Subscribe
 

ScienceInsider

  • By: 
    Eliot Marshall
    Friday, August 7, 2009 - 5:24pm
    Comments

    David Kappos, IBM's former vice president and chief patent attorney, has been approved by the Senate to be the new director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Kappos easily cleared a nomination hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on 29 July and received a final approval today to become Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property. He has had extensive experience in international law, having served in Japan for many years as IBM's top intellectual property executive for Asia. Among other challenges, he joins an agency with a growing backlog of applications and declining revenue, as documented recently in the blog Patently-O.Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Robert Koenig
    Friday, August 7, 2009 - 3:58pm
    Comments

    Thomas Frieden, the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has decided to dismantle a key component of former CDC Director Julie Gerberding’s controversial reorganization of the Atlanta-based agency. In a memo sent to CDC staffers on Friday, Frieden said he will “remove … from the CDC’s structure” the four Coordinating Centers—for infectious disease, health information, health promotion, and environmental health—that had been established as part of Gerberding’s restructuring, started in 2005.

    While the centers' functions will be preserved, Frieden told staffers that “the current organizational structure is not best suited to meet the agency’s mission.” He based his decision on the recommendations of an internal panel which said that CDC can operate more efficiently with fewer layers of management. The Coordinating Center structure had been unpopular with many at CDC because it diminished the influence of national centers under its umbrella.Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Jocelyn Kaiser
    Friday, August 7, 2009 - 12:24pm
    Comments

    The Senate today confirmed geneticist Francis Collins as director of the National Institutes of Health. A Senate committee had approved the nomination of the former NIH genome institute director on Tuesday without holding the customary hearing, just 4 weeks after Collins was tapped by the White House. Collins was part of a block of nominations voted on by unanimous consent.

    The former leader of the Human Genome Project will face several urgent issues in his new job as chief of the $30 billion NIH. The most immediate is the $10.4 billion windfall that NIH received earlier this year as part of the economic stimulus package. NIH officials are scrambling to make awards by the end of September for much of the money, which drew a record number of applications for so-called Challenge Grants. It's a mixed blessing, however. Collins will need to push for the budget NIH needs to keep scientists going when their stimulus grants run out in 2 years. Other items expected to be high on his agenda: making sure grant proposals for human embryonic stem cell research comply with new guidelines and revising NIH's rules for managing financial conflicts of interest.  

    Collins is on a family vacation next week but is expected at NIH soon after his return.Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Andrew Lawler
    Friday, August 7, 2009 - 11:29am
    Comments

    In a rare rebuke to NASA, today the National Academy of Sciences told the space agency it should reopen an organization designed to come up with innovative technologies.

    The NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) was set up in 1998 to provide the agency with creative aeronautics and space ideas that could lower the cost of air and space travel. But the institute—which cost about $4 million a year in operations and grant costs--was shut down two years ago because of budget constraints. That closure prompted Congress to order the academy to study the institute’s record. “NIAC inspired an atmosphere for innovation that stretched the imagination and encouraged creativity,” the report released today concluded.

    The panel, chaired by aerospace engineer Robert Braun of Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, determined that NIAC’s program was effective, that NASA has nothing comparable, and that the agency needs an organization to provide “visionary, far-reaching concepts.” As a result, the panel urged NASA to create a next-generation NIAC that reports directly to the agency’s chief. No comment yet from NASA. But the agency’s new administrator, Charles Bolden, is likely to be sympathetic to the recommendation. He said at his confirmation hearing in the Senate last month that he would push to reinvigorate an ambitious technology program at the agency.Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Robert Koenig
    Thursday, August 6, 2009 - 5:23pm
    Comments

    Bioethics expert R. Alta Charo is joining the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a senior adviser to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. In an interview Wednesday, Hamburg said that Charo will be involved in many cutting-edge fields. "I expect that we will quickly make use of her as we think about strategies on how to address the review of products in the arena of personalized medicine, in-vitro diagnostics, stem-cell therapies, where she's already done important work," Hamburg said.

