News at a glance: SETI’s big bucks, Australia’s research integrity, and Mars sample return’s slowdown


Extraterrestrial intelligence hunt gets big financial boost

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, received a huge gain last week: a gift of $200 million from the estate of Franklin Antonio, co-founder of Qualcomm, which makes semiconductors and software supporting wireless technology. Antonio, who died last year, was a longtime supporter of the field. He served as the primary benefactor of SETI research on the Allen Telescope Array, a set of radio dishes that listen for alien activity, and also backed PANOSETI, an all-sky search at optical wavelengths. His bequest to the SETI Institute far exceeds the funding of Breakthrough Listen, a 10-year SETI project financed with $100 million from tech investor Yuri Milner. Antonio’s gift will allow the SETI Institute, which had income of $28 million last year, to branch out from core programs, according to an institute statement. The gift is one of the largest ever to a scientific organization unaffiliated with a university, according to a list compiled by The Chronicle of Philanthropy .


Young shooting survivors suffer

Firearm shootings are the leading cause of death of children and adolescents in the United States, and survivors face a lasting burden. A study has found that even after their gunshot injuries heal, they endure health complications and financial costs much higher than people their age who are not shot . In one of the first such analyses, researchers used 14 years’ worth of health insurance claims data to compare the shooting survivors, ages 19 and younger, with a control population. They found survivors have on average more than twice as many pain disorders, a 68% increase in psychiatric disorders, and a 144% increase in substance use disorders by 1 year after the incident. The cost of their health care ballooned by $34,884 on average, 17 times more than for controls. Their parents also had a 30% increase in psychiatric disorders, the researchers reported last week in Health Affairs . They recommend expanding screening for mental health conditions among those affected by the shootings.


Budget woe slows Mars mission

NASA has slowed development of its Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission, citing uncertainty over its funding and design, agency officials said this week. The move comes after a recent independent review found the bid to retrieve Mars rocks could cost $8 billion to $11 billion—more than the U.S. Senate appears willing to provide. NASA says it will pause work on a spacecraft element meant to capture the rock samples once they reach orbit around Mars, before they are returned to Earth. Instead, the agency will focus on the project’s first leg, a lander to collect the samples and rocket them to the rendezvous. The agency says it expects to finalize revisions to its MSR plans by the spring of 2024; work on the return system could resume once the mission’s future is clear.

quotation mark
I ran … to the living room and hugged the guys.
  • Biologist James Kempton
  • in The Guardian , after a camera trap set up by his team revealed an image of an Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna, named for naturalist David Attenborough and not confirmed in the wild since 1961. The image was taken this summer during the team’s expedition in Papua New Guinea.

A research watchdog for Australia

Australia should create an independent, government-funded body to investigate research misconduct, a new report recommends. “Australia is one of the few countries with a developed research sector that does not have a research integrity watchdog,” instead relying on institutions to investigate their own scientists, the Australia Institute, a think tank, noted in its 12 November report. Those probes are typically kept secret, it notes, enabling institutions to “sweep matters of research integrity under the rug.” (Institutions in the United States and some other countries conduct their own investigations but must report results to independent oversight bodies.) The report says the watchdog should make its findings public and institutions should be bound by those findings. Australia’s new body should also establish a “clear and enforceable” definition of research misconduct. Australian universities have been skeptical of the need for an independent investigative body, but The Sydney Morning Herald reports they have signaled support for the new approach.


China avoids methane promise

Disappointing climate specialists, China released a plan last week for reducing methane emissions that lacks targets, such as the 30% drop by 2030 promised by the United States and 150 other countries. The blueprint from China’s environment ministry did include intentions to capture and reuse more of the short-lived greenhouse gas, which traps heat far more effectively than carbon dioxide. China is the world’s largest emitter of methane, in part because it mines large amounts of coal, releasing methane in the process. The country had promised at a 2021 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, to cooperate on reducing methane. The issue is expected to arise at a climate summit next month in the United Arab Emirates.


U.S. reports climate risks, gains

Global warming is changing life for everyone in the United States, but marginalized communities are feeling the worst of it, according to the latest U.S. National Climate Assessment , released on 14 November. The congressionally mandated report, published every 4 years, lays out how the country is warming faster than the global average, with a familiar litany of impacts: extreme rainfall battering the Northeast, floods intruding on freshwater aquifers in the South, acidifying oceans threatening fisheries off Alaska’s coast. Many climate impacts, such as wildfire smoke and inland flooding, have the largest effect on those least able to avoid air pollution or afford alternative housing. The U.S. is responsible for 17% of current global warming, the report finds, and is still not on track to cut its greenhouse gas emissions enough to meet its international commitments. But progress on climate adaptation is being made , the assessment adds. Pittsburgh is adjusting construction codes so new buildings better handle stormwaters, for example. Northwest tribes are managing forests for carbon retention. And renewable power stations are sprouting across the country.


EU law requires nature restoration

The European Union moved closer last week to enacting the first law designed to restore natural ecosystems across the bloc. The European Parliament and EU member states agreed on details for implementing the controversial Nature Restoration Law , which will require them to set and pursue targets for improvement. By 2030, 30% of drained peatlands should be rewetted to help increase their ability to store carbon from greenhouse gas emissions, for example; 3 billion trees should be planted, and declines in pollinator populations reversed. Achieving the targets is expected to require cooperation from private property owners and more than €8 billion per year, much of which could be covered by existing EU biodiversity funding. To take effect, the law requires final approval by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, which represents member states. Copa and Cogeca, a major farming group, said it was "dismayed and greatly concerned" by the new agreement and predicted it will “rekindle the heated debate in Brussels” over the law.


Teaching lessons from the Nazi medical era

Physicians Anna Braude Heller (left) and Israel Milejkowski resisted the Nazi regime in the Warsaw, Poland, ghetto. (LEFT TO RIGHT) YAD VASHEM, THE LANCET ; GHETTO FIGHTERS ARCHIVE, THE LANCET

All health care students worldwide should learn the history of medicine during the Nazi regime and the Holocaust , according to an expert commission sponsored by The Lancet . In a report published last week, the commission also recommended an international organization focused on the topic and a digital library accessible in multiple languages to health care students around the world. Although the report highlights some doctors, nurses, and midwives who worked against the regime’s murderous practices, the medical profession had one of the highest rates of Nazi party membership; more than half of Germany’s non-Jewish doctors joined the party. Doctors participated in human experimentation in concentration camps and in “euthanasia” programs that murdered more than 200,000 people deemed mentally unfit. Including the topic in medical education could “counteract an ever-present risk of medical injustices” and “the tendency to objectify patients and research participants,” the commission’s co-chairs told Science . The full interview is available at .