Erica R. Hendry
Erica R. Hendry
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Hurricane Harvey tore into the Texas coastline over the weekend, killing at least 20 and affecting millions of people across the state, especially in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city.
President Donald Trump spent Tuesday touring Corpus Christi and Austin, where state and local officials are saying the worst isn’t over — and complete recovery could be several years off. (Here’s how you can help).
Across the Pacific, North Korea once again escalated tensions by firing a missile over Japan, provoking strong responses from leaders around the Korean peninsula and from and Mr. Trump, who declared that “all options are on the table” for dealing with Pyongyang.
As the president faces emergencies at home and abroad, here are five other stories you may have missed.
1. Tasers have caused hundreds of deaths in police encounters, according to a new investigation
A new Reuters investigation has found the Taser gun, one model seen here at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in San Diego, California, has been involved in more than a thousand fatal police encounters since the early 2000s. Photo by REUTERS/Mike Blake.
In the last several years, as attention to the number of people killed by police has grown, departments have searched for ways to avoid so many deadly encounters. One of the most popular strategies: deploying more Tasers, widely seen as a safer alternative to guns.
But a new investigation by Reuters suggests the weapons may not be as safe as we thought.
An investigation by the news agency, which it calls the “the most thorough accounting to date of fatal encounters involving the paralyzing stun guns,” documented more than 1,000 fatal stun gun encounters over the past decade and a half.
Among the findings in Reuters’ three-part series:
“Many who die are among society’s vulnerable – unarmed, in psychological distress and seeking help,” the report said.
Find the full report here.
Why it’s important
A map by Reuters shows where the more than 1,000 Taser-related deaths it tracked occurred. Photo by Reuters.
When Michael Brown was fatally shot in 2014 by police in Ferguson, Missouri, there was no real way to track how many people were killed each year by officers. There still isn’t a comprehensive federal database of fatal police shootings. Likewise, while some studies have shown Tasers lower the risk of injury or death in police encounters, “no government agency tracks fatalities in police incidents where Tasers are used,” making it harder — along with inconsistent autopsy laws and reporting from local departments — to gauge the real impact of the stun guns, which are now used by 90 percent of America’s police departments.
Taser International, for its part, told Reuters the report gives “an exaggerated picture of the weapons’ hazards.” Often, the company says, deaths resulted from an underlying medical condition or because of police force combined with the stun gun — an explanation that contradicted Reuters’ own analysis of court records.
Another concern, Reuters says: The company, now known as Axon Enterprise Inc, “blurs the lines between its corporate interests, police affairs and scientific research,” according to the report, “often enmeshing itself in investigations where its stun guns may be implicated in deaths.”
2. India outlaws “instant divorce,” the latest victory for women’s rights in the region
Farha Faiz, a lawyer, speaks with the media after a verdict for the controversial Muslim quick divorce law outside the Supreme Court in New Delhi, India August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi – RTS1CROX
In India, men can divorce their wives by repeating the word for divorce — talaq — three times. In recent years, that kind of “instant divorce,” in India and some other countries, has increasingly been delivered via phone call, letter, newspaper ad, text message or WhatsApp, according to a lawsuit in India’s supreme court, filed by five women whose husbands divorced them this way.
But that practice will soon end, the Indian high court ruled last week, saying that men should not be able to “break down (a) marriage whimsically and capriciously.”
The practice can be traced to a part of Islamic law that says a divorce must be carried out over the course of three months, the Los Angeles Times says. But there’s no mention in the Koran of the “triple talaq” as it’s interpreted today, the BBC says.
Until this recent ruling, “instant divorce” had been seen as untouchable by the law, experts told the LA Times. Advocates hope the decision could open the door for judges to rule against what they see as other violations of women’s rights.
Why it’s important
The court ruling follows a handful of other legal victories for women’s groups across the region. Lebanon and Jordan both banned loopholes that allowed men to escape punishment if they married the women they raped. Tunisia passed laws that impose stricter penalties for sexual violence, and also launched a commission on how to legislate women’s equality, the New York Times reports. There’s an Indian campaign to stop trafficking of child brides through mosques and an effort in Saudi Arabia to open up more types of work to women.
But the next task — seeing those changes through — will be even more difficult, Shereen El Feki, author of “Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World,” wrote recently in the New York Times.
El Feki recently led a study that for two years surveyed men and women in Lebanon, Morocco, Egypt and Palestine about the role of women in society and the laws built around them. She found that “more than three-fifths of men in most of the countries say a woman should tolerate domestic violence to keep the family together.” And at least half of women believed a woman should marry a man if he rapes her.
But many had complicated and conflicting beliefs about women. For instance, “ although 60 percent or more of men in our survey agreed that honor killings should be criminalized, more than 70 percent in most of the countries also believed that how female relatives dress or act directly affects male honor and that it is a man’s duty to act as their guardian,” El Feki wrote.
3. Parents of children with autism are being targeted online
Parents of children with autism have long been targets for pseudoscience, and a recent analysis by Buzzfeed News shows how the internet amplifies the problem. Using a tool that tracks social sharing, Buzzfeed looked at the most-shared scientific stories published online about autism between 2012 and 2017, and found that more than half, or 56 percent, “promote unevidenced or disproven treatments, or purported causes.”
“Unevidenced” in this case applies to stories that promote a so-called treatment or cure for autism or a theory about its cause that’s been disproven or lacks evidence. Some stories link the disorder with the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine or with Monsanto’s Roundup, a weedkiller. Others called for treating autism with a bleach product known as chlorine dioxide or CD. Unevidenced stories were shared 6.3 million times, Buzzfeed found.
