Stories You Might Have Missed This Week

An emissions mystery is solved, Siri contributes to gender bias, and tiny microbes could eat away at our ocean litter problem.
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Plastic bottles and general rubbish washed up by the sea litter a beach.

Plastic bottles and general rubbish washed up by the sea litter a beach.

This week at Pacific Standard, we brought you stories on the prevalence of violence against trans women of color, the outdated data used to determine the poverty line, and an online archive that's helping a community tell the story of its grief.

But as usual, it's been a busy news week, and there are many more stories we've been following. Here are a few of them.

Research Solves the Mysteries of Rogue CFC-11 Emissions

It's been a whole year since reports first emerged that emissions of CFC-11—a banned, ozone-depleting chemical—had risen, likely as a result of someone, somewhere, violating the Montreal Protocol, which outlawed a number of such pollutants. These reports were concerning because increased CFC-11 emissions could slow down the overall recovery of the ozone layer.

At the time, scientists believed the source of the emissions was somewhere in East Asia, but they hadn't been able to pinpoint it. Now, a new study has done just that, tracing the the illegal CFC-11 use to eastern China. This research confirms the findings of previous investigations, which indicated that factories in the Chinese province of Shandong were still using CFC-11, the New York Times reports.

Virtual Assistants Are Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes

A new report from the United Nations' Education, Science, and Culture agency (UNESCO) finds that gender bias is built into artificial intelligence products like Apple's Siri. According the report, "Siri's 'female' obsequiousness—and the servility expressed by so many other digital assistants projected as young women—provides a powerful illustration of gender biases coded into technology products."

The UNESCO report attributes the problem to the extreme gender imbalance in the tech sector, and makes several recommendations to combat gender bias in these digital tools, including not making voice assistants default to female and helping women develop more technical skills. Currently, only 12 percent of A.I. researchers and 6 percent of software developers are women, according to the report.

Microscopic Microbes Could Eat Away at Plastic in the Ocean

There's been a slew of recent news about the amount of plastic in the ocean. (It's a lot.) But according to a study published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, a new tool to fight this pollution might come in the form of marine microbes who don't mind munching on weathered plastic.

The researchers collected plastic that had already undergone natural chemical changes and grown brittle, which makes it more appealing to the microbes. When they put the plastic in saltwater with certain microbes, the microbes slowly ate away at the plastic, helping to speed along the process of biodegradation. The researchers conclude that "[c]losing the gap between the hypothetic and realistic employment of microbial networks for plastic degradation could contribute to the development of mitigation measures and sustainable policies."

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