SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—The next CEO of Australia’s leading research agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), is in hot water after suggesting the cash-strapped organization spend scarce research dollars investigating water divining, or dowsing.

“I’ve seen people do this with close to 80% accuracy, and I’ve no idea how they do it,” Larry Marshall told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in a recent radio interview. “When I see that, as a scientist, it makes me question, ‘Is there instrumentality that we could create that would enable a machine to find that water?’ … I’ve always wondered whether there is something in the electromagnetic field, or gravitational anomaly,” continued Marshall, who takes up his position in January.

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united nations development programme/flickr

Monrovia, Liberia earlier this year.

Two months ago, when clinician Tim Flanigan arrived in Monrovia to help Liberia combat its Ebola epidemic,  it took ambulances a few days to respond to calls, dying people were turned away from designated treatment units, health care workers ran short of personal protective equipment, and dead bodies were left in the street.  “There was not enough help and there was a sense that the world did not understand how grave this epidemic was,” says Flanigan, who works at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and formerly headed the infectious disease program there. “Now it’s dramatically different in Monrovia, which is wonderful to see.”

Bruce Aylward, the assistant-director general in charge of operational response to Ebola at the World Health Organization (WHO), confirmed at a press conference today that the number of reported cases has declined in Liberia, the country hardest hit in this Ebola epidemic. “It appears that the trend is real in Liberia and that there may indeed be a slowing of the epidemic there,” said Aylward, who noted that  treatment units in several locales have available beds.

But both Aylward and Flanigan immediately cautioned against premature optimism.  "My god, the single biggest mistake right now would be if people start thinking, ‘Do we really need all those new beds?’” said Aylward. “I’m terrified that the information will be misinterpreted and that people will start to think, ‘Oh, great, this is under control.’ This is like saying your pet tiger is under control. This is a very, very dangerous disease.”

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Wikimedia

St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, the host city for this year's ASTMH meeting.

Ebola fears are interfering with the world's premier scientific meeting on tropical diseases. Today, Louisiana state health officials asked anyone who has traveled to Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea in the past 21 days, or has treated Ebola patients elsewhere, to stay away from the annual meeting of the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), which begins on Sunday in New Orleans.

ASTMH doesn't know exactly how many scientists will be affected, but there are several, says incoming president Christopher Plowe, including representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "They are quite disappointed," says Plowe, a malaria researcher at the University of Maryland. ASTMH sent all meeting registrants an email today containing a letter from Kathy Kliebert, secretary of Louisiana's Department of Health & Hospitals, and Kevin Davis, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, that outlines the state's position. ASTMH referred registrants to the state's health department for further information.

"Given that conference participants with a travel and exposure history for [Ebola] are recommended not to participate in large group settings (such as this conference) or to utilize public transport, we see no utility in you traveling to New Orleans to simply be confined to your room," the letter says.

Louisiana's new policy goes further than guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); it is the latest example, after New York and New Jersey, of a state deciding to impose restrictions that many scientists say make little sense.

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The Antares rocket exploded shortly after launch.

NASA

The Antares rocket exploded shortly after launch.

A suite of scientific experiments was lost yesterday evening when the Antares rocket headed to the International Space Station (ISS) exploded 6 seconds after liftoff. The NASA-commissioned rocket, built by Orbital Sciences Corp., exploded on the launch pad at Wallops Island, Virginia, incinerating the scientific experiments on board as well as 748 kg of supplies for the six astronauts stationed on the ISS.

Among the losses was an experiment designed by students at Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Houston, Texas, to determine the optimal lighting conditions for growing pea shoots in outer space. The plants’ rapid growth and high concentration of nutrients make them promising food sources for extended missions in space.

Another casualty was an experiment using a high-resolution camera to observe the chemical composition of meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere. Meteors are relatively rare and difficult to observe from the ground; one way to solve that problem is to hunt for them from the top down. The camera, developed by the Southwest Research Institute, would have peered out of a window on the ISS to record the light spectrum of the rocks as they streaked through Earth’s atmosphere.

