 in Shanghai. The factory is expected to begin production before the end of 2019, which could help Tesla meet its goal to deliver at least 360,000 vehicles for the year. (credit: Zhang Hengwei/China News Service/Visual China Group via Getty Images)

Tesla set new records for both production and delivery of vehicles in the third quarter of 2019, the company announced on Wednesday. Tesla produced 96,155 vehicles and delivered slightly more—97,000.

It's a modest improvement over the 95,200 cars Tesla delivered in the second quarter. But Wall Street wasn't impressed by the new figures, with Tesla stock falling about 4% in after-hours trading.

One of the most significant trends in Tesla's vehicle deliveries this year has been the sharp decline in sales of Tesla's pricier Model S and Model X models. Tesla enjoyed combined S and X sales of almost 100,000 vehicles in 2018—or nearly 25,000 per quarter.

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Microsoft announces dual-screen Surface Neo PC, coming holiday 2020

Par Valentina Palladino
  • The Microsoft Surface Neo prototype. [credit: Microsoft ]

Today at an event in New York, Microsoft announced a bunch of new Surface devices, including a new dual-screen PC—but you won't get your hands on it until next year. The new Microsoft Surface Neo is a PC made of two 9-inch screens held together by a "360-degree" hinge and running a new version of Windows 10, dubbed Windows 10X.

What appeared to be a prototype was shown on stage today; the finished product won't be available until "next holiday." Microsoft didn't give away too many details about the device, but you can get the gist by reading the few specs listed above. Two 9-inch displays open up like a book thanks to the hinge that holds them together.

Microsoft's Panos Panay boasted the hinge's design, which includes micro-gears, a torque system, and components thinner than strands of hair. It essentially makes the device a tiny two-in-one, flexing into laptop, tablet, and other use modes. The device is 5.6mm thick and weighs just 655 grams. In many ways, it looks similar to Lenovo's Yoga Book, but with two LCD panels instead of a hybrid LCD and E-Ink pairing.

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Ancient sippy cup may hold clues about agriculture’s spread in Europe

Par Kiona N. Smith
Photo of a baby drinking from a replica clay vessel.

Enlarge / You're never too young for experimental archaeology. (credit: Helena Seidl da Fonseca)

A recent study found that prehistoric babies drank milk from ceramic sippy cups, including some with cute animal motifs. Lest you be overwhelmed by the cuteness, there's a heartbreaking side to that discovery: Bronze and Iron Age parents buried their dead infants with their clay sippy cups.

A team of archaeologists found microscopic traces of livestock milk in three of the containers: two from Iron Age graves in Germany dating between 800 and 450 BCE, and a broken one from a much earlier Bronze Age grave nearby. The results suggest that feeding babies milk from livestock may have helped early European farming populations grow and expand.

Not kidding around

Archaeologists have reconstructed surprising details of ancient people’s lives, but they still know relatively little about how infants and children in the ancient past lived. “Infants and children were mainly ignored in archaeology until about 20 years ago,” anthropologist Sian Halcrow of the University of Otago, who was not involved in the study, told Ars Technica. “Research projects that are interested in children are starting to re-examine previous assumptions about activities and objects in archaeology—some items that were thought to be ritualistic are in fact child toys.”

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It’s official: We’re getting a 4th season of Stranger Things from Netflix

Par Jennifer Ouellette

Stranger Things will be back for a fourth season, Netflix confirms.

In a move unlikely to surprise anyone, Netflix has officially announced that there will indeed be a fourth season of its mega-hit series Stranger Things. The announcement comes with its own brief teaser, featuring spooky imagery from the Upside Down and the phrase "We're not in Hawkins anymore" as bells ominously chime.

(Spoilers for first three seasons below.)

When we last left our plucky teenaged sleuths and their allies, they had successfully beaten back a third attempt by the so-called Mind-Flayer to escape the Upside Down and take over the town of Hawkins, Indiana, where the series has thus far been set. But that victory did not come without a cost: Eleven lost her telekinetic powers after being bitten by the Flay-Monster. And her adoptive father, fan favorite Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) sacrificed himself to save the town in the season three finale. Eleven is taken in by Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), and the entire Byers clan moves away from Hawkins—and really, who can blame them?

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Communication with locked-in patients in question after misconduct finding

Par Beth Mole
A female study participant allegedly responds to a question.

Enlarge / A female study participant allegedly responds to a question. (credit: Wyss Center )

Germany’s main research-funding organization, DFG, has determined that a high-profile neuroscientist committed scientific misconduct in his DFG-funded work. That work concluded it is possible to interpret yes-or-no answers from the brain waves of fully paralyzed patients with “locked-in syndrome” due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease).

The 2013-2014 work was published in 2017 in PLOS Biology and covered by Ars. The researchers subsequently published a response to criticism of the work in 2019 in PLOS Biology, which was also included in the DFG’s misconduct investigation.

In a statement, the DFG said that it determined that German neuroscientist Niels Birbaumer, the coordinating researcher on the work, and first-author Ujwal Chaudhary, a member of Birbaumer’s team, included incorrect information in three cases, did not completely record patient examinations by video as they reported, and failed to provide full data on patients.

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Transplanting poop can be beneficial—swapping vaginal fluids may be even better

Par Beth Mole
Arum lily / Calla lily

Enlarge / Arum lily / Calla lily (credit: Getty | Flowerphotos)

In the afterglow of successful fecal transplants, researchers are now sniffing around vaginal fluids for the next possible bodily product to improve health—and they’re roused by the possibilities.

Vaginal fluid transplants could “revolutionize the way we view and treat conditions affecting the female reproductive tract,” researchers at Johns Hopkins wrote in a recent study on vaginal microbiota transplants (VMTs). If they work as researchers hypothesize, they could rub out many common problems at once. And based on what we know of vaginas, they could be far less messy than transplants involving poop.

Microbial muck

The basic idea behind VMTs is identical to that of poop transplants, aka fecal microbiota transplants (FMTs), which have been around for centuries. Generally, FMTs aim to use microbe-laden bodily products—in this case excrement—to introduce or restore rich, complex microbial communities into the innards of ailing recipients.

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Sacklers threaten to scrap opioid deal if they aren’t shielded from lawsuits

Par Beth Mole
PURDUE PHARMA, STAMFORD, CT, UNITED STATES - 2019/09/12: Members of P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) and Truth Pharm staged a protest on September 12, 2019 outside Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, over their recent controversial opioid settlement.

Enlarge / PURDUE PHARMA, STAMFORD, CT, UNITED STATES - 2019/09/12: Members of P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) and Truth Pharm staged a protest on September 12, 2019 outside Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, over their recent controversial opioid settlement. (credit: Getty | Erik McGregor)

Lawyers for OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma filed a new complaint late Wednesday threatening that the company’s mega-rich owners, the Sackler family, could pull out of a proposed multi-billion-dollar opioid settlement deal if a bankruptcy judge doesn’t shield the family from outstanding state lawsuits.

Purdue’s lawyers argue that if the lawsuits continue, the Sacklers will have to waste “hundreds of millions of dollars” on legal costs that could otherwise go to claimants in the settlement. The family's lawyers added that in that event, the family “may be unwilling—or unable—to make the billions of dollars of contributions” to the proposed settlement.

State attorneys general, however, argue that the tactic is yet another move designed to shield the Sacklers and their ill-gotten wealth.

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Splitting water to make cement could clean up a dirty industry

Par Scott K. Johnson
Splitting water to make cement could clean up a dirty industry

Enlarge (credit: Harley Mac)

Action on climate change has been focused on the electrical grid and our transportation systems, but there are other hurdles between here and a zero-greenhouse-gas-emissions world. Agriculture and deforestation are major hurdles, but so is cement.

Producing this humble, gray, ubiquitous building material actually accounts for about 8% of global CO2 emissions. Firing the kilns required for this process is very energy intensive, but the process itself also releases CO2 from its starting materials. The primary ingredient in concrete is calcium oxide, which is taken from limestone (CaCO3)—and that leaves CO2 as a byproduct.

That means there are two problems to solve: the cement-making process needs to run on clean energy, and the CO2 that is released must be captured somehow. A new study led by MIT’s Leah Ellis outlines an option that could make progress on both.

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After Sacklers shift at least $1 billion around, Purdue files for bankruptcy

Par Beth Mole
Consumer-sized bottles of prescription drugs sit on a shelf.

Enlarge / Bottles of Purdue Pharma L.P. OxyContin medication sit on a pharmacy shelf in Provo, Utah, US, on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Sunday night amid accusations from state attorneys general that its owners—members of the mega-rich Sackler family—are lowballing opioid victims in a proposed deal to settle around 2,000 lawsuits, mostly from state and local governments.

The bankruptcy filing is part of the proposed deal, which would lead to a company restructuring and a transfer of assets that Purdue says will be valued between $10 billion and $12 billion over time. That includes at least $3 billion from the Sackler family directly.

Purdue is estimated to have made more than $35 billion from OxyContin sales, and the Sacklers have an estimated family fortune of $13 billion, mostly siphoned from Purdue’s OxyContin profits.

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Devs restore Modern Warfare’s mini-map after two days of beta backlash

Par Kyle Orland
How am I supposed to see around that tank like I have X-ray vision without my mini-map?

Enlarge / How am I supposed to see around that tank like I have X-ray vision without my mini-map?

After years of annualized releases, you might think the basic elements of Call of Duty—like the user interface and heads-up display—would be pretty standardized by now. But this weekend's PS4 beta test for the new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has been generating controversy thanks to its off-again, on-again, changed-again relationship with the mini-map.

Activision announced back in August that Modern Warfare would be the first game in the franchise since 2007's original Modern Warfare to get rid of the mini-map in multiplayer. It was a bid to add more "realism" to the game, and the game's beta test this weekend was most players' first chance to see how that change affected the multiplayer showdowns. Without a mini-map to give players quick situational awareness, many pros found the new Modern Warfare felt too slow and cautious.

"No Minimap in Call Of Duty = Everyone on the map playing turtle," FaZe Clan CoD pro Austin "Pamaj" Pamajewon tweeted about the move. "We need Minimap. Ain't the same." Matthew ‘Skrapz’ Marshall echoed the same sentiment in a short video rant (NSFW audio): "What is this? 98% of my gameplay is the fucking minimap! I can’t even play pubs! CoD needs it bro. Bad idea."

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Doctors aghast at Groupon deals for medical care

Par Beth Mole
Coupons from the advertising section of a Sunday newspaper

Enlarge / Coupons from the advertising section of a Sunday newspaper (credit: Getty | Karen Bleier)

Doctors online expressed shock and dismay after realizing that patients are using Groupon deals to access medical services, such as chest CT scans and mammograms, at discount rates, according to a report by Kaiser Health News.

