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Daily briefing: Australian archaeological sites discovered on the seabed

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Rubble and the remains of fire-damaged storage racks.

Fire tore through several rooms used to store plant, animal and human specimens at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil.Credit: Rogerio Pateo/NAV/DAA UFMG

Brazil museum fire reignites calls for reform

A fire has destroyed valuable collections at a natural-history museum in southeastern Brazil. The blaze at the Federal University of Minas Gerais’ museum damaged several rooms full of fossils, large archaeological objects, folk art, Indigenous artefacts and biological specimens. The disaster comes less than two years after a massive inferno gutted the prized National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, and has amplified a discussion among Brazilian scientists pushing for policies to help protect research collections. “The sadness is matched only by the fear that other, similar disasters will continue to destroy [Brazil’s] scientific heritage,” says archaeologist André Prous.

Nature | 4 min read

Image library with offensive tags taken offline

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge has removed from its servers a large database of images that were tagged with offensive terms, and has asked users to delete copies that might have been downloaded. Computer scientists Vinay Prabhu and Abeba Birhane discovered that the 80 Million Tiny Images database, created in 2008, contained images in which women and Black and Asian people were tagged with derogatory and vulgar language. Tagged images are used to train machine-learning systems, which then learn the biases that were in the tags, the researchers say.

The Register | 9 min read

Source: arXiv preprint

United States buys nearly all the remdesivir

The US Health Department has announced that it is buying almost all of the next three months’ production of the antiviral drug remdesivir from US company Gilead. Clinical trials suggest that the drug can speed up recovery from coronavirus infection in people with severe COVID-19, although it is still unknown whether the treatment can increase survival rates. Critics say the move undermines international efforts to fight the pandemic. "It so clearly signals an unwillingness to co-operate with other countries and the chilling effect this has on international agreements about intellectual-property rights,” says science-policy researcher Ohid Yaqub.

BBC News | 4 min read

Features & opinion

Fixing Europe’s forest data gap

Forests account for around 40% of the total land surface of the European Union, and provide valuable services that people and the environment depend on. But patchy monitoring efforts across the bloc are making it difficult to keep track of the rate at which forests are harvested or planted. Many countries’ forest data are based on manual surveys, which in some cases are carried out only once per decade or so. A Nature editorial calls on the EU to incorporate real-time satellite data from its exciting new permanent observatory on forests into official statistics.

Nature | 4 min read

Underwater archaeology in Australia

For the past four years, a team of archeologists has been searching off the coast of western Australia for the remains of ancient Indigenous settlements that were flooded by rising sea levels at the end of the last Ice Age. After searching the seabed using laser scanners and high-resolution sonar, divers discovered two archaeological sites, one of which had thousands of stone artefacts, including grinding and cutting tools that belonged to people living more than 7,000 years ago. “We are confident many other submerged sites will be found in the years to come,” the team writes. “These will challenge our current understandings and lead to a more complete account of our human past.”

The Conversation | 6 min read

Quote of the day

“For the cost of a bad dream one night, you can learn what the world looks like when a pandemic hits.”

Psychologist Coltan Scrivner says that fans of apocalyptic or ‘prepper’ movies — in which society collapses — might be more mentally resilient and better prepared to deal with coronavirus-related anxiety. (The Guardian | 4 min read)


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Flora is taking a well-earned holiday, but she’ll be back on Monday.

Emma Stoye, news editor, Nature

With contributions by Nicky Phillips and Davide Castelvecchi

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