Biological oceanographer Mark Abbott was tapped this week to be the next president and director of the venerable Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts. It is one of the top ocean science and engineering institutions in the world. Abbott has abundant leadership experience: He has been the dean of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University, Corvallis, since 2001, and has also served on the National Science Board, the body that oversees the National Science Foundation (NSF), and on the Board of Trustees for the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, which advocates for marine science. Abbott will start his new job in October. He will take WHOI’s helm amid choppy seas for the ocean sciences. Some members of the U.S. Congress, seeking to limit funding for climate change research, have said the geosciences are not “core sciences” and want to restrict NSF funding to the discipline. Meanwhile, a National Research Council report earlier this year found that the tough budget climate will necessitate significant spending cuts to major ocean infrastructure such as the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), in which WHOI plays a large role. (Outgoing WHOI President Susan Avery has urged a reassessment of the cuts to the still-fledgling OOI after the initiative is fully formed and data becomes available.) ScienceInsider talked with Abbott about the challenges the ocean science community is facing, and where he hopes to steer WHOI. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Ideology is not the dominant factor in shaping what Americans think about most science-related issues, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center. Although a person’s political views are a strong predictor of their attitudes on climate change and a handful of energy issues, their gender, age, religion, race, or education play a larger role on many other controversial topics.
The Washington, D.C.–based think tank surveyed 2002 U.S. adults last summer on 22 issues ranging from global warming and offshore drilling to the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods, the use of animals in research, and the value of the International Space Station. A previous report based on the same survey found striking differences in what scientists and the public think about many topics, including GM foods and animal research.
The new analysis suggests that an oftrepeated claim that Republicans are “antiscience” is simplistic. “Sometimes politics is at the center of the story,” says Cary Funk, the lead author and associate director for science research at Pew, “and sometimes politics has very little to do with the way people think about science issues."
The breathtakingly beautiful images in a new documentary, Antarctica: On the Edge, are meant to appeal to anyone curious about this fragile, frozen continent. But Deborah Raksany, head of development for the Chicago-based company that is distributing the 40-minute film by Jon Bowermaster, thought that some of it might also resonate with scientists and policymakers.
So Raksany reached out to a few professional friends in Washington, D.C., who know the political landscape much better than she does. After months of complicated logistics, Raksany and her colleagues got their wish: a 36-hour climate tripleheader in the nation’s capital. The three events, hosted by the National Science Foundation (NSF), AAAS (which publishes ScienceInsider) and a group of Democratic senators, played to capacity crowds earlier this month.
The climate lollapalooza was not your normal science lobbying fly-in, a venerable political strategy in which advocates for a particular cause descend on the nation’s capital for a day to lobby Washington’s movers and shakers. One big difference was that the organizers added artists and entertainers to the usual lineup of scientists, legislators, federal employees, and lobbyists. There also was no “ask”—their support for a particular bill or change in federal policy.
Can the red wolf survive outside of zoos? Is it really a distinct species? These are some of the questions that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) says it needs to answer before it can decide whether to continue managing the only population left in the wild. The agency announced today that it would spend the rest of the year evaluating its recovery efforts and conducting research on the controversial species, and won’t release any more animals into the wild for the time being.
Advocates are concerned that the agency is winding down its efforts to protect the wolf. “The emphasis and tone have moved far away from the conservation and recovery of an endangered species and seems to be preparing the public for its eventual extinction in the wild,” says Sierra Weaver, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Red wolves were nearly hunted to extinction in the 20th century. Biologists established a captive breeding population in zoos, some of which FWS released back into the wild starting in 1987. Between 50 and 75 red wolves (Canis rufus) remain on a peninsula in North Carolina. The main threat is hybridization with coyotes, which have encroached on wolf habitat. Until recently wolves were being shot by hunters at night, but a court banned the practice in 2013. Many landowners were upset, and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) promptly demanded that FWS take a hard look at its wolf recovery program.Continue Reading »
More than 7 weeks after Liberians took to the streets to celebrate that their country had been declared free of Ebola, the deadly virus has come back, raising fears of a resurgence. The body of a 17-year-old boy who died recently has tested positive for Ebola, Liberian deputy minister of health Tolbert Nyenswah announced yesterday. The big question now is how he became infected.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has sent a team to investigate the case and trace all contacts in collaboration with the Liberian health ministry. "Obviously this is not good news," says Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman for WHO. But he also pointed out that a sample was taken from the body after death, an Ebola test was done, and when it came back positive, a team was dispatched immediately to conduct a safe burial. "This shows clearly that Liberia is in a much better position than it was a year ago," Jasarevic says.
