Daily briefing: Vaccine passports could worsen inequality

Restrictive travel policies could further privilege global-health professionals from high-income countries. Plus: Joe Biden’s plans to increase science funding, and why our brains favour adding over subtraction.

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U.S. president Joe Biden makes a speech at a lectern in the Rose Garden of the White House garden

President Joe Biden released his first proposed budget for the United States on 9 April.Credit: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post/Getty

A giant boost for US science spending

US President Joe Biden has unveiled his first proposed budget, which would raise core funding for research and development across nearly every major federal science agency, including historic increases to improve public health, invest in clean energy and battle racial injustices. “This is a radical change of pace from what we’ve seen for the past four years,” says policy analyst Matthew Hourihan. The document provides only a broad view of the president’s priorities: further details are expected in a more complete proposal in the coming weeks.

Nature | 7 min read

Human brains struggle to subtract

When solving problems, people tend to think about adding something before they think of taking something away — even when subtracting is the better solution. Experiments show that this newly discovered psychological phenomenon applies across a range of situations, from improving a physical design to solving an abstract puzzle.

Nature | 6 min video

Reference: Nature paper

COVID-19 coronavirus update

Vaccine passports could worsen inequality

Vaccine passports could further privilege researchers based in high-income countries who already dominate the field of global health, says epidemiologist Madhukar Pai. Visa restrictions and other challenges have already made it difficult for researchers in low- and middle-income countries to travel internationally for conferences, meetings and training. Inequities in vaccine distribution mean that it might take many years for some countries to reach high levels of vaccine coverage, further limiting travel for their scientists and exacerbating the lack of diversity and inclusion.

Nature Microbiology community | 5 min read

Notable quotable

“When the stories and recounting of this pandemic are written, it is important that this history not be forgotten.”

The scientific work that led to the successful development of COVID-19 vaccines began decades ago, says US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases head Anthony Fauci. (Science | 4 min read)

Features & opinion

Equipment to perform experiments to find Majorana signals

Experiments to find Majorana signals are performed by loading a nanowire into a dilution refrigerator capable of cooling it down to close to absolute zero.Credit: HGA Architects and Engineers

Quantum computing’s reproducibility crisis

A shadow has fallen over the race to detect a new type of quantum particle, the Majorana fermion, that could power quantum computers. Controversy over experiments that initially claimed to have detected Majorana particles — but remain unconfirmed — is eroding confidence in the field, says physicist Sergey Frolov, who calls for more accountability and openness from researchers and journal editors.

Nature | 9 min read

“Many reports but little action”

Following the release of diversity data by the Royal Society, this in-depth look at academia’s race problem asks why there are still so few Black scientists in the United Kingdom. In a related article, three senior researchers in medicine, chemistry and physics share their thoughts on how to tackle under-representation.

The Guardian | 13 min read

Toilets — what will it take to fix them?

Access to clean water and sanitation for all by 2030 is one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. But the cost of achieving this is high, as two new books explore. Pipe Dreams, by science journalist Chelsea Wald, is a “deeply researched, entertaining and impassioned exploration” of sanitation, both ancient and innovative. In it, Wald argues that a new generation of toilets is needed: one that squanders less water, nutrients and energy. Waste, by environmental-health researcher Catherine Coleman Flowers, describes the author’s decades-long campaign to raise awareness of inadequate sanitation in rural US communities.

Nature | 6 min read

Quote of the day

“I looked around and saw something orange and beautiful. I didn’t know what it was. It was coming towards us. Granny was frightened — she grabbed my hand.”

While planting potatoes with her grandmother, a five-year-old girl witnessed Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s return to Earth. Sixty years later, she remembers the experience. (BBC News | 3 min video)

Last week, Leif Penguinson took a trip to Toubkal National Park in Morocco. Did you find the penguin? When you’re ready, here’s the answer.

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Emma Stoye, news editor, Nature

With contributions by Smriti Mallapaty

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