Scientists explain how to differentiate coronavirus vaccine news from hype

Coronaviruses with their distinctive crowns. CDC/Dr Fred Murphy

Every week since the start of the pandemic has brought new headlines about a coronavirus vaccine. In early June, there was news about human trials starting for a Johnson & Johnson vaccine; also in June, a vaccine made by Moderna was supposedly reaching "phase 3 trials," the last phase in a drug development before government approval. Just this week, Novavax, a vaccine development company headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland, made news headlines for inking a $1.6 billion public-private agreement as part of the Health and Human Services' Operation Warp Speed, which aims to deliver 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines in 2021 in a collaborative effort with the private sector.

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Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

What you can do:
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