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6 March 2014 1:04 pm ,
Vol. 343 ,
Antiretroviral drugs can protect people from becoming infected by HIV. But so-called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP...
Two studies show that eating a diet low in protein and high in carbohydrates is linked to a longer, healthier life, and...
Considered an icon of conservation science, researchers at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) headquarters in Washington, D.C.,...
The new atlas, which shows the distribution of important trace metals and other substances, is the first product of...
Early in April, the first of a fleet of environmental monitoring satellites will lift off from Europe's spaceport in...
Since 2000, U.S. government health research agencies have spent almost $1 billion on an effort to churn out thousands...
Magdalena Koziol, a former postdoc at Yale University, was the victim of scientific sabotage. Now, she is suing the...
- 6 March 2014 1:04 pm , Vol. 343 , #6175
- About Us
- Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - 11:21am
A paper that made international headlines earlier this month is causing headaches for its authors. Late last week several German media outlets reported that the paper, which claimed to demonstrate how sperm could be made from human embryonic stem cells, had been retracted following charges of plagiarism. But the journal that published the paper hadn’t made any formal announcement until last night.
The paper, published online by Stem Cells and Development on 8 July with Karim Nayernia of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom as the corresponding author, had already received some criticism from other experts; Dr Allan Pacey of the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, for example, was quoted by The Independent as saying: "As a sperm biologist of 20 years' experience, I am unconvinced from the data presented in this paper that the cells produced ... can be accurately called 'Spermatozoa.' "
The paper’s problems soon got much worse. Graham Parker, editor-in-chief of Stem Cells and Development, told ScienceInsider that he received an email on 10 July from the editors of another journal, Biology of Reproduction, claiming that two paragraphs from Nayernia paper’s introduction were copied without attribution from a 2007 review article by Makoto Nagano of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, that was published in their journal. Surprisingly, Parker says, those introductory paragraphs describe previous work done by the authors of the new paper, raising questions about why such a passage would be plagiarized. Parker emailed Nayernia and the other paper’s authors asking for an explanation. “My hope was that a genuine mistake had occurred,” Parker said in an email to ScienceInsider.
Parker says Nayernia told him the offending text was inserted by a postdoctoral fellow. But Parker says the explanation he received was not consistent with an innocent mistake.Continue Reading
- Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - 11:12am
A baby from San Luis Potosí in north-central Mexico was likely infected with the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus on 24 February, making this the earliest case of swine flu yet detected.
In an e-mail with ScienceInsider, Celia Alpuche, head of the Instituto de Diagnóstico y Referencia Epidemiologicos (InDRE) in Mexico City, said that her lab had confirmed that the virus had infected a 6-month-old girl who had symptoms of the disease on 24 February, as news outlets had reported . Previously, the earliest case InDRE dated had been to 11 March.
Alpuche said InDRE has confirmed three other cases that had symptoms prior to 11 March: One from Tlaxcala (3 March) and two from Mexico City (8 and 10 March). None of the cases were near Perote, which received a flurry of media attention shortly after the outbreak surfaced because it had what then looked like the earliest cases and the large hog farms in the area.
“We are absolutely done with retesting of all the valid samples we received at InDRE 1 January until now,” Alpuche noted.Continue Reading
- Monday, July 27, 2009 - 5:40pm
Proponents of the idea that an impact wiped out the mammoths and roiled early North American human culture have struck out, at least by baseball’s rules. Their third paper in a leading journal offering evidence of a devastating impact 12,900 years ago is, like its predecessors, failing to convince experts. The six experts who read the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) paper for Science either could find no convincing evidence for nano-scale diamond crystals of the sort an impact might produce, or if impact nanodiamonds are there, the researchers don’t see how they prove an impact. “I’m still not convinced diamonds have been found,” says research physicist Tyrone Daulton of Washington University in St. Louis in Missouri. “It could be [impact diamond], it could be something else.”
