Daily briefing: What the data say about mail-in voting

Fraud is exceedingly rare in postal voting but undercounting might be an issue. Plus, COVID antibody treatments and the legacy of dumped DDT.

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Cluster of human antibodies (igG and igM) attacking a Corona virus.

Human antibodies attacking the coronavirus (artist's impression).Credit: Science Lab/Alamy

Better COVID antibody therapies

Researchers have been racing to develop therapies that harness antibodies, a key component of the body’s natural immune response to SARS-CoV-2. The curative power ofantibody treatment has yet to be proven, but it has shown promise in small, early studies of people with mild symptoms. The problem: antibodies are expensive and difficult to make. “What you really want is something that is so amazingly potent that you need barely any,” says biochemist Pamela Björkman. “You want to be able to give it to everybody in the house or the hospital or the school or the meat-packing plant that’s been exposed.”

Nature | 5 min read

What the data say about mail-in voting

Because of the pandemic, a record number of votes in the United States are expected to be cast by mail before election day on 3 November. Research suggests that voting by postal ballot could increase overall voter turnout. Fraud is exceedingly rare in mail-in voting, thanks to a range of security measures — including identity verification, ballot tracking and the efforts of the US Postal Service police force. But undercounting of postal votes could disproportionately affect people from certain groups, many of whom tend to vote Democrat.

Nature | 7 min read

Poll: Nature readers back Joe Biden

Scientists who responded to a Nature survey overwhelmingly want former US vice-president Joe Biden to be the next president of the United States. Readers cite climate change and the pandemic as their chief worries in the election. Of 892 respondents in total, 86% supported the Democratic candidate, 8% favour Trump and 6% responded ‘Other’ — written responses in this category indicated support for Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen.

Nature | 4 min read

Two major COVID vaccine trials set to restart

The United States Food and Drug Administration has authorized the restart of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine trial in the country. The trial was put on pause more than a month ago because a participant developed neurological problems. Studies of the vaccine in the United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa and Japan have already resumed. The late-stage trial for another COVID-19 vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson, which was paused on 11 October, could also begin enrolling patients again this week. The trial was reportedly paused because one participant developed a stroke. In both trials, investigators concluded that the adverse events were not related to the vaccine.

STAT | 8 min read

Features & opinion

Plug the leaky pipeline to graduate school

Case studies show that efforts to address equity in science are doomed if they don’t learn from past mistakes. Evidence from geoscience, psychology, chemistry and applied physics shows how to get more women and people of colour in graduate school — and keep them there.

Nature | 5 min read

‘We still don’t have a plan’

As many as half a million barrels of the toxic pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) were dumped in the ocean off the pristine California coast in the years after the Second World War. In a beautiful and chilling illustrated feature, scientists consider how to grapple with the repercussions of a long-standing legacy of pollution.

The Los Angeles Times | 23 min read

Leaving academia without shame

Medical researcher Luke Hesson left academia for industry because of the long hours and constant pressure to find funding. But the move required him to overcome feelings of shame and failure. His advice to others considering a change is to recognize that taking a new path doesn’t mean losing your identity. “There is a misconception amongst scientists that their skills are so niche that they would struggle in other professions — I do not think this true,” he writes.

Campus Morning Mail | 6 min read

Quote of the day

“We hope this cover serves as a shot in the arm to those weary of seeing conventional depictions of the virus, and inspires hope and creativity in the research community and beyond.”

Nature illustrator Nik Spencer says he wanted to steer clear of syringes and globes on the Bauhaus-inspired cover for a special issue on COVID-`19 vaccine development. (Nature visuals blog | 3 min read)

See the special issue.

On Friday, our penguin explorer was ensconced in the snowy terraces of Ein Karem, Israel. Did you find Leif Penguinson? When you’re ready, here is the answer.

I also asked you whether you’d rather face a Chihuahua-sized tyrannosaur or a tyrannosaur-sized Chihuahua (inspired by the first known fossils of embryonic tyrannosaurs, which showed that they were about the size of a Chihuahua when born). In a landslide, 78% would take on a tiny tyrannosaur in preference to a really very huge dog.

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by Smriti Mallapaty

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