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Vol. 343 ,
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- Tuesday, July 7, 2009 - 5:23pm
Scientists at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (ASCR) are fighting for their reputation and the future of their institutes. A budget proposal announced last week by the Czech Republic government would cut the Academy's funding by nearly 20% next year and almost 50% by 2012.
As the country tries to wade through a broader economic crisis, the Czech Republic plans only a flat research budget for the coming 3 years. Yet the government has proposed going forward with plans to boost funding for applied research--to the detriment of ASCR, which administers 54 basic research institutes and more than 3000 scientists. This year, ASCR's budget is 5.88 billion CZK ($319 million). The proposed budget gives the academy 4.61 billion CZK in 2010 and just 2.81 billion CZK in 2012. ASCR leaders say the cuts would force hundreds of layoffs and the closure of some institutes (ASCR's Web site blares "Academy in Distress").
The Academy budget reductions were recommended by the country's Research and Development Council (RDC), which advises the government on research policy. They are based in part on a new evaluation system that attempts to measure the output of the country's researchers. Academy scientists say that system is unfair and values publication quantity over quality--a handful of letters to the editor and review articles can count as much as a major monograph, for example. "An institute that produced 20 papers in Science and 20 more in Nature would be considered substandard by the current criteria," says Vaclav Horejsi, director of the academy's Institute of Molecular Genetics in Prague.
The academy has enjoyed significant budget increases in recent years, says Jaroslav Doležal, vice-chair of the RDC, who is also the national executive for Honeywell International in the Czech Republic. Doležal acknolwedges the council hoped toContinue Reading
- Tuesday, July 7, 2009 - 3:31pm
The Obama Administration should use the U.S. civil space program to help meet a broader array of national goals, says a report released today by the National Academies' National Research Council. The study also calls for the U.S. government to put a higher priority on environmental monitoring from space, urges NASA to create an advanced technology organization, and backs human space flight as a tool for enhancing "U.S. soft power leadership."
America's Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs appears just 24 hours before the confirmation hearing of Charles Bolden, the former astronaut that Barack Obama has nominated to lead NASA. But it does not delve into several near-term issues that senators are likely to raise with Bolden, such as cost overruns on satellite projects, retirement of the space shuttle, and an expensive new human launcher now in the works. Bolden may also face tough questions on conflict-of-interest issues, given the time he has spent as a consultant. But there's no indication that these worries could derail his confirmation.
The 15-member panel, led by Lester Lyles, a retired Air Force general who was on the short list of potential NASA chiefs, argues that the Administration must take a broader view so that "a disciplined space program can serve larger national imperatives." The report calls on the new president to reverse "the deterioration of the U.S. Earth observation infrastructure" and take the lead internationally in monitoring global climate. At the same time, it says NASA must revitalize its advanced technology program, which has suffered budget cuts in the past decade. The report recommends an organization modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency within the Department of Defense.
The panel, whose members are predominantly university professors with long experience in government service, also goes to batContinue Reading
- Tuesday, July 7, 2009 - 11:08am
NEW DELHI—Joining a global trend, India is giving science a boost in the face of the worldwide economic downturn. On 6 July, the newly elected government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh presented its first budget, which grants science agencies a roughly 12% increase over last year. The overall R&D budget is expected to be around $2.5 billion; the exact figure has not yet been tabulated.
A big winner is India's space program. The human space flight program will get $58 million in 2009, an 84% increase over last year, even as a proposal to launch two astronauts into a 400 kilometer low Earth orbit after 2017 awaits formal government approval. "I am happy with this continued support," says G. Madhavan Nair, chair of the Indian Space Research Organization in Bangalore.
Other highlights include higher education, which will receive a 26% increase in part to pay for the establishment of new elite Indian Institutes of Technology. Agencies that maintain databases of animal and plant diversity will get a one-time, $40 million grant for upgrading laboratories. Biomedical research and agricultural research did not find favor with the new government: Funding for these areas will remain at 2008 levels.
