Daily briefing: The seven books we need now

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The area in front of NASA’s InSight Mars lander

The Mars InSight lander’s seismometer contains three extremely sensitive sensors nestled inside a dome to protect them from wind.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Hundreds of quakes detected by NASA’s InSight mission from its landing site near the Martian equator are feeding into a deeper understanding of the interior of the red planet. And InSight has uncovered a new mystery: magnetic pulses that appear around midnight each night beneath the lander. Mission scientists are still hoping to see results from InSight’s ambitious drilling probe, which has struggled to penetrate the unexpectedly sticky soil.

Nature | 4 min read

The disgraced stem-cell entrepreneur Davide Vannoni died on 10 December, at the age of 53. In the past decade, Vannoni treated hundreds of people in Italy against the objections of health authorities and stem-cell researchers. His unproven technique claimed to convert bone-marrow cells into neuronal stem cells for the treatment of neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and muscular dystrophy.

Nature | 3 min read

Peer reviews that make personal attacks, aren’t constructive or are just downright rude are commonplace and sometimes harmful. A survey of more than 1,000 scientists from various countries and disciplines found a “disturbing” prevalence of unprofessional peer reviews reported by all types of respondent. People from under-represented groups in science felt the negative impact of such reviews particularly keenly, both personally and professionally.

Science | 6 min read

Reference: PeerJ paper

NASA has chosen the spot on the asteroid Bennu where it will attempt to land a spacecraft next year and hoover up bits of rock and dirt before returning to Earth. The OSIRIS-REx probe has been orbiting Bennu since last December, studying its surface and working out the safest place to descend.

Nature | 3 min read

Features & opinion

Can a 3D-printed ukulele capture the musical magic of its conventionally made cousin? These and other sound-based science questions are tackled in the Nature Podcast this week, from the Acoustical Society of America conference.

Nature Podcast | 26 min listen

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Books & culture


Illustration by Richard Wilkinson

After a year that has been challenging for many people, Nature asked seven scientists, scholars and historians to pluck a book from all time that speaks to our time. Freeman Dyson, Alondra Nelson, Emilie Savage-Smith, Ann Pettifor, Callum Roberts, Ismail Serageldin and Chikwe Ihekweazu chose science-inflected volumes — on the often-forgotten lessons of Hiroshima, the rise of unregulated markets, the ubiquity of plastic, the mapping of the eleventh-century world and more. Together, they offer a composite lens on our complicated present.

Nature | 16 min read

The Futurium in Berlin shimmers in asymmetrical glass and metal, like a 1960s vision of the space age. Inside, its vision of the future is oddly timid, writes reviewer Stephen Cave, with a focus on new technologies and modest hints for living sustainably. And its choice to divide humans, technology and nature creates deeply misleading separations, writes Cave.

Nature | 4 min read

Barbara Kiser’s pick of the top five science books to read this week includes a heliocentric epic, the progress of nano-tools in biological and medical research, volcanic viniculture and cartoons on chemistry.

Nature | 2 min read

Where I work

Mona Nemer walks on the path along the Ottawa River

Mona Nemer is chief scientific adviser to the Canadian government.Credit: Rémi Thériault for Nature

“Walking re-energizes me when I have difficult decisions to make,” says Mona Nemer, the chief scientific adviser to the Canadian government. Nemer tells of how a walk by the river that runs through Canada’s capital city of Ottawa helped her to build a difficult consensus on fish farming.

Quote of the day

A review of indicators of the state of nature shows that most are declining — and presents five levers to make transformative change. (Science)

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