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  • By: 
    Eli Kintisch
    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 - 5:52pm
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    ...they're from restrictions to refrigerants, not carbon dioxide, which may be why they didn't get much media attention. But those tons, measured in equivalent mass of carbon dioxide, represents a big climate bullet that the world will probably dodge.

    Yesterday, the U.S. State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency proposed strengthening a global treaty called the Montreal Protocol, which regulates refrigerants and other chemicals that destroy the ozone layer. Mexico and Canada also back the proposal, putting more diplomatic muscle behind an effort to clamp down on chemicals called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), mostly used in air conditioners or refrigerators. They also happen to be greenhouse gases 2400 times as potent as carbon dioxide.

    In a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in June scientists estimated that if growth in HFC production is unchecked, the gases could contribute to greenhouse warming at the equivalent of roughly 9 billions of CO2 a year by 2050—more CO2 than the United States currently emits from power plants, cars, and farms combined. So climate scientists are thrilled that Obama is leading efforts to limit their use. "This is a very substantial proposal," says physicist David Fahey of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    HFC's became popular after the members of the Protocol limited production of chlorofluorocarbons and gydrochlorofluorocarbons in the 1980s and 1990s; both chemicals destroy stratospheric ozone. (HFC's, designed to be the replacement, don't destroy ozone.) But diplomats didn't expect the growth in demand for the chemicals to be as fast as it has, mostly because of rapid industrial development in China and India.

    The proposed rules, which will be considered by the 195 member states at the November meeting of the parties, would cut production of the chemicals by 85% by 2033 and 2043 for developed andContinue Reading

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  • By: 
    Constance Holden
    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 - 5:30pm
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    Murdered Yale University graduate student Annie Le was getting her Ph.D. in pharmacology, but her ambitions were spread wider. In 2006, as a college student, she worked on adult stem cells in the National Institutes of Health lab of Rocky Tuan, subsequently writing that she hoped to become a professor or NIH researcher. Tuan, now director of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, emailed ScienceInsider to share her thoughts. "Annie was such a special person and a wonderful student that I am still having a hard time accepting the fact that she is gone. ... She had so much future ahead of her."Continue Reading

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    Science News Staff
    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 - 5:12pm
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    In a response to lawsuits by environmental groups, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will review a controversial decision on ozone pollution limits made in March 2008 and propose a new standard by December.

    Conservation and animal welfare groups asked the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries to expand the protected habitat for the 400 or so remaining North Atlantic right whales to include more of their nursing grounds in the Gulf of Maine to their calving grounds off Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

    The advocacy group Oceana expects that the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council will approve a plan to ban destructive bottom-trawling in almost 60,000 square kilometers of deep-sea coral from North Carolina to Florida.

    Norman Augustine got an earful on Capitol Hill yesterday from members of the House of Representatives who were unhappy with his commission's recommendations over how the United States should invest in space flight. Today, he faced Senators in what appeared to be a less contentious afternoon hearing.

    (Picture Michaël CATANZARITI)Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Greg Miller
    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 - 1:58pm
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    Next Thursday is supposed to be the first day of school at several campuses of the University of California (UC). But hundreds of instructors are planning to cut class to protest budget cuts and furloughs at the cash-strapped public university.

    The university faces a roughly $800 million shortfall in state funding over the next 2 years and administrators have responded with a number of cost-cutting measures, including tuition hikes and a furlough plan for faculty and staff members that amounts to a 4-10% pay cut, depending on pay grade. Last month, Lawrence Pitts, UC's interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs announced that furlough days would not occur on days when faculty are scheduled to teach, arguing that doing so would violate UC's "paramount teaching mission."

    That angered many faculty, who had assumed they would have a say in when they took their furlough days and wanted to take some of them on teaching days to demonstrate to students, parents, and state legislators that budget cuts were having a direct impact on the quality of education at UC. On 31 August, faculty from several UC campuses began a petition urging a walkout on 24 September. In an open letter to their colleagues, the organizers accuse the UC administration of acting by "autocratic fiat" and call for a walkout to protest the management of the furlough plan. Nearly 800 faculty had signed the petition as of this morning, and according to the organizers' blog, several student organizations and labor unions have voiced support for the walkout.

    Meanwhile, UC Regents meet in San Francisco today to consider a plan that would raise tuition by 30% by the fall of 2010.Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Eli Kintisch
    Tuesday, September 15, 2009 - 5:59pm
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    A few environmental groups have set up an online directory for the public to locate and contact specialists in ecosystem services. Meanwhile, universities have set up Futurity, a new portal for sharing science research news.

    Today, President Barack Obama announced a new program to raise fuel efficiency standards to 35.5 miles per gallon in 2016, a change agreed upon as part of a previous deal with automakers and environmentalists.

    Obama's nominee to head the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, occupational epidemiologist David Michaels (left), has come under fire from conservative critics emboldened by the president's falling approval ratings; Effect Measure has a good summary.

    The National Research Council has published its recommendations on the role of engineering education in K–12 schools.

    For the first time since the 1988 establishment of the treaty, the United States will send a delegation to the official conference on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which will be held on 24–25 September in New York City.  President Obama announced today that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will lead the delegation.

    Dennis Blair, the director of National Intelligence, today released a strategic roadmap for national intelligence that highlights, among other things, the country's need for a stronger defense against cyberattacks as well as increased partnerships with academia and industry to develop science and technology tools for intelligence purposes.Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Eli Kintisch
    Tuesday, September 15, 2009 - 5:20pm
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    The following email conversation involves messages between Eli Kintisch, the editor of this blog, and scientists Christina Smolke and Natalie Mahowald. The issue: the enormous pressures facing scientists in the 1st decade of their careers, when they must balance writing grants, starting up a lab, and publishing key papers to get established in their careers. For more on career issues see ScienceCareers.

    Click on the buttons to see the intro and responses: 1 2 3 4

    Dear Christina and Natalie:

    It is a summer day in 2009 in Cambridge, England, and K. (39) looks out of his lab window, wondering why he chose the life of a scientist. ...The second half of 2007 and all of 2008 had been a nightmare—14 of these 18 months had been almost entirely devoted to writing grant applications. K. now sees how he has changed from being an enthusiastic scientist into an insecure bureaucrat. He feels he has lost much of his last 3 years and wasted his [British government] grant, despite doing his very best. … the present funding system eats its own seed corn.

    That’s a bit from the sordid story published today in PLoS Biology of the anonymous "K.", a British colleague of Peter Lawrence, a senior scientist at the University of Cambridge. Lawrence, whose PLoS piece describes K's plight, blames the "black arts" of grant writing required by government bureaucracies on either side of the Atlantic. He bemoans a “Kafkaesque” regime which he says requires too much "salesmanship and networking," application forms that are too long, and as a result dooms too many smart beginning scientists' careers.

    Thanks to both

    Continue Reading
  • By: 
    Constance Holden
    Tuesday, September 15, 2009 - 5:04pm
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    The Amistad Street Building in New Haven, Connecticut, where the body of Yale University grad student Annie Le was found Sunday, was closed again today. Officials have named scientists as "point persons" to act as liaisons between the police and researchers who need to gain access. Security is extremely tight; anyone who enters has to be escorted by a police person. A source at Yale adds that technicians are being allowed to enter for 2 hours at a time to care for research mice and maintain cell strains. Med School Dean Robert Alpern said that access to the basement, where Le was found, is particularly restrictive because it contains animal facilities. The university is keeping people informed here. University Vice President Linda Lorimer said she hoped the building would be open Wednesday.Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Jon Cohen
    Tuesday, September 15, 2009 - 4:42pm
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    As expected, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved four vaccines against the novel H1N1 virus that is causing the swine flu pandemic. None of the vaccines are yet available to the public, but FDA wanted to make sure that the regulatory process does not cause any delays.

    The agency approved the vaccines with scant clinical data, relying instead on the same “strain change” rules that allow manufacturers to change the seasonal vaccine without conducting human studies. The new vaccines include inactivated virus products made by CSL Limited, Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, and Sanofi Pasteur Inc., as well as a live, attenuated virus manufactured by MedImmune LLC.

    FDA says the first swine flu vaccines will become available within the next 4 weeks, although the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services expects its first major shipment of product to arrive on 15 October.Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Elizabeth Pennisi
    Tuesday, September 15, 2009 - 3:39pm
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    Tomorrow, the Catalogue of Life, a database that lists 1.2 million of the estimated 1.8 million named species, kicks off a new phase designed to broaden its reach but not necessarily complete its species list. At a meeting in Reading, U.K., representatives from 38 institutions will decide the best way to make 4D4Life—short for “distributed dynamic diversity databases for life”—a reality.