    Charo, on the law faculty of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, has written extensively on the ethics of embryonic stem cell research, served on President Barack Obama's FDA transition team, and was a member of President Bill Clinton's bioethics advisory council. Charo's influence at FDA will be "broader than bioethics," said Hamburg."She also is an expert on food and drug law," areas in which her advice will be welcome. The FDA director said that she and her staff are looking forward to working with the National Institutes of Health on establishing a regulatory framework for assessing new medical diagnostics and treatments. "I think that, working together, we will be able to put in place a strategic framework to make sure that the scientific opportunities can translate into available products, with appropriate regulatory review." Charo has said that she hopes to focus on developing a comprehensive approach to regulating genetic tests.Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Greg Miller
    Thursday, August 6, 2009 - 4:10pm
    Comments

    Talk about creative financing. The cash-strapped University of California plans to loan $200 million to the even more cash-strapped State of California so that—get this—the state can give the money back to UC.

    Here's how we got to this crazy place: First, California's enormous budget deficit sent the state's credit rating into a death spiral and prompted massive cuts to a vast array of state-funded enterprises, including UC. The state cut UC's budget by $813 million, prompting the university to raise student fees, furlough faculty and enact a range of other painful cost-cutting measures. But as bad as things are for UC, the university has managed to maintain a better credit rating than the state. Which means it can borrow money at a low interest rate and loan it to the state at a somewhat higher rate.

    The San Francisco Chronicle reports that under a new agreement worked out between UC and the state treasurer, the state will give the money back to UC to fund infrastructure projects at eight UC campuses that have been on hold. These projects were approved by California voters and were supposed to be funded by the sale of state bonds—but they've been on hold because the state's poor credit rating has made state bonds all but impossible to sell.

    The biggest beneficiary, the Chronicle reports, will be UC Santa Cruz, which will receive $64.4 million to construct a new biomedical sciences facility. UC campuses in San Francisco, Davis, Los Angeles, and San Diego will receive money to expand telemedicine services and medical training facilities. Campuses in Irvine and Riverside will get money for new science and engineering equipment.Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Jeffrey Mervis
    Thursday, August 6, 2009 - 12:17pm
    Comments

    Two workhorses of the U.S. Antarctic research program may need to be put out to pasture because the fuel they burn is likely to be banned from the Southern Ocean. Officials at the National Science Foundation, which runs the program, told the National Science Board yesterday that they are trying to figure out how to compensate for the anticipated loss of the two ships.

    The tanker USNS Lawrence H. Gianella and the cargo ship USNS American Tern are part of the U.S. Military Sealift Command and are used to deliver supplies and equipment to McMurdo Station. But both ships use a heavy grade of fuel oil that would do serious environmental damage to the region if there were a large spill. In 2005, the 45 nations that have signed the Antarctic Treaty agreed to ask the International Maritime Organization to prevent the stuff from being carried or used below the 60˚ south latitude, and last month, IMO's marine environmental panel embraced the idea. IMO, of which the U.S. is a member, is expected to approve the ban at its meeting in March 2010, effective July 2011. The biggest impact is expected to be on cruise ships plying the Southern Ocean.

    The fuel "is like molasses—thick, black, and heavy," Lieutenant Colonel Mark Doll, of NSF's Office of Polar Programs (OPP), explained to the science board, NSF's oversight body. "It's cheaper to use than other fuels, but it would be very slow to break down in case of a spill, and the input would be felt for a long time."

    OPP Director Karl Erb told the board that possible solutions include seeking an exemption for the ships or finding newer vessels that use lighter-grade fuel, although he added that an exemption would run counter to the U.S. government’s support for theContinue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Jeffrey Mervis
    Wednesday, August 5, 2009 - 1:31pm
    Comments

    An expert panel today suggested ways to improve how U.S. regulatory agencies use input from outside scientists. Their recommendations urge the government to be more transparent in selecting and vetting experts, clearer in defining what questions it wants answered, and more rigorous in reviewing the relevant literature. The report, from the Science for Policy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., also comes with a warning to the Obama Administration: Asking scientists to make policy undermines the science and leads to bad policies.