Indian scientists applaud the budget, noting that the global financial crisis could have given the government reason to scale back programs. "No complaints with the reasonable increases," says chemist Thirumalachari Ramasami, secretary of the Department of Science and Technology in New Delhi. The government, he says, has sent a message that "it values knowledge generation and innovation." Parliament is expected to approve the budget in the coming weeks.Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Tuesday, July 7, 2009 - 5:12am
BEIJING—The United States and Japan are not the only countries hoping that a massive windfall for science will help rescue their economies. In response to the global financial crisis, China is upping its R&D spending in 2009 to $25.7 billion, a hefty 25.6% increase over 2008, says Du Zhanyuan, vice minister of the Ministry of Science and Technology here. With this increase, China is rapidly closing the science funding gap with Japan, which this year has allotted $37.1 billion for R&D.
Much of China’s boost, revealed in an announcement at a trade fair last month that has received little publicity, will go to applied research. The government plans to spend $4.8 billion on 16 special S&T projects, including software development, infectious disease research, and a homegrown commercial airplane industry. Such funding levels for individual S&T projects are unprecedented, says Zhao Wang, director of the Institute of Natural Medicine at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
The new push complements an initiative unveiled in February by China’s State Council: a “key industrial adjustment and revive plan” to lend a helping hand to corporate R&D. Major initiatives include emissions reductions, semiconductor-based lighting, and energy-saving vehicles. Demonstration projects will be organized in 13 cities. China also plans to speed up development of high-tech clusters, such as the Zhongguancun Life Science Park in Beijing.
Some scientists are skeptical about the budget bonanza’s likely impact. China’s science spending “is just so much less than America,” says neuroscientist Guosong Liu of the School of Medicine at Tsinghua University. And it is skewed too far toward applied research, he says.Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Tuesday, July 7, 2009 - 4:56am
The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee in the U.K. Parliament has come out with a new report on genomic medicine. The report expresses concern about at-home direct-to-consumer genetic tests and calls upon the U.K. government to produce a new "white paper" looking at how personalized, genome-based medicine will affect the National Health Service.
The report also calls for improvements to the European Union's regulations on conducting clinical trials, a source of frustration to many researchers. According to a statement from Rory Collins, co-director of Oxford University's Clinical Trial Service Unit: "The EU Clinical Trials Directive is a serious obstacle to important medical research and, as a consequence, it is harming patients in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. I strongly endorse the recommendation that the Government should revise the UK implementation of the EU Clinical Trials Directive and should work closely with the European Commission to revise the Directive in order to make it less obstructive to research. In making these changes, as is also recommended by the Lords, it is essential that the Government involve researchers who have experience in conducting successful clinical trials that have improved the efficacy and safety of patient care."
Update: Here's a short video with Lord Patel, chair of the committee, discussing the report.
- Monday, July 6, 2009 - 5:08pm
Scientists expressed satisfaction with the final guidelines on research with human embryonic stem (ES) cells issued today by the National Institutes of Health.
The new rules, which set out criteria for determining which ES cell lines can be used in federally-funded experiments, give NIH discretion to approve old lines that don't meet stringent modern ethical requirements. And they call for NIH to set up a registry of eligible lines. The rules add up to "a major step in the right direction for stem cell research," says Harvard University stem cell researcher George Daley.
Like draft guidelines issued in April, the new rules limit federal funding to work on ES cells derived from surplus embryos donated by couples receiving fertility treatment. (Federal funds cannot be used to derive ES cells under a Congressional ban known as the Dickey-Wicker amendment.) The big question researchers had was whether the 21 lines approved for use under the Bush Administration, which are still used in many research labs, would qualify under detailed provisions for informed consent by embryo donors that are spelled out in the guidelines. The answer is there will be no automatic "grandfathering" in of the Bush lines. However, a working group will deal with them on a case-by-case basis, recommending that they be approved if they conform to the spirit if not the letter of the guidelines.