Such deals illustrate how broken the US healthcare system is, according to Paul Ketchel, CEO and founder of MDsave, a site that offers discount-priced vouchers on bundled medical treatments and services.

That said, after their initial astonishment over the deals wore off, some doctors noted that the discounts were actually pretty good.

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Hydride predicted to be superconductive at room temperature

Par Chris Lee
Electrons pair up by exchanging phonons in a superconductor.

Enlarge / Electrons pair up by exchanging phonons in a superconductor.

Superconductivity came with a lot of unfulfilled promises. Power without loss? Sign me up. Superconducting magnetic resonance imaging magnets? They're, ahem, cool. And CERN couldn’t operate without buckets of liquid helium to keep its magnets superconducting.

But those examples highlight the problem: pretty much all practical applications for superconductivity require liquid helium temperatures. The search for high-temperature superconductors has taken us to many weird places, including strange substances that only form at high pressure. Now we can add another of those substances to the list: a hydride that only forms under protest. Once formed, though, it may be a superconductor way above room temperature.

Why are we still looking for superconductors?

The search for superconductors goes on because current superconductors come with a number of challenges. If the magnetic field is too strong, superconductivity vanishes. Likewise, if the current density exceeds a certain limit, the resistance appears, which heats the conductor, leading to rapid—and rapidly expanding—failure. And the liquid helium needed to keep things cool in the first place is expensive.

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First trailer for latest Black Christmas slasher reboot goes for “woke”

Par Jennifer Ouellette

Sorority sisters are hunted by a crazed killer in Black Christmas, a remake of the 1974 cult-classic slasher film.

The calls (and texts) might be coming from inside the house as a killer stalks a group of sorority sisters in the first trailer for Black Christmas, directed by Sophia Takal (best known for directing an episode of Into the Dark), who also co-wrote the script with April Wolfe. The original 1974 Black Christmas is widely regarded by film historians as one of the first slasher films.

(Some spoilers for original film and 2006 remake below.)

Original screenwriter A. Roy Moore was influenced by the infamous urban legend about the babysitter and the man upstairs, as well as string of holiday murders in Montreal, Quebec. While the film mostly received lackluster reviews, it proved modestly profitable at the box office, and over the years, it has garnered a strong cult following. Director John Carpenter was purportedly inspired by Black Christmas when he made 1978's Halloween. Sure, it's a typical slasher film, but you could do worse for gory alternative holiday fare if you're in the mood for that sort of thing. Along with the occasional humorous touches, there are some genuinely shocking twists, including a deliberately ambiguous ending (we never learn the killer's identity, for one thing). Sadly, the 2006 remake had none of those redeeming qualities.

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Big Pharma’s image sinks to new low amid opioid crisis, high drug prices

Par Beth Mole
Martin Shkreli, former CEO of Turing, mocks his way through a congressional hearing on drug pricing and later called lawmakers imbeciles.

Martin Shkreli, former CEO of Turing, mocks his way through a congressional hearing on drug pricing and later called lawmakers imbeciles. (credit: CPSAN)

The pharmaceutical industry has outdone itself.

It is now the most widely hated industry in the US, unseating the federal government as the lowest of the low, according to a new Gallup poll.

In the August 2019 poll, Americans were more than twice as likely to have a negative view of pharmaceutical companies than to have a positive view of them—that is, 58% held negative views while 27% held positive views, yielding a net-positive score of -31 points in the poll.

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College students think they learn less with an effective teaching method

Par John Timmer
College students think they learn less with an effective teaching method

Enlarge (credit: US Dept. of Education)

One of the things that's amenable to scientific study is how we communicate information about science. Science education should, in theory at least, produce a scientifically literate public and prepare those most interested in the topic for advanced studies in their chosen field. That clearly hasn't worked out, so people have subjected science education itself to the scientific method.

What they've found is that an approach called active learning (also called active instruction) consistently produces the best results. This involves pushing students to work through problems and reason things out as an inherent part of the learning process.

Even though the science on that is clear, most college professors have remained committed to approaching class time as a lecture. In fact, a large number of instructors who try active learning end up going back to the standard lecture, and one of the reasons they cite is that the students prefer it that way. This sounds a bit like excuse making, so a group of instructors decided to test this belief using physics students. And it turns out professors weren't making an excuse. Even as understanding improved with active learning, the students felt they got more out of a traditional lecture.

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Part sci-fi thriller, part crime drama, Don’t Let Go is an understated gem

Par Jennifer Ouellette

A grieving police detective receives a mysterious call from the past in Don't Let Go from Blumhouse Productions.

A cell phone connection serves as a link between the past and present for a police detective and his dead niece in Don't Let Go, a new supernatural thriller from Blumhouse Productions that debuted at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. It's a little bit Frequency, a little bit Looper, with a smidgen of good old-fashioned crime drama thrown in for good measure.

(Mild spoilers below.)

The film stars David Oyelowo (Selma) as Detective Jack Radcliff, who looks out for his young niece Ashley (Storm Reid, A Wrinkle in Time, Euphoria). Ashley's father (and Jack's brother), Garrett (Brian Tyree Henry, Atlanta, Joker), is bipolar and has a history of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as the occasional bit of drug running. He has been on the straight and narrow for several years now, but Uncle Jack still gives Ashley a cell phone so she can call him if she needs him—like when her dad forgets to pick her up from the movies after dark.

