5 Weird Problems Popping Up Because Of All This
Sure, we all know this pandemic changed life in countless ways, from how we act with others to how much toilet paper we buy. But it's also led to weird, surprising changes in areas where you probably wouldn't have expected to see any. Like ...
It'll Be Pretty Easy to Cheat In Major Sporting Events For A While
In the Before Time, major sports events would prevent cheating through drugs with a simple tactic: sending officials to randomly show up on athletes' doorsteps to collect urine samples like the weirdest version of Pokemon Go. And it all worked pretty well on the whole -- doping scandals happened, sure, but people mostly had confidence that the current athletes they watched win did so through less horse testicle extract and tiger urine capsules than those in the 90s and 00s. But all that requires lots and lots of in-person contact with athletes, which is pretty much out of the question today.
Some sports got hit super hard by this. For example, testing outside competitions fell by 95% in cycling, and plenty of top cyclists said nobody showed up to test them in months. If that sounds to you like the perfect opportunity to do ALL the PEDs, you'd be absolutely right, as nobody has a solution to prevent cheating in upcoming competitions.
The World Anti-Doping Agency hasn't put out a universal set of guidelines, so every country's anti-doping organization has to figure out its own system. This makes international competitions impossible to organize because you can't be reasonably sure that athletes from every single country are going to get rigorously tested. And, sure, those disparities were there before, but the current situation is making it comically worse. That's really bad news for sports that got rocked by doping scandals -- like cycling.
Experts think that anti-doping organizations are going to start aggressively testing as social distancing guidelines relax, but the job is still going to be a challenge. First, those organizations are usually one step behind cheaters anyway; Second, for sports like cycling, you really need to test at least six months ahead of time. So we're guessing that, at least until 2021, professional sports are going to be seeing a lot of new world records.
Companies Are Hawking More (Basically Racist) Facial Recognition Systems
These days, companies are selling facial recognition systems with the same enthusiasm and ethical standards as a guy selling weed to junior high kids. For example, state agencies and the federal government are considering buying software from Clearview AI (which sells facial recognition tech to police forces) to trace patients and their contacts. And Californian lawmakers considered a bill that would let authorities feed anyone's facial data without that person's consent, as long as there was probable cause to think they committed "criminal activity"-- and, yes, that definition is disconcertingly broad. Assemblyman Ed Chau tried to sell it as a tool that would help fight COVID. Thankfully, concerns about it possibly being used to identify protesters got the bill scrapped.
In Florida, Tampa General Hospital installed thermal-scanning face cameras that can detect fevers, sweating, and discoloration -- and a Texas company wants to put the same cameras not just in hospitals, but in voting locations and grocery stores too. In other words, COVID is being used as an excuse to bring us that much closer to a sci-fi reality.
Okay, this is a blatant violation of privacy. Is it a problem in other ways? Yup! According to research, the huge problem is that these systems aren't as good as recognizing the faces of people of color. Meaning, if used to find someone suspected of committing a crime, there's a higher chance they could get an innocent POC arrested than an innocent white person. In other words, facial recognition systems just make existing inequalities worse, and we don't need to be outsourcing that to shitty robots when we already have enough shitty humans to do that.
The Rise In Ordering Takeout Led To A Rise In Drug Dealing
During lockdown, people have been ordering way more takeout than usual which has been a boon for sleazy delivery companies. It turns out it boosted the fortunes of your neighborhood drug dealer, too. Why? Delivering food is the perfect cover for smuggling drugs -- you can stash lots of drugs into food packages, cut into that munchies market, and it doesn't look suspicious unless you truly have no restraint (we'll get back to that point a little later). And with a lot more cars, bicycles, and motorcycles delivering food than usual, dealers just started moving drugs like crazy.
In some cases, the delivery riders had no idea what's going on. Sometimes this has hilarious consequences, like in a Malaysian case where a guy was supposed to transport one order of Indian flatbread, but somehow, it came in a package weighing over 24 pounds. Realizing that a 24-pound piece of Indian flatbread would be a culinary miracle and/or travesty, he called the police so they could inspect the package. On the other hand, in Spain, seven "delivery drivers" turned out to have backpacks with false bottoms loaded with drugs. And in Ireland, police found pizza boxes loaded with two handguns and almost 18 pounds of cocaine. ("Uh, hi, yeah, you forgot my third handgun and my garlic bread.")
In fact, it got so widespread that Interpol had to issue a "purple notice" to warn all 194 of its member agencies (basically, that's Interpol's way of updating agencies about new tools or methods used by criminals.)
Endangered Species Are In A Lot More Trouble
Regardless of what Twitter posts saying, "nature is healing" would make you think, this whole thing has been grim for endangered species all over the world. In Africa, Asia, and South America, nearly extinct species have been getting cut down at much higher rates than before. Nine rhinos were poached in South Africa and six in Botswana, while five jaguars, a puma, and an ocelot got killed in Colombia. These numbers might seem tiny, but for endangered species, they're huge -- for example, three giant ibises were killed in Colombia, and they were about two percent of the entire global population.
Why is this happening? Well, with no hordes of tourists around, the animals are much more eager to visit areas they otherwise wouldn't dare go near (like beaches). That exposes them to locals who might be desperate and hungry, and/or who might need to protect their livestock. Plus, the lack of tourists makes poachers more likely hunt, since there's not much of a chance anyone is going to see them, let alone stop them.
That's probably also why poachers have gotten pretty bold and started using snares and electrical wires to trap animals. That dedication makes some experts think that they'll organize and go after elephant ivory next. (They've already hit up rhinos.) Normally, wildlife reserves and national parks would keep poachers away but, due to their sudden drop in income, they just can't afford to right now. The overall result is a tragic but predictable rise in risk to endangered species.
This all sounds pretty grim, so the natural question is, what can be done? Well, one conservation organization -- the South Africa-based Noah's Ark -- is trying to solve the problem at the root. They're convinced that people are mostly driven to poaching when that becomes the only way to feed a family, so they're raising money for poor communities all over the world who would rather buy food than risk getting curb stomped by an elephant.
No One Knows What The Weather Forecast Actually Is
Probably the least well-known function of regular air traffic is that it collects weather data for the forecasts you see on your phone every day. See, to gather data the pilot constantly needs, the instruments of an aircraft in flight are always measuring things like air pressure, temperature, wind direction and speed. In the U.S. and Europe, meteorologists' computer models collect that data and take it into account for their forecasts. The world-leading European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF [We swear that's a real organization.]) says it's the second most crucial input after satellite data, so losing it is a pretty big deal.
The thing with airplane data is that it fills in areas that other sources don't cover and, right now, we ... basically have almost no idea what's going on there. Airplane data is down 75-80% worldwide, but there's big regional variation. For example, it's only down 25% in the U.S. (mainly because the U.S. kept a lot of cargo planes flying, unlike Europe), but more than 90% in the Southern Hemisphere. Still, there's a big loss everywhere -- the only difference is whether it's simply big or near-total. So how is that affecting our ability to forecast the weather?
Scientists can't agree on exactly how much it's doing, but it seems to be doing something. The ECMWF says there might be a "noticeable" drop in forecast accuracy, although the NOAA says they haven't seen a clear drop (but that may be because U.S. air traffic hasn't fallen as much as European traffic). Still, the NOAA, ECMWF, and other agencies are busy trying to fill in the gaps -- they're ordering more weather balloon launches than usual and gathering data from an airborne observing network maintained by a private company. So, basically, you should take weather forecasts with a super big pinch of salt these days ... you know, if you actually manage to go outside right now.