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The surprise hit ornithology game, air pollution kills more people than smoking, Trump seeks big cuts to science funding.

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The United States Capitol Building in Washington DC

The US government’s budget for the 2020 fiscal year proposes spending cuts at the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA, among other science agencies. The Food and Drug Administration budget would increase, including US$55 million to tackle opioid addiction and the same amount to boost digital health technologies. It’s not clear whether Congress will go along with it — some of the cuts have been proposed, and rejected, in past budgets.

Nature | 7 min read

Air pollution caused an estimated 8.8 million extra deaths in 2015 — almost double previous estimates, and more than the 7 million that the World Health Organization blames on smoking. Researchers called for legislators in Europe, where the death rate is higher than average, to focus on reducing the use of fossil fuels. “When we use clean, renewable energy, we are not just fulfilling the Paris agreement to mitigate the effects of climate change, we could also reduce air pollution-related death rates by up to 55%,” says atmospheric chemist Jos Lelieveld.

The Guardian | 6 min read

Reference: PNAS paper


Scientists are putting mice into virtual mazes in which every visual detail can be controlled. A host of such experiments are revealing how the mammalian brain processes the world. The surprising results indicate that sensory neurons perceive a complex fusion of “a feature in the world — and some aspect of what an animal is doing”, says neuroscientist David Schneider.

Nature | 12 min read

Momentum is building for African Union countries to take the lead to quell the next disease outbreak, argues John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. “Waiting for emergency help from the West costs lives, health and resources,” he says. He calls on domestic, private and philanthropic funders to support governments as they boost their public-health initiatives.

Nature | 5 min read

Health-policy consultant Elizabeth Hargrave spun a love of birding and a mind for mathematics into Wingspan, a sold-out board game in which you battle to attract birds (and their powers) to your network of wildlife preserves. Hargrave tells The New York Times how she designed a game based on accurate science and rigorous probability that is also a lot of fun to play. “Something that works perfectly, mathematically, can be perfectly boring,” she said. “There has to be some human spark.”

The New York Times | 9 min read


Many academic women and people from minority backgrounds will be familiar with the frustrations expressed by social scientist Grace Krause in her poem, “I got told what to call this poem by my male colleague”. (Thinking in the Open blog)

Next time I get a handful of change, I’m hoping it contains this 50p coin with a black hole on it that commemorates Stephen Hawking. I’d also be grateful to receive your feedback on this newsletter — please send your thoughts to

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Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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