"It is really important to understand how this person got infected," Jasarevic adds. The patient's hometown of Nedowian is close to Liberia’s capital Monrovia, and far away from the border regions with Sierra Leone (SL) and Guinea, the two countries where the virus is still spreading. At a meeting about the case held this morning at Liberia's ministry of health, some suggested that the boy might have traveled within Liberia the past 2 weeks, says Philippe Le Vaillant, a program manager for Liberia at Doctors without Borders currently working in Monrovia, who attended the meeting. Travel inside the country would not explain how he became infected, however, because Liberia is officially Ebola-free. "There is no known source of infection and there's no information about him traveling to Guinea or SL,” a spokesperson for the ministry of health wrote in an email.
Cuba on 30 June became the first country in the world to receive validation from the World Health Organization (WHO) that it has eliminated mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV and syphilis. Low-level transmission still occurs there: In 2013, three babies were born with congenital syphilis and two with HIV. But the country has met the official WHO criteria for elimination: fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 live births for at least 1 year.
Although Cuba is a relatively small country with an extremely low prevalence of HIV—it has fewer than 4000 HIV-infected women—Pan American Health Organization Director Carissa Etienne called this “a truly historic accomplishment.” Etienne said Cuba’s elimination of MTCT of HIV and syphilis “provides inspiration for other countries.”
Long-delayed action on the health risks of mercury produced by U.S. coal power plants will have to wait even longer, as the Supreme Court decided today that federal authorities failed to properly weigh the benefits of regulation against the costs.
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing the opinion for a 5-4 majority, said that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acted unreasonably when it deemed cost "irrelevant" to the question of whether or not to regulate hazardous power plant pollution.
The decision blocks enforcement of rules that just went into effect this past April after decades of study, lawsuits, and political wrangling through four administrations.
A huge study of U.S. children that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) terminated last year after spending more than $1 billion appears to have come back to life. House of Representatives and Senate spending committees this week called for a new version of the National Children’s Study (NCS) in 2016 that would be funded at the same level as the now-defunct NCS—$165 million a year.
According to sources, lawmakers agreed with pediatric groups that the study’s goals were too important to abandon. NIH is moving ahead with planning for the new study.
The history of the NCS goes back to 2000, when Congress called for NIH to follow a large group of children from before birth to age 21 and explore the influences of the environment, from toxic chemicals to social factors, on children’s health. Researchers set out to recruit 100,000 pregnant women at sites around the country. But the study became bogged down by a complex, expensive recruitment strategy. In December 2014, after an Institute of Medicine report found serious design and management flaws, NIH Director Francis Collins canceled the study.
Surgeon Paolo Macchiarini has now responded to the report, released last month, that concluded he was guilty of scientific misconduct as part of his clinical testing of artificial tracheas that he has helped pioneer. Macchiarini’s 23-page response disputes key parts of the misconduct report’s findings, saying that the investigator, Bengt Gerdin, a professor emeritus of surgery at Uppsala University in Sweden, did not have access to all the relevant clinical records describing patient conditions. As a result, the surgeon writes in an opening note of his response, there has been “a potentially disastrous miscarriage of justice.”
Over the past decade, Macchiarini has transplanted tissue-engineered tracheae into more than a dozen people whose own windpipes were damaged by disease or injury. At the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, he transplanted into three patients artificial tracheae that consisted of a polymer scaffold seeded with the patient’s own stem cells. The stem cells were supposed to grow over the scaffold and ultimately form a living graft. Two of the those recipients have died, however, and the other remains in intensive care at a Karolinska hospital nearly 3 years after receiving the transplant.
The report by Gerdin, whom the Karolinska requested conduct an investigation after whistleblowers lodged complaints, concluded that the series of clinical reports published by Macchiarini and his colleagues did not accurately describe the condition of patients; Gerdin said that constituted scientific misconduct. In particular, a paper in The Lancet describing a patient’s status 5 months after the transplant claimed that the patient was doing well and the graft was starting to show evidence of being covered by growing cells. However, Gerdin concluded, the clinical information in the paper was based on the patient’s condition when he was initially discharged from Karolinska, 1 month after the transplant. Gerdin’s investigation was not able...Continue Reading »
The Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland is gearing up to see how far $1 billion will go toward better cancer detection. The university declared victory today in a challenge launched in 2013 by Nike shoe mogul Phil Knight and his wife, Penny, who offered up a $500 million donation if the university could match that amount through fundraising.
