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Daily briefing: Honesty study to be retracted over faked data

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A child rides a bike on the road in front of a church that has been demolished by an earthquake in Chardonnieres, Haiti.

The earthquake in Haiti this month has destroyed many buildings, such as the Church St. Anne in Chardonnières, shown here.Credit: Reginald Louissaint Jr/AFP via Getty

Home seismometers reveal Haiti quake

A network of inexpensive seismometers, installed in people’s living rooms, gardens and workplaces across Haiti, is helping scientists to unravel the inner workings of the magnitude-7.2 earthquake that hit the country on 14 August. Its seismometers feed data into a system that displays the locations and magnitudes of Haitian earthquakes on a web-based portal in real time. The US$500 stations are not as sophisticated as Haiti’s official $50,000 monitoring stations. “But when it comes to locating quakes, determining magnitude, doing basic seismology — they are really excellent,” says seismologist Eric Calais.

Nature | 6 min read

Honesty study to be retracted over faked data

An influential 2012 paper about how to promote honesty when filling out forms will be retracted because it was based on fabricated data. The authors had already published a 2020 study showing that the original paper’s conclusions could not be replicated. As part of that replication effort, the original data were opened up to scrutiny, eventually leading to anonymous data-integrity sleuths at the Data Colada blog to uncover “that the data were fabricated… beyond any shadow of a doubt”.

BuzzFeed News | 13 min read

Reference: PNAS paper 1 (to be retracted) & PNAS paper 2

Zhurong marks three months on Mars

China’s Zhurong rover has completed its initial goal of surviving 90 sols on Mars — equivalent to 92 days on Earth. Since arriving on 14 May, Zhurong has travelled 889 metres to view its discarded landing equipment, stopping by rocks and dunes along the way. It is now headed towards another geological feature described as a ‘groove’ that is 1.6 kilometres away. | 5 min read

Read more: First video and sounds from China’s Mars rover intrigue scientists (Nature | 4 min read)

COVID-19 coronavirus update

The mutation that boosts Delta’s spread

A slew of early studies has highlighted an amino-acid change present in the Delta coronavirus variant that might be why it is hyper-infectious. Researchers have zeroed in on a mutation that alters a single amino acid in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein — the viral molecule responsible for recognizing and invading cells. “I think the virus is succeeding on volume and speed,” says virologist Gary Whittaker. “It’s become a much more efficient virus. It’s going through people and going through cells a lot quicker.”

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: bioRxiv preprint 1 & 4 more preprints — see the full list here

Notable quotable

“Your body doesn’t produce infinite amounts of antibodies… Your lymph nodes are not, like, the horn of plenty.”

Virologist Angela Rasmussen ponders whether ‘breakthrough infection’ is a useful term for fully vaccinated people who test positive for COVID-19 but have no symptoms. (The New Yorker | 19 min read)

Features & opinion

How to address rigour in a grant proposal

Addressing rigour and reproducibility concerns in your research proposals will reassure potential funders, say grant-writing coaches Jennifer Wilson and Crystal Botham. Their three-question framework guides writers to explain their experimental choices. “Justifying scientific choices requires deliberate practice to achieve strong, persuasive writing,” they say. “The grant writer must be aware of and unafraid to share the limitations to their science.”

Nature | 6 min read

Child asthma study sparks ethical debate

A study that gave some child participants a placebo instead of a vitamin D supplement has raised questions about the ethics of such trials. The children had asthma and were being treated with corticosteroids, which already put them at risk of bone fractures and diminished growth — and which vitamin D deficiency would exacerbate. To justify the study design, the researchers said the children on the placebo would probably not have received supplements in the real world because vitamin D testing is not routine. The study included many Black children and kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, heightening the ethical risk. The controversy adds fuel to the debate over studies in which a control group is meant to receive the ‘usual care’ but ends up receiving no care at all.

Science | 18 min read

Where I work

Alessandro Rossi, quantum scientist from the UK NPL and the University of Strathclyde working on a dilution refrigerator system.

Alessandro Rossi is a measurement fellow at the National Physical Laboratory in London and a senior lecturer and UKRI Future Leaders fellow at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, UK.Credit: Alecsandra Dragoi for Nature

At the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in London, Alessandro Rossi researches quantum metrology, the scientific study of measurements based on quantum-physics principles. His work echoes the counterintuitive idea from quantum physics that something can be in two states or two places at the same time, says Rossi. “I feel that I myself live a contradiction. I study quantum physics — the most unreliable, spooky, weird type of science — and apply it to metrology, which is supposed to be among the most reliable, precise and repeatable of disciplines. To think how these two things come together successfully is mind-boggling.”

Quote of the day

“It's important to hold two things in your head at the same time. One is obviously how far we have to go, but another is how far we've come.”

Climate scientist Kate Marvel, who has emphasized the need for courage over hope to face the future, sees reasons for optimism in the recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate report. (Hot Take newsletter | 9 min read)

Read more: Earth is warmer than it’s been in 125,000 years (Nature | 6 min read)

Reference: IPCC climate report


On Friday, Leif Penguinson hid in one of the hottest, lowest, and driest places on Earth: the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia. Did you find the penguin? When you’re ready, here’s the answer.

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Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by Smriti Mallapaty

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