Hello Nature readers, would you like to get this Briefing in your inbox free every day? Sign up here
AI-generated abstracts fool scientists
The artificial-intelligence (AI) chatbot ChatGPT can write fake abstracts that scientists have trouble distinguishing from those written by humans. The chatbot was asked to create 50 abstracts on the basis of the titles of articles in five high-impact medical journals. Reviewers spotted only 68% of the ChatGPT abstracts — performing roughly the same as AI-detector software. Researchers are divided over the implications: some find it worrying, but others think that serious scientists are unlikely to use AI-generated abstracts.
Reference: bioRxiv paper (not peer-reviewed)
Modified mRNA wins for COVID vaccines
The debate over the best design for mRNA in COVID-19 vaccines has been settled: chemically modified mRNA comes out on top. A vaccine made with modified mRNA elicited the same immune protection and caused fewer side effects at the same dose as a version with ‘natural’ mRNA in a comparison by vaccine maker CureVac. This means that the dosage can safely be increased for maximum protection. CureVac had long remained a proponent of ‘unmodified’ mRNA, even after Pfizer–BioNTech and Moderna had success with next-generation mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. The company has now switched its entire infectious-disease vaccine portfolio, leaving only a few ‘unmodified’ COVID-19 jabs under development in Asia.
US government’s scientific-integrity plan
US President Joe Biden’s administration has unveiled a long-awaited plan to prevent political interference in science conducted at government agencies. The plan aims to strengthen, expand and standardize scientific-integrity policies across agencies and establish an integrity panel to investigate violations by senior officials and political appointees. Government watchdogs praised the plan, but say further steps are needed to secure the role of scientists in government decision-making and prevent the type of political meddling that was reported under former president Donald Trump.
Reference: White House framework document
Image of the week
This nearly 40-million-year-old flower is by far the largest floral fossil ever discovered preserved in amber. Flower inclusions usually do not exceed 10 millimetres — this one is 28 millimetres across. But the sample, from the Baltic forests of northern Europe, sat in a German museum case and hadn’t been analysed for more than 150 years. Researchers extracted pollen from the sample and say it is closely related to the Asian species of Symplocos. They propose a new name for the flower: Symplocos kowalewskii. (Scientific American | 4 min read)
Reference: Scientific Reports paper (Carola Radke, MfN (Museum für Naturkunde Berlin))
Features & opinion
Vaccine incentives do not backfire
Policymakers can stop worrying that offering cash to people who get their jabs could have unintended negative consequences. Trials in Sweden and the United States have shown that monetary incentives don’t reduce people’s trust in vaccine safety or erode their altruism. Communities that can afford incentives can now consider this approach, alongside improving vaccine access, without having to rely on untested assumptions, argues a Nature editorial.
Futures: science fiction from Nature
In the latest short stories for Nature’s Futures series:
• The echo of a space-weather report prompts some homespun wisdom in ‘Sailors take warning’.
• There are lessons for us all in ‘Excerpts from the User Guide for the SynaTech-3411 3D Bio-Printer (the bits you actually bothered to read)’.
Five best science books this week
Andrew Robinson’s pick of the top five science books to read this week includes a breathless scientific narrative of the COVID-19 pandemic and an exploration of the ancient world power of Nubia.
Podcast: get caught up on science
This week, I spoke to the Nature Podcast about some of the most compelling science stories that you might have missed during the holiday season, including the new president of Brazil’s environmental policies, how glass frogs switch on their ‘invisibility cloak’ and what noises dinosaurs might have made.
Nature Podcast | 26 min listen
Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify.