The Titan supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee is currently the world’s second fastest computer.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Titan supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee is currently the world’s second fastest computer.

The United States is now committed to building an exascale computer, some 30 times more powerful than today’s top machine. Yesterday, President Barack Obama signed an executive order creating a national strategic computing initiative, which aims to coordinate high-performance computing research and development between federal agencies. The order should make it easier for agencies to justify increasing their budget requests to Congress for supercomputing R&D.

“This is an extremely important step for high performance computing in the U.S.,” says Horst Simon, deputy director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. The absence of a coordinated federal supercomputing effort had made it more difficult for agencies like the Department of Energy (DOE) to make their case with the Office of Management and Budget that they needed to boost supercomputing budgets, Simon says. The new order “reverses that.”

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Susan Larson with Hercules at Stony Brook

Courtesy Susan Larson

Susan Larson with Hercules at Stony Brook

A state judge in New York has dealt the latest blow to an animal rights group’s attempt to have chimpanzees declared “legal persons.” In a decision handed down this morning, New York Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe ruled that two research chimps at Stony Brook University are not covered by a writ of habeas corpus, which typically allows human prisoners to challenge their detention. The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), which brought the lawsuit in an attempt to free the primates, has vowed to appeal.

“The decision … was correct, not only because it followed existing precedent, but because the entire project of seeking to confer legal rights on animals is misguided from the ground up,” writes Richard Epstein, a legal scholar at New York University (NYU) in New York City, in an email to ScienceInsider. But NhRP President Steven Wise says he is encouraged by the judge’s wording, noting that Jaffe wrote that legal personhood isn’t necessarily restricted to human beings and that “efforts to extend legal rights to chimpanzees are thus understandable” and may someday even succeed. “Justice Jaffe's decision is another large step towards attaining legal personhood for chimpanzees,” Wise writes in an email. “We will be quoting from her opinion for years.”

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A case brought by two cardiac stem cell researchers against their institution for allegedly mishandling a misconduct investigation was dismissed by a federal judge in Massachusetts this week. The plaintiffs, Piero Anversa and Annarosa Leri, had sued Harvard Medical School and its affiliate, Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) in Boston, claiming that the inquiry into their lab at BWH wrongfully damaged their professional reputations, derailed the sale of their stem cell company, and cost them lucrative job offers.

But as Retraction Watch reports, a federal district court judge ruled that the court lacked jurisdiction in this case because the plaintiffs haven’t yet exhausted the administrative process set up to handle misconduct investigations at federally funded labs. The researchers must wait for the ongoing investigation to conclude and air their grievances with the federal Office of Research Integrity (ORI)—but they aren’t precluded from bringing the case back to court in the future.

The investigation came to light last April, after the journal Circulation retracted a paper from Anversa’s lab, and The Lancet issued an “expression of concern” about another. In December, Anversa and Leri sued Harvard and BWH, along with BWH President Elizabeth Nabel and Gretchen Brodnicki, Harvard’s dean for faculty and research integrity, who launched the initial inquiry and called for the retraction of the two papers.

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Legislation would require agencies that spend at least $100 million a year on research to make the published papers they fund free within a year.

Tobias von der Haar/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Legislation would require agencies that spend at least $100 million a year on research to make the published papers they fund free within a year.

Open-access advocates are heralding a Senate panel’s approval today of a bill that would require U.S. science agencies to make the peer-reviewed research papers they fund freely available to the public. Although a similar White House policy is already in place, supporters say the bipartisan measure—if approved by both chambers of Congress and signed by the president—would ensure the requirement stands through future administrations.

The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research (FASTR) Act, approved by unanimous voice vote by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, requires that agencies that spend at least $100 million a year on research make the peer-reviewed manuscripts they fund freely available within 12 months of when the paper appears in a journal. That’s consistent with a 7-year-old policy at the National Institutes of Health and a directive to all U.S. research agencies that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued in February 2013. Agencies have begun steps to comply with the OSTP order.

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Representative Chaka Fattah (D–PA) at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee in 2012.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Representative Chaka Fattah (D–PA) at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee in 2012.

One of the leading advocates for neuroscience research in the U.S. Congress was indicted today for alleged misuse of funds in connection with a failed 2007 campaign to become mayor of Philadelphia.

A statement by the U.S. Department of Justice says that Representative Chaka Fattah (D–PA) and four associates “embarked on a wide-ranging conspiracy involving bribery, concealment of unlawful campaign contributions, and theft of charitable and federal funds to advance their own personal interests.” Specifically, Fattah is alleged to have misused $600,000 of a $1 million campaign loan by creating what the department describes as “sham contracts and false entries in accounting records, tax returns, and campaign finance disclosure statements.”

Fattah, 58, who has represented a west Philadelphia district in the House of Representatives since 1994, described the indictment as the culmination of “an 8-year effort by some in the Department of Justice to link my public service career to some form of wrongdoing. As I have previously stated, I have never participated in any illegal activity or misappropriation of taxpayer dollars as an elected official.”

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Eindhoven University of Technology

AMSTERDAM—A Russian computer scientist was fired from his job at a university in the Netherlands last year after Dutch intelligence officers warned he was spying for his home country. Ivan Agafonov, a postdoc at the Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE) who was working on quantum computing, lost his work visa around the same time and left the Netherlands.

TUE confirmed the case in a statement today after Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant reported the story this morning. The statement said the university was informed in July 2014 that Agafonov “maintained contact with Russian intelligence services,” by the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD). AIVD didn't tell TUE to fire Agafonov, says Barend Pelgrim, a university spokesman, and didn't discuss his activities in detail. "Basically it just said he was doing things he shouldn't do and was a danger to national security," he says. The TUE board immediately suspended Agafonov and later terminated his contract, Pelgrim adds.

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GMTO

Edward Moses

Change is afoot at the offices of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO), which is building one of the world’s largest telescopes. Today the group announced that its president, physicist Edward Moses, is stepping down after less than a year in the job. Moses is leaving to “deal with family matters that require his attention,” according to a statement on the GMTO website.

It’s the second recent high-profile departure from the project. On 9 July the organization announced that Wendy Freedman of the University of Chicago was stepping down as chair of the GMTO board after 12 years in the role.  

When completed, the Giant Magellan Telescope will have a mirror 25 meters across, roughly 2.5 the size of today’s top telescopes. When it begins operation in 2024 at Las Campanas in northern Chile, it will join two other giant telescopes that are also just beginning construction: the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) in Hawaii and the 39-meter European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) at Cerro Armazones in Chile. The GMT’s huge reflector will be made up of seven large mirrors mounted together, each one 8.4 meters across and weighing 17 tonnes. The other two giant scopes use a segmented mirror approach, their reflectors patched together with a much larger number of hexagonal mirror tiles (798 on the E-ELT and 492 on the TMT), each one independently steerable.Continue Reading »

NIH wants Congress to spend roughly $1 billion per year on Alzheimer’s research.

ZUMA Press/Alamy

NIH wants Congress to spend roughly $1 billion per year on Alzheimer’s research.

From time to time, Congress asks federal science agencies to prepare an expert “bypass budget” that lays out the funding the agency thinks is necessary to meet an important goal. Usually such budgets are purely aspirational, and aren’t included in the White House’s formal budget request to Congress (hence the name; they “bypass” White House budget officials). But lawmakers see the documents as an opportunity to get straight talk from an agency without White House interference. And, occasionally, bypass budgets have helped build political support for shunting new money toward research in areas such as cancer and HIV.

Yesterday, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released the first such bypass budget proposal for Alzheimer’s disease, which is projected to triple in prevalence by 2050. Distilled from discussions at a series of NIH meetings and consortia, the new document requests $1.06 billion for Alzheimer’s research in the 2017 fiscal year that begins 1 October. That’s $323.5 million more than the $737 million the president requested in the formal budget request. The new request, which NIH expects to update yearly, identifies 66 separate “milestones” for the Alzheimer’s community, ranging from research projects into the molecular pathogenesis and physiology of Alzheimer’s to new clinical trials, and studies aimed at caregiver support.

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Jun Wang

BGI

Jun Wang

SHANGHAI, CHINA—Surprising many in the worldwide genomics community, the head of Shenzhen-based sequencing powerhouse BGI stepped down earlier this month. Jun Wang will now concentrate on research into artificial intelligence (AI), the institute announced on 17 July.

Wang, 39, has been with BGI from its 1999 inception as the Beijing Genomics Institute. While still a Ph.D. candidate at Peking University, Wang led the bioinformatics team as BGI completed China's contribution to the Human Genome Project and then sequenced the rice genome on its own. Wang took on additional responsibilities as BGI launched more ambitious projects, including sequencing the giant panda as well as multiple silk worms to identify genes selected for during domestication. He became executive director in 2008 as BGI pushed into providing sequencing services to other research groups, diagnostics, and applications in agriculture. Along the way, BGI moved from Beijing to the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen and grew into a global operation, with 5000 employees working at offices scattered around the world.

Wang gained fame throughout the community for his quick decision-making and a willingness to take on ambitious projects, such as an ongoing effort to sequence the genomes of all 10,500 or so bird species.

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Manuel de León

ICMAT

Manuel de León

One of Spain’s star mathematicians was removed from the head of a national research institute over accusations that the center had mismanaged public funds. Manuel de León remains a professor of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) but has lost the directorship of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (ICMAT), a research center run jointly by CSIC and three universities in Madrid.

CSIC and the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM) confirmed de León's exit in an email on 29 July, one week after Spanish newspaper El Mundo first reported the news. De León confirms that he has lost his directorship over what CSIC considered inappropriate spending, and ScienceInsider has seen the internal audit reports listing irregularities.

For example, ICMAT paid for computing services in several chunks, each below the €18,000 limit over which the institute would have had to go through a lengthier procurement process. CSIC insiders say that, at least until a few years ago, these practices were “rather common” to work around cumbersome procedures. In addition, the audit flags expenses for the organization of a scientific congress that it says were insufficiently justified, but which de León says were duly authorized at the time.

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Steve Rhodes/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A 2013 demonstration in favor of labeling GMO foods in California.

The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday approved a bill that would block states and localities from requiring mandatory labeling of food made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It would also set up a voluntary federal program for manufacturers to certify foods that don’t contain GMOs.

The bill’s supporters—Republicans, some Democrats, and the food industry—call the bill a science-based effort to balance consumer right-to-know concerns with the need for a uniform national policy. Opponents of the bill, including environmental and food activists and liberal Democrats, argue that it would deny people the right to know what is in their food.

On a 275 to 150 vote, with 45 Democrats joining 230 Republicans, the House approved H.R. 1599, the Safe and Affordable Food Labeling Act, a measure sponsored by Representative Mike Pompeo (R–KS). The bill’s future in the Senate is unclear and the White House has yet to weigh in. But proponents called it a first step toward a badly needed update to the nation’s food policy in the biotechnology age.

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A large clinical trial that included this child showed that a candidate vaccine offered some protection against malaria.

D. Poland/PATH

A large clinical trial that included this child showed that a candidate vaccine offered some protection against malaria.

You’d think that the first-ever vaccine candidate to protect against malaria would be cause for jubilation. But instead, as data on the candidate, known as RTS,S or Mosquirix, have dribbled out over the past couple of years, it has been greeted with considerable head-scratching and some consternation about whether and how to use it.

The problem is that the vaccine, developed by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in partnership with the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, doesn’t work all that well. In a large phase III trial, it reduced episodes of malaria by about one-third in young children in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s well under the 50% efficacy expected at the beginning of the trial, and a far cry from the 95% efficacy vaccine makers dream of, leaving scientists and policymakers asking: How good is good enough?

