- News Home
5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
- About Us
- Monday, January 12, 2009 - 12:15pm
Those wringing their hands about the state of science at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration can breathe a little easier, as things seem to be looking up. A well-respected oncologist and cancer biologist will be acting chief of the agency after current head Andrew von Eschenbach steps down next week. Filling the new post of chief scientist, Frank Torti came to FDA in May from Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he headed up the cancer center. The agency created the chief scientist position at the urging of the Institute of Medicine, which had expressed concerns about FDA’s research capacity and handling of scientific issues.
It's unknown whether Torti is a candidate for the permanent spot. But for the time being, scientists will be cheered by the selection of the new boss. In his brief time at FDA, Torti has created a new fellowship program for physicians and scientists, and reportedly was a driving force behind the review of the safety of bisphenol-A (BPA) in plastics. It’s not clear how much headway Torti has made on the culture of science at FDA, where reviewers have complained that their concerns about drug and device safety are often squelched.
“He’s very forward-thinking and strategic,” and “very close to the practice of both medicine and basic science,” which should serve him well as acting commissioner, says Barbara McNeil, who chairs FDA’s Science board and is a physician and health care policy expert at Harvard. She’s particularly pleased that Torti is “making efforts to make sure that there is a lot of external input from outside FDA” to help the agency prioritize what toContinue Reading
- Monday, January 12, 2009 - 11:19am
The European Parliament is set to vote Tuesday on new licensing regulations that could ultimately outlaw up to one-quarter of the pesticides currently on the European market. The legislative changes are prompted by health concerns about pesticides, including their potential to disrupt endocrine systems and kill neurons, but farmers have issued warnings that the ban could devastate crops yields: "E.U. pesticides ban will 'wipe out' carrot crop,” one U.K. newspaper recently declared. While not endorsing such dire warnings of immediate harm, some agricultural scientists have been lobbying against the regulations for another reason: They are worried that any reduction in available pesticides will accelerate the development of resistance among plant pests and pathogens to the remaining agents.">
“The portfolio [of pesticides] that we have is already compromised in some cases by resistance,” says John Lucas of the U.K. agricultural institute Rothamsted Research, who, along with other scientists, recently signed a petition against the new rules. He and his colleagues fear that that pesticide resistance could escalate out of control and turn into an issue as serious as the multiresistant bacteria strains causing havoc in hospitals. “Most of the chemicals that have been introduced to control diseases have, at some point or another, encountered problems of resistance,” Lucas warns.">
The agricultural strategy known as integrated pest management typically requires the use of a wide variety of chemicals. Over the years, agricultural scientists have fought a cat-and-mouse game with insects and plant pathogens, developing new substances as the pests build up resistance to the older ones. One pesticide group at great risk of being banned in Europe is the azoles, compounds used to control plant diseases such as the septoria leaf blotch that attacks wheat. This condition is the most important wheat crop disease in northwest Europe and is caused byContinue ReadingPosted In:
- Friday, January 9, 2009 - 5:38pm
While some fear that the scientific and technical assistance programs to Africa and other developing regions may suffer as a result of the economic downturn, Harvard University's Calestous Juma, an expert on the topic, believes it may have the opposite impact. With the incoming Administration of President-elect Barack Obama promising to devote more resources to developing "green" energy projects and rebuilding infrastructure, Juma says the nation's focus will be more in line with that of most African countries, including his native Kenya—where his hometown near Lake Victoria is not far from the ancestral village of Obama's father.
Also, Juma says, Obama's new science team—which includes John Holdren, Juma's colleague at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, who has been named to be the White House science adviser, as well as Harold Varmus of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and Eric Lander of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who will co-chair the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology—are all internationally minded and will "think globally."
China is already taking advantage of such shared goals to channel funding and projects into Africa, and Juma believes the United States needs to do the same. Asserting that S&T assistance to the developing world should be measured more in terms of skills imparted rather than dollars spent, Juma says African countries need to do their part by making key structural changes to put more emphasis on research: for example, by bolstering research at universities (most African schools focus entirely on teaching); by encouraging technologically advanced higher education that would keep more talented Africans in their home countries instead ofContinue Reading
- Friday, January 9, 2009 - 5:22am
BEIJING—Last September, two British students on a geophysics expedition in western China ran afoul of local authorities, who confiscated their GPS equipment and fined each student roughly $1450. The incident, which came to light earlier this week after Chinese officials released a statement, offers important lessons for foreign researchers contemplating fieldwork in China.
