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Still Chugging Along

Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.

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What Could Go Right? The oximeter problem

They don’t work as well for everybody—yet.

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

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The oximeter problem

Remember when the entire world shut down with the introduction of a novel coronavirus, and the lay public suddenly learned about the importance of pulse oximeters? I remember a period when a friend’s father got sick—this was pre-vaccine, OG Covid-19 times—and the discussion around how to get her hands on one. She did, and her father made it through some nerve wracking nights when his oxygen levels were close to warranting a trip to the hospital.

The shortage problem has been solved in the intervening years, but another one remains in regard to oximeters: current ones don’t work as well on darker skin, because the melanin “can interfere with the absorption of light the clip-on devices use,” as reported in STAT. This means that an oximeter may not catch when a non-white patient has dangerously low levels of oxygen in their body tissues. For black patients, the risk of an inaccurate reading, as one study found, is exacerbated by a third. 

Photo by Mufid Majnun | Unsplash

The oximeter problem is not one of science or engineering but of funding. Pre-pandemic, there simply wasn’t enough attention being paid to it. Now, though, a handful of Black engineers and researchers are on the case, testing new light variations so the sensors on oximeters would work just as well on any skin type. Thanks to new urgency around the work, what usually might take a decade to become available to consumers will hopefully move much faster, Kimani Toussaint, who runs one of the labs looking into this, at Brown University, told STAT.

In another move toward medical parity, scientists are trying to shorten the waiting time for kidney transplants in minority communities in England, who “often wait a year longer” than Caucasian patients, reports Euronews. You probably know that O is the universal donor blood type. So what do you do when you have lots of patients with blood type B and not enough B-type kidneys for everyone? Figure out how to convert the kidneys to type O, of course. The work is in its early stages, but scientists at Cambridge University have successfully changed the blood type of three deceased kidneys.

A quick state tour

Earlier this month we implored our readers to follow politics and policy on more than just a national level, as especially in the United States, the state and the local are where the cake gets baked. In that spirit, a quick state tour of some changes:

Still early: California is now offering free meals to kids in school, with Maine hot on their heels. They’re also experimenting with starting the school day later.

Texas is ready to go electric! The state is putting in charging stations for electric vehicles every 50 miles on the interstates, and within 70 miles in most parts of the state. A charge to about 80 percent battery will take half an hour. The initiative is being paid for solely with federal funds.

Mid-game: More than half of states in the US restrict LQBTQ conversion therapy, Pennsylvania the latest at state number 27. It’s not illegal there, but now “discouraged,” and state funds cannot be used for it. 

Final innings: Most states now have “right to try” laws on their books that guarantee direct access between terminally ill patients and pharmaceutical companies with early-stage therapies and treatments, skipping approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Whether or not this is a good idea is debatable, but we generally believe patients should be free to pursue all available options to them.

Arizona has recently expanded their law, and Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Cory Booker of New Jersey are trying to amend the federal Right to Try Act—which doesn’t prevent states from creating their own laws around right to try—to include patient access to MDMA and psilocybin, the active compounds in ecstasy and magic mushrooms, respectively.

One more bit of news about the FDA. They have just approved a new drug for depression that begins to work within one week and is not based on serotonin levels. Current drugs can take a month or longer to take effect.

Before we go

Phoenix and Paris are two more cities prepping for the heat, the latter expanding a system that already keeps the Louvre’s artwork cool in summer. The former is America’s hottest city, and even has a “dedicated heat team.”

And we’d like to recommend two excellent articles (whether you read them on a beach is up to you). The first is on the limits of the crisis mindset to solve chronic problems. “The cost of alarmist talk,” Taylor Dotson writes in The New Atlantis, “is that it demands an emergency response, and this blinds us to the often slow and subtle changes to our infrastructure that could severely reduce risk over the long term.” 

The second is on our surprisingly productive Congress. While one piece of legislation after another gets passed, we’re all cawing about Mar-a-Gate vs. Water-a-Lago. “It’s early yet,” writes James Sutton for Wisdom of Crowds, “but the evidence indicates that Congress may be regaining some of its basic competence.” Perhaps the painful fluctuations we’ve lived through since Obama’s second term, he says, are the country “moving further away from the postwar era of consensus, reverting to the historical norm of large, diverse democracies being, well, large and diverse. Our political institutions might just be adjusting and learning how to function in the face of a bitterly divided population.” For what it’s worth, he’s not the only one noting Congress’ functionality.

Below in the links section, wind turbines’ gummy-bear afterlife, Switzerland’s underground water battery, Singapore’s pandemic-proof airport, and more.


While more than 80 percent of the ocean is still unexplored, an ongoing deep-sea expedition is capturing never-before-seen images of life in the deep Atlantic Ocean. This recent feature from Inverse brings you twelve “glorious views of life in the depths.”

Progress, Please

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Department of Ideas 💡
(A staff recommendation guaranteed to give your brain some food for thought.)

The radical political power of friendshipVox
It can help us push back against tyranny. Philosopher Hannah Arendt’s legendary cocktail parties were proof.

Why we picked it: Serious considerations of friendship are not common among modern-day writers. And friendship as an oasis from politics seems especially serious to consider today, given our polarized society. —Emma Varvaloucas


A recommendation for our friends at Warp News

Warp News helps balance the negative headlines with fact-based optimistic news about technology, science, and human progress. It was founded by Mathias Sundin, a former Member of Parliament in Sweden who is convinced humanity’s best days are ahead and is fed up with all the pessimism in the news media, which fools people into believing things are getting worse all the time.

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Until Next Time

So that’s what waves from a black hole at the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster sound like. (Be sure to also check out the alternative mix.) 🚀👇

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Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas is the Executive Director of The Progress Network. An editor and writer specializing in nonprofit media, she was formerly Executive Editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and is the editor of two books from Wisdom Publications.