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The NIST Administration Building on the agency’s campus in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

© Robert Rathe

The NIST Administration Building on the agency’s campus in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) appears to have been the unwitting victim of a real-life Walter White, the meth-cooking chemistry teacher in the hit television show Breaking Bad. A weekend explosion at the federal laboratory’s Gaithersburg, Maryland, campus was linked yesterday to the production of methamphetamine, an illegal stimulant often “cooked” in home laboratories. Federal and local law enforcement agencies are now investigating how the explosion happened and whether a NIST security guard injured in the blast might have been involved.

“Just as in any investigation … we’re interviewing possible witnesses and letting the evidence take us just where it should,” said Montgomery County Police Department spokesman Captain Paul Starks, who added that no charges have been filed and no suspects publicly identified.

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Senator Lamar Alexander (R–TN)

AMSF2011/FLICKR (CC BY 2.0)

Senator Lamar Alexander (R–TN)

Senator Lamar Alexander (R–TN) today told a National Academies panel examining federal oversight of academic research that he hopes to make reform happen as part of broader legislation to hasten medical advances. The catch: The panel must deliver its recommendations by the end of the summer. That’s a much shorter timetable than the panel had envisioned, but one that it now seems eager to meet.  

Alexander’s offer is not an empty promise: He chairs the Senate panel that oversees both the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the 800-pound gorilla for federally funded basic research, and the Department of Education, which monitors higher education, where most NIH-funded research is performed. The political stars are favorably aligned, Alexander told the Academies’ Committee on Federal Research Regulations and Reporting Requirements, which Congress has asked to look at ways to streamline the process by which institutions comply with federal rules governing research.

Alexander says he is eager to hear the committee’s views on rules affecting the entire scope of federally supported research. But a major driver is to clear the way for finding cures and treatments for dread diseases. “For example, I hear repeatedly that our conflict-of-interest rules [for NIH-funded research] prohibit participation in clinical trials by many of the people who know the most about what is going on,” he told ScienceInsider in comments after his presentation. “It doesn’t protect the public to spend money on administrative costs that would be better spent finding a cure for Alzheimer’s.”

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A new study says that climate-induced feedback loops could lead to a change in ocean stratification and the more rapid melting of ice sheets.

Flickr/mariusz kluzniak (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A new study says that climate-induced feedback loops could lead to a change in ocean stratification and the more rapid melting of ice sheets.

Climate scientist James Hansen has fired a new salvo in the climate wars. In a new paper, Hansen and colleagues warn that the current international plan to limit global warming isn’t going to be nearly enough to avert disasters like runaway ice-sheet melting and consequent sea-level rise. Hansen told reporters at a press conference yesterday that he hoped the paper—to be published online this week—would influence global climate talks this December in Paris and encourage negotiators to reconsider their goal of keeping warming to less than 2°C above preindustrial levels, a laudable but insufficient target, some scientists say. But how influential this paper will be is unclear, given its flaws.

The new study, which includes nearly 300 references and is 66 pages long, argues that the 2°C target—hard-won as it might be politically—isn’t good enough, and is in fact “highly dangerous.” At that temperature, the study says, enough ice-sheet melting causes a positive feedback loop that leads to more melting and rising seas. Instead, Hansen and his co-authors say, a far better target would be to return to an atmosphere with 350 parts per million CO2. That number currently stands at about 400 parts per million.

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Chemical biologists hope a new Internet portal will improve information on small, druglike molecules that are used to study protein vital to human health and disease.

Len Rubenstein/The Broad Institute

Chemical biologists hope a new Internet portal will improve information on small, druglike molecules that are used to study protein vital to human health and disease.

Chemists looking to design and test new medicines are awash in a sea of bad data, according to a report released today by an international panel of experts. The panel, made up of researchers from 46 nonprofit institutions, universities, and biotech and pharmaceutical firms, say they are setting up a TripAdvisor-like crowdsourcing portal to disseminate up-to-date information about chemical probes that they see as the heart of the problem.

