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  Paying the price Universities must see that inadequate support of early-career researchers has consequences. L etters from research funders to university leaders rarely raise eyebrows. But a letter sent this month by the heads of the United Kingdom’s three largest medical-research funders did just that. It says that some types of funding could be withheld unless uni- versities provide better support for early- and mid-career staf  f —   particularly women and trainees. And it warns that institutions could be prevented from bidding for funded posts unless they change their ways. The letter is signed by the heads of the Medical Research Coun-cil, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and Wellcome. What has sparked funder frustration is the fact that universities prom- ise to look after new researchers when applying for grants — making pledges including the provision of quality mentoring, or a path to pro- motion. But in some cases these commitments are ignored once grant money is banked — sometimes in violation of contracts. No institutions are named in the letter, a copy of which has been seen by Nature , but it points to “some very large and well-established Universities and Medical Schools”. One of the signatorie s — the NIHR — was an early adopter of tough measures in support of advancing women’s careers. In 2011, it made grants conditional on medical schools achieving a gold or silver in the Athena SWAN Charter, a scheme designed to improve women’s career prospects that has also raised awareness of the structural barriers to gender equality in universities. Athena SWAN has enabled many universities to take positive action to advance equality and diversity. But when it comes to the needs of early- and mid-career clinical researchers, the NIHR and the other medical-research funders are right to challenge universities that are not doing enough. A strongly worded letter warning universities that they could be sanctioned unless they change is a necessary step . ■ L ast week, Italy’s coalition government ended abruptly, when the nationalist Lega party of deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini announced that it was walking away from its turbulent coalition with the anti-establishment M5S party, known as the Five Star Move- ment. The collapse is of great concern: a much-delayed funding increase is now on hold, and the political uncertainty adds further threat. What will happen now is unclear. One of the coalition partners could form a government with others in parliament, or an election might be needed if an agreement cannot be reached. Italy’s head of state, President Sergio Mattarella, will oversee the process. He needs to use his discus- sions with party leaders to remind them of the coalition’s promise to the nation’s scholars: that austerity in research funding would come to an end. The challenge for whoever takes office is that Italy’s economy has been mostly stagnant for a decade. It also has high levels of debt and could be on the brink of a recession. And as Italy, like other European countries, aimed to shrink its budget deficit after the 2008–09 financial crisis, funding for universities took a hit. The coalition government had promised to return funding for universities to 2009 levels of around €7.5 billion (US$8.3 billion). It had also vowed to increase a smaller fund for research institutes, known as the FOE, which has consistently been cut since 2013. These increases, although modest, would have provided welcome relief for a system in which most of the funding from the government is currently used to pay for salaries and fixed costs, such as utility bills. Furthermore, there is a possibility that indirect taxation — value-added tax (VAT) — will need to rise, from 22% to 25%. Italy has exceeded European Union limits on the size of its borrowing, and if the government cannot cut €23 billion from public spending, it will need to raise VAT. That will put even more pressure on research budgets. Money is not the only issue. Lega was responsible for running the interior ministry, and ministers clashed with scientists on the party’s policies towards refugees and asylum-seekers — including an indefen-sible law that imposes a €1-million fine on humanitarian ships patrol- ling the Mediterranean looking to save people in distress. Academic independence is also a concern. At the Ministry of Education, Univer-sity and Research — also the responsibility of Lega — there is evidence that inspectors have been monitoring the teaching of political science in schools. In some classes, they have been discussing whether today’s government policies echo Italy’s Mussolini-era past. This has unset- tled teachers. And although Italy’s spending on research and development — at around 1.3% of its gross domestic product — sits well below the EU average of 2%, its research performance continues to improve. Between 2000 and 2016, Italy’s share of published scientific papers increased from 3.2% to 4% and the number of publications as a fraction of spending on research is comfortably above the EU average. In his resignation speech to Italy’s senate, prime minister Giuseppe Conte from the Five Star movement spoke about the need to invest more in research and to establish a national agency for research — such words are welcome, but not enough, and he must uphold his earlier promises if his party returns to power. After a decade of austerity, Italy’s researchers and research leaders will need to dig deep yet again and find ways to hold the next government accountable for these promises. Mattarella, a former education minister, can and should also play a vital supporting part. As the head of state, he has no executive authority, but he does have moral authority. He needs to use it so that promised funds and scholarly autonomy are protected in the next administration. ■ Italy must keep its funding pledges The collapse of Italy’s coalition government has left researchers vulnerable. The incoming administration must keep a longstanding promise to end austerity in funding. FACE TIME Moratorium needed on technologies that identify individuals p.565HEART OF THE MATTER Falling cardiovascular death rates start to stall p.567MIT FUNDING Links to sex offender Jeffrey Epstein to be investigated p.568 29 AUGUST 2019 | VOL 572 | NATURE | 563 THIS WEEK EDITORIALS © 2019 Springer Nature Limited. All rights reserved.  