    The goal of the Catalogue of Life, launched in 2001, was to provide validated scientific names, synonyms, and common names from the world’s flora and fauna. (Anolis carolinensis, pictured, is one.)

    It compiles its list from 60 more specialized databases and boasts of 40 million hits per year. It also distributes a species list on a CD-ROM to 80 countries.

    It had hoped to finish the list by 2011, but that might not happen, says 4D4Life Coordinator Frank Bisby from the University of Reading. Instead, the new focus will be on improving the utility of the database and incorporating other taxonomic catalogs.

    Over the next 3 years, with €3.3 million from the European Commission and the equivalent of about €8.7 million from other sources, including China, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, 4D4Life will link up with regional databases around the world that will compile local species lists and forward them on to the Catalogue of Life. In addition, Bisby expects to make the database more easily downloadable and more receptive to queries, such as requests for all the common names for a species. Right now, the catalog has yearly updates, but soon it will be updated more frequently, with new entries flagged. “As seen by the user, the Catalogue of Life will continue to be boring and dry, but it’s essential,”Continue Reading

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    Jocelyn Kaiser
    Tuesday, September 15, 2009 - 3:29pm
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    Stanford University's School of Medicine has followed through on a plan announced last spring to post the industry ties of its faculty on a public Web site. The school joins the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, which began posting such info late last year. Neither institution is sharing exact amounts, however, but merely the names of companies from which the faculty member receives at least $5000 a year in income or owns that amount or more in stock.

    Update: Since July, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine has also been posting financial disclosure info for its faculty. The site doesn't yet cover stock, but it includes dollar ranges for each activity (such as $10,000 to $99,999).Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Greg Miller
    Tuesday, September 15, 2009 - 1:35pm
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    Three active players in the National Football League have agreed to donate their brains and spinal tissue after they die to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University (BU) School of Medicine. The center, profiled in Science last month, is a collaboration between researchers at BU and the non-profit Sports Legacy Institute, begun by Chris Nowinski, a former pro wrestler who cut his career short after a disabling series of concussions.

    Nowinski has persuaded well over 100 professional athletes to donate their brains for research on the long-term effects of repetitive head injuries. Researchers at BU and elsewhere have been finding evidence of neurodegeneration, as well as mood and memory problems, in retired pro athletes in contact sports. Earlier this month, researchers in West Virginia announced an independent initiative to study brain injuries in pro athletes.

    The three new additions are the first active NFL players to sign on with the Boston group. They are: linebacker Lofa Tatupu of the Seattle Seahawks, receiver Sean Morey of the Arizona Cardinals, and Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk (pictured, via http://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/, CC BY-SA 2.0 )Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Eli Kintisch
    Tuesday, September 15, 2009 - 11:33am
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    In Part I, ScienceInsider interviewed a fire investigator on the topic of arson and forensic science in the United States, an issue brought to the forefront by the controversial execution of Todd Willingham in Texas in 2004. Now we conducted an email interview with a member of the landmark National Research Council panel which in February found "a tremendous need for the forensic science community to get better." Jay Siegel is the director of the Forensic and Investigative Sciences Program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

    Q: How did the flaws laid out in the Willingham case reflect on larger issues about forensic science in the United States?

    J.S.: First, it is necessary to distinguish what happened in the Willingham case from the practice of forensic science in the U.S. as explored by the National Academy of Sciences [NAS] Committee that looked at forensic science. The problems with the Willingham case arose from inadequate training and experience of the fire scene investigators. ... The issues that the NAS Committee dealt with concerned the status of laboratory forensic science rather than crime scene investigation. Although CSI should be more scientifically based and should fall within the purview of forensic science, it is generally considered to be part of the law enforcement process. Crime scene investigation training stresses observation and data collection but not critical thinking and scientific analysis. This is what leads to the tragic outcome in the Willingham case.

    Q: What impact has the Innocence Project had on the issue?

    J.S.: There is no doubt that the Innocence Project(s) around the country have had a major effect on law enforcement, forensic science and the judicial system. They have calledContinue Reading

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  • By: 
    Science News Staff
    Monday, September 14, 2009 - 5:29pm
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    Today:

    The U.S. Department of Energy and the British Library has launched a new open access gateway that covers more than 50 major science databases.

    The House of Representatives Science and Technology committee examined regional innovation centers and community colleges at a field hearing today in McKinney, Texas.

