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Researchers at the seventh World Conference on Research Integrity in Cape Town, South Africa, have been hammering out the equity issues plaguing science partnerships that span the global north–south divide. A soon-to-be-published document called the Cape Town Statement will offer guidance on how researchers from low- and middle-income countries can become equal partners in international projects. The organizers hope that having a set of principles for fair and equitable partnerships will help scientists from the global south to speak out against unfair practices.
A Google engineer has reportedly been placed on paid administrative leave after claiming that an artificial-intelligence system had become sentient. Google says that engineer Blake Lemoine violated its confidentiality policy by releasing transcripts of conversations with the LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications) system. “If I didn’t know exactly what it was, which is this computer program we built recently, I’d think it was a 7-year-old, 8-year-old kid that happens to know physics,” Lemoine told The Washington Post. Google disagrees. “There was no evidence that LaMDA was sentient (and lots of evidence against it),” said a company spokesperson in a statement. “As humans, we’re very good at anthropomorphising things,” says artificial-intelligence researcher Adrian Hilton. “I would imagine that’s what’s happening in this case.”
Features & opinion
Cloud labs enable scientists to perform wet-laboratory experiments remotely in an automated research environment. The work is done by machines run by lines of code issued by researchers around the world, aided by a few human technicians. It’s not cheap, but it can save money compared with buying the equipment yourself, and the fact that it’s almost all done by robots makes it eminently reproducible. “I cannot remember how many times I’ve read something in a paper, tried to do it and, not surprisingly, it didn’t work. But in a cloud lab, if I just copy and paste my experiment, it will work again,” says chemist Dmytro Kolodieznyi. He replicated several years of his PhD research in just one week while testing out the capabilities of one such lab, where he now works.
The right policy support could cut global dependence on Russian gas, oil and coal by up to 60% and greenhouse-gas emissions by 2.9% within one year, argues sustainability researcher Felix Creutzig. Three sectors are central: transport, buildings and food production. Some measures, such as banning cars from city centres, can be implemented straight away. Others, such as overhauling food systems, will take longer. But the benefits will snowball.
Metal-toxicity researcher Karen Wetterhahn was a leading light of the field when she died after exposure to a few drops of dimethylmercury, which fell from a pipette onto her latex-gloved hands while she worked in a fume hood. Twenty-five years later, colleagues and scientists reflect on her pioneering work in metal toxicology, her support for early-career scientists and the legacy of improvements to lab safety that followed her death.
Where I work
With his dog Masha, field mycologist Željko Zgrablić spends much of the year in the field studying truffles across Croatia. Climate change has made life harder for the delicious fungi, not least because warm winters have increased the population of wild boars, which damage the soil and eat the truffles. “Truffle plantations could take the pressure off natural habitats,” says Zgrablić. “We’re studying the viability of farming black truffles, in part by experimenting with different ways to inoculate tree seedlings with their spores.” (Nature | 3 min read)