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Two people working at an archaeological site.

Scientists uncover the remains of what might have been a wooden structure built by hominins roughly half a million years ago in Africa.Credit: Professor Larry Barham, University of Liverpool

These logs could be earliest wood structure

The remains of what might have been a wooden structure built by hominins roughly half a million years ago have been uncovered in Zambia. Researchers can’t definitively identify the possible structure — it might have been a raised platform, a shelter or something else entirely. Whatever it was, it pre-dates the evolution of Homo sapiens by more than 100,000 years.

Nature | 3 min read

Reference: Nature paper

What we know about India’s Nipah outbreak

The southern Indian state of Kerala has been battling an outbreak of the rare but deadly Nipah virus. The outbreak of the bat-borne virus is the fourth to hit the state since 2018. Such outbreaks usually affect a relatively small geographical area, but some scientists worry that increased spread among people could lead to the virus becoming more contagious. “Every outbreak is giving the pathogen an opportunity to modify itself,” says veterinary physician Rajib Ausraful Islam.

Nature | 3 min read

Consciousness theory ‘is pseudoscience’

A letter signed by 124 researchers claims that a prominent theory about consciousness — integrated information theory (IIT) — is “pseudoscience” because it cannot be empirically tested. In June, neuroscientist Christof Koch and philosopher David Chalmers announced the results of an experiment that pitted IIT against another consciousness theory. Neither won, exactly — but the debate still gave the theory undue attention, according to some critics. Others call the ‘pseudoscience’ term inflammatory. “The most important thing for me is that we don’t make our hypotheses small and banal in order to avoid being tarred with the pseudoscience label,” says neuroscientist Erik Hoel.

Nature | 6 min read

Reference: psyArXiv letter

The exotic chemistry of planet nurseries

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has turned its gaze to several planet-forming swirls of gas and dust surrounding young stars. Two of these ‘protoplanetary’ disks had large amounts of liquid water that can serve as a raw ingredient for planets forming. Another contained a surprisingly large amount of carbon, which could allow newly born planets to sweep up diverse ingredients. In the debris disk around the star Beta Pictoris, scientists discovered a ‘cat’s tail’ of dust that is probably the aftermath of a massive collision.

Nature | 5 min read

Summit on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

World leaders recommit to better future

World leaders gathered in New York City have pledged to redouble their efforts towards the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which delineate progress in freedom, health and the environment by 2030.

• A recent stocktake analysed 36 of 169 detailed sub-targets and found that the world is on track to achieve only two — increasing access to the Internet and mobile phones.

• In some cases, such as food security, vaccine coverage and greenhouse-gas emissions, trends are going in the wrong direction.

• There might be a ray of sunshine on the horizon for oceans. The target to conserve at least 10% of coastal and marine areas might have been achieved by the addition of French Polynesia’s Te Tai Nui Atea marine managed area and the Philippines’ designation of its entire national waters as Fishery Management Areas.

UN secretary-general António Guterres proposes more funding for sustainable development and debt relief for the poorest nations. At the same time, Paula Caballero, the former Colombian diplomat who co-created the SDGs, notes that 2030 isn’t a final ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ deadline.

Nature | 4 min read

This infographic is long — but worth it. Click below to see a bigger version, if needed.

SDGs MIDWAY — SNAPSHOT OF PROGRESS: table measuring the success to date of a selection of SDGs

Source: Ref. 3

See a bigger version here (Source: Ref. 3)

Quote of the day

“A betrayal of our children, of our international responsibilities, and scientifically illiterate.”

Physician-scientist Anthony Costello, a former director at the World Health Organization, responds to news that UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will reverse some of the country’s carbon-cutting policies. (Twitter post)

Read more: UK government’s climate U-turns put legally binding targets in jeopardy (Carbon Brief | 5 min read)