    Warner Brothers recently asked scientists working on the South Pole if they would like to speak on a teleconference with Kate Beckinsale, star of Whiteout, a new film about a crime committed at the Amundsen-Scott research station in Antarctica. But the National Science Foundation told ScienceInsider that they nixed the call because using "taxpayer-funded communications resources and staff time to promote or endorse a commercial enterprise was inappropriate."  "We would have been able to talk to her, see her and just make our freaking day basically, but but certain grumpy butts in the NSF said no," wrote one scientist.

    Tomorrow:

    The World Bank will release the World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change.Continue Reading

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    Erik Stokstad
    Monday, September 14, 2009 - 5:22pm
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    The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) released its first comprehensive strategy to deal with climate change impacts on the 202 million hectares that the department manages.

    Outlined in a secretarial order, the plan includes expanding the purview of eight regional science centers currently being developed by the U.S. Geological Survey to provide guidance on climate change impacts to the Department's Fish and Wildlife Service. The centers will now work with other DOI agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management.

    The 2010 budget includes $10 million for these centers, a figure that will grow in the Administration's next budget proposal. "There will be additional money requested for science and adaptive management," Department Secretary Ken Salazar said at a press conference today.

    Also included in the plan is a senior council, chaired by Salazar, that will coordinate activities throughout the department. One key player is missing, however: the U.S. Geological Survey still lacks a permanent director. Marcia McNutt was nominated on 9 July, but a Senate confirmation hearing hasn't been scheduled yet.

    The holdup is that the chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Jeff Bingaman (D–NM) is one of the "Gang of Six" senators working on health care reform and is too busy. A committee spokesman says that McNutt's hearing should happen in the next few weeks.

    Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Eli Kintisch
    Monday, September 14, 2009 - 5:10pm
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    In February, a landmark report by the National Research Council (NRC) in February criticized nearly every aspect of the nation's forensics science system, including unreliable techniques for analyzing hair and DNA samples—a problem the U.S. Senate has been addressing in recent hearings.

    But the NRC report said almost nothing about arson. So ScienceInsider conducted an email interview with John Lentini (left), a nationally known fire investigator who conducted an outside review of the controversial case of Todd Willingham, a convicted arsonist who was executed in 2004. Tomorrow, we will run an interview with Jay Siegel, a scientist who served on the NRC panel.

    Q: What went wrong in Texas, and why? How widespread are such flaws in supposedly scientific forensic investigations?

    J.L.: The only thing unique about Texas with respect to miscarriages of justice stemming from faulty arson convictions is that Texas is a profligate user of the death penalty, making it impossible to take back its harshest punishment. Actually, there are wrongful convictions for arson all over the United States. Because there is no DNA involved, and because the investigators only document the scene to the extent necessary to "prove" arson, it is exceedingly difficult to obtain a reversal of a wrongful conviction.

    Most fire investigators were trained by mentors who were trained by mentors, who passed on belief systems based on anecdotal experience rather than on chemistry and physics.

    Mr. Willingham's lawyers walked through the burned residence in Corsicana and were able to see the "pour patterns" on the floor. These were irregular areas of burning caused by the irregular nature of fire. In addition to the pour patterns, the fire investigators also saw evidence of "high temperatures at floor level,"Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Constance Holden
    Monday, September 14, 2009 - 2:28pm
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    As the investigation into the horrific murder of 24-year-old Yale University pharmacology graduate student Annie Le has moved into high gear, the building in which she was found has been closed and no one knows when things will return to normal.

    Le, whose body was found Sunday behind a wall in a basement laboratory, worked in the Amistad Street Building, a four-story building in the medical school complex a mile from Yale's main campus. The building opened 2 years ago to house the Yale Stem Cell Center as well as interdisciplinary programs on immunology and vascular biology.

    According to stem cell researcher Diane Krause: "All research in the Amistad Building is at a standstill—even people who need reagents for an ongoing clinical trial are unable to have access as of now."

    University Vice President Linda Koch Lorimer sent out a campus-wide email today saying that personnel "with essential research responsibilities" are being escorted into the building by police.

    Others are being given paid time off. "We will know by the end of the day whether the building will need to stay closed longer," Lorimer wrote. "Principal Investigators will be told as soon as we know."

    Yale President Richard Levin met this morning with a "group of Yale community members in Annie Le’s academic area," according to the Yale public affairs office.

    The Amistad Street Building reportedly has 75 surveillance cameras. Le was seen entering it at 10 a.m. last Tuesday. She was never seen leaving it.