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New consortium aims to find structures for 200 membrane proteins.

V. Altounian/Science

New consortium aims to find structures for 200 membrane proteins.

Some 40% of all approved drugs target the proteins called G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), which relay signals across the cell membrane. But we know the 3D shapes of just 22 of the estimated 826 human GPCRs. This week, a trio of U.S. and Chinese academic institutions announced that they’ll join forces over the next 5 years with three pharmaceutical companies to determine the structures of 200 more. Obtaining such structures has been difficult. The GPCRs solved to date all required adding small druglike molecules in order to stabilize them, says Raymond Stevens, a structural biologist at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, who will lead the new consortium. Drug companies are well placed to supply such stabilizers, Stevens adds. In exchange for sharing their molecules, each of the companies—Amgen, Sanofi , and Ono—will get to recommend five GPCR targets per year. In addition to USC, the iHuman Institute at ShanghaiTech University in China and the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica will participate.

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NewLink CEO Charles Link.

AP PHOTO/CHARLIE NEIBERGALL

NewLink CEO Charles Link.

In the race to develop an Ebola vaccine, little NewLink Genetics has been in the shadow of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

Both companies have rushed experimental vaccines into small, early-stage trials. Hopes are high that the vaccines can be ready for large efficacy trials in hard-hit West Africa in January—and if they work, for real-world use in the spring. GSK’s efforts have received extensive media attention, and, with its substantial manufacturing capacity and experience, the mammoth U.K.-based company is widely assumed to be in the lead. In contrast, NewLink, a cancer drug company based in Ames, Iowa, with just 120 employees, has until recently avoided media coverage and drawn criticism for delaying the launch of its studies.

But a different picture emerged after NewLink broke its media silence following a high-level meeting on Ebola vaccines held by the World Health Organization on 23 October. At the meeting, NewLink executives said that, under a best-case scenario, the company might have 12 million doses of vaccine by April. That number would far outstrip GSK’s estimate of 230,000 doses by that date.

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Riot police in Oakland, California, in 2009

Thomas Hawk/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Riot police in Oakland, California, in 2009

A debate among scientists over climate change and conflict has turned ugly. At issue is the question of whether the hotter temperatures and chaotic weather produced by climate change are causing higher rates of violence. A new analysis refutes earlier research that found a link, and the two lead researchers are exchanging some pointed remarks.

Last year, a team of U.S. researchers reported a robust connection between climate and violence in Science. But in a critique published online yesterday in Climatic Change, a team of mostly European researchers dismissed the connection as "inconclusive." The Science authors are hitting back, claiming that the critics are fudging the statistics and even manipulating their figures. The new analysis "is entirely based on surprisingly bold misrepresentations of our article, the literature, basic statistics, and their own findings," says Solomon Hsiang, the lead author of the Science paper and an economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Numerous past studies have found a correlation between heat waves and violence, manifesting as conflicts between individuals and between groups. Demonstrating a direct connection between climate change and violence on a global scale, however, is tricky. It requires a meta-analysis of hundreds of already published studies that have slightly different techniques and measurement scales. Hsiang's team performed just such a meta-analysis and grabbed headlines with their findings that a changing climate appeared to be amping up conflict.

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Some farmers are concerned about impact proposed Clean Water Act rule could have on their operations.

Randy von Liski/Flickr

Some farmers are concerned about impact proposed Clean Water Act rule could have on their operations.

This story is the sixth in ScienceInsider’s After Election 2014 series. Until Election Day on 4 November, we will periodically examine research issues that will face U.S. lawmakers when they return to Washington, D.C., for a lame-duck session and when a new Congress convenes in January. Click here to see all the stories published so far; click here for a list of published and planned stories.

Today, we examine an issue that affects water, agriculture, and development in every congressional district.