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Hairy “werewolf syndrome” in babies and kids caused by drug mix-up

Par Beth Mole
Hairy “werewolf syndrome” in babies and kids caused by drug mix-up

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

At least 17 babies and children in Spain began growing hair all over their faces and bodies after they were accidentally given the hair-loss drug, minoxidil, which a Spanish pharmaceutical company had mislabeled as a medication to treat acid reflux.

The error lead the children to develop a form of the rare condition, hypertrichosis, aka “werewolf syndrome,” Spanish authorities reported.

One mother told Spanish news outlet El País how the drug affected her baby boy, who was just six months old when he began growing excess hair: “My son’s forehead, cheeks, arms and legs, hands became covered in hair … He had the eyebrows of an adult. It was very scary because we didn’t know what was happening to him.”

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Purdue, Sacklers offer bankruptcy, $10-12 billion for opioid settlement: Report

Par Beth Mole
Purdue sign outside a large glass building.

Enlarge / Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and its owners, the Sackler family, are facing hundreds of lawsuits across the country for the company's alleged role in the opioid epidemic. (credit: Getty | Drew Angerer)

OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family, offered a $10 billion to $12 billion deal to settle around 2,000 opioid lawsuits, according to a report by NBC News citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter.

Purdue and the Sacklers reportedly made the offer in a confidential meeting last week in Cleveland, where a federal judge has consolidated lawsuits claiming that Purdue and other drug makers ignited the opioid crisis by aggressively marketing their drugs while downplaying their addictiveness. The claims largely come from states, cities, and counties. Lawyers for the plaintiffs and at least 10 state attorneys general were reportedly present at the meeting.

According to NBC’s sources, both Purdue and the Sacklers would contribute to the $10 billion to $12 billion settlement plan.

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Cable industry fights plan to require robocall-detection technology

Par Jon Brodkin
A person's hand dials a landline phone.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Chin Leong Teoh | EyeEm)

The cable industry is fighting an attempt to require deployment of robocall-detection technology.

Some phone providers have already begun deploying the technology in question, which is called SHAKEN/STIR. The technology authenticates callers with digital certificates to prevent spoofing of Caller ID numbers. But the lobby group that represents Comcast, Charter, and other cable companies wants to make sure the Federal Communications Commission doesn't impose any deadlines on the rollout.

The FCC in June proposed to require implementation of SHAKEN/STIR "if major voice service providers fail to meet an end-of-2019 deadline for voluntary implementation." The commission also sought public comment on the proposal. Consumer Reports and other consumer advocacy groups subsequently asked the FCC for a requirement that major phone providers implement SHAKEN/STIR at no extra charge to consumers by June 2020.

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Oklahoma wins opioid case against Johnson & Johnson, gets tiny payout

Par Beth Mole
IRVINE, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 26:  A sign is posted at the Johnson & Johnson campus on August 26, 2019 in Irvine, California. A judge has ordered the company to pay $572 million in connection with the opioid crisis in Oklahoma.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Enlarge / IRVINE, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 26: A sign is posted at the Johnson & Johnson campus on August 26, 2019 in Irvine, California. A judge has ordered the company to pay $572 million in connection with the opioid crisis in Oklahoma. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) (credit: Getty | Mario Tama)

A state judge in Oklahoma ruled for the first time Monday that an opioid maker was partly responsible for sparking the devastating opioid crisis that has engulfed Oklahoma and the US overall, killing an estimated 130 people nationwide every day.

Johnson & Johnson—maker of the opioid painkillers Duragesic and Nucynta—must pay $572 million in damages to the state of Oklahoma, which has reportedly lost more than 6,000 people to the opioid crisis since 2000.

“Defendants caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome in Oklahoma,” Judge Thad Balkman stated in his ruling, handed down in a courtroom in Norma, Oklahoma.

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New Nvidia driver update cuts latency down to the bone (Updated)

Par Kyle Orland
You don't need an Nvidia RTX 2070 Super for this update, thankfully.

Enlarge / You don't need an Nvidia RTX 2070 Super for this update, thankfully.

In the world of high-end gaming graphics cards, improvements in benchmarks like frame rate, resolution, and sharpness dominate much of the discussion. But a new driver update for Nvidia cards today also includes an important improvement that could help reduce the latency between when a player enters their input and when they see the results of that input on-screen. That's enabled by a new Ultra-Low Latency Mode that Nvidia is adding as an option in its software Control Panel through a Game Ready driver update today.

For a decade now, Nvidia's graphics drivers tried to queue an additional one-to-three frames of video ahead of time (depending on user settings). This meant that, after the next frame was ready, the GPU could use otherwise "idle" time to start processing what future frames might look like.

This frame queueing helped smooth out frame rates in cases where the system was temporarily overloaded for one reason or another, letting the GPU squeeze out a frame while the system played catch up. But this frame-rate smoothing also added additional latency, because the system was essentially working from slightly outdated inputs for a few frames.

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How a new antibiotic destroys extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis

Par Beth Mole
A security guard mans the gate January 23, 2008 of the ward of extreme drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB), a near-untreatable strain of the disease, at the Brooklyn Infectious Disease Hospital in Cape Town. The hospital is trying to take extra security measures to ensure patients with XDR stay there for treatment, instead of leaving to go back to their communities, still highly contagious.

