Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: eLife


Inspired by broader efforts to make the conclusions of scientific research more robust, we have compiled a list of some of the most common statistical mistakes that appear in the scientific literature. The mistakes have their origins in ineffective experimental designs, inappropriate analyses and/or flawed reasoning. We provide advice on how authors, reviewers and readers can identify and resolve these mistakes and, we hope, avoid them in the future.


In the US, the normal, oral temperature of adults is, on average, lower than the canonical 37°C established in the 19th century. We postulated that body temperature has decreased over time. Using measurements from three cohorts–the Union Army Veterans of the Civil War (N = 23,710; measurement years 1860-1940), the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey I (N = 15,301; 1971-1975), and the Stanford Translational Research Integrated Database Environment (N = 150,280; 2007-2017)–we determined that mean body temperature in men and women, after adjusting for age, height, weight and, in some models date and time of day, has decreased monotonically by 0.03°C per birth decade. A similar decline within the Union Army cohort as between cohorts, makes measurement error an unlikely explanation. This substantive and continuing shift in body temperature-a marker for metabolic rate-provides a framework for understanding changes in human health and longevity over 157 years.


Being taller is associated with enhanced longevity, and higher education and earnings. We reanalysed 1472 population-based studies, with measurement of height on more than 18.6 million participants to estimate mean height for people born between 1896 and 1996 in 200 countries. The largest gain in adult height over the past century has occurred in South Korean women and Iranian men, who became 20.2 cm (95% credible interval 17.5-22.7) and 16.5 cm (13.3-19.7) taller, respectively. In contrast, there was little change in adult height in some sub-Saharan African countries and in South Asia over the century of analysis. The tallest people over these 100 years are men born in the Netherlands in the last quarter of 20th century, whose average heights surpassed 182.5 cm, and the shortest were women born in Guatemala in 1896 (140.3 cm; 135.8-144.8). The height differential between the tallest and shortest populations was 19-20 cm a century ago, and has remained the same for women and increased for men a century later despite substantial changes in the ranking of countries.

Concepts: Human, Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, Human height, Netherlands, Cold War, Gigantism


Clarity and accuracy of reporting are fundamental to the scientific process. Readability formulas can estimate how difficult a text is to read. Here, in a corpus consisting of 709,577 abstracts published between 1881 and 2015 from 123 scientific journals, we show that the readability of science is steadily decreasing. Our analyses show that this trend is indicative of a growing use of general scientific jargon. These results are concerning for scientists and for the wider public, as they impact both the reproducibility and accessibility of research findings.

Concepts: Scientific method, Mathematics, Science, Research, Impact factor, Scientific journal, Falsifiability, Pseudoscience


Open access, open data, open source, and other open scholarship practices are growing in popularity and necessity. However, widespread adoption of these practices has not yet been achieved. One reason is that researchers are uncertain about how sharing their work will affect their careers. We review literature demonstrating that open research is associated with increases in citations, media attention, potential collaborators, job opportunities, and funding opportunities. These findings are evidence that open research practices bring significant benefits to researchers relative to more traditional closed practices.

Concepts: Scientific method, Academic publishing, Research, Open source, Open content, Open Notebook Science, Open research, Open Data


Many motile microorganisms react to environmental light cues with a variety of motility responses guiding cells towards better conditions for survival and growth. The use of spatial light modulators could help to elucidate the mechanisms of photo-movements while, at the same time, providing an efficient strategy to achieve spatial and temporal control of cell concentration. Here we demonstrate that millions of bacteria, genetically modified to swim smoothly with a light controllable speed, can be arranged into complex and reconfigurable density patterns using a digital light projector. We show that a homogeneous sea of freely swimming bacteria can be made to morph between complex shapes. We model non-local effects arising from memory in light response and show how these can be mitigated by a feedback control strategy resulting in the detailed reproduction of grayscale density images.


