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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.

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    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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    Erik Stokstad
    Thursday, September 10, 2009 - 4:24pm
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    Moving toward a final restoration strategy for Chesapeake Bay, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other federal agencies proposed new regulations and incentives to lessen pollution in a set of draft reports released today.

    EPA plans to increase regulation of the excessive nutrients—coming from agriculture, sewage treatment plants, and air pollution—that have long choked the bay. "The message here is that there is a committment to increase enforceability," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said at a press conference. USDA focused on incentives, announcing it was committing $638 million of incentives over 5 years to help farmers reduce runoff from fields and barns. A report on science called for better monitoring and an ecosystem-based approach to restoration, as opposed to the current focus on water quality.

    President Barack Obama called for the reports in a 12 May executive order intended to kickstart restoration efforts for the Chesapeake.

    The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), an advocacy group based in Annapolis, Maryland, welcomed the reports, but called for tougher action.

    "It appears that Administrator Jackson's EPA is finally ready to take on an ambitious agenda to reduce water pollution in our region," CBF President William Baker said in a statement. "Its suggestions for accomplishing this are positive, but weak and need strengthening." Baker would like to see stricter standards for air pollution from coal-fired power plants and vehicles, for example.

    The research report, drafted by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other agencies, highlighted the need to focus on adaptive and ecosystem-based managment (EBM). "This will require significant revision of the existing Chesapeake Bay Program goals and structure," according toContinue Reading

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  • By: 
    Eli Kintisch
    Thursday, September 10, 2009 - 4:18pm
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    Today:

    A group of British and American attorneys and good-government types, drawing on conversations with scientists, say that new controls on nanotechnology are needed immediately. (Photo Credit: NIST)

    The California attorney general has charged a UCLA surgeon with using money from his charity to fund his research and business activities.

    Enviro group Union of Concerned Scientists says that the effects of climate change could cost hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses to various U.S. industries.

    New York City has scientists, planners, and officials thinking about adapting to rising seas.Continue Reading

  • By: 
    Eli Kintisch
    Thursday, September 10, 2009 - 1:16pm
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    Between Labor Day on Monday and a problem with our server yesterday, we missed a big British study on peer review released Tuesday. Nature took note, emphasizing in particular an interesting if not wholly surprising aspect of the report: the 4000 scientists who were surveyed like their peer review nice and secret:

    The surveyors were also asked to weigh in about what they thought could make peer review better. The idea of "open peer review," where reviewers names are made public, scored just 20% on the survey, while a whopping 76% of researchers thought that "double blind" peer review, where the names of authors and reviewers are hidden from each other, was a good idea. That contrasts with the last time the survey was done in 2007. Back then, 27% of survey participants supported open peer review, while just 71% wanted the reviews to be done double-blind. Incidentally, most Nature-brand journals don't use double-blind peer review.

    Neither does Science, for what it's worth--peer-reviewers are anonymous to a paper's authors, but the peer-reviewers know who the authors are. Theoretically, open peer review would add new accountability to the process, which can appear unfair or biased against unestablished authors. Nature actually tried a four-month experiment with open peer review in 2006. The result?

    A miserable failure. From an editorial that year on the subject:

    In the trial, the papers selected for traditional peer review were, in a parallel option offered to authors, hosted for public comment. In the event, 5% of authors took up this option. Although most authors found at least some value in the comments they received, they were small in number, and editors did not think they contributed significantly to their decisions.

    More here from Nature about the 2006 trial.Continue Reading

  • By: 
    Virginia Morell
    Thursday, September 10, 2009 - 10:52am
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    A U.S. federal judge denied a request yesterday by a coalition of environmental and animal welfare organizations to stop the hunts of the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf in Idaho and Montana. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled in Missoula, Montana, that the plans to kill more than 20% of the estimated 1350 wolves in the two states would not cause the species long-term harm.

