News at a glance: Climate promises, a predatory ‘Hydra’ publisher, and tracking the birth of elements | Science

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GLOBAL WARMING

Climate summit opens as carbon dioxide cuts lag

As world leaders converge on Glasgow, U.K., for a climate summit beginning 31 October, a series of reports show the world is far from meeting a promise to try to hold global temperature increases below the 1.5°C target that could avert the worst impacts of climate change. To meet the temperature target, set in the 2015 Paris climate agreement, nations need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030, but current pledges would trim emissions by only 7.5%, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) warned this week. Meanwhile, countries’ detailed plans show they expect to increase fossil fuel production until at least 2040, despite commitments to reduce emissions to net-zero by 2050, a coalition of research institutes and UNEP reported on 20 October. “Countries have not yet done the work of translating what their climate pledges mean to [management of ] fossil fuel markets,” says co-author Peter Erickson of the Stockholm Environment Institute. At the Glasgow meeting, countries are expected to increase their targets for emissions cuts for the first time since the Paris agreement established initial targets and a schedule for tightening the commitments.

COVID-19

More vaccine boosters authorized

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week opened the floodgates for people in the United States to receive booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines. Building on a September decision that allowed widespread use of third shots for the Pfizer vaccine, FDA now says data support a third shot of Moderna’s similar product, at least 6 months after the first two. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines contain messenger RNA that codes for the viral surface protein called spike. Everyone age 65 and older is eligible, along with people as young as 18 if they are at high risk of severe COVID-19, are exposed at work, or live in nursing homes, prisons, or other institutions. FDA also decided that everyone 18 and older who received Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which uses an adenovirus to deliver a gene for spike and was authorized as a single dose, can now receive a second shot. And FDA gave mixing and matching a green light: People who have completed the primary course of injections and are eligible for boosters can receive any of the three vaccines to fortify their immune responses.

It’s highly unlikely that it is really from a transmitter out at Proxima Centauri.

  • Andrew Siemion of the Breakthrough Listen project, on a striking radio signal that seemed to come from a nearby star but now appears to be human-generated interference.
ARCHAEOLOGY

Sensors spot Mexico monuments

A large airborne laser mapping survey of Maya and Olmec sites in southern Mexico has revealed nearly 500 Mesoamerican monuments. Several of the newly identified ceremonial platforms were so large that ground-based researchers had missed that they were humanmade. Researchers used publicly available lidar data to map structures dating back to 1050 B.C.E. across an 84,500-square-kilometer region. They found evidence for a standardized layout for the platforms based on Mesoamerican cosmology. The design, which may have first appeared at the ancient Olmec site in San Lorenzo, exerted an architectural and cultural influence on later Maya sites across the region, the team reports this week in Nature Human Behaviour. The team also found four additional layout types, representing either different cultural influences or different points in time.

#METOO

MIT biologist sues for defamation

David Sabatini, the prominent biologist who resigned from the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in August after a sexual harassment investigation, last week sued the institute and its director for defamation. The lawsuit, filed in Massachusetts state court, also names a junior colleague who complained that he sexually harassed her. In a 72-page complaint, Sabatini alleges that he ended a consensual affair with the colleague, who ran a different Whitehead lab, and that she then “became determined to destroy” him and fabricated the harassment allegations. “The Whitehead’s investigation was a sham,” it says. Sabatini was also fired by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in August and placed on administrative leave by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which may revoke his tenure. He has lost positions at multiple biotechnology firms, according to the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages. The Whitehead Institute and its director, Ruth Lehmann, declined to comment.

mummified woman
Ancient DNA from this woman and other mummies found in northwestern China indicates they were not immigrants, as was thought. WENYING LI/XINJIANG INSTITUTE OF CULTURAL RELICS AND ARCHAEOLOGY
ARCHAEOLOGY

China’s mysterious ‘Western’ mummies were locals

With their red, blond, and brown hair and felt hats, the renowned Tarim Basin mummies, first discovered in the early 20th century, have long been seen as Westerners who migrated to a desert oasis in northwestern China 4000 years ago. Now, their ancient DNA reveals they were local people with deep roots in Asia, the last known members of an ice age population that was once widespread across Eurasia. But although they were inbred and genetically unrelated to neighboring populations who migrated to the region, they nonetheless were culturally cosmopolitan by the second millennium B.C.E.—adopting woolen clothing, wheat, barley, sheep, goats, and cattle from unrelated herders, according to a study in this week’s issue of Nature. An international team examined the genomes of 13 of the oldest mummies, all of which had been naturally mummified by the basin’s dry, salty environment.

ASTROPHYSICS

Satellite will eye birth of elements

NASA has selected a gamma ray telescope as the latest small astrophysics mission in its long-running Explorers program, the agency said last week. Scientists will use the $145 million Compton Spectrometer and Imager, to be launched in 2025, to study how stars forge elements, by tracking gamma rays from the decay of radioactive atoms produced in supernovae. The mission will also study other high-energy objects, such as giant stars exploding as supernovae and matter-gorging black holes in galactic centers. And it will probe the mysterious origin of positrons—the antimatter counterparts of electrons—seen close to the Milky Way’s center. The project team, based at the University of California, Berkeley, spent decades developing the telescope by flying prototypes on high-altitude balloons.

PUBLISHING

Predatory publisher rebrands

OMICS, a company based in India that U.S. authorities hit with a $50 million judgment in 2019 for deceptive and predatory publishing practices, has rebranded its journals to avoid the stigma, a study in this week’s issue of Nature reports. Most of its more than 700 journals are now published by OMICS subsidiaries, and some articles were backdated to before the new subsidiaries were created. Among the practices that drew the U.S. judgment was charging authors fees for publishing articles open access without providing peer review; the study’s authors suggest “starving the Hydra” of these funds by pressing OMICS and other predatory publishers to post their peer reviews online.



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