E arlier this month, Ohio became the latest of several state and local governments in the United States to stop law-enforcement officers from using facial-recognition databases. The move followed reports that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency had been scanning millions of photos in state driver’s licence databases, data that could be used to target and deport undocumented immigrants. Researchers at Georgetown University in Washington DC used public-record requests to reveal this previously secret operation, which was running without the consent of individuals or authorization from state or federal lawmakers. It is not the only such project. Customs and Border Protection is using something similar at airports, creating a record of every passenger’s departure. The technology giant Amazon is building part- nerships with more than 200 police departments to promote its Ring home-security cameras across the United States. Amazon gets ongoing access to video footage; police get kickbacks on technology products. Facial-recognition technology is not ready for this kind of deployment, nor are governments ready to keep it from causing harm. Stronger regu- latory safeguards are urgently needed, and so is a wider public debate about the impact it is already having. Comprehensive legislation must guaran- tee restrictions on its use, as well as transparency, due process and other basic rights. Until those safeguards are in place, we need a moratorium on the use of this technology in public spaces. There is little evidence that biometric technology can identify suspects quickly or in real time. No peer-reviewed studies have shown convincing data that the technology has sufficient accuracy to meet the US constitutional standards of due process, probable cause and equal protection that are required for searches and arrests. Even the world’s largest corporate supplier of police body cameras — Axon in Scottsdale, Arizona — announced this year that it would not deploy facial-recognition technology in any of its products because it was too unreliable for police work and “could exacerbate existing inequities in policing, for example by penalizing black or LGBTQ com-munities”. Three cities in the United States have banned the use of facial recognition by law-enforcement agencies, citing bias concerns. They are right to be worried. These tools generate many of the same biases as human law-enforcement officers, but with the false patina of technical neutrality. The researchers Joy Buolamwini at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and Timnit Gebru, then at Micro-soft Research in New York City, showed that some of the most advanced facial-recognition software failed to accurately identify dark-skinned women 35% of the time, compared to a 1% error rate for white men. Sep-arate work showed that these technologies mismatched 28 US members of Congress to a database of mugshots, with a nearly 40% error rate for members of colour. Researchers at the University of Essex in Colchester, UK, tested a facial-recognition technology used by London’s Metropoli- tan Police, and found it made just 8 correct matches out of a series of 42, an error rate they suspect would not be found lawful in court. Subse- quently, a parliamentary committee called for trials of facial-recognition technology to be halted until a legal framework could be established. But we should not imagine that the most we can hope for is technical parity for the surveillance armoury. Much more than techni-cal improvements are needed. These tools are dangerous when they fail and harmful when they work. We need legal guard rails for all biometric surveillance systems, particularly as they improve in accuracy and inva- siveness. Accordingly, the AI Now Institute that I co-founded at New York University has crafted four principles for a protective framework. First, given the costly errors, discrimination and privacy invasions associated with facial-recognition systems, policymakers should not fund or deploy them until they have been vetted and strong protections have been put in place. That includes prohibiting links between private and government databases. Second, legislation should require that public agencies rigorously review biometric technolo- gies for bias, privacy and civil-rights concerns, as well as solicit public input before they are used. Agencies that want to deploy these technologies should be required to carry out a formal algo-rithmic impact assessment (AIA). Modelled after impact-assessment frameworks for human rights, environmental protection and data protec-tion, AIAs help governments to evaluate artificial- intelligence systems and guarantee public input. Third, governments should require corporations to waive any legal restrictions on researching or over-seeing these systems. As we outlined in the AI Now Report 2018, tech companies are currently able to use trade-secrecy