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University of Kansas chemical engineer Feng “Franklin” Tao, who was accused of hiding ties to a Chinese university, has been found guilty of wire fraud and making false statements to the US government. A jury found that Tao had committed research fraud by failing to tell his employer and federal funding agencies about an alleged faculty appointment in China. In a statement sent to Nature, Tao’s attorney Peter Zeidenberg said that he hopes the verdict will be overturned, and noted that the judge was reviewing the case. Tao, who was first arrested in 2019, is thought to be the first scientist charged under the China Initiative — a controversial US programme launched in 2018 to protect institutions from economic espionage, which was discontinued in February.
Nature | 7 min read
Read more: The controversial China Initiative is ending — researchers are relieved (Nature | 6 min read, from February)
Sarus crane (Antigone antigone) couples are renowned for their monogamy, but they occasionally welcome a third crane to help them to raise their young. Researchers observed cranes for 16 years and spotted rare family units with an extra male or female. The three-crane groups even turn the typical territorial duet song into a ‘triet’. Only two of the cranes contribute to egg-laying, and the third makes itself scarce during the first month of a chick’s life. “The only benefit that we could think of for the third bird is that it’s getting practice,” says ecologist and co-author K. S. Gopi Sundar.
New York Times | 6 min read
Reference: Ecology paper
A perfectly preserved Thescelosaurus leg showing the first evidence of its scaly skin. A pterosaur egg with an embryo inside, the first of its kind from North America. These are the latest stunning fossils to emerge from Tanis, a remarkable site in North Dakota, which some scientists think captured the first hours following the crash of the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs.
Tanis fossils have been boggling — and sometimes aggravating — scientists since 2019, when they were controversially first reported in The New Yorker rather than in a peer-reviewed paper. The latest discoveries are featured in a BBC documentary hosted by iconic naturalist David Attenborough.
BBC | 6 min read
Features & opinion
A chance meeting at a scientific retreat took Zoltán Kócsi from the electronics industry to the entomology lab. As part of his research, Kócsi built the ‘Antarium’, a virtual-reality arena for ants. It was not easy being a part-time graduate student while running his business, but it was worth it, he says. “When you sport a silver mane, it gets harder to move out of your comfort zone,” says Kócsi. “New knowledge enriches you, regardless of how old you are. My advice is: if you have the opportunity to dive into a new field, take it.”
Nature | 6 min read
In the southwestern Indian state of Karnataka, authorities are playing a losing game, pitting flood defences against the monsoon sea. Seawalls, designed to protect one of India’s richest states against rising sea levels and more frequent cyclones, have made coastal erosion more widespread and unpredictable. Excessive mining for sand to fuel Bengaluru’s construction boom further fuels erosion. “It’s like a gangrene that’s spreading,” says one local man whose house has already been partially destroyed.
Scroll.in | 23 min read
The accidental firing of an Indian BrahMos missile into Pakistan last month reiterates the risks of nuclear weapons, writes Zia Mian, a physicist and nuclear-policy researcher. It’s an example of what organizational sociologist Charles Perrow called “normal accidents”: inevitable outcomes of complex, high-risk systems that are hard to predict and control. “As the legendary analyst of nuclear command and control Bruce Blair warned, among nuclear-weapon system managers and operators there is an ‘illusion of safety’ that masks ‘the systematic potential for tragedy on a monumental scale’,” writes Mian. “Whether it is India and Pakistan preparing for a fifth war, or the forces of a nuclear-armed Russia struggling ever more violently to subdue Ukraine and stem the flow of lethal NATO weapons, such illusions threaten the destruction of cities and may lead to the killing of nations.”
Scientific American | 6 min read