As acting NIH Director Raynard Kington explained at a press conference, there will be separate channels for determining whether a cell line is eligible depending on whether it was derived before or after 7 July, the effective date of the guidelines. For those derived on or after that date, there will a routine administrative review to see that they conform with informed consent requirements. If such lines are derivedContinue Reading
- Monday, July 6, 2009 - 3:53pm
A fight has broken out over who owns important pieces of RNA interference (RNAi) technology, a strategy to silence genes that could prove extremely lucrative as companies figure out how to apply it to human disease. Last week, the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science, which supports research at Germany’s Max Planck institutes, and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, an RNAi company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, sued three institutions alleging that they had “usurped” inventions that “rightfully belong to Max Planck,” according to the suit. The institutions being sued are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, and the University of Massachusetts.
The lawsuit, filed in Suffolk County Superior Court in Massachusetts, is unusual because many scientists whose work formed the basis of the suit have allegiances to both sides. Two co-founders of Alnylam, Nobel Prize–winner Phil Sharp and David Bartel, are professors at MIT.
Several parties involved in the lawsuit, including Alnylam and Max Planck, declined to comment. But essentially, the lawsuit contends that some discoveries to which the three U.S. institutions have patent rights, which cover ways to silence genes with RNAi, rightfully belong to Max Planck. Alnylam has an exclusive license to the Max Planck patent; but not to the Whitehead, MIT, and University of Massachusetts patent; according to the lawsuit. Given that, Alnylam “stands to lose any and all competitive advantage in the marketplace that it otherwise would have,” the suit reads. Max Planck and Alnylam are pressing to prevent the U.S. institutions from taking any further action around their RNAi patent.
- Monday, July 6, 2009 - 12:16pm
Note: This item has been corrected to indicate that the draft rules were issued in April rather than March as previously reported.
The National Institutes of Health is holding a press conference at 1 p.m. EDT on its final guidelines for human embryonic stem cell research, but the rules quietly became public this morning. Draft rules issued in April after President Barack Obama lifted Bush-era restrictions set tough new informed consent criteria that many scientists feared would preclude the use of even the 21 stem cell lines approved by Bush in 2001. NIH will be establishing a stem cell registry so that individual institutions won't have the burden of determining whether a cell line is eligible for federal funding. Cell lines that predate the guidelines—and there are hundreds, in addition to the Bush lines—will be reviewed by an NIH advisory committee. Early reactions from scientists have been positive.Continue Reading
- Monday, July 6, 2009 - 10:54am
A survey of people working on HIV/AIDS in 71 countries under various guises of the United Nations found that 31% expect the global financial crisis will impact the ability to provide antiretroviral treatment. These 71 countries have 3.4 million people receiving anti-HIV drugs. The survey, conducted in March by the World Bank and UNAIDS, is the foundation of a new report,The Global Economic Crisis and HIV Prevention and Treatment Programmes: Vulnerabilities and Impact. Other questions addressed include the impact of the financial crisis on prevention and programs that target tuberculosis and HIV.Continue Reading
- Monday, July 6, 2009 - 10:50am
BEIJING—China has perhaps the strictest quarantine procedures in the world to limit the spread of the Influenza A H1N1 virus—as I found out firsthand today.
I’m the Asia editor for Science. My family and I have lived in Beijing for nearly 2 years. Earlier today, we arrived on a flight to Beijing’s capital airport from London, via Amsterdam. I had taken part in the World Conference of Science Journalists last week in London and my family and I had visited relatives in the United Kingdom.
In response to the pandemic, a medical team boards every international flight arriving in China and scans each passenger with an infrared thermometer. We disembarked, assuming everything was okay. But at a counter where passengers turn in medical declarations, we were pulled to the side and told that our younger son, Quinn, who is 6, had a slight fever and would be tested for the virus—a process that would take “1 hour or three.”
My wife was allowed to go home with our older son, while Quinn and I donned face masks and were escorted past gawking fellow passengers, out a backdoor and whisked by ambulance—the driver was dressed head-to-toe in a biosafety suit—to a downtown hospital. We entered a makeshift isolation ward outside the hospital and a nurse, clad in a surgical gown, face mask, and goggles, locked the door from the inside. It was a few minutes before 11 a.m. local time.
