The Compound Eye – N95 masks, data mismanagement and science miscommunication

India bans export of PPE

As the coronavirus outbreak spreads across the world and reaches our shores, India banned the exports of PPE on 31st January. The actual utility of the N95 mask is disputed, but it does act as a barrier to droplets. Droplets may act as reservoirs for the virus.

India is a net importer of the N95 masks which have been widely used in response to the outbreak. Most of the N95 mask manufacturing in India comes from Tamil Nadu. As demand of the masks soared, prices have more than doubled. China is currently the biggest buyer for the N95 masks. (Read more)

Fabricated Data 

Jonathon Pruitt is an acclaimed behavioural ecologist – he has been studying the social behaviour of spiders. But recently, one of his older papers was retracted as his co-author found some issues with the data. The co-author made a public apology on Twitter, explaining her decision to retract the paper. However, the co-author did not think that the original data itself was a problem. Read her entire story here. But then more papers have been retracted and Pruitt’s data set has come under considerable investigation – by both other co-authors and publication houses. Pruitt himself is travelling but has said that errors in data management are unheard of. For views of Pruitt’s lab (who are painstakingly trying to check the veracity of their data) and views of others in the field, do read here. (Read more)

Science (Mis)-Communication: 

The Coronavirus outbreak has been accompanied by click-baity news headlines and cycles of misinformation. As news outlets and scientists race to be the first reporters on new information, putting in fact checks and effective review processes seem to have been put on the back burner. Two examples from India:

IITD and Acharya Narendra Dev College of University of Delhi study on Coronavirus spike proteins:

The bioinformatic study claimed that the spike protein in novel coronavirus contained four “insertions” that “are not present in other coronaviruses”. The research paper reported that “amino acid residues in all the 4 inserts have identity or similarity to those in the HIV1 gp120 or HIV-1 Gag”. (Read more)

Meanwhile, Things Just Got Weird:

Penguins talk to each other like humans do:  Scientist have found penguins to use more short words – the, a and an as humans do. “Scientists say this is the first instance of these laws being observed outside primates, suggesting an ecological pressure of brevity and efficiency in animal vocalisations.” Ecological pressure of brevity – the penguins needs to listen to our current Parliamentary sessions!

Shark babies eat their unborn siblings: Female sand tiger sharks have two uteri and the largest unborn pups will move around the two uteri and eat up any remaining eggs – fertilised or not. This ensures only the largest and fittest pups survive. Whoever thought all babies are cute needs to read this story.

Man who smelled his socks everyday got a fungal infection: Seems like that is a thing. A warning for all of you who decide to put your clothes through a smell test before putting them in a washing machine. Happens very rarely, but if fungal spores get into the respiratory system, they can cause an infection.