Five things we learnt in 2018

By Louis Shankar

Dec 26, 2018

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Bitcoin might not be the future of currency: After an unprecedented boom in 2017, peaking at $19,783.06 on December 17, the price of Bitcoin fell by around 65 per cent over the course of a month, between January 6 and February 6. There were various factors at play: speculation that South Korea might be banning trading in cryptocurrency; the hacking of Japan’s largest cryptocurrency market, Coincheck, and the theft of $530 million.

By September of this year, Bitcoin had lost 80 per cent of their peak value. Other cryptocurrencies followed. This collapse was worse than the Dot-com bubble crash of the early noughties. A Sky News investigation found that, as of this month, at least 340 companies related to cryptocurrencies or blockchain were either dissolved or liquidated this year in the U.K.

This collapse doesn’t look good for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies: it’s unlikely they’ll disappear forever but they won’t be a major part of our financial system anytime soon, as had been suspected a year or so ago. We have 12 years to prevent climate catastrophe: In October, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a landmark paper warning that the world has only a dozen years to limit the extent of global warming to a 1.5 celsius rise in global temperatures. Even an aggregated warming of 2 celsius would significantly worsen the risks of floods, drought, unusual weather systems, extreme heat, and poverty and starvation for hundreds of millions of people.

The IPCC—a panel of the world’s leading climate scientists—insist that urgent and unprecedented changes are needed for this target to be met, which was the most ambition end of the pledge set out in the Paris agreement of 2015, which Trump infamously withdrew the United States from. Asked about the report, the US president said, “I want to look at who drew it—you know, which group drew it,” seemingly suggesting that he had never heard of the intergovernmental panel.

The 1.5 celsius limit is likely to be reached between 2030 and 2052 if the current rate of fossil fuel reliant production continues. The report notes that “carbon-dioxide removal” will be necessary in every scenario in order to curtail global warming. In short: we need to act now.

Endometriosis: A non-invasive test: A non-invasive test to diagnose endometriosis, has been made available in several countries this year, revolutionising the process. Currently, it takes an average of 7.5 years for women to get diagnosed with endometriosis; a 2017 US study found that 42 per cent of women with endometriosis surveyed had been told by their doctor that their pain was “simply part of being a woman.”

Endometriosis is a medical condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside of the womb. Its symptoms and effects include painful periods, painful intercourse, and infertility. Around ten percent of women have the condition.

A non-invasive test would revolutionise how the condition is diagnosed. As it stands, laparoscopic surgery is the only way to provide a definitive diagnosis, a process which is both risky and expensive. DotLab, an American startup, provide an alternative: “By measuring disease-specific biomarkers and applying advanced biostatistics, DotEndo provides the information you need to attribute her symptoms.” Heather Bowerman, the scientist and entrepreneur who set up DotLab, summarised: “Our goal is to help women live more productive, healthier, and happier lives.”

Water found on Mars: NASA confirmed in July that liquid water had been found beneath the surface of Mars. A lake is thought to sit under the planet’s south polar ice cap and is about 12 miles (20km) wide.

Elena Pettinelli, Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS) co-investigator, says, “These results indicate that we are probably in the presence of a subglacial lake similar to the lakes present beneath the Antarctic ice. Alternatively, it could be a deep aquifer in which the liquid water fills the pores and fractures of the rock.”

The human race has destroyed over 80 per cent of wild mammals: Despite representing around 0.01 per cent of all life on earth, the human race has destroyed 83 per cent of all wild mammals and half of all plants, according to a comprehensive new study of biomass. “I was shocked to find there wasn’t already a comprehensive, holistic estimate of all the different components of biomass,” said Professor Ron Milo, who led the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The impact of humanity on the global ecosystem is staggering. Farmed poultry makes up over two-thirds of all birds on the planet, with just around 30 per cent being wild. It’s an even more stark difference for mammals: 60 per cent of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, while 36 per cent are human and just 4 per cent are wild animals.

Paul Falkowski, from Rutgers University, said: “There are two major takeaways from this paper. First, humans are extremely efficient in exploiting natural resources. Humans have culled, and in some cases eradicated, wild mammals for food or pleasure in virtually all continents. Second, the biomass of terrestrial plants overwhelmingly dominates on a global scale – and most of that biomass is in the form of wood.”