laws to shield themselves from public scrutiny. This creates a legal ‘black box’ that is  just as opaque as any algorithmic ‘black box’, and serves to shut down investigations into the social implications of these systems. Finally, we need greater whistle-blower protections for technology-company employees to ensure that the three other principles are work- ing. Tech workers themselves have emerged as a powerful force of accountability: for example, whistle-blowers revealed Google’s work on a censored search engine in China. Without greater protections, they are in danger of retaliation. Scholars have been pointing to the technical and social risks of facial recognition for years. Greater accuracy is not the point. We need strong legal safeguards that guarantee civil rights, fairness and accountability. Otherwise, this technology will make all of us less free. ■ Kate Crawford  is a distinguished research professor and co-director of the AI Now Institute at New York University, and a principal researcher at Microsoft Research in New York City.Twitter: @katecrawford  Regulate facial-recognition technology Until appropriate safeguards are in place, we need a moratorium on biometric technology that identifies individuals, says Kate Crawford . THESE TOOLS ARE DANGEROUS  WHEN THEY FAIL AND HARMFUL  WHEN THEY WORK. 29 AUGUST 2019 | VOL 572 | NATURE | 565 WORLD VIEW A personal take on events  © 2019 Springer Nature Limited. All rights reserved.     D   A   L   E   O   M   O   R   I   /   C   L   E   V   E   L   A   N   D   M   U   S .   N   A   T .   H   I   S   T . Scientists have discovered a 3.8-million-year-old hominin skull (pictured) in Ethiopia that could help to clarify the srcins of Lucy, our famous forerunner. The specimen suggests that Lucy’s species coexisted with an ancestor in the ancient Ethiopian landscape. Most researchers think that Lucy’s species,  Australopithecus afarensis , falls on the same branch of the evolutionary tree as an earlier species called  Australopithecus anamensis . The idea is that  A.   anamensis  gradually morphed into  A.   afarensis , implying that the two species never coexisted. The skull, described this week in Nature , suggests otherwise. The fossil’s facial features indicate that it belongs to  A. anamensis , and strengthens the case that a previously discovered fossil, a 3.9-million-year-old face fragment found in the 1980s, belongs to  A.   afarensis . This suggests that the two species coexisted, after all.  A.   afarensis  may have evolved from a small  A. anamensis  group before gradually outcompeting the wider  A.   anamensis  population. 3.8-million-year-old skull discovered POLICY  UK immigration The UK government has said that freedom of movement as it currently stands for days after two researchers cut ties with the Media Lab because of the university’s interactions with Epstein. HEALTH Polio milestone Polio is no longer endemic in Nigeria, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on 21 August, as the country marked three years without any new cases of the paralysing disease. Nigeria is the last country in Africa in which polio has circulated in the INSTITUTIONS Alaska funding  Tenured faculty members in the University of Alaska (UA) system no longer face the possibility of being laid off with 60 days’ notice. UA’s governing board voted unanimously on 20 August to reverse its declaration of “financial exigency”, which it made in July in response to an unprecedented US$135-million cut to state funding for the university system. Financial exigency grants the board extraordinary powers to reduce costs, including the ability to fire faculty members and end academic programmes. But the budget crisis eased on 13 August, when Alaska’s governor Michael Dunleavy and UA administrators agreed to a smaller, $25-million cut this year. The UA governing board will meet in early September to discuss how to distribute this year’s cut, and a proposal to consolidate the system’s three main branches — in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau — into one accredited institution. MIT inquiry The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is launching an investigation into its interactions with sex offender and alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. The university, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, received about US$800,000 in donations from the disgraced financier over two decades, MIT president Rafael Reif said on 22 August. All of Epstein’s donations went to either the MIT Media Lab or to physics professor Seth Lloyd. “In this instance, we made a mistake of judgment,” Reif said. Lloyd and MIT Media Lab director Joichi Ito have issued public apologies for their dealings with Epstein. The MIT announcement came wild; now, the entire continent could be declared polio-free next year. The WHO, private donors and governments have led a multibillion-dollar global campaign to eradicate polio. The number of new infections has fallen globally, from roughly 350,000 in 1988 to 33 in 2018.European Union citizens will end as soon as the country leaves the bloc on 31 October. This means that EU scientists coming to work in the United Kingdom after this date would be subject to new immigration arrangements, which the government promised to publish “shortly” in an announcement on 19 August. The previous government’s policy would have left the rights of EU citizens coming to study or work in the United Kingdom essentially unchanged at least until the 568 | NATURE | VOL 572 | 29 AUGUST 2019 SEVEN DAYS The news in brief  © 2019 Springer Nature Limited. All rights reserved.
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