Enlarge / A security guard mans the gate January 23, 2008 of the ward of extreme drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB), a near-untreatable strain of the disease, at the Brooklyn Infectious Disease Hospital in Cape Town. The hospital is trying to take extra security measures to ensure patients with XDR stay there for treatment, instead of leaving to go back to their communities, still highly contagious. (credit: Getty | AFP)

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved a new antibiotic that, when combined with two existing antibiotics, can tackle the most formidable and deadly forms of tuberculosis. The trio of drugs treats extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB), along with cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) that have proven unresponsive to other treatments.

Tuberculosis is the single leading infectious killer in the world, infecting an estimated 10 million people in 2017 and killing 1.6 million of them. XDR-TB and MDR-TB are even more savage forms of the disease, which is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The drug-resistant strains of TB kill an estimated 60% and 40% of their victims, respectively.

MDR-TB strains can resist at least the two most powerful anti-TB drugs, isoniazid and rifampin. A strain gets into XDR-territory when it also becomes resistant to any fluoroquinolone drug, such as ciprofloxacin or levofloxacin, plus at least one of three injectable second-line drugs, which are amikacin, kanamycin, and capreomycin. Drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis infected an estimated 558,000 people in 2017.

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Did Stonehenge builders use pig grease to help slide megaliths into place?

Par Kiona N. Smith
Prehistoric stone circle in the English countryside.

Enlarge / Feasts at nearby Durrington Walls drew attendees from all over Britain. (credit: Stefan Kühn / Wikimedia)

For several centuries, modern people have been trying to figure out how prehistoric farmers in southern Britain moved multi-ton blocks of stone into a pair of concentric circles at Stonehenge. Chemical studies on the stones have revealed their origins: the smaller bluestones hailed from two quarries in Wales, and the larger sarsen stones came from 30km north of Stonehenge.

We still don’t have direct evidence of the engineering behind the famous prehistoric monument, but one popular idea suggests that people dragged the stones on wooden sleds, using pig grease to make the sleds easier to move. A new look at potsherds from a nearby village may lend some support to the idea, but it’s still not direct evidence.

Pigging out at Stonehenge

Durrington Walls, a large village near Stonehenge, often hosted feasts associated with ceremonies at the nearby stone circle. Microscopic traces of ancient fats left behind on potsherds provide some clues about what people ate at those feasts. Animal fats are all pretty similar, but each species has its own unique set of molecules (called lipids), which make it possible to tell which animal an organic residue came from. More than a third of the pots at Durrington Walls had held mostly pig fat.

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Drugmakers to pay $70 million over deals to keep cheap generics off the market

Par Beth Mole
Exterior of a modern urban building with the word TEVA on it.

Enlarge / A Teva facility in France. (credit: Getty | Fred Dufour)

With four settlement agreements, the state of California will get nearly $70 million from pharmaceutical companies that allegedly cut illegal deals to keep affordable generic drugs off the market, shielding pricey brand-name products from competition.

The settlements also include injunctions that temporarily prevent the drugmakers from entering into such “pay-for-delay.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra argued that the deals violate antitrust laws and can lead consumers to pay as much as 90% more for prescription drugs.

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Nissan plans 12,500 layoffs after operating profits fall 98%

Par Timothy B. Lee
Hiroto Saikawa, president and chief executive officer of Nissan, speaks at the company's headquarters in Yokohama, Japan, on July 25, 2019.

Enlarge / Hiroto Saikawa, president and chief executive officer of Nissan, speaks at the company's headquarters in Yokohama, Japan, on July 25, 2019. (credit: Akio Kon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Nissan says it will reduce global headcount by 12,500 people over the next three years after a brutal quarter that saw net income fall by 95% year over year.

Automakers around the world have been struggling in recent months. Ford said earlier this year that it would cut 12,000 jobs in Europe, while General Motors has announced plans to eliminate thousands of jobs in a series of cuts.

Nissan has been having a particularly rough year. Then-Chairman Carlos Ghosn was arrested in November 2018 on corruption charges, creating a massive distraction for the company. Nissan has a complex set of financial relationships with Renault and Mitsubishi that make management of the company more complicated. Since Ghosn's dismissal from Nissan's board, CEO Hiroto Saikawa has struggled to turn the automaker's fortunes around.

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Shkreli stays in jail; Infamous ex-pharma CEO quickly loses appeal

Par Beth Mole
Three men stand behind microphones.

Enlarge / Martin Shkreli, former chief executive officer of Turing Pharmaceuticals AG, center, listens while his attorney Benjamin Brafman, right, speaks to members of the media outside federal court in the Brooklyn borough of New York, US, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2017. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

In a swift 3-0 vote Thursday, a panel of judges in a New York federal appeals court upheld the August 2017 conviction of Martin Shkreli. The infamous ex-pharmaceutical CEO is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence for fraud stemming from what prosecutors had described as a Ponzi-like scheme.

Shkreli, 36, must continue to serve his sentence and also still forfeit more than $7.3 million in assets, the judges affirmed.

The judges’ ruling came just three weeks after hearing arguments in the appeal—rather than the normal period of months, Bloomberg notes. The ruling was also an unusually short seven pages.

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DEA tracked every opioid pill sold in the US. The data is out—and it’s horrific

Par Beth Mole
Members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters hold signs while protesting during the McKesson Corp. annual meeting at the Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce in Irving, Texas, US, on Wednesday, July 26, 2017.