This PNAS paper, published 20 July online before print, is the third from the same group claiming evidence of impact nanodiamonds. The first claim, in an earlier PNAS paper and using carbon-13 nuclear magnetic resonance, proved to be baseless (Science, 7 March 2008, p. 1331). The second, in a Science paper using transmission electron microscopy (TEM), fared better, but most outside experts remained unconvinced that nanodiamonds had been found (Science, 2 January, p. 26).
In the latest PNAS paper, archeologist Douglas Kennett of the University of Oregon, Eugene, and 16 colleagues from 14 institutions report their discovery of nanodiamonds at a site on one of the Channel Islands off southern California from a stratum that recorded the demise of the pygmy mammoth 12,900 years ago. And not just conventional cubic nanodiamonds but also so-called lonsdaleite, an odd intermediate form made in the laboratory by shocking graphite into “hexagonal diamond.” A TEM analysis of the crystal structure certifies that lonsdaleite is there, the group writes, and lonsdaleiteContinue Reading
- Monday, July 27, 2009 - 1:50pm
The Department of Homeland Security used a scientifically flawed study to justify its selection of Manhattan, Kansas, as the site for the proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, according to an as-yet-unpublished Government Accountability Office (GAO) report obtained by The Washington Post. The report says DHS underestimated the risks of situating the facility—for research on foot and mouth disease and other dreaded illnesses—anywhere on the mainland United States. An earlier report issued by the GAO in May raised similar issues.
The site selection has also been challenged in court by a Texas consortium that accuses DHS of ignoring the hazard posed by tornadoes that sweep through Kansas. The Post says the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight and investigations subcommittee, chaired by Representative Bart Stupak (D–MI), plans to hold a hearing on Thursday to discuss the risk analysis behind DHS's decision. DHS is hoping to get an appropriation this year to prepare the site for construction.Continue Reading
- Friday, July 24, 2009 - 4:44pm
Studies of sex workers and drug abusers are an easy target, and today a conservative member of Congress took pot shots at three such overseas projects—all part of the U.S.-funded effort to understand and halt the spread of HIV/AIDS. Representative Darrell Issa (R–CA) was successful in stripping the relevant grant money from the House of Representatives bill that funds the National Institutes of Health.
Issa, who sponsored an amendment to kill the grants, criticized them as repetitive and wasteful—saying it isn’t necessary to buy a $9000 plane ride to Thailand to observe prostitutes’ behavior. (One of his targets was an NIH-funded collaboration to examine HIV-risky behaviors among Thai transgender prostitutes and others, run by the Public Health Institute of Oakland, California, and Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.) All you need, Issa said, is a $3.10 transit ticket to go across town. Rather than debate this gibe, the bill’s manager, Representative David Obey (D–WI), abruptly accepted Issa’s amendment to the legislation—which provides $31 billion for NIH in 2009—and changed the subject.
The targeted three grants, estimated to total about $5 million, had cleared NIH peer review and are underway; one is approved to run through 2012. In addition to the Thai study, they include research on the HIV risks of Chinese sex workers and hospitalized Russian alcoholics.
Even though they’ve seen tub thumping before about specific grants, academic and biomedical groups were taken aback, It’s “a terrible precedent” that politicians would try to “second-guess the scientific peer review process on the floor of the House,” said Patrick White of the Association of American Universities in Washington, D.C.
“This is not the first time we’ve seen attempts to micromanage” NIH, says Carrie Wolinetz, spokesperson for the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology in Bethesda, Maryland—but “we’ve opposed it quiteContinue Reading
- Friday, July 24, 2009 - 3:33pm
The 2009 H1N1 influenza virus continues to spread in the United States, hitting particularly hard at summer camps, military academies, and other places where people from different locales gather. “It’s very unusual to have this much transmission of influenza during the [summer] season and I think it’s a testament to how susceptible people are to this virus,” said Anne Schuchat, head of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Schuchat, who spoke at a CDC press conference, said the country now has 43,771 laboratory confirmed cases and 302 deaths. This is the last time CDC will report a specific number of cases, Schuchat said, noting that there likely have been “well over a million cases” in the country. For weekly updated information about the spread of the virus, she referred people to CDC’s FluView.