    Federal agencies, notably the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, tap scientific experts to guide their rule-making on everything from drinking water to endangered species. But critics say that laws meant to ensure that the system is open and fair are sometimes ignored or twisted to satisfy the political interests of the Administration in power. "Right now we have a mishmash of policies and no uniformity," says co-chair Sherwood Boehlert, a retired Republican congressman from upstate New York. "What we need is a system that's as open as possible, and that's also consistent from one agency to the next."

    Co-chair Donald Kennedy, former editor of Science, says that another big problem is asking scientists to go beyond the limits of their expertise. "We need to separate the science from the policy. Otherwise, groups end up criticizing the science because they don't like the policy." Or, as Boehlert puts it, "How much risk a substance poses to human health or the environment is a science question. How much risk is acceptable [to society] is a policy question."

    The 13-member panel included officials from previous Democratic and Republican Administrations as well as prominent academics, corporate leaders, and regulatory experts. The study was funded by the David and Lucile Packard, the William and FloraContinue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Brittany Johnson
    Tuesday, August 4, 2009 - 2:54pm
    Comments

    President Barack Obama hopes that a new bill that will provide college tuition for veterans and other service members will boost the number of homegrown scientists and engineers in the United States. Called the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the legislation is a throwback to the first GI Bill enacted in the '40s, which allowed thousands of U.S. soldiers returning from World War II to get a college education.

    The new bill, signed into law in June 2008, went into effect on 1 August 2009. It will provide full-tuition at an in-state, undergraduate, public institution to service members who were on active duty after 10 September 2001.  Service members will be able to transfer unused educational benefits to his or her spouse and children.

    In a speech at George Mason on Monday, Obama recalled the success of the first GI bill, which he hopes will be repeated by the new legislation. His words:

    The GI Bill was approved just weeks after D-Day, and carried with it a simple promise to all who had served: You pick the school, we'll help pick up the bill.  And what followed was not simply an opportunity for our veterans—it was a transformation for our country. By 1947, half of all Americans enrolled in college were veterans.  Ultimately, this would lead to three Presidents, three Supreme Court justices, 14 Nobel Prize winners, and two dozen Pulitzer Prize winners. But more importantly, it produced hundreds of thousands of scientists and engineers, doctors and nurses—the backbone of the largest middle class in history. All told, nearly 8 million Americans were educated under the original GI Bill, including my grandfather.

    Continue Reading
    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Greg Miller
    Tuesday, August 4, 2009 - 2:45pm
    Comments

    Swiss drug maker Novartis claims animal rights extremists are responsible for stealing an urn containing the ashes of CEO Daniel Vasella's mother last week and setting fire yesterday to Vasella's hunting lodge in Austria, the Associated Press reports.Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Jeffrey Mervis
    Tuesday, August 4, 2009 - 10:59am
    Comments

    A $2.5 billion-a-year program to fund research by small businesses received a 2-month extension last week. The move gives the U.S. Congress more time to reconcile differences in how to revamp the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, which would have expired on 31 July without the extension.

    The Senate and the House of Representatives have passed different versions of a bill to reauthorize the programs, which are funded by taxing the research budgets of 11 federal agencies. The Senate wants to grow the overall size of the program by raising the SBIR allocation from 2.5% to 3.5% over 10 years and the STTR allocation from 0.3% to 0.6%, while the House would like to see larger individual grants—up to $2 million for Phase II from the current ceiling of $750,000. The two houses also differ in how they would fix a 2002 ruling that limits participation by companies owned by venture capitalists. The Senate would reauthorize the programs until 2023, while the House bill would cover only 2 years.Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Robert Koenig
    Thursday, July 30, 2009 - 4:34pm
    Comments

    Epidemiologist Richard Besser, who until recently helped coordinate the nation's swine flu (H1N1) response as acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will soon be reporting on the flu and other topics as senior health and medical editor at ABC News. The telegenic Besser, 49, had been regarded as a dark-horse contender for the CDC directorship, but lost out to former New York City health commissioner Thomas R. Frieden, who took control of the Atlanta-based agency in June.Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Gretchen Vogel
    Thursday, July 30, 2009 - 11:13am
    Comments

    Newcastle University is standing behind its professor whose stem cell group had a paper retracted after a plagiarism charge. The paper, which described how sperm-like cells could be derived from human embryonic stem cells, was published online on 8 July by Stem Cells and Development. As ScienceInsider reported on Thursday, the journal’s editor, Graham Parker, retracted the paper on 21 July after it was discovered that several paragraphs in the introduction had been copied, without attribution, from a 2007 review article.