The Ph.D. student and an undergraduate, both from Imperial College London, were collecting seismic data on the Keping fold-thrust belt in the Aksu-Keping area of western Xinjiang Province. The aim of the work is to understand earthquake and geohazard risk in the foothills of the south Tien Shan range, says Imperial remote sensing specialist Liu Jian Guo, the students’ adviser. The Institute of Crustal Dynamics in Beijing had invited the team to China, but Liu’s group had not obtained a research permit from local authorities. In most other parts of China that might not be a problem, but Chinese security services are keeping an especially close watch on Xinjiang, the site last year of several deadly terrorist attacks attributed to Uyghur separatists.
On 19 September 2008, officials from Aksu Bureau of Land and Resources halted the Imperial team’s research and questioned the students—neither of whom speaks Chinese—for several hours at their hotel. “The students were not threatened and were treated politely,” says Liu, who had been with his wards at the start of fieldwork but had by then returned to London. The students got their equipment back on 28 September and flew home a few days later.
There are several take-home lessons, says William Chang, a U.S. National Science Foundation official who established NSF’s Beijing office.
All international scientists who wish to conduct research should have county-level permits arranged by a Chinese institute, he says, and all sensitive equipment must be operated by Chinese. In China,Continue Reading
- Thursday, January 8, 2009 - 5:48pm
Looks like some scientists at the Food and Drug Administration are doing what they can to influence President-elect Barack Obama's choice of their new boss. Nine scientists have written to Obama’s transition team pleading with him to restructure the agency and lamenting manipulation of scientific data there. The biggest worry cited in the letter has to do with review of medical devices. Obama reportedly has his eye on some candidates who would likely shake up the FDA, including agency critic Steven Nissen and Joshua Sharfstein, who was reportedly the Obama staffer who received the letter.
But even as FDA scientists seek change, the agency is finding itself in hot water for a pricey effort to boost morale. Members of Congress are fuming about the agency’s decision to fork over $1.5 million to a consulting company to improve battered morale, following an independent review citing this as a serious problem at FDA. A slide show designed by the consultants and shown at an FDA retreat reportedly compared senior FDA official Janet Woodcock to Golda Meir (pictured above), a former prime minister of Israel, and Mahatma Gandhi, the Wall Street Journal reports. A call to the FDA for comment went unreturned. A congressional committee has opened an investigation into the spending choice.
(The spelling of Gandhi’s name has been corrected)Continue Reading
- Thursday, January 8, 2009 - 1:16pm
Rules meant to protect the United States from sharing important scientific secrets with its enemies have created a thicket of red tape that is hindering the work of high-tech companies, scientists who want to collaborate with foreigners, and even efforts to equip U.S. soldiers with up-to-date weapons. Those are the conclusions of a National Academies' panel that released a damning report today, called "Beyond Fortress America: National Security Controls on Science and Technology in a Globalized World." Such rules include restrictions set up by the Department of Commerce and the State Department that prohibit the export of certain items, the hiring of foreign nationals to work in dual-use fields such as aerospace or biotechnology, or the sharing of information through academic papers or other means.
The Academies’ report calls for new policies and changes within the White House, described after the jump:
1. A new policy that would require the government to consider the negative effects of limiting technological exports or scientific openness for the sake of protecting U.S. national security.
2. Setting an expiration date for items on lists that restrict the export of technologies abroad, as well as requiring federal agencies to revisit the lists once a year.
3. A new coordinating center in the White House to ensure that applications to export items are being reviewed expeditiously by agencies.
4. A new board in the White House to mediate disputes among agencies.
More to come later, after a briefing at the Academy.Continue Reading
- Thursday, January 8, 2009 - 12:36pm
Barack Obama has put science in the middle of his economic recovery plan. Speaking today at George Mason University, the president-elect ticked off the elements of a plan that, while not mentioned in the speech, is expected to exceed $800 billion over the next 2 years.