    However, Molloy also found that the federal government appears to have violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in May when it lifted protections for the wolves in Idaho and Montana, but kept Wyoming’s wolves safe. The selective delisting of two of the three Northern Rocky Mountain wolf populations appeared to be “a practical determination that does not seem to be scientifically based,” Judge Molloy stated in his 14-page ruling.  He added that the consortium of conservation organizations was “likely to prevail” in its overall lawsuit, which the group filed in June. The suit challenges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to lift the ESA’s protective shield from the wolves. “The service has distinguished a natural population of wolves based on a political line, not the best available science,” Molloy wrote.  “That, by definition, seems arbitrary and capricious.”

    The conservation coalition is considering whether or not to appeal the judge’s decision to let the Idaho and Montana hunts proceed. Idaho, with a population of about 880 wolves, opened its first wolf-hunting season in decades on 1 September; it has set a quota of 220 wolves, or 25% of the estimated population. Montana, which has approximately 500 wolves, will begin its hunt on 15 September, and has authorized a quota of 75 wolves. Hunters in IdahoContinue Reading

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    John Travis
    Thursday, September 10, 2009 - 10:41am
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    Over the past several years, British scientists have grown increasingly nervous at the growing political cry for their scientific research to have an economic impact. They warn that it is next to impossible to predict which basic research avenues will sprout into new technologies or drive economic growth. A new policy report out yesterday gives voice to these concerns and calls for a new government science position to focus on boosting the country's fortunes with research. The report was sponsored by the Institute of Physics and produced by the U.K.'s Campaign for Science & Engineering (CaSE).

    In a statement, Hilary Leevers, CaSE Assistant Director and the report's author, said: "It is important that the U.K. gets the greatest possible impact from its investment in science and engineering research. However, initiatives to increase the impact of the research base have been poorly articulated and lacked the evidence necessary to gain the support and confidence of the research community. The Chancellor should appoint a Chief Scientific Adviser to develop the evidence-base and lead a debate about the future direction of the government's economic impact agenda prior to the next spending review."Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Eli Kintisch
    Wednesday, September 9, 2009 - 5:41pm
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    Today:

    Energy gurus claimed that the Waxman-Markey climate bill's efficiency sections, if bolstered, could create more than half a million new green jobs

    British scientists celebrated (silently) the quietest room in the world, which has opened for nanotechnology research in Bristol.

    Tomorrow:

    Top U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern will tell House of Representatives climate guru Ed Markey (D–MA) and his committee what Obama has in mind for climate policy with 100 days to go before the Copenhagen meeting.

    Economists will testify before the House science committee on economic modeling techniques, including Value-at-Risk, which is widely thought to have contributed to the financial meltdown.Continue Reading

  • By: 
    Yudhijit Bhattacharjee
    Wednesday, September 9, 2009 - 4:30pm
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    The United States currently has 82 viruses and bacteria on its list of select agents, pathogens whose handling requires compliance with a number of safety and security rules mandated by the federal government. A new bill introduced in the U.S. Senate yesterday proposes to overhaul the select agent program by creating a tiered system that would dial up the security requirements for the most dangerous pathogens on the list while relaxing them for others.

    The Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2009, introduced by Senator Joe Lieberman (I–CT), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, and the committee's ranking member, Senator Susan Collins (R–ME), is a response to increasing concerns about biosecurity in the United States. Public anxiety over the issue has risen since the implication of Army researcher Bruce Ivins in the 2001 anthrax attacks and a December 2008 report from the WMD Commission warning of the high likelihood of a bioterrorist attack on U.S. soil in the next 5 years. At the same time, scientists have expressed concerns that excessive regulatory controls may stifle biomedical research and hurt public health in the long run. For example, vaccine researchers who need some of the viruses on the list to test drug delivery systems already complain about the restrictions stemming from the current rules.

