Why Nature supports Joe Biden for US president
We cannot stand by and let science be undermined. Joe Biden’s trust in truth, evidence, science and democracy make him the only choice in the US election.
On 9 November 2016, the world awoke to an unexpected result: Donald Trump had been elected president of the United States.
This journal did not hide its disappointment. But, Nature observed, US democracy was designed with safeguards intended to protect against excesses. It is founded on a system of checks and balances that makes it difficult for a president to exercise absolute power. We were hopeful that this would help to curb the damage that might result from Trump’s disregard for evidence and the truth, disrespect for those he disagrees with and toxic attitude towards women.
How wrong we turned out to be.
What it’s really like to do science amid COVID-19
Autumn heralds the start of a new academic year in much of the world, but in 2020, the term comes with the disruption of the COVID-19 outbreak and a surge in infections in many regions.
Many universities have welcomed students and researchers back to campus — often for the first time since nations implemented stringent lockdowns in March. But the return to institutions comes with unprecedented safety and social-distancing measures, which hinder teaching and laboratory work. And despite these, outbreaks on campuses are becoming a major concern in countries worldwide.
Although some institutions are offering in-person teaching, remote instruction has become the norm in many places. And for those who had already returned to the lab and adapted their work procedures because of the pandemic, the return of teaching brings an increased burden as they try to balance safety with the needs of students. Maintaining research necessities such as animal lineages can also be a struggle under the control measures. “Even in labs that are open, research is restricted,” says Jamal Nasir, a human geneticist at the University of Northampton, UK, who is returning to his lab after six months away.
Leading Scientists Urge Voters to Dump Trump
Science has long considered itself to be an apolitical enterprise. But in the midst of a global pandemic and with the 2020 election looming, some scientific institutions and elite journals have suddenly become willing to take a political stance against … Donald Trump and his allies.
On October 8, for instance, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) jumped into the fray for the first time in 208 years with an unprecedented political editorial calling for leadership change. Although it stopped short of endorsing Democratic candidate Joe Biden, the article labeled people running the current administration “dangerously incompetent” and added that “we should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans [from COVID-19] by allowing them to keep their jobs.” This week the journal Nature added similar sentiments in an editorial that did endorse Biden and called Trump's record “shameful.” A month earlier 81 U.S. Nobel laureates signed an open letter that expressed their Biden support. “At no time in our nation’s history has there been a greater need for our leaders to appreciate the value of science in formulating public policy,” they wrote.
And the nonpartisan National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine—a pair of notoriously cautious and conventional institutions—issued a statement in late September denouncing political interference in public health agencies, particularly the Trump administration’s efforts to rush the approval of a COVID-19 vaccine before tests for safety and effectiveness are completed. “Policymaking must be informed by the best available evidence without it being distorted, concealed, or otherwise deliberately miscommunicated,” they wrote. “We find ongoing reports and incidents of the politicization of science, particularly the overriding of evidence and advice from public health officials and derision of government scientists, to be alarming.”
How to Avoid COVID while Voting: Epidemiologists offer tips for U.S. voters and poll workers
Zeke Dunn of Brooklyn has worked at polling places in nearly every primary and general election since 2017. The 39-year-old television producer says doing so provides a way for him to connect with his neighbors and fulfill his civic duty. But this past June he skipped working in New York State’s primary: his partner is pregnant, and he could not risk bringing the novel coronavirus home from a polling place. As infection rates in New York City declined to low levels over the summer, Dunn decided to work the polls this November. But he worries about getting COVID-19.
“I’m not crazy about the risks,” he says. “If it’s the same as it normally is, it’s exactly what they tell you not to do” to avoid COVID-19: spending 12- to 14-hour shifts in close proximity to other poll workers, as well as interacting with hundreds of voters, in an old and poorly ventilated building.
