broken thoughts/Flickr

When it comes to searching for scientific literature, Google Scholar has become a  go-to resource for a growing number of researchers. The powerful academic search engine seems to comb through every academic study in existence. But figuring out exactly how many papers are covered by Google Scholar isn’t easy, recent research shows—in part because of the company’s secretive, tightlipped nature. And some scholars warn the service may be inflating citation counts, although that may not necessarily be a bad thing.

Figuring out how many documents are indexed in traditional bibliographic databases, such as Thomson Reuters’s Web of Science and Elsevier’s Scopus, is a piece of cake—a simple query is all it takes. Microsoft Academic Search is similarly transparent. Google Scholar, however, offers no such tools to bibliometric researchers, and the Web search giant has declined to publish the information.

To come up with a tally, bibliometricist Enrique Orduña-Malea of the Polytechnic University of Valencia in Spain and his colleagues used four different methods to estimate Google Scholar’s total number of documents. Although each method has distinct limitations, all but one yield similar results, the researchers report in a study posted to the arXiv preprint server earlier this year and updated this month. The number: 160 million indexed documents (plus or minus 10%), including journal articles, books, case law, and patents.

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The Ebola virus

CDC/Dr. Frederick A. Murphy/Wikimedia Commons

The Ebola virus

Stephan Becker is tired of waiting. The virologist at the University of Marburg in Germany is part of a consortium of scientists that is ready to do a safety trial of one of the candidate vaccines for Ebola. But the vaccine doses he's supposed to test on 20 German volunteers are still in Canada. Negotiations with the U.S. company that holds the license for commercialization of the vaccine—which contains a gene for the Ebola surface protein stitched into a livestock pathogen known as vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV)—have needlessly delayed the start of the trial, Becker and several other scientists tell Science. "It’s making me mad, that we are sitting here and could be doing something, but things are not moving forward,” Becker says.

Today and tomorrow, Ebola scientists and representatives from companies and regulatory bodies are meeting at the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss how to speed up clinical development of vaccines, a process that normally takes years. More and more public health specialists believe that vaccines will have an important role to play in stopping the catastrophic outbreak in West Africa, which has so far caused at least 6553 cases and more than 3000 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. (Those are the reported numbers; the real toll is known to be much higher.)

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Australia sweltered in a heat wave this January.

Government of Australia

Australia sweltered in a heat wave this January.

Australia has suffered through two back-to-back sweltering summers, with a record-setting heat wave sweeping across the country at the end of 2013 and into 2014. Now, five separate studies published today conclude that the blazing summer was linked to human-caused climate change.

The papers are part of a larger report, Explaining Extreme Events of 2013 From a Climate Perspective, published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS). It includes 22 separate studies focusing on 16 different extreme weather events that occurred last year. And while researchers concluded that human activity had increased the likelihood and severity of Australia’s heat wave, they reported that it was hard to see any direct link between climate change and other extreme events last year—including the last 2 years of California drought and Colorado’s extreme rains.

The report highlights the value—and limitations—of “attribution research,” said Thomas Karl, the director of the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in Asheville, North Carolina, at a press conference today. Still a young science, attribution research seeks to strengthen understanding of the factors that contribute to extreme events. That, Karl said, is tricky because extreme events are “very complex,” and multiple factors—including precipitation, temperature, soil moisture, snowpack availability, and human land and water usage—all come into play. “It’s a new task scientists have taken on in the last few years,” he said. “It’s still in the early stages. We have learned that our ability is significantly different in some variables compared to others”—for example, the influence of climate on temperature changes is easier to trace than on precipitation.

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Sciences en Marche started at the Pic du Midi observatory in the Pyrenees this morning.

Rémi Cabanac

Sciences en Marche started at the Pic du Midi observatory in the Pyrenees this morning.

French scientists today launched a 3-week relay race across the country by bike, foot, and even by kayak, aimed at pressuring the government to create more permanent jobs in science and better support universities and research centers. The race will culminate in a march to Paris on 17 October.

Sciences en Marche, as it's called, kicked off this morning when 25 scientists left the Pic du Midi observatory in the Pyrenees for a 10-kilometer walk down the mountains, after which another group of scientists took over for a 48-kilometer bike ride to the Center of Atmospheric Research in Lannemezan. Over the next 3 weeks, hundreds of scientists are expected to cycle all the way to the capital in 50-kilometer stages. The race coincides with the Fête de la Science, an annual national science festival.

So far, the government has given little indication that it will listen. On Wednesday, during a press conference to mark the beginning of the new academic year, the government announced a €45 million increase for public research and higher education in 2015, which Sciences en Marche spokesman Guillaume Bossis, a National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) biologist at the Institute of Molecular Genetics of Montpellier, dismisses as “totally ridiculous.”

In a press conference the next day, French Secretary of State for Higher Education and Research Geneviève Fioraso made it clear that the government had no intention to go beyond that commitment, Libération reported. “The solution in a stable budget isn’t to create additional jobs,” Fioraso said during the press conference.

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Patrick White

ACTforNIH

Patrick White

Scores of patient groups, scientific societies, and university coalitions devote much of their time to lobbying the U.S. Congress for more funding for biomedical research and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This week another group, ACT for NIH: Advancing Cures Today, joined their ranks.

The organization stands out for a few reasons: It was launched with largesse from a new face, New York City and Houston, Texas, real estate investor Jed Manocherian, whose time on the Board of Visitors of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston stoked his concern about NIH’s past decade of flat funding. Its all-star advisory board includes Nobel Prize winner David Baltimore and MD Anderson President Ronald DePinho. And it is headed by biomedical science lobbying veteran Patrick White, who has spent more than 2 decades working on Capitol Hill, in government, and for various research interest groups. Until 3 months ago, White was the top legislative aide to NIH Director Francis Collins.

White discussed his organization’s plans with ScienceInsider. (The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity).

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A yellowmargin triggerfish patrols Palmyra Atoll, part of the expanded marine monument.

Laura M. Beauregard/USFWS

A yellowmargin triggerfish patrols Palmyra Atoll, part of the expanded marine monument.

President Barack Obama has moved forward with a plan to vastly expand three remote U.S. reserves in the central Pacific Ocean into a massive national monument.

In June, White House officials announced that they were considering expanding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM), which covers about 225,000 square kilometers. On Wednesday evening, the White House announced that Obama will sign a