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A map showing places warmer (red) or cooler (blue) in May than the long-term average.Modis/NEO/Nasa

‘Alarming’ prolonged heatwave in Siberia

Western Siberia, one of the coldest regions on Earth, is experiencing an unprecedented heat wave. “This winter was the hottest in Siberia since records began 130 years ago,” says meteorologist Marina Makarova. The arctic town of Khatanga set a new record of 25 ℃ in May, when it would usually be around freezing. The heat has been linked to the dangerous thawing of permafrost, widespread wildfires and swarms of tree-eating moths.

The Guardian | 4 min read

China gathers DNA of millions of males

China is collecting DNA samples from up to 10% of its male population — that’s about 70 million adults and children — according to a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The police say that the database will help them to fight crime, and that donors provide consent. But those who decline to provide samples can have “benefits like the right to travel and go to a hospital” revoked, reports The New York Times. US scientific-equipment giant Thermo Fisher Scientific provides some kits to police agencies that are gathering the data. Last year, Thermo Fisher stopped selling equipment to Xinjiang because of criticism over how Chinese authorities are monitoring and tracking the region’s Muslim Uighur people.

The New York Times | 10 min read

Read more: China expands DNA data grab in troubled western region (Nature, from 2017)

Reference: Australian Strategic Policy Institute report

COVID-19 coronavirus update

Now we must plan for the next one

Although the coronavirus pandemic is still far from over, we should start planning now for the next one — which could be even worse. “COVID-19 should make the case that, at the highest level, political leaders and health leaders should never let pandemics off of their priority list again,” says infectious-disease physician and public-health-security researcher Tom Inglesby.

Wired | 9 min read

Rising US tide worries scientists

Despite the United States tallying about 20,000 new COVID-19 cases each day, and a death toll of more than 117,000, experts are concerned that people are becoming complacent about the disease. Public-health researchers are pondering which mitigation measures, from complete lockdown to ‘business as usual’, could be put in place to protect the most vulnerable people. “It’s still not entirely clear to me whether there’s the political and social will that could sustain another round of community lockdown,” says infectious-disease researcher and physician Yonatan Grad. “So if not, what are we going to do?”

STAT | 12 min read

Notable quotable

“Attempting to save money by neglecting environmental protection, health systems and social safety nets has already proven to be a false economy. The bill will be paid many times over.”

Our destructive behaviour towards nature is endangering our own health, argue Marco Lambertini, Director General of the World Wildlife Fund International, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, head of the United Nations convention on biological diversity, and Maria Neira, the World Health Organization director for environment and health. (The Guardian | 6 min read)

News & views

Some dinosaurs laid soft-shelled eggs

New discoveries of intriguing fossilized soft-shelled eggs challenge the long-held idea that dinosaurs laid hard-shelled eggs whereas ancient marine reptiles gave birth to live young. Researchers analysed eggs containing embryos of the sauropod-like dinosaur Mussaurus from the Late Triassic, and the horned dinosaur Protoceratops, from the Late Cretaceous. The findings hint that the earliest eggs laid by dinosaurs were actually soft-shelled and did not tend to survive in the fossil record because of their fragility.

Separately, researchers report the discovery of a soft-shelled fossil egg dubbed Antarcticoolithus about the size of a football — among the largest eggs ever recorded — from a mysterious Cretaceous creature. It might have been laid by a giant marine reptile — or, given the other findings, even by a dinosaur.

Nature News & Views | 6 min read

Reference: Nature paper 1 & Nature paper 2

Figure 1

Figure 1 | Egg evolution. Hard-shelled eggs vary in size, from small eggs, such as that of a hummingbird or chicken, to the huge egg that belongs to the extinct Madagascan elephant bird, Aepyornis maximus. A few dinosaur groups, including sauropods, laid hard-shelled eggs. Norell et al.1 report the discovery that two types of dinosaur laid soft-shelled eggs. The authors analysed Mussaurus eggs that are between 227 million and 209 million years old, and Protoceratops eggs of between 84 million and 72 million years old. This finding challenges the generally accepted view that dinosaur eggs were always hard-shelled, in turn suggesting that the earliest eggs laid by dinosaurs were soft-shelled. Legendre et al.2 report the discovery of a huge originally soft-shelled egg in Antarctica, a specimen they call Antarcticoolithus, that is about 68 million years old. Legendre and colleagues hypothesize that this might have been laid by a marine reptile. However, Norell and colleagues’ discovery raises the possibility that Antarcticoolithus was instead laid by a dinosaur.

Features & opinion

The global financial system needs renovating

For decades, the global financial system has become ever-more ad hoc and ramshackle — precipitating crises with increasing frequency — argues economist and government adviser Ann Pettifor. She says that new lines of research into financial globalization are needed to manage domestic economies in these challenging times and mitigate the impact of future crises — from pandemics to climate breakdown and biodiversity collapse.

Nature | 4 min read

Reviewers and editors: keep it civil

Those involved in the peer-review process should ensure that criticisms are honest, but collegial. That’s the top-line advice for journal editors from two Nature polls of authors and editors earlier this year. When career stakes are high, it can be a challenge to keep discussions cordial — but it’s one we all must rise to, urges a Nature editorial.

Nature | 4 min read

Infographic of the week

Beware of STRANGE. Bar charts showing case studies.

“It is high time for scientists who work on animal behaviour to identify, and mitigate, potential sampling biases,” write animal-behaviour researchers Michael Webster and Christian Rutz. “Simply gathering more data is not a solution, because researchers should always strive to minimize the number of experimental animals used.” Instead, they propose a framework with a fitting acronym — STRANGE — that researchers can use to interrogate how unusual their study subjects are. (Nature | 10 min read)

Quote of the day

“Their arguments were neither good, accurate or even creative; they reflect the banality of white supremacy embedded in the blatant lie of meritocracy.”

Astrophysicist Jedidah Isler, who was the first Black woman to receive a PhD from Yale’s astronomy department, responds to leaked e-mails by two of the department’s professors emeriti. (BuzzFeed News | 13 min read)