It’s probably the toughest fight over ditches since World War I. Two federal agencies have proposed a clarification to how much turf they can regulate under the Clean Water Act (CWA), sparking bitter debate. The battle has drawn in members of Congress, largely along party lines, who are attempting to derail or defend the controversial proposed rule.

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After Election 2014: COMPETES REAUTHORIZATION

This story is the fifth in ScienceInsider’s After Election 2014 series. Until Election Day on 4 November, we will periodically examine research issues that will face U.S. lawmakers when they return to Washington, D.C., for a lame-duck session and when a new Congress convenes in January. Click here to see all the stories published so far; click here for a list of published and planned stories.

Today, a look at how to break the current deadlock over a road map for the National Science Foundation.

The axiom that federal funding for research enjoys bipartisan support will be sorely tested next year as the U.S. Congress tries to reauthorize major legislation governing federal policies on research and science education. And although voters rarely ask candidates about research, the results of next month’s election could have a major impact on the bill’s fate.

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Creationist message on the hood of a car.

Amy Watts/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Creationist message on the hood of a car.

A creationist conference set for a major research campus—Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing—is creating unease among some of the school’s students and faculty, which includes several prominent evolutionary biologists.

The 1 November event, called the Origin Summit, is sponsored by Creation Summit, an Oklahoma-based nonprofit Christian group that believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible and was founded to “challenge evolution and all such theories predicated on chance.” The 1-day conference will include eight workshops, according the event’s website, including discussion of how evolutionary theory influenced Adolf Hitler’s worldview, why “the big bang is fake,” and why “natural selection is NOT evolution.” Another talk targets the work of MSU biologist Richard Lenski, who has conducted an influential, decades-long study of evolution in bacterial populations.

News of the event caught MSU’s scientific community largely by surprise. Creation Summit secured a room at the university’s business school through a student religious group, but the student group did not learn about the details of the program—or the sometimes provocative talk titles—until later, says MSU zoologist Fred Dyer. The talk titles led Dyer to suspect that the student group was not involved in planning the conference, he says, prompting him to look into its origins.

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An excerpt from the complaint.

An excerpt from the complaint.

The scientist who claimed that comments on the postpublication peer-review website PubPeer caused him to lose a job offer has now filed suit against the anonymous posters and has subpoenaed the website’s operators in a bid to obtain their identities.

In September, PubPeer’s anonymous moderators revealed that Fazlul Sarkar, a cancer researcher at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, had threatened legal action after the University of Mississippi rescinded its offer of a tenured, $350,000-per-year position. Sarkar, who remains employed at Wayne State, claimed that anonymous comments suggesting misconduct in his research caused the university to revoke its offer.

This weekend, PubPeer moderators announced in a comment thread that Sarkar has filed a libel suit in a Wayne County circuit court against several “John Does” behind the comments he considers defamatory. And although he is not suing PubPeer directly, Sarkar has filed a subpoena asking the site’s moderators to turn over “all identifying information” about the posters by 10 November. As a Retraction Watch post on the suit explains, shield laws in many states would likely have protected PubPeer from being forced to turn over whatever information it has about the commenters, but Michigan’s shield law applies only to grand jury and criminal cases, not civil cases like this one.

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Ebola virus particles

NIAID/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Ebola virus particles

Two Ebola vaccine candidates might be ready for testing in hard-hit West African countries in December, a month earlier than previously predicted. And one vaccine manufacturer has said it may have millions of doses available by April, should studies prove that it’s safe and effective, a much more optimistic scenario than outlined until now.