The issue with faulty chemical probes has been growing rapidly in recent years. These small, druglike molecules are used primarily to block the activity of specific proteins to determine their roles in biochemistry. Ideally, this helps researchers design drug compounds that perform similar functions but retain attributes needed for successful medicines, like nontoxicity and the ability to travel through the human body. Today, thousands of such probes exist. But most of them interact with nontarget proteins as well or have other unwanted “off-target” effects.

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A new report recommends eight steps to bring stability to the U.S. biomedical research workforce and improve the experiences of  young scientists.

NCATS/NIH

A new report recommends eight steps to bring stability to the U.S. biomedical research workforce and improve the experiences of young scientists.

The authors of a new report urging changes in training the U.S. biomedical workforce say they were motivated by a desire for “less talk, more action.” But their prescription for how the National Institutes of Health (NIH) should deal with a glut of young scientists demonstrates why the problem has been so hard to solve.

Report after report in recent years has decried the surfeit of young biomedical scientists stuck in seemingly endless years of training and chasing too few academic research positions. In hope of finding consensus, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) in Rockville, Maryland, combed through 267 recommendations in nine of these reports from a variety of groups that include the National Academy of Sciences and a group of postdocs. ASBMB pulled out eight suggestions common to most of the reports and presented them today in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.

A consensus already exists around many of those recommendations: NIH needs more stable funding and a larger budget, and researchers should face fewer administrative burdens. But provisions aimed specifically at young scientists are more problematic.

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Artist’s conception of Kepler 186f, an Earth-size exoplanet in the habitable zone of its star that might harbor extraterrestrial life.

NASA

Artist’s conception of Kepler 186f, an Earth-size exoplanet in the habitable zone of its star that might harbor extraterrestrial life.

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) received a huge shot in the arm today thanks to Russian internet entrepreneur Yuri Milner, who will devote $100 million to a much beefed-up 10-year effort to detect signals from other technological civilizations in the universe. The project will make use of two of the world’s largest radio dishes and an optical telescope, and will develop new digital signal processing technology to monitor 10 billion radio frequencies simultaneously. “It’s time to answer the question of whether there is life beyond Earth,” physicist Stephen Hawking told a press conference in London today, where Milner announced the plan.

Milner has amassed a large fortune investing in Web-based companies, including Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, Spotify, and Groupon. In 2012, he established himself as a benefactor of science through a series of Breakthrough Prizes with individual awards of $3 million, the largest in the world. Today’s “Breakthrough Listen” project aims to quicken the pace of SETI with increased amounts of telescope time, improved technology, and the development of new open-source software to process the huge quantities of data it will produce.

SETI has been going on since 1960, when radio telescopes became sensitive enough to detect signals from another planet if it was broadcasting signals similar to those which our civilization does. Researchers developed devices that could monitor millions of frequencies at once for any signal that looked at all different from that produced by astronomical objects or the natural background. At first funded by universities and NASA, public funding for SETI was axed by Congress in the early 1990s. Since then, the nonprofit SETI League has received funding of a few million dollars a year from private donors.

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AIDS researcher and activist Joep Lange (right) was killed along with his partner and co-worker Jacqueline van Tongeren when Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine.

Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development/Pharmaccess

AIDS researcher and activist Joep Lange (right) was killed along with his partner and co-worker Jacqueline van Tongeren when Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine.

AMSTERDAM—One year ago today, the missile attack on Malaysia Airlines flight 17 (MH17) ended the life of Joep Lange, a towering figure in the world of HIV/AIDS and global health. But Lange's work will live on in a new institute that aims to bring his characteristic combination of research and on-the-ground action to bear on health problems in developing countries.

