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Webpage of ChatGPT is seen on OpenAI's website on a computer monitor

Scientists and publishing specialists are concerned that the increasing sophistication of chatbots could undermine research integrity and accuracy.Credit: Ted Hsu/Alamy

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.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: bioRxiv paper (not peer-reviewed)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.

Nature | 6 min read

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.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: White House framework document

Image of the week

Flower inclusion of Symplocos kowalewskii preserved in Baltic amber

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.

Nature | 5 min read

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.

Nature | 3 min read

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.

Quote of the day

“It was a moment when I could see the future and just leapt because it was so beautiful.”

An experience with Python and a set of iconic sea-level-rise figures transformed NASA computational oceanographer Chelle Gentemann into an open-science advocate. Now she is helping to spearhead the Year of Open Science in the United States. (Nature | 5 min read)