On ‘Blame It On Your Love,’ Charli XCX And Lizzo Play Pop Music’s Saviors

Charli XCX and Lizzo.

Erik Voake/Getty Images for Warner Music

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Erik Voake/Getty Images for Warner Music

A photo of Lizzo and Charli XCX emerged yesterday, attached with the astronomical claim that the two are “‘bout 2 save pop music.” “Blame It on Your Love” is the outcome, a divine experiment and a pop nerd’s dream come to life — featuring two of the genre’s most beloved.

There’s a fun game of “spot the reference” to be had here, a wealth of referential intertext that amounts to an early contender for Song of the Summer: “Blame It on Your Love” rides a clipped, handclap-driven beat produced by pop heavyweight Stargate and PC Music experimentalist A.G. Cook. She repurposes the chorus from Pop 2‘s own weirdo opus “Track 10,” a blissed-out slice of ambient electro-pop that, two years after it was released, still feels like an anomaly in Charli XCX’s discography. (For the early-aughts R&B heads out there, the song bears a more-than-passing resemblance to Lumidee’s minor 2003 hit “Never Leave You.”)

Lizzo, fresh off her first-ever Billboard Hot 100 entry for “Truth Hurts,” a song she released two years ago, does a painfully brief verse here, but it oozes with magnetism. “I’m trying to catch millions, not trying to catch feelings,” she claims, before gleefully exclaiming an expletive and leaving Charli to her own devices. If “Blame It on Your Love” is the duo’s first official stab at saving pop music, imagine what the possibilities are for a full-length album, or, better yet, an Avengers-esque movie universe where the villains are, like, the Chainsmokers. (And, no, Ugly Dolls doesn’t count.)

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A Smartphone App And A Paper Funnel Could Help Parents Diagnose Kids’ Ear Infections

Dr. Randall Bly, an assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine who practices at Seattle Children’s Hospital, uses the experimental smartphone app and a paper funnel to check his daughter’s ear.

Dennis Wise/University of Washington

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Dennis Wise/University of Washington

Researchers are developing a smartphone app that, with the help of a simple paper funnel, might help parents detect fluid buildup in a child’s ear – one symptom of an ear infection.

The app is still experimental and would require clearance by the Food and Drug Administration before it could hit the market. But early data, published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, suggests that the smartphone can perform as well as an expensive test in a doctor’s office.

While there are many thousands of health-related apps, this one stands out because it uses the phone’s microphone and speaker to make its diagnosis.

“All you really need to do to detect ear fluid is use sound,” says Justin Chan, a graduate student at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle.

In order to focus this sound, physicians and parents crafted a small funnel out of paper. The tip of the funnel fits into the ear canal. The app then sends short, soft pulses of sound “kind of like a bird chirping” into the ear, Chan says.

The funnel picks up the echo of that sound and the app then analyzes it. If there’s fluid behind the eardrum, the echoes will sound different than those in a healthy ear. An algorithm on the phone figures it out nearly instantly.

Chan uses a wine glass as an analogy. “If a wine glass is empty or half full, tapping on it is going to produce a different sound,” he says. “And that’s exactly what we do with our tool.”

Chan is lead author of a study that included other researchers, including his close collaborator Dr. Sharat Raju, from the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital and Research Institute.

About 50 children had their ears checked with the app. Some of those children then underwent previously planned surgery on their eardrums, and that allowed doctors to verify the results of the app. The scientists report it was right about 85 percent of the time, comparable to the technology currently used in otolaryngology clinics.

Chan and his colleagues started a company to develop the app as a commercial produce. He says they’re in the process of seeking FDA’s OK to market it. The agency would require more studies to gauge the app’s performance and reliability, but he’s hopeful the group can gather those data by the end of the year.

“It’s very promising, but it’s too early to tell how accurate it is,” based on the newly published data, says Dr. Kenny Chan, chief of pediatric otolaryngology at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “We will have to wait and see.”

One big question is, just how useful this will be for parents and doctors?

Fluid behind the eardrum is a symptom of ear infection, but “not all fluid is an infection,” says Pamela Mudd, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C. “It would be more of a test to [see if] there is something going on behind the eardrum that may be affecting my child,” rather than diagnosing an ear infection.

Doctors really need to examine a child to make that diagnosis, which is based on looking into the ear, temperature and other clinical signs, she says.

Mucus and other light fluid can accumulate behind the eardrum and not lead to infection, she says. When she examines a child’s ear and can’t tell by looking, she refers the child to a clinic where doctors use an instrument called a tympanometer, which measures fluid behind the eardrum using sound waves.

