Upcoming clean power rule aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Li Tsin Sun/Flicker (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Coal-fired power plants are a major source of mercury pollution.

Long-delayed action on the health risks of mercury produced by U.S. coal power plants will have to wait even longer, as the Supreme Court decided today that federal authorities failed to properly weigh the benefits of regulation against the costs.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing the opinion for a 5-4 majority, said that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acted unreasonably when it deemed cost "irrelevant" to the question of whether or not to regulate hazardous power plant pollution.

The decision blocks enforcement of rules that just went into effect this past April after decades of study, lawsuits, and political wrangling through four administrations.

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A huge study of U.S. children that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) terminated last year after spending more than $1 billion appears to have come back to life. House of Representatives and Senate spending committees this week called for a new version of the National Children’s Study (NCS) in 2016 that would be funded at the same level as the now-defunct NCS—$165 million a year.

According to sources, lawmakers agreed with pediatric groups that the study’s goals were too important to abandon. NIH is moving ahead with planning for the new study.

The history of the NCS goes back to 2000, when Congress called for NIH to follow a large group of children from before birth to age 21 and explore the influences of the environment, from toxic chemicals to social factors, on children’s health. Researchers set out to recruit 100,000 pregnant women at sites around the country. But the study became bogged down by a complex, expensive recruitment strategy. In December 2014, after an Institute of Medicine report found serious design and management flaws, NIH Director Francis Collins canceled the study.

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A inquiry has concluded that Paolo Macchiarini, a surgeon who transplanted artificial windpipes, committed research misconduct.

STAFFAN LARSSON/KAROLINSKA INSTITUTE

A inquiry has concluded that Paolo Macchiarini, a surgeon who transplanted artificial windpipes, committed research misconduct.

Surgeon Paolo Macchiarini has now responded to the report, released last month, that concluded he was guilty of scientific misconduct as part of his clinical testing of artificial tracheas that he has helped pioneer. Macchiarini’s 23-page response disputes key parts of the misconduct report’s findings, saying that the investigator, Bengt Gerdin, a professor emeritus of surgery at Uppsala University in Sweden, did not have access to all the relevant clinical records describing patient conditions. As a result, the surgeon writes in an opening note of his response, there has been “a potentially disastrous miscarriage of justice.”

Over the past decade, Macchiarini has transplanted tissue-engineered tracheae into more than a dozen people whose own windpipes were damaged by disease or injury. At the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, he transplanted into three patients artificial tracheae that consisted of a polymer scaffold seeded with the patient’s own stem cells. The stem cells were supposed to grow over the scaffold and ultimately form a living graft. Two of the those recipients have died, however, and the other remains in intensive care at a Karolinska hospital nearly 3 years after receiving the transplant.

The report by Gerdin, whom the Karolinska requested conduct an investigation after whistleblowers lodged complaints, concluded that the series of clinical reports published by Macchiarini and his colleagues did not accurately describe the condition of patients; Gerdin said that constituted scientific misconduct. In particular, a paper in The Lancet describing a patient’s status 5 months after the transplant claimed that the patient was doing well and the graft was starting to show evidence of being covered by growing cells. However, Gerdin concluded, the clinical information in the paper was based on the patient’s condition when he was initially discharged from Karolinska, 1 month after the transplant. Gerdin’s investigation was not able...Continue Reading »

A fundraising challenge from philanthropist Phil Knight and his wife Penny will fuel new cancer detection research at Oregon Health & Science University.

OHSU

A fundraising challenge from philanthropist Phil Knight and his wife Penny will fuel new cancer detection research at Oregon Health & Science University.

The Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland is gearing up to see how far $1 billion will go toward better cancer detection. The university declared victory today in a challenge launched in 2013 by Nike shoe mogul Phil Knight and his wife, Penny, who offered up a $500 million donation if the university could match that amount through fundraising.

