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12 December 2013 1:00 pm ,
Vol. 342 ,
The iconic 125-year-old Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton near San Jose, California, is facing the threat of closure...
Recent results from the Curiosity Mars rover have helped scientists formulate a plan for the next phase of its mission...
A new, remarkably powerful drug that cripples the hepatitis C virus (HCV) came to market last week, but it sells for $...
In pretoothbrush populations, gumlines would often be marred by a thick, visible crust of calcium phosphate, food...
Evolutionary biologists have long studied how the Mexican tetra, a drab fish that lives in rivers and creeks but has...
Victorian astronomers spent countless hours laboriously charting the positions of stars in the sky. Such sky mapping,...
In an ambitious project to study 1000 years of sickness and health, researchers are excavating the graveyard of the now...
Stefan Behnisch has won awards for designing science labs and other buildings that are smart, sustainable, and...
- 12 December 2013 1:00 pm , Vol. 342 , #6164
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- Thursday, June 11, 2009 - 11:18am
This item was updated with a list of other countries with similar bans and a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The International AIDS Society (IAS), which stages the biannual international meeting that attract more than 20,000 attendees, says it is considering holding the 2012 gathering in Washington, D.C. But before it holds the conference anywhere in the United States, the federal government must change a law that bans HIV-infected people from entering the country.
IAS moved the 1992 conference from Boston to Amsterdam because the U.S. government instituted the ban; the conference has not been held in the country since. “This long-standing law, which is contrary to all scientific evidence and human rights principles, is one of the U.S.’s weakest spots in HIV policy,” said IAS president Julio Montaner in a statement.
The U.S. Congress repealed the law in July 2008, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services still has HIV on the list of communicable diseases that bar entry. The international AIDS conference was previously held in Washington, D.C., in 1987.
Eight other countries have a similar HIV immigration ban: Brunei, China, Oman, Qatar, South Korea, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
In a statement to ScienceInsider, HHS said it has submitted "a notice of proposed rule-making to implement this change" to the Office of Management and Budget for its review.Continue Reading
- Thursday, June 11, 2009 - 11:07am
The White House announced this week that it will nominate Warren (Pete) Miller, a long-time researcher and administrator at Los Alamos National Laboratory, as the Department of Energy's Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy.
Miller, 66, grew up in Chicago, where he attended all-black schools. (One of his classmates in elementary school was Emmett Till, who was murdered as a teenager while visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1955.) He joined ROTC, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and served in Vietnam. After resigning from the military, he earned a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from Northwestern University, then went to work at Los Alamos. He was elected as a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 1996.
Miller told ScienceInsider: "I certainly think we do need to get nuclear energy going again." He noted that the government has already offered loan guarantees to companies that are ready to build new nuclear power plants. "We'll just have to see" whether those incentives are sufficient, he said. On the controversial issue of reprocessing nuclear waste, Miller said that more R&D is needed to bring down the cost of the technology and reduce the risk of creating new stocks of bomb-ready nuclear materials.Continue Reading
- Thursday, June 11, 2009 - 11:03am
Turns out the stimulus package may not be pure gravy for the National Science Foundation after all. On Tuesday the appropriations committee of the U.S. House of Representatives cut out the entire $100 million that the National Science Foundation had requested for its Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) program next year, deciding that the $300 million in additional funding it received from the massive federal stimulus package approved in February should tide it over for another year.
The MRI program was seen as a good source of "shovel-ready" projects after NSF received $515 million in requests—five times the amount available—during the 2008 competition. NSF is planning two rounds of funding this year: one to tap the stimulus funding and one funded by the $100 million from NSF's regular 2009 appropriations. But a third round planned for early 2010 is now in limbo.
Also up in the air is NSF's plan to ramp up its Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program. The 15-year-old program, which helps community colleges provide industry with a skilled work force, is one of the Obama Administration's education priorities, and NSF had requested a 24% boost, to $62 million, on the way to $100 million by 2013. Instead, the House spending panel cut the request by 57%, to $22 million, noting that the reduction was made "to support higher priority programs" within NSF.
