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Daily briefing: This principle has enabled scientists to speak truth to power for 100 years

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A lander’s-eye view of the Martian horizon

NASA's InSight Mars lander took this photo on the surface of Mars using a camera mounted on its robotic arm. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Touchdown for Mars InSight lander

NASA’s InSight spacecraft — the first geophysical observatory ever sent to Mars — touched down safely on the Martian surface yesterday. Two small ‘cubesats’ the size of shoeboxes, which had flown independently alongside InSight, conveyed news of its landing in near-real-time to Earth. The next tasks for the lander will be to deploy the sensitive instruments that will measure seismic activity and launch the ‘mole’ sensor that will burrow 5 metres into the surface to measure soil temperature.

Nature | 4 min read

First test of solar geoengineering

A modest experiment that will spray sunlight-reflecting particles into the stratosphere will be the first in the world to move solar geoengineering out of the lab. The plan is to study tiny 100-gram plumes of calcium carbonate — equivalent to the amount found in an average bottle of antacid — released from a balloon around 20 kilometres up. Researchers hope to determine whether such particles can cool the planet by reflecting some of the Sun’s rays back into space.

Critics say that geoengineering is based on uncertain science, requires an unlikely level of human cooperation and is a dangerous distraction from the real work of cutting greenhouse-gas pollution. By moving the conversation forward, the project’s cautious approach could end up being more influential than any scientific results. “This is as much an experiment in changing social norms and crossing a line as it is a science experiment,” says environmentalist Jim Thomas.

Nature | 13 min read

France might return African artefacts

France should consider returning African artefacts that were taken during the colonial period or illicitly acquired later, says a government report. The document specifically calls for the repatriation of a small number of artefacts that are known to have been looted, and which have been requested by their countries of origin — for example, royal regalia taken by French troops during the 1892 sacking of Abomey, in what is now Benin. A huge research effort will be required to understand the history of the tens of thousands of objects in French collections, but the report doesn’t suggest who should pay for it.

Nature | 3 min read

FEATURES & OPINION

A principle to cherish in dark times

One hundred years ago, politician Richard Burdon Haldane crafted the idea that scientists, not politicians, should steer the direction of research. “In many nations, the Haldane principle is near-totemic — regarded as the scholar’s last defence against more powerful interests,” writes science policy expert Ehsan Masood. Now it’s more crucial than ever as “a parade of authoritarian leaders is advancing policies that fly in the face of evidence [and] demanding that academics march to the beat of their drums”.

Nature | 10 min read

Be a human first, then a scientist

Organizational psychologist Alison Antes has both worked with scientists recognized as exemplary by their peers and with those who have been referred to a formal remediation programme after lapses in research integrity. Each group says the same: positive relationships in the lab are key to conducting successful research. Antes shares six ways to add ‘relationship building’ to your to-do list.

Nature | 5 min read

Beware the rise of the radical right

The rise of the extreme right in Europe offers chilling evidence of the threat to academic freedom from radical politicians in power, argues a Nature editorial. The journal pledges to speak out against injustice and specific cases where academic freedom is threatened — by any regime.

Nature | 4 min read

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Is the genie really out of the bottle? Yes.”

Leading geneticist George Church says he has seen the data associated with the shock announcement of the first genome-edited babies, and it seems to confirm the claim. (STAT)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-07565-w

Good news: unicorns are real and now we know they lived alongside humans! (The bad news is they’ve been extinct for at least 35,000 years. Also they’re more like hairy rhinos.) Share your delightful megafauna facts — and any other feedback — with me at briefing@nature.com.

Thanks for reading!

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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