The money flowed in from more than 10,000 donors—including the state of Oregon, which pledged $200 million for new research buildings. Brian Druker, head of the OHSU cancer institute created with a previous donation from the Knights, will lead the new project—a 10-year effort that focuses on distinguishing lethal from benign growths and catching life-threatening cancers at earlier stages.

Current tests for common cancers, including mammograms and prostate-specific antigen blood tests, may miss lethal tumors or lead to unnecessary treatment for benign ones. Druker, who led the development of the blockbuster blood cancer drug Gleevec, plans to survey the field for a range of possible detection targets, which could include circulating tumor DNA in blood or other molecular markers in urine, stool, or saliva.

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An artist's conception of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

TMT Collaborative

An artist's conception of the Thirty Meter Telescope

An attempt to restart construction on what would be one of the world’s largest telescopes was blocked yesterday, after state authorities escorting construction vehicles clashed with protesters blockading the road to the summit of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano.

Officers from Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), and construction workers for the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT), turned back from the summit shortly after noon Wednesday, citing concerns for public safety after finding the road blocked by boulders.

The withdrawal followed several hours of clashes with Native Hawaiian protesters blockading the road, culminating in the arrests of 11 men and women, including several protest organizers. The protesters have said the $1.4 billion TMT would desecrate sacred land.Continue Reading »

Joy in the courtroom after the ruling in Urgenda’s favor.

Urgenda/Chantal Bekker

Joy in the courtroom after the ruling in Urgenda’s favor.

In a ruling that came as a surprise to many legal experts, a court in the Netherlands today ordered the Dutch government to dramatically intensify its fight against climate change. The district court in The Hague ruled that by 2020, the Netherlands must cut CO2 emissions by 25% from 1990 levels. Current government policies would lead to a reduction by just 17%.

The court ruled in a civil case against the government brought by an environmental group called Urgenda. (The name is a contraction of “urgent” and “agenda.”) The case framed global warming as a human rights violation that the Dutch government must do more to prevent.

Environmental groups hailed the ruling as a legal landmark that could inspire similar action elsewhere. But the court didn’t specify which measures the government must take to meet the target, and the verdict immediately triggered discussions about whether a 25% reduction in 5 years is feasible and whether it might hurt the Dutch economy.

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Congress is struggling to rewrite a law regulating industrial chemicals.

Carly Lesser & Art Drauglis/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Congress is struggling to rewrite a law regulating industrial chemicals.

The U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday evening overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan bill that would update the nation's industrial-chemicals regulations for the first time in nearly 40 years. The bill—which would make it easier for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to request new safety data on chemicals and regulate chemicals already on the market—takes a narrower approach than a competing bill in the Senate. But it brings Congress another step closer to making long-sought reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) a reality.

The 398 to 1 vote came just weeks after the bill, H.R. 2576,  sailed through a key House committee with unanimous bipartisan support. A Senate panel last month also advanced a far more expansive (but also more contentious) compromise measure of its own. The two actions mark what is arguably the furthest lawmakers have ever come in efforts to overhaul what they agree is a broken law, which they say has analytical and legal hurdles that have often prevented EPA from cracking down on harmful substances.

The House measure, sponsored by Representative John Shimkus (R–IL), who chairs a key subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, resulted from negotiations that go back to the previous Congress. After previous measures that sought to update TSCA more comprehensively failed to gain support, lawmakers opted for a smaller bill to make it easier to gain broad support among industry's allies and environmental advocates in Congress. "The bill does not try to be all things for all people," Shimkus said on the House floor on 23 June. "Of course we want to be protected from harm. But we do not want needless expensive regulation."

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Jonathon Colman/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

At last, biomedical researchers may be getting some relief. A Senate panel today approved a bill that would bestow a generous $2 billion increase on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2016, or what appears to be a 6% raise, to $32 billion. Although a House of Representatives panel last week approved a lower figure, it seems the agency may be on track to its first significant increase in more than a decade.

The draft bill approved today by the Senate appropriations panel that oversees NIH’s budget would give the agency twice the $1 billion proposed by the Obama administration and $900 million more than the corresponding House panel, according to a summary statement.

