NATURE BRIEFING

Daily briefing: UK university will ban lectures

“Soul-destroying” for lecturers and not great for learning anyway. Plus: climate change made the record-breaking heatwave in Europe at least five times more likely and psychology’s possible conflict-of-interest problem.

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People cool down in the fountains of Trocadero near the Eiffel Tower during a heatwave in Paris, France

France was one of the places affected by a heatwave that hit Europe around 26 June.Credit: Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Climate change linked to Europe’s heatwave

Climate change made the record-breaking heatwave in Europe at least five times more likely. Scientists grabbed the opportunity to do a real-time analysis of the event while attending a climate conference in France. They used climate models to compare temperatures with those that would be likely in a world without global warming. Adding factors such historical temperature records and air pollution into the mix raised the bar even higher: in that analysis, such a heatwave in June has become 100 times more likely since around 1900.

“Some say the uncertainties are too big,” says climate researcher Friederike Otto. “There are indeed caveats, mostly to do with imperfect climate models. But even with large uncertainty bars we think it is useful to provide quantitative evidence for how climate change is affecting extreme weather.”

Nature | 4 min read

‘Unfairly scrutinized, stigmatized and on edge’

“Faculty members, post-docs, research staff and students tell me that, in their dealings with government agencies, they now feel unfairly scrutinized, stigmatized and on edge — because of their Chinese ethnicity alone,” says an open letter from the president of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The open letter follows similar statements from at least ten other top US universities (including Yale and Stanford) and Chinese-American scientific groups. MIT scientists tell Nature about discomfiting experiences with government officials in recent months — and say they are changing their behaviour in response.

Nature | 5 min read

UK university will ban lectures

The leaders of a new university in London will ban lectures in favour of tutorials and online learning modules completed on campus. PLuS Engineering is a spin-off of a collaboration between King’s College London, Arizona State University and the University of New South Wales Sydney. The university is responding to evidence that lectures are not great for learning, are “soul-destroying at times” for teachers and won’t work for tech-savvy ‘generation alpha’ students (born between 2010 and 2025, apparently).

Nature Index | 6 min read

FEATURES & OPINION

Does psychology have a conflict-of-interest problem?

Some star psychologists don’t disclose in research papers the large sums they earn for talking about their work. Many editors and psychologists say it’s fine — this kind of income should not count as a conflict of interest because “there would not seem to be incentives aligned with making one claim versus another” in the words of author and psychologist Steven Pinker. Critics argue that lax disclosure norms could create problems by encouraging some scientists to play down — perhaps unconsciously — findings that contradict their arguments, and could lead them to avoid declaring other conflicts.

Nature | 14 min read

Do you know a champion of science?

Nominations are now open for the 2019 John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science. The award recognizes the work of any individual who promotes science and evidence on a matter of public interest in the face of hostility. There is also a prize for early-career individuals.

Closing date for nominations is 19 July 2019. Find out more or nominate someone here.

India’s fight against shoddy scholarship

“Fending off the attack of trash science will be a long battle,” says grant commissioner Bhushan Patwardhan, part of the effort by India’s higher-education regulator to cull hundreds of journals from a list of approved titles. Patwardhan argues that the more important work is still to come to correct the emphasis on quantity over quality as an academic performance indicator.

Nature | 4 min read

Read more: India culls hundreds more ‘dubious’ journals from government approved list (Nature, 2 min read)

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Living in fear or not being able to show their true selves harms individuals. Keeping people from doing their best science, or excluding them, harms everyone.”

Decisions to host conferences in an LGBT+ hostile country should never be taken lightly, argues a Nature editorial expressing support for Pride in STEM.

Last week I asked whether you let people borrow your books — or maybe hold a ransom when you do. Several readers agreed never a lender nor a borrower be, and some shared stories of the lost books forever mourned. “About 35 years ago I lent the now long out-of-print Hindi textbook that I used as a Peace Corps trainee in 1969 and never saw it again,” was one reader’s heartbreaking tale.

Others suggested a more philosophical approach. “Why ransom? For a book?” writes Silvana Kasinski. “Will you be buried with it? Pharaohs can tell you what glory came from such ideas.”

Steve Sherman, surely a saint among us, keeps a second Kindle specifically to loan out books. “Somehow people are more conscientious about returning an electronic device that costs over $100 than a book that costs $25,” he writes.

Thank you for every email about lending books, the high price of maple syrup, and your feedback on this newsletter. Keep ‘em coming, please, to briefing@nature.com.

Thanks for reading!

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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