Dunn says he is determined to show up despite the risks—and this was not a decision he came to lightly. “I thought about how many older people work these jobs,” he says. “If my being willing to work in a high-contact role means they can be put in a job that has less contact with other people because I came to work that day, I’d be happy to make that concession.” He plans on bringing a face shield and several KN95 masks, which block 95 percent of particles larger than 0.3 micron, on Election Day.*
A Biden presidency could have a ‘remarkable’ impact on science policy—but also face hurdles
If former Vice President Joe Biden wins the presidential election, he will face high expectations from the U.S. scientific community. Its members will be counting on him to bring science and leadership to the fight against COVID-19 while reversing a host of moves by … Donald Trump that many researchers regard as disastrous. A President Biden will have vast authority to move quickly to undo many Trump policies. But he could be hampered by forces beyond his control, including which party controls the Senate, the ideological complexion of the courts, and—when it comes to fighting COVID-19—the progress of science itself. […]
Biden has made confronting the pandemic the centerpiece of his presidential campaign. The most dramatic immediate shift is likely to be in the tone and consistency of messaging coming from the Oval Office and federal health agencies. On his first day, Biden has promised to “stop the political theater and willful misinformation that has heightened confusion and discrimination,” hold daily briefings that “put scientists and public health leaders front and center,” and ensure that government scientists “do not fear retribution or public disparagement for performing their jobs.” He’s also pledged to rejoin the World Health Organization and boost funding for its pandemic efforts. […]
Biden advisers say climate change is one of “the four crises” he will put a priority on addressing. (The others are the pandemic, the economy, and racial injustice.) Biden says the United States will rejoin the Paris climate accord on his first day in office—which he can do with the stroke of a pen—and he will issue executive orders to strengthen climate protections. Advocates want him to roll back Trump rules that weakened limits on power plant emissions set by former President Barack Obama, and to set even stiffer limits for cars than Obama did. Overall, Biden wants the United States to cease to be a net emitter of greenhouse gases by 2050, and the federal government to invest at least $1.7 trillion over 10 years in clean energy technologies.
Census Bureau needs outside help to save the 2020 census from political meddling, experts say
To counter what they see as unprecedented political interference in one of the world’s most respected statistical agencies, prominent statisticians are urging the U.S. Census Bureau to be much more transparent about how it is now processing the billions of bits of information it has collected from a truncated 2020 census.
A series of actions by … Donald Trump’s administration has jeopardized the agency’s ability to deliver an accurate count of the U.S. population later this year, a task force of the American Statistical Association (ASA) concludes in a report released this week. So, to maintain public trust in this year’s census, the task force recommends the agency invite an independent group of researchers to pore over the data. The team would then issue a public report on whether the Census Bureau has met its goal of “counting everyone once, and only once, and in the right place.”
“We are doing our best to support the Census Bureau because they have been put in a very difficult situation,” says ASA President Rob Santos, who co-chaired the task force. “They don’t have full control of their operations.”
Double whammy doomed Madagascar’s giant birds and mammals
Madagascar was once home to towering elephant birds, giant tortoises, and even giant lemurs. Today no animal heavier than a car tire exists, and researchers have long debated whether humans or climate change were to blame. Now, a study of cave deposits on another Indian Ocean island has helped provide an answer: Unusually dry conditions did make life hard for these giant animals, but humans were the straw that broke the elephant bird’s back.
Sitting 425 kilometers off the southeastern coast of Africa, Madagascar was long thought to be among the last places humans settled. But 2 years ago, researchers discovered butchered elephant bones dating back 10,500 years, suggesting people and giant animals coexisted for millennia there before these megafauna went extinct some 1500 years ago.
To better understand the region’s climatic history, Xi’an Jiaotong University geochemist Hai Cheng and graduate student Hangling Li turned to the caves of Rodrigues—a small, remote island 1600 kilometers east of Madagascar.
Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
In this year of extreme weather events—from devastating West Coast wildfires to tropical Atlantic storms that have exhausted the alphabet—scientists and members of the public are asking when these extreme events can be scientifically linked to climate change.
Dale Durran, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, argues that climate science need to approach this question in a way similar to how weather forecasters issue warnings for hazardous weather.
In a new paper, published in the October issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, he draws on the weather forecasting community's experience in predicting extreme weather events such as tornadoes, flash floods, high winds and winter storms. If forecasters send out a mistaken alert too often, people will start to ignore them. If they don't alert for severe events, people will get hurt. How can the atmospheric sciences community find the right balance?
Deep-sea corals reveal secrets of rapid carbon dioxide increase as the last ice age ended
The Southern Ocean played a critical role in the rapid atmospheric carbon dioxide increase during the last deglaciation that took place 20,000 to 10,000 years ago, according to a new report by Boston College geochemist Xingchen (Tony) Wang and an international team in the online edition of Science Advances.
In this new study, Wang and his coauthors analyzed deep-sea coral fossils from 20,000 to 10,000 years ago, when atmospheric carbon dioxide was on the rise.