The National Institute on Aging, which the panel notes funds Alzheimer’s disease research, would receive $350 million more, or a roughly 25% increase. (The House version of the bill also favors Alzheimer’s, but takes a different approach, directly earmarking $300 million for the disease—$250 million more than the president’s request.)

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Jill Hruby

Sandia National Laboratories

Jill Hruby

Engineer Jill Hruby was named director of the Sandia National Laboratories on Monday, becoming the first woman to head one of three U.S. government labs charged with developing and maintaining the country’s nuclear arsenal.

The 32-year veteran of the Albuquerque, New Mexico–based labs has overseen a wide range of research there, including studies focused on nuclear weapons, solar power, and machines that build miniscule electrical components the width of a human hair.

Hruby’s promotion is a significant milestone in a system historically dominated by men, says Hugh Gusterson, an anthropologist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, who has spent years examining the culture of the weapons labs: Sandia, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. At the labs, the fields of physics and engineering intersect with the world of weapons development—all traditionally male-dominated realms. “To have a female director is a major development,” Gusterson says.

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Research commissioner Carlos Moedas at the E.U. Innovation Conference

Michael Chia/European Commission

Research commissioner Carlos Moedas at the E.U. Innovation Conference

BRUSSELS—The European Union’s research commissioner Carlos Moedas has proposed setting up a European Innovation Council (EIC) to fund applied research and innovation. Inspired by the well-loved European Research Council (ERC), this idea is one of several measures announced here yesterday to boost innovation across the union.

When Moedas took on the research portfolio in November, the E.U. research program Horizon 2020 and its 7-year budget were settled, and it appeared that the new commission had little leeway to make profound changes during its 5-year term. That hasn’t stopped the commission from raiding Horizon 2020's cash pile to fodder a new investment fund. By citing ERC's success, Moedas also signals that he wants the future EIC to be a game changer.

“Europe does not yet have a world-class scheme to support the very best innovations in the way that the European Research Council is the global reference for supporting excellent science,” Moedas said yesterday at a large research and innovation policy conference held here by the European Commission.

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Lassina Zerbo

CTBTO/Flickr

Lassina Zerbo

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) has spawned a globe-girdling network of 300 detector stations that sniff out radionuclides, listen for low-frequency sounds, and record tremors—all to discern whether countries are carrying out clandestine nuclear weapons tests. And the treaty has not yet even come into force; the United States remains a prominent holdout. But the CTBT’s $1 billion International Monitoring System is 90% complete and has scored notable successes. Among them: sizing up North Korea’s nuclear tests, plotting the spread of radionuclides from the Fukushima nuclear accident, and tracking the spectacular Chelyabinsk meteorite as it broke up over Siberia in 2013.

This global stethoscope is amassing a treasure-trove of data. Initially, the CTBT Organization (CTBTO), based in Vienna, didn’t share, but after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami—when the monitoring system could have given an early warning—things have loosened up. Now, timely data are sent to tsunami warning centers in 13 countries, as well as to civil aviation authorities and nuclear regulators.

This glasnost is due in large part to Lassina Zerbo, director of CTBTO’s International Data Centre from 2004 to 2013 and, since then, the organization’s executive secretary. He’s helped open up CTBTO data to the wider scientific community, through a series of biennial conferences and the virtual Data Exploitation Centre. Zerbo spoke with Science on the eve of the 5th CTBT Science and Technology Conference. His comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.

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Joji Morishita

Dennis Normile

Joji Morishita

TOKYO—Japan has not yet decided if it will resume killing whales as part of its Antarctic research whaling program, but the country believes it has the right to do so, Joji Morishita, the nation's representative to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), said here today.

Addressing the press 3 days after IWC's Scientific Committee issued a report stating that opinion is split on whether taking whales for research is justified, Morishita said that Japan will endeavor to address a number of pending scientific questions before resuming the program. But he stressed that under international law, the Scientific Committee "does not have jurisdiction to approve or deny the research plan."

