NATURE BRIEFING

Daily briefing: The evidence is in — Alcoholics Anonymous works

Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the most effective methods for people who want to give up drinking, finds a systematic review. Plus: All the Dead Sea Scroll fragments at the Museum of the Bible are fakes and how scientists map the hidden spread of COVID-19.

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COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak

People wear protective mask to fight against the Coronavirus as they moves in the market area in an eastern Indian state.

Odisha, in eastern India, has closed theatres, swimming pools, schools and other public spaces in order to stem the spread of coronavirus.Credit: STR/NurPhoto/Getty

How to map

• US President Donald Trump called the coronavirus outbreak a national emergency on Friday afternoon. This gives the administration broad authority in its response to the disease, including access to up to US$50 billion in federal funds to combat the epidemic. (Nature | Continuously updated)

• Because COVID-19 testing isn’t available to everyone, the coronavirus is spreading to some extent under the radar. Public-health leaders from the World Health Organization, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the major UK research funder Wellcome explain how officials and researchers estimate the size of local outbreaks from incomplete data. (Nature | 6 min read)

• What does ‘flattening the curve’ really look like? A Washington Post article runs a new simulation every time you view the page to show, in simplified form, how quarantine and social distancing affect the spread of infectious disease. (The Washington Post | 5 min read)

• Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong are very different places that each managed to quash COVID-19 transmission, in their own ways, without draconian measures. Epidemiologists Benjamin Cowling and Wey Wen Lim explain in detail how it was done. (The New York Times | 9 min read)

• The United Kingdom’s strategy for suppressing COVID-19 has come under fire after the government announced it would focus on building up ‘herd immunity’. The government has now backed away from the phrase, which is usually associated with vaccination and seemed to imply the intention that the majority of the British population be infected. The communication misstep has caused confusion, say some scientists, who have called on the government to share the evidence behind its plans. (The Atlantic | 9 min read)

Read the latest coronavirus news, continuously updated on Nature.

Notable quotable

“What’s really amazing to me is that you can find a virus that peaks in almost every month of the year.”

We don’t know whether COVID-19 will ebb and flow with the seasons, says virologist Neal Nathanson. In fact, we know little about viral seasonality at all. (Science | 13 min read)

News

Evidence that Alcoholics Anonymous works

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12‐step programmes are some of the most effective methods for people who want to give up drinking. A systematic review of 27 studies found that AA and similar approaches also led to lower health-care costs for participants compared with other methods, such as cognitive behavioural therapy. “The fact that A.A. is free and so widely available is also good news,” says psychiatrist John Kelly. “It’s the closest thing in public health we have to a free lunch.”

The New York Times | 5 min read

Reference: Cochrane Library review article

Hobby Lobby’s Dead Sea Scrolls are fake

The fragments of the Dead Sea Scroll displayed at the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC are — as long suspected — fake. All but one of the 16 fragments were found to be made from leather, rather than parchment like the real scrolls, says an expert analysis commissioned by the museum. The fakes were purchased by the billionaire Hobby Lobby family that bankrolls the museum. The family has in recent years paid millions in fines related to smuggled artefacts.

National Geographic | 15 min read

Reference: Museum of the Bible report

Features & opinion

DARPA-likes must ground their dreams in reality

The UK government is racing ahead with plans for an Advanced Research Projects Agency, modelled on the high-risk, high-reward US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Such freedom comes with responsibility, argues a Nature editorial: you can’t reap the rewards of high-risk research without investing in meticulous preparation and verification.

Nature | 4 min read

Science, snowmobiles and the struggle to save the wolverine

Science has become a weapon in the battle between back-country sports enthusiasts and conservationists over the plan to close thousands of hectares of Idaho forest to snowmobiling. Both groups share a love of the wolverines that roam the snowy mountains, but few agree on what the evidence says about how to protect the enigmatic animals.

High Country News | 9 min read

Quote of the day

“Until we reopen, you can check in on the sea otters, sway with the kelp forest, find tranquility with the jellies and look for wildlife out on Monterey Bay.”

Although the Monterey Bay Aquarium is closed, its webcams are still up and running, notes its executive director, Julie Packard on Twitter. (Get those live cams)

For those stuck at home, maybe with kids, educational organization Skype A Scientist will set up a video call with a real live scientist (to talk about science).

And you can always drop me a line at briefing@nature.com with your feedback on this newsletter — I read every email.

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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