Daily briefing: Prominent chemist Charles Lieber charged with fraud

US Department of Defense says Lieber hid his lucrative involvement in China’s Thousand Talents programme. Plus: 5G is Nature Electronics’ 2020 technology of the year, and first lab to grow the coronavirus outside China will share it with international researchers.

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A protestor wears a mask with the writing BOT during the 'Save The Internet' demonstration in Berlin, Germany, 23 March, 2019.

Social-media bots are growing more sophisticated. Credit: OMER MESSINGER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Social-media bots skew online chatter

Social scientists who mine social-media sites such as Twitter and Instagram for information on human health and behaviour are struggling to deal with online bots designed to imitate people. Bots can contaminate online data that scientists gather about a community’s reaction to an event, a disaster or issues such as smoking or vaccines. “You might be artificially giving the bots a voice by treating them as if they are really part of the discussion, when they are actually just amplifying something that may not be voiced by the community,” says health-disparities researcher Amelia Jamison. Bot detectors can help weed out fake accounts, but bots are also becoming more complex and harder to detect.

Nature | 3 min read

Top researchers urge Australia to take action

Eighty-one of Australia’s top scientists have called on their government to take the lead on fighting climate change in light of the recent disastrous bush fires. “Australia’s current visibility as ground zero for both climate impacts and climate policy uncertainty presents a unique opportunity for us to emerge as a leader on this challenge,” wrote the Australian Research Council laureates in an open letter sent to the leaders of the country’s four main political parties.

The Sydney Morning Herald | 4 min read

Reference: ARC laureates open letter

Leading chemist charged with fraud

Charles Lieber, the chair of the chemistry and chemical biology department at Harvard University, has been charged with lying to the US Department of Defense (DOD) about his participation in China’s Thousand Talents programme. The DOD alleges that Lieber hid his lucrative involvement with the programme and with a leading Chinese university. According to the DOD, Lieber’s lab has received more than US$15 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health and the DOD since 2008, and as part of that he was obliged to reveal any non-US funding or collaborations.

Chemical & Engineering News | 4 min read

Wuhan coronavirus outbreak

EM Coronavirus, causing SARS

Coronaviruses take their name from their crown-like shape.Credit: Getty

First lab to grow virus outside China

• Researchers in Australia are the first outside China to announce that they’ve grown the new coronavirus in cell culture. They are also the first to offer to share the virus with research labs around the world recommended by the World Health Organization. Scientists in China have not yet shared samples with international researchers — they have shared only the virus’s genetic sequence. Samples will enable scientists to create a molecular diagnostic test for the virus. Such a test will be especially useful to identify people who are infected, and can infect others, but have no symptoms themselves — which seems to have occurred in some cases.

• One of the breakout buzzwords of the coronavirus outbreak is R0 (say it “R-naught”) — a number that indicates how many people one person with the virus tends to infect. For example, if R0 is 3, then on average every case will lead to three others. But although the metric is simple to conceptualize, it’s hard to calculate and tricky to interpret.

Nature | 8 min read, continuously updated & The Atlantic | 7 min read

Features & opinion

Brexit: it’s happening

At 11 p.m. on 31 January, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. A future research relationship must be built on continued collaboration — and compromise, argues a Nature editorial.

Now that it’s actually happening, negotiators have less than a year to agree on how the country will participate in EU research programmes. Nature answers the Brexit questions British scientists are asking.

Nature | 6 min read & Nature | 6 min read

Five ‘power skills’ for becoming a team leader

An early-career scientist and an experienced leadership expert join forces to outline five ‘power skills’ — the crucial abilities that enable a leader to connect with people, communicate effectively, adapt to the unexpected and be open-minded. “Being talented in your field is important, but your impact can be much greater if you also know how to lead and motivate the next generation,” say Sarah Groover and Ruth Gotian.

Nature | 5 min read

5G: Technology of the year 2020

5G — the fifth generation of wireless communications technology — is Nature Electronics 2020 technology of the year. Explore the underlying technology, its potential applications, and its wider political context — and what 6G could look like.

Nature Electronics | 6-article collection

Correspondence: your letters to Nature

Grant lottery: we’re not so sure

“I want my career to be built on achievement, as recognized and promoted through conventional grant awards — not undermined by a lottery system,” writes early-career researcher Howard Vindin. Plus, for a researcher just starting out, a positive grant review is crucial for advancement, he argues.

Biologist Andrew Beattie calls the funding-lottery idea “a classic bureaucratic response to a process that bureaucracy finds too hard to handle”. He urges academia to resist such bureaucratic short cuts.

Don’t rely on genetically modified crops alone

Five plant researchers applaud genetic approaches to sustainably improve crop yields, but highlight the real-world challenges that could stand in the way. They recommend parallel approaches — such as innovative plant breeding — to deliver a new green revolution.

UK chief scientific adviser welcomes new visas

Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, welcomes the announcement of a new fast-track immigration scheme for researchers. The scheme, which will go live on 20 February, applies to all eligible overseas researchers who receive peer-reviewed grants from recognized funding bodies, and has no cap on numbers.

Correspondence is published every week in Nature. For more info on writing one yourself, please see the guidance on (Your feedback on this newsletter is always welcome at, but won’t be considered for publication in Nature.)

Quote of the day

“When I realized that I could no longer trust the data that I had reported in some of my papers, I did what I think is the only correct course of action. I retracted them.”

Behavioral ecologist Kate Laskowski reveals the emotional and professional process of discovering problems in published papers. (Laskowski Lab blog)

Rarely has the fate of the dinosaurs been so adorably (and tragically) recounted as in the one-minute song ‘Dinosaurs in Love’ by four-year-old Fenn Rosenthal.

Heal my broken dinosaur-loving heart by sending me your feedback on this newsletter. Your opinion is always welcome at

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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