As part of his promise to save or create 3 million jobs, Obama called for the following investments in energy, education, and medical research:"To finally spark the creation of a clean energy economy, we will double the production of alternative energy in the next three years In the process, we will put Americans to work in new jobs that will pay well and can't be outsourced—jobs building solar panels and wind turbines, constructing fuel-efficient cars and buildings, and developing new energy technologies ..." "To give our children the chance to live out their dreams in a world that's never been more competitive, we will equip tens of thousands of schools, community colleges, and public universities with 21st century classrooms, labs, and libraries." "To build an economy that can lead this future, we will begin to rebuild America [That] means investing in the science, research, and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries, and entire new industries."
- Wednesday, January 7, 2009 - 5:00pm
Image via Wikipedia
The National Marine Fisheries Service needs to do a better job keeping track of how often whales and other marine mammals get stuck in fishing gear, according to an investigation released today by the Government Accountability Office. How serious is the problem? Experts won’t know unless they get better numbers. The report also cites the lack of an overall strategy for figuring out whether plans to reduce harm to mammals are working. NOAA agreed with the conclusions and pleaded penury. Stay tuned to see if they ask for more money in the president's 2010 budget request, due out next month.Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Wednesday, January 7, 2009 - 3:49pm
Image via Wikipedia
House Democratic leaders this morning strongly signaled their support for including research, training, and scientific equipment in a massive economic recovery package being crafted this month. The funding is most likely to come by expanding existing programs at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health, and elsewhere that could financially support a lot more qualified scientists than they currently do. Scientific organizations have proposed a long list of such projects that they feel meet the intent of the proposed legislation, which could exceed $800 billion over 2 years. Now it's looking more and more likely that science programs will get a chunk of that money—but no one yet knows what fraction of the big pie.
Education chairman Representative George Miller (D-CA) spoke after a 2-hour forum arranged by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that brought together the chairs of eight House committees responsible for cobbling together the recovery plan. He explained that programs such as NSF's Major Research Instrumentation for universities and its Robert Noyce Scholarship program for undergraduates interested in becoming math and science teachers are already doing what Congress hopes to accomplish through the stimulus package. "We want to lay down the foundation for long-term innovation," he said. "Part of that includes fixing the holes in our research labs, and making sure that our children are taught by good teachers."
The additional money isn't an earmark, says another participant, Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN), chair of the House science committee. "We're not talking about money for Oak Ridge [National Laboratory] to buy some more test tubes. This money would be distributed via theContinue Reading
- Tuesday, January 6, 2009 - 5:12pm
Gupta, who has not commented on the report, served as a policy fellow in the Clinton White House nearly a decade ago. He seems set to join a health policy team that’s unusually well plugged-in to Washington's new power centers. Continue Reading
- Monday, January 5, 2009 - 5:28pm
U.S. scientists have been wondering whether research will be part of the upcoming economic stimulus package that Congress and President-elect Barack Obama are working on. Past economic stimulus packages have focused on massive public works projects as well as tax breaks to spur consumer and industry spending.
Those items are a good bet to be part of any economic recovery plan whose cost could top $1 trillion. But on Wednesday, congressional leaders will also hear a pitch for research.
That's because the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee has invited not only noted economists Martin Feldstein, Mark Zandi, and Robert Reich but also Maria Zuber, a professor of geophysics of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and principal investigator on GRAIL, a NASA mission to measure variations in the moon's gravitational field.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will kick off the discussion, has made it clear that "investing in technology and innovation should be part of any economic recovery plan," says a spokesperson for the committee, a message that Zuber is expected to emphasize. Also making that point will be engineer Norman Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed-Martin and author of the well-regarded 2005 National Academies' report Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future that called for a $20 billion investment in science education and research.
The steering committee is comprised of the chairs of seven standing House committees, including appropriations, science, energy and commerce, transportation, and ways and means. Its members will play a prominent role in shaping the package being hammered out this month between Congress and President-elect Obama.Continue Reading
- Monday, January 5, 2009 - 4:07pm
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—A loose alliance of 500 scientific organizations has declared 2009 the Year of Science and is hoping the effort will lead to a spate of projects to put science and technology in reach of the public. This week, the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS) kicked off an outreach campaign here at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology to encourage more scientists and their organizations to promote a public understanding of science.
