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US President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response as US Vice President Kamala Harris looks.

Biden introduces his COVID-19 strategy on 21 January while US Vice-President Kamala Harris stands by in support.Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

Smarter testing, faster vaccinations and health equity are cornerstones of the 200-page COVID-19 strategy released by US President Joe Biden’s administration this week. It also calls for a better online dashboard for tracking the prevalence of the virus in cities and towns across the United States, so that people and officials can make evidence-based decisions. Scientists lauded the coordinated national pandemic strategy and applauded the central role of science in the plan. Some experts have called for more detail, particularly on the funding, staffing and procedures for some initiatives, such as the plan for scaling up surveillance of new virus variants. All agree that it will be a tough task to turn things around in the hard-hit country, which has suffered more than 420,000 deaths due to the coronavirus.

Nature | 7 min read

Reference: The Biden-Harris plan to beat COVID-19

The sail-backed, 17-metre-long spinosaurus may have hunted from shorelines and shallows, like a giant wading bird. A review of anatomical evidence found that features such as the dinosaur’s broad feet and long neck suggest the creature was well-adapted to snatching its car-sized prey from above. The findings contradict recent research that, on the basis of the spinosaurus’ paddle-like tail and stubby hind limbs, suggested the beast was primarily aquatic and pursued its prey underwater, as do present-day otters and sea lions. Without new fossils, the jury is still out.

The New York Times | 4 min read

Reference: Palaeontologia Electronica paper

Life reconstruction of a Spinosaurus wading in the water and fishing.

Robert Nicholls

Immunologist Moncef Slaoui will soon depart his post as the science leader of the US government’s ambitious vaccine project, Operation Warp Speed. He tells Science what it was like working in the administration of former US president Donald Trump, his thwarted plans to prepare for a pandemic in 2016 and how he was happy to forgo millions of dollars to join the programme.

Science | 12 min read

Research highlights: 1-minute reads

• Do we listen with our eyes? A behavioural study is the first to suggest that simple, rhythmic hand movements called ‘beat gestures’ play a subtle but important part in communicating a speaker’s meaning. The study bolsters emerging theories of word recognition, which suggest that language comprehension is a broad synthesis of the senses. (Reference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B paper)

• The site where Sitka Tlingit warriors repelled Russian invaders has been found. In the early nineteenth century, members of the Tlingit people built a trapezoid-shaped wooden fortress called Shís’gi Noow, or ‘Sapling Fort’, on a peninsula in modern Sitka, Alaska. At a battle in 1804, Tlingit fighters at the fort fended off Russian forces, but they later retreated, making Shís’gi Noow the last physical fortification to fall before Russia began a decades-long occupation of the area. Researchers used ground-penetrating radar and an instrument that measures subsurface conductivity to detect a trapezoid-shaped feature that matches Shís’gi Noow’s dimensions and is located in an area where some Tlingit oral traditions place the fort. (Reference: Antiquity paper)

• Researchers have demonstrated a material that fractures more easily in one direction than the other. The authors say that their technique could help to steer cracks in a prescribed direction, which could help to protect critical components. (Reference: Physical Review Letters paper)

Get more of Nature’s research highlights: short picks from the scientific literature.

Features & opinion

The science of climate attribution can show that specific heat waves, floods and extreme-weather events were made more likely by human impact. Now, these techniques should be applied routinely to help governments, organizations and communities to act on their responsibilities and improve resilience, argues climate-impact researcher Richard Betts. “One thing I have found particularly frustrating is that, although houses in my area are now rightly made to be energy-efficient, many are not yet able to cope with hotter weather,” writes Betts. “We must also learn to adapt, and fast.”

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: Explaining Extreme Events from a Climate Perspective (BAMS special report)

Map-like satellite images are useful, but their top-down perspectives flatten the world and are often hard to relate to. Side-on ‘oblique’ aerial images instead give a true sense of depth and do better at connecting abstract data to human experience. Once the norm, oblique imagery now requires satellites to shoot at unusual angles and from greater distances. But the results — from spewing volcanoes to 3D cities — are well worth it.

Nightingale | 7 min read

Quote of the day

Cassie Flynn, the UN Development Programme’s strategic adviser on climate change, responds to the findings of the biggest ever opinion poll on climate change. The survey of 1.2 million people in 50 countries found that 64% think climate change is a global emergency. (The Guardian | 4 min read)

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