At the same time, the audiology clinic often checks for hearing loss, which helps guide treatment decisions, such as whether a child would benefit from tubes to drain built-up fluid.

Assuming the app is shown to be effective, Mudd says, she would want to talk to parents about how to interpret the results before recommending they purchase it.

“They may not have the knowledge that they need to understand what the devices is telling them,” she says. The developers suggest that the app can help parents avoid a trip to the doctor’s office, but Mudd says the opposite may be the case.

“That may increase our use of the health care system” if parents take their kids to the doctor for what may be a temporary bit of fluid behind the eardrum. There may be instances where that’s appropriate, she says.

Chan, the otolaryngologist in Colorado, is also concerned about that. “To speculate that this may replace the need for a physician’s visit, I think that’s a little far-fetched,” he says.

Doctors encountered this issue after Apple marketed a watch that can identify irregular heartbeats, notes Oliver Aalami, a vascular surgeon at Stanford University who also studies mobile health applications.

“There was a lot of hype around it initially, but if you talk to the cardiologists, they were very concerned,” he says, because suddenly doctors were confronted with large numbers of worried patients, and it wasn’t clear whether all those new doctor’s appointments and interventions with drugs and tests were actually helpful.

As a result of those concerns, Apple is now conducting a big follow-up study to measure the benefits and risks of the app. Assuming the eardrum app gets FDA clearance, Aalami suspects that a similar study might be needed to figure out whether the app is on balance beneficial.

His first impression, in reading the research paper, was that the app would be more useful in a doctor’s office, both in the United States as well as in parts of the world that have less in the way of medical resources. “It may be a little too advanced for home use,” he says.

But the inventors are aiming for a home-use market. “I see it very similar to a thermometer, where if you think your child has the flu or a cold, you check their temperature several times a day,” Justin Chan says. “We think this has a similar purpose.”

He says the developers haven’t yet set a price, but they want the app to be widely available, particularly in the developing world, so it would be priced accordingly.

For this young computer scientist, this project could be a thrilling launch to his career. “I know it’s something that can touch millions of lives,” he says. “And I think that’s pretty rare in research.”

You can contact NPR Science Correspondent Richard Harris at rharris@npr.org.

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U.S. Births Fell To A 32-Year Low In 2018; CDC Says Birthrate Is In Record Slump

In 2018, U.S. birthrates fell for nearly all racial and age groups, the CDC says. Here, mothers and babies attend a yoga class in Culver City, Calif., in March.

Jane Ross/Reuters

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Jane Ross/Reuters

The U.S. birthrate fell again in 2018, with 3,788,235 births — representing a 2% drop from 2017. It’s the lowest number of births in 32 years, according to a new federal report. The numbers also sank the U.S. fertility rate to a record low.

Not since 1986 has the U.S. seen so few babies born. And it’s an ongoing slump: 2018 was the fourth consecutive year of birth declines, according to the provisional birthrate report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Birthrates fell for nearly all racial and age groups, with only slight gains for women in their late 30s and early 40s, the CDC says.

The news has come as something of a surprise to demographers who say that with the U.S. economy and job market continuing a years-long growth streak, they had expected the birthrate to show signs of stabilizing, or even rising. But instead, the drop could force changes to forecasts about how the country will look — with an older population and fewer young workers to sustain key social systems.

“It’s a national problem,” says Dowell Myers, a demographer at the University of Southern California.

“The birthrate is a barometer of despair,” Myers says in response to the CDC data. Explaining that idea, he says young people won’t make plans to have babies unless they’re optimistic about the future.

“At first, we thought it was the recession,” Myers says of the recent downturn in births. But after a slight rise in 2012, the rate took another nosedive. He adds that by nearly all economic standards — except for high housing costs — birthrates should now be rising.

As for what’s behind the negative sentiment among people of childbearing age, Myers cites the current political turmoil and a gloomy outlook for America’s future.

“Not a whole lot of things are going good,” he says, “and that’s haunting young people in particular, more than old people.”

Many current or would-be parents also responded to the report Wednesday, using social media to list a string of obstacles to having kids in the U.S., from the frustration of finding child care to high insurance costs and a lack of parental leave and other support systems. And they note that while the national economy has done well, workers’ paychecks haven’t been growing at the same pace.

As Elena Parent, a state senator in Georgia, wrote on Twitter, “Parents know why the birthrate is falling. Kids are expensive & time-consuming & our society doesn’t make it easy.”

Another factor, says sociologist Sarah Damaske of Penn State, is job security — even in a time of low unemployment.

“From January 2009 to December 2017, 36.6 million American jobs were lost. That’s more jobs than were lost during the Great Recession,” Damaske says. “So, even though the unemployment rate is better, companies are still using layoffs to maintain profits at the expense of their workers.”