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An artist's conception of the TMT.

Courtesy of TMT Observatory Corporation via Wikimedia Commons

An artist's conception of the TMT.

Astronomers have decided to restart construction of a controversial telescope in Hawaii that has been the subject of protests by Native Hawaiian groups. Construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the Mauna Kea volcano will resume on Wednesday, 24 June, according to a statement issued Saturday by the telescope’s governing board.

“After more than two months of consultation, education, and dialogue with many stakeholders, we humbly announce that the TMT International Observatory Board has decided to move ahead,” said Henry Yang, chair of the TMT International Observatory Board, in the statement. The move comes after Hawaii’s governor, David Ige (D), announced on 26 May a set of measures aimed at addressing the concerns of Native Hawaiian protesters who claim the mountain as sacred ground and have blocked access to the TMT construction site. It included a call to remove about one-quarter of Mauna Kea’s 13 existing telescopes and alter the management of some of the volcano’s summit. "We have not done right by a very special place and we must act immediately to change that," Ige said at the time.

In the statement, Yang states that “[w]e are now comfortable that we can be better stewards and better neighbors during our temporary and limited use of this precious land, which will allow us to explore the heavens and broaden the boundaries of science in the interest of humanity.”

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An Ebola treatment center under construction in Port Loko, Sierra Leone, in January.

UNMEER/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

An Ebola treatment center under construction in Port Loko, Sierra Leone, in January.

One of the highly anticipated trials of an Ebola drug that showed promising results in monkeys has been stopped early after it apparently failed to show a benefit to patients.

The company that developed the drug, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals of Burnaby, Canada, and the Wellcome Trust, which sponsored the trial, announced today that they would not enroll any more patients because the trial had reached “a predefined statistical endpoint.” Early results suggest that adding more patients to the study “was unlikely to demonstrate an overall therapeutic benefit to patients,” the Wellcome Trust said in its statement.

Scientists still have to analyze the data collected to learn more about how well the drug, called TKM-Ebola-Guinea, was tolerated and what specific effects it had on disease outcomes, says Peter Horby of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, who headed the study. The trial, which started in March in Port Loko, Sierra Leone, aimed to enroll 100 patients. The company did not say how many patients had been enrolled so far.

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Minke whale

Len2040/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Minke whale

For the third time in 15 months, experts have concluded there is no justification for Japan to kill whales for research purposes. But the country's lethal scientific whaling effort seems poised to resume with the 2015 to 2016 Southern Ocean hunting season anyway.

The latest strike against lethal sampling is buried in an annex to today's report from the annual meeting of the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). In the annex, 44 scientists from 18 of the 33 countries attending the session on Japan's research whaling program wrote, “the need for lethal sampling has not been demonstrated.”

Japan, an IWC member state, contends that the scientific committee has no legal basis to approve or reject a research plan. An IWC statement accompanying the report says: “It was not possible for the Scientific Committee to reach a consensus view of the overall program.”

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Thierry Mandon

Ministry of National Education, Higher Education and Research

Thierry Mandon

France's socialist government has finally found someone to run its science and higher education policy. Yesterday, President François Hollande appointed Thierry Mandon as the new state secretary for higher education and research, a post that became vacant when Geneviève Fioraso stepped down in March for health reasons. The 3-month delay had sparked discontent among scientists, who said it betrayed a fundamental lack of interest in research. In April, trade unions called the empty seat "unacceptable."

Mandon, a political scientist by training, knows the world of research well. Between 1998 and 2014, he was president of Genopole, a biotechnology and genomics research cluster near Paris. “During these 16 years, Thierry Mandon has demonstrated a deep commitment to research and innovation. He also knows [the world of] higher education vey well,” Genopole Director-General Pierre Tambourin said yesterday. Mandon was elected to the National Assembly for the second time in 2012—he was a member before his stint at Genopole as well—where he got involved in higher education and student issues. Since June 2014, he has been state secretary for state reform and simplification, a job in which he was responsible for making French public authorities more efficient and user-friendly.