Some camps have given out the antiviral drug oseltamivir to healthy campers to prevent the spread of the virus, which violates CDC guidelines. “We’re really strongly recommending them for treatment rather than prevention,” said Schuchat, stressing that prophylaxis should be reserved for people who are at high risk for severe disease. Prophylactic use of the drug can increase chances of resistance developing, and supplies of flu antivirals are also limited.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) will meet on 29 July to discuss the main biomedical prevention against the virus, a vaccine. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has yet to decide whether the government will recommend the use of a vaccine, but ACIP will help CDC plan how to distribute it, in case it is needed. In particular, ACIP will advise which populations should be first in line to receive a vaccine and which may requireContinue Reading
- Thursday, July 23, 2009 - 4:19pm
"An obsolete model of management." "Completely abusive" demands on reviewers. A governance system that is "a source of great frustration and ongoing low level conflict." Who said E.U. science policy needs to be dull?
An independent review presented today doesn't pull punches when it describes the structures and management procedures of the European Research Council (ERC), Europe's new basic research funding agency. The review flags a number of problems in the funding agency's management, but stops short of endorsing a new legal status that would make ERC fully independent from the European Commission and its often complex regulations, as some scientists at the ERC had hoped. Instead the panel, which included former National Institutes of Health head Elias Zerhouni, urges a series of "immediate" reforms and another independent review in two years time.
Overall, ERC, which has more then €7 billion to spend on investigator-driven research between 2007 and 2013, has done a good job, says the panel, chaired by former Latvian President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga. It has even "succeeded beyond expectations" in attracting scientific talent. But the group comes down hard on what it calls the ERC's "original sin": the separation between science and management.
Who controls ERC, founded in early 2007 to fund research based solely on excellence, has been under dispute from the very beginning. The agency’s very existence was a radical concept for the European Union, where political negotiations typically determine how money is allocated. That’s why scientists have strived to make the agency as independent as possible from the European Commission. Currently, an independent Scientific Council chaired by Imperial College London molecular biologist Fotis Kafatos charts the ERC's scientific course, but day-to-day management rests with a so-called Executive Agency in Brussels that is formally autonomous. But that word is "quite misleading," the panel concludes, since theContinue Reading
- Thursday, July 23, 2009 - 11:45am
Three hundred and fifty postdocs at Rutgers University in New Jersey have voted to form a union, becoming the third group of postdocs in the United States to unionize. They will join the Rutgers Council of American Association of University Professors (AAUP)-American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which represents more than 5,000 faculty and graduate employees at Rutgers University.
“Especially in a rough economy, we had to protect our salaries and job security,” says Alan Wan, a postdoc and lead organizer.
Postdocs have traditionally shied away from unionizing out of concern that it could spoil their relationships with their mentors. At Rutgers, the faculty is also represented by AAUP-AFT. “Many of our principal investigators were very supportive of our efforts. By unionizing, we joined the rest of the university community,” says Wan. The next step for the new union is to negotiate a contract with Rutgers University, which will not happen until this fall.
The only other groups of unionized postdoctoral associates and fellows are at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington and the University of California.Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Thursday, July 23, 2009 - 9:24am
Science should have more of a say in the United Kingdom’s government policies, according to a report out today by the country’s Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills (IUSS) Select Committee. The report, entitled Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy, called for more evidence-based science to support government policies and more transparency over political decisions.
In one of its final reports,* the committee noted that steps have already been taken toward a more science-friendly government. Following recent changes, every U.K. government department, except for the treasury, has a departmental chief scientific adviser (DCSA). Now, however, the committee recommends getting more engineering advisers into the system and a scientist in the treasury.
The hope is that such advisers will help keep the government “more honest” by pushing politicians to consider hard scientific evidence before passing new policies, says committee chair Phil Willis.