The Joep Lange Institute was formally announced on Wednesday, along with a new, rotating chair and fellowship program at the Academic Medical Center, where Lange was a professor and founded the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development. The new institute will open its doors in Amsterdam later this year, supported by some $20 million from various private sources in the United States. A spokesperson declined to name these benefactors but says they will be announced later this year. The Joep Lange Chair and Fellows program will be partly funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Lange died while traveling to an international AIDS conference in Melbourne, Australia, along with his partner and co-worker Jacqueline van Tongeren and 296 other people on board MH17. Their plane was shot down in eastern Ukraine while en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

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The Cherenkov Telescope Array will consist of 120 telescopes that will search the skies for gamma rays and signs of dark matter.

Airworks

The Cherenkov Telescope Array will consist of 120 telescopes that will search the skies for gamma rays and signs of dark matter.

The world's largest and most powerful gamma-ray observatory looks set to be based in Chile and the Canary Islands, following a decision today by the governing board of the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA). Sites in the Atacama Desert and the island of La Palma—already home to major astronomical facilities—were chosen ahead of rival sites in Namibia and Mexico for the northern and southern portions of the CTA, a €297 million facility that will allow astrophysicists to study some of the most energetic and distant objects in the universe.

The decision came during a 2-day meeting of the CTA Resource Board on 15 and 16 July. The board, made of representatives from 14 of the project’s 31 member countries, did not give final approval for the site selection—that is the job of the CTA Council—but it did vote to start formal negotiations with the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which operates the Paranal Observatory in Chile, and Spain.

Chair of CTA Resource Board Beatrix Vierkorn-Rudolph would not tell ScienceInsider how the 14 members voted. But she says it was not an easy decision, since all 4 bidders put forward "very good sites." The selection criteria were many, she explains, including the sites' environmental suitability, scientific potential, and likely cost. But one factor stood out in both cases, she sayshow swiftly construction could get underway once the official green light has been given.

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Ron Fouchier (right) with Yoshi Kawaoka at a 2012 meeting on their work in London.

M. Enserink/Science

Ron Fouchier (right) with Yoshi Kawaoka at a 2012 meeting on their work in London.

AMSTERDAM—For more than 3 years, virologist Ron Fouchier has battled the Dutch government over a fundamental question in the balance between academic freedom and biosecurity: Did he need a government license to publish his hotly debated gain-of-function (GOF) studies on the H5N1 influenza strain?

Yes, a Dutch court ruled in 2013, in a decision that dismayed Fouchier and raised questions about how the publication of sensitive studies is handled in the Eurpoean Union.

Now, the Court of Appeal in Amsterdam has tossed out that verdict. But it's a pyrrhic victory for Fouchier. Rather than ruling on the fundamental issue, the court said Fouchier and his employer—Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, Netherlands—didn't have standing to sue the Dutch government, putting them back at square one.

"I'm disappointed," Fouchier says. "They didn't want to touch the hot potato and passed it on instead."

The Court of Appeal decided the case on 18 June, but released the verdict (in Dutch) only yesterday. In accordance with Dutch judicial practice, all names in the text have been redacted, along with details about the technology and the virus strain that Fouchier used.

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Contestants celebrate their robot’s performance in last month’s DARPA challenge.

John F. Williams/Office of Naval Research

Contestants celebrate their robot’s performance in last month’s DARPA challenge.

As U.S. lawmakers search for ways to incentivize medical breakthroughs, some appear to have their eyes on the prize. A provision in a new biomedical innovation bill passed last week in the House of Representatives would create a new program to launch prize competitions at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Some federal agencies have been offering prizes for years, and the 2010 America COMPETES Act officially authorized them to do so. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has run a series of high-profile competitions in robotics and vehicle design since 2004, the latest of which took place last month in California (see photo). The private sector has also embraced the concept, and the 2004 Ansari XPRIZE competition is widely credited with spurring the U.S. commercial space industry. And prizes were central to the discussion this week during a Senate hearing on promoting cures for deadly diseases.