That decision doesn't sit well with one senior panel member, Representative David Price (D–NC). Price, who may be the program's biggest supporter in Congress, argued during the committee markup that ATE "is the only program that engages with America’s community colleges." He also noted that it was created "to rectify a serious deficiency whereby NSF did nothing at the level of advanced technical education."
"This is only the start of a long process," says Phil Feagan,Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Wednesday, June 10, 2009 - 4:35pm
VIENNA—Researchers were scratching their heads earlier today at a meeting convened by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) over puzzling results from last month's nuclear test by North Korea. While the test produced a clearly recognizable seismic signal that was picked up by CTBTO's worldwide network of sensors, the organization's atmospheric detectors failed to pick up a whiff of the expected radionuclides in air. Even a deep underground test is usually expected to leak radionuclides, so their absence in this case caused quite a stir. Anders Ringbom of the Swedish Defense Research Agency in Stockholm says CTBTO's detectors for radioactive noble gases—a telltale signature of a nuclear test—can pick up a couple of hundred atoms from a cubic meter of air. On the lack of a signal, he said: "I was a little surprised, yes."
Some 400 scientists gathered here, CTBTO's home base, this week to discuss the results of a series of studies carried out by external researchers over the past year to test the capabilities of the system for detecting clandestine tests and to consider other scientific uses for the wealth of data collected. The system comprises 337 sensors across the globe looking for seismic signals, radionuclides, hydroacoustic signals in the oceans, and very low frequency infrasound in the air. Seismologists at the meeting say that the 25 May Korean test was an unmistakably man-made event and showed characteristics that make it almost certainly a nuclear rather than a chemical explosion. But the presence of radioactive xenon is considered the smoking gun for the nuclear nature of an explosion—and it wasn't detected.
It is possible to design a test to reduce the chances of radionuclides escaping into the air, for example, by carrying it out deep underground in particular types of rock. CTBTO chief Tibor Tóth says theContinue Reading
- Wednesday, June 10, 2009 - 3:12pm
An all-star cast of educational leaders gathered this morning to push for a comprehensive reform of U.S. science and math education. The occasion was the release of a report from an outside panel of experts funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The report, called the "Opportunity Equation," argues for not only improving how math and science are taught, but also for putting those subjects at the core of more sweeping changes that would allow the country to "do school differently."
The commission's work received a ringing endorsement in a cheerleading speech from Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who has echoed its call for "fewer, higher, clearer" state standards that lay out what students should learn. The report, described by a panel of commission members, also said that those common national standards, being drawn up by a voluntary coalition of 46 states, must be accompanied by better tests to measure student achievement, improved training for their teachers, and greater flexibility for schools to pursue innovative strategies. "I'm taking notes," said Representative George Miller (D–CA), who chairs the House of Representatives education panel responsible for reauthorizing the current federal law governing elementary and secondary education, known commonly as "No Child Left Behind."
Duncan and the panelists also cited several programs that are working effectively on a local or state level that need to be scaled up. And everybody agreed that "the time to act is now." As Duncan remarked, "money isn't everything. But it makes a difference. We've got $100 billion to work with, an unprecedented amount. And we'll never have a better chance to get it done."Continue Reading
- Tuesday, June 9, 2009 - 5:28pm
So can we call it a pandemic yet? Nope, the World Health Organization said today. Although the A (H1N1) virus has now spread to 76 countries and seems to be spreading briskly in Australia, the agency still has not moved its pandemic alert scale to 6, the highest level. But at a press conference (audio, page loads slowly) today, WHO's flu chief Keiji Fukuda said that the agency is now "really very close" to calling the epidemic a pandemic. It is still working to inform countries exactly what level 6 means and avoid unnecessary panic, he said.
Whether or not the spread of the swine flu virus constitutes a pandemic has been the subject of debate for many weeks. WHO's own definition requires that the virus shows sustained community spread in countries in at least two of its six regions—that is, another region apart from the Americas, where it originated. The virus's spread in Europe and Japan has led some to argue that criterion has already been met.