COPUS's roots date back to a 2006 workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation to discuss threats to the study of evolution. The participants quickly realized "it wasn't just evolution that was being shortchanged, it was all of science," recalls workshop organizer Judy Schotchmoor of the University of California, Berkeley. The organization has grown from the 20 groups it started with in April 2007 to a network of more than 500, including government agencies, associations—including ScienceInsider's publisher, AAAS—museums, research institutes, the National Academy of Sciences, even the Banana Slug String Band, which puts science concepts to music.
The effort also features a Web site, understandingscience.org, aimed at teachers and others. It explains key scientific concepts in words and cartoons, corrects misconceptions, and features scientist profiles, student activities, lesson plans, and teaching tips.
Researchers are grateful for the help. "We now have a great network for disseminating information to the public," says Eduardo Rosa-Molinar, an integrative biologist at the University of Puerto Rico. But some wonder how necessary another science advocacy organization is. "It's a bit confusing," says Haruhiko Itagaki, a neurobiologist at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.Continue Reading
- Monday, January 5, 2009 - 2:14pm
Bloomburg says President-elect Barack Obama might think so:
Obama has said the Pentagon’s space program -- which spent about $22 billion in fiscal year 2008, almost a third more than NASA’s budget -- could be tapped to speed the civilian agency toward its goals as the recession pressures federal spending. ...
The Obama team has asked NASA officials about the costs and savings of scrapping the agency’s new Ares I rocket, which is being developed by Chicago-based Boeing Co. and Minneapolis- based Alliant Techsystems Inc.
NASA chief Michael Griffin opposes the idea and told Obama’s transition team leader, Lori Garver, that her colleagues lack the engineering background to evaluate rocket options, agency spokesman Chris Shank said.
“The NASA review team is just asking questions; no decisions have been made,” said Nick Shapiro, a transition spokesman for Obama.
- Friday, January 2, 2009 - 3:04pm
Francis Collins, former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, appears to be the top contender for the post as President-elect Barack Obama's director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Collins, buttonholed today at a meeting of one of the Obama transition teams, answered "no comment" when asked if he aspired to the post. But Alan Trounson, head of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine in San Francisco, admitted to Science: "That's the name I've heard most often."
Collins and Trounson were among the scientists and disease advocates at the meeting of Obama's agency review team for the Department of Health and Human Services.Continue Reading
- Wednesday, December 31, 2008 - 10:05am
One of the nation's most biodiverse states has taken the Bush administration to court to reverse last-minute changes by the Department of Interior to the Endangered Species Act. The changes to the law went into effect on 16 December. They would eliminate mandatory scientific reviews by Fish and Wildlife Service officials of decisions that agencies make related to endangered species. The Administration of President-elect Barack Obama is expected to reverse the changes, but the involvement of the state, which is joining several environmental organizations that have already sued over the rule changes, could boost the chances that the rules will be tossed out by a judge.Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - 11:32am
It's not often that White House science advisers suggest how the next Administration might want to do things differently. But that's what the outgoing President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) has done in a candid self-assessment.
Released last month, the report acknowledges what was perhaps an open secret: that PCAST, a presidentially appointed advisory group, concentrated on the second half of its name. That bias was tailored to the Bush Administration's interest in using technology to stimulate economic development, says venture capitalist Floyd Kvamme, its co-chair, adding that the decision was a no-brainer. "If you look at the big issues of the last two decades, especially the concern over energy," Kvamme tells ScienceInsider, "the role of information technology in our lives, and the promise of nanotechnology, I think you'd have to agree that the solutions will come not from science itself but from its application. And that's what technology is."
Although Kvamme asserts that the council's various reports were influential, he sees considerable room for improvement by Harold Varmus and Eric Lander, whom President-elect Barack Obama named to be co-chairs of PCAST along with the next science adviser, John Holdren. Suggested changes range from the size and composition of the council to its interactions with the White House, other federal agencies, and Congress.
One problem is that PCAST grew too big for its own good, expanding from 22 to 35 members over the Bush presidency. "The current size of PCAST is no longer optimal," the report notes, suggesting that it could be more productive with 20 to 25 members. As the council grew, it also accumulated too much dead weight. "About a quarter of our members, over time, became inactive," the report acknowledges. Some of the worse offenders, Kvamme notes, had lobbied the hardest to joinContinue Reading
- Monday, December 29, 2008 - 12:31pm
A member of a U.S. scientific delegation headed by the President of the Institute of Medicine was interrogated for 9 hours earlier this month in his Tehran hotel. The U.S. National Academies labeled the incident a “serious breach,” and declared on Friday that they “cannot sponsor or encourage American scientists to visit Iran unless there are clear assurances that the personal safety of visiting scientists will be guaranteed.”
