Scientific research piracy site hit with $15 million fine

Alexandra Elbakyan.

The operator of a searchable piracy site for scientific research papers has been ordered to pay $15 million as fallout from a US copyright infringement lawsuit brought by one of the world’s leading scientific publishers, New York-based Elsevier.

The award doesn’t mean the six-year-old Sci-Hub site is shuttering, though, despite being ordered to do so. The site has been engaged in a game of domain Whac-a-Mole ever since the case was filed in New York federal court nearly two years ago. And it doesn’t mean that the millions of dollars in damages will get paid, either. The developer of the Pirate Bay-like site for academic research—Alexandra Elbakyan of Russia—has repeatedly said she wouldn’t pay any award. She didn’t participate in the court proceedings, either. US District Judge Robert Sweet issued a default judgement (PDF) against the site this week, but Sci-Hub remains online.

Elsevier markets itself as a leading provider of science, medical, and health “information solutions.” The infringing activity is of its subscription database called “ScienceDirect.” Elsevier claims ScienceDirect is “home to almost one-quarter of the world’s peer-reviewed, full-text scientific, technical, and medical content.”

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Medical records join revenge porn, credit card numbers for Google removal

Alphabet Inc.’s Google has now added personal medical records to the list of things it’s willing to remove from search results upon request.

Starting this week, individuals can ask Google to delete from search results “confidential, personal medical records of private people” that have been posted without consent. The quiet move, reported by Bloomberg, adds medical records to the short list of things that Google polices, including revenge porn, sites containing content that violates copyright laws, and those with personal financial information, including credit card numbers.

The policy change appears aptly timed. Earlier this month, a congressionally mandated task force—The Health Care Industry Cybersecurity Task Force report—reported that all aspects of health IT security are in critical condition. And last month, the WannaCry ransomware worm affected 65 hospitals in the UK.

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A short exercise in middle school sets minorities on a path to college

In the US, a college education makes a huge difference for most people. It opens up lots of career opportunities, many of them at higher than average pay. The better economic opportunities it provides are associated with things like better health and a longer life expectancy.

Unfortunately, the US population doesn’t have equal access to college. Black people attend the most selective colleges in the US at one-fifth the rate of whites and Latinos at a third the rate of whites. There are a lot of systemic reasons for this gap—persistent poverty, poor access to good preparatory schools, discrimination, and more. A poor family moving to a wealthy neighborhood is enough to improve their children’s college attendance rate.

But a team of psychologists has now found there may be an easier way of boosting kids’ chances of attending a good school. It’s a simple exercise that can be done a few times over the year during middle school. Despite their simplicity, these exercises stay with minority students for years and help them get to college at the same rate as whites.

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SpaceX goes for a launch doubleheader this weekend

It’s a big weekend for SpaceX, the California rocket company that has already had a big year. On Friday, the company will attempt to launch BulgariaSat-1, a commercial communications satellite, to a geostationary orbit. On Sunday, the company will attempt to launch a second batch of Iridium satellites into low Earth orbit. If successful, this weekend would put the company on pace for a record-smashing number of missions this year.

Big weekend

The BulgariaSat-1 launch was delayed from earlier this week due to a payload fairing issue, but that appears to have been resolved. The flight is notable because it marks only the second time the company has flown a “used” rocket back into space. The five-month turnaround on this booster has been much shorter than SpaceX’s first reflight in March—this first stage was last used during a January 14th launch from California.

Friday’s launch will occur at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where weather conditions appear to be nearly ideal for a rocket launch. The launch window opens at 2:10pm ET (7:10pm BST), and will remain open for two hours. Following stage separation, and about eight minutes after today’s launch, the Falcon 9’s first stage will attempt a landing on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship.

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Researchers optimize a powered exoskeleton to cut energy used in walking

Exoskeletons are a common feature in the natural world. But in recent years, scientists have started experimenting with adding them to humans. Powered exoskeletons hold the prospect of helping people with mobility problems resume a normal life. And there’s always the prospect of giving ourselves super-human strength, like Ripley in Aliens. Even without power, an exoskeleton can redistribute the energy from our normal motions more efficiently.

But no two people are quite the same—they differ not only in physical proportions, but they often have different strides or styles of walking. So how do you match your exoskeleton to a user’s peculiarities?

The answer, according to a team at Carnegie Mellon University, is the combination of a genetic algorithm and a treadmill. After a few rounds of optimization, a powered ankle assist had most users walking in an energy-efficient manner. And, by changing the conditions, it learned how to help people walk uphill or carry heavier loads, too.

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Unexpected Viking toilet discovery leads to controversy

Museum Southeast Denmark

Archaeologists excavating at an ancient Viking settlement in southeast Denmark thought they were dealing with a typical country town from the Middle Ages. Then a single toilet changed everything.

Museum of Southeastern Denmark archaeology researcher Anna Beck was digging up what she thought was a semi-subterranean workshop, only to find that she was knee-deep in… yeah, you guessed it. She’d found a layer of medieval poop.

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Shareholders fail to oust Mylan board, but down-voted massive salaries

Mylan shareholders today did not unseat the drug maker’s board of directors, despite calls for an ouster over the EpiPen pricing scandals and remarkably large executive salaries.

In a vote during an annual meeting in Amsterdam, shareholders approved all incumbent nominees, including Chief Executive Heather Bresch, President Rajiv Malik, and Chairman Robert Coury, who earned a nearly $100 million salary last year amid intense backlash over EpiPen price hikes. The majority of shareholders did, however, reject such executive compensation plans—in a nonbinding vote.

In recent weeks, a group of shareholders had campaigned to overthrow the board for what it called “significant reputational and financial harm” and “new lows in corporate stewardship.” The disgruntled shareholders were backed by an influential advisory firm, the Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), which agreed that the EpiPen price increases and eye-popping executive salaries caused “significant destruction in shareholder value” and “long-term reputational damage.”

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House lawmakers endorse reusable rockets for military purposes

The US Congress has begun the “markup” process to consider budget appropriations for fiscal year 2018, and on Thursday, the House subcommittee overseeing Strategic Forces held a hearing for the National Defense Authorization Act. This bill provides funding for the military, including the Air Force, which oversees efforts to launch spy and communications satellites, as well as other national defense payloads.

As part of the process, Arizona Republican Trent Franks offered an amendment that stated the government should move rapidly to evaluate the potential use of reusable space launch vehicles such as those being flown by SpaceX. Co-sponsored by New Jersey Democrat Donald Norcross, the amendment passed on a voice vote.

This represents a remarkable turnaround for SpaceX and the federal government. After filing a lawsuit against the Air Force three years ago for the right to bid on military launch contracts, the California-based company only began flying military payloads for the government in May. Now lawmakers seem to be warming quickly to the company’s vision of low-cost access to space.

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