Now, continuing spread in Australia, where 1051 cases have been confirmed, would seem to end any remaining doubt. Among reporters, many of whom have followed WHO's briefings for 6 weeks, the impatience was palpable today. But once again, Fukuda artfully dodged questions about what exactly will make WHO pull the lever. He hinted, however, that it is now more a matter of communication strategy than anything else. WHO wants to avoid a "blossoming of anxiety" once it moves to level 6, Fukuda said. "One of the critical issues is that we do not want people to over-panic," he added.
- Tuesday, June 9, 2009 - 4:09pm
This chronology of the pandemic will be updated regularly as news breaks and past events come to light. And follow ScienceInsider’s full coverage on the swine flu outbreak here.
With Australia reporting more than 1000 confirmed cases, WHO's flu chief Keiji Fukuda says the agency is now "really very close" to calling the epidemic a pandemic. WHO is still working to inform countries exactly what phase 6 means and to avoid a "blossoming of anxiety" once a pandemic is declared. Fukuda also weighed in on what the virus—or the pandemic—should be called, admitting that the current name, influenza A (H1N1), is creating confusion.
Egypt becomes the first country in Africa to report a confirmed case of swine flu to WHO. Pan-African News Agency reports that six sub-Saharan countries have suspected cases. In all, says WHO, 73 countries to date have reported 25,288 confirmed cases and 139 deaths.
Trust for America’s Health, a D.C.-based advocacy group, issues “Pandemic Flu Preparedness: Lessons from the Frontlines.” The detailed critique praises U.S. federal, state, and local governments for having invested in pandemic planning, including the stockpiling of drugs and training public health officials to respond appropriately. But the report says public health departments are underfunded and “stretched too thin,” leading to delays in identifying and containing infections.
The 23-page report further warns that the country’s “current vaccine development and production capacity is severely lacking,” adding that “the country has not developed or adequately tested a system that will ensure that all Americans would be able to be inoculated in a short period of time.” WHO’s pandemic alert system, it says, has caused much confusion; the report also criticized some countries for instituting travel restrictions and bans on pork products.
- Tuesday, June 9, 2009 - 3:46pm
Details emerged this week on how the deluge of applications submitted to the National Institutes of Health's Challenge Grant competition could disrupt the normal grant cycle down the road, possibly doubling or tripling the number of grants submitted well into next year.
The agency has now received nearly 21,000 proposals for the Challenge awards, which are funded with the agency's $10.4 billion in stimulus money. That tops the 16,000 applications NIH normally receives in each of its regular three grant cycles per year. The NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR) has recruited 18,000 scientists to review Challenge proposals this summer and 2000 for other stimulus grants, in addition to the 8000 reviewers it will use for regular grants. NIH tried to put a positive spin on the numbers in a press release yesterday: "These are exciting times for biomedical research and NIH," gushed acting NIH Director Raynard Kington. But few scientists will be celebrating in a few months, as a mere 1%–2% of the Challenge grants will likely be funded.
Those who lose out won't have completely wasted their time, as they can resubmit their ideas as a regular R01 investigator-initiated grant. These proposals may face tough odds, too, however, CSR Director Antonio Scarpa told his advisory council yesterday.
The recycled Challenge proposals could bloat the number of R01 applications far above the normal 9000 or so per cycle, Scarpa said. His rough projections are that the biggest crunch will come in 2010 with a possible 30,000 applications to be reviewed in February and 25,000 in October (see graph). As a result, success rates for these grants,Continue Reading
- Monday, June 8, 2009 - 1:10pm
“We are determined we are going to do the hard science which actually is of value to people in a rapidly changing world.”
That’s how ecologist Andrew Watkinson describes the £100 million U.K. research package launched today by Living With Environmental Change (LWEC), a recently formed partnership between Britain’s research councils, governmental departments, and nongovernmental organizations. Watkinson last year took on the directorship of LWEC, whose purpose is to coordinate the U.K. response to environmental change, primarily that caused by the global warming expected in the future.
The research efforts announced today at a media briefing include more than a dozen programs that will tackle scientific issues such as how to achieve a low-CO2-emitting society, how to ensure food, water, and energy supply on a global scale, and how to increase the resilience of areas affected by the changing environment, Watkinson explains.