IOM President Harvey Fineberg and the small delegation were visiting Iran to identify opportunities for cooperation in the medical sciences. They were accompanied by Glenn Schweitzer, director of Eurasian programs at the Academies, who has spearheaded an 8-year effort to nurture scientific ties with Iran in the absence of diplomatic relations between the two countries. On 4 December, three men who claimed to be security officers detained Schweitzer in his room for 3 hours of questioning. Two days later, they returned for another 6-hour session. The men threatened to prevent Schweitzer from leaving Iran and told him that exchange visitors are not welcome. None of the other members of the delegation were questioned, and the men, who did not identify themselves, did not explain why Schweitzer was targeted.
“This really was a big surprise. It’s a risk we did not expect at all,” says William Colglazier, executive officer of the Academies’ National Research Council.
One Iranian scientist told Science that two Iranian scientific academies have delivered “official apologies” to Schweitzer, who was allowed to leave the country with the rest of the delegation on 7 December. But Colglazier says the Academies are still awaiting a formal response from the Iranian government.
It’s unclear whether the incident is the opening salvo of a concerted effort to derail scientific cooperation with the West. “There are various interest groups who are unhappy about people-to-peopleContinue Reading
- Tuesday, December 23, 2008 - 4:35pm
Emory University has taken the unusual step of banning one of its own, prominent psychiatrist Charles Nemeroff, from collecting industry money at certain speaking engagements. The decision comes after Nemeroff spent months under the uncomfortable spotlight of Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), who accused him of failing to report at least $1.2 million of the more than $2.4 million he earned by consulting for drugmakers. Nemeroff subsequently stepped down from his post as department chair.
Yesterday, Emory reported the results of its internal investigation into Nemeroff's dealings with GlaxoSmithKline. The Atlanta, Georgia, university found that Glaxo paid him more than $800,000 over 5 years for giving 250 speeches, money he did not report to Emory. Although Emory says Nemeroff's failure to disclose the amounts he received didn't taint his research or patient care, the university imposes these limitations on his activities: Nemeroff will need to "seek review and approval by the dean's office of any and all outside compensated engagements before he accepts them," and he can't seek National Institutes of Health grants for 2 years. When it comes to speaking at continuing medical education events, Nemeroff will be permitted to talk only at those "sponsored by academic institutions or professional societies."
Emory spokesperson Ron Sauder declined to tell ScienceInsider whether the measures were taken to appease Grassley or because Emory doesn't trust Nemeroff to participate in industry-sponsored events. "I really can't interpret that for you," Sauder said, beyond noting that the measures don't apply to other faculty members.
Nemeroff said in the statement that he had misunderstood the disclosure rules and thought he was following them properly.Continue Reading
- Tuesday, December 23, 2008 - 1:53pm
In a verdict that U.K. scientists see as a turning point in efforts to protect animal researchers against illegal attacks, a British court yesterday convicted four people of conspiring to blackmail companies that supply an animal testing laboratory.
The activists had targeted employees of Huntingdon Life Sciences, Europe's largest contract medical testing center, with threats of violence, vandalism of homes and businesses, letter bombs, and firebombs between 2001 and 2007. Prosecutors at the trial, held in the southern English county of Kent, said the campaign was also directed against GlaxoSmithKline, Astellas Pharma Inc., F2 Chemicals Ltd., and Biocair. The defendants, members of the group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, will be sentenced next month along with three people who pleaded guilty earlier to conspiracy to blackmail. One defendant was acquitted.
