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China announced today that it will join COVAX, the international coalition that aims to fairly distribute COVID-19 vaccines. The effort — run by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations; and the World Health Organization — wants to provide 2 billion vaccine doses to the most-vulnerable people and to health-care workers, especially in poor countries. Some 80 wealthy countries have committed to support the initiative, with the notable exception of the United States. It is not clear yet whether China will commit money or vaccines, and how much.
This week, a giant fire in northern California reached ‘gigafire’ status. It burnt more than one million acres over weeks — the largest wildfire the state has ever seen. “It makes up more than all of the fires that occurred between 1932 and 1999,” said Gavin Newsom, the state’s governor. “If that’s not proof-point testament to climate change, I don’t know what is.” California experienced its hottest August on record this year, after years of below-average rainfall. These factors contributed to ideal conditions for the worst fire season the state has ever recorded; 4 million acres have burnt so far.
Features & opinion
This week, the Nature Podcast speaks to Lauren Wolf, the US bureau chief of Nature’s news team, and our US-based reporter Jeff Tollefson about why Nature must cover politics and what’s at stake in the upcoming US presidential election. “I think the short answer is: everything,” says Tollefson, who wrote a feature on how Trump damaged science, and why it could take decades to recover. The coronavirus pandemic has put a harsh spotlight on the connections between science, politics and policy, he says. “This touches on public health, it touches on just how science is used across the US government, it touches on issues of scientific integrity — and frankly it touches on issues of democracy.”
Plus, the podcast explores whether maternal behaviours are learned or innate, and I drop in to chat about the Nobel winners.
Virologist Christian Drosten, who is leading Germany’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, addresses everything from testing strategies to whether to eat inside a restaurant in a wide-ranging interview with Die Zeit. “I think we need to start preparing people now for a vaccine that may not be perfect,” he says. He also looks forward to returning to his normal life as an anonymous scientist. “I hope that people will then forget about me, that in a few years’ time, newspapers will write a ‘Where Are They Now?’ story about Christian Drosten.”
Die Zeit | 18 min read (helpfully translated into English)
Where I work
Marine ecologist Cayne Layton and his colleagues repurposed concrete paving stones, metal framing and industrial-sized rubber bands made from old car tyres into 28 large artificial reefs. The reefs were placed at Maria Island, about halfway up the east coast of Tasmania, and host common kelp (Ecklonia radiata). “Many species began moving in within a few weeks… even some that we know little about,” says Layton, who is learning more about them from Indigenous Tasmanian people. The reefs “create an extremely tranquil, meditative environment to be floating in. They create an extremely tranquil, meditative environment to be floating in. The light filters through the canopy just like with a stained-glass window. You are effectively flying through the forest.” (Nature | 3 min read)
The answer will be in Monday’s e-mail, all thanks to Briefing photo editor and penguin wrangler Tom Houghton.
Yesterday I wrote that chemist Mario Molina was Mexico’s only Nobel laureate. He was of course the country’s only science Nobel winner. Diplomat and politician Alfonso García Robles was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1982, for his work on nuclear disarmament. And author and diplomat Octavio Paz won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1990. I’m sorry for the error and I’m grateful to all of you who flagged it.
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With contributions by Nicky Phillips