By examining the chemical signatures of nitrogen and carbon in the coral fossils, the researchers revealed that ocean carbon sequestration decreased as phytoplankton failed to devour macronutrients supplied by upwelling currents in the Southern Ocean and trap carbon dioxide in the deep ocean.
The Japan Times
Japan to release radioactive water from Fukushima plant into sea
The government plans to release into the sea treated radioactive water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant crippled by a powerful earthquake and tsunami in 2011 amid concerns over the environmental impact, sources close to the matter said Thursday.
An official decision may be made as early as this month and will put an end to seven years of debate over how to dispose of the water used to cool the power station that suffered core meltdowns in the disasters.
Earlier this year, a government subcommittee reported that releasing the water into the sea or evaporating it are "realistic options."
Local fishers and residents have been opposed to the release into the sea due to fears consumers would shun seafood caught nearby. South Korea, which currently bans imports of seafood from the area, has also repeatedly voiced concerns about the environmental impact.
NASA’s Next Moonsuit Is Going to Be Damned Impressive
NASA is preparing to send a woman and a man to the Moon in 2024, in what will be the first mission to the lunar surface in 52 years. The new spacesuit being designed for the mission is sleek and ultra high-tech, with a swath of features not possible during the Apollo era. Here’s what you need to know about the Artemis spacesuit and how it will take lunar exploration to the next level. […]
And of course, NASA is also working on its next lunar spacesuit, which it’s calling the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or xEMU for short.
NASA recently disclosed the cost of Artemis, saying the project will require $28 billion in funding from 2021 to 2025. Of this cost, $518 million will be allocated to developing and manufacturing the xEMUs.
'False Hope That Will Predictably Backfire': Scientists Condemn 'Herd Immunity' Letter
Scientists and public health organizations are taking a firm stance against a recently circulated document—the Great Barrington Declaration—that calls for countries to largely abandon efforts to contain the spread of the covid-19 pandemic in lieu of a “herd immunity” strategy focused on younger, less vulnerable individuals. In various criticisms released this week, they bash the plan as impractical, unethical, and only likely to cause more death and illness.
One such condemnation, released Wednesday, was endorsed by 14 public health organizations, including the American Public Health Association. The statement singles out the declaration as not a strategy, but a political statement, one that ignores “sound public health expertise” and “preys on a frustrated populace.”
“Instead of selling false hope that will predictably backfire, we must focus on how to manage this pandemic in a safe, responsible, and equitable way,” the statement read.
China still making pangolin-based treatments despite banning use of scales, report says
Pangolin scales — armor-like, keratin-based plates that cover a pangolin’s body — are still being used in medicines sold and produced by Chinese companies, a new report has found. This is being done despite the Chinese government banning pangolin scales from the official list of approved ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and even giving the highest level of national protection to three species — the Chinese (Manis pentadactyla), Sunda (M. javanica) and Indian (M. crassicaudata) pangolins — back in June.
In the days following the pangolin scale ban, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a London-based nonprofit, reported that pangolin scales were still present in eight patent medicines in China’s 2020 pharmacopoeia, a reference book for TCM practitioners, although scales had been removed from the list of raw ingredients. On Oct. 13, EIA released a new report that expands upon these earlier findings.
Captive-reared scarlet macaws get a second chance at life in the wild
Newly shared images show a cohort of 26 young scarlet macaws (Ara macao) released into the forest, part of ongoing efforts to buoy their populations in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve.
“All of us were very excited the day of the release, including the macaw chicks,” Rony García-Anleu of Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) scarlet macaw monitoring and recovery program in Guatemala told Mongabay.
'Jet fighter' godwit breaks world record for non-stop bird flight
A bird said to have the aerodynamic build of a “jet fighter” has been tracked flying more than 12,000km (7,500 miles) from Alaska to New Zealand, setting a new world record for avian non-stop flight.
The bar-tailed godwit set off from south-west Alaska on 16 September and arrived in a bay near Auckland 11 days later, having flown at speeds of up to 55mph.
The male bird, known as 4BBRW in reference to the blue, blue, red and white rings fitted on its legs, also had a 5gm satellite tag harnessed on its lower back to allow scientists to track its progress. It was one of four to leave together from the Alaskan mudflats where they had been feeding on clams and worms for two months.
Tardigrades' latest superpower: a fluorescent protective shield
They might be tiny creatures with a comical appearance, but tardigrades are one of life’s great survivors. Now scientists say they have found a new species boasting an unexpected piece of armour: a protective fluorescent shield.