    The paper’s corresponding author, Karim Nayernia, told ScienceInsider that the copied text was part of an old version of the paper, which the first author, a postdoc named Jae Ho Lee, mistakenly submitted. Nayernia says that as soon as he was made aware of the problem he sent Parker the correct version, without the copied text. He says that because the paper was published online before copy editing or proofreading, he and his colleagues did not realize their mistake. Nayernia says he initially received word that the journal had accepted the new draft.

    Parker says, however, that “the available evidence does not substantiate the claim” of an accidental submission of the wrong manuscript. Therefore, he says, he decided to retract the paper, despite requests from Nayernia and Newcastle University to reconsider.

    Newcastle University accepts Nayernia’s explanation. Late Tuesday, it released the following statement:

    Newcastle University and the NorthEast England Stem Cell Institute are aware that the research paper "Derivation of Human Sperm from Embryonic Stem Cells" by a group led by Professor Karim Nayernia has been withdrawn from the academic journal Stem Cells and Development.
     
    The paper has been peer-reviewed by the journal. No questions have been raised about the science conducted or the conclusions of the research.
     
    The withdrawal relates to text in

    Continue Reading
  • By: 
    Jocelyn Kaiser
    Thursday, July 30, 2009 - 10:43am
    Comments

    The appointment of geneticist Francis Collins to direct the National Institutes of Health could soon be a done deal. NIH-watchers in Washington, D.C., say that the Senate committee that handles this nomination will not hold a confirmation hearing, the forum where any controversies are usually aired. Instead, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) may send Collin's nomination—apparently unopposed—to the full Senate for an all-or-nothing "unanimous consent" vote sometime next week—the last chance before the Senate goes on August recess. A HELP committee spokesperson said that no hearing has been scheduled but declined to comment further.Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Jon Cohen
    Wednesday, July 29, 2009 - 6:14pm
    Comments

    According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Quebec (MAPAQ), the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus infected a herd of pigs in this Canadian province. This is only the third hog farm known to have become infected with the virus that is causing the swine flu pandemic in humans. A statement says a federal laboratory in Winnipeg identified the virus on 24 July.

    An earlier infection of a Canadian pig herd in Alberta received intense attention because of the possibility that the virus isolated from the animals might help clear up questions about the origin of the pandemic. Genetic analyses of the human viruses could not find any close match with viruses currently circulating in pigs, suggesting that an ancestor of the 2009 H1N1 may have circulated in swine or other species undetected for many years. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) dismissed the idea that the Alberta pigs infected humans, insisting from the outset that it was “highly probable” that it was the other way around. But the genetic evidence has been confusing.

    A CFIA spokesperson told ScienceInsider that it could not immediately address questions about the genetic sequence of the virus in the Quebec herd. Canadian media reports quote officials from MAPAQ saying this infection, too, likely is a case of the virus moving from humans to pigs, but there is no evidence of any humans with the disease interacting with the herd.Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Jon Cohen
    Wednesday, July 29, 2009 - 6:05pm
    Comments

    At a meeting billed as “urgent” today in Atlanta, Georgia, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended that the U.S. government launch a vaccine program against the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus.

    The 15-member ACIP, which advises the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said that because there likely will be a limited amount of vaccine at the start of the traditional influenza season this fall, five groups of people should be put at the head of the line. In addition to people who have underlying conditions that put them at a greater risk of severe disease from the swine flu virus, the other top priority groups include pregnant women, everyone between 6 months and 24 years of age, people who live with infants under 6 months of age (who cannot be vaccinated themselves), and healthcare workers and emergency personnel.