As more and more resources are mobilized for development of Ebola vaccines, the timeline is being compressed, said Marie-Paule Kieny, an assistant director-general at the World Health Organization (WHO), today at a press conference about a high-level meeting on vaccines that took place yesterday. “Things are changing from week to week,” said Kieny, who also noted that several new donors have offered to help finance vaccine production and testing. Two new Ebola cases, one in Mali and one in New York City, have added to the sense of urgency in containing the spread of the deadly virus. But the best-case scenarios being discussed may be far too optimistic given the rapid spread of the Ebola virus, particularly in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

The focus of the meeting was “access and financing” of the vaccines, which many workers in the field initially thought could not be developed quickly enough to help with this epidemic. But as the epidemic continues to grow—there are nearly 10,000 officially reported cases to date, about half of whom have died—efforts to speed the testing and production of vaccine have gained steam, and this was the latest of several related WHO meetings. (ScienceInsider described some of the meeting’s key talking points yesterday based on leaked documents from the meeting; the documents were originally distributed to participants, who included scientists and representatives from companies, governments, and regulatory agencies.)

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The ITER fusion project under construction in France last year.

Fusion for Energy/Flickr

The ITER fusion project under construction in France last year.

This story is the fourth in ScienceInsider’s After Election 2014 series. Until Election Day on 4 November, we will periodically examine research issues that will face U.S. lawmakers when they return to Washington, D.C., for a lame-duck session and when a new Congress convenes in January. Click here to see all the stories published so far; click here for a list of published and planned stories.

Today, a look at the growing controversy surrounding U.S. funding for the international fusion experiment ITER.

Should we stay or should we go? Once the voters have spoken, that's the question Congress will have to answer regarding the United States' participation in ITER, the hugely overbudget fusion experiment under construction in Cadarache, France. Some lawmakers say it may be time for the United States to bow out, especially as the growing ITER commitment threatens to starve U.S.-based fusion research programs. The next Congress may have to decide the issue—if the current one doesn't pull the plug first when it returns to Washington, D.C., for a 6-week lame-duck session.

For those tired of the partisan squabbling on Capitol Hill, the ITER debate may provide curious relief. ITER appears to enjoy bipartisan support in the House of Representatives—and bipartisan opposition among key senators.

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STAP

HARUKO OBOKATA

The top administrators of RIKEN, Japan’s national network of research laboratories, will voluntarily return 1 to 3 months of their salaries to atone for their responsibility for the STAP stem cell fiasco.

STAP, or stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency, is the name given to an extremely easy way of deriving stem cells, which can theoretically develop into any of a body’s tissues. The method was defined in two papers that appeared in Nature this past  January. After coming under fire by researchers who found problematic images in the papers, and by others who could not reproduce the findings, the papers were retracted this past July. An investigating committee found the lead author, Haruko Obokata, guilty of research misconduct. A RIKEN team is continuing experiments to try to get to the bottom of exactly what went wrong.

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Like the Chang'e-3 mission pictured here, CE5-T1 was a nighttime launch.

Joel Raupe/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Like the Chang'e-3 mission pictured here, CE5-T1 was a nighttime launch.

China raised the curtain today on the most ambitious act yet of its lunar exploration program. At just about 2 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, the Chang’e-5 Test 1 (CE5-T1) spacecraft lifted off aboard a Long March rocket for an unmanned dash to the moon and back that aims to test technology for a sample return mission planned for 2017 and, a decade from now, possibly landing astronauts on the moon.

CE5-T1 marks China’s fourth lunar mission in the Chang’e series, named after a moon goddess in Chinese mythology. Chang’e-1, launched in 2007, spent 16 months in orbit snapping the nation’s first images of the lunar surface. Previous Chang’e probes were left in space. Guiding CE5-T1 back to Earth poses a new challenge; entering the atmosphere at a speed of 11.2 km/s is nearly 50% faster than the return speed of China’s Shenzhou spacecraft, which has carried orbiting astronauts safely back to Earth’s surface.

“Earthbound experiments can’t effectively simulate the complexity of the atmospheric environment,” Hao Xifan, deputy chief designer of the CE5-T1 and Chang’e-5 missions, told China’s S&T Daily newspaper shortly before the launch. He says CE5-T1 may be the sole spacecraft launched for engineering testing during China’s unmanned lunar exploration program.

