Meet the enigmatic species of the Ediacaran

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A Ryanair jet taking off from Leeds Bradford airport

Flying to conduct fieldwork is one reason climate researchers might travel more than other scientists.Credit: Andrew McCaren/LNP/Shutterstock

A growing number of climate-change researchers are making a conscious effort to reduce their carbon footprints by avoiding air travel. But an analysis suggests that, despite these efforts, climate researchers travel and fly more than do those who work in other disciplines. The study surveyed more than 1,400 scientists from 59 countries, and found that climate experts take 5 flights per year on average, whereas researchers who specialize in other fields take 4. Climate scientists also fly more often for work than their peers, but take fewer international flights for personal reasons. “It doesn’t seem like we’ve fully shifted to flying less. But I think there’s a raised consciousness about it,” says atmospheric physicist Nadir Jeevanjee.

Nature | 3 min read

Reference: Global Environmental Change paper

For decades, French research has struggled to shine on the world stage. But in a suburb 30 kilometres southwest of Paris, a bright spot is emerging. Paris-Saclay University, officially formed this year, is one of Europe’s biggest research universities and has earned a top international ranking, although researchers say it’s still too soon to judge whether the model is a success. Nevertheless, the project shows that “universities, research organizations and engineering schools can work together efficiently”, says Antoine Petit, chief executive of France’s national research agency.

Nature | 5 min read

The United States, Europe and Japan export millions of used sedans, SUVs and minibuses to low- and middle-income countries. The age and poor quality of these vehicles is a major source of air pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions, finds a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “Developed countries must stop exporting vehicles that fail environment and safety inspections and are no longer considered roadworthy in their own countries, while importing countries should introduce stronger quality standards,” says Inger Andersen, the executive director of UNEP.

The Guardian | 5 min read

Features & opinion

Hollows left by Dickinsonia specimens in seafloor mats

Evidence indicates that Dickinsonia, an iconic organism of the Ediacaran period, was an animal.Credit: Zeytun Travel Images/Alamy

Animal, vegetable or something else entirely? For decades, researchers were baffled by fossils of bizarre living things that dated back to the Ediacaran period — around half a billion years ago. But recent evidence suggests that some of these alien-like species were in fact animals — including ones that had guts, segmented bodies and other sophisticated features. Researchers are using these finds to re-examine a pivotal event in evolutionary history: the Cambrian explosion. “I would just love to be swimming over these communities and see, finally, how are they really growing? What on Earth are they?” says palaeobiologist Rachel Wood. “So much would become obvious.”

Nature | 12 min read

Last month, the UK government said that universities no longer need to comply with voluntary membership schemes to get grant funding. The move is part of a broader retreat from what the government sees as “unnecessary bureaucracy” in research, and includes schemes designed to promote equality and diversity such as the internationally recognized Athena SWAN gender-equality charter. A Nature editorial argues that the government’s decision is unwise, and that the assessment processes of equality schemes should instead be reformed to improve transparency and ensure that the administrative burden is properly shared.

Nature | 5 min read

Wearing masks has become a symbol of people’s willingness to believe science and do the right thing in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also symbolic of a troubling phenomenon that has occurred during the pandemic — the tendency of scientific experts to be overconfident and to ridicule non-experts, say forecaster Michael Story and psychologist Stuart Ritchie. Just a few months ago, scientists were telling people that wearing masks was ineffective and possibly dangerous. But what was once the expert view on masks is now considered misinformation. “It can be tempting to offer only certainty in times of crisis — but part of being an expert is knowing when to be uncertain,” Story and Ritchie write.

UnHerd | 9 min read

Quote of the day

Virologist Akiko Iwasaki speaks about the importance of fighting sexism, power imbalances and toxic behaviour in academia. (STAT | 12 min read)

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