    Lorimer said more security personnel as well as police patrols and a new bicycle patrol have been added on the med-school campus.

    A Web site on the investigation opa.yale.edu/investigationupdate will be open later today.Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Michael Torrice
    Monday, September 14, 2009 - 2:17pm
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    Along with researchers studying nuclear reprogramming and physicians who developed a revolutionary leukemia drug, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg won a public service award from the Lasker Foundation today. The honor recognizes Bloomberg's public health policies—from banning smoking in bars and restaurants to eliminating trans fats in city eateries—along with his philanthropic efforts to support public health education and global anti-smoking campaigns.

    Bloomberg's public health policies have at times met with resistance.

    Some saw the trans fat ban as paternalistic and injecting the government into people's dinner decisions. Others believe that the mayor's policies don't always have strong scientific backing. J. Justin Wilson, a senior research analyst at the industry-supported Center for Consumer Freedom, told ScienceInsider that policies such as the trans fat ban make people believe they can splurge on unhealthy foods because the government has made restaurant food healthier.

    Bloomberg will receive the 2009 Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Service 2 October along with the five other award winners.Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Erik Stokstad
    Monday, September 14, 2009 - 11:51am
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    Plant pathologist and breeder Norman Borlaug died Saturday night in Dallas, Texas from complications of cancer. He was 95.

    Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his efforts to develop and distribute high-yielding, disease-resistant varieties of wheat that help prevent hundreds of millions of deaths from famine in the developing world.

    More recently, Borlaug warned about the resurgence of a virulent wheat pathogen, called Ug99. At an international scientific meeting on Ug99, held in his honor in March, Borlaug was as passionate as ever in his advocacy for practical research that would help farmers, especially poor ones.

    From the standing ovations he received to the constant crowds of admiring scientists clustered around his wheelchair, it was clear that Borlaug was an inspiration. In May, Science posted an audio slide-show highlighting his life's work.Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Science News Staff
    Friday, September 11, 2009 - 5:17pm
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    President Barack Obama has announced that physicist Patrick Gallagher will be nominated to run the National Institute of Standards and Technology, where he's currently deputy chief.

    Representative Joe Barton (R–TX), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate stimulus spending at the National Institutes of Health.

    On Monday, the Lasker Foundation will announce the winners of its 2009 awards in basic and clinical research and public service. Dozens of medalists have gone on to win Nobel Prizes.

    A climate spending panel will examine the effects of cell phones on human health on Monday as well.

    How seaworthy are your gondolas? Scientists are meeting in 2 weeks in Venice, Italy, to firm up the global ocean observing system.

    Continue Reading
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    Jon Cohen
    Friday, September 11, 2009 - 5:04pm
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    In an effort to assuage growing concerns about the swine flu pandemic, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) pulled out all stops today to broadcast the news that one dose of a vaccine against the novel H1N1 virus will likely will protect adults.

    As HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius explained at a press conference this afternoon, the preliminary findings from clinical studies that one dose triggers a strong antibody response in adults “is critically important news.” Flanked by top officials from the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration, Sebelius noted that if two doses were necessary, as some had predicted, it would take longer to immunize the population and require more product. But she also emphasized that no data yet exist about how the vaccine works in children and pregnant women, two groups that remain at high risk for developing severe disease from the virus. And the timing of the vaccine's arrival remains a major concern, she said.

    Anthony Fauci, head of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, described early data from adult trials sponsored by his institute. In people ages 18 to 64 who received one of two different pandemic H1N1 vaccines, 80% to 96% developed a “robust immune response” 8 to 10 days after a single 15 microgram dose. People 65 and older did not respond as well, with only 56% to 60% reaching similar antibody levels. The new data mesh with data reported yesterday in The New England Journal of Medicine of trials conducted outside the United States.

    The unusual high-level press conference to discuss preliminary results from clinical studies reflects the high level of anxiety in the country about the pandemic. The new information, Sebelius said, “shortensContinue Reading

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  • By: 
    Erik Stokstad
    Friday, September 11, 2009 - 2:59pm
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    The U.S. Department of Interior is putting together its strategic plan for the next 5 years, and today it officially asked for input in several science-related areas, including how to measure the effectiveness of scientific research. Interior is the home of the U.S. Geological Survey and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

    Among the department's top seven priorities are:

    (1) achieving greater energy independence and promoting the development of clean alternative energy sources
    (3) addressing the issue of global climate change
    (5) addressing critical water issues 
    (7) insuring the integrity of science in support of Interior's decision making

    These include a few "problematic areas," as today's Federal Register notice puts it, including improving performance measurements for wildland fire and endangered species conservation, as well as measuring the effectiveness of research. An outline of the plan includes many possible ways to evaluate fire prevention and species conservation, but far fewer to evaluate research. (Among the squishiest: "Percent satisfaction with scientific and technical products and assistance for environmental and natural resource decision making.")