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The Ebola virus

NIAID/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Ebola virus

Extensive background documents from a meeting that took place today at the World Health Organization (WHO) have provided new details about exactly what it will take to test, produce, and bankroll Ebola vaccines, which could be a potential game changer in the epidemic.

ScienceInsider obtained materials that vaccinemakers, governments, and WHO provided to the 100 or so participants at a meeting on “access and financing” of Ebola vaccines. The documents put hard numbers on what until now have been somewhat fuzzy academic discussions. And they make clear to the attendees—who include representatives from governments, industry, philanthropies, and nongovernmental organizations—that although testing and production are moving forward at record speed, knotty issues remain.  

At the meeting, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) of Rixensart, Belgium, which has the vaccine furthest in development, spelled out how it might scale up production in parallel with the safety and efficacy trials now under way so that the product could be ready for wider distribution by April if warranted. The company expects to have preliminary data in November from phase I studies that analyze safety and immune response in small numbers of people not at risk of contracting Ebola. If those data are positive, efficacy trials could start as early as January in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, the three West African countries hard hit by the epidemic.

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Science minister Wan Gang has spoken out in favor of a reform that could strip his ministry of considerable power in allotting research funds.

Argonne National Laboratory/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Science minister Wan Gang has spoken out in favor of a reform that could strip his ministry of considerable power in allotting research funds.

BEIJING—The Chinese government is readying a major shake-up of how it doles out science funding. Chinese media are reporting that the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) may hand control of the lion’s share of research spending to as-yet-unidentified “independent institutes,” the state-run People’s Daily reported on 21 October.

Further details of the reform, reportedly to be implemented over 3 to 5 years, have not been revealed. But if MOST were to relinquish control of research spending, “that’s a big deal,” says Cao Cong, an expert on Chinese science at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. The science ministry in 2013 doled out 22 billion RMB ($3.6 billion) in R&D funding, according to estimates by Cao and Dalian University of Technology’s Yutao Sun, primarily through its 863 high-tech development and 973 basic research programs.

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H5N1

Cynthia Goldsmith/Wikimedia Commons

H5N1

A moratorium on certain risky virology studies imposed by the U.S. government last Friday has gone too far, a number of researchers said today. At a meeting at which experts were tasked with hashing out the risks and benefits of these experiments, the opening session instead was dominated by a litany of concerns that research important to public health is being curtailed.

Announced by federal officials on 17 October, the policy halts new federal funding for so-called gain-of-function (GOF) studies that make a pathogen more transmissible in mammals or more pathogenic. It was sparked by ongoing worries about experiments in which researchers modify H5N1 bird flu and other deadly avian strains to learn what mutations might help them to spread among humans. But the so-called pause also applies to GOF work on any influenza strain and two coronaviruses, MERS and SARS. The idea is to provide a year for experts to work out a U.S. government-wide policy for reviewing GOF studies. Researchers who are already funded or have non-U.S. support are encouraged to join a voluntary moratorium.

Andrew Hebbeler, assistant director for biological and chemical threats in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), explained at a meeting today of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) that the policy is a response to several recent biosafety lapses at federal labs involving mishandled samples of anthrax, H5N1, and smallpox. Although GOF actually encompasses "a huge swath of life sciences research,” he said, officials decided to focus only on influenza, MERS, and SARS because they are can be transmitted through the air and have the potential to spark a pandemic. OSTP told ScienceInsider that about two dozen studies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are affected; the pause also halts some studies at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Neuroscientists speak out against brain game hype

Rusian Guzov/Shutterstock

Aging baby boomers and seniors would be better off going for a hike than sitting down in front of one of the many video games designed to aid the brain, a group of nearly 70 researchers asserted this week in a critique of some of the claims made by the brain-training industry. 

