Daily Briefing: Selling authorship is big business

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a young couple dances with their pet in the living room

The microbial communities that live in and on our bodies evolve throughout our lives and are shaped by our social interactions, research has shown.Credit: Moyo Studio/E+/Getty

People who live together tend to have the same microbes in their guts and mouths, according to a global study of thousands of people. Mothers give their children a ‘starter set’ of microbes when they are infants. But that microbiome changes over time to include strains of microbes from other family members and unrelated household members and social contacts. The discovery raises the specter that diseases associated with microbiome dysfunction – such as cancer, diabetes and obesity – could be partly transmissible.

Nature | 3 min of reading

Reference: Nature paper

Integrity researchers have discovered hundreds of online ads selling authorship of papers to be published in reputable journals. This trade is big business: A pre-print analysis of more than 1,000 author position offers from one website valued them at an estimated $6.5 million. Journals began investigating and retracting papers that appeared to be related to the ads. The problem will grow, says economist Anna Abalkina. A market for authorship has developed because in many countries researchers are still promoted based on the number of papers they publish.

Nature | 5 min of reading

Reference: arXiv preprint (not peer-reviewed)

Ethics violations in physics are as widespread now as they were 20 years ago, according to a survey of more than 4,000 early-career physicists. In 2020, 7.3% of people who responded to an American Physical Society survey said they had witnessed data falsification – in 2003, it was just 3.9%. And 12.5% ​​of respondents felt pressured to violate ethical rules, compared to 7.7% in 2003. At the same time, the proportion of physicists who were aware of their institution’s code of ethics more than tripled from 2003 to 2020.

Nature | 5 min of reading

SafeScience is a website where researchers in the Netherlands can report threats and harassment, and it also offers an emergency phone number. Willemijn Lamet, a criminologist and psychologist who advises on security policy at the Dutch University Association, says the project began after a migration historian discovered a threat taped to her front door. The hotline, which is open 24 hours a day, is answered by a safety adviser who can help if a researcher needs emergency help during an incident, “even if it’s just to help them decide how serious it is and what they can do next,” says Lamet .

Nature | 5 min of reading

Features and opinion

Game experiments can help researchers reach thousands or millions of people from different groups, five behavioral researchers say. For example, a game that guessed where in the world English-speaking gamers learned the language went viral on social media, giving scientists access to data from nearly 670,000 people. Researchers will have to sacrifice carefully controlled laboratory environments, but they often get more engaged participants in natural behavior, including many who would not participate in laboratory studies.

Nature | 13 min of reading

Participate in gamified research

Gamification motivates people to participate in experiments through competition, fun and the opportunity to learn about themselves. Here are some games you can try:

• Which English? A viral grammar test that tries to identify what “world English” someone speaks, as part of language research.

• Are you a super listener? A citizen science experiment in which participants try to discover musical harmonies in intertwined tones.

• Glyph: An online gaming application for exploring letterforms in the world’s writing systems.

• Moral Machine: a platform for gathering human perspective on moral decisions made by machine intelligence.

• Visual Vocab: An online assessment of vocabulary knowledge across the lifespan.

It is necessary to create a revolution in the organization and financing of doctoral studies, claims a Nature editorial. Many countries have experienced an explosion in doctoral enrollments as science is increasingly seen as critical to national prosperity. The master-apprentice approach of doctoral students and professors from the nineteenth century can no longer prepare researchers for the way science is done today: in large, interdisciplinary teams.

Nature | 5 min of reading

A bitcoin mining operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park is located among some of the most valuable and endangered rainforests in the world. The government provides only 1% of the park’s budget, despite being home to unparalleled biodiversity, including one-third of all endangered mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei). The bitcoin operation — which ‘mines’ the cryptocurrency using computer power — uses hydroelectric power. It is hoped that the ‘green’ cryptocurrency can shore up the funding lost after tourism, which accounted for 40% of the park’s revenue, took a hit. “We had to shut down tourism in 2018 because of the kidnappings [by rebels]. Then in 2019 we had to close tourism because of Ebola. And 2020 — the rest is history with COVID,” says park director Emmanuel de Merode. “That’s when the price of Bitcoin went through the roof,” he says. “We were lucky—for once.”

MIT Technology Review | 21 minutes of reading

Picture of the week

Colorful images of supernova remnants in the orbit of Miky.

The image shows five previously hidden supernova remnants. The colors represent warmth, with purple indicating the coldest areas, followed by blue, green and red, and white indicating the warmest parts.Credit: R. Kothes (NRC) and the PEGASUS team

Astronomers have released an image of 21 newly discovered supernova remnants in the Milky Way. Researchers have combined the observing power of radio telescopes across Australia to detect the gas and dust left behind by the explosions of massive stars. “This image was the first test we did and it performed incredibly well,” says radio astronomer Roland Kothes.

Nature | 4 min of reading

Quote of the day

Security researcher Sharon Weiner is one of those researching how to modernize the nation’s nuclear launch protocols. (The Financial Times | 15 minutes of reading)

Today I’m thinking about science’s struggle to create truly great decaffeinated coffee. From a species of coffee plant that naturally contains half caff — but was nearly extinct — to CRISPR-modified attempts, many fans want to create a drink without the fuss.

This close to the deadline, I’m thinking more about double espressos than soothing decaffeinated coffees. Add a little spring to my step by sending me feedback on this newsletter — your email is always welcome at [email protected]

Thanks for reading,

Flora Graham, Senior Editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions from Katrina Krämer and Dyana Lewis

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