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Pope Francis

European Union 2014 - European Parliament

Pope Francis

The leader of the world's largest Christian faith might succeed in doing something that many experts have failed to achieve: communicating the urgency of global warming.

That’s one reaction Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change and the environment, Laudato Si ("Praised Be"), released today. It includes a call for "a new dialogue" on the planet's future, an accessible summary of climate science, a stinging critique of international talks that have produced ineffectual environmental agreements, and a rebuke of profit-driven economic development. The letter—184 pages long in its English version—also goes far beyond climate issues, touching on biodiversity conservation, genetically modified crops, and other issues.

The encyclical’s direct language is "something everyone can understand," said Veerabhadran Ramanathan, an atmospheric physicist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the in San Diego, California, in a teleconference shortly before the encyclical was released in Rome. In contrast, he said, reports by international groups of scientists are often "so sanitized" they are hard to follow.

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The Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

National Institutes of Health

The Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) would receive a $1.1 billion boost in 2016 under a draft measure released by a House of Representatives spending panel today. That 3.6% increase, to $31.2 billion, is $100 million more than the president’s request.

But although good news for NIH, the bill would also abolish the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which supports studies of evidence-based medicine. As a result, the bill released by a House appropriations subcommittee is drawing a mixed reaction from the biomedical research community.

“While we appreciate the committee’s recognition of the critical importance of NIH-funded research, there are aspects of the bill that we find very troubling,” particularly the elimination of AHRQ, says Dave Moore, senior director for government relations for the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) in Washington, D.C.

Much of the new NIH funding would go for specific projects. Research on Alzheimer’s disease would receive $300 million in new funds, about $250 million more than the president’s request. The bill also matches the president’s request for $100 million for NIH’s piece of a federal antibiotic resistance initiative and $200 million for President Barack Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative. The multiagency BRAIN project would get $95 million, $25 million more than the president’s request.

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Pope Francis

European Union 2014 - European Parliament

Pope Francis

Pope Francis squarely blames the burning of fossil fuels for climate change in the leaked draft of his long-awaited environmental encyclical posted online by an Italian magazine. But contrary to some earlier predictions, the pontiff also delves into the scientific details of global warming and weighs in on specific policy ideas for curbing emissions.

The Vatican has decried early release of the document, but has not challenged its authenticity. Officials in Rome have made clear they will continue on their planned course of releasing the final document on Thursday, named Laudato si (“Praised Be," after a song to nature written by St. Francis, the pope's namesake). 

The leak—a highly unusual occurrence for a papal encyclical—demonstrates the outsized significance the letter has taken on, coming in the months leading up to key international climate change negotiations in Paris later this year. Indeed, in the draft document, the pope makes clear that he is speaking not only to Roman Catholics, the largest denomination in Christianity with 1.2 billion members throughout the world. Pope Francis said his words are addressed to all people, much as his predecessor, Pope John XXIII, made a similar universal call to humanity in his 1963 encyclical, Peace on Earth, which came as the world faced the risk of nuclear war.

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SynDaver’s flagship product is a synthetic human body.

SynDaver

SynDaver’s flagship product is a synthetic human body.

This story is a bonus online element for the package on science entrepreneurship that appears in the 12 June issue of Science.

Last month, millions of people watching ABC’s prime-time television show Shark Tank learned what Christopher Sakezles says his wife already knew—that he can sweat a lot when nervous. Despite a perspiration-drenched presentation on 8 May in front of the show’s five celebrity investors—he ignored his wife’s suggestion to spray his face with antiperspirant—the polymer scientist landed the biggest deal in Shark Tank’s history. With a life-size synthetic cadaver as a prop, Sakezles persuaded technology entrepreneur Robert Herjavec to pay $3 million for a 25% stake in SynDaver Labs, a firm that Sakezles founded a decade ago to create realistic artificial tissues, organs, and whole bodies for surgical training and other purposes.

But as fans of Shark Tank know well, not every deal struck on the show lasts once the cameras turn off. After Sakezles and Herjavec traded further information and initial terms, the partnership fell apart. One sticking point was obvious on the show, as the investors challenged Sakezles’s plan to invest SynDaver’s immediate profits back into the company for further product development. “They wanted to replace me as CEO and this is not something I will allow at this point,” Sakezles says. (Herjavec doesn’t comment on deals that aren’t completed, one of his publicists says.)

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IEA says further focus on energy efficiency could set the world on course to achieve a peak in carbon emissions by 2020.

Karl Frankowski/Flickr

IEA says further focus on energy efficiency could set the world on course to achieve a peak in carbon emissions by 2020.

Recent pledges by individual nations to cut greenhouse gases would buy the world only a little time—roughly 8 months—before it continues on its current course of global warming, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said today in a new report.

Even with the new pledges—made by about a dozen countries in the run-up to December’s U.N. climate change meeting in Paris—the world is on track to have used up its so-called carbon budget by about 2040, according to the report, titled Energy and Climate Change. By IEA's reckoning, that means we will have burned enough fossil fuel by then to have a 50-50 chance of raising the global temperature by 2°C. If no stronger action is taken by 2030, IEA says global temperature will increase 2.6°C by the year 2100.

The IEA report will “introduce some sobriety” to the Paris talks, says David Victor, an international relations expert at the University of California (UC), San Diego, who wrote in Nature last October that maintaining a long-held 2 °C goal is politically and scientifically “wrong-headed.”

But along with IEA's grim assessment, the Paris-based agency offers some hope: Further focus on energy efficiency could set the world on course to achieve a peak in carbon emissions by 2020. The report cites three pieces of good news for 2014. For the first time in at least 40 years, energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions stayed flat even without an economic crisis. Energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product dropped by 2.3%, more than double the average rate over the last decade. And finally, renewable energy accounted for half of all new energy generation in 2014.

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The University of Minnesota will overhaul its protections for human research subjects after two outside reports raised concerns.

Runner1928/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-NC 3.0)

The University of Minnesota will overhaul its protections for human research subjects after two outside reports raised concerns.

More than a decade after a young man committed suicide during a psychiatric clinical trial at the University of Minnesota—and a bioethicist there spent years lobbying for changes to the school’s clinical trials system—the university is announcing major changes to how it oversees trials and protects its most vulnerable research subjects. Last week, the school released a 75-page document describing an effort to restructure its system and calm its critics. Changes include tighter conflict-of-interest rules; a larger institutional review board (IRB) whose members will be compensated; improved training for researchers working with vulnerable populations, such as the severely mentally ill; and a board of external advisers to monitor the university’s efforts.

The report comes after two damning reviews earlier this year: one by a group of experts appointed by the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs and the other by the state’s Office of the Legislative Auditor. The first report examined protections for university clinical trial participants. Among other things, it found that many IRB members did not regularly attend meetings during the first half of 2014—the period examined—and that a psychiatrist was present at only four of 26 meetings when new protocols were considered; 85 psychiatry protocols were submitted for review during that time. The second report was an in-depth review of the violent suicide of Dan Markingson, a 27-year-old who signed on to a drug trial while involuntarily committed to a University of Minnesota hospital. His treating psychiatrist was also one of the trial’s leaders and receiving funding from the drug company. The state report concluded that “the case involves serious ethical issues and numerous conflicts of interest.” Concerns about Markingson’s death were first raised publicly 7 years ago, in a three-part series by the local Pioneer Press

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Last month’s severe flooding in the Midwest was captured by NASA’s Aqua satellite.

NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

Last month’s severe flooding in the Midwest was captured by NASA’s Aqua satellite.

Republicans control both houses of Congress, but they don’t speak with one voice when it comes to funding research at the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, and other agencies. That difference became clear last week after the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a 2016 spending bill that does not call for the steep cuts to climate and social science programs approved a week earlier by the House of Representatives. And although the House would give NSF a bit more money, the Senate version hews closer to the balanced portfolio that most scientists prefer.

