Daily briefing: How philosophy can make you a better scientist

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A nurse of Ewin Polyclinic takes Malaria vaccine Mosquirix, Ghana.

A previous version of an experimental malaria vaccine was trialled at Ewin Polyclinic in Cape Coast, Ghana.Credit: Cristina Aldehuela/AFP/Getty

What’s next for promising malaria jab

Next week, researchers will launch the next phase in a trial of a promising vaccine against one of the world’s biggest killers of children: malaria. Last week, preliminary results from a small trial in Burkina Faso hinted that the vaccine, called R21, is up to 77% effective in young children. That study involved 450 children aged 5–17 months; the next one will have 4,800 participants. R21 is a modified form of another vaccine — GlaxoSmithKline’s RTS,S — that has already been deployed in an ongoing study in hundreds of thousands of children in Malawi, Kenya and Ghana. R21 is designed to be both more potent and cheaper to produce.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: The Lancet preprint

Inspiring Women in Science

The Nature Research Awards for Inspiring Women in Science are now open. The awards celebrate and support the achievements of women in science, of all those who work to encourage girls and young women to engage with science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and of those who work to support women to stay in those careers around the world. Find out more, apply or recommend a friend or colleague here.

COVID-19 coronavirus update


‘We are being ignored’

More than a year after Brazil detected its first case of COVID-19, the country is facing a devastating surge of infections. Researchers say that the government’s failure to follow science-based guidance in responding to the pandemic has made the crisis much worse. Although scientists acknowledge that the rise is partly due to the spread of coronavirus variants — in particular, a highly transmissible version of the virus called P.1 — they say that government inaction has allowed the spread to happen. “Being a scientist in Brazil is so sad and frustrating,” says epidemiologist Jesem Orellana. “Half of our deaths were preventable. It’s a total disaster.”

Nature | 6 min read


Time to confront anti-vax aggression

Science is losing the information war against well-financed anti-vaccine movements in the United States and disinformation from Russia, argues physician-scientist Peter Hotez. He reports from the front lines of the conflict, as a vaccine scientist and the father of an adult daughter with autism — the subject of his 2018 book, Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism. He calls for “direct, even confrontational, approaches” to counter anti-science campaigns.

Nature | 5 min read

Coronavirus research highlights: 1-minute reads

Read more about these studies in Nature’s continuously updated selection of the must-read papers and preprints.

Old colds could shorten COVID illness

Recent infection by viruses related to SARS-CoV-2 could reduce the duration of COVID-19. Researchers analysed samples from 2,000 health-care workers in search of rare antibodies against other coronaviruses that pre-date the pandemic and can bind to SARS-CoV-2 proteins other than spike. The team found that people with the pre-pandemic antibodies that work against SARS-CoV-2 were not protected from contracting the virus and developing COVID-19. But high concentrations of other antibodies that had been elicited by two betacoronaviruses — a category that includes SARS-CoV-2 — were associated with a quicker recovery from COVID-19 symptoms.

(Reference: medRxiv preprint — not peer reviewed)

Care-home outbreak shows vaccine’s powers

In a real-world test, an mRNA-based vaccine protected care-home residents and staff against a new SARS-CoV-2 variant. The Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine was 86.5% and 87.1% effective at preventing COVID-19 among residents and staff, respectively, at a Kentucky care home where an unvaccinated health-care worker had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.

(Reference: Morb. Mortal. Wkly Rep. paper)

How to predict a vaccine’s success without a large trial

Moderna’s vaccine provides protection against COVID-19 by triggering the production of antibodies against a key viral protein, a study in monkeys suggests. The insight — if confirmed in humans — could speed the development of next-generation vaccines.

(Reference: bioRxiv preprint — not peer reviewed)

Get more of Nature’s continuously updated selection of the must-read papers and preprints on COVID-19.

Features & opinion

The heavy burden of bomb physics

In March 1950, an official from the Atomic Energy Commission — then the guardian of US nuclear secrets — oversaw the burning of thousands of copies of the magazine Scientific American. The contention? They contained information so secret that its publication could jeopardize the free world. The magazine burning is one of several arresting episodes recounted in historian Alex Wellerstein’s book Restricted Data. Wellerstein chronicles the twisted path of nuclear secrecy from the early days of atom-splitting research, through the Manhattan Project, into the cold war and beyond.

Nature | 6 min read

How philosophy makes me a better scientist

“If it can help us to think critically about science and our goals, and to recognize that scientific progress is rooted in creative philosophical enquiry, and if it can prompt us to ask important questions, then I think we could all benefit from reading more philosophy.” Genomics data scientist Rasha Shraim, who also has a degree in philosophy, shares some resources for scientists who want to think more deeply about ethics, logic and other big questions.

Nature | 6 min read

‘He had an encyclopedic knowledge’

Microbiologist Thomas Brock dedicated his working life to the “weird critters” that thrive in the extreme temperatures of the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park. One species of bacteria he co-discovered, Thermus aquaticus, is key to the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) — backbone of the PCR test used today to detect SARS-CoV-2, among many other applications in molecular biology. Brock died on 4 April, aged 94. “He had an encyclopedic knowledge of microbiology and science in general,” says his former student Stephen Zinder. “I think his real ability was to see things simply.”

The New York Times | 6 min read

Quote of the day

“Two-thirds of the participants expressed a desire to remain underground a little longer.”

Fifteen people who spent 40 days in a cave with no clocks or news of the outside world said it felt more like 30, and most said they wouldn’t have minded staying on. (The Guardian | 4 min read)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-01150-4

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Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by Smriti Mallapaty

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