Also known as water bears or moss piglets, tardigrades are microscopic, water-dwelling creatures, around 0.5mm to 1mm in length, that resemble a crumpled hoover bag with eight legs.
But while their appearance invites amusing comparisons, it is their hardiness that has inspired awe: the creatures can survive the vacuum of space, extreme temperatures and pressures, and intense ionising and UV radiation.
Why there is hope that the world's coral reefs can be saved
[…] Coral reefs are ancient and highly adaptable – they first emerged nearly 500 million years ago; those corals went extinct, and the corals that we have now first appeared 240 million years ago. The difference now is the extreme pace of change. Coral is slow growing and a reef takes about 10 years to recover fully after a single bleaching event. By 2049, we are expecting annual bleaching events in the tropics, pushing reefs beyond recovery. It’s a grim prospect and one of the reasons that in 2015 the world’s nations pledged to limit global warming to 1.5C above preindustrial levels, a temperature that would enable coral reefs to survive. It remains far from clear whether we will meet this goal.
However, while we still have reefs, we still have hope. Some will do better than others – some already are – and scientists are trying to work out why in a bid to build resilience elsewhere. As with climate change, human activity is implicated. For instance, studies show that reefs are more likely to recover from a heating event if they are protected from other stresses, such as overfishing, pollution from agriculture and boat damage.
Ground-breaking discovery finally proves rain really can move mountains
A pioneering technique which captures precisely how mountains bend to the will of raindrops has helped to solve a long-standing scientific enigma.
The dramatic effect rainfall has on the evolution of mountainous landscapes is widely debated among geologists, but new research led by the University of Bristol and published today in Science Advances, clearly calculates its impact, furthering our understanding of how peaks and valleys have developed over millions of years.
Its findings, which focused on the mightiest of mountain ranges -- the Himalaya -- also pave the way for forecasting the possible impact of climate change on landscapes and, in turn, human life.
Lead author Dr Byron Adams, Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow at the university's Cabot Institute for the Environment, said: "It may seem intuitive that more rain can shape mountains by making rivers cut down into rocks faster. But scientists have also believed rain can erode a landscape quickly enough to essentially 'suck' the rocks out of the Earth, effectively pulling mountains up very quickly.
Babies' random choices become their preferences
When a baby reaches for one stuffed animal in a room filled with others just like it, that seemingly random choice is very bad news for those unpicked toys: the baby has likely just decided she doesn't like what she didn't choose.
Though researchers have long known that adults build unconscious biases over a lifetime of making choices between things that are essentially the same, the new Johns Hopkins University finding that even babies engage in this phenomenon demonstrates that this way of justifying choice is intuitive and somehow fundamental to the human experience.
"The act of making a choice changes how we feel about our options," said co-author Alex Silver, a former Johns Hopkins undergraduate who's now a graduate student in cognitive psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. "Even infants who are really just at the start of making choices for themselves have this bias."
The findings are published today in the journal Psychological Science.
Bridge of hope for world's rarest primate
Swinging through the treetops comes naturally for gibbons.
But that's tricky if a landslide has torn a huge gap in the forest, making it difficult to roam far and wide, to find food or meet a date.
For the rarest primate in the world, there's now a temporary solution: a rope bridge reconnecting the trees. And scientists have filmed the ape, a type of gibbon, climbing or swinging across in seconds.
Some used the ropes as a handrail, others swung by their arms and the most daring walked the tightrope. The primate lives only in the forests of China's Hainan island.
Superconductors: Material raises hope of energy revolution
Scientists have found the first material that displays a much sought-after property at room temperature. It is superconducting, which means electrical current flows through it with perfect efficiency - with no energy wasted as heat.
At the moment, a lot of the energy we produce is lost as heat because of electrical resistance. So room temperature "superconducting" materials could revolutionise the electrical grid.
Until this point, achieving superconductivity has required cooling materials to very low temperatures. When the property was discovered in 1911, it was found only at close to the temperature known as absolute zero (-273.15C).
The Washington Post
Why the coronavirus is killing more men than women
Men have weaker immune systems that, in some cases, may actually sabotage the body’s response to an invader. But social and cultural factors may also play a role.
Early in the coronavirus outbreak, hospital data from China revealed a startling disparity: Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, was killing far more men than women.
Meet the zeptosecond, the shortest unit of time ever measured
Scientists have measured the shortest unit of time ever: the time it takes a light particle to cross a hydrogen molecule.