Enlarge / Members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters hold signs while protesting during the McKesson Corp. annual meeting at the Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce in Irving, Texas, US, on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Between 2006 and 2012, opioid drug makers and distributors flooded the country with 76 billion pills of oxycodone and hydrocodone—highly addictive opioid pain medications that sparked the epidemic of abuse and overdoses that killed nearly 100,000 people in that time period.

As the epidemic surged over the seven-year period, so did the supply. The companies increased distribution from 8.4 billion in 2006 to 12.6 billion in 2012, a jump of roughly 50%. In all, the deluge of pills was enough to supply every adult and child in the country with around 36 opioid pills per year. Just a 10-day supply can hook 1 in 5 people into being long-term users, researchers have determined.

The stunning supply figures were first reported by the Washington Post and come from part of a database compiled by the Drug Enforcement Administration that tracked the fate of every opioid pill sold in America, from manufacturers to individual pharmacies. A federal court in Ohio released the data this week as part of a massive consolidated court case against nearly two-dozen opioid makers and distributors, brought by nearly 2,000 cities, towns, and counties. The local governments allege that the opioid companies conspired to saturate the country with the potent painkillers to soak up billions in profits. The companies deny the allegations, arguing generally that they were serving the needs of patients.

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Flay your mind: Stranger Things S3 just might be the show’s best season yet

Par Jennifer Ouellette
Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and the gang are back to face down yet another supernatural threat to Hawkins, Indiana, in the third season of <em>Stranger Things</em>.

Enlarge / Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and the gang are back to face down yet another supernatural threat to Hawkins, Indiana, in the third season of Stranger Things. (credit: YouTube/Netflix)

Warning: This story contains spoilers for episodes 5-8 of Stranger Things' third season, following up on Nathan Matisse's slightly spoiler-y review of episodes 1-4. You can read our non-spoiler preview of the new season here, or catch up on what's come before with past Ars stories on season one and season two.

Everyone's favorite teen sleuthing squad is back, taking on Russian operatives, local corruption, and the latest supernatural evil to emerge from the Upside Down in the third season of Netflix's Stranger Things. Anyone who feared the series might be losing its luster, three years on, should rest easy: season three is just as good as the first—in some respects, even better.

The first season was set in November 1983, when an accident at a secret government lab opened an inter-dimensional portal and unleashed a supernatural threat from a different dimension onto the unsuspecting town of Hawkins, Indiana, in the form of a creature dubbed the Demogorgon. The source of that accident? A young girl with psychokinetic powers, known only as Eleven (Milly Bobby Brown). She escaped the lab and was befriended by a group of preteens whose friend Will (Noah Schnapp) mysteriously disappeared into an alternate dimension dubbed the Upside Down. They teamed up to find Will and defeat the monster that took him.

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Boom-shaka-laka: Call of Duty’s new “Gunfight” mode is like NBA Jam with guns

Par Sam Machkovech
Coming October 25. And today, we know more about one cool, new multiplayer twist to the series.

Enlarge / Coming October 25. And today, we know more about one cool, new multiplayer twist to the series. (credit: Activision / Infinity Ward)

LOS ANGELES—This spring, I visited game studio Infinity Ward to learn about its upcoming "reimagining" of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. During the reveal event, the studio's reps mentioned multiple "pillars" of the upcoming CoD game, set to launch October 25, then focused on the game's single-player missions.

Shortly after that, someone walked into the room and said, "the rest of this event is indefinitely embargoed," then took the wraps off of arguably the best thing I've seen in a CoD game in years: a two-on-two "Gunfight" versus mode.

That embargo is finally up, following an official Gunfight gameplay reveal on Twitch this morning, so now I can finally tell you about a first-person versus mode that combines the original frantic action of 2007's CoD4:MW and the utter tension of Counter-Strike. In a gaming landscape forever altered by battle royale modes, Gunfight makes the case that sometimes, less is more.

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Apple updates entry-level MacBook Air and Pro, discontinues MacBook

Par Samuel Axon
The 2018 MacBook Air sitting on a white table.

Enlarge / The 2018 MacBook Air is 10% thinner than the old MacBook Air and weighs 2.75lbs. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Today, Apple refreshed much of its entry-level laptop lineup in time for a "Back to School" push that includes slashed prices for educators and students. The initiative some other perks, too, like a free pair of Beats headphones with certain Mac and iPad purchases. Additionally, the company discontinued the 12-inch MacBook and significantly cut prices of solid-state storage upgrade options across the Mac lineup, including in high-end models like the MacBook Pro and iMac Pro.

13-inch MacBook Pro updates

Previously, the 13-inch MacBook Pro lineup was divided into two categories: low-end, Touch Bar-free models, and higher-end models with Touch Bars. Now, every unit in the lineup is equipped with a Touch Bar, which brings into question some speculation by onlookers that Apple doesn't want to further invest in the Touch Bar.

In today's refreshes, only the entry-level, non-Touch Bar models have been replaced. The higher-performance models that start with a 2.4GHz eighth-generation Intel CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD—previously, "the Touch Bar models"—are unchanged, apart from pricing on storage upgrades, which we'll dive into shortly.

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Tesla delivered a record number of cars in the second quarter

Par Timothy B. Lee
Tesla cars on a delivery truck in 2018.

Enlarge / Tesla cars on a delivery truck in 2018. (credit: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Image)

Tesla beat its own previous record—and Wall Street's expectations—by delivering 95,200 cars in the second quarter of 2019. That's a big jump from the first quarter, when Tesla delivered a disappointing 63,000 vehicles. And it's modestly higher than Tesla's previous record of 90,700 vehicles delivered in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Wall Street reacted positively to the news, sending Tesla's stock price up 6 percent in after-hours trading.