Quinn and I had our own room. A wall fan was whirring but the room did not have air conditioning and it was roasting. We were whomped from the overnight flight, and lounged lethargically on the beds. After an hour or so, a nurse came by and brought us a simple takeaway Chinese lunch. Soon after, a pediatrician came and swabbedContinue Reading
- Friday, July 3, 2009 - 3:14pm
A third case of oseltamivir-resistant swine flu, announced today in Hong Kong, has flu experts worried that resistance to the drug is spreading. Unlike the previous two cases, the Hong Kong patient hadn’t taken oseltamivir herself, which suggests she picked up a resistant strain from someone else.
When Denmark reported its first known resistant case of 2009 A(H1N1) swine flu on Tuesday, scientists weren’t alarmed yet, because the virus most likely developed resistance while the patient was being treated and there was no evidence that she had infected anybody else. A second case, reported yesterday from Japan, also appears to have arisen while the patient took the drug. In the past, such drug-induced mutant viruses have often not spread very well.
The Hong Kong case is different: The patient, a 16-year-old girl intercepted at Hong Kong International Airport on 11 June after flying in from San Francisco, had only mild symptoms and never took oseltamivir, Hong Kong health authorities reported today. That suggests this strain is already circulating in California and may not be hampered by the resistance mutation.
“It’s very disturbing that, fresh into the human population, this [virus] appears now to be able to retain fitness despite having the mutation and to be able to spread,” virologist Jennifer McKimm-Breschkin of the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation in Melbourne, Australia, told Bloomberg today.
Tests showed that the resistant virus is still susceptible to zanamivir, a chemical cousin of oseltamivir that some countries have added to their pandemic stockpiles.Continue Reading
- Thursday, July 2, 2009 - 2:49pm
The U.S. government will donate 420,000 treatment courses of the drug Tamiflu to help treat severe cases of influenza in Latin America and the Caribbean. U.S. Secretary of Health Kathleen Sebelius announced today that the donation will go to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to combat the novel H1N1 virus driving the swine flu pandemic. “The U.S. is committed to supporting and enhancing the health security in the region by reducing transmission and severity of illness," Sebelius said at a meeting in Cancun, Mexico, that gathered health ministers from the region.
The United States currently has a stockpile of 50 million courses of the drug, and made the donation after receiving a request from PAHO last week.
Sebelius will also co-chair a “flu summit” to be held next week at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The other co-chairs include Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Sources tell ScienceInsider that the day-long summit will focus on making sure that states are prepared in the fall should the spread of the novel H1N1 virus increase as temperatures drop, which many experts predict will occur. Invitees include governors and state health officials, and the draft agenda includes discussion of vaccine distribution, the role of schools, community mitigation, and risk communications.Continue Reading
- Thursday, July 2, 2009 - 2:47pm
Regina Dugan, a mechanical engineer with a background in explosives detection, has become the first woman to lead the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Dugan, who was named today, succeeds Tony Tether, who left the agency in February after 8 years on the job.
This will be Dugan's second tour of duty at the agency, which spends $3.2 billion a year on development of technologies to boost the country's military might. A California Institute of Technology doctorate, Dugan served as a DARPA program manager from 1996–2000, earning praise for her stewardship of a program that produced a field-portable system for land mine detection. In 2005, she co-founded a company, RedXDefense, LLC, that specializes in technologies for countering explosive threats.
Dugan's appointment puts two of the country's most important technology development agencies under the charge of women. The other is Lisa Porter, director of the newly formed Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA).Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Wednesday, July 1, 2009 - 5:06pm
The Wellcome Trust is pouring nearly $50 million into bolstering research capacity in Africa. On Thursday, the U.K. biomedical research charity announced seven pan-African research partnerships, involving more than 50 universities and research institutions, as part of a ₤30 million pound ($49.4 million) initiative.
Wellcome launched its African Institutions Initiative in December 2007 but has taken until now to review applications and form the consortia. Each has a different focus, ranging from infectious disease research to “ecosystem and population health” and research capacity development. The consortia, which receive 5-year awards, are all led by institutions in sub-Saharan Africa. They also include partners from 18 different African nations—from Senegal to South Africa—as well as research institutes in Europe, the United States, and Australia.