The money flowed in from more than 10,000 donors—including the state of Oregon, which pledged $200 million for new research buildings. Brian Druker, head of the OHSU cancer institute created with a previous donation from the Knights, will lead the new project—a 10-year effort that focuses on distinguishing lethal from benign growths and catching life-threatening cancers at earlier stages.
Current tests for common cancers, including mammograms and prostate-specific antigen blood tests, may miss lethal tumors or lead to unnecessary treatment for benign ones. Druker, who led the development of the blockbuster blood cancer drug Gleevec, plans to survey the field for a range of possible detection targets, which could include circulating tumor DNA in blood or other molecular markers in urine, stool, or saliva.
An attempt to restart construction on what would be one of the world’s largest telescopes was blocked yesterday, after state authorities escorting construction vehicles clashed with protesters blockading the road to the summit of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano.
Officers from Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), and construction workers for the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT), turned back from the summit shortly after noon Wednesday, citing concerns for public safety after finding the road blocked by boulders.
The withdrawal followed several hours of clashes with Native Hawaiian protesters blockading the road, culminating in the arrests of 11 men and women, including several protest organizers. The protesters have said the $1.4 billion TMT would desecrate sacred land.Continue Reading »
In a ruling that came as a surprise to many legal experts, a court in the Netherlands today ordered the Dutch government to dramatically intensify its fight against climate change. The district court in The Hague ruled that by 2020, the Netherlands must cut CO2 emissions by 25% from 1990 levels. Current government policies would lead to a reduction by just 17%.
The court ruled in a civil case against the government brought by an environmental group called Urgenda. (The name is a contraction of “urgent” and “agenda.”) The case framed global warming as a human rights violation that the Dutch government must do more to prevent.
Environmental groups hailed the ruling as a legal landmark that could inspire similar action elsewhere. But the court didn’t specify which measures the government must take to meet the target, and the verdict immediately triggered discussions about whether a 25% reduction in 5 years is feasible and whether it might hurt the Dutch economy.
The U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday evening overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan bill that would update the nation's industrial-chemicals regulations for the first time in nearly 40 years. The bill—which would make it easier for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to request new safety data on chemicals and regulate chemicals already on the market—takes a narrower approach than a competing bill in the Senate. But it brings Congress another step closer to making long-sought reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) a reality.
The 398 to 1 vote came just weeks after the bill, H.R. 2576, sailed through a key House committee with unanimous bipartisan support. A Senate panel last month also advanced a far more expansive (but also more contentious) compromise measure of its own. The two actions mark what is arguably the furthest lawmakers have ever come in efforts to overhaul what they agree is a broken law, which they say has analytical and legal hurdles that have often prevented EPA from cracking down on harmful substances.
The House measure, sponsored by Representative John Shimkus (R–IL), who chairs a key subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, resulted from negotiations that go back to the previous Congress. After previous measures that sought to update TSCA more comprehensively failed to gain support, lawmakers opted for a smaller bill to make it easier to gain broad support among industry's allies and environmental advocates in Congress. "The bill does not try to be all things for all people," Shimkus said on the House floor on 23 June. "Of course we want to be protected from harm. But we do not want needless expensive regulation."
At last, biomedical researchers may be getting some relief. A Senate panel today approved a bill that would bestow a generous $2 billion increase on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2016, or what appears to be a 6% raise, to $32 billion. Although a House of Representatives panel last week approved a lower figure, it seems the agency may be on track to its first significant increase in more than a decade.
The draft bill approved today by the Senate appropriations panel that oversees NIH’s budget would give the agency twice the $1 billion proposed by the Obama administration and $900 million more than the corresponding House panel, according to a summary statement.
The National Institute on Aging, which the panel notes funds Alzheimer’s disease research, would receive $350 million more, or a roughly 25% increase. (The House version of the bill also favors Alzheimer’s, but takes a different approach, directly earmarking $300 million for the disease—$250 million more than the president’s request.)
Engineer Jill Hruby was named director of the Sandia National Laboratories on Monday, becoming the first woman to head one of three U.S. government labs charged with developing and maintaining the country’s nuclear arsenal.
The 32-year veteran of the Albuquerque, New Mexico–based labs has overseen a wide range of research there, including studies focused on nuclear weapons, solar power, and machines that build miniscule electrical components the width of a human hair.
Hruby’s promotion is a significant milestone in a system historically dominated by men, says Hugh Gusterson, an anthropologist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, who has spent years examining the culture of the weapons labs: Sandia, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. At the labs, the fields of physics and engineering intersect with the world of weapons development—all traditionally male-dominated realms. “To have a female director is a major development,” Gusterson says.