In the House, key lawmakers have made headway with the notion that the social sciences and climate research contribute less to the nation than “pure” disciplines, such as physics, biology, engineering, and computing. That worldview is reflected in a $51 billion spending bill approved by the House on 4 June to fund NSF, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and several other federal agencies.

At NOAA, for example, the so-called CJS (Commerce, Justice, and Science) bill would cut climate research programs by $30 million, or 19% below current levels, and $60 million below the president’s request. At NASA, it would keep overall science spending flat, but cut earth science spending by $90 million, or 5%, a level $264 million less than the president’s request. At the same time, the House would boost NASA’s planetary science programs $216 million above the president’s request, including a big hike for a proposed mission to the jovian moon Europa.

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Philae selfie on the comet in November

ESA

Philae selfie on the comet in November

It was 12:18 a.m. Sunday morning when Stephan Ulamec, home from a night out at the pub, got a text message. “Hi! We got signal from Philae! Call me back!” read the message from Cinzia Fantinati, operations manager for the European Space Agency (ESA) lander that had been hibernating in the shadows on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko since its bumpy touchdown on 12 November 2014. Philae's activity and communication had lasted just 57 hours, as its batteries quickly drained in the dark. But ESA was hopeful the lander would reinitiate contact as the comet neared the sun and its solar panels received more illumination.

Saturday night, ESA mission managers received a precious 300 data packets from Philae in a short 85-second-long transmission—bare-bones information about the health of the lander, discovered Ulamec, Philae’s project manager at the German Aerospace Center near Cologne. There was good news: Even in its relatively dark location, Philae’s solar panels were providing the lander with 24 watts of peak power—more than the minimum of 19 watts required for communications—thanks to nearly 3 hours of illumination each day. It was operating at –35ºC—warmer than the –45ºC necessary to boot the computer. And most surprising, there were more than 8000 data packets still sitting in the memory of the lander’s computer, with records of earlier activity. Taken together, the data suggest that Philae had woken from its 7-month-long slumber a day or two earlier, but had been unable to communicate with Rosetta, the spacecraft that is orbiting comet 67P and serves as Philae’s relay to Earth. “Fantastic, right?” Ulamec says. “It’s healthy, temperature is good, power is sufficient. The only thing we have to work on is the duration of the radio link.”

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WHO's Keiji Fukuda (left) and Seoul National University's Jong-Koo Lee (right).

D. Normile

WHO's Keiji Fukuda (left) and Seoul National University's Jong-Koo Lee (right).

SEJONG, SOUTH KOREA—South Korea's Ministry of Health reported 12 new confirmed cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and one additional death today, bringing the total to 138 cases and 14 deaths. But a joint mission of international and local health experts expressed cautious optimism that the country may be turning the corner on the outbreak, although its members emphasized the need for continued surveillance and attention to infection control.

At a press conference here today, the team urged South Korean officials to reopen more than a thousand schools closed because of MERS fears. Transmission in schools “has not been a feature of this outbreak; on the other hand, the closure of schools creates levels of fear and concern not [based on] a real reflection of danger,” said panel member Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general for health security at the World Health Organization (WHO). Local press reports say most schools will resume classes on Monday, though in some Seoul districts the final decision will be up to individual principals.

The joint mission, by WHO and South Korea's Ministry of Health, brought together eight visiting and eight Korean experts in infectious diseases, epidemiology, and related specialties to study what is by far the largest outbreak of MERS outside the Middle East. The experts agreed that the outbreak caught the South Korean health sector by surprise and that authorities stumbled in their initial response. "There are things that could have been done better," said Jong-Koo Lee, a medical doctor and public health expert at Seoul National University who led the South Korean side of the team. But the government has recovered its footing. "Those steps needed to control this outbreak are being put in place and strengthened on a very rapid basis," Fukuda said.

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