    We dare not bury our heads in the sand and ignore the very real risks we face from a terrorist WMD attack," Lieberman said at a news conference yesterday. "This legislation would help prevent such an attack and better prepare the nation to respond should one occur."

    The bill attempts to strike a balance between the need for greater security and research progress. Under it, theContinue Reading

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  • By: 
    Sam Kean
    Wednesday, September 9, 2009 - 11:23am
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    The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences will discontinue a submission option for members that, at its best, repeatedly put prestigious scientists in awkward situations and, at its worst, critics alleged, allowed scientists to ease their way through the peer-review process.

    The submission option, called Track One, allowed Academy members to “communicate” papers written by non-members and help usher their colleagues’ work through the editorial process. In contrast to traditional peer review, members had the autonomy to select the reviewing editors for the work, which increased the chance of a favorable reception. Some recent papers "communicated" to PNAS include work on the effect of testosterone on financial decisions by men and women; on the proper DNA "barcode" for identifying plants; and a cover story on the separation and divergence of different lineages of the coast horned lizard. Of the 3133 papers published by PNAS in 2009, around 390 came in via Track One submissions.

    But as of 1 July next year, PNAS  will force all non-members to submit to the journal directly for blind peer review.

    Non-members opted for this route before, but most scientists felt they had a better shot at publication with a member’s endorsement. This put many members in a tight spot, since they say they often were asked to push substandard work by friends. The changes will not affect the privilege of Academy members to submit their own work to PNAS via a different process.

    Randy Schekman, a biologist and editor-in-chief of PNAS, told ScienceInsider that most editorial board members strongly favored the change. So did Academy members, over 80% of whom voted to eliminate Track One this summer. Schekman adds that a “determined minority” opposed the move because they felt the option offered a publication route for innovative andContinue Reading

  • By: 
    Science News Staff
    Wednesday, September 9, 2009 - 11:09am
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  • By: 
    Jeffrey Mervis
    Wednesday, September 9, 2009 - 11:05am
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    Delivering its summary report yesterday to the White House and NASA, the Augustine commission surprised no one by declaring that the U.S. human spaceflight program is "on an unsustainable trajectory." But while its call for a bigger agency budget, its qualms about going to Mars, and its support for commercial involvement received most of the media attention, the report also flags an issue largely neglected during its 2 months of hearings.

    That issue is international collaboration, and it's an obvious way to tackle both the budget shortfall and the need to tap what is increasingly a multinational enterprise. "If the United States is willing to lead a global program of exploration, sharing both the burden and benefit of space exploration in a meaningful way, significant benefits could follow," declares the 12-page summary. Working with partners abroad is likely to get more attention when the commission's chairman, Norman Augustine, and the NASA administrator testify next Tuesday before the House of Representatives science committee.

    The report also urges NASA to broaden its horizons—and return to its roots—by developing new technologies that could seed decades of space exploration. "If appropriately funded, a technology development program would re-engage minds at American universities, in industry, and within NASA. … and reduce the costs of future exploration."

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  • By: 
    Jocelyn Kaiser
    Friday, September 4, 2009 - 3:11pm
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    A prominent prostate cancer researcher has been sued by a biotech company for allegedly making false claims about a biomarker for detecting prostate cancer, according to a startling story in yesterday's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

    The article says that in 2001, Robert Getzenberg, then of the University of Pittsburgh claimed to find a prostate cancer biomarker called EPCA-2 that his university patented. This lead to the formation of a company, Onconome Inc., to develop and market it. Getzberg became a consultant to the company. But now Onconome, based in Redmond, Washington, is suing Getzenberg in federal court for presenting scientific results over 6 years that "were and are imaginary," the lawsuit reportedly states. Getzenberg is now at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Andrew Lawler
    Friday, September 4, 2009 - 10:52am
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    The blue-ribbon panel reviewing NASA's human space flight program says it will give the White House a written summary of its findings on Tuesday, 8 September.

    The panel, chaired by Norman Augustine, a retired aerospace executive, began meeting in June and held several public sessions. Last month, it briefed Obama Administration officials on various alternative directions for NASA's human efforts in a post-space shuttle world. Its final report was expected to be completed by the end of August, but the group is still writing up its detailed results.Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Erik Stokstad
    Thursday, September 3, 2009 - 7:09pm
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    To the consternation of U.S. environmental groups, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today allowed a plan for offshore aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico to go into effect. The agency also announced that it would create a national policy for offshore aquaculture within the next few months. Environmentalists are urging Congress to give the agency the ability to enforce that policy, a power it does not possess.

    Concern about the environmental damage from large, offshore aquaculture operations include pollution.

    In January, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council proposed issuing 10-year permits for up to 20 large aquaculture operations in the gulf. NOAA did not take any action within 30 days, so by default the plan went into effect today. According to a letter (pdf) from James Balsiger, NOAA's acting assistant administrator for fisheries, to the gulf council, NOAA didn't want to officially approve the plan before a national policy was in place, but it also didn't want to reject it.

    In any case, NOAA says that no permits can be issued until it creates a national policy that would provide "regulatory certainty for potential investors" and clarify "the scientific information needed for permitting decisions."  

    A national policy is a good step, says Tim McHugh, a spokesperson for the Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. But he is worried that the de facto approval of the gulf plan will encourage other regional councils to draw up their own approaches. "You don't want [the regulation of offshore aquaculture] to be piecemeal," McHugh says. He is also concerned that NOAA doesn't have the legal authority to require regional fishery councils to follow the agency's guidelines.

    On 9 September, a subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee will conduct anContinue Reading

  • By: 
    Jeffrey Mervis
    Thursday, September 3, 2009 - 5:17pm
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    The Obama Administration announced today that it will retain Thomas D'Agostino as head of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. The decision was met with dismay by many in the arms control and non-proliferation community, who fear that it will be harder to implement the soaring vision for a nuclear-free future that President Obama has articulated while retaining key figures from a Bush Administration that supported expansion of the country's nuclear arsenal.

    As administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration and undersecretary for nuclear security at the Department of Energy, D'Agostino oversees the nation's three weapons labs—Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia. The former Navy submarine officer and weapons manager assumed the job in August 2007, and many observers thought that the Obama Administration would bring in a fresh face once a mandated review of the country's nuclear policies was completed in December. However, sources tell ScienceInsider that several prominent scientists and nuclear policy heavyweights rejected the Administration's overtures, and that other candidates were thought to carry too much political baggage to be confirmed by the Senate. 

    That left D'Agostino. "He's part of a triumvirate of Bush appointees who are committed to making further modifications in the U.S. nuclear weapons program," says Marylia Kelley of Tri Valley CAREs, an anti-nuclear group based in Livermore, California, noting that Obama also has retained Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the head of the U.S. Strategic Command, General Kevin Chilton. "While I applaud the president's April 5th speech in Prague, my concern is with how we take the first steps toward that goal. And I don't think this decision bodes well for moving in the right direction."

    Although D'Agostino doesn't need toContinue Reading

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  • By: 
    Jeffrey Mervis
    Thursday, September 3, 2009 - 10:55am
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    The words "bantering" and "climate change" rarely go together. But last night, presidential science adviser John Holdren and late night talk show host David Letterman pulled it off. Making his second appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, Holdren deftly handled all manner of questions, both serious and silly, on the topic while simultaneously plugging the Obama Administration's policies.

    After Letterman asked whether global warming means his son may never see snow, Holdren shot back, "It depends on his latitude." But when Letterman called coal the "culprit" and said he doubted there was such a thing as "clean coal," Holdren chose his words carefully. "There is no such thing as clean coal," he began, "but there is cleaner coal." Asked whether he could leaven the continuing stream of bad news about the worsening impact of global warming on the planet, Holdren mentioned the U.S. economy's increasingly efficient use of energy and talked about opportunities for people "to make a lot of money" on new energy technologies.

    But just as Holdren was beginning to tick off how the stimulus money is helping move the country to a low-carbon economy, Letterman interrupted with a non sequitur. "So does the president like your beard?" Amid laughter from the CBS studio audience in New York City, Holdren was rendered speechless. And the show went to commercial before he could reply.

    Even though Letterman gave top billing to actor Jason Bateman—bantering about his new movie, snakes, and slippers—Letterman seemed genuinely interested not just in climate change but also in the job of the science adviser. Asked how often he talked with the president, Holdren answered candidly, "sometimes a couple of times a week, sometimes not for a few weeks," adding that "it's catch as catch can."

    It was an impressiveContinue Reading

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  • By: 
    Jeffrey Mervis
    Wednesday, September 2, 2009 - 5:59pm
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    A spokesperson for the Office of Science and Technology Policy said today that the White House has not received a report from the panel reviewing NASA's plans for human space flight (the so-called Augustine commission). The panel has until mid-October, according to its instructions from the NASA Administrator, but members had talked about submitting their report earlier.Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Jon Cohen
    Wednesday, September 2, 2009 - 1:55pm
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    An Egyptian news story that is starting to receive worldwide attention about a nightmare swine flu/bird flu coinfection is inaccurate, according to officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    On 30 August, the well regarded Egyptian newspaper Almasry reported that an Egyptian man who returned from a religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia had tested positive for both the highly lethal bird flu virus, H5N1, and the novel H1N1 strain that’s behind the swine flu pandemic. This is the first such report of a coinfection with the two viruses, which many researchers fear because the mix could create a new virus that has the virulence of bird flu, which does not move easily between humans, and the highly transmissible swine flu.

    The Egyptian report was picked up yesterday by the widely read electronic surveillance system ProMED. Although the ProMED moderators raised many questions about the story, it remained unclear whether it was accurate. According to Nancy Cox, head of the CDC’s influenza division, there’s no evidence that this man is infected with both viruses. “Our reliable sources indicate that this report is incorrect,” Cox told ScienceInsider in an e-mail. Apparently, tests have shown that the man is coinfected with the pandemic H1N1 and the seasonal H3N2 virus. “There will be follow-up testing to confirm,” according to Cox. As many as 5% of people who develop flu symptoms are infected with two different influenza viruses.Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Pallava Bagla
    Wednesday, September 2, 2009 - 9:44am
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    The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced this week that it has the technical capability to undertake a crewless mission to Mars and has begun asking scientists to suggest experiments. Speaking on Monday at the inauguration of the International Conference on Low Cost Planetary Missions being held in Goa, India, G. Madhavan Nair, chair of ISRO, said, "we have thrown our call for proposals to different scientific communities; depending on the type of experiments they propose, we will be able to plan the Mars mission." In a draft planning document, Vision 2025, ISRO describes big dreams that include a crewless mission to Mars before 2015. The government has not yet endorsed the proposal.

    Continue Reading

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    Jeffrey Mervis
    Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - 2:07pm
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    See an update to this item here.

    The much-ballyhooed report on the future of the U.S. human space program was submitted today to the White House. Or so rumor has it. The so-called Augustine report is the latest in a series of analyses of pressing issues affecting the research community—scientific integrity and biosecurity being the others—that the Obama Administration has chosen to keep under wraps. The pattern of asking experts to study an issue and then not disclosing their recommendations seems at odds with the repeated promises of President Barack Obama to maintain a culture of openness in government.

    To be sure, the White House hasn't broken any rules. The NASA panel, chaired by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine, was told to report to the space agency and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). But after it held several public meetings this summer and its members spoke openly about their concerns that NASA's budget is too small to accomplish its goals, observers expected the panel's recommendations to be released simultaneously with their submission. Not so. A congressional hearing is in the offing, but there's no word from the White House on when it will discuss the findings.

    That's also the situation for a review of scientific integrity across the federal government that Obama ordered on 9 March. OSTP solicited comments on the web, and OSTP Director John Holdren met the 9 July deadline in the presidential memorandum for suggesting how executive agencies should improve their conduct on everything from vetting job applicants to protecting whistleblowers. But the details remain under seal until all relevant agencies have signed off on them.

    The third review was actually set in motion by President George W. Bush less than 2 weeks before leaving office.Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Richard A. Kerr
    Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - 8:00am
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    Today, Britain’s Royal Society released a report (pdf), “Geoengineering the Climate,” which urges the increased study of technologies that could counter global warming while cautioning that the side effects could be substantial and possibly prohibitive. Geoengineering “is no magic bullet,” says John Shepherd of the University of Southampton, who chaired the working group, so “we have to keep the focus on [greenhouse gas] emission reductions.”

    The new report is probably the most substantial and authoritative since Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen made at least the discussion of climate geoengineering respectable again (Science, 20 October 2006, p. 401). A 12-member working group of scientists, engineers, an economist, a social scientist, and a lawyer spent nearly a year examining technologies, such as fertilizing the oceans to suck down atmospheric carbon dioxide or orbiting giant mirrors to deflect sunlight.

    Responding to many scientists’ concerns, the report stresses that the many impacts of global warming won't be solved by any single technology. Some approaches that would cool the atmosphere, for example, would still allow the continued acidification of the oceans. Right now, pumping up the haze in the stratosphere to block some sunlight looks the most feasible, the working group concluded, but this approach still has serious and inevitable drawbacks such as worsening drought. In addition, none of the proposed technologies yet comes close to measuring up in terms of effectiveness, affordability, and readiness.

    Geoengineering may still not look that attractive, but “we should be undertaking research on these technologies so they could be available if and when we need them,” says Shepherd, an Earth systems scientist. That could be late in this century if efforts to rein in emissions falter, he says, or climate proves far more sensitive to greenhouse gases than expected. “We need to initiate serious researchContinue Reading

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  • By: 
    Pallava Bagla
    Monday, August 31, 2009 - 1:20pm
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    NEW DELHI—India’s maiden moon mission, Chandrayaan-1, has come to a shuddering and unexpected halt. On 29 August, the Indian Space Research Organization lost all contact with the spacecraft after a catastrophic failure of its electronics, said ISRO Chair G. Madhavan Nair.

    In announcing the mission’s “termination” at a press conference yesterday, Nair declared Chandrayaan-1 “a complete success” on the grounds that the spacecraft had gathered some 70,000 images and met “more than 95%” of its scientific objectives.

    The loss of the $100 million spacecraft is not the first glitch ISRO encountered. Early in the mission, according to the space agency, the spacecraft’s power system failed; engineers quickly overcame the problem. In January, the probe started overheating, then in May, the spacecraft lost its fine guidance system when its star sensor failed.

    While Nair was eulogizing a successful mission, some scientists were still in mourning. “The anguish I feel as a scientist over remaining unfulfilled science goals I'm sure pales to the pain felt by the team of engineers who gave birth to this remarkable spacecraft,” says Carle Pieters, a lunar scientist at Brown University and principle investigator of NASA's and Chandrayaan 1’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper.Continue Reading

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  • By: 
    Yudhijit Bhattacharjee
    Monday, August 31, 2009 - 11:05am
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    The wildfire raging in Angeles National Forrest outside of Los Angeles, California, is inching close to Mount Wilson, home to the 105-year-old Mount Wilson Observatory. The facility was evacuated on Saturday. The fire has already destroyed more than 42,000 acres of forest and claimed the lives of two firefighters. Now it threatens to destroy telescopes and other scientific equipment worth millions of dollars. Firefighters say they are bracing for a tough battle today.Continue Reading

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