The report highlighted one case in point in which scientific evidence was overlooked: a decision by the U.K. government’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in May of this year to grant its first license for a homeopathic medicine called arnica. This product did not show a significant effect beyond placebo, according to medical research, says the committee.
The report concedes that politicians may in the end reject the opinions of scientific advisers and long-established scientific advisory councils (SACs): “Scientific evidence is only one factor—albeit a very important one—in policy decisions.” Sometimes a government has to make policies based on, for example, societal reasons, says the committee, but it must clearly state the reasons if it rejects scientific advice. As part of its call for greater transparency, the committee said that departmental SACs must also “aim to hold the majority of their meetings in public.”
The report also voiced worries over theContinue Reading
- Thursday, July 23, 2009 - 8:41am
The National Science Foundation this week inched closer to approving what may be the world's largest environmental monitoring facility. The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) also has a new, tentative price tag: $384 million. That's nearly four times what NSF officials estimated it would cost when they conceived of the network 10 years ago.
NEON bills itself as "a continental-scale ecological observation platform for understanding and forecasting the impacts of climate change, land use change, and invasive species on ecology." It will be used to monitor 20 ecologically different regions of the country with stationary, mobile, and relocatible sensors, supplemented by data from planes and computer networks. "The idea is to be able to track events that we expect will be happening continually, like smoke from wildfires or the progress of an invasive species," explains Alan Covich, an ecologist at the University of Georgia, Athens. Covich headed the external NSF panel that endorsed the project this week after visiting NEON's prototype site outside Boulder, Colorado, and reviewing more than 3000 pages of documents. "What they've done already is pretty impressive."
NSF has spent $45 million on the project since former NSF director Rita Colwell hatched the idea in 1999 as a $100 million initiative, but numerous redesigns have slowed its progress. This week's nod takes it one step closer to being a line item in NSF's construction budget. NSF's oversight body, the National Science Board, has already given its preliminary approval, but NSF Director Arden Bement pulled it from his lineup last year after deciding that project officials needed to come up with firmer cost numbers and a more solid long-range management plan.
Elizabeth Blood, the NSF program director who oversees the project, says the new price tag is not necessarily final but that it reflects "theContinue ReadingPosted In:
- Thursday, July 23, 2009 - 8:25am
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—The Australian Stem Cell Centre (ASCC) hopes that a new business plan will help it regain momentum in the last 2 years of its term. The plan, announced today, would shift ASCC’s emphasis from commercialization to research. “I’m extremely pleased,” says Ernst Wolvetang, who directs ASCC’s program on induced pluripotent stem cells. “It’s a testament to the revamped ASCC that it’s truly inclusive of a wide range of new initiatives.”
ASCC, a $90 million government-funded center of excellence, was created in 2002 to get Australian stem cell researchers working together and to commercialize their findings. Differences of opinion on how to achieve those dual goals have roiled the center since its inception. With 2 years and $25 million of funding left, the stakeholders—nine universities and institutes—earlier this year drafted a plan that called for forging large-scale collaborations.
With the government’s stamp of approval, ASCC this week unveiled a revised plan with collaborations in four broad research streams as its centerpiece:“Bioreactors and Smart Surfaces,” led by Peter Gray of the University of Queensland in Brisbane “Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells,” led by Wolvetang “Stem Cell Differentiation,” led by Andrew Elefanty of Monash University in Melbourne “Adult Stem Cells,” led by Richard Harvey of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Sydney
Researchers applaud the new atmosphere for cooperation. “ ‘Speed dating’ at the ASCC has been great” for arranging collaborations, says Douglas Hilton, director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, who is now working with Christine Wells of Griffith University in Brisbane and Sean Grimmond of the University of Queensland to develop a gene-expression database of 40 types of blood cells and stem cells.
