Hello Nature readers, would you like to get this Briefing in your inbox free every day? Sign up here
“There is no such thing as a neutral tech platform,” warned developmental psychologist Celeste Kidd during her keynote talk at last month’s Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS) conference. At the meeting, which hosted a record 13,000 attendees, researchers grappled with issues including how to enact deeper structural change, to what extent companies should be made responsible for their technologies and the lack of ethical review process for many of the papers published in the field.
Wuhan coronavirus outbreak
Coronavirus death toll continues to rise
• At least 80 deaths have now been associated with the virus, all in China, and confirmed cases of the infection across the country have passed 2,700. Cases have also been confirmed in Taiwan, Thailand, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, France, Japan, South Korea, the United States, Vietnam, Canada and Nepal. (Nature | 7 min read, continuously updated)
• Chinese authorities have closed off travel into and out of the virus-hit city of Wuhan in an attempt to stop the outbreak’s spread. The mass quarantine, announced on 23 January, pens in more than 35 million people across the nation. Nature spoke to three researchers about what it’s like to be inside Wuhan right now. (Nature, 3 min read)
• Structural biologist Rolf Hilgenfeld has been working on a cure for coronaviruses since the 2002–03 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). He is making his way to the epicentre of the outbreak, the locked-down city of Wuhan, to test early-stage drug candidates in animals infected with the latest virus. (Nature, 4 min read)
• The speed and openness of the scientific response to the coronavirus has been unprecedented. Ten days after it was first reported in people, scientists in China and Australia released the virus’s genetic sequence. Within hours, research labs worldwide were putting all hands on deck to understand the disease. “This is one of the first times we’re getting to see an outbreak of a new virus and have the scientific community sharing their data almost in real time,” says molecular biologist Michael Letko. (The Washington Post | 5 min read)
Features & opinion
In response to a British government decision against welcoming child refugees — and on Holocaust Memorial Day — scientific biographer and obituarist Georgina Ferry reflects on how much leading scientific nations have gained from people to whom they once gave sanctuary. “Take three pioneering researchers who all died in December 2019” — Hans Kornberg, Hannah Steinberg and Leslie Brent — “and all had one other thing in common: they came to Britain in 1938–39 as unaccompanied child refugees from Europe”, writes Ferry.
Theories of how life survived and thrived are more complex and collaborative than a simple interpretation of Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest], writes anthropologist John Favini. The lesson for some of us, argues Favini, is to stop imposing a cultural preference for competition on our models of nature — and start finding ways to live more collaboratively.
Namibia’s clear weather and large areas free of light pollution and radio interference might make it the next big thing for astronomy. Building on the success of the five High Energy Stereoscopic System telescopes in Windhoek, the Namibian astronomy community has its eyes on an even more ambitious plan: disassemble a decommissioned telescope dish in Chile, move it onto a mountaintop in Namibia and link it to the Event Horizon Telescope that stretches around the globe.