Tesla reported producing a solid 87,048 vehicles in the second quarter—up from 77,100 vehicles produced in the first quarter and up slightly from 86,555 vehicles produced in Q4 2018.

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879% drug price hike is one of 3,400 in 2019 so far; rate of hikes increasing

Par Beth Mole
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 11, 2018:  U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar (R) announced a 'blueprint' for lowering the cost of prescription medication with President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden at the White House.

Enlarge / WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 11, 2018: U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar (R) announced a 'blueprint' for lowering the cost of prescription medication with President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden at the White House. (credit: Getty | Chip Somodevilla)

Pharmaceutical companies raised the prices of more than 3,400 drugs in the first half of 2019, surpassing the number of drug hikes they imposed during the same period last year, according to an analysis first reported by NBC News.

The average price increase per drug was 10.5%, a rate around five times that of inflation. About 40 of the drugs saw triple-digit increases. That includes a generic version of the antidepressant Prozac, which saw a price increase of 879%.

The surge in price hikes comes amid ongoing public and political pressure to drag down the sky-rocketing price of drugs and healthcare costs overall. In May of 2018, President Trump boldly announced that drug companies would unveil “voluntary massive drops in prices” within weeks. But no such drops were ever announced. Trump then went on to publicly shame Pfizer for continuing to raise drug prices. The company responded with a short-lived pause on drug price increases mid-way through last year, but it resumed increasing prices in January—as did dozens of other pharmaceutical companies.

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Easy-to-make thermal chameleon fades into the background

Par Chris Lee
Photo of a green chameleon.

Enlarge / This story isn't really about this kind of chameleon. Sorry. (credit: Renee Grayson / Flickr)

Chameleons, unlike bow ties, are cool. The chameleon is most famous for its ability to blend with its surroundings (I'm just as impressed with the acrobatic tongue), something we'd often like to do ourselves. Doing something similar with heat would be exciting. Imagine a camouflage suit that blended in with its background in both the visible and the infrared.

Three researchers suggest they've done exactly that in a recent paper on a thermal cloaking demonstration. Unfortunately, their cloak doesn't so much blend with the surroundings as become completely transparent. This is still remarkable, and, at least when cloaking in two dimensions, it's surprisingly simple to make.

Hiding in plain sight

Before we get to how the cloak works, let me take you through what the thermal chameleon is trying to hide. Let's imagine that I have a long cylinder. At one end, I heat the cylinder to 50°; and at the other end, I cool it to 10°. If I measure the temperature along the length of the cylinder, it will decrease steadily between the hot end and the cold end.

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Why a former Nazi sub base in Marseille is becoming a data center

Par Sean Gallagher
  • Fabrice Coquio, Managing Director of Interxion, at the site of MRS3—a data center being built in a former Nazi sub bunker. [credit: Interxion ]

Marseille—France's largest city on the Mediterranean coast—is many things. It's the country's largest commercial port, the birthplace of French hip-hop, and the home of the French Foreign Legion. It's also a tech industry hotspot and the landing station for 13 major submarine cables. These cables connect Europe with North America, Africa, Cyprus, the Middle East, and Asia. Two more are scheduled to come online next year.

From a networking standpoint, the cables place Marseille very close to Cairo, Dubai, and Saudi Arabia. According to Fabrice Coquio (the managing director for France of data-center-operator Interxion), there are only five or six milliseconds of network latency to any of those locations—less than to Paris 800 kilometers (roughly 500 miles) away.

That has made Marseille a magnet for data-center operations—where data and application providers can "put platforms in a safe environment in terms of legal and financial environments like Europe and particularly the European Union and at the same time be connected to 46 countries directly with a very low latency," Coqiuo explained. "Basically, in the last 15 years, we have [cut] the cost of a submarine cable to a [10th of what it was] and multiplied the capacity by 50."

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Manufacturing memory means scribing silicon in a sea of sensors

Par Ars Staff
How it's made: silicon wafers!

Enlarge / How it's made: silicon wafers! (credit: Micron)

At Micron's memory chip fabrication facility in the Washington, DC, suburb of Manassas, Virginia, the entire manufacturing area is blanketed in electronic detectors in all their various forms. But the primary purpose isn't to keep intruders out or anything so prosaic. "A lot of them are microphones,” a spokesman for Micron said. “They listen to the robots."

It turns out that there are thousands of microphones throughout the facility, or "fab," as silicon manufacturing plants are commonly known. There are microphones inside the giant $70 million cameras that imprint the component layout on the silicon surface of a memory chip. There are microphones lining the tracks of the robot controlled railways that carry colorful plastic FOUPs (front opening universal pods) along the ceiling throughout the plant. There are microphones near essentially every moving part in the facility.

All those thousands of microphones are listening for signs of wear—for variances to develop in the noises made by the machines—so that maintenance can be scheduled before anything breaks and causes downtime. Downtime, as you might imagine, is about the worst thing that can happen to an automated chip-making facility.

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The trick to saving human factory jobs might be teaming up with the machines

Par Ars Staff
"Oh brave new industry, that has such bots in't!"

Enlarge / "Oh brave new industry, that has such bots in't!" (credit: Javier Pierini / Getty)

The Matrix. Skynet. Roy Batty. Anyone who has watched a science-fiction movie has seen a scenario where factions of humans and machines find themselves locked in mortal combat.