BRUSSELS—The European Union’s research commissioner Carlos Moedas has proposed setting up a European Innovation Council (EIC) to fund applied research and innovation. Inspired by the well-loved European Research Council (ERC), this idea is one of several measures announced here yesterday to boost innovation across the union.
When Moedas took on the research portfolio in November, the E.U. research program Horizon 2020 and its 7-year budget were settled, and it appeared that the new commission had little leeway to make profound changes during its 5-year term. That hasn’t stopped the commission from raiding Horizon 2020's cash pile to fodder a new investment fund. By citing ERC's success, Moedas also signals that he wants the future EIC to be a game changer.
“Europe does not yet have a world-class scheme to support the very best innovations in the way that the European Research Council is the global reference for supporting excellent science,” Moedas said yesterday at a large research and innovation policy conference held here by the European Commission.
The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) has spawned a globe-girdling network of 300 detector stations that sniff out radionuclides, listen for low-frequency sounds, and record tremors—all to discern whether countries are carrying out clandestine nuclear weapons tests. And the treaty has not yet even come into force; the United States remains a prominent holdout. But the CTBT’s $1 billion International Monitoring System is 90% complete and has scored notable successes. Among them: sizing up North Korea’s nuclear tests, plotting the spread of radionuclides from the Fukushima nuclear accident, and tracking the spectacular Chelyabinsk meteorite as it broke up over Siberia in 2013.
This global stethoscope is amassing a treasure-trove of data. Initially, the CTBT Organization (CTBTO), based in Vienna, didn’t share, but after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami—when the monitoring system could have given an early warning—things have loosened up. Now, timely data are sent to tsunami warning centers in 13 countries, as well as to civil aviation authorities and nuclear regulators.
This glasnost is due in large part to Lassina Zerbo, director of CTBTO’s International Data Centre from 2004 to 2013 and, since then, the organization’s executive secretary. He’s helped open up CTBTO data to the wider scientific community, through a series of biennial conferences and the virtual Data Exploitation Centre. Zerbo spoke with Science on the eve of the 5th CTBT Science and Technology Conference. His comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.
TOKYO—Japan has not yet decided if it will resume killing whales as part of its Antarctic research whaling program, but the country believes it has the right to do so, Joji Morishita, the nation's representative to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), said here today.
Addressing the press 3 days after IWC's Scientific Committee issued a report stating that opinion is split on whether taking whales for research is justified, Morishita said that Japan will endeavor to address a number of pending scientific questions before resuming the program. But he stressed that under international law, the Scientific Committee "does not have jurisdiction to approve or deny the research plan."
Astronomers have decided to restart construction of a controversial telescope in Hawaii that has been the subject of protests by Native Hawaiian groups. Construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the Mauna Kea volcano will resume on Wednesday, 24 June, according to a statement issued Saturday by the telescope’s governing board.
“After more than two months of consultation, education, and dialogue with many stakeholders, we humbly announce that the TMT International Observatory Board has decided to move ahead,” said Henry Yang, chair of the TMT International Observatory Board, in the statement. The move comes after Hawaii’s governor, David Ige (D), announced on 26 May a set of measures aimed at addressing the concerns of Native Hawaiian protesters who claim the mountain as sacred ground and have blocked access to the TMT construction site. It included a call to remove about one-quarter of Mauna Kea’s 13 existing telescopes and alter the management of some of the volcano’s summit. "We have not done right by a very special place and we must act immediately to change that," Ige said at the time.
In the statement, Yang states that “[w]e are now comfortable that we can be better stewards and better neighbors during our temporary and limited use of this precious land, which will allow us to explore the heavens and broaden the boundaries of science in the interest of humanity.”
One of the highly anticipated trials of an Ebola drug that showed promising results in monkeys has been stopped early after it apparently failed to show a benefit to patients.
The company that developed the drug, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals of Burnaby, Canada, and the Wellcome Trust, which sponsored the trial, announced today that they would not enroll any more patients because the trial had reached “a predefined statistical endpoint.” Early results suggest that adding more patients to the study “was unlikely to demonstrate an overall therapeutic benefit to patients,” the Wellcome Trust said in its statement.
Scientists still have to analyze the data collected to learn more about how well the drug, called TKM-Ebola-Guinea, was tolerated and what specific effects it had on disease outcomes, says Peter Horby of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, who headed the study. The trial, which started in March in Port Loko, Sierra Leone, aimed to enroll 100 patients. The company did not say how many patients had been enrolled so far.
