In today’s Bulldog wrapup of science, life science and technology news:
- Duke Energy to spend $1.5M on electric vehicle charging stations
- New team of astronauts arrive at Space Station
- Facebook is trying encryption on messages
- States step up fight against drug prices
- ISIS Twitter traffic declines sharply
- Duke Energy: $1.5M to electric-vehicle sites in lawsuit deal
Duke Energy is ready to spend $1.5 million to expand the number of electric-vehicle charging stations around North Carolina as part of a deal settling claims of illicit smokestack pollution.
The country’s largest electric company is announcing Tuesday that it will make $1 million available to cities and towns wanting to install public charging stations for residents. Another $500,000 is going to municipalities that want charging stations for electric buses.
The spending is part of a settlement Duke Energy struck last year with the Obama Administration ending a 15-year-old lawsuit over claims that the utility violated federal clean air laws.
The Charlotte-based energy company is spending more than $4 million on environmental mitigation projects settling the case over whether the company modified coal-fired power plants without required pollution-control equipment.
- Astronauts to Space Station
Three astronauts from the United States, Russia and Japan boarded the International Space Station on Saturday after a two-day journey aboard a Russian Soyuz space capsule.
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The capsule docked smoothly with the space station at 0406 GMT (12:06 a.m. EDT) Saturday at a height of 412 kilometers (254 miles) above the Earth. Russia’s space agency Roscosmos said the crew entered the station about two hours later.
Russian Anatoly Ivanishin, NASA’s Kathleen Rubins and Takuya Onishi of the Japanese space agency JAXA are beginning a four-month stay on the orbiting space laboratory. They joined American Jeff Williams and Russians Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin, who have been aboard since mid-March.
The capsule blasted off from Russia’s manned space complex in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on Thursday.
- Facebook testing encrypted chats in Messenger
Facebook is adding to its Messenger app an option for encrypted chats that can only be read on devices where they are sent or received.
Users also will be able to set a timer to control how long the message remains visible to anyone, the company said Friday.
The “secret conversations,” feature, which is optional, does not work across different devices. So even if a person has Messenger on a phone and on a computer, the conversation will be visible on only one device.
The encrypted chats are now being tested with a limited number of people, Facebook said, but the option will be more widely available later this summer.
WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging service, already uses end-to-end encryption on all messages.
- Can shaming help contain drug costs?
Frustrated by the rising cost of prescription drugs, California health advocates hope sunlight and a dose of shame will discourage drugmakers from raising their prices too quickly or introducing new medications at prices that break the bank.
They’re promoting legislation that would require drugmakers to provide advance notice before making big price increases. Pharmaceutical companies have come out in force against the measure, warning it would lead to dangerous drug shortages.
Attention to prescription drug pricing has mounted since Turing Pharmaceuticals bought an old drug commonly used with HIV patients and raised the price from $13.50 per pill to $750. The company’s combative chief executive, Martin Shkreli, was widely castigated for the price hike.
“Yes, they should make a profit, but not so much they gouge the public at the expense of the consumer and the taxpayer,” Sen. Ed Hernandez, a Democrat from Azusa who wrote the legislation, said of drug companies. “There needs to be a balance.”
Vermont passed the nation’s first drug price transparency legislation earlier this year, and similar measures were introduced in at least five other states, including California.
- ISIS Twitter traffic drops
The Islamic State group’s Twitter traffic has plunged 45 percent in the past two years, the Obama administration says, as the U.S. and its allies have countered messages of jihadi glorification with a flood of online images and statements about suffering and enslavement at the hands of the extremist organization.
Among the images: A teddy bear with Arabic writing and messages saying IS “slaughters childhood,” ”kills innocence,” ”lashes purity” or “humiliates children.” A male hand covering a female’s mouth, saying IS “deprives woman her voice.” A woman in a black niqab (veil), bloody tears coming from a bruised eye, and the caption: “Women under ISIS. Enslaved. Battered. Beaten. Humiliated. Flogged.”
U.S. officials cite the drop in Twitter traffic as a sign of progress toward eliminating propaganda they blame for inspiring attacks around the world.
When the U.S. formed an international coalition in September 2014 to fight IS, the administration outlined multiple goals: military action and cutting off foreign fighters and finances, confronting the group’s extremist ideology and stemming the militants’ growing popularity in the Arab world and beyond.
The messaging element of the campaign struggled early on. Much of the anti-IS content put online was in English, limiting its effectiveness. At the time, social media networks were only getting started with new technological approaches to the challenge of disabling accounts that were recruiting and radicalizing prospective IS members.