A major goal is to help African universities become more involved in research on the continent’s most serious health issues, including HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. Such medical research is now often driven by researchers based in the developed world.
Click here for a larger version of the map.
- Wednesday, July 1, 2009 - 11:10am
John Niederhuber, the director of the National Cancer Institute, is not a fan of Sunday’s front-page article in The New York Times that harshly critiques how cancer research is funded. The story, whose title, “Grant System Leads Cancer Researchers to Play It Safe,” leaves little to the imagination and prompted a flood of mostly supportive comments from frustrated scientists who say the peer review system isn’t backing the most innovative research.
Niederhuber says this couldn’t be farther from the truth. In a lengthy rebuttal in the June 30 NCI Cancer Bulletin, he wrote that he was “disappointed in the Times story,” and gave several examples of NCI’s creativity—including its cancer genome project and planned physical science-oncology centers.Continue Reading
- Tuesday, June 30, 2009 - 4:45pm
Nobody likes a pay cut, but many science faculty and staff members at the University of California (UC) are particularly peeved about proposed pay cuts and/or furloughs proposed in a 17 June letter to university employees by UC President Mark Yudof. The proposed cuts, which amount to a roughly 8% reduction in pay, would help reduce a projected $800 million shortfall in state funding for UC, a result of the state's economic meltdown. But researchers are upset because many of their salaries are at least partly paid by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and other sources. Cutting pay from these non-state sources won't save UC any money, they argue, and could make matters worse.
"There's a net loss of income to the UC system that accompanies cutting [the salaries of] people who are not state funded," says Quentin Williams, a professor of earth sciences and chair of the academic senate at UC Santa Cruz. That's because the amount of money a university can charge grant-giving agencies for the indirect costs of research, such as building maintenance and utilities, is a fixed percentage of the direct costs of a grantee's research, including salaries and equipment purchases.
Yudof's office says he proposed across the board cuts for the sake of being even handed. But not everyone agrees the approach is fair. "If I'm bringing in this research money from Washington … and I lose my grant, the rest of the university doesn't have to feel my pain, and I wouldn't expect them to," says Andrea Bertozzi, director of applied mathematics at UC Los Angeles.
The UC Regents meet in San Francisco beginning 14 July, and Yudof is expected to decide on his final proposal—including any modifications based on feedback from faculty and staff—soonContinue ReadingPosted In:
- Tuesday, June 30, 2009 - 4:02pm
Since 1985, the hyena colony at the University of California, Berkeley, has attracted a wide range of scientists to study the animals' unusual sexual anatomy and social hierarchy. But in 2007, the National Institute of Mental Health declined to renew a grant that had funded research with the hyenas for 22 years.
The National Science Foundation provided emergency funds to keep the colony going, but later rejected a research application from the station's director, Stephen Glickman. He began talking to zoos about taking some of the hyenas.
But then the economic stimulus package loosened the purse strings, and in May, Glickman learned that a revised version of his NSF proposal had been funded. The grant for roughly $570,000 in direct costs, which kicks in tomorrow, will fund research on urogenital development and pay for the care of 10 of the colony's 26 hyenas for 4 years. The money will buy time for Glickman and his collaborators around the country to submit more grant applications. The future is still uncertain, Glickman says, but "right now I'm just grateful."
Image Credit: Christine DreaContinue Reading
- Tuesday, June 30, 2009 - 3:05pm
A Danish swine flu patient has developed resistance against the most widely used influenza drug, oseltamivir. But public health experts say there is no reason to be alarmed, because resistance developed while the patient was being treated—which suggests the resistant virus isn’t circulating yet—and she appears not to have infected other people. In a “threat assessment” issued today, the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) says that the finding “does not represent a public health threat.”
The specter of a pandemic strain that’s resistant to oseltamivir—also known as Tamiflu—worries flu experts because it could render countries’ massive stockpiles of the drug useless. They have seen this happen before: In the seasonal H1N1 strain, resistance has become rampant the past few years, thanks to a mutation in the virus’s neuraminidase gene called H274Y.
