Daily briefing: Postdocs are disenchanted with working life, says survey


Fewer than half of postdocs surveyed would recommend a scientific career to their younger self. Plus, what the science says about asymptomatic COVID and ethical questions confront facial recognition.

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A boy has his temperature checked as a measure against COVID-19, as they arrive at an evacuation center, Manila. A boy has his temperature checked as a measure against COVID-19, as they arrive at an evacuation center, Manila.

Roughly one in five people with COVID-19 don’t experience symptoms.Credit: Ezra Acayan/Getty

Growing evidence suggests that about one in five people infected with COVID-19 experience no symptoms — much lower than the number estimated early in the pandemic. Asymptomatic people also seem less likely than people with symptoms to transmit the infection to others. But researchers are divided about whether asymptomatic infections are acting as a ‘silent driver’ of outbreaks. That’s why precautions such as social distancing and wearing masks are so important, whether you have symptoms or not.

Nature | 3 min read

Reference: JAMMI meta-analysis, medRxiv preprint & SSRN preprint

A home-testing kit that analyses urine for signs of breast cancer is the overall winner of the James Dyson Award for budding inventors. Biomedical engineer Judit Giró Benet designed the device, inspired by her own mother’s breast-cancer diagnosis. Benet hopes that the painless, non-invasive method will make it easier for people to spot breast cancer in its early stages.

A transparent plastic material made from crop waste that converts sunlight to electricity won the inaugural sustainability award in the competition. Engineer Carvey Ehren Maigue integrated particles derived from fruit and vegetable scraps to create panels that can generate power even from indirect ultraviolet light.

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I News | 3 min read & The Guardian | 3 min read

Features & opinion

From studies based on vulnerable populations to databases of faces collected without permission, facial-recognition research is experiencing an ethical upheaval. Journals, researchers and companies are being challenged over widely used data sets or research that could be used to oppress people. A Nature survey reveals that many researchers in this field agree that there is a problem. “A lot of people are now questioning why the computer-vision community dedicates so much energy to facial-recognition work when it’s so difficult to do it ethically,” says Deborah Raji, who researches artificial-intelligence accountability and works at the non-profit Internet foundation Mozilla. “I’m seeing a growing coalition that is just against this entire enterprise.”

Nature | 17 min read

Uneasy and insecure, postdoctoral researchers worldwide are experiencing great distress around their career prospects, workload and workplace culture. Nature’s first-ever survey of postdocs, which drew self-selecting responses from 7,670 postdoctoral researchers representing 93 nations, uncovered widespread concerns about the present and future. More than half have a negative view of their career outlook, and most would not recommend a scientific career to their younger self.

Nature | 13 min read

In Denmark, where prenatal screening is offered to every pregnant woman, only a handful of people with Down’s syndrome are born every year. This is despite the country’s good support for people with disabilities and the fact that people with Down’s can live a long, happy life. The situation throws light on the complex repercussions, both personal and societal, of selective reproduction. As the science of genetic testing expands, The Atlantic explores the pressure on individuals, the joys that arise from our differences and the blurry boundaries of what is ‘normal’.

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The Atlantic | 31 min read

Image of the week

James Cochran painting with the lab pipette James Cochran painting with the lab pipette

Street artist James Cochran, who usually does pointillist images using spray paint, picked up a pipette for his latest work. Cochran spent more than 250 hours daubing the 50,000 dots inspired by a microscopy image of immune cells attacking a liver cancer tumour. Cochrane, who himself survived basal cell carcinoma, was commissioned by The Institute of Cancer Research in LondonICR/John Angerson

Quote of the day

Rising groundwater has the potential to debilitate low-elevation coastal cities through flooding and damage to underground infrastructure, says coastal scientist Dolan Eversole. (Hakai | 12 min read)

This newsletter is always evolving — tell us what you think! Please send your feedback to briefing@nature.com.

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by Nicky Phillips

An essential round-up of science news, opinion and analysis, delivered to your inbox every weekday.

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