    Comments are due 10 November, and Interior is planning several public meetings over the next 2 months, including online conferencing.Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Sam Kean
    Friday, September 11, 2009 - 1:09pm
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    Things are as bad as expected under the Ivy in New Haven. Yale University President Richard Levin has announced in an email to staff, faculty, and alumni that Yale expects to run a deficit of $150 million each fiscal year between 2010–11 and 2013–14, and that “with the exception of financial aid, no area of expenditure will be immune from scrutiny.”

    Levin noted that the college of arts and sciences will have to pare back faculty recruitment significantly. This reduction includes recruitment to the university’s new West Campus, situated 7 miles from the New Haven campus. The West Campus will house a number of science laboratories, and while the university will still recruit scientists and staff for those buildings, it will not do so at the pace it had hoped.

    Virtually all universities are facing similar cuts and cutbacks, and even the wealthiest Ivies have not been spared, especially their endowments. Yale’s did not take as big a hit as Harvard University's did, but Yale’s projection last summer that the endowment would be approximately $17 billion is now looking $1 billion too optimistic. Any university program dependent on endowment funds will be especially hard hit, Levin warned.Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Gretchen Vogel
    Friday, September 11, 2009 - 12:22pm
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    A 20-year-old telegram has heated up Germany's debate over nuclear power in the run-up to parliamentary elections later this month. The telegram seems to substantiate charges that politicians in the government of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl pressured scientists to recommend an old salt mine as a potential site for long-term nuclear waste storage. The debate is part of a larger controversy over whether or not the country should phase out its nuclear power by 2022, as current law stipulates. The country’s two center-right parties, which have a slight lead in the latest polls, have said they want to let the country’s nuclear power plants run up to a decade longer. The country’s three, main, left-leaning parties support the phaseout. As many as 50,000 people attended a march against nuclear power in Berlin last weekend.

    The long-running controversy over the site will seem familiar to observers of the debate over the proposed nuclear waste repository in Yucca Mountain, which has been defunded by the Obama Administration. Germany, like the United States, has no long-term disposal site for high-level radioactive waste.

    Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Jon Cohen
    Friday, September 11, 2009 - 11:22am
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    An increasing number an influenza experts in the United States are worried that the wave of the swine flu epidemic that has started to hit the country may peak before a vaccine can do much good, a news story in today’s issue of Science explains.

    On 15 October, the U.S. government expects to receive the first batches of a vaccine designed to thwart the novel H1N1 virus causing the pandemic. But that is right around the time when many experts now think the spread of the virus may peak in the country. Given that it takes about 2 weeks to build immunity after vaccination and that there will be a limited supply for at least a month or more, the vaccine may have little impact in the United States this fall. “This potential mismatch in timing could significantly diminish the usefulness of vaccination for mitigating the epidemic and could place many at risk of serious disease,” predicted the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in a report the White House released on 24 August.

    On the good news front, many researchers had worried that a vaccine against the novel H1N1 virus would require two doses to build substantial immunity—which would mean further delays in the time required to protect the population as well as twice as much product. But clinical tests of novel H1N1 vaccines published online yesterday by The New England Journal of Medicine show that a single dose can trigger high levels of antibodies in adults. No data are yet available for trials in children, who typically have much less robust immune responses to the seasonal influenza vaccine and require a second dose.

    As another paper published yesterday, this one in Science Express, emphasizes yet again, widespread use of a vaccineContinue Reading

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  • By: 
    John Travis
    Friday, September 11, 2009 - 5:10am
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    Computer scientist John Graham-Cumming was working on his book, The Geek Atlas, when he recently decided to petition the U.K. government to apologize for its 1950s persecution of Alan Turing based upon his homosexuality—an effort that apparently led to the famed mathematician and computer scientist taking his own life. The online petition drew thousands of supporters, including scientists such as Richard Dawkins, and U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has now issued the desired apology, noting in a letter to the Daily Telegraph: "While Mr Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can't put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him."Continue Reading

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