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 2 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.

Late on 23 October, RIKEN released a 5-point action plan [in Japanese here] to prevent a recurrence of research fraud. These included strengthening research management and compliance and launching a reform committee. To take responsibility for the STAP problem, RIKEN President Ryoji Noyori will return 3 months worth of his salary to the institute. Five other top officials, including those in charge of research and compliance, will return either 1 or 2 months worth of their salaries. Continue Reading »

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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The Ebola virus

NIAID/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Ebola virus

On Meet the Press yesterday, Anthony Fauci was asked whether it was “hyperbole” that the world would have an Ebola vaccine today if Congress had more generously funded the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). “You can’t say we would or would not have this or that,” said Fauci, who heads NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in Bethesda, Maryland, a leading supporter of Ebola vaccine research.

A week earlier, here’s what Fauci’s boss, NIH Director Francis Collins, told The Huffington Post: “Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would've gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.”

NIAID’s high-profile director challenging the NIH director is the kind of political contretemps that easily explodes into a great inside-the-Beltway brouhaha. Witness the story in The Washington Post story today, “A public dispute between NIH officials over Ebola,” that references several other related stories.

As it turns out, Fauci and Collins agree that big pharma’s lack of interest in Ebola vaccine development is the main reason no product was ready for this epidemic.

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After Election 2014: BIOMEDICAL FUNDING

Bill Dickinson/Flickr

This story is the first 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 a perennial concern: funding for biomedical science.

Biomedical lobbyists are hoping that Congress will soon give the National Institutes of Health (NIH) a big budget increase, despite tight caps that lawmakers have placed on overall federal spending. But even if that campaign succeeds—and the odds are very long—victory could come with some undesirable side effects.

Before digging into the details, it’s worth noting that trying to predict funding trends can be a fool’s errand. Numerous factors, from domestic politics to foreign crises, affect how Congress divvies up the federal budget pie in any given year.

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Volunteer health workers in Nigeria earlier this year.

CDC Global/Flickr

Volunteer health workers in Nigeria earlier this year.

There is some welcome good news about the Ebola epidemic today: The outbreak in Nigeria is officially over. Today the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the country has gone the required 42 days since the last new case was isolated and is “free of Ebola virus transmission.” The news follows several other hopeful notes. On Friday, Senegal received the same designation, after following up on contacts from a case imported from Guinea. Yesterday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that close contacts of the first case diagnosed in the United States had completed their 21-day isolation period and were uninfected. In addition, a nurse in Spain and a Norwegian worker for Doctors Without Borders have both recovered from their infections.

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The numbers of Ebola cases and deaths as reported by WHO, plotted by Maia Majumder on 18 October.

The numbers of Ebola cases as reported by WHO, plotted by Maia Majunder on 18 October.

Every couple of days, the World Health Organization (WHO) issues a “situation update” on the Ebola epidemic, with new numbers of cases and deaths for each of the affected countries. These numbers―9216 and 4555 respectively, according to Friday’s update―are instantly reported and tweeted around the world. They’re also quickly translated into ever-more frightening graphics by people who follow the epidemic closely, such as virologist Ian Mackay of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and Maia Majumder, a Ph.D. student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge who visualizes the data on her website and publishes projections on HealthMap, an online information system for outbreaks.

But it’s widely known that the real situation is much worse than the numbers show because many cases don't make it into the official statistics. Underreporting occurs in every disease outbreak anywhere, but keeping track of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone has been particularly difficult. And the epidemic unfolds, underreporting appears to be getting worse. (“It’s a mess,” Mackay says.)

So what do the WHO numbers really mean—and how can researchers estimate the actual number of victims? Here are answers to some key questions.

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MERS coronavirus particles

NIAID/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

MERS coronavirus particles

The White House today stepped into an ongoing debate about controversial virus experiments with a startling announcement: It is halting all federal funding for so-called gain-of-function (GOF) studies that alter a pathogen to make it more transmissible or deadly so that experts can work out a U.S. government-wide policy for weighing the risks. Federal officials are also asking the handful of researchers doing ongoing work in this area to agree to a voluntary moratorium.

The “pause on funding,” a White House blog states, applies to “any new studies … that may be reasonably anticipated to confer attributes to influenza, MERS, or SARS viruses such that the virus would have enhanced pathogenicity and/or transmissibility in mammals via the respiratory route.” The government also “encourages those currently conducting this type of work—whether federally funded or not—to voluntarily pause their research while risks and benefits are being reassessed.” Research and testing of naturally occurring forms of these pathogens will continue.

