🗺️ Picks of the Week — June 18

Global Warming Point of No Return, Hong Kong Newspaper Raid, Myanmar Leader Faces Trial, Nicaragua Pre-Election Crack Down, Synthetic Humans, Spider Webs Cover Australian Floodplains

Happy Friday folks! Welcome to another edition of Picks of the Week, where we round up the most important news from around the globe!

Today we’ll visit the Arctic where scientists believe global warming’s point of no return might have already passed; Hong Kong where police arrested another group of journalists at the Apple Daily; Myanmar where former leader Aung San Suu Kyi faces trial by the military; Nicaragua whose president conducted a pre-election opposition crackdown; Israel where a tech startup is creating fake humans to train AI algorithms; and Australia whose spiders have performed a thing of beauty in the face of adversity.

Job deadlines and datasets below, have a good weekend everybody!

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Data Corner 🧮

A few datasets referenced in today’s edition…

  1. Hong Kong Arrests: Timeline of pro-democracy arrests including all individuals arrested, from Georgetown University

  2. Arctic Global Warming: Stacks of relevant data, from the National Snow & Ice Data Center

  3. Coup D'états: Datasets of all global coups between 1945-2019, from the University of Illinois

Has Global Warming Already Passed Point of No Return?

We start in the Arctic where scientists have warned there might be no turning back from the damage already done to the earth from global warming. The largest ever expedition to the polar region comprised of 300 scientists from 20 countries, who discovered that ice was melting at its fastest rate on record. Ice cap thickness has reduced by half compared to when they were measured by Norwegian explorers Fridtjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen during their 1893-1896 expedition. The temperature is now also 10 degrees higher than it was then.

Samples from beneath the ice from four observational stations in the sea were taken continuously for an entire year. A total of 150 terabytes of data — including readings on the atmosphere, sea ice, oceans and ecosystems — will help predict extreme weather patterns over the coming century. Stefanie Arndt, a sea ice physicist said it's “painful to know that we are possibly the last generation who can experience an Arctic which still has a sea ice cover in the summer”. The leader of the expedition, Marcus Rex, said evaluation over the next few years would determine whether it will be possible to keep the ice caps all year round.

Nicaraguan Election Crack Down

Moving to Nicaragua next, where President Daniel Ortega has rounded up and disqualified opponents who could stand in his way in November’s presidential election. Since the beginning of June, 12 people — including politicians and journalists — have been arrested, four of them presidential candidates. Thanks to a law passed in December, Ortega can arrest anyone that encourages foreign interference, plans economic blockades or applauds sanctions against the country.

The socialist Ortega has been president for a total of 20 years. After first assuming power in 1985, he lost elections in 1990, 1995 and 2001, but has since won three consecutive contests starting in 2006. His latest tenure saw large anti-government protests in 2018, which were met with heavy force. Despite playing a key role in overthrowing previous dictator Anastasio Somoza during the Nicaraguan revolution in 1979, Ortega has been criticized for his own dictator-like tendencies.

Previous Picks of the Week 👀

🔎 Picks of the Week — June 11

🔎 Picks of the Week — June 4

🔎 Picks of the Week — May 28

🔎 Picks of the Week — May 14

Former Myanmar Leader on Trial 

To Myanmar, where four months after being removed via military coup in February, the founder and leader of the National League for Democracy is now on trial. Aung San Suu Kyi faces seven charges including illegal possession of walkie-talkies, corruption, breaching Covid restrictions and breaking the country’s official secrets act. If sent to prison, the 75-year-old could be behind bars for the rest of her life. Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since February following the coup that plunged the country into another political crisis, sparking mass protests and strikes.

House arrest is where Suu Kyi spent almost 15 years of her life between 1989 and 2010 due to her pro-democracy efforts. But in 2017, she went from Nobel Prize-winning democracy icon to defending military genocide against the country’s Rohingya Muslims. Her remaining supporters and human rights groups claim her current charges aim to oust her from political power, and her chances of being released look slim.

Aung San Suu Kyi 👇

Hong Kong Police Raid Pro-Democracy Newspaper

To Hong Kong where more than 100 national security police officers raided and arrested five editors and directors from the Apple Daily. Footage of the raid (see below) involved the seizure of journalists’ computers and was captured by the outlet itself. Hong Kong’s national security department arrested the journalists on suspicion of foreign collusion and endangering national security. Police also froze the assets of companies associated with Apple Daily and its parent company suspended trading. Jimmy Lai, the founder and owner of Apple Daily and prominent Beijing critic, was arrested in April and sentenced to 14 months in prison.

Hong Kong’s national security law, which came into effect last year after mass pro-democracy protests in 2019, has been instrumental in the city’s crackdown on pro-democracy journalists and media, including its only public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong. While security chief John Lee accused Apple Daily journalists of “using journalistic work as a tool to endanger national security,” he assured in a press conference that the police “were not targeting the media.”

Video: Apple Daily live streams police raid

Synthetic Humans AI Algorithms 

Some tech news about companies creating synthetic humans to gather data and train algorithms to be more diverse and objective. The life-like robots possess human features including forehead wrinkles and blemishes on the skin. They’re generated by scanning actual humans, gathering raw data and then creating 3D human models. Datagen, an Israel-based startup developing the robots, said it’s working with four U.S. tech giants, but didn’t say which ones. 

AI developers have long been criticized for developing machine-learning technology that exacerbates sexist and racist bias against women and people of color. Data scientists remain worried that synthetic data could end up causing the same problems if it’s not collected in a realistic way. There may also be privacy limitations to synthetic data, and fears that the notion good data is more important than big data will again fail to be met.

Spider Webs Cover Australian Floodplains 

We finish the week on the Australian East Coast, where damage to the habitats of local wildlife from severe flooding earlier this year has left spiders innovating with their hunting methods. In Victoria, where spiders typically spin webs near the ground, the arachnids have been forced to unleash their silk structures in higher locations. The result has meant that a slew of webs have appeared in trees, road signs and high grass.

Spiders use the phenomenon known as ‘ballooning’ to climb and catch prey over damaged vegetation. Entomologists suspect the web blankets are home to millions of spiders, though they’re not thought to be dangerous to humans as their fangs are too small to penetrate skin. However, locals won’t be able to admire the rare beauty for too long, as they’re likely to easily break and disperse from the wind.

Thanks for making it all the way to the bottom. We’ll see you on Monday for another job board update and column from Daniel! 👋