NATURE BRIEFING

Summer briefing: The five must-read and science-fiction books of the season

Five books to open your mind this summer, plus award-winning stories from Nature this year.

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Half submerged traffic signs can be seen down a flooded street in Texas

A flooded street in Orange, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey in 2017. These record rains were made at least three times more likely by climate change.Credit: Scott Olson/Getty

How to tell when climate change is to blame

Weather agencies are ramping up their work to offer rapid analysis of climate change’s role in extreme weather. The ‘attribution science’ that underpins the weather reports has been maturing for more than a decade.

Nature | 12 min read

Reporter Quirin Schiermeier won the Association of British Science Writers’ (ABSW) Science under the microscope award for providing insight into the process and personalities of science in this feature from July 2018.

The rules of planet building are changing

As astronomers collect a growing menagerie of exoplanet systems, they are struggling to square their observations with current theories on how the Solar System formed. Our system has rocky planets near the Sun and giant gas balls farther out, but the panoply of exoplanets obeys no tidy patterns.

Nature | 13 min read

Reporter Rebecca Boyle won the 2019 American Astronomical Society’s Jonathan Eberhart Planetary Science Journalism Award for distinguished popular writing for this feature from December 2018.

AWARD-WINNING JOURNALISM

Excellence in healthcare journalism

Two Nature stories from 2018 won top awards for excellence in healthcare journalism.

• Reporter Amy Maxmen explored how several drug-resistant strains of malaria have developed in southeast Asia — sometimes with disastrous consequences. Nature’s stunning infographic-packed feature from July looks at how scientists are racing to stamp out the disease in the region.(16 min read)

• Reporter Heidi Ledford wrote this November story about how social media and patient-advisory groups have given clinical-trial participants unprecedented power in how experiments are run — sometimes threatening the integrity of the research. (17 min read)

European Science Journalist of the Year

Reporter Alison Abbott was joint winner of the ABSW’s European European science journalist of the year award, for three stories:

• Despite huge hurdles, some researchers and educators are doing what they can to develop a functioning scientific community in the Palestinian territories. A shifting political situation, violence, poor infrastructure, travel restrictions and limited financial support are among the challenges facing scientists in the region. (15 min read, from November)

• Neuroscientist Nachum Ulanovsky has discovered new aspects of how the brain encodes navigation — with the help of 100 bats and a long, dark tunnel. His ambitious experimental set-up is a pioneering example of ‘natural neuroscience’, which goes beyond the limits of what researchers can learn from highly simplified behaviour in the lab. (12 min read, from July 2018)

• The discovery of Galileo’s long-lost letter shows that he edited his heretical ideas to fool the Inquisition. The astronomer toned down the claims that triggered science history’s most infamous battle — then lied about his edits. (7 min read, from September)

AWARD-WINNING VIDEO

Butterflies caught in an evolutionary trap

An isolated population of Edith’s checkerspot butterflies became dependent on a plant introduced to their habitat by cattle ranchers. When people left the area, the plant’s dominance decreased and the butterflies were wiped out. Nature Video uses painted hands to tell the tale.

Watch the video

Reference: Nature paper

Producer Noah Baker and his team won the ABSW Innovation of the Year award for this video from May 2018.

AWARD-WINNING INFOGRAPHIC

The gorgeous infographic from How to build a Moon base (from October), illustrated by Maciej Rębisz, won an Award of Excellence from the Society of News Design. Here it is, just for you, as a free PDF download to print and enjoy.

BOOKS & ARTS

Summer books: Five must-reads

Barbara Kiser’s pick of the best science and science-fiction books to read now (even if it’s winter — I see you, Southern Hemisphere):

• A “world without borders, full of possibility, past, present and future” opens up in space archaeologist Sarah Parcaks’ exhilarating scientific memoir of wielding remote sensing to discover ancient sites, Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past.

• A long, strange trip of a book, Mescaline: A Global History of the First Psychedelic by Mike Jay traces the trajectory of the psychoactive alkaloid through human culture and pharmacological research.

• Science-fiction icon Neal Stephenson’s Fall; or, Dodge in Hell is an industrial-strength cocktail of myth, cryonics, virtual reality, the mind-body problem and brain uploading — in 880 dazzling and disturbing pages.

• Nathaniel Rich’s powerful Losing Earth centres on a lost opportunity with global consequences: the moment in 1979 when climate researchers and environmental activists nearly transformed energy policy.

• Journeying into the hippocampus and across the globe, M. R. O’Connor’s wonderful, far-reaching book Wayfinding explores the nexus of brain and terrain in human navigation.

I’m currently paddleboarding on a lake somewhere in British Columbia, but I hope you still enjoyed this round-up of powerful stories that are definitely worth a second look. We’ll be back to our regular rhythm on 19 August, but in the meantime you can expect another holiday-style newsletter to drop into your inbox next Thursday. I look forward to returning to your feedback, sent to briefing@nature.com.

In the meantime, why not enter to win the ultimate Apollo LEGO® collection or try your hand at our first-ever cartoon caption contest.

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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