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Enlarge / Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates (pictured here in 2015) announced the change in the photo array guidelines in January 2017. (credit: Washington Post / Getty Images News) The Department of Justice has instituted new guidelines regarding identification in photo arrays of suspects, making the procedure more scientifically rigorous. Notably, these changes include a “blind” administration—where the person giving the exam doesn’t actually know who the actual suspect is—and recording the identification session. The new guidelines, which were released last Friday, state: There are times when such "blind" administration may be impracticable, for example, when all of the officers in an investigating office already know who the suspect is, or when a victim-witness refuses to participate in a photo array unless it is administered by the investigating officer. In such cases, the administrator should adopt "blinded" procedures, so that he or she cannot see the order or arrangement of the photographs viewed by the witness or which photograph( s) the witness is viewing at any particular moment. These guidelines apply specifically to federal agencies including the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency, and not to local law enforcement. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The cost of an entry-level VR system like this has come down quite a bit. Back when Oculus first launched the Rift VR headset almost a year ago, buying the headset and a minimum-specced computer that could actually power it would run you at least $1,500. Now, the "entry-level" price for PC-tethered virtual reality is already down to $1,100 as part of a new bundle deal. As Radeon recently announced, CyberPowerPC's "Gamer Ultra VR" tower is now available in a Best Buy bundle with an Oculus Rift headset for just under $1,100 (or $500 for the PC and $600 for the Rift itself). Even without the bundle deal, the tower itself is selling for only $650, the cheapest price we've seen for a pre-built PC that's officially marked as "Oculus Ready." Part of that price reduction since early 2016 is the normal march of technology making CPUs and GPUs cheaper as they get older. But a bigger part of the change is Oculus' "asynchronous spacewarp" technology, which the company announced in October as a way to calculate a spatial transformation that can fill in missing frames on lower-end hardware. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: Getty | Guido De Bortoli ) Your workout schedule may have just gotten a lot more flexible: that is, whether you try to fit in a brisk exercise routine every day before dinner or just go big on the weekends after sitting at your 9-to-5 all week—it may not actually matter to your overall health. Looking at the health data of about 64,000 adults over 18 years, British researchers found that any exercise—however little or infrequent—was still linked to reduced risks of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. The findings, which appear this week in JAMA Internal Medicine, beef up the idea that there is no “right” way to dole out exercise in your weekly schedule and that there’s no threshold of activity at which health benefits kick in. “Some leisure time physical activity is better than none,” the authors, led by exercise and health expert Gary O’Donovan of Loughborough University, concluded. More exercise is better, of course. But for those who hit overall weekly goals for activity, “frequency and duration [of workouts] did not matter,” in terms of achieving those health benefits. Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / A computer infected by Shamoon System is unable to find its operating system. (credit: Palo Alto Networks) There's a new variant of the Shamoon disk-wiping malware that was originally unleashed on Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil company in 2012, and it has a newly added ability to destroy virtual desktops, researchers said. The new strain is at least the second Shamoon variant to be discovered since late November, when researchers detected the return of disk-wiping malware after taking a more than four-year hiatus. The variant was almost identical to the original one except for the image that was left behind on sabotaged computers. Whereas the old one showed a burning American flag, the new one displayed the iconic photo of the body of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee boy who drowned as his family tried to cross from Turkey to Greece. Like the original Shamoon, which permanently destroyed data on more than 30,000 work stations belonging to Saudi Aramco, the updates also hit one or more Saudi targets that researchers have yet to name. According to a blog post published Monday night by researchers from Palo Alto networks, the latest variant has been updated to attack virtual desktops, which have emerged as one of the key protections against Shamoon and other types of disk-wiping malware. The update included usernames and passwords related to the virtual desktop infrastructure products from Huawei, which can protect against a destructive malware through its ability to load snapshots of wiped systems. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 10: Robert Kennedy Jr., heads up to a meeting at Trump Tower on January 10, 2017 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump continues to hold meetings at his New York residence to fill the remaining positions in his administration. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images) Today, President-elect Donald Trump met with a backer of the false idea that vaccines may be behind the rise in autism diagnoses. The result seems to be a worst-case scenario: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has accepted a position within the Trump administration, where he will chair a group evaluating vaccine safety and scientific integrity. Trump has a history, on Twitter and in debates, of questioning the well-established science behind the US' vaccination program. He has insinuated that vaccines cause autism and has suggested that the current vaccination schedule is overly aggressive. There is absolutely no evidence for either of those positions. Numerous studies have debunked any connection between either vaccination or any specific components of vaccines and diagnoses of autism. And the vaccine schedule is based on a combination of medical risks and exposure probabilities; changing it would alter infants' risks. It wasn't clear whether Trump's positions would lead to any policy decisions. But a worrying sign came when Trump met with Andrew Wakefield this fall. Wakefield helped establish fears of a vaccine-autism connection by publishing a paper, now retracted, that suggested a connection between the two. He has since had his medical license pulled due to misconduct during the preparation of that paper. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / The new settings page is likely to look something like this, though Microsoft says it may change before the final release. (credit: Microsoft) The Windows 10 Creators Update is going to introduce new settings and controls for Windows 10's privacy and data collection capabilities. These changes have two parts. Available immediately is a Web-based "privacy dashboard" that gives access to, and the ability to delete, information collected by Cortana (if you choose to enable Microsoft's digital assistant and share the information with her in the first place): browsing history, search terms, location history, interests, contacts, and more. Coming later this year in the Windows 10 Creators Update is a reworking of the operating system-level privacy controls. The main thing these will do is to make the choice more explicit; instead of being able to pick "Express settings," which sets a bunch of privacy-related options but does not enumerate them or fully describe them, the Windows 10 out-of-box experience will show a bunch of privacy-related options. To complete the process, particular settings must be chosen explicitly. The settings page will be more descriptive about what each setting controls and what features will be disabled when a given option is disabled. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / The new MacBook Pro. (credit: Andrew Cunningham) In late December, review publication Consumer Reports made headlines by failing to provide a "Recommended" rating to Apple's latest MacBook Pros. It was the first time any of Apple's MacBooks had failed to earn the rating. In the publication's testing, the laptops' battery life varied wildly, sometimes lasting as long as 19.5 hours and sometimes as little as 3.75 hours. The publication didn't have these problems with older MacBook Pros or with any of the 140 other laptops it has rated. After working with Apple over the holidays, Consumer Reports now says that the problem was caused by an "obscure" Safari bug specific to page caching, which the publication disables when it runs its battery tests. To test battery life, Consumer Reports sets laptop screens to a specific brightness level and then loads a series of webpages in the laptop's default browser (Safari in this case) in a loop until the battery dies. Apple suggests that disabling browser caching for a test like this doesn't reflect real-world use, but it does make sense for a synthetic test—users will continually read new pages rather than visiting the same static pages over and over again, so Consumer Reports wants to make sure that its test is actually downloading data over the network rather than simply reading cached data from the disk. Apple says it has fixed the bug in the latest macOS Sierra beta that it released to testers yesterday, the third beta of version 10.12.3. The 10.12.2 update "fixed" inaccurate battery life estimates in the new Pros by disabling the battery life estimate entirely across all Mac laptops that run Sierra. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Yahoo's deal with Verizon seems to be going 2x slower after security revelations. (credit: Scott Schiller) Yesterday, Yahoo revealed in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that the company would change its name (to "Altaba") after it completes its transformation from an actual business to a corporate wrapper around Alibaba stock. If all goes as planned, CEO Marissa Mayer would step down, the board would be trimmed, and "Altaba" would simply continue to exist as a way for investors to own a chunk of a non-controlling interest in a Chinese e-commerce company. Whether that transformation happens as the result of a successful sale of the Yahoo Internet portal to Verizon or some other, less-desirable outcome has yet to be determined. And as we noted in our 2017 Deathwatch, it's still far from a sure bet that the Verizon acquisition will go as planned. The change to "Altaba" (apparently some non-trademark-infringing sort of reference to Alibaba, in which Yahoo holds a 15 percent stake) depends on the completion of the sale to Verizon of Yahoo Holdings, the new corporate wrapper for its Internet business. Verizon initially offered $4.8 billion for Yahoo last July, but the deal was in doubt after it was revealed that Yahoo had failed to disclose a huge security breach in 2014 to customers (and Verizon). A second major breach, dating to 2013, was discovered later. Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson) Face recognition and place recognition are both critical for everyday interactions, and they both depend on specialized regions of the brain. Neuroscientists generally suspect that as these regions develop, facial and place recognition improve. If so, there may be a lot of room for improvement. A recent study published in Science found that the parts of the brain that are associated with face and place recognition continue to develop well into adulthood, long after most of the brain's architecture is in place. The study looked at 26 children ages five through 12 and 26 adults aged 22 to 28. These subjects all participated in MRI and quantitative MRI imaging. These techniques allowed the researchers to assess the amount of brain matter in different regions, as well as the lipid composition of different parts of the brain. The brain is primarily made up of lipids—also known as fats—so differences in lipid distribution within the brain could be related to differences in functionality for different brain regions. The researchers also looked at the activity of different brain regions. Participants’ responses to images of places and faces were tracked using fMRI, which allowed the scientists to see changes in blood flow to the brain that occur in response to stimulation. This helped them to identify which brain regions were primarily associated with recognizing these items. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge AT&T is raising the price of its grandfathered unlimited data plans by $5 a month, the second such increase in the past year. The price increase affects longtime mobile customers who have held onto unlimited data plans for years after AT&T stopped selling them to new subscribers. The latest price increase was reported by DSLReports yesterday, and AT&T confirmed the move to Ars. "If you have a legacy unlimited data plan, you can keep it; however, beginning in March 2017, it will increase by $5 per month," AT&T said. The unlimited data price had been $30 a month for seven years, until AT&T raised it to $35 in February 2016. The price increase this year will bring it up to $40. That amount is just for data: Including voice and texting, the smartphone plans cost around $90 a month. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / Not everything Kat deals with is on the mundane side. In 2012, Gravity Rush was a flawed but charming open-world action game for the PlayStation Vita. It made an immediate impression with a wonderful heroine named Kat, a girl who just happened to control gravity, falling from the sky and into a floating city. In the end, though, the game was rightly maligned for its imprecise combat and an extremely abrupt ending that left questions hanging over just about every major plot point. In 2017, Sony is finally following up with Gravity Rush 2. The sequel is also a flawed and charming open-world action game, this time for the PlayStation 4. The combat is just as tough to track and the ending is just as abrupt. Until it isn't. It's complicated. As super-heroics go, Kat renders incredibly gentle gravity-based aid to the citizens of her floating, jazz-infused, and dreamlike world. Sometimes she’ll fight monsters, thieves, and mad politicians, but more often Kat does things, like helping poor dock workers make ends meet, aiding dogs in finding their lost toys, and, in one instance, waiting in line to buy crêpes for a sad, older man. Yes, buying crêpes is an actual mission objective from the main story. Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: Steven Depolo) Backpage.com, whose executives and former owners beat back pimping charges a month ago, is shuttering its adult section over what it says is "unconstitutional government censorship." The Dallas-based media concern said that it had been under too much pressure from the Senate Subcommittee on Permanent Investigations' sex trafficking inquiries. The inquiries found that the online ads portal "edits" content of ads that amount to solicitation of prostitution by "deleting words and images before publication." The company, which lost a Supreme Court First Amendment battle and was forced to turn over thousands of pages of company documents detailing its business methods, said it fell victim in the same way that Craigslist did a decade ago, when it removed adult ads. From left: Carl Ferrer, James Larkin and Michael Lacey. (credit: Sacramento County Sheriff's Department) “Like the decision by Craigslist to remove its adult category in 2010, this announcement is the culmination of years of effort by government at various levels to exert pressure on Backpage.com and to make it too costly to continue,” Backpage told Congress late Monday, Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: Getty Images/Urich Baumgartgen) Online messaging services such as WhatsApp, Skype, and Gmail face a crackdown on a "void of protection" that allows them to routinely track the data of EU citizens without regulatory scrutiny—and it could be bad news for ad sales. On Tuesday, officials in Brussels proposed new measures to curb Silicon Valley players who—up until now—have been largely immune from the ePrivacy Directive, which  requires telecoms operators to adhere to the rules on the confidentiality of communications and the protection of personal data. As part of its planned overhaul, the European Commission, the executive wing of the European Union, said that it planned to beef up the measures by switching from a directive to a "directly applicable regulation" to ensure that the bloc's 500 million citizens "enjoy the same level of protection for their electronic communications." It claimed that businesses would also benefit from "one single set of rules." Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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NASA/JPL Last Wednesday was supposed to be a banner day for planetary scientists who study Venus, the closest planet to Earth. In recent decades, of more than a dozen missions proposed to explore Venus, only a handful had made it through NASA’s preliminary round of consideration. But as part of NASA’s most recent selection of planetary missions, two of the five finalists were dedicated to Venus. Two others were dedicated to asteroids, and a final one would look for near-Earth asteroids. “With five total missions, and an expectation that two missions were going to be accepted, it seemed natural to do a Venus one and an asteroid one,” said Robert Grimm, director of space studies at the Southwest Research Institute. “It’s safe to say the Venus community was very happy to see two of its missions among the finalists.” Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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In this handout provided by the Broward Sheriff's Office, suspect Oliver Schmidt, an executive for Volkswagen poses in this undated booking photo. Schmidt was arrested January 7, 2017 in Florida and is expected to be charged with conspiracy and fraud in the Volkswagen emissions scandal. Schmidt was formerly a key emissions compliance manager for VW in the U.S. (Photo by Broward Sheriff's Office via Getty Images) (credit: Handout/Getty Images) On Saturday night, the FBI arrested Oliver Schmidt, a former emissions compliance executive for Volkswagen Group, as he waited to catch a plane back to Germany at Miami International Airport in Florida. The arrest is a major setback for VW Group, which has thus far been able to shelter most of its high-level executives from individual prosecution by US authorities. In a Monday appearance in US District Court in Miami, a Justice Department lawyer said that an attorney for Schmidt “had alerted government lawyers that the executive would be in Florida for vacation,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Schmidt, 48, was charged with defrauding the United States, wire fraud, and violating the Clean Air Act. He allegedly played a central role in hiding from US regulators the fact that some 500,000 Volkswagen and Audi vehicles with 2.0L diesel engines sold in the US were equipped with various types of illegal software designed to help the cars pass their emissions tests in a lab and to kill the emissions control system on the cars when they were driving on the road under “real world” conditions. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Andrew Williams The HP DreamColor Z27x is a top-end monitor, intended primarily for designers and other creative types who need serious colour accuracy. At this point it may seem a stop-gap before OLED monitors are within reach of those without a company credit card and an “anything goes” expenses policy. However, it’ll be a while before that changes. Dell’s 30-inch 4K UP3017Q OLED monitor, if it's ever released, will cost $5,000 in the US—and judging by the pound’s recent behaviour, we wouldn't expect it to be much cheaper than £4,500 over here. Read 39 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: dcwriterdawn) The First Amendment is being put to the test on multiple levels this term before the US Supreme Court. The high court will hear cases about the right to trademark offensive names and whether merchants have a right to inform customers that a credit-card surcharge is actually a surcharge. Two cases involve the free exercise of religion clause of the First Amendment. The first is about whether Missouri breached that clause by supplying recycled tire material for playgrounds to public and secular schools, but not to religious schools. The court has already decided to hear the Missouri case, but it has not decided whether it will consider a request to revive a challenge to Utah's law against polygamy. That lawsuit claims the law is a violation of "religious liberty rights protected by the First Amendment." (PDF) At this stage, however, the justices most likely could decide this case without actually having to weigh in on polygamy or the First Amendment. More on that later. First up on the docket is Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman, which the justices are to argue Tuesday. A law in 10 states forbids merchants from imposing a surcharge on goods paid for via a credit card. Surcharges help merchants recover the so-called "interchange" fees banks charge them for accepting credit cards. Strangely, in those 10 states, merchants may offer "cash" discounts. Either way, the result is the same: people who use credit cards can be charged more. But how this pricing structure is described to customers is at the heart of the First Amendment battle. The laws require that merchants inform customers that price differences for cash or credit purchases are cash "discounts" and not credit card surcharges. This means merchants are not allowed to charge a base price before tacking on a fee to those using credit cards. Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: Flickr user: vaXzine) How can doctors measure pain? For Mosaic, John Walsh finds out about new ways of assessing the agony. His story is republished here under a Creative Commons license. One night in May, my wife sat up in bed and said, “I’ve got this awful pain just here.” She prodded her abdomen and made a face. “It feels like something’s really wrong.” Woozily noting that it was 2am, I asked what kind of pain it was. “Like something’s biting into me and won’t stop,” she said. “Hold on,” I said blearily, “help is at hand.” I brought her a couple of ibuprofen with some water, which she downed, clutching my hand and waiting for the ache to subside. Read 53 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: Lawrence Berkeley Lab) In Science’s Policy Forum column, President Barack Obama has penned an article arguing that the world is quickly replacing fossil fuel-based energy with clean energy. That momentum, he asserts, will not be stopped by “near-term” policy changes from Donald Trump’s incoming administration. The current president writes that, although climate change is undeniable, the incoming administration might do nothing about it. That would be a political mistake, but it might not effect on the economics of clean energy, Obama argues. “Mounting economic and scientific evidence leave me confident that trends toward a clean-energy economy that have emerged during my presidency will continue,” he wrote, adding that “the trend toward clean energy is irreversible.” The president cites recent studies from national and international agencies showing that energy emissions are decoupling from economic growth, a trend that “should put to rest the argument that combatting climate change requires accepting lower growth or a lower standard of living.” And the potential damage to the economy is vast: a 4°C increase in global temperature could “lead to lost US federal revenue of roughly $340 billion to $690 billion annually.” Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell (credit: National Press Club) “Why, why, why... ?” In a speech Monday at the National Press Club, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell puzzled over the GOP’s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act without having replacement legislation at the ready. “Why do you want to want to repeal it without telling what we’re going to do?” she said. “That’s not what we owe the American people.” Her question—and her whole speech—are part of a coordinated campaign by the outgoing Administration to protect the signature healthcare legislation from Republican leaders, who are already abuzz with plans for a swift repeal once President-elect Donald Trump takes office January 20. Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / The VISIR instrument before its impending upgrades. (credit: ESO) Today, the European Southern Observatory announced an agreement with Breakthrough Starshot, the group dedicated to sending hardware to return data from the nearest stars. The agreement would see Breakthrough Starshot fund the development of new hardware that would allow the ESO's Very Large Telescope to become an efficient planet hunter. The goal is presumably to confirm there's something in the Alpha Centauri system worth sending hardware to image. Breakthrough Starshot's audacious plan involves using ground-based lasers and light sails to accelerate tiny craft to a significant fraction of the speed of light. This would allow the craft to visit the stars of the Alpha Centauri system within decades. The company's goal is to get data back to Earth while many of the people alive today are still around. Getting meaningful data requires a detailed understanding of the Alpha Centauri system, which is where the new telescope hardware will come in. Last year, scientists confirmed the existence of an exoplanet orbiting the closest star of the three-star system, Proxima Centauri. But we'll want to know significantly more about it, its orbit, and whether there are signs of any other planets in the system before we send spacecraft. The other two stars of Alpha Centauri are also worth a closer look. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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KAREN BLEIER/AFP/GettyImages Right now self-driving cars are a technical challenge. No amount of sensors and mapping can currently produce a 100 percent reliable self-driving car, but plenty of companies are working on it. When this technology does hit the market, the inevitable question is going to be "how much extra does it cost?" Waymo, the Alphabet self-driving car division that was recently spun off from Google, is working on getting that cost as low as possible. According to a recent article from Bloomberg, the company has spent the last 12 months working on "scalability," which has lead to a "90 percent" decrease in the cost of the LIDAR sensor, which is typically the most costly item in a self-driving car solution. Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: Photograph by Randy Stewart) Yahoo, one of the Internet's most venerable companies, won't exist for much longer. Verizon officially acquired Yahoo for $4.8 billion in July, and a new financial filing from the company includes details of what's going to happen. That July sale included Yahoo's operating business, but it didn't include the big chunk of Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba owned by Yahoo, and it didn't include certain other assets, mostly shares of Asia-based companies and non-core patents. What remains, according to SEC paperwork filed today, will be rolled into an "investment company" called Altaba. The size of the board will be reduced to five directors, and many key executives will leave, including Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Yahoo co-founder David Filo. Also out are Eddy Hartenstein, Richard Hill, Jane Shaw, and Maynard Webb. The departures are not "due to any disagreement with the Company on any matter relating to the Company's operations, policies, or practices," according to the company's filing. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant (credit: Russ Nelson) On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an agreement with utility company Entergy to close the 2GW Indian Point nuclear power plant, located 25 miles north of New York City. The closure was mutually agreed-upon by both the state of New York and Energy, although the state and the utility gave conflicting assessments of the power plant’s reasons for closure. A statement from the governor’s office read: The aging 2,000 megawatt nuclear power plant... has presented numerous threats to the safety of over 20 million residents and the environmental health of the area. After extensive litigation and negotiation, Entergy has agreed to end all operations at the facility, with plans to shut down Indian Point Unit 2 as early as April 2020 and Unit 3 in April 2021. Entergy, on the other hand, offered a different characterization of the shut down in a press release: Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / An artist's rendering of some humans 10,000 years in the future about to make a mistake. (credit: Courtesy of Redacted Pictures/Peter Kuper) Do we have a responsibility to warn the future about radioactivity? And if we have that responsibility, do we have a right to create radioactive materials that could harm future generations in the first place? These are the questions posed by the new observational documentary Containment, which will air on PBS’ Independent Lens tonight at 10pm ET. Although directors Peter Galison and Robb Moss don’t offer clear answers, their interviews with nuclear waste experts, policy directors, and people associated with and affected by nuclear sites are thorough and sober. Containment focuses exclusively on the dangers of nuclear waste from both nuclear weapons projects and nuclear energy, often lumping the two endeavors together in a way that can come across as unjustly censuring nuclear energy, whose benefits in the face of climate change are scarcely mentioned. But ultimately the message seems to be that a rational and pragmatic approach to storing waste, unclouded by delusion that any site can be completely and totally safe, is necessary. Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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