That time, for the record, is 247 zeptoseconds. A zeptosecond is a trillionth of a billionth of a second, or a decimal point followed by 20 zeroes and a 1. Previously, researchers had dipped into the realm of zeptoseconds; in 2016, researchers reporting in the journal Nature Physics used lasers to measure time in increments down to 850 zeptoseconds. This accuracy is a huge leap from the 1999 Nobel Prize-winning work that first measured time in femtoseconds, which are millionths of a billionths of seconds.
Warm pasta helps hot, angry neutron stars cool down
Neutron stars are the angry ghosts of giant stars: hot, whirling cores of exotic matter left behind after supernovas. Like thermoses filled with hot noodle soup, it takes eons for them to cool down. But now, researchers think they know how these stars do it: with a giant helping of pasta.
No, these ultradense stellar corpses aren't filled with spaghetti. Instead, neutron stars cool down by releasing ethereal particles known as neutrinos. And the new study shows they accomplish that task thanks to an in-between type of matter known as nuclear pasta, a ripply, coiled material in which atoms almost, but don't quite, mush together. This nuclear pasta structure creates low-density regions inside the stars, allowing neutrinos, and heat, a way out.
Red supergiant Betelgeuse not so bright, not so giant, not so far away
The red supergiant Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion may not be quite as large or far away as previously thought, new research suggests, but it’s still a prime candidate to end its life in a supernova blast as it burns up the last of its nuclear fuel in the (astronomically speaking) not-too-distant future.
Speculation about just when that fiery blast might be expected ramped up in the wake of the star’s pronounced dimming over the past year. But extensive observations suggest a different explanation: most of that dimming was caused by a huge cloud of dusty debris thrown off by the bloated star along the line of sight to Earth.
A second, less intense episode likely was triggered by pressure waves driving pulsations in the giant star.
Microwaving plastic waste can generate clean hydrogen
Chemists have used microwaves to convert plastic bags, milk bottles and other supermarket packaging into a clean source of hydrogen.
Plastic waste can already be converted to hydrogen using other methods, and commercial facilities are being developed to transform the plastic. However, a new approach holds the promise of being quicker and less energy-intensive.
Peter Edwards at the University of Oxford says he and his colleagues wanted to “confront the grim reality” of plastic waste, with the UK alone producing 1.5 million tonnes each year. As the density of hydrogen in plastic bags is about 14 per cent by weight, plastic offers a possible new source for countries eyeing cleanly produced hydrogen to tackle climate change.
How the Trump admin devastated the CDC—and continues to cripple it
The CDC has been neutered, shamed, and blamed amid the novel coronavirus pandemic and global crisis. From internal missteps that bungled the country’s rollout of diagnostic testing to blatant political interference and strong-arming on critical public health guidance, the CDC has gone from the world’s premier public health agency to a silenced, overridden, distrusted afterthought in the US response—an agency stripped of its ability to collect even basic health data from hospitals during a raging pandemic.
The heavy blows to the agency’s reputation and role have been well documented throughout the pandemic. President Trump and his administration have openly undermined the agency and, behind the scenes, attacked it while overriding expert public health advice on testing, school reopening, and the handling of outbreaks on cruise ships, among other things.
But while the broad strokes of the agency’s undoing were noted in real time, a set of new investigations and reports offers new details. In a sweeping investigative report by ProPublica, three journalists retraced a number of events, digging up emails, heated exchanges, and alarm within the agency. For instance, it provides fresh insight into how a single CDC researcher valiantly worked to develop diagnostic tests for the novel coronavirus, only to fumble, producing tests contaminated with genetic sequences of the virus. That contamination produced false positive results in public health labs around the country, rendering the tests useless and losing precious time to get ahead of the disease's spread.
A La Niña winter is on the way for the US
September apparently wasn’t feeling like doing anything unusual, so it ended up being the warmest September on record for the globe. That’s been something of a trend this year, with each month landing in its respective top three. It has become increasingly clear that 2020 will likely be the second warmest year on record, if it isn’t the first.
Unlike in August, the contiguous US didn’t set a record in September, though it was still above the 20th century average. A high-pressure ridge dominated over the West Coast again, leading to even more warm and dry weather for much of the Western US. But a trough set up over the Central US in mid-September, bringing cooler air southward.
Two more hurricanes—Sally and Beta—led to above-average rainfall in the Southeast. Total precipitation for the contiguous US was a touch above average as a result, but the average as usual masks local differences. Drought conditions have expanded and worsened over much of the West, and there has been little relief for wildfire conditions.