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11.2.16: The High Price of Free Vaccines, Facial Recognition Bias, & The Bookshelf

Matt Allworth via flickr Creative Commons

Doctors Without Borders provides emergency medical aid to people the world over, and is funded almost entirely by individuals. So, why did they turn down free pneumonia vaccines from Pfizer? On today’s show we’ll look into the hidden costs of free vaccines.

Plus, futuristic TV shows and movies make facial recognition technology seem like a sure bet, but a new report reveals problems with racial bias, and reliability. And like it or not, it's already being used today.

We’ll also check in with the latest installment of The Bookshelf with author Chelsey Philpot.

Listen to the full show:

The High Cost of Free Vaccines

Doctors without Borders, known internationally as Médecines sans Frontières or MSF, delivers emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, natural disasters and poverty all over the world. It's an NGO, funded almost entirely by individual donations. Why then did MSF refuse to accept one million doses of a pneumonia vaccine from Pfizer? In a public post, the organization’s US Director wrote "free is not always better", bringing the long simmering impasse between MSF and a few pharmaceutical giants to a boil.

Kate Elder is the Vaccines Policy Advisor for Doctors without Borders, also referred to as Médecines sans Frontières (MSF), and had a hand in that decision.

Related: "The U.S. is Standing in the Way of Cheaper Drugs for the Poor"

"Why Doctors Without Borders Refused a Million Free Vaccines"

The High Cost of Free Vaccines

Is Factory Farmed Meat a Public Health Issue?

Drug-resistant "superbugs" kill more than 700,000 people each year. This fall, the World Health Organization urged medical professionals to help combat the growth of drug-resistant infections by radically reducing antibiotic treatments for patients. In reality, more than half of antibiotics used globally go to farm animals. On US farms, that number is closer to 80%, one reason activists advise against eating factory-farmed meat. James McWilliams goes even further. In a recent piece for Pacific Standard, he writes that people who consume factory farmed meat and dairy are endangering the health of others.   

James McWilliams is a professor of History at Texas State University, and frequently writes about food politics and safety.

Related: "Does Eating Factory-Farmed Meat Put One on Par with Anti-Vaxxers?"

Is Factory Farmed Meat a Public Health Issue?

Motor Mouth the Garbage Man

When local governments cut back, there's always a lot of talk about "essential services"—the duties everyone expects to be performed. These jobs may not be glorious, or desired, but without them towns and cities would be hard-pressed to function. Producer Richard Paul spent the day with Albert Roe nicknamed "Motor Mouth" who carries out an essential service for Washington D.C., he collects trash.

You can listen to this story again at PRX.org.

The Downside of Facial Recognition

Anyone who's watched a spy movie or one of the countless crime shows that pepper the TV landscape has seen them. Grainy security camera images blown up, enhanced, and run through a facial recognition database with amazing results! That's a database of criminals, right? A report from the Georgetown University found that half of American adults facial features are already in law enforcement's face recognition network. That's more than 117 million Americans who's faces can be located in databases accessed by at least a quarter of local and state police departments—unbidden and unregulated. The report's authors argue that it's a gross violation of privacy for millions of law-abiding citizens. 

Clare Garvie is an associate with Georgetown Law School's Center for Privacy and Technology, which published the report. 

Related: "Half of All American Adults are in a Police Face Recognition Database, New Report Finds"


The Downside of Facial Recognition

Poster School

In  August of last year, protesters took to the streets of Ferguson after Michael Brown was shot and killed. Later that same year, protests over Brown's death were also taking place in an unlikely place – a school in Maine.  This piece was produced by Lila Cherneff in 2015.

You can listen to this story again at PRX.org.

The Bookshelf: Chelsey Philpot

If you 'd like to learn more about this week's featured author Chelsey Philpot, and hear more from the Bookshelf, listen and subscribe here: The Bookshelf

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