The emergence of that strain is a complex story. For many years, researchers occasionally saw H274Y appear in seasonal flu patients while they were being treated, but those viruses tended to not be very good at spreading to other people, so resistance never really caught on. But about 2 years ago, a seasonal strain appeared whose fitness is not diminished by the mutation—perhaps because other mutations compensate for it--—which explains why that strain has spread so fast, even in countries that use little oseltamivir.
H274Y is also responsible in the case of the Danish swine flu patient. But the fact that other patients in the Danish cluster did not have the mutation suggests that her resistance is the more innocuous kind that develops over the course of a patient’s treatment—which explains why scientists aren’t spooked yet.
If, like the seasonal H1N1, resistant pandemic virus finds a way to spread efficiently, however, the situation would be very different. Recently, some countries haveContinue Reading
- Tuesday, June 30, 2009 - 2:44pm
Earlier this year, the U.S. government set aside more than $1 billion to study the pros and cons of health treatments, but it needs advice on how to begin. Today, an expert panel suggested 100 priorities for the so-called "comparative effectiveness research" (CER) funded in the economic stimulus package. The topics, culled from more than 2600 suggestions, range from heart disease treatments to ways to encourage breastfeeding. The report from the Institute of Medicine does not shy away from advising researchers to consider "cost-effectiveness," a term that has raised concern from some members of Congress that it will lead to rationing.
But the panel’s report does not go far in discussing costs; for example, it does not say how research results might be used to decide what health care plans should cover. Making those decisions is "a very big topic and one that we knew we didn't have sufficient time to deal with," says panel co-chair Harold Sox, editor of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. Sox said some of the 100 studies could be done quickly by drawing on existing data, such as Medicare records. Others will require costly randomized trials.
The panel also urges the creation of an "infrastructure," or CER Program, to coordinate this research across agencies. Various proposals to create a federal center for CER are floating around Congress (here's one example). The recommendations are aimed at the $400 million for CER that the stimulus bill directed towards the Secretary of Health and Human Services. But they could also influence priorities at the department's National Institutes of Health, which received $400 million, and its Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which got $300 million in the bill.Continue Reading
- Tuesday, June 30, 2009 - 12:32pm
Macau scholars are breathing a big sigh of relief: On 27 June, China’s National People’s Congress passed a law that gives Macau jurisdiction over the University of Macau’s (UM’s) proposed new campus in mainland China. UM faculty and students had worried that if the new campus were run under mainland rules, they would lose academic freedoms and an open social milieu that Macau residents enjoy and most Chinese do not: unfettered Internet access, for instance, and a legal system that excludes capital punishment.
The new UM campus on Guangdong Province’s Hengqin Island near Macau will give the university sorely needed elbow room: It will be 1.09 square kilometers in area (the present campus is 0.05 square kilometers) and will expand the student body from 6600 students to 10,000, including 7000 undergrads. UM commuters will not have to pass through immigration controls to reach the new campus, expected to open in 2012. “Everything in our plan was blessed,” says Zhao Wei, UM’s rector.Continue Reading
- Tuesday, June 30, 2009 - 12:17pm
The Department of Homeland Security's National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), to be built in Manhattan, Kansas, ran into a funding roadblock last week when the U.S. House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill denying $36 million sought by DHS for the first phase of construction. The Senate version of the bill, approved by a Senate spending panel but yet to be passed by the full Senate, includes the money. The House bill instead provides $5 million for a study on the risks of studying foot-and-mouth disease on the mainland, which is one of the things NBAF would do. Whether DHS can start construction in 2010 as planned will depend on the final funding picture when the two bills are conferenced.
