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Daily briefing: Coronavirus could have killed 40 million people if the world had not taken action
The COVID-19 pandemic could have infected an estimated 90% of the world’s population and killed 40.6 million people if no mitigation measures were put in place to combat it. Plus: meet the scientists who are redeploying to fight the virus, and what DNA might say about why some people don’t get very ill from COVID-19.
A rare, and vast, ozone hole — probably the biggest on record in the north — has opened in the skies above the Arctic. Cold temperatures and a strong polar vortex have allowed high-altitude clouds to form. These clouds include ozone-destroying chemicals that linger in our atmosphere, despite having been mostly banned in 1987. The hole will probably be short-lived, and it doesn’t threaten people’s health because the Sun is just starting to rise above the horizon in high latitudes.
The University of Rochester in New York has agreed to pay a US$9.4-million settlement to researchers who sued the institution over how it handled allegations of sexual harassment against a cognitive-science professor. The settlement brings to a close one of the most prominent harassment cases at a US university. “We want other universities to know that when people come forward with sexual harassment complaints, it’s important to take them seriously and to find resolution for them that doesn’t require people to seek justice through the court system,” says cognitive-neuroscientist Jessica Cantlon, who was one of nine plaintiffs.
• Why do some people infected with the SARS-COV-2 virus feel OK, while others — even those who are healthy and relatively young — get very ill? Some researchers are gearing up to search huge national genetic databases, such as the UK Biobank for the DNA variations that might give the answers. Others are recruiting patients with COVID-19 directly within hospitals, who are willing to share their genetic and health data. (Science | 6 min read)
• There is a clear divide among nations when it comes to the public use of face masks — from commonplace in much of Asia, to strongly dissuaded in the United States, to obligatory in the Czech Republic. There is only meagre evidence that mass mask-wearing will help to slow the spread of COVID-19, and there are downsides — whether from a false sense of security or a shortage of masks for health workers who sorely need them. Science outlines the arguments on both sides. (Science | 6 min read)
Dermatologist Min Pok-kee, who leads the public health strategy in Daegu, South Korea, as a volunteer civil servant, outlines the country’s aggressive response to COVID-19 and his worries about the US and UK approach. (Wired)
Some researchers are fretting that an upcoming international treaty could harm the development of novel drugs. The treaty will regulate for the first time the exploitation of the high seas — those beyond countries’ 200-mile-wide exclusive economic zones. But anti-biopiracy provisions currently under discussion could have unintended consequences, reducing access. Research on marine organisms has led to the discovery of several drugs, including for AIDS and cancer.
Science should move towards a more inclusive definition of replication, which is not a housekeeping activity but an “exciting, generative, vital contributor to research progress,” write Brain Nosek and Timothy Errington of the Center for Open Science. Any study that provides evidence about a previous claim should be considered replication, the authors propose.