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Congressional Ebola debate invokes PLOS paper

Gomes et al. PLOS Current Outbreaks. 2 September 2014

At an oversight hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday, lawmakers grilled health officials over the response to the first domestic cases of Ebola and asked them to respond to the idea—which many Republicans now promote—of banning incoming flights from West Africa. When Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, explained that restrictions would only cause travelers to reroute through other countries, making them harder to track, Representative Henry Waxman (D–CA) came to his defense with a visual aid.

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Yucca Mountain in Nevada, the site of a proposed national nuclear waste facility.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission/Flickr

Yucca Mountain in Nevada, the site of a proposed national nuclear waste facility.

Remember Yucca Mountain? In another turn in the 27-year odyssey of the proposed nuclear waste repository in Nevada, a key safety evaluation published yesterday by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) gives it a thumbs up. The 781-page report concludes that the proposed site, as described in a 2008 application by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), includes "multiple barriers to isolate radioactivity from the environment" for hundreds of thousands of years, commission staff said in a statement. That should allow it to comply with standards to protect ground water and people in the distant future.

The lengthy document is the second of five assessment volumes to be published on Yucca, which would theoretically hold up to 77,000 tons of highly radioactive waste for up to 1 million years after it would be sealed. Chapters systematically assess the geology of the site and nearby aquifer, how waste will be packaged and stored, and the fate of the “drip shield” that is intended to protect the packaged waste from ground water. “DOE has demonstrated compliance with the NRC regulatory requirements for postclosure safety,” the document states.

The Yucca site was designated in 1987 legislation as a repository and has faced political opposition in Nevada ever since. In 2008, DOE submitted a license application to open the repository, but withdrew it 2 years later. In response, the states of Washington and South Carolina—both large producers of nuclear waste—and others filed suit. Last year, a court ordered NRC to move forward with its review and licensing process.

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Mount Ontake, a week after the 27 September eruption.

Alpsdake/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Mount Ontake, a week after the 27 September eruption.

Can volcanic eruptions be predicted?

The question has been very much in the news in Japan since the 27 September eruption of Mount Ontake. Despite 24/7 monitoring of the mountain for telltale warning signs, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) failed to predict the eruption. It surprised several hundred hikers enjoying a glorious autumn day on the 3067-meter mountain, leaving 56 confirmed dead and seven still missing—the country's deadliest eruption in nearly 90 years.

On Monday, a popular TV show asked whether the country could do better. Each week, Beat Takeshi's TV Tackle features a group of celebrities quizzing experts on topics in the news. The most recent program brought together a panel of earth scientists and others concerned about volcanoes (on YouTube in Japanese here). "There is no way to precisely predict eruptions," said Robert Geller, a geophysicist at the University of Tokyo famous for his criticism of Japan's earthquake prediction efforts. He added that prediction efforts might succeed once in a thousand tries. "If society recognizes that, then warnings are surely possible," he added. Hideki Shimamura, a geophysicist at Musashino Gakuin University in Sayama, agreed. "I’m rather critical about the idea of eruption prediction," he said.

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Are old secrets behind Lockheed's new fusion machine?

Eric Schulzinger, Lockheed Martin Corporation

The defense firm Lockheed Martin sent tech geeks into a frenzy yesterday when it revealed a few scant details of a “compact fusion reactor” (CFR) that a small team has been working on at the company’s secretive Skunk Works in Palmdale, California. The company says that its innovative method for confining the superhot ionized gas, or plasma, necessary for fusion means that it can make a working reactor 1/10 the size of current efforts, such as the international ITER fusion project under construction in France.

Being able to build such a small and presumably cheap reactor would be world-changing—ITER will cost at least $20 billion to build and will only prove the principle, not generate any electricity. But with little real information, no one is prepared to say that Lockheed’s approach is going to spark a revolution. “You can’t conclude anything from this,” says Steven Cowley, director of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Abingdon, U.K. “If it wasn’t Lockheed Martin, you’d say it was probably a bunch of crazies.”

The Lockheed team predicts that it will take 5 years to prove the concept for the new reactor. After that, they estimate it would take another 5 years to build a prototype that would produce 100 megawatts (MW) of electricity—enough for a small city—and fit on the back of a truck. A Web page with video on the Lockheed site even talks of powering ships and aircraft with a CFR.

Lockheed statements reveal little about the nature of the reactor. Aviation Week yesterday carried the most detailed account having interviewed the team leader, Thomas McGuire.

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The Ebola virus

Val Altounian/Science

The Ebola virus

At a U.S. congressional hearing today that examined the country’s public health response to Ebola, an official from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it’s working to develop “a flexible and innovative protocol” to evaluate experimental treatments for the disease. The fact that no such common protocol already exists speaks to the complex practical and ethical issues that surround the use of untested drugs and vaccines in the midst of explosive spread of a virus that kills more than half the people it infects.

