Numlock News: September 2, 2021 • Skunks, Shoplifting, McFlurries

By Walt Hickey

The annual back-to-school sale on paid subscriptions to Numlock is back, it’s the best deal of the year, 30 percent off your first year, but you must redeem it by September 5.

Purdue

The Sackler family, the owners of Purdue Pharma which pushed OxyContin on to Americans and fueled a devastating opioid crisis across the country, will be absolved of any opioid-related liability after a bankruptcy filing that will dissolve the company. For the cheap price of $4.5 billion paid out over nine years, the Sacklers will dodge future threats on their $11 billion fortune from any number of cases lodged against them. States will get money from a national opioid abatement trust, Native American tribes will get their own fund, and 130,485 individuals and families who lost people to addiction will get amounts of $3,500 to $48,000.

Jan Hoffman, The New York Times

Spotted Skunks

Spotted skunks are a neat little spin-off of your traditional skunks, notorious not only for their spots, but also because when they are about to blast a target with stink juice they do a handstand, and it’s objectively funny. For a while scientists had no idea how many species of spotted skunks there were, and estimates ranged from two to 14 with a consensus of four. New research published in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution based on over 200 DNA samples settled it: there are seven species of spotted skunk, the beginning of a promising tongue twister if there ever was one.

Jason Bittel, The New York Times

Spyware

The Federal Trade Commission released a complaint Wednesday seeking a ban of SpyFone, an app marketed as a tool to monitor the internet activity of a loved one. The “stalkerware” has been cited by critics as a technological aide for stalkers and domestic abusers. In 2018, a data breach led to the exposure of personal data for 2,200 customers, and the FTC alleges further that the company didn’t do anything to boost security following that incident. The FTC is seeking a ban on future sales, the deletion of illegally harvested information and the notification of people who had their devices tracked.

Tonya Riley, CyberScoop

Authorship

A new study published in Science Advances looked into the frequency and impact of disagreements over authorship on research papers, such as when participants disagree over ordering or who did enough to merit inclusion in the work. The survey — 5,575 researchers participated — found that 53.2 percent had encountered a disagreement over authorship. Over 23 percent of the women scientists who participated said they received less credit than they deserved compared to 18 percent of men, and men were more likely than women to say they got more credit than they thought they should have.

Dalmeet Singh Chawla, Physics Today, and Chaoqun Ni, Elise Smith, Haimiao Yuan, Vincent Lariviere and Cassidy R. Sugimoto, Science Advances

Ice Cream

McDonald’s ice cream machines are notoriously buggy, despite accounting for 60 percent of the chain’s dessert sales in the United States, and are sophisticated and overengineered behemoths that are remarkably difficult and expensive to repair. This has drawn the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which has cast its gaze on manufacturers of equipment that make it difficult for consumers to repair devices on their own. The FTC has reached out to McDonald’s franchisees about their experiences with the devices, which are primarily manufactured by Taylor Commercial Foodservice. The FTC investigation is still in its preliminary phases, but right-to-repair is a target for the new administration.

Heather Haddon, The Wall Street Journal

Shoplifting

With the rise of ecommerce and, more specifically, the third-party retailer being able to sell items through Amazon or Walmart’s websites, sophisticated theft rings have cropped up across the country to target brick-and-mortar stores. These aren’t your basic shoplifters, but rather what experts describe as an organized criminal syndicate that coordinates the theft of retail goods only to fence them on Amazon later. The Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail estimated that organized retail theft cost $45 billion in annual losses, up from $30 billion ten years ago. Home Depot said its investigations into organized criminal networks was up 86 percent since 2016, and CVS hopes to close 73 cases where $104 million worth of stolen goods were hawked on Amazon.

Rebecca Ballhaus and Shalini Ramachandran, The Wall Street Journal

Mouthfeel

The hottest new food ingredient on the block is locust bean gum, which can be derived from the carob tree. You may know carob as that weird chocolate-esque stuff beloved by the Dr. Bronner’s crowd, but now it’s big business as high demand for an all-natural plant-based thickener, stabilizer, emulsifier or gelling agent from consumer packaged goods companies has led to a run on the stuff. It’s used to make a fatty mouthfeel in stuff like ice cream, plant-based food, cream cheese and bakery items, and carob trees are mostly grown around the Mediterranean. Suppliers weren’t expecting this much growth — about 12,000 to 15,000 kilograms are harvested annually — which has prompted a shortage and steep price hikes: usually a kilogram goes for around $14, but by the second quarter of last year, it averaged $24 per kilogram, and on the spot market now it’s going for as much as $85 per kilogram. Suppliers are working to increase the amount available over the next few years given how many consumer boxes are checked by locust bean gum.

Christopher Doering, FoodDive

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