The facility, which the government estimates will cost upward of $450 million and take 5 years to build, is supposed to replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York state. Some environmentalists have opposed the new lab from the beginning out of concern that it would pose a threat to agriculture, livestock, and human health. DHS is also fending off a lawsuit filed by a Texas consortium this spring arguing that the agency erred in choosing Manhattan as the site for the facility because there was considerable risk of a tornado tearing it down.Continue Reading
- Monday, June 29, 2009 - 5:38pm
Energy efficiency got a moment to bask in the sun of presidential attention this morning. With the Senate poised to take up climate legislation, President Barack Obama took the opportunity to announce tighter efficiency standards for two widely used light bulbs: long fluorescent tubes and cone-shaped incandescent bulbs that are used in recessed lighting. At the same event, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that the Department of Energy has committed $346 million for research and deployment of energy efficient technologies in all major types of commercial buildings as well as new and existing homes.
The new lighting standards take effect in 2012. Many bulbs that are currently on the market will meet the new standards, but the least-efficient products will not. According to DOE, as those less-efficient bulbs disappear, the savings will gradually add up—reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 594 million tons from 2012 to 2042. "This is potentially the biggest efficiency standard ever" enacted, says Andrew Delaski, executive director of the nonprofit Appliance Standards Awareness Project in Boston. Many more are in the works: DOE is currently drafting updated efficiency standards for about a dozen other appliances, including water heaters, air conditioners, microwave ovens, and refrigerators.
The investment in efficiency technologies is drawn from the extra $28 billion that Congress gave DOE this winter as part of the $787 billion stimulus package. Among the programs to be supported is a $100-million competition in advanced building systems research and $50 million to improve the manufacturing techniques needed to commercialize solid-state lighting technologies. "When it comes to saving money and growing our economy," says Chu, "energy efficiency isn’t just low hanging fruit; it’s fruit lying on the ground.”Continue Reading
- Monday, June 29, 2009 - 5:15pmPosted In:
- Monday, June 29, 2009 - 5:11pm
Yesterday’s The New York Times featured a front-page story suggesting that the government’s approach to funding cancer research—particularly at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—pushes scientists to “play it safe” and steer clear of bold ideas. The article, by Gina Kolata, touched on points scientists have complained about for years, and generated a blizzard of mostly supportive comments on the Times’s Web site. More than 200 people have weighed in so far, many of them frustrated researchers, grant reviewers, and others inside and outside the cancer field.
A number of scientists, both those commenting and those quoted in the original article, said it hasn’t always been this bad. They attribute some cautiousness to years of tight budgets under the Bush Administration. Several commenters defended the current system, particularly in an age of tough funding: “There is a limited amount of money. VERY limited,” wrote Rosa from Ohio, who said she’s reviewed NIH grants for the last 8 years. “We cannot possibly fund every wild idea without any proof of basic feasibility.”
But from the sound of it, there’s a yearning, among some at least, for wilder studies at the expense of tame ones, in the hope that they will actually make a difference.Continue Reading
- Monday, June 29, 2009 - 5:08pm
A Senate spending panel says that the National Science Foundation's mishandling of an Internet porn scandal is part of "systemic workforce management problems" that have created "a hostile work environment" for its 1300 employees.
Most of the senior program managers at the $6.5 billion agency are academic scientists who spend a few years at NSF headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. Such "rotators" are thought to provide a fresh perspective on the scientific challenges facing their field. But in a senate report accompanying a bill covering NSF's 2010 budget that was approved last Thursday, legislators have harsh words both for the administrative skills of those senior scientists and, more broadly, how the agency has responded to a 2008 report by its independent inspector general that found that senior officials were downloading and viewing pornography.
The appropriations committee's report notes "a trend in poor management oversight and neglected best-practice measure with regard to personnel management. The lack of action taken by NSF to address these ongoing problems is unacceptable, and raises serious questions about NSF's Human Resources office. Compounding the issue is the rotational director model, which although it brings fresh scientific insight and perspective to the agency, creates gaps in management oversight. Program directors, designated and authorized as supervisors, shall not neglect their management responsibilities for the employees who work under them." The panel also criticizes how NSF monitors large awards, especially to first-time grantees, and directs the agency to draw up a plan to look more closely at the entire process, from before an award is made through its completion.Continue ReadingPosted In: