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Scientists in Australia will be among those casting their vote to choose the country’s new government this weekend — and many of them are not happy. Opinion polls suggest that citizens could oust the government, led by Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and vote in the centre-left opposition Labor Party. But scientists say politicians from both major parties have failed to address ongoing issues in the research sector, such as job insecurity, low morale and insufficient funding. “There’s a very dark mood in science in Australia at the moment,” says biomedical scientist Darren Saunders.
US lawmakers are attempting to amend the process that led to the controversial approval of the Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Despite a nearly unanimous vote against the approval by an independent panel of experts, the agency fast-tracked the drug — leading to multiple investigations of the decision by federal regulators. Critics say the FDA’s accelerated-approval programme is becoming too popular, shifting away from its original purpose as a special programme for a small number of drugs. And companies have been slow to produce the follow-up studies that they promise as part of the approval process.
Researchers across the United Kingdom are celebrating or commiserating this week as universities receive the results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), a years-long research-assessment exercise that dictates how much government funding they will get over the coming years. Many nations look to the mammoth exercise as an exemplar of how to review research. But its leaders are already considering how they might change the process to recognize and reward institutions fostering a positive research culture.
Features & opinion
Spillover events, in which a pathogen that originates in animals jumps into people, have probably triggered every viral pandemic that’s occurred since the start of the twentieth century, including HIV, the 1918 influenza pandemic and COVID-19. With three landmark international health and biodiversity agreements on the horizon, six researchers urge decision-makers to prioritize spillover prevention in four ways:
• Protect forests, especially in hotspots for emerging infectious diseases.
• Strictly regulate the trade of live wild animals while respecting the livelihoods of Indigenous peoples and local communities.
• Improve farm biosecurity.
• Invest in people’s health and economic security to reduce high-risk activities and vulnerabilities.
A great collaborator is fun to work with, makes a fair contribution and shares your ambitions, writes information-technology researcher Carsten Lund Pedersen. He shares the framework that helps him to identify ‘likeable freeloaders’ and ‘misaligned partners’ — and to assess your own areas for improvement.
Researchers are using symbolic regression algorithms to find the equations that govern complex data sets. After cutting their teeth on known outcomes, such as Kepler’s third law of orbital motion, ‘machine scientists’ have proven their mettle in the real world of climate science, biology and astrophysics. “The equation might end up having four variables, but you don’t know in advance which ones,” says roboticist Hod Lipson. “You throw at it everything and the kitchen sink. Maybe the weather is important. Maybe the number of dentists per square mile is important.”
Where I work
In her laboratory in Uruguay, immunologist Mercedes Segovia uses a cell sorter to isolate dendritic cells — a type of blood cell — to investigate their crucial role in the function of the immune system. As a physician, Segovia says she moved into research after she became curious about what happens before patients reach the hospital. “I wanted to help people before they start to feel ill,” she says. “I always look forward to seeing our findings adopted by the medical community, but it can take decades to happen.” (Nature | 3 min read)