LWEC includes and combines research in the natural sciences as well as economics and social sciences. Coming up with new knowledge and technology just isn’t enough, Watkinson notes. Research into how to best inform and explain the findings and how to ensure that the changes necessary to make society sustainable are acceptable to the public is also needed. Such research will be conducted within a new Research Centre on Sustainable Behaviours.
By promoting interactions between scientists from different areas and policymakers, LWEC hopes to ensure that scientists are working on the most pressing issues and that politicians make well-informed decisions. “We are really bringing together the science and policy agendas to make sure they are tackled efficiently and effectively in a way that just hasn’t happened in the past,” says Watkinson.
- Monday, June 8, 2009 - 11:57am
Oddly, until now, no confirmed cases of the novel H1N1 virus have yet surfaced in any African country. But Egypt is now on the rosters at the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Pan-African News Agency reports that six sub-Saharan countries have suspected cases. In all, says WHO, 73 countries to date have reported 25,288 confirmed cases and 139 deaths.Continue Reading
- Friday, June 5, 2009 - 6:08pm
Administration officials are scrambling to add substance to President Barack Obama’s new Middle Eastern science diplomacy initiatives, mentioned Thursday in his speech in Cairo. The President promised new “science envoys,” centers of excellence, and a “technological development” fund for the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia. The State Department and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) were working today to bring those words into focus.
“Details of these initiatives will be crafted in discussion with officials in the nations where they will be based,” said OSTP spokesman Rick Weiss. Nina V. Fedoroff, science adviser to the Secretary of State and the Agency for International Development, said that proposals for centers of excellence “have been bubbling up from several different directions” with emphasis on issues such as agriculture and public health.
A State Department fact sheet explained that the United States “will work with educational institutions, NGOs and foreign governments” to decide the focus and location of such centers.
The new “science envoys” program could follow the lines of a bill sponsored by Sen. Lugar (R–IN) and approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that would deploy prominent scientists on missions of goodwill and collaboration. Fedoroff said such efforts would dovetail with evolving State Department science diplomacy programs.
Obama also announced a new regional fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries. The fact sheet said the fund would help pay for “S&T collaboration, capacity development” and innovations with commercial potential.Continue Reading
- Friday, June 5, 2009 - 3:14pm
The National Institutes of Health has received 49,015 comments on its proposed guidelines for human embryonic stem cell research, "and we're reading them all," said Lana Skirboll, policy office chief, yesterday at an NIH advisory committee meeting. (The roughly 30-day comment period ended 26 May.) NIH "will be making adjustments" to the policy, said NIH acting director Raynard Kington. The main concern of scientists is that many existing lines may not meet the strict ethical criteria in the draft guidelines. NIH expects to issue final guidelines by 7 July .
Surprisingly, that flood of input is not a record for an NIH proposal. Skirboll thinks the agency received roughly the same number of comments, if not more, when it last issued draft guidelines for stem cell research in 1999.Continue Reading
- Friday, June 5, 2009 - 1:28pm
While scientists celebrated at the end of last month that the European Spallation Source (ESS) had taken a step closer to reality when research ministers chose a site at Lund, Sweden, to build it, the ministers quietly made another decision that may turn out to be just as important for European research. The ministers agreed on a standard legal framework for European research facilities, giving them supra-national legal status, exempting them from VAT (sales tax), and laying down rules on how they are governed, funded, and managed. “It will bring down barriers to investments in science and research,” Miroslava Kopicová, the Czech Minister of Education, Youth and Sports who pushed for the framework, told Science|Business.
Up until now, every time a group of countries wanted to work together to build a joint facility, they had to go through the lengthy legal process of drawing up an agreement, getting it checked by all the parties, and getting everyone together again to sign it. Facilities such as CERN and ITER are governed by international treaties, which required heroic efforts of diplomacy to put together. Other recently approved facilities, including European XFEL x-ray facility in Hamburg, Germany, and the FAIR international accelerator facility in Darmstadt, Germany, were set up as limited companies under German law, which made some of the international partners uncomfortable. As a result, some E.U. nations called on the European Commission to draw up a standard legal framework that all future facilities could adopt, streamlining the process. ESS, which is scheduled to begin construction in 2012 if a firm coalition of partners is finalized soon, could be the first facility to benefit from the new legal framework.Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Friday, June 5, 2009 - 1:17pm
Alas poor DIUS, we hardly knew you. Born just 2 years ago, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills is no longer. Rumors had been flying of its demise today—DIUS head John Denham was shifted to a new position as Gordon Brown’s ministers continue to resign in response to an expenses scandal rocking the U.K. government—and Number 10 Downing Street has just made it official.