The Kent trial grew out of 30 arrests made during a May 2007 police raid across the United Kingdom, dubbed Operation Achilles, which included sites in the Netherlands and Belgium. Simon Festing, the executive director of the Research Defence Society, tells ScienceInsider that, combined with similar trials over the past few years, the total number of convictions of such activists now stands at 30. He says those outcomes send a strong message that U.K. authorities are capable of protecting researchers. "This shutters the largest, most aggressive, and most unpleasant animal extremist organization in the world," says Festing, who notes that U.K. police have estimated the group contained about 40 to 60 active members. "Confidence is growing that police can deal with this problem. As a result, more and more scientists are willing to come out and explain the importance of animal research."Posted In:
- Tuesday, December 23, 2008 - 11:17am
SEOUL—South Korea is better plugged into the Internet than any other nation, and its economy is dominated by megacompanies like Samsung whose inexpensive consumer electronics are now sitting under millions of Christmas trees. By any measure, the country is a technology powerhouse—but its achievements have come more from emulation than innovation. A new program called the 577 Initiative aims to change that.
Each digit has significance. The "5" is a pledge to raise the percentage of GDP spent on R&D from 3.23% in 2006 to 5% in 2012. Part of that boost will come from the government, which plans to increase R&D spending by 50%, from $8.4 billion in 2008 to $12.6 billion in 2012. To hit the 5% target, the private sector must contribute three-quarters of total R&D spending; the government plans to roll out tax incentives to grease those wheels.
Money will be funneled to "7" major technology areas. South Korea's business-savvy president, Lee Myung-bak, spent 27 years at Hyundai Group, and he doesn't intend to neglect South Korea's cash cows: Its consumer electronics and automobile industries are 577's area number one. "Big science" is another category, including the country's space program, nuclear energy development, and military technologies such as next-generation weapons. So-called convergence technologies—melding disparate advances in, say, nanotechnology and robotics—comprise a third area.
That may sound like a tech-heavy agenda, but by 2012, half of the government's R&D budget will be spent on basic and fundamental research—up from the current 25.6%, says Park Chan-Mo, Lee's special adviser on S&T. "Basic research is very strongly emphasized," says Park, former president of Pohang University of Science and Technology. If all goes to plan, the funding pot for individual research grants will triple to more than $1 billion in 2012; the ratio of university science professors who receive basicContinue Reading
- Monday, December 22, 2008 - 5:18pm
The Picower Foundation is the latest U.S. charity to be sunk by Bernard Madoff and his self-admitted $50 billion Ponzi scheme. Researchers are reeling from the blow to the foundation, which in 2007 listed assets of $958 million.
On Saturday, The Boston Globe reported that foundation president Barbara Picower had sent out an e-mail declaring, "it is with great sadness that I write to inform you that the Picower Foundation has ceased all grant-making, effective immediately, and will close its doors in the coming months." In addition to funding a range of education and other projects, the Picower Foundation focused on Parkinson's disease and diabetes work, including a $1.5 million grant to Jeffrey Flier, a diabetes researcher and the dean of Harvard Medical School in Boston. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge has also been a major recipient of the foundation's money, which helped found MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory there with a $50 million gift and contributed $200,000 a year for graduate fellowships.
"It's just so horrific," says Virginia Lee, director of the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research at the University of Pennsylvania. Lee was part of a Parkinson's disease consortium that had been funded by the Picower Foundation for about 5 years, and her lab alone received about $3 million over that time; the consortium had recently made plans to expand. Now, she says, "I expect that it will fall apart," leaving each of the half-dozen or so members scrambling to fill the gap.Posted In:
- Monday, December 22, 2008 - 2:17pm
On Saturday, President-elect Barack Obama confirmed that John Holdren will be his White House science adviser, a pick first reported here on ScienceInsider last week. The Harvard University professor, a physicist with deep knowledge of energy, climate, and nuclear weapons, was one of four people whom Obama introduced as "members of my science and technology team" in a short radio address devoted to science. But unlike the rest of Obama's Cabinet and White House choices, none of the four—Holdren, Harold Varmus, Eric Lander, and Jane Lubchenco—was rolled out in person and made available to the press. To use an analogy from the President-elect's favorite sport of basketball, only Holdren can really be considered a starter.
Two of the "team" members will actually be unpaid advisers. Obama announced that Varmus, president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and former director of the National Institutes of Health, and Lander, founding director of the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, will serve as co-chairs of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Having two outside co-chairs will be a first for PCAST, which was reconstituted in 1990 by President George H. W. Bush after President Richard Nixon eliminated its predecessor because he didn't care for its advice. The council is staffed by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which Holdren will direct, and he will also serve as PCAST's third co-chair.