Citing conversations with people who have lost their jobs in the past decade, Damaske — who is writing a book on that subject — says some workers have resigned themselves to the possibility that they might not find stable jobs again.

“When you think you might not be able to find steady work, it’s harder to imagine how to form a family,” she says.

Part of the trend also reflects a cultural shift, as more Americans delay marriage and child-rearing. While women in their 20s have historically given birth to the most babies in the U.S., women in their early 30s had a higher birthrate in 2017, for the first time ever. And that gap widened in 2018.

In what’s widely seen as a bright spot in the CDC’s provisional data, teenagers saw another sharp drop in birthrates, falling 7% in 2018 to 17.4 births per 1,000 teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19. That rate has now declined by 58% since 2007 and by 72% since 1991.

The rate of cesarean delivery, or C-section, fell to 31.9% in 2018, the CDC says. That’s down from a peak of 32.9% in 2009. The rate of cesarean procedures in low-risk cases also decreased, to 25.9% of all deliveries.

From 2017 to 2018, the number of births fell 1% for Hispanic women and 2% for non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black women. The rate fell by 3% for women who are identified as non-Hispanic Asian and non-Hispanic AIAN (American Indian & Alaska Native).

The latest birthrate data put the U.S. further away from a viable replacement rate — the standard for a generation being able to replicate its numbers. The U.S. has generally fallen short of that level since 1971, the CDC says.

The total fertility rate fell to 1,728 births per 1,000 women over their lifetimes — a 2% fall from 2017. That’s far below the replacement rate of 2,100 births per 1,000 women.

The Census Bureau has long predicted that America’s future population growth will increasingly rely on immigration, despite a fertility rate that has historically been higher than similar developed nations.

According to the census agency’s Population Clock, the U.S. is currently gaining one person every 16 seconds — in part because it’s adding one international migrant every 34 seconds. Both of those are net results, meaning they account for deaths and outward migration.

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New HIV Map Offers Most Detailed Look Yet At The Epidemic

Map: HIV prevalence among adults age 15-49

The United Nations has set a goal of ending the global HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030.

The tide is slowly turning in southeastern Africa — including countries like South Africa, Mozambique, Lethoso, and Botswana — which remains the epicenter of the epidemic, home to more than half of the 36.9 million people living with the disease. The rate of deaths and infections there are declining overall. But a July report from the United Nations AIDS agency found a $5.4 billion shortfall in global funding needed to achieve final victory.

A first-of-its-kind new map may help increase the precision of the HIV/AIDS response, as some data-savvy researchers narrow their focus on the continent’s worst-affected areas — to the size of a small town.


Areas shaded in gray were excluded from the analysis.

Source: Nature

Credit: Annotations by NPR

A study published Wednesday presents what these researchers describe as the most detailed map ever produced of HIV prevalence across sub-Saharan Africa. The team behind the map is an international consortium of epidemiologists led by the University of Washington-Seattle’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). Their work appears in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.

The researchers don’t just go country by country. They break down the continent into a grid of thousands of 9.6-square-mile squares. The result is a view of HIV distribution that is much more fine-grain than the usual national or province-level data and that could have a huge impact on how resources are allocated to diagnose and treat as well as to prevent new infections.

Researchers have long understood that local economic, cultural and political conditions — including rates of male circumcision, drug use and attitudes toward homosexuality and sex work, not to mention funding for prevention and treatment programs — can determine who is vulnerable to HIV infection and how people living with the disease access treatment. That leads to pockets of infection that prove stubbornly resistant to progress.

The epidemic is very unevenly spread, the study found. Of the roughly 25 million HIV-positive people in sub-Saharan Africa, a third live in very small, highly-concentrated pockets: the 0.2 percent of grid squares that had more than 1,000 HIV-positive people living in them. The remaining two-thirds are spread out more broadly. In a majority of the continent, the epidemic is almost nonexistent.

“There’s an increasing appreciation that this epidemic is even less homogeneous than people have imagined,” says Wafaa El-Sadr, director of the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP) at Columbia University, who was not a contributor to the study (one of her ICAP colleagues, Jessica E. Justman, was a co-author). “This kind of data helps to prompt other research questions: Can we do different kinds of interventions in these places?”

Chido Dziva Chikwari, a Zimbabwe-based infectious disease researcher with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says the country’s Matabeleland South province is the kind of localized HIV hot spot that can be crucial in developing new strategies for fighting the epidemic. Chikwari, who was not involved in the study, and her colleagues have been working to understand why the province, home to around 700,000 people in an area the size of West Virginia, has the country’s highest rate of HIV prevalence — 22.3 percent of the population is infected, compared to the national average of 14.6 percent.