U.K. researchers will care about this political reshuffle more than most because DIUS had science funding under its care. That will now be handled by yet another newly created entity, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is formed by merging DIUS and the Depart for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. To most, it looks like a return to the pre-2007 setup despite the new department's name. The Times laments the £7 million wasted on all that fancy DIUS stationary and other paraphernalia, but scientists will have to wait a bit longer to learn what it all means and whether the new arrangement will increase the pressure to make their research economically relevant. Nick Dusic of the Campaign for Science & Engineering has already sent out a statement warning that DBIS must preserve research fund: “The department has a wide remit so it is more critical than ever that the science budget is ring-fenced so that is protected from spending problems in other areas.”
Of course, who hands out science funding could quickly change again if the United Kingdom dumps Brown’s Labour party in a general election that may come soon. Don't order that DBIS stationary just yet.Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Thursday, June 4, 2009 - 5:59pm
In his speech in Cairo today, President Barack Obama indicated his intentions to support scientific initiatives in the Islamic world as part of his vision for promoting peaceful relations between the United States and countries with a Muslim majority. In his words:
On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create jobs. We will open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new Science Envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops. And today I am announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.Continue Reading
- Thursday, June 4, 2009 - 5:22pm
On the heels of the Obama Administration's request that Congress put aside nearly $12 billion to combat the swine flu outbreak if needed, a nonprofit health advocacy group has given the country mixed marks for its response to the novel H1N1 virus to date.
Trust for America’s Health, which is based in Washington, D.C., today issued a detailed critique, “Pandemic Flu Preparedness: Lessons from the Frontlines.” The report praises federal, state, and local governments for having invested in pandemic planning, including the stockpiling of drugs and training public health officials to respond appropriately. It specifically commends U.S. President Barack Obama and the health officials who work under him for “providing clear, straightforward information to the public,” which the report says has both allayed fears and built trust.
But the report says public health departments are underfunded and “stretched too thin,” leading to delays in identifying and containing infections. “The biggest vulnerability is layoffs in local and state public health departments have stretched capacity to the limit,” says Jeffrey Levi, a public health specialist who heads the Trust for America’s Health. “Had this gotten bigger quickly we would have been stuck. And if there are more layoffs in fall, there will be fewer people out there still.”
The 23-page report, which was written by a team from the Trust for America’s Health and the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, pays especially close attention to the development of a vaccine against the novel H1N1 virus. The country’s “current vaccine development and production capacity is severely lacking,” the report notes, adding that “the country has not developed or adequately tested a system that will ensureContinue Reading
- Thursday, June 4, 2009 - 4:29pm
Note: This item was updated at 5:15 p.m. to include the funding level for the National Climate Service.
A House of Representatives spending panel has topped (pdf) the president's request for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the first tangible step by Congress to act upon the president's 2010 budget request.
The subcommittee—which oversees NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the science agencies within the Commerce Department—added $129 million to NOAA's proposed $108 million boost, for a total of $4.6 billion. The panel fell $109 million short of meeting the president's proposed $555 million increase for NSF, allocating $6.94 billion, and gave $25 million less to the National Institute of Standards and Technology labs than its proposed $62 million boost, for a total of $510 million. It also trimmed the exploration portion of NASA's budget pending completion of a review of its human space program, giving NASA a total of $18.2 billion (a 2% hike) compared with the president's $18.7 billion request.
Facing a $1 billion cut in its $64 billion portfolio, the panel nonetheless decided that climate research deserves the same accelerated spending increases that the White House has requested for NSF, NIST, and the Department of Energy's science programs. "The subcommittee heard testimony that NOAA research is not markedly different or less important than other science disciplines … and there was little reason that NOAA research activities should not be considered in the context of the doubling path envisioned in the  COMPETES Act," explained Representative Alan Mollohan (D-WVA), who chairs the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations subcommittee. Toward that goal, the subcommittee has provided $100 million of new funds for NOAA to launch the National Climate Service.