PCAST has had a low profile under President George W. Bush, turning out worthy but rarely notable reports. Its 34 presidentially appointed members and irregular schedule—it averages three meetings a year—have helped make it an unwieldy body for advising the president on scientific issues. Obama acknowledged that fact by declaring that Holdren, Varmus, and Lander "will work toContinue Reading
- Friday, December 19, 2008 - 4:07pm
So far, President-elect Barack Obama's scientific appointments are heavily skewed toward one piece of the vast U.S. scientific enterprise: energy and climate research.
Researchers in those communities were generally thrilled by yesterday's news (expected to be announced tomorrow) that Obama has tapped physicist John Holdren, an international expert on energy and climate issues, to be his science adviser. The reaction was similarly positive to the pending appointment of Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist at Oregon State University, as administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. Both have also been major players in global environmental policy.
So have Carol Browner, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator under Bill Clinton, who Obama has named to the new position of environment and energy czar, and physics Nobelist Steven Chu, an energy guru, as secretary of the Department of Energy. Then there's Lubchenco's boss at the Commerce Department, Bill Richardson, a former Secretary of Energy under Clinton and a booster of green technology as governor of New Mexico. And don't forget Lisa Jackson, a career environmental regulator, as head of EPA, and Nancy Sutley to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Granted, some of these positions are explicitly environmental slots. But Chu's expertise is novel for an energy secretary, as is Richardson's for Commerce. Holdren, while continuing the streak of physicist-advisers within the White House, has probably paid more attention to energy issues than any of his predecessors.
Scientists aren't complaining about the embarrassment of riches, especially after the way the Bush Administration handled climate science. But for anybody outside the energy and climate realms, the transition news has been sparse. That could soon change, however: Obama is rumored to be close to naming a new director of the National Institutes ofContinue Reading
- Friday, December 19, 2008 - 2:40pm
In the last 2 years Google and its nonprofit spinoff have launched a variety of science projects in areas ranging from astronomy education to lunar exploration to making electric car batteries work better. But the economic downturn hitting Silicon Valley has forced the company to scale back plans to offer data archiving services for scientists in fields including astronomy and biomedicine, Wired Science reports:
Once nicknamed Palimpsests, but more recently going by the staid name, Google Research Datasets, the service was going to offer scientists a way to store the massive amounts of data generated in an increasing number of fields. About 30 datasets — mostly tests — had already been uploaded to the site.
The dream appears to have fallen prey to belt-tightening at Silicon Valley's most innovative company.
"As you know, Google is a company that promotes experimentation with innovative new products and services. At the same time, we have to carefully balance that with ensuring that our resources are used in the most effective possible way to bring maximum value to our users," wrote Robert Tansley of Google on behalf of the Google Research Datasets team to its internal testers.
"It has been a difficult decision, but we have decided not to continue work on Google Research Datasets, but to instead focus our efforts on other activities such as Google Scholar, our Research Programs, and publishing papers about research here at Google," he wrote.Continue Reading
- Thursday, December 18, 2008 - 12:38pm
Strong indications are that President-elect Barack Obama has picked physicist John Holdren to be the president's science adviser.
A top adviser to the Obama campaign and international expert on energy and climate, Holdren would bolster Obama's team in those areas. Both are crowded portfolios. Obama has already created a new position to coordinate energy issues in the White House staffed by well-connected Carol Browner, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and nominated a Nobel-prize winning physicist, Steve Chu, to head the Department of Energy. That could complicate how the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which Holdren will run, will manage energy and environmental policy. "OSTP will have to be redefined in relation to these other centers of formulating policy," says current White House science adviser Jack Marburger.
Holdren had been planning to attend a staff meeting this morning with colleagues at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, where he heads the technology and science program. But instead, he flew today to Chicago to meet with the transition team and prepare for the announcement; initial plans are to release the official news of the appointment on a weekly radio program that Obama records and will be broadcast on Saturday. The transition office declined to comment.
Holdren is well known for his work on energy, climate change, and nuclear proliferation. Trained in fluid dynamics and plasma physics, Holdren branched out into policy early in his career. He has led the Woods Hole Research Center for the past 3 years and served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which publishes ScienceInsider)Continue Reading