Scientist Behind Florida’s Coronavirus Database Says She Was Fired for Refusing to Censor Data
The scientist behind Florida's widely praised coronavirus dashboard was fired Monday because she refused to "manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen," she told CBS12 News Monday.
Dr. Rebekah Jones' dismissal came the same day as much of Florida reopened for business, The Guardian pointed out, raising concerns about the data backing that decision.
"These allegations are disturbing," Dave Aronberg, the state attorney for the 15th Judicial Circuit which includes Palm Beach County, tweeted Tuesday. "Manipulating the data on Florida's COVID-19 dashboard could cost lives."
These allegations are disturbing. Manipulating the data on Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard could cost lives. “Jones… https://t.co/5WFwJtV9Nk— Dave Aronberg (@Dave Aronberg)1589904074.0
Until May 5, Jones had been in charge of a team of data scientists and public health officials at the Florida department of Health who created and managed the publicly accessible database that reported COVID-19 cases, testing and deaths, FLORIDA TODAY explained. The dashboard won wide praise, including from high-ranking White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Deborah Birx.
The first sign of trouble came over the last few weeks as the site had "crashed" and data had gone missing.
Then, Jones wrote an email Friday to members of the public and the media who had signed up for updates on the database, saying she and her office had been removed from control of the database as of May 5.
"I understand, appreciate, and even share your concern about all the dramatic changes that have occurred and those that are yet to come," she wrote. "As a word of caution, I would not expect the new team to continue the same level of accessibility and transparency that I made central to the process during the first two months. After all, my commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it."
Then came the news that she had been fired from the Department of Health altogether, as she confirmed to FLORIDA TODAY Wednesday. According to the Tampa Bay Times, she had been ordered May 5 to remove data showing when people showed symptoms or tested positively for the virus before a case had been announced after the information was requested by the media. She complied, but said it was the "wrong call." She was later given the option to resign with a settlement or be fired.
The spokesperson for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Helen Aguirre Ferré, defended her firing in a statement to the Miami Herald Tuesday.
"Rebekah Jones exhibited a repeated course of insubordination during her time with the department, including her unilateral decisions to modify the department's COVID-19 dashboard without input or approval from the epidemiological team or her supervisors," Ferré said.
DeSantis later challenged the idea that Jones was the architect of the dashboard.
"She is not the chief architect of our Web portal. That is another false statement, and what she was doing was she was putting data on the portal, which the scientists didn't believe was valid data," he said in Orlando Wednesday, as NPR reported.
This contradicts Jones' account in an email to FLORIDA TODAY, in which she said she created two applications in two languages, four dashboards and six maps.
"I worked on it alone, sixteen hours a day for two months, most of which I was never paid for, and now that this has happened I'll probably never get paid for [it]," she wrote.
Her firing has raised alarms for scientists and Democratic politicians.
"When politicians censor scientists and manipulate the numbers, the rest of us suffer," Columbia University biologist Dr. Lucky Tran tweeted in response. "The only way we get out of this pandemic is with facts, and acting upon the best science we have."
Scientists are getting fired for refusing to censor data and manipulate numbers. If you want to put more lives at… https://t.co/wC1caAnZmE— Dr. Lucky Tran (@Dr. Lucky Tran)1589894988.0
Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), who represents the Tampa area, demanded answers from DeSantis, while state Senator José Javier Rodríguez from Miami and chair of the Florida Democratic party Terrie Rizzo called for an investigation, according to NPR and The Guardian.
"Floridians must have confidence that critical public health information produced and published on behalf of the state is accurate, complete and reliable. It is especially important during this period of economic reopening that decision-makers in the private and public sector — whether they be leaders of institutions, employers or parents — have access to accurate information as they make decisions impacting the lives and livelihoods of our families and communities," Rodriguez said, as NPR reported.
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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