Many researchers hope a revitalized ASCC will be in business beyond 2011, when its 9-year start-up grant from the governmentContinue Reading
- Wednesday, July 22, 2009 - 5:47pm
Five clinical trials of different vaccines that aim to protect against the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus will soon begin in the United States, the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) announced today. The tests, held at eight academic and nonprofit clinics across the country, will recruit up to 3150 participants of different ages and test the new vaccines made by Sanofi-Pasteur and CSL Biotherapies.
The trials will evaluate the vaccines at two doses and also whether adding a second shot is needed to induce a strong enough immune response. They also will address whether the novel vaccine and the one that protects against seasonal flu interact with each other, assessing whether immune responses change if the products are given together or if they are given a few weeks apart. None of the vaccines in these studies will contain adjuvants, immune system boosters that are not included in any influenza vaccines licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but are approved for use in many other countries.
The U.S. government has purchased nearly $3 billion worth of vaccine ingredients, including adjuvants, and hopes to have products ready in the fall. NIAID says data from these clinical trials will provide crucial information about safety and efficacy. "These data will be factored into the decision about how and if to implement a 2009 H1N1 flu immunization program this fall,” said NIAID Director Anthony Fauci in a prepared statement.
Meanwhile, Australia began the first clinical trials of a novel H1N1 vaccine yesterday, made by Melbourne-based CSL Limited (the parent of CSL Biotherapies). It will reportedly involve 240 people.Continue Reading
- Wednesday, July 22, 2009 - 11:23am
A National Academies panel that was asked to come up with data handling guidelines to deal with concerns about doctored images and demands to share data has come out with a report that only offers obvious and general principles. The report, released this morning, calls on disciplines to work out the details themselves.
One trigger for the study was the faking of stem cell data by South Korean researcher Woo Suk Hwang, which included cut-and-pasted cell images in a 2005 paper in Science. Faced with other examples of data manipulation, a group of journal editors asked the Academies for advice in 2006. The Academies convened 17 experts from a variety of fields to look at issues of treating, sharing, and archiving research data.
Their conclusions boil down to three "principles" that are as insightful as calling Monday the first work day of the week: Researchers are responsible for ensuring the integrity of their data; data from published papers should be publicly accessible; and data should be properly archived. The report also offers 11 recommendations urging scientists, institutions, journals, and other players to develop standards and provide proper training. The suggestions include a few new points—for example, data-sharing should include not just the raw data but the computer programs used to analyze it.
The problem was that every time a panelist made a detailed proposal, another member would say it would not work in their field, says co-chair Phillip Sharp, a molecular biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. So the committee couldn't be too specific, Sharp says.
Journal editors seem a bit disappointed. The National Institutes of Health Kenneth Yamada, an editor of The Journal of Cell Biology, which has worked out ways to screen for manipulated images that other journals have followed, callsContinue Reading
- Tuesday, July 21, 2009 - 5:20pm
The summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, home to many telescopes big and small, will be the site for what would be the biggest of them all: the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), astronomers announced this afternoon. The instrument, to be built by a consortium led by the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy, will cost upward of $1 billion. The consortium plans to start on-site construction in 2011.
The building of the telescope is not a done deal. So far, the consortium has received funding and pledges of funding totaling $300 million—less than a third of the money required. The consortium is hoping that the U.S. government, private foundations, and new foreign partners will come up with the remaining funds.
TMT is not the only large telescope that astronomers are hoping to build in the next decade. Another U.S. consortium, led by the Carnegie Observatories and the University of Arizona, plans to build the $700 million, 25-meter Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) at Las Campanas in Chile.
TMT's architects spent the last year studying two candidate sites: Mauna Kea and Cerro Armazones in Chile's Atacama desert. "They were both excellent sites, but we had to make a decision," Henry Yang, TMT board chair and chancellor of the University of California, Santa Barbara, said today. He refused to spell out the specific reasons why Mauna Kea won out.