Here in 2019, though, we're doing what we can to disrupt that vision and steer the course away from human-machine antagonism and more toward cooperation. Instead of robot servants plotting to overthrow their meatbag masters, we're trying to use machines to augment human skills and strengths—especially in the context of manufacturing, which is the place where we're most likely to see robots. The rapid push to update manufacturing methods to more smartly integrate human with machine isn't necessarily as big a deal as the original Industrial Revolution, but it is a big enough deal that analysts have coined a snappy phrase for what we're going through: "Industry 4.0."

Sometimes the man-machine enhancements are physical, and sometimes they’re mental. Sometimes it's a Venn diagram that includes both aspects, as a skilled human worker collaborates with robotics and AI to complete a task.

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Interview: Baldur’s Gate 3’s creators talk D&D, turn-based RPGs, and dreams coming true

Par Samuel Axon
Screenshot of an upcoming sword and sorcery video game.

Enlarge / There aren't any screenshots of the game yet, so this screengrab from the website will have to do. (credit: Larian Studios)

LOS ANGELES—Divinity: Original Sin developer Larian Studios and Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast didn't show any gameplay from the newly announced Baldur's Gate 3 at E3 in Los Angeles last week—but they were eager to talk about the long-anticipated project in sit-down interviews.

Ars spoke with Larian Studios co-founder and game director Swen Vincke and Dungeons & Dragons franchise creative director Mike Mearls at a hotel near the convention center. We gabbed about how the game came to be, what it's like revisiting the D&D license, and more.

Here's some background: Baldur's Gate 3 is being developed by Larian Studios, the Belgian game studio behind the recent Kickstarter successes Divinity: Original Sin and Divinity: Original Sin 2. Both of those games took on the Baldur's Gate formula with a heavy emphasis on emulating table-top role-playing freedoms with Ultima-style systems-based game design.

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For the industrial Internet of Things, defense in depth is a requirement

Par Ars Staff
Sensors, sensors everywhere!

Enlarge / Sensors, sensors everywhere! (credit: Getty / 7postman)

Ars yesterday wrote a big feature on the concept of "Industry 4.0," the fancy-sounding name that describes the ongoing shift in how products are created from raw materials and distributed along the supply chain to customers.

What the "4.0" revision adds compared to Industries 1.0 through 3.0 is a complex set of linkages between information and operational technologies. (IT stores, transmits, and manipulates data, while "OT" detects and causes changes in physical processes, such as devices for manufacturing or climate control.)

It's a modular and flexible approach to manufacturing that creates digital links among "smart factories" that are powered by the industrial Internet of Things, big data, and machine learning. And that's almost enough fancy CEO words to make bingo. At least in this case, the buzzwords aren't just important-sounding but ultimately meaningless concepts. Similar to how the rise of devops welded programming with operations, making the manufacturing process smarter by stuffing in all those buzzwords really is causing fundamental changes in how things are made.

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The fourth Industrial revolution emerges from AI and the Internet of Things

Par Sean Gallagher
Robots making things!

Enlarge / Robots making things! (credit: Getty / Ekkasit Keatsirikul / EyeEm)

Big data, analytics, and machine learning are starting to feel like anonymous business words, but they're not just overused abstract concepts—those buzzwords represent huge changes in much of the technology we deal with in our daily lives. Some of those changes have been for the better, making our interaction with machines and information more natural and more powerful. Others have helped companies tap into consumers' relationships, behaviors, locations and innermost thoughts in powerful and often disturbing ways. And the technologies have left a mark on everything from our highways to our homes.

It's no surprise that the concept of "information about everything" is being aggressively applied to manufacturing contexts. Just as they transformed consumer goods, smart, cheap, sensor-laden devices paired with powerful analytics and algorithms have been changing the industrial world as well over the past decade. The "Internet of Things" has arrived on the factory floor with all the force of a giant electronic Kool-Aid Man exploding through a cinderblock wall.

Tagged as "Industry 4.0," (hey, at least it's better than "Internet of Things"), this fourth industrial revolution has been unfolding over the past decade with fits and starts—largely because of the massive cultural and structural differences between the information technology that fuels the change and the "operational technology" that has been at the heart of industrial automation for decades.

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Hackers behind dangerous oil and gas intrusions are probing US power grids

Par Dan Goodin
Power Lines in Page, Arizona

Enlarge / Power Lines in Page, Arizona (credit: IIP Photo Archive)

In a new troubling escalation, hackers behind at least two potentially fatal intrusions on industrial facilities have expanded their activities to probing dozens of power grids in the US and elsewhere, researchers with security firm Dragos reported Friday.

The group, now dubbed Xenotime by Dragos, quickly gained international attention in 2017 when researchers from Dragos and the Mandiant division of security firm FireEye independently reported Xenotime had recently triggered a dangerous operational outage at a critical-infrastructure site in the Middle East. Researchers from Dragos have labeled the group the world's most dangerous cyber threat ever since.

The most alarming thing about this attack was its use of never-before-seen malware that targeted the facility’s safety processes. Such safety instrumented systems are a combination of hardware and software that many critical infrastructure sites use to prevent unsafe conditions from arising. When gas fuel pressures or reactor temperatures rise to potentially unsafe thresholds, for instance, an SIS will automatically close valves or initiate cooling processes to prevent health- or life-threatening accidents.

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