    Estimates suggest that this initial target population includes up to 159 million people. HHS currently predicts that it will at most have 160 million doses in October. Each dose will contain 15 micrograms of product, and that may not be enough vaccine if, as many expect, two doses are needed to establish a protective immune response. Anne Schuchat, director of the national center for immunization and respiratory diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a division of HHS, stressed that many questions still remain about the demand for the vaccine, as well as the ultimate dose needed per person.

    Schuchat, speaking at a press conference, noted that HHS recommendations call for 280 million Americans receiving the vaccine against the “seasonal” influenza vaccine, but over the past few years, only about 120 million have opted to take it. “Pretty clearly, if we use seasonal influenza [vaccine] demand and uptake as our sort of expectation, we mayContinue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Greg Miller
    Wednesday, July 29, 2009 - 5:27pm
    Comments

    A former employee at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Palo Alto, California, was arrested Monday for allegedly destroying at least 4000 protein crystal samples by removing them from cryogenic containers at the lab and leaving them out to thaw. Documents released by the FBI estimate it will cost $500,000 to reproduce and process the lost samples.

    The FBI claims that Silvya Oommachen, 32, a former laboratory assistant, has admitted that she slipped into the lab on 18 July and emptied the containers, leaving behind three Post-it notes, the San Jose Mercury News reports:

    She signed one as her alter ego "X Black” and in the others referred to a sexual act and the date and time the protein crystal samples were sabotaged, according to the affidavit.

    According to the Mercury News, FBI Special Agent Matthew Quick wrote in an affidavit that Oommachen had a bad relationship with her supervisor and felt overworked, and that she was fired earlier this month for abandoning her job.

    Researchers affiliated with the Joint Center for Structural Genomics (JCSG) were using x-rays produced by the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource to study the samples as part of their effort to match gene sequences with protein structures and develop streamlined methods for determining the three-dimensional structures of proteins. The samples aren't irreplaceable, but it will take considerable time, effort, and money to replace them, says Ian Wilson, principal investigator of JCSG. Wilson says JCSG scientists will meet in the near future to decide how to proceed, "You can't imagine that somebody would do something like this, and I don't know how you guard against it, quite honestly," he adds.

    Note: This item has been corrected to indicate that the number of samples destroyed was at least 4000, not 3500, and that Oommachen wasContinue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Jocelyn Kaiser
    Wednesday, July 29, 2009 - 5:03pm
    Comments

    Yesterday, the White House announced that it will nominate epidemiologist David Michaels to direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Department of Labor agency that sets worker safety standards. Michaels is a familiar face to observers of environmental health policy. As an official at the Department of Energy in the late 1990s, he uncovered documentation of health risks to nuclear weapons workers and crafted a compensation program. After moving to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., he joined other scientists in protesting the manipulation of science in the Bush Administration. Kudos for his nomination are piling up, but Michaels is not without critics.Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Jocelyn Kaiser
    Wednesday, July 29, 2009 - 11:39am
    Comments

    A Senate spending panel has matched President Barack Obama's request for funding for the National Institutes of Health in 2010—a $442 million boost to $31.8 billion. That slight 1.4% bump is less than half of the increase the House of Representatives approved last week. After the full committee and Senate approve the bill, it will be reconciled with the House version.

    Like the president, the Senate appropriations labor, health and human services subcommittee, headed by Tom Harkin (D–IA), felt that NIH didn't need more money because the Recovery Act gave it $10 billion to spend through 2010. The bill "was greatly influenced" by the funding in the Act, a statement from the committee says. But the bill does not include the president's request for bigger boosts for cancer and autism research, according to Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative relations for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. FASEB is "pleased" because disease-specific allocations go against the serendipitous nature of scientific discovery, she says. FASEB is hoping for a higher overall number for NIH in the conference with the House.Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Robert F. Service
    Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - 5:48pm
    Comments

    If the most important concerns for property are location, location, location, the top issues for energy are scale, scale, scale. The United States has a vast demand for energy—85% of it satisfied by fossil fuels, posing risks for the environment, national security, and the economy. But the sheer size of the energy sector makes it like an ocean liner: hard to change direction. That is why, according to a new report out today from the National Research Council, the United States can’t rely on just one rudder to make a course correction. Instead, it’s imperative that the country promote a wide portfolio of new energy technologies, ranging from energy efficient buildings and electric cars to sequestering carbon and new nuclear plants.