For the third time in 15 months, experts have concluded there is no justification for Japan to kill whales for research purposes. But the country's lethal scientific whaling effort seems poised to resume with the 2015 to 2016 Southern Ocean hunting season anyway.
The latest strike against lethal sampling is buried in an annex to today's report from the annual meeting of the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). In the annex, 44 scientists from 18 of the 33 countries attending the session on Japan's research whaling program wrote, “the need for lethal sampling has not been demonstrated.”
Japan, an IWC member state, contends that the scientific committee has no legal basis to approve or reject a research plan. An IWC statement accompanying the report says: “It was not possible for the Scientific Committee to reach a consensus view of the overall program.”
France's socialist government has finally found someone to run its science and higher education policy. Yesterday, President François Hollande appointed Thierry Mandon as the new state secretary for higher education and research, a post that became vacant when Geneviève Fioraso stepped down in March for health reasons. The 3-month delay had sparked discontent among scientists, who said it betrayed a fundamental lack of interest in research. In April, trade unions called the empty seat "unacceptable."
Mandon, a political scientist by training, knows the world of research well. Between 1998 and 2014, he was president of Genopole, a biotechnology and genomics research cluster near Paris. “During these 16 years, Thierry Mandon has demonstrated a deep commitment to research and innovation. He also knows [the world of] higher education vey well,” Genopole Director-General Pierre Tambourin said yesterday. Mandon was elected to the National Assembly for the second time in 2012—he was a member before his stint at Genopole as well—where he got involved in higher education and student issues. Since June 2014, he has been state secretary for state reform and simplification, a job in which he was responsible for making French public authorities more efficient and user-friendly.
The leader of the world's largest Christian faith might succeed in doing something that many experts have failed to achieve: communicating the urgency of global warming.
That’s one reaction Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change and the environment, Laudato Si ("Praised Be"), released today. It includes a call for "a new dialogue" on the planet's future, an accessible summary of climate science, a stinging critique of international talks that have produced ineffectual environmental agreements, and a rebuke of profit-driven economic development. The letter—184 pages long in its English version—also goes far beyond climate issues, touching on biodiversity conservation, genetically modified crops, and other issues.
The encyclical’s direct language is "something everyone can understand," said Veerabhadran Ramanathan, an atmospheric physicist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the in San Diego, California, in a teleconference shortly before the encyclical was released in Rome. In contrast, he said, reports by international groups of scientists are often "so sanitized" they are hard to follow.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) would receive a $1.1 billion boost in 2016 under a draft measure released by a House of Representatives spending panel today. That 3.6% increase, to $31.2 billion, is $100 million more than the president’s request.
But although good news for NIH, the bill would also abolish the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which supports studies of evidence-based medicine. As a result, the bill released by a House appropriations subcommittee is drawing a mixed reaction from the biomedical research community.
“While we appreciate the committee’s recognition of the critical importance of NIH-funded research, there are aspects of the bill that we find very troubling,” particularly the elimination of AHRQ, says Dave Moore, senior director for government relations for the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) in Washington, D.C.
Much of the new NIH funding would go for specific projects. Research on Alzheimer’s disease would receive $300 million in new funds, about $250 million more than the president’s request. The bill also matches the president’s request for $100 million for NIH’s piece of a federal antibiotic resistance initiative and $200 million for President Barack Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative. The multiagency BRAIN project would get $95 million, $25 million more than the president’s request.
Pope Francis squarely blames the burning of fossil fuels for climate change in the leaked draft of his long-awaited environmental encyclical posted online by an Italian magazine. But contrary to some earlier predictions, the pontiff also delves into the scientific details of global warming and weighs in on specific policy ideas for curbing emissions.
The Vatican has decried early release of the document, but has not challenged its authenticity. Officials in Rome have made clear they will continue on their planned course of releasing the final document on Thursday, named Laudato si (“Praised Be," after a song to nature written by St. Francis, the pope's namesake).
The leak—a highly unusual occurrence for a papal encyclical—demonstrates the outsized significance the letter has taken on, coming in the months leading up to key international climate change negotiations in Paris later this year. Indeed, in the draft document, the pope makes clear that he is speaking not only to Roman Catholics, the largest denomination in Christianity with 1.2 billion members throughout the world. Pope Francis said his words are addressed to all people, much as his predecessor, Pope John XXIII, made a similar universal call to humanity in his 1963 encyclical, Peace on Earth, which came as the world faced the risk of nuclear war.