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Daily briefing: Leaked China files reveal arrests by algorithm

Documents say that, in just one week in 2017, more than 15,000 people flagged by algorithm were interned. Plus: lion-cub mummies discovered in Egypt and how hardy corals could help save the world’s reefs.

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The mummy of a feline

Mummified felines, thought to be lion cubs, have been discovered alongside statues and other animal mummies.Credit: Ministry of Antiquities

Lion-cub mummies discovered in Egypt

Two lion cubs are the latest find to set Egyptologists buzzing after a swathe of exciting discoveries. The lions were found along with other feline mummies and animal statues at a necropolis south of Cairo. Last month, it was announced that 30 sealed coffins and their mummified human contents had been discovered near Luxor.

Researchers outside Egypt will not yet be allowed to work on the finds. A Nature editorial urges the government to issue a call for proposals when the time is right.

Nature | 4 min read

Modified mosquitoes dampen dengue

Cases of dengue fever plummeted in areas of Indonesia, Vietnam and Brazil in the months after researchers released mosquitoes that were modified to be resistant to the virus. The modified mosquitoes carry dengue-blocking Wolbachia bacteria, which then spread through local mosquito populations. The heartening result means researchers will embark on a larger, better-controlled study to confirm the effect.

Nature | 2 min read

Violence hampering efforts to contain Ebola

Ebola cases are likely to rise in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) because a surge in violence is hampering efforts to contain the virus. The World Health Organization has temporarily evacuated one-third of its 120 staff from the city of Beni. Over the past three weeks, an armed group called the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) has terrorized residents of Beni and nearby areas with machetes and knives — at least 77 people have been killed. The current Ebola outbreak has killed nearly 2,200 people in the eastern DRC since August 2018.

Nature | 3 min read

Leaked China files reveal arrests by algorithm

Leaked Chinese government documents shed light on the country’s process for detaining more than one million people, mostly Muslim Uyghurs, in Xinjiang. Some confirm how the government is using unprecedented mass surveillance to feed an algorithm that identifies people for investigation on the basis of criteria as innocuous as travelling abroad, installing certain messaging apps or frequently using the back door of their home. One leaked intelligence briefing notes that, in just one week in 2017, security officials rounded up more than 15,000 Xinjiang residents flagged by the algorithm and placed them in internment camps.

In a statement to The Guardian, the Chinese embassy in the United Kingdom called the leaked documents “pure fabrication”.

International Consortium of Investigative Journalists | 18 min read

Features & opinion

Healthy new plate coral growth in a lagoon on Kanton Island

Some coral reefs off the Phoenix Islands in Kiribati seem to be resilient to warming seas.Credit: National Geographic Image Collection/Alamy

Hardy corals spark fresh hope

Coral scientists are facing one of our greatest conservation challenges with innovative solutions that focus on the half of Earth’s reefs that remain. They are working to identify and protect naturally resilient reefs, replanting hand-reared coral on damaged reefs and even raising coral larvae in protected pools before spreading the young organisms around. All the while, scientists recognize that they can’t do it alone: “Unless we curb carbon emissions, none of this is going to make any difference whatsoever,” says molecular ecologist Iliana Baums.

Nature | 10 min read

Africa should set its own health-research agenda

For more than 20 years, Francisca Mutapi led a programme in Zimbabwe on human schistosomiasis. The experience gave her first-hand knowledge of how inequitable partnerships that task African scientists as data gatherers for Western research agendas are unlikely to make a difference to the African health problems that really matter. Local experts — not rich donors — must design and control studies, argues Mutapi.

Nature | 4 min read

Journals issue joint statement to EPA

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must desist from a course that could harm both human and planetary health, argues a joint statement from six of the world’s leading science journals. H. Holden Thorp from Science, Magdalena Skipper from Nature, Veronique Kiermer from PLoS, May Berenbaum from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Deborah Sweet from Cell Press and Richard Horton from The Lancet call on the EPA to drop its proposed ‘transparency’ rules to ensure that the scientific data used in decision-making are the best available.

Nature | 3 min read

Read more: E.P.A. to Limit Science Used to Write Public Health Rules (The New York Times)

Where I work

Jean-Pierre Bourguignon

Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, president of the European Research Council in Brussels.Credit: Mashid Mohadjerin for Nature

The only painting in the office of Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, president of the European Research Council in Brussels, is a piece of Chinese calligraphy by the late mathematician Shiing-Shen Chern that says “Mathematics is fun”. Chern was an inspiration and mentor who “approached science as a collaborative, creative endeavour”, says Bourguignon, who aims to help others to reap the benefits of international cooperation.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Researchers and students should not need to live in fear in the pursuit of their science.”

The sentencing of eight researchers in Iran for using camera traps to study endangered wildlife should raise the alarm, argues a Nature editorial.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-03682-2

I’m off to ponder Hoag's Object, a nearly perfectly round galaxy that’s also a beautiful conundrum. Send me your favourite cosmic mystery — plus any other feedback on this newsletter — at briefing@nature.com.

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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