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An Indian resident holds an umbrella as he walks across a dried-up pond on the outskirts of eastern Bhubaneswar in 2015.

Rainfall in the northeastern state of Odisha might decrease by 12% if India’s river-linking plans are implemented.Credit: Asit Kumar/AFP via Getty

River-linking plan could reduce rainfall

India’s controversial plan to link several rivers could upset the local water cycle and reduce rainfall in already-dry regions by as much as 12% during the monsoon season. The project would create a network of 15,000 kilometres of canals and thousands of reservoirs to transfer vast amounts of water from regions in which it is abundant to those that are in need of it. Some scientists have cautioned that too little is known about the environmental effects of river engineering to implement such a gigantic project.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: Nature Communications paper

Why scientists gave people Zika

The first study to deliberately infect people with Zika virus suggests that this strategy could help to test vaccines using as few as 50 trial participants. The virus, which usually causes only mild symptoms, can lead to severe birth abnormalities in babies born to parents infected during pregnancy. At present, the prevalence of Zika virus is low, which has halted the progress of clinical trials. Scientists worry that the virus might make a comeback before a vaccine can be developed.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: Study on ClinicalTrials.gov

Toxic culture drives women out of academia

Poor workplace climate is the number-one reason that women quit their faculty jobs, beating concerns about work–life balance, a survey of more than 8,000 current and former US academics found. An analysis of almost a quarter of a million employment records suggests that women are at greater risk than men of leaving their positions at all career stages. The retention gap begins to increase about 15 years after academics finish their PhDs, by which point many would be expected to have received tenure.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: Science Advances paper

Features & opinion

AI needs living guidelines

The breakneck speed of development in artificial-intelligence (AI) systems means that regulations drawn up today will be outdated by the time they become official. A group of researchers including AI, computer-science and psychology specialists has laid out a set of ‘living’ guidelines based on accountability, transparency and oversight. The authors say that an auditor, in the form of an independent scientific body, is sorely needed to test and certify AI systems on a continuous basis.

Nature | 14 min read

The invisible burden of tropical diseases

The stigma and exclusion experienced by people with neglected tropical diseases such as lymphatic filariasis or leprosy can take an enormous psychological toll that is often overlooked. “If you speak to any clinician, they’ll say this is a massive issue. We see it every time someone walks into our clinic and they’ve lost their job, or their husband, or had stones thrown at them by children,” says psychiatrist Julian Eaton. Efforts to systematically evaluate the mental-health burden and trial interventions are only slowly ramping up. “The research is really underinvested in at the moment,” Eaton says.

Nature | 12 min read

This article is part of Nature Outlook: Neglected tropical diseases, an editorially independent supplement funded by a grant from Merck Sharp & Dohme and with financial support from Moderna.

“We want your mice!”

A team of evolutionary biologists put out an unusual call for research material: they are collecting mice living in people’s homes to find out how animals adapt to urbanization. The scientists, who are approaching their goal of catching 90 mice across three large US cities, expect city mice to be larger than their country cousins, to have different immune systems and microbiomes, and to be bolder and less easily stressed by humans. There’s even a likelihood that the animals’ genetic makeup will differ from building to building.

The New York Times | 5 min read

Where I work

Nolwazi Mbongwa sitting at a traditional mai mai market, Kwa Mai Mai, in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa.

Nolwazi Mbongwa is an ethno-ecologist pursuing a PhD at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Credit: Barry Christianson for Nature

Nolwazi Mbongwa is an ethno-ecologist who investigates wildlife use by South African traditional healers — and a traditional healer herself. “Often, conservation objectives clash with deeply rooted cultural practices,” Mbongwa says. She tries to bridge the two realms and strike a balance between cultural identity, healing traditions and the urgent need for wildlife preservation. (Nature | 3 min read)

Quote of the day

“When you buy a carbon credit, what is the chance that somewhere in the value chain it was once owned by Shell, and that some of what you pay represents the cut they took?”

Gilles Dufrasne, a policy specialist at the nonprofit organization Carbon Market Watch, says that large-scale trading of carbon credits often diverts funds away from environmental projects. (The New Yorker | 42 min read)