Daily briefing: Stunning ‘light pillars’ in the skies of subarctic Sweden

The month’s most spectacular science images, why science shies away from confronting organized research fraud and how the editors of Nature Methods evaluate papers.

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Snowy landscape and forest tilted up towards the sky, where 'pillars' of light are visible

Credit: Mia Stålnacke/Cover Images

January’s best science images

The spectacular image above shows ice crystals in the atmosphere reflecting streetlights and the Moon, producing pillars of light that look like spotlights shining up into the sky. ‘Light hunter’ Mia Stålnacke captured this image in Kiruna, Sweden, against the eerie backdrop of the aurora borealis. See more of the month’s most eye-opening images selected by Nature’s photo team.

Nature | Leisurely scroll

Trump’s plan to tackle HIV

In his State of the Union address on 5 February, US President Donald Trump committed to eliminating HIV in the country by 2030. “I think the agenda is desperately needed, doable and focused,” says global-health specialist Mark Dybul of the plan to concentrate on diagnosing and preventing infection in the most at-risk groups. Critics worry that some of the Trump administration’s other policies — such as closing needle-exchange programmes and allowing medical practitioners to deny treatment on religious or moral grounds — will hinder its success.

Nature | 4 min read

Africa analysis might solve methane mystery

Scientists are getting closer to understanding Africa’s contribution to a mysterious rise in atmospheric methane seen since 2006. Researchers used an aeroplane to sample emissions from papyrus swamps, burning farm fields and flatulent livestock to help pinpoint the source of the extra emissions, which seem to come from the tropics.

Nature | 5 min read


We need to talk about systematic fraud

In 2015, oncologist Jennifer Byrne noticed strange errors in published research about a gene she herself had co-discovered. Byrne determined that the publications were the product of fraudulent ‘paper factories’ in China. The experience drove her to develop a fraud-spotting tool that has led to 17 retractions so far. Yet, her anti-fraud work has been occasionally dismissed as frivolous or even vindictive. Byrne asks, “Why is there such enthusiasm for talking about faulty research practices, yet such reluctance to discuss deliberate deception?”

Nature | 5 min read

How journal editors edit

“As we demand more transparency from our authors, we appreciate that we must also provide more insight into our own editorial processes,” say the editors of Nature Methods. They step through how they evaluate papers submitted to the journal, from review to publication (or rejection).

Nature Methods | 6 min read

How to measure poverty before money

Take a masterclass in the challenging study of historical global poverty by following the debate between anthropologist Jason Hickel and economist Max Roser. Hickel argues that graphs, shared by Bill Gates and others, showing that global poverty is decreasing reveal only “that the world went from a situation where most of humanity had no need of money at all to one where today most of humanity struggles to survive on extremely small amounts of money”. In response, Roser and economist Joe Hasell take a deep dive into how historical poverty rates are calculated, going back to the thirteenth century. Hinkel then takes to Twitter to question just how sound the data really are.

The Guardian | 7 min read

Our World in Data blog | 21 min read

Twitter | 5 min read


“Bourgain would repeatedly enter some area, solve several of its outstanding problems and create an entirely new field of study in the process.”

Mathematics writer Erica Klarreich recalls the dizzyingly prolific mathematician Jean Bourgain, who died on 22 December. (Nature)

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Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

Nature Briefing

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