With yearly subscriptions running as much as $120, an expanding panoply of commercial brain games promises to improve memory, processing speed, and problem-solving, and even, in some cases, to stave off Alzheimer’s disease. Many companies, such as Lumosity and Cogmed, describe their games as backed by solid scientific evidence and prominently note that neuroscientists at top universities and research centers helped design the programs. But the cited research is often “only tangentially related to the scientific claims of the company, and to the games they sell,” according to the statement released Monday by the Stanford Center on Longevity in Palo Alto, California, and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin.

Although the letter, whose signatories include many researchers outside those two organizations, doesn’t point to specific bad actors, it concludes that there is “little evidence that playing brain games improves underlying broad cognitive abilities, or that it enables one to better navigate a complex realm of everyday life.” A similar statement of concern was published in 2008 with a smaller number of signatories, says Ulman Lindenberger of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, who helped organize both letters. Although Lindenberger says there was no particular trigger for the current statement, he calls it the “expression of a growing collective concern among a large number of cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists who study human cognitive aging.”

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ROME—Steep budget cuts could push Italian universities and research centers beyond the point of no return, an academic body warned yesterday.

A bill approved by Italy’s cabinet of ministers on 15 October would over 3 years squeeze €100 million from a €6.7 billion budget for universities and €120 million out of a €1.6 billion budget for public research centers. The plan, part of an overall cut in public spending, would also zero out a €140 million fund for applied research. These reductions come on top of a €170 million cut to universities already decreed for 2015 and a €150 million cut to student aid.

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Early-career Indian researcher in a lab.

Pallava Bagla

Early-career Indian researcher in a lab.

NEW DELHI—An announcement yesterday from the Indian government that young scientists will receive a roughly 60% increase in their stipends drew a mixed reaction from the scientific community. Although the graduate students and postdocs are certainly grateful for the economic boost, they resent the government’s description of it as a “special gift.” And they are disappointed that it apparently took prolonged protests to force the government’s hand.

“No doubt this is a long-overdue, much-needed relief to research scholars,” Raghavendra Gadagkar, an evolutionary biologist and president of the Indian National Science Academy here, told ScienceInsider. “But what is really required is a policy by which there are periodic and predictable revisions in scholarships roughly along the lines of [what] is paid to salaried employees. In the present system, every scholarship hike is preceded by agitation, disrupting normal work, and creating a bitter environment. More importantly, the present system conveys the impression that one can get anything through agitation but nothing without agitation.”

The larger stipends come after months of protests, including a gathering of 800 scholars outside the gates of the science ministry here. India’s science minister, Jitendra Singh, said “the demand was legitimate and the science ministry worked doubly hard to get this pay hike implemented quickly even in these times of economic hardship.” Without the increase, he said, “many would have left their research jobs for other lucrative avenues.” Singh called the boost a “special gift” from the government on the eve of Diwali, the festival of lights where Hindus pray to the goddess of wealth.

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A student collects a dirt sample as part of a Pentagon-sponsored STEM education program.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Flickr

A student collects a dirt sample as part of a Pentagon-sponsored STEM education program.

This story is the third in ScienceInsider’s After Election 2014 series. Until Election Day on 4 November, we will periodically examine research issues that will face U.S. lawmakers when they return to Washington, D.C., for a lame-duck session and when a new Congress convenes in January. Click here to see all the stories published so far; click here for a list of published and planned stories.

Today, a look at how states and universities aren’t waiting for Washington to improve science and math education.

The debut of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in a handful of states and a growing awareness among research universities that they must improve undergraduate instruction are arguably the two biggest recent changes in the U.S. science education landscape. They also embody the political adage of thinking globally and acting locally, a timely message as the Obama administration heads into the homestretch and voters prepare to elect a new Congress.

The last 2 years have provided a vivid reminder that improving U.S. science education will depend at least as much on grassroots efforts as on the federal government. The administration’s biggest gambit—a plan to restructure the $3 billion federal investment in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education—went down in flames after lawmakers from both parties and community leaders denounced it as unwise and poorly designed.

