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By strapping a camera to a child’s head, researchers have gained an insight into how children acquire language. A baby boy wore the camera for around one hour twice a week, from the age of six months to around two years. Researchers trained an AI system on frames from the video and words spoken to Sam, transcribed from the recording. It learnt to recognize words such as ‘crib’ and ‘ball’ by building associations between images and words, without any other prior knowledge about language. That challenges the theory that babies need some innate knowledge about how language works, says AI researcher Wai Keen Vong, who co-authored the research.
Nature | 5 min read
Reference: Science paper
A molecular coating found on the X chromosome might be one of the reasons women account for around 80% of all cases of autoimmune disease, a category that includes conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. In most mammals, including humans, a male’s cells typically include one copy of the X chromosome, whereas a female’s cells typically carry two. Half of women’s X chromosomes are coated with RNA and proteins that muzzle the genes inside — and are targeted by misguided immune molecules. Experiments in male mice with a lupus-like disease showed that those with a form of this coating had higher autoantibody levels and more extensive tissue damage.
Nature | 5 min read
Reference: Cell paper
Physicists have demonstrated an alternative to qubits for quantum computers: qumodes. Qubits have properties that can only have two states when measured — for example, an electron with a spin that is in one direction or another. Qmodes’ properties can vary along a continuum — in this case, the brightness of a light pulse. To create qumodes, researchers carefully modified laser pulses by removing one photon at a time and creating interference between pairs of pulses. They then demonstrated that the resulting pulses had the properties that would be required, both to perform ‘digital’ quantum computations and to correct errors in those computations. In theory, qumodes could lead to faster and less error-prone quantum computers.
Popular Mechanics | 3 min read
Reference: Science paper
In a survey conducted last year, the majority of more than 22,000 researchers supported the idea of making the entire research life cycle freely available to everyone. Many already wholeheartedly embrace open-access publishing, but aren’t sure how to share lab materials, reagents and protocols. When we asked readers what they thought about pursuing fully open science, the majority supported the idea even if it meant more work for them.
However, many highlighted that the cost of open-access publishing excludes scientists from low- and middle-income countries. Some worried that sharing raw data would increase their risk of being scooped or their work being plagiarized by paper mills. The shift to fully open science, readers suggested, needs to go hand-in-hand with reducing incentives for simply publishing more papers.
“I applaud and support open research except when it impairs the ability to make innovations scalable and sustainable,” says health services researcher Alan Spiro. “That requires acknowledgment of the fact that someone must take financial risks and must be able to see a financial return for their efforts.”
It’s also important to consider possible misuse of freely available data, such as whole genomes, particularly if it comes from marginalized groups. “There are significant cultural concerns for the principal researcher, when discoveries made are not adequately validated by their communities,” says forensic geneticist Maria Corazon De Ungria.
Features & opinion
Cervical cancer kills more than 300,000 people each year. The disease can be prevented by the HPV vaccine, but only around 21% of women worldwide have had the jab. To change this, four experts share their strategies:
• Target schools in national vaccination programmes.
• Raise awareness of the vaccine as a cancer preventative in a culturally sensitive way.
• Integrate screening and treatment into existing health-care facilities.
• Use international mentors to train doctors, particularly in countries that face a shortage of medical providers.
Nature | 9 min read
When bioinformatics researcher Hunter Moseley and his colleagues were reviewing biochemistry algorithms, three papers had a catastrophic ‘data leakage’ problem: the data used for training and those used for evaluation were cross-contaminated with duplicated entries. The good news is that the authors of two of the papers had made their data, code and results fully available, so the problem could be found and addressed. The other paper didn’t — making it impossible to properly evaluate their results. The lesson, writes Moseley, is not about knee-jerk retractions of flawed research. In the midst of a data-driven science boom, good reproducibility practices are more important than ever.
Nature | 6 min read
A son combs through his DNA for a last message from his literary father in the latest short story for Nature’s Futures series.
Nature | 6 min read
Andrew Robinson’s pick of the top five science books to read this week includes a biography of a forgotten nineteenth-century scholar of the Aztec civilization, Zelia Nuttall, a thought-provoking assessment of US economics and a look at rare ancient lakes.
Nature | 4 min read
A type of ancient stone blade was made by the first Homo sapiens that moved into northern Europe some 45,000 years ago — not by Neanderthals. Researchers sifted through thousands of pieces of rubble at one of the few sites that had been left untouched by early 20th-century archaeologists. “It’s an ancient cave that collapsed, there is a layer with blocks that are about the size of a car,” paleoanthropologist and study co-author Jean-Jacques Hublin tells the Nature Podcast. DNA analysis of 13 bone fragments confirmed that they belonged to modern humans that probably started living at the periphery of the Neanderthals’ domain.
Nature Podcast | 29 min listen
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