The rapid expansion of human activities threatens ocean-wide biodiversity. Numerous marine animal populations have declined, yet it remains unclear whether these trends are symptomatic of a chronic accumulation of global marine extinction risk. We present the first systematic analysis of threat for a globally distributed lineage of 1,041 chondrichthyan fishes-sharks, rays, and chimaeras. We estimate that one-quarter are threatened according to IUCN Red List criteria due to overfishing (targeted and incidental). Large-bodied, shallow-water species are at greatest risk and five out of the seven most threatened families are rays. Overall chondrichthyan extinction risk is substantially higher than for most other vertebrates, and only one-third of species are considered safe. Population depletion has occurred throughout the world’s ice-free waters, but is particularly prevalent in the Indo-Pacific Biodiversity Triangle and Mediterranean Sea. Improved management of fisheries and trade is urgently needed to avoid extinctions and promote population recovery. DOI:

Concepts: Conservation biology, Evolution, Plant, Endangered species, Extinction, Genetic erosion, Gene pool, IUCN Red List


New ages for flowstone, sediments and fossil bones from the Dinaledi Chamber are presented. We combined optically stimulated luminescence dating of sediments with U-Th and palaeomagnetic analyses of flowstones to establish that all sediments containing Homo naledi fossils can be allocated to a single stratigraphic entity (sub-unit 3b), interpreted to be deposited between 236 ka and 414 ka. This result has been confirmed independently by dating three H. naledi teeth with combined U-series and electron spin resonance (US-ESR) dating. Two dating scenarios for the fossils were tested by varying the assumed levels of (222)Rn loss in the encasing sediments: a maximum age scenario provides an average age for the two least altered fossil teeth of 253 +82/-70 ka, whilst a minimum age scenario yields an average age of 200 +70/-61 ka. We consider the maximum age scenario to more closely reflect conditions in the cave, and therefore, the true age of the fossils. By combining the US-ESR maximum age estimate obtained from the teeth, with the U-Th age for the oldest flowstone overlying Homo naledi fossils, we have constrained the depositional age of Homo naledi to a period between 236 ka and 335 ka. These age results demonstrate that a morphologically primitive hominin, Homo naledi, survived into the later parts of the Pleistocene in Africa, and indicate a much younger age for the Homo naledi fossils than have previously been hypothesized based on their morphology.

Concepts: Electron, Spin, Sediment, Sedimentary rock, Geology, Fossil, Paleontology, Geologic time scale


COPI-coated vesicles mediate trafficking within the Golgi apparatus and from the Golgi to the endoplasmic reticulum. The structures of membrane protein coats, including COPI, have been extensively studied with in vitro reconstitution systems using purified components. In a previous paper (Dodonova et al., 2017), we determined a complete structural model of the in vitro reconstituted COPI coat. Here, we applied cryo-focused ion beam milling, cryo-electron tomography and subtomogram averaging to determine the native structure of the COPI coat within vitrified Chlamydomonas reinhardtii cells. The native algal structure resembles the in vitro mammalian structure, but additionally reveals cargo bound beneath β'-COP. We find that all coat components disassemble simultaneously and relatively rapidly after budding. Structural analysis in situ, maintaining Golgi topology, shows that vesicles change their size, membrane thickness, and cargo content as they progress from cis to trans, but the structure of the coat machinery remains constant.

Concepts: Protein, Cell, Cell membrane, Golgi apparatus, Organelle, Secretion, Endoplasmic reticulum, Lysosome


The current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is a harsh reminder of the fact that, whether in a single human host or a wave of infection across continents, viral dynamics is often a story about the numbers. In this snapshot, our aim is to provide a one-stop, curated graphical source for the key numbers that help us understand the virus driving our current global crisis. The discussion is framed around two broad themes: 1) the biology of the virus itself and 2) the characteristics of the infection of a single human host. Our one-page summary provides the key numbers pertaining to SARS-CoV-2, based mostly on peer-reviewed literature. The numbers reported in summary format are substantiated by the annotated references below. Readers are urged to remember that much uncertainty remains and knowledge of this pandemic and the virus driving it is rapidly evolving. In the paragraphs below we provide ‘back of the envelope’ calculations that exemplify the insights that can be gained from knowing some key numbers and using quantitative logic. These calculations serve to improve our intuition through sanity checks, but do not replace detailed epidemiological analysis.