By most accounts, the Chilean site had started out as the favorite, partly because of growing environmental and cultural opposition from Hawaii residents, who in recent years have grown increasingly weary of new telescopes being added to Mauna Kea. At the conference today, Yang said that the consortium plans to invest in education and other efforts to benefitContinue Reading
- Tuesday, July 21, 2009 - 8:37am
Wired.com looks to have been first among the mainstream media to report that the planned restart of the Large Hadron Collider will be pushed back from September to at least November because of two newfound "vacuum leaks." CERN disclosed the bad news quietly in an online newsletter article. Stay tuned for more details.Continue Reading
- Tuesday, July 21, 2009 - 8:24am
Three Italian scientists have lost the first round of what may be a lengthy legal challenge to their government’s decision to exclude human embryonic stem cell work from a call for stem cell proposals, even though such research is legal in Italy. On Friday, 19 July, just 3 days before the deadline for submitting grant proposals, an administrative court in Rome backed up the government’s position and rejected the scientists' appeal.
In Italy, where the Catholic Church has a great deal of influence on public policy, researchers wanting to work on human embryonic stem cells have struggled. So stem cell scientists were waiting eagerly, and anxiously, for a planned call for proposals by Health and Welfare, which had recently allocated 8 million euros to stem cell research. But when that call came out in February, it included a statement that “projects on embryonic stem cells of human origin will be excluded.” On 24 June, three researchers challenged that exclusion by filing a lawsuit in Rome with the Regional Administrative Court of Lazio (TAR). They argued that although Italian law doesn’t permit embryos to be destroyed to create human ES cells, it does allow research with already created lines. To exclude such work from the funding call was an unconstitutional violation of academic freedom, the scientists claimed.
But the court in Rome rejected the scientists' request to cancel the public call, noting that only the institutional recipients of the funding, such as regional councils and universities, are allowed to appeal against the government; individual researchers don’t have that option.
Although it didn't express any judgment on the legitimacy of the government's policy, the TAR did in the preamble to its decision (ordinanza staminali.doc) include a sentence stating that Italian “law poses specificContinue Reading
- Monday, July 20, 2009 - 4:30pm
India's new environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, says India cannot agree to mandatory reductions in carbon emissions. Ramesh made the remark in the presence of visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a news conference on the outskirts of New Delhi on Sunday.“ No one wants to, in any way, stall or undermine economic growth that is necessary to lift millions more people out of poverty,” Clinton said, according to The New York Times. “The United States does not, and will not, do anything that would limit India’s economic progress.”Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Friday, July 17, 2009 - 5:24pm
U.S. health officials tried to play down worries today that the country might be unprepared for pandemic swine flu come this fall. Vaccine producers are having trouble producing large amounts of the vaccine, and some experts predict other countries where vaccine is being produced may hoard it. But in a teleconference today, flu specialist Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said she wasn't concerned.
Last week, the World Health organization reported that vaccine companies have obtained yields of the pandemic vaccine that are 50% to 75% lower than those for seasonal flu vaccine. They will try to improve on that with new vaccine strains, but even if they fail, U.S. pandemic planning has incorporated such setbacks, Schuchat told reporters. "For our planning assumptions, we're really on track and not concerned about meeting expectations," she said.
Today, an Associated Press story also suggested—as others have before it—that vaccine contracts might prove worthless if the countries where the vaccine is produced put their own population first and stop the product from being exported. (Most of the vaccine under contract by the United States is produced in Europe.) But Schuchat said that "the concerns that have been raised in the media have not been part of the dialogue" with manufacturers. "We haven't gotten information that makes us question the supply that we've been promised."
Plans are now taking shape for an elaborate testing program of the new H1N1 vaccines in the United States, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health and carried out at the Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units, a network of clinical centers around the country. "Manufacturers and NIH have been working together to plan these studies," chief scientist Jesse Goodman of the Food and Drug Administration saidContinue Reading
- Friday, July 17, 2009 - 2:03pm
Times have changed, says Norman Augustine, the retired aerospace executive who is chairing a blue-ribbon panel examining alternative futures for the U.S. human space flight effort. At a press conference today, he reminded reporters that President John F. Kennedy’s call to land humans on the moon was met with a groundswell of support from the public and Congress. But that is an experience, he noted, that has not been repeated since.
Augustine’s reflections may be a sign that the 10-person committee won’t push a bold commitment to an expensive human mission to the Moon, Mars, or an asteroid, when it submits its recommendations to the White House at the end of next month. He stopped well short of outlining what objectives and goals the panel might suggest, but added that “there is a strong sentiment that whatever we do, we have to have a budget that underpins what we do.” Augustine added that “anything else is a disservice.” He did say that the panel is mulling over what role commercial launchers and potential foreign partners might play in a future human space flight effort. The panel will hold several public meetings across the United States through mid-August.Continue Reading
- Friday, July 17, 2009 - 11:21am
Spanish economist Andreu Mas-Colell, 65, took over on 1 July as secretary-general of the European Research Council (ERC), a relatively new science funding agency. In that position, he's the representative of ERC's Scientific Council, which sets scientific policy at the Executive Agency, the Brussels office that runs the funding body. Mas-Colell, who worked at the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard University for 23 years, has been a professor at Barcelona's Universitat Pompeu Fabra since 1995, and was science minister for the region of Catalonia from 2000 until 2003.
Mas-Colell arrives at a hectic time for the 3-year-old granting agency. On Wednesday, the Executive Agency reached "administrative autonomy," a position that puts it at a greater distance from the European Commission. Next week, a blue-ribbon panel will unveil a crucial review of ERC's structure and procedures. At the end of the month, ERC will issue the third call for its popular Starting Grants. In an interview this week, Mas-Colell stressed that ERC wants to do more help young researchers, especially women. The following questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: You had a long academic career in economics. Why the switch to science administration?
A.M.-C.: I worked in the United States until I was about 50 years old. You arrive at a point where it makes sense to devote time to the management of science, to try to facilitate the life of younger scientists. For me it was most attractive to do that in Europe. I feel very European, which is why I moved back to Spain. I have been very active in promoting science in Catalonia; the opportunity to do this at the European level is simply irresistible.
Q: Any new organization has growing pains. What have been the problems with ERC so far?
A.M.-C.: TheContinue Reading
- Thursday, July 16, 2009 - 5:44pm
Thirty-four U.S. Nobel Laureates today called on President Barack Obama to push for a steady funding mechanism in upcoming climate legislation to support clean energy research. Many billions of dollars are already flowing from stimulus funding, they note in a letter to Obama, but in 1.5 years that will all be spent. Billions more would flow from the Waxman-Markey bill passed recently by the House of Representatives, they concede, but most of that would go toward deploying technologies already in hand.
All that funding “is not enough to achieve goals for 2050” for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, physics Nobel laureate Burton Richter said at a press conference held by the Federation of American Scientists. “Transforming the energy sector is a huge undertaking. To get what we need tomorrow, we need to invest more starting now.”
“More” would be the $15 billion a year for 10 years that Obama mentioned in his 27 April speech to the National Academy of Sciences. Proceeds from a cap-and-trade system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions like the one in Waxman-Markey bill would fund a clean energy technology fund, the Administration has proposed. “The issue the science community sees,” said Richter, “is,'What are you going to be doing 10 years from now?' ” These researchers, at least, think it should be more research.Continue Reading
- Thursday, July 16, 2009 - 2:22pm
The U.S. space agency has a leader to celebrate today’s 40th anniversary of the first human mission to the moon. The Senate yesterday confirmed Charles Bolden as NASA administrator and Lori Garver as his deputy following a brief confirmation hearing last week. The post had been vacant since Michael Griffin left the job in January.
“General Bolden takes over NASA at a critical time,” said Senator Bill Nelson (D–Fl), who pushed the White House to nominate the former astronaut and Marine Corps general. He added, in a comment clearly aimed at the White House, that “NASA is adrift and needs a leader.”
Bolden, who faced no opposition from senators, is unlikely to make any big decisions until at least next month, when a blue-ribbon panel led by former aerospace manager Norman Augustine will report on what options NASA has in moving forward with a human space program. But he will face a challenging budget fight on Capitol Hill, where the House of Representatives recently cut funding for a launcher that is to replace the shuttle.Continue Reading
- Wednesday, July 15, 2009 - 1:50pm
The Department of Defense has claimed the largest share of a prestigious presidential award for young scientists, a change from previous years and part of a broader effort to build ties with academic researchers.
Begun in 1996, the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) offer individual agencies a chance to showcase their brightest young stars for an award that the White House bills as the "highest honor bestowed by the United States government on young professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers." The awards program, which has no funding of its own, is managed by the White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP), which determines the allocation for each agency. Of the roughly 60 winners named each year, the National Science Foundation has traditionally had the largest single contingent, with 20. While NSF and the National Institutes of Health typically nominate scientists they are already supporting through other mechanisms, other agencies, notably DOD, explicitly make PECASE awards.
Last year, the former head of DOD research, William Rees, successfully petitioned OSTP Director John Marburger to change the allocation for the 2008 class, which was announced last week. Rees had already persuaded his superiors at the Pentagon to increase support for early-career scientists, he told ScienceInsider this week, "as part of a broader reengagement by DOD with academia" (Science, 14 November 2008. p. 1037). Marburger says he had long thought that DOD "wasn't doing enough to encourage young researchers" and that the number of PECASE slots filled by each agency should correspond roughly to the agency's share of the overall federal research budget.
Rather than reshuffle the existing unofficial quota, Marburger allowed the program to expand. Rees, who left the Pentagon at the end of the Bush Administration and is now a seniorContinue Reading
- Wednesday, July 15, 2009 - 8:09am
The European Parliament has elected a strong supporter of research as its new president. Jerzy Buzek, former prime minister of Poland and a chemical engineer by training, made headlines yesterday as the first citizen of a former East-bloc nation to hold the office, one of the three top posts in the European Union. But science policy wonks also know him as an early supporter of the European Research Council (ERC), an E.U.-wide grantmaking body that grew out of grassroots calls for better research funding in Europe.
“Jerzy Buzek's election is a blessing for the future of the ERC,” says ERC Vice-President Helga Nowotny of the Vienna Science and Technology Fund. She says Buzek could provide valuable help as ERC leaders ask the European Union for more autonomy—a step Nowotny calls “absolutely necessary.” That transition will be “an arduous political process,” Nowotny says, and will require new legislation—subject to approval by the Parliament. “We must therefore get it done [while] Buzek is in office,” she says. That doesn’t leave much time. In a compromise typical of the E.U., Buzek, a member of a center-right party, will serve 2 ½ years of the standard 5-year term before handing power over to Germany's Martin Schulz, a leader of the Parliament's Social Democrat faction.Continue Reading
- Wednesday, July 15, 2009 - 5:16am
BEIJING—The Chinese government has banned the controversial application of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for so-called Internet addiction.
Although there is no meeting of the minds on whether Internet addiction is a genuine disorder, Chinese researchers have sought to put diagnosis and treatment on a more solid footing. Casting a shadow over legitimate clinical practice and research, a clinic in Shandong Province in eastern China had gained notoriety for applying electric shocks to unanesthetized teenagers whose parents had admitted them to the clinic against their will.
In an 8 July policy letter to Shandong’s health department, China’s health ministry ordered Shandong Province to cease such a clinical application of ECT. The ministry explained that it had convened an expert board, which concluded that ECT “does not show any clear safety and validity to treat Internet addiction” because of a “lack of scientific support from clinical studies and evidence-based trials.”
The health ministry did not rule out future use of ECT for Internet addiction and left the door open to clinical trials on “associated therapies” as long as such trials are free of charge for subjects and obtain informed consent.Continue Reading