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Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria

Janice Carr/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria

The global toll of tuberculosis (TB) is larger than previously thought, with an estimated 9 million new cases and 1.5 million TB-related deaths in 2013, according to a survey released today by the World Health Organization (WHO). The number of new cases—400,000 more than were estimated a year ago—is a sobering reminder of the challenges posed by the second biggest killer among infectious diseases after HIV.

But the findings are also a sign of advances in fighting the disease, according to WHO’s latest annual Global Tuberculosis Report. The higher numbers reflect better data gathering around the world, rather than an actual surge in the disease, the report notes. Countries are boosting measures to diagnose and track TB, “providing us with much more and better data, bringing us closer and closer to understanding the true burden,” said Mario Raviglione, WHO’s director of the Global TB Programme in Geneva, Switzerland, in a statement.

The report comes as nations work to hit a 2015 deadline for meeting benchmarks to tame the disease, laid out in the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals. Some regions—the Americas and several Asian countries, including China—have already hit their targets. And there are other bright spots. The rate at which people came down with new cases of TB fell 1.5% each year worldwide between 2000 and 2013. The death rate also continues to drop—down 45% since 1990.

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Tom McGuire with the first phase of Lockheed Martin's compact fusion reactor.

Lockheed Martin/Flickr

Tom McGuire with the first phase of Lockheed Martin's compact fusion reactor.

The leader of a proposed compact fusion reactor project says that Lockheed Martin’s decision to lift the lid on its secret effort is an attempt to build a scientific team and find partners.

Speaking yesterday at a press conference at the company’s facility in Palmdale, California, Tom McGuire defended the project’s scientific merits: “We think we’ve invented something that is inherently stable,” McGuire told reporters. But he acknowledged that “we are very early in the scientific process.” He said he has been working with a team of five to 10 people for the past 4 years and hopes to expand the team now that the project is in the open.

He said that their magnetic confinement concept combined elements from several earlier approaches. The core of the device uses cusp confinement, a sort of magnetic trap in which particles that try to escape are pushed back by rounded, pillowlike magnetic fields. Cusp devices were investigated in the 1960s and 1970s but were largely abandoned because particles leak out through gaps between the various magnetic fields leading to a loss of temperature. McGuire says they get around this problem by encapsulating the cusp device inside a magnetic mirror device, a different sort of confinement technique. Cylindrical in shape, it uses a magnetic field to restrict particles to movement along its axis. Extra-strong fields at the ends of the machine—magnetic mirrors—prevent the particles from escaping. Mirror devices were also extensively studied last century, culminating in the 54-meter-long Mirror Fusion Test Facility B (MFTF-B) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. In 1986, MFTF-B was completed at a cost of $372 million but, for budgetary reasons, was never turned on.

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A new advanced manufacturing center will focus on integrated photonics. Here, a researcher at the Department of Energy's Savannah River National Laboratory holds a photonic crystal made from bismuth germanate.

Savannah River Site/Flickr

A new advanced manufacturing center will focus on integrated photonics. Here, a researcher at the Department of Energy's Savannah River National Laboratory holds a photonic crystal made from bismuth germanate.

This story is the second in ScienceInsider’s After Election 2014 series. Until Election Day on 4 November, we will periodically examine research issues that will face U.S. lawmakers when they return to Washington, D.C., for a lame-duck session and when a new Congress convenes in January. Click here to see all the stories published so far; click here for a list of published and planned stories.

Today, a look at an issue that both Democrats and Republicans can embrace: advanced manufacturing.

Conventional wisdom holds that today’s hyperpartisan environment in Washington, D.C., has poisoned any chance of political compromise. If so, then advanced manufacturing may be the antidote.

Lawmakers from both parties have embraced the idea of a national network of centers aimed at developing better manufacturing technologies, materials, and processes, an idea originally put forth by President Barack Obama. And Congress is well on the way toward turning that idea into reality.

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