Given the epidemic’s unprecedented scale, a panel of bioethicists and infectious disease specialists convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) in August unanimously decided that it was ethical to use unproven treatments and preventions against this deadly disease. The panel also said there was a “moral obligation” to gather and share scientifically relevant data about whether these products were safe and effective. But it did not suggest how this should happen, and as the FDA official’s testimony indicated, new views are still emerging while others are being refined.

Over the past few months, subsequent WHO consultations and opinion pieces by prominent public health experts and ethicists have spelled out detailed visions of how to proceed with testing of experimental Ebola medicines. The issues, both practical and ethical, are starkly different for drugs and vaccines. Unproven drugs go to the sick, who are fighting for their lives and often have few options, whereas experimental vaccines are tested in healthy people—most will be first-line workers—in an effort to protect them from the deadly virus. “Ethical arguments are not the same for all levels of risk,” noted 17 prominent researchers and ethicists from 11 countries in an editorial about Ebola drug testing published online on 10 October in The Lancet.

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CDC Director Thomas Frieden today said the second health care worker to become infected in Dallas "should not have traveled on a commercial airline."

CDC Director Thomas Frieden today said the second health care worker to become infected in Dallas "should not have traveled on a commercial airline."

A second health care worker at Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas has tested positive for the Ebola virus. Today, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that its investigations “increasingly suggest” that she and a colleague diagnosed with Ebola on 14 October were at highest risk of infection between 28 and 30 September, when Thomas Eric Duncan had been admitted to the hospital but had yet to receive confirmation that he was infected.

“These two health care workers both worked on those days, and both had extensive contact with the patient when the patient had extensive production of body fluids because of vomiting and diarrhea,” said CDC Director Thomas Frieden at a press conference today.

The second health care worker flew from Cleveland, Ohio, to Dallas on 13 October, the day before she developed symptoms, leading CDC to try to contact the 132 passengers and the crew on that flight. (The woman had an "elevated" temperature of 99.5°F, or 37.5°C; that's below the threshold for a fever, which is at 100.4°F, or 38.0°C.) Frieden said the woman, whose job he did not specify, “should not have traveled on a commercial airline” but stressed she did not vomit and was not bleeding during the trip. “The level of risk of people around her would be extremely low,” he said.

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A mock-up of the ITER fusion reactor.

IAEA Imagebank/Flickr

A mock-up of the ITER fusion reactor.

Many U.S. fusion scientists are blasting a report that seeks to map out a 10-year strategic plan for their field, calling it “flawed,” “unsatisfactory,” and the product of a rushed process rife with potential conflicts of interest. One result: Last week, most members of a 23-person government advisory panel had to recuse themselves from voting on the report as a result of potential conflicts.

“The whole process was unsatisfactory,” says Martin Greenwald of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) Plasma Science and Fusion Center in Cambridge.

Achieving fusion—nuclear reactions that have the potential to produce copious, clean energy—requires heating hydrogen fuel to more than 100 million degrees Celsius, causing it to become an ionized gas or plasma. Huge and expensive reactors are needed to contain the superhot plasma long enough for reactions to start. The largest current fusion effort is the ITER tokamak, a machine under construction in France with support from the United States and international partners. But no fusion reactor has yet produced more energy than it consumes.

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An open-pit uranium mine in Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory. Australia's mining sector will benefit under the new Industry Growth Centres Initiative.

Alberto Otero García/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

An open-pit uranium mine in Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory. Australia's mining sector will benefit under the new Industry Growth Centres Initiative.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Australia’s scientific leaders are cautiously hopeful that the government’s new innovation policy marks a more positive stance on research.

 “Science is the center of industry policy under the Abbott government,” Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane—who has responsibility for science—told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio after the release Tuesday of its Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda.

The 132-page report sets out four goals to foster innovation, including a better business environment, a more skilled labor force, and improved infrastructure. But science is mentioned in only two of the six initiatives to be implemented over the next 18 months. Macfarlane says the Industry Growth Centres Initiative will see the government invest AU$188.5 million over 4 years to establish “corporate entities” in five areas where Australia has what he calls a “natural advantage.” Three reflect the country’s traditional strengths in mining, energy resources, and agribusiness, while advanced manufacturing and medical technology represent areas in which the government hopes to stimulate growth.

The government also plans to spend an additional AU$12 million in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. As part of this initiative, the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council, which is 17 years old, will be replaced with a Commonwealth Science Council (CSC) chaired by the prime minister.

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