Five things we learnt in 2018


By Louis Shankar

Dec 26, 2018

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@AskAPoC is fighting racial stereotypes one question at a time

By Tahmina Begum

Apr 8, 2019

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Shakerah Penfold has created something I haven’t seen before. As the uncertainty of our times is caused by a myriad of factors—be it unprecedented Brexit proceedings, politicians showing their prejudice across national TV or the rise of hate crime towards minorities—this hostile air can make communities feel polarised and divided. The @AskAPoC Instagram account is a space on the internet where that gap shrinks. This account is where you can ask a question regarding race or stereotypes and be answered by Penfold and the @AskAPoC community. And all it costs is one British pound.

Screen Shot magazine sat down with Penfold to discuss how in an era of being either ‘cancelled’ or ‘woke’, asking unfiltered questions works.

On a daily basis, Penfold works performs a charitable service by pairing vulnerable people with volunteer opportunities. The founder of @AskAPoC describes herself as not having a penchant for long walks on the beach, but one for dismantling racial stereotypes and “fighting the patriarchy before breakfast”. A southerner “lost up North”, Penfold was inspired to create @AskAPoC when she saw a @trueblacksoul post asking white people to ask a question that they have always wanted to know the answer to. Realising this could be a regular conversation and somewhere she could direct people in her workplace (especially when they asked her 21 questions about her hair), @AskAPoC was born.

“So it’s a pretty basic concept whereby curious people can send a question anonymously to the page and it’s answered by myself, and/or the community that the question is aimed at,” explains Penfold. Those who want to ask a question, have to first donate to the charity founded among Penfold and her friends called Food For Thought SL. The money from platforms such as @AskAPoC goes to building sustainable development projects in a village called Robuya in Sierra Leone. After the money is donated, you can then direct message the account and Penfold will share the question and her answer and then give it up to the floor (the @AskAPoC Instagram community) to chime in as well.

Though the questions are largely asked by white women and answered largely by women of colour, the audience for @AskAPoC is diverse, and Penfold and her team don’t know what the race of the quizzers are unless their question reveals it. Was she afraid of creating an echo chamber with her views front and centre? “I wish!” says Penfold over email—I can almost hear her passion over Gmail. “The page is called @AskAPoc, meaning that only people of colour need to answer. However, we still get a LOT of non-people of colour answering and taking up space so there are no chances of an echo chamber.”

With accounts such as @AskAPoC, it’s important to remember that people of colour as a whole are not a monolithic group. Even the phrase ‘people of colour’ is debated on widely, as it implies that white people make the norm and everyone else the are ‘others’. “In fairness, even without that input, people of colour are all raised in different societies and cultures so there’s always conflicting answers. I say go with whichever answer feels right to you,” adds Penfold.

Having experienced racism in the past, and having had to explain why macro and microaggressions are not acceptable for Z, Y, and X reasons, I know the emotional toll racism can take first hand. Therefore, discovering @AskAPoC, I initially thought it’s only fair that the minimum should be to donate to a charity first. But then I thought, why is it always the work of women of colour, and especially black women, to undo ignorance? The intellectual, social, and mostly emotional labour Penfold and her community do regularly is not a small task, especially as the @AskAPoC community grows.

“Sometimes it feels emotionally draining, especially when non-people of colour are in the comments trying to justify or push their own agenda,” says Penfold when I ask if this all feels too heavy to carry. The founder also mentions how yes, there are frequently asked questions that are disheartening such as “Why can’t I wear my hair in braids?” and “Why can’t I say the N-word?”. “However, it’s always balanced when I get emails saying how much someone loves the page and how much they have learned from it”. What Penfold really teaches through @AskAPoC is to spot the intention behind a question. Not all of us live in cosmopolitan cities nor do we all have the same experiences; therefore, being considerate within the @AskAPoC community is imperative, and it works both ways.
It’s also a space to understand how valid black and brown reactions are regardless of the intent.

I don’t believe that people of colour can undo a systemically racist system that continues to undervalue us by the spreading of information only, especially if those stories fall on defensive and deaf ears. Nor do I think we should expect that this is a task for people of colour to undertake on their own.  However, what accounts such as @AskAPoC do is allow an open conversation to take place, and, essentially, share hope in what can feel like dire times.

Though black and brown bodies and minds have every reason to be angry at the mistreatment of their communities, their marginalisation also tends to evoke profound compassion, knowing what it’s like to be pushed aside. It’s this empathy that has taught Penfold and her community so much about humanity. “People are so willing to be educated and people like to help others learn. I think that’s beautiful, especially in the world we live in. I love how a community of people of colour who may have faced so much ignorance in their lives have not hardened their hand, but draw on those experiences to try and stop it happening to their fellow sister or brother.”

@AskAPoC is fighting racial stereotypes one question at a time


By Tahmina Begum

Apr 8, 2019

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