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Daily briefing: 10 great things about being an academic

On the plus side of being a prof, how the Soviet collapse cut down on meat (and carbon) and the 13-year-old scientist uncovering why children hate hand dryers.

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The industrial fattening complex for cows in the USSR, 1982

A Soviet cow-fattening complex pictured in 1982.Credit: Nikolai Akimov/TASS

Soviet collapse cut down on meat — and carbon

Soviet citizens ate much more meat on average than the rest of the world — until prices soared and the rouble weakened following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. From 1992 to 2011, emissions dropped as cattle and pig numbers halved. At the same time, carbon was sequestered in the estimated one-third of cropland that was abandoned. The outcome: a net reduction of 7.6 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases — a result that could be reversed, because meat farming in the region looks set to rise again.

Nature | 3 min read

Reference: Environmental Research Letters paper

Source: Ref. 1

Opioid epidemic drives spike in infections

The opioid crisis that is killing tens of thousands of people every year in the United States has created a surge in bacterial and viral infections. The outbreaks include spikes in new cases of HIV and hepatitis that threatens to undo decades of progress. Researchers are scrambling to gather the data needed to combat the problem, hindered by the stigma that prevents some opioid users from seeking early treatment. “This is like HIV all over again,” says infectious-disease physician Judith Feinberg.

Nature | 5 min read

Pre-teen scientist confirms hand dryers hurt

Many hand dryers are dangerously loud for children — and louder than the manufacturers claim. Thirteen-year-old Nora Keegan, who published the findings last month in Paediatrics & Child Health, launched her research as a primary-school science project. Keegan tested 44 different dryers in Calgary, Canada, and found that many exceed 100 dBA — the top limit allowed for children’s toys in Canada — when measured lower and closer to the dryer, where children would stand. Keegan has also invented a prototype air diverter that reduces the noise level for shorter users.

CBC | 4 min read

Reference: Paediatrics & Child Health paper


“It’s devastating. There’s now more people working on right whales than there are right whales left.”

Marine biologist Regina Asmutis-Silvia responds to the news that six North Atlantic right whales — more than 1% of the population — were found dead in June. (The Atlantic)


Dams might push Amazon to a knife-edge

The Belo Monte complex — slated to be one of the world’s biggest generators of hydroelectric power — promises to bring renewable energy and economic growth to Brazil. It will also contribute to deforestation that threatens to destabilize the Amazon, with global repercussions. “If that tipping point is crossed, it’s irreversible,” says climate scientist Carlos Nobre. “It’s an ongoing dynamic process that will really lead to savanna-ization of 50, 60 percent of the Amazon.”

The Washington Post | 10 min read

“I love being a professor”

“We seriously risk scaring away excellent researchers from academic careers because we do not help them to see the factors that keep us in academia,” writes microbiologist Patrick Schloss. While acknowledging the hurdles for women, minorities and first-generation graduate students (he is none of the above), Schloss offers the top 10 reasons why he loves being an academic.

mSphere | 11 min read

Adventures of a space archaeologist

“I thought I was hallucinating: an entire ancient city leapt off the screen,” writes space archaeologist Sarah Parcak of the moment that satellite images revealed Egypt’s ancient capital, Tanis, in shocking detail. Parcak’s new book offers her personal take on panning out to see the past.

Nature | 6 min read


Happy Canada Day! Did you know the first feet on the Moon during the Apollo landing were Canadian? As I prepare for the traditional dip in a paddling pool full of maple syrup, it would make my day to hear your opinion — positive or critical — about this newsletter, Please get in touch at

Thanks for reading!

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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