A key driver, they’ve found, is economic migration: The province shares a border with an area in Botswana where the rate of HIV prevalence is at least 25 percent. Zimbabweans from the province, especially men, frequently travel there for work — and often pick up new sexual partners on the way.

“It’s a migrant population,” she says, “and that changes the sexual networks.”

In addition to creating new pathways for infection to spread, the population’s mobility also makes infections harder to treat. Anti-retroviral medication, the standard treatment for HIV, must be taken daily, and workers in Matabeleland were missing doses because their frequent travel made it difficult to pick up their prescriptions. So two years ago, Zimbabwe introduced a new policy that allows members of HIV-positive peer support groups to pick up and distribute each others’ medications. Chikwari believes that this simple innovation could have a big impact on access and adherence to treatment.

“We’ve done sweeping interventions, and they work to an extent,” she says. “But we’re now reaching the last mile, so we need innovative ways to target the last vulnerable populations.”

To identify these holdouts, the IHME researchers analyzed a mountain of existing HIV data from the years 2000-2017. They compiled 134 public health surveys conducted by a mix of governments, academic institutions, companies, and non-governmental organizations in 41 African countries, and data from nearly 2,000 antenatal care clinics across the continent that routinely test pregnant women for HIV. They paired each data point with a GPS location tag, and fed it into a statistical model that produced estimates for every grid square and was able to calculate where, and by how much, HIV prevalence has changed over the last two decades. The study grew out of a $279 million grant to IHME from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2017 to support research on “critical data about global health trends.” (The foundation is a funder of NPR and this blog.)

The study opens an entry point for further research on why prevalence is rising in some areas and decreasing in others, says lead author, Laura Dwyer-Lindgren, an assistant professor of health metric sciences at IHME. But it’s not just valuable for long-term programs. In the short term, it provides a snapshot of where the need for treatment and prevention resources is highest.

“The story is changing,” she says. “You can see how the number of people who are in need of treatment, and where those people are concentrated, is shifting over time.”

The study doesn’t reveal all facets of the epidemic. Its data only cover adults, aged 15-49, but doesn’t account for differences in prevalence within that age group or for children. And prevalence, as a metric, has limitations. It doesn’t reveal much about how quickly the epidemic is or isn’t spreading. A rising prevalence rate might be a good thing if it indicates that people are living longer after being infected.

But prevalence is a good indication of how many people are currently in need of treatment, El-Sadr says. And combined with other information on local treatment and prevention programs, demographics and the rate of infection, prevalence can yield invaluable insights about which solutions work and which don’t.

In a world with constrained public health resources, precision maps are also essential to direct spending on facilities, workers and medicine, says Matthew Kavanagh, director of the Global Health Policy & Governance Initiative at Georgetown University, who was not involved in the study. Low-concentration areas are especially expensive to confront, he says, since they still contain the majority of HIV-positive people but can’t implement testing and treatment efficiently.

But identifying the small number of highest-concentration areas could help to target saturation-level treatment and prevention efforts, he says. Take the goal of providing access to prophylactic treatment for every single person in the community, which has traditionally seemed cost-prohibitive. Previous research has shown that because some HIV hot spots — cities, for example — tend to be the source of infections for a wider area, intensive HIV treatment in those places could ripple out to reduce transmission rates across the region.

“We still have not gotten to the point where we’re really reaching everybody in those hot spots,” he says. “This data paints a really useful, if complicated, picture for what we need to do to address HIV.”

Tim McDonnell is a journalist covering the environment, conflict and related issues in sub-Saharan Africa. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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Karen O And Danger Mouse Unlock A New Creative Universe

Danger Mouse (left) and Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O (right)

Eliot Lee Hazel/Courtesy of the artist

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Eliot Lee Hazel/Courtesy of the artist

  • “Lux Prima”
  • “Turn The Light”
  • “Woman”
  • “Reveries”

Karen O is a punk rock icon known for snarling, searing live shows as lead singer of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Danger Mouse is a mastermind producer and one half of Broken Bells, who’s worked with The Black Keys, Beck, Gorillaz, Adele and more.

On their debut collaboration, Lux Prima, Karen O and Danger Mouse have managed to unlock a new creative universe that’s inviting, thrilling and entirely distinct from the unique voices each of them is known for in their own careers. Karen O and Danger Mouse perform live songs from Lux Prima, backed by LA’s AMO AMO. They also reflect on what made working together a success, including their near-immediate ability to be honest with each other in studio sessions and their pledge to make every part of the process feel special. Hear it all in the player.

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