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A California condor at the Los Angeles Zoo.

A California condor at the Los Angeles Zoo.Richard Vogel/AP/Shutterstock

California condor claws back from the brink

In 1982, with only 22 California condors left in the world, conservationists took a radical step: they captured every remaining one. A captive breeding programme led to the first condors being reintroduced to the wild in 1992. Now the programme has reached another milestone: its 1,000th chick. The youngster was hatched in the wilds of Zion National Park in Utah to two parents that were bred in captivity. By far the leading killer of California condors (Gymnogyps californianus) is lead poisoning from animals shot and left behind by hunters.

The Washington Post | 5 min read

What the new UK leader could mean for science

Member of Parliament Boris Johnson, a controversial former foreign secretary and Mayor of London, has been selected by his party as the United Kingdom’s new prime minister. Johnson takes over without a national election, following the resignation of Theresa May. At the forefront of many scientists’ minds are questions about how Johnson’s leadership, including his support for a ‘no deal’ exit from the European Union, will affect research.

Nature | 7 min read

Brain differences after Cuban ‘sonic attack’

Scientists have turned to neuroimaging to try to shed light on the mysterious concussion-like symptoms reported by some US diplomats in Cuba last year. Researchers looked at the brains of 40 affected people using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and found “significant differences” compared to a control group. The results indicate that “something happened to the brain”, says biomedical imaging researcher Ragini Verma. “But I don’t know the cause. The imaging by itself cannot tell us that.”

The New York Times | 5 min read

Reference: JAMA paper


Fauna located in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone sea floor.

Deep sea animals collected from abyssal ocean floor in Clarion-Clipperton Zone. Clockwise from top left: Sea cucumber known as the ‘gummy squirrel’ (Psychropotes longicauda), a sea urchin and two sea cucumbers.Credit: DeepCCZ Project

Deep-sea miners are going in blind

Humanity's hunger for rare-earth metals and various minerals means that we will soon see the start of deep-sea mining in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean known as the Clarion–Clipperton Zone (CCZ). But we know very little about how operators can avoid causing serious harm. In one field trial, started in 1989, simulated deep-sea mining had a devastating impact on marine life — and the site has never recovered. “Scientists know that mining will cause local extinction of species in the CCZ, but are we talking about the extinction of species across the CCZ or just in the mined area? It is complicated,” says ecologist Gordon Paterson.

The destructive potential extends beyond the loss of species, notes a Nature editorial that calls for rules for deep-sea mining before it’s too late. “The use of tractor-sized machines, each weighing around 300 tonnes, could release carbon locked up in deep-sea sediments into the atmosphere, worsening climate change.”

Nature | 14 min read (feature) & Nature | 3 min read (editorial)

Registered Reports hit the big time

Two Registered Reports have been published in Nature Human Behaviour — the first articles of this format in a Nature Research journal. In this approach, peer review and the decision to publish precede data collection and analysis, which aims to remove the bias for positive, sometimes eye-catching results over negative findings. This is good for researchers, funders and science, argues a Nature editorial.

One of the new studies examined whether having insight into your own abilities is associated with greater life satisfaction (spoiler: nope). The other tested the much-debated question of whether giving people testosterone makes them more willing to take morally transgressive actions (it turns out: quite the opposite). “In essence, the first two Registered Reports we are publishing consist of a null result and a result that contradicts the experimental hypothesis,” notes a Nature Human Behaviour editorial. “This does not reduce their value … We need these important contributions to be published.”

Nature | 4 min read & Nature Human Behaviour | 3 min read

(Nature’s news team — including this Briefing — is editorially independent of its publisher, Springer Nature.)

Reference: Nature Human Behaviour paper 1 & paper 2

We have to stop meeting like this

Mathematician Malabika Pramanik was horrified to discover that the carbon emissions from business air travel at her university exceed the target for the whole institution in 2020. Researchers analysed around 4,800 staff at the University of British Columbia (go Thunderbirds!) and found that more than half of flights were for attending conferences. The report recommends flying economy (to pack in more people and save money for offsets), and replacing in-person lectures and very short trips with virtual visits. “But these remain tiny drops in a giant bucket,” says Pramanik. “There is pressing need for larger deliberation within the academic community that could lead to global academic policy changes.”

The Tyee | 6 min read

Reference: Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions report


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