NATURE BRIEFING

Daily briefing: Give scientists time to think, says Nobel-winning physicist Donna Strickland

Fundamental science takes time, the Solar System is about to get even more Hawaiian and crowdfunding flips science’s traditional reward model.

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Sunrise at the NEON tower outside Barrow, Alaska

NEON operates this instrument-laden tower in Alaska, which gathers data on the surrounding taiga ecosystem.Credit: Chris McKay, Batelle Memorial Inst.

Turmoil at US ecology project

Sudden leadership changes at the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) have prompted the resignation of its top scientist and the dissolution of its advisory board. NEON has almost finished constructing a web of more than 80 ecological observation sites across the United States, and is beginning to produce data for ecologists to analyse. The turmoil is the latest in a long line of woes for NEON, which launched in 2000 and has faced ballooning budgets and allegations of mismanagement by its previous operator.

Nature | 4 min read

Hawaii makes its mark on the Solar System

The experts who named ‘Oumuamua — the first interstellar object to be detected passing through the Solar System — are turning their hands to other celestial bodies discovered using Hawaii’s world-class telescopes. The team aims to create Hawaiian names on demand to connect modern Indigenous culture with local astronomical discoveries. The effort is partly in response to decades of disagreement over how astronomy is done on the islands’ sacred mountains.

Nature | 5 min read

Crowdfunding research rewards the underdog

Women raise more money than men using crowdfunding platforms, and PhD students and postdocs have more success than more-experienced scientists. Those are the results of a study that examined 700 pitches posted by scientists on the crowdfunding platform Experiment.com.

Nature | 3 min read

Serbia’s controversial science revamp

Serbia is making sweeping reforms to its ailing science system as part of its efforts to join the European Union. Its government says that it is keen to revitalize the cash-starved research system, which last called for grants nearly a decade ago. Critics fear that the reforms could lead to salary cuts, job losses and political interference.

Nature | 6 min read

Cold Spring Lab strips titles from Watson

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has revoked several honorary titles held by its former leader, DNA pioneer James Watson, over his views on ethnicity and genetics. The lab in New York state called Watson’s comments, made in a recent documentary, “reprehensible” and “unsupported by science”. Watson said in the documentary that genetics accounts for a difference on the average between blacks and whites on IQ tests, and stood by similar comments he made in 2007 that led to him losing his job as chancellor at the lab. Watson, now 90, is recovering from a car crash and could not comment, reports the Associated Press. “My dad’s statements might make him out to be a bigot and discriminatory,” said Watson’s son Rufus, but that’s not true. “They just represent his rather narrow interpretation of genetic destiny.”

Associated Press | 4 min read

FEATURES & OPINION

12 ways academia can welcome mothers

Being a mother poses very specific challenges to maintaining an academic career, argue the three authors from the Mama is an Academic blog. They suggest a 12-point wishlist for employers to ease the burden, from managing maternity leave effectively to supporting mums’ attendance at conferences.

Nature | 5 min read

Give scientists time to think

“We must give scientists the opportunity through funding and time to pursue curiosity-based, long-term, basic-science research,” argues Nobel-winning physicist Donna Strickland. She describes how it took her a year just to build the laser that would revolutionize the field of high-intensity laser physics, and that it took another decade for practical uses common today to come into view.

The Conversation | 5 min read

Mathematician defined the landscape of theoretical physics

Michael Atiyah, who won many of the world’s top mathematics awards and worked for global peace, has died at the age of 89. Atiyah was a pioneer of the field of index theory, which he called “a bit of black magic” that used topological tools to understand differential equations. He was also president of the Pugwash conferences, an influential group which seeks to curtail armed conflicts around the world.

The New York Times | 8 min read

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Don’t forget, if one day they don’t want to pay you, they push a button and your dream is over.”

Planetary astronomer Franck Marchis, who experienced the 2013 US government shutdown, has some advice for young people considering government-funded work. (Nature)

QUIRKS OF NATURE

Cartoon showing vial of potassium phosphate saying “I’m doing dry January” to a beaker of copper sulphate

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Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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