NSF's $845 million education account was boosted $5 million above the president's modest $13 million request,Continue Reading
- Thursday, June 4, 2009 - 3:04pm
German scientists breathed a sigh of relief today: They will get their promised €18 billion in funding increases after all. The funding boost, spread over the next 10 years, was negotiated in April at a meeting of federal and state science ministers. But a few days later, Peer Steinbrück, German federal finance minister, put a damper on the celebrations. Given the uncertainty of Germany's finances in the midst of a global financial crisis, he said, politicians should postpone such long-term funding promises until after federal elections in September. Science organizations countered that investment in research and education was more likely to pay off long-term than the billions already promised to failing banks and car companies.
Today, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she and the heads of the 16 German states had signed off on the funding. The chancellor, who has a Ph.D. in physical chemistry and is married to a chemistry professor, told journalists that the agreement gives German science a “signal of predictability” that they can use to make long-term plans. The German magazine Der Spiegel reported (article in German) that the chancellor was in a particularly jolly mood at the post-meeting press conference, beaming at reporters and taking over the microphone before her spokesperson had a chance to introduce her.
The new money will fund three programs: €2.7 billion will go to continuing the Excellence Initiative, a program that aims to create a German Ivy League, beyond 2011; the Pact for Research and Innovation promises the country’s research agencies yearly budget increases of 5% through 2015; and the Higher Education Pact promises an additional €7.9 billion to the country’s universities and technical schools to help them accommodate more than 200,000 additional students by 2020.Continue Reading
- Thursday, June 4, 2009 - 2:06pm
President Barack Obama has asked Congress to allocate $2 billion more <> to prepare the country for a potential swine flu pandemic. In a 2 June letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Obama said he was asking for the new money out of an “abundance of caution” and said it should “be provided with maximum flexibility to allow us to address this emerging situation.” The supplemental request would add to the $1.5 billion Obama asked for in April.
- Thursday, June 4, 2009 - 12:29pm
In response to the 20th anniversary today of the crackdown on democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, government censors have blocked access to many international Web sites and caused temporary closures of domestic online forums and blogs. The scientific community, too, is feeling the heat.
ScienceNet.cn, an online forum for the Chinese scientific community that hosts thousands of blogs, closed its comments function from midnight to 8 a.m. on 4 June (Beijing time) “due to server technical maintenance,” the site announced (cache). ScienceNet.cn, by no means seditious, carries discussions about academic misconduct, relationships between advisers and grad students, how to publish papers in international journals, and other academic matters. ScienceNet.cn took the precautionary measure, says an editor, because they don’t have staff to monitor the site at night, which is required by censors.
More drastic measures have been taken at www.newsmth.net, which began in 1995 as a student-run electronic bulletin board at Tsinghua University and moved most content off the campus network after the university blocked off-campus traffic to the site in 2005. The site now has only a home page (cache) with the announcement saying access to its web and blog content is down from midnight 4 June to midnight 5 June (Beijing time) for “system maintenance.”Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Thursday, June 4, 2009 - 12:16pm
U.S. government officials say they have implemented changes to the visa process that will greatly shorten delays faced by foreign students and researchers traveling to the United States. Officials won't specify exactly what these changes are but they promise that the time needed for a visas mantis check—a security review aimed at preventing weapons proliferation, and the main bottleneck in the visa approval process—will go down from a current average of several months to 2 weeks. The changes, which went into effect last week, are a response to complaints from academic and scientific organizations over the past year.
"We are confident that the new streamlined process both dramatically reduces wait times and maintains the same level of security," Stephen Heifetz, deputy assistant secretary for policy development at the Department of Homeland Security, told ScienceInsider.Continue Reading
- Wednesday, June 3, 2009 - 4:30pm
“Every patent lawyer in the country is on edge,” says Hans Sauer, speaking about a case that’s headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Sauer, a patent counsel for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) in Washington D.C., says lawyers for technology and drug firms are queasy because they see their world heading into unfamiliar territory. The Supreme Court—which rarely ventures into patent law—said this week that it wants to review a lower court decision (Bilski v. Doll) that declared a type of patent categorically wrong. Many think the Supreme Court agrees with the action and wants to put its own stamp on some new rules for U.S. patents.
In the Bilski case, federal judges in lower courts denied a patent to inventors Bernard Bilski and Rand Warsaw for a “business method” they had developed for hedging bets in the commodities market. The courts ruled that the invention was not eligible for patenting because it was too abstract and removed from the tangible world. Patents should be allowed only on inventions that are linked to specific machines or to processes that transform a substance from one thing to another, the decision said.
None of this has directly affected drug or biotech firms—at least not so far. But, as Sauer explains, concerned executives at BIO member companies have been calling him for the last few days. They have watched in recent years as lower courts issued several broad decisions that narrowed the scope of U.S. patents. Now it looks as though the Supreme Court wants to join the trend, possibly by writing a new, narrower definition of what is patentable. A change in wording could put an unknownContinue ReadingPosted In:
- Wednesday, June 3, 2009 - 1:53pm
University College London has joined the growing list of universities that are moving forward with open access, which means they will post copies of faculty members' published journal articles in a free online repository. Today, UCL announced a new board that will implement a policy adopted by faculty last October. It follows the lead of Harvard and Stanford Universities, where some schools adopted open access "mandates" last year, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which voted for university-wide open access this spring.
Like most other institutions, UCL will observe journals' copyright policies, which means they don't post the papers until the journal itself has made the full text freely available (most now do so within 12 months). But even though the article may already be online, proponents say these institutional archives are important because they provide one-stop shopping for a school's research and make the articles easier for the public to find. United Kingdom open access experts powwowed on the movement's impact at a meeting last Friday; the slides are here.Continue Reading
- Wednesday, June 3, 2009 - 1:04pm
The U.S. Government Printing Office has come under criticism for accidentally publishing on its site a 266-page report that contains a list of "highly confidential" nuclear sites around the United States. The list includes obvious places like Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and more obscure university, private, and government facilities that do research and development work related to nuclear technology. The document was removed from the Government Printing Office's site on Tuesday after inquiries about it from The New York Times.
The document's existence was made known by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists in Secrecy News, an electronic newsletter that Aftergood publishes on the Web. In an interview with The New York Times, Aftergood called the document a "one-stop shop for information on U.S. nuclear programs."
However, the mistake is unlikely to endanger global security in any significant way, according to many experts. The document contains "interesting, but not particularly exciting, information," says Benn Tannenbaum of the Center for Science, Technology, and Security Policy at AAAS (ScienceInsider's publisher). "If you were a terrorist and wanted to build a bomb, you could figure out who has weapons-grade nuclear material from plenty of other sources, and the pictures from Google Earth are much better than the maps found in the report."Continue Reading
- Tuesday, June 2, 2009 - 5:22pm
At a recent meeting at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) in New York state, Daniel MacArthur from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, United Kingdom, brought into focus how fuzzy the line between journalist and scientist is becoming. In addition to reporting on genetic variation in a gene that is active in fast muscle fibers at The Biology of Genomes meeting, MacArthur wrote several on the spot blog posts covering advances discussed by the participants. Francis Collins also mentioned results on his new Web site.
A specialized Web-based news service, Genomeweb, complained. To attend CSHL meetings, reporters agree to obtain permission from a speaker before writing up any results. But MacArthur didn’t have to click that box when he registered and was free to report without getting any go-ahead. Several other participants were twittering, says CSHL meetings organizer David Stewart. “They weren’t held to the same standards” as the media, says Stewart.
That is about to change. Stewart is revising the meeting registration form such that all participants will agree that if they are going to blog or twitter results, they need to let CSHL know in advance and get the presenter’s okay. “We don’t legislate what [the scientists] write in an e-mail” to lab or consortium members, says Stewart, but CSHL is concerned about communications that reach out to anonymous third parties. “We need to ask them to abide by the same rules.”Continue Reading