Challenges are an appealing alternative to traditional research grants because “you’re only paying for success,” Christopher Frangione, XPRIZE’s vice president of prize development, told members of the space, science, and competitiveness subcommittee of the Senate commerce committee on Tuesday.  And although grant competitions usually require fully developed proposals written by acknowledged experts, Frangione said, prizes can inspire applicants from outside the academic mainstream. “You’re democratizing innovation,” he said. “As long as you solve the problem, you win.”

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NIH’s Lawrence Tabak describes revised plans to track children’s health.

HOUSE COMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM

NIH’s Lawrence Tabak describes revised plans to track children’s health.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) is gearing up for a large, long-term study of how environmental factors affect a child’s health. But please don’t call it the National Children’s Study (NCS).

The NCS was launched more than a decade ago at the request of Congress; its goal was to follow 100,000 children from the womb to age 21. But last December, after spending $1.3 billion on planning and pilot testing, NIH Director Francis Collins ended the full NCS before the first child was enrolled. An Institute of Medicine report had found problems with its management, design, and cost, and scientific advisers told NIH the study was not feasible.

Last month, Congress signaled that it wants NIH to try again. Spending panels in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate included $165 million for it in NIH’s budget for 2016, with a House report referring to the NCS Alternative. NIH prefers to call it the Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program. The new study will focus on four areas of high public health concern: obesity, birth defects and other early outcomes, neurodevelopmental disorders (such as autism and depression), and airway diseases (such as asthma and allergies).

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A 2007 protest denouncing waterboarding as torture; several psychologists guided the method's use on U.S.  military detainees.

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

A 2007 protest denouncing waterboarding as torture; several psychologists guided the method's use on U.S. military detainees.

After years of denying that it had given scientific and ethical legitimacy to torture by the U.S. government, the American Psychological Association (APA) last week accepted the finding of an external investigation that concluded it had done just that. Now, with a public apology and sudden wave of high-level resignations or retirements, APA is struggling to craft an institutional response that will satisfy its members and long-time detractors, even as some of those pilloried in the probe defend themselves and their colleagues.

“This is a crisis,” says Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist at Emory University in Atlanta and a former APA president, who helped launch the investigation. “I regret that the organization didn’t listen to the critics earlier.”

The 542-page report from a former Chicago inspector general, David Hoffman, pulls no punches, concluding that APA officials colluded with the U.S. government to enable the torture of detainees. APA’s Board of Directors quickly released a response, promising among other things to recommend a new policy prohibiting psychologists from participating in interrogation of persons held in custody by military and intelligence authorities. APA then announced the departure of most of its staff leadership: CEO Norman Anderson, Deputy CEO Michael Honaker, public relations director Rhea Farberman, and ethics director Stephen Behnke.

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Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shake hands after today’s deal was announced.

U.S. State Department

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shake hands after today’s deal was announced.

After 2 years of negotiations, Iran today agreed to dismantle large pieces of its nuclear program in exchange for lifting crippling economic sanctions. The agreement, signed today in Vienna, paves the way for a rapid expansion of scientific cooperation with Iran in areas as diverse as fusion, astrophysics, and cancer therapy using radioisotopes.

The agreement between Iran and six world powers is expected to face significant hostility in the U.S. Congress, which has 60 days to review the deal—and endorse or scuttle it. “I welcome a robust debate in Congress on this issue, and I welcome scrutiny of the details of this agreement,” U.S. President Barack Obama said today. However, he noted, “Without this deal, there would be no agreed-upon limitations for the Iranian nuclear program.”

The agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, would slow Iran's “breakout time”—the time needed to produce enough weapons-grade fissile material for one bomb—from an estimated 2 to 3 months to at least a year. Achieving that longer lead time requires blocking Iran's four routes to nuclear weapons: through its Natanz and Fordow uranium enrichment facilities, where thousands of centrifuges separate uranium isotopes; through plutonium production at the Arak heavy water reactor, which Iran says is needed to produce medical radioisotopes; and by way of a covert path involving undisclosed facilities. The challenge has been to block these pathways without shuttering a single nuclear facility, because Iran has insisted that closures were a deal-breaker.

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