A culture of confusion, misinformation and quackery around autism is made possible by the internet, and fake news on the subject exploits the weaknesses of parents who are facing a new diagnosis, the piece points out, citing Jonathan Green, a professor of child and adolescent psychology at the University of Manchester, who specialises in autism research.
“The way autism affects social capacity is at a different level [than ADHD],” Green said. “It affects parents profoundly, and raises questions of ‘Why on earth this is happening?’ – it leaves people speculating, in a vacuum.”
There are devastating health and psychological consequences to many of the disproven treatments, which can be intrusive, dangerous and have little scientific benefit. And the stories themselves can be harmful.
The article quotes Fiona O’Leary, an autistic woman with five autistic children. “My son is 13, he’s autistic, and he’s able to read this stuff,” she says. “He’s scared. It’s making unnecessary mental health issues for people, adding to the challenges we have – and we do have challenges. The quacks are waging a war on us.”
4. Killing of teenage boy by police sparks protests in Philippines
Mourners display a streamer during a funeral march for Kian delos Santos, a 17-year-old student who was shot during anti-drug operations in Caloocan, Metro Manila, Philippines. Photo by REUTERS/Erik De Castro.
The shooting death of Kian delos Santos, 17, by police in the Philippines has sparked protests against President Rodrigo Duterte, known for his unsparing — and by some measures, inhumane — war on drugs.
According to police, the teenager was a drug courier who fired at them during his arrest. But closed circuit video showed two police officers dragging the unarmed boy to an alleyway where they shot him, the AFP reported.
His death was framed as part of a “one-time, big-time” crackdown on drug dealers in the city, in which 95 others were killed.
Three officers are in custody, and Duterte has said if they were found guilty, they would “rot in jail.”
Several thousand people joined the funeral procession for the boy on Saturday in a northern Manila suburb. They carried banners saying “Stop the killings.”
Why it’s important
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte talks to Lorenza delos Santos, the mother of 17-year-old high school student Kian Delos Santos, who was killed recently in police raid in line with the war on drugs. Photo by Malacanang presidential palace/Handout via Reuters.
Delos Santos’ death has drawn increased public attention to Duterte’s war on drugs and the role of police in it.
Police have killed about 3,500 people in anti-drug efforts, according to Yahoo News, and thousands more have been killed by vigilantes or in unexplained circumstances since Duterte took office in June 2016. As he took his oath, he promised to “kill all the drug lords.”
Duterte has come under fire several times for encouraging police officers to abandon human rights in favor of that mission. Human Rights Watch has called the campaign a “human rights calamity.” And a Reuters investigation earlier this summer suggested police were moving bodies from crime scenes to hospitals to alter evidence. On Saturday, the New York Times quoted Duterte’s spokesman saying the government would not tolerate “wrongdoings or illegal acts” from any law enforcement officer, a change in tone from Duterte’s usual praise for anti-narcotics police operations.
But by Monday, he was back to provocative remarks, telling police they could kill “idiots” who resist arrest.
Duterte still gets high approval ratings at home, despite the international outcry. In the latest polls, 80 percent of Filipinos approved of his performance as president.
5. This New York river dumps millions of fabric microfibers into the ocean daily
Lake Tear of the Clouds, in upstate New York, is near the rural headwaters of the Hudson River. Photo by Ben Henderson
The faded, “distressed look” of a favorite pair of blue jeans may come with a hidden price for the residents of New York.
The Hudson River dumps 300 million clothing fibers into the Atlantic Ocean each day, according to a recent study in the Marine Pollution Bulletin. Many of the fibers come from aging clothes, rinsed out with the laundry and into the environment. Approximately half of the fibers were plastic, while the remainder were spun from natural materials like cotton or wool. Invisible to the naked eye, these fibers can cause health problems for animals and humans.
Read NewsHour’s full story about the study here.
Why it’s important
Microfibers, under a microscope, found in the Hudson River. Photo by Sara Cathey/Adventure Scientists
Some scientists expected to see a larger concentration of microfibers in locations near wastewater treatment facilities or industrial sites. But instead the pollution was more uniform throughout the river.
If wastewater treatment facilities are not the major culprit, people may want to look at their everyday clothes. Fabrics cast off tiny threads at every stage of their life. Even crime scene investigators count on perpetrators leaving behind bits of clothing. These clothes can shed more fibers into the air than laundering, according to Steve Carr, supervising scientist at the Los Angeles County Sanitation District.
“It’s invisible, but everywhere you go and everywhere I go, we are leaving a trail of fibers in our wake,” Carr said.
Pollutants and other fine particles can hang in the air and travel great distances, said George Thurston, who studies the health effects of air pollution at the New York School of Medicine. These airborne fibers can also be toxic. During the industrial revolution, byssinosis or brown lung disease, befell textile plant workers due to cotton or other fibers in the factory’s air.
But more science is needed to really understand the impact. “We don’t know how natural fibers are interacting with humans or animals,” marine biologist Abigail Barrows said.
Erica R. Hendry is the managing editor for digital at PBS NewsHour.
Jenny Marder is a senior science writer for NASA and a freelance journalist. Her stories have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post and National Geographic. She was formerly digital managing editor for the PBS NewsHour.
Larisa Epatko produced multimedia web features and broadcast reports with a focus on foreign affairs for the PBS NewsHour. She has reported in places such as Jordan, Pakistan, Iraq, Haiti, Sudan, Western Sahara, Guantanamo Bay, China, Vietnam, South Korea, Turkey, Germany and Ireland.
Teresa L. Carey is a Science and Social Media News Fellow at PBS NewsHour.
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