    As part of that effort, the report’s authors argue for an array of large-scale demonstration projects on new energy technologies, such as capturing and sequestering carbon emissions from coal-fired electric plants, beginning as soon as possible. “The urgency of getting started on these demonstrations to clarify future deployment options cannot be overstated,” the report says.

    Among the low hanging fruit, the report argues that improvements in energy efficiency, particularly in buildings and vehicles, could offset all the projected increases in U.S. energy use through 2030. But other sectors won’t be so easily tamed. In efforts to replace petroleum in vehicles, the report’s authors argue that there will be few widely-available options until 2020. After that, they argue, new technologies to convert coal and biomass to liquid fuels and improved electric cars could begin to make significant inroads.

    But for such progress to occur, U.S. policy makers need to take two big steps they’ve been unable to accomplish thus far. First, they need to adopt and sustain a far-reaching energy policy. As Harold Shapiro, president emeritus and a retiredContinue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Jon Cohen
    Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - 4:47pm
    Comments

    Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York City, is a media consultant’s nightmare: She cuts to the chase and speaks bluntly. But then Garrett is, at her core, a journalist, and has only worn the policy wonk hat at CFR for the past 4 years.

    A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author, lately, Garrett has focused much of her attention on the swine flu pandemic. (Full disclosure: I am working with her to organize a Science/CFR-sponsored panel discussion about the pandemic.) Her dealings with the Obama Administration from the White House on down give her a unique perspective about several policy issues that have surfaced. She is also a member of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, a network of think tanks, non-government organizations, and faith-based organizations that aims to strengthen U.S. efforts in developing countries, and she regularly interacts with top officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) and other parts of the United Nations.

    In an interview with ScienceInsider last week, Garrett decried the Obama Administration’s failure to appoint a head for the little known Office of Global Health Affairs within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This failure, she argues, has far-reaching consequences for the H1N1 pandemic and international relations in general. She particularly worried that the Administration has not squarely addressed the issue of H1N1 vaccine supply for the world, and urges the government to see the central role the United States could play in assuring that equity prevails. And Garrett said that she and many of her colleagues at MFAN had a “fantastic level of hope on a scale that I’d would put above ebullient regarding Obama’sContinue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Jocelyn Kaiser
    Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - 2:44pm
    Comments

    Researchers tend to think of their grant proposals as carefully guarded information that will be seen only by peer reviewers in strictest confidence. Little do they realize that anybody can get their hands on a funded federal grant application by filing a Freedom of Information Act request. The blog Drug Monkey has a long discussion of this issue prompted by a scientist with the National Institutes of Health funding who was hit with such a request and was surprised that he had to comply:

    I am an assistant professor (about 3 years into starting my lab) at a research university. On Monday of this week, I received an email from a freedom of information act specialist saying that a secretary at another research university had requested a copy of my recently funded R01 and that I had 5 days to comply. I called the secretary (who was requesting for an anonymous physician) and explained to her that there was a ton of unpublished data and a research plan for the lab that I thought when writing was confidential. ... I called the FOIA specialist and found out that I could redact portions of my grant but my PO would have to approve the redactions. I found out that this mechanism for obtaining grants is typically used by animal rights activists and labor unions (trying to unionize technicians), but is incredibly rare for competitors to try to do this. ...While this request may be technically legal, it is certainly unethical and terribly noncollegial. I still don't know who the anonymous physician is. Imagine being forced to share your unpublished data and research plan with an anonymous colleague when you wrote the grant with the understanding it would stay confidential!

    A few days later, the anonymous physician withdrew the FOIAContinue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Gretchen Vogel
    Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - 11:21am
    Comments

    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

  • By: 
    Jon Cohen
    Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - 11:12am
    Comments

    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

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Richard A. Kerr
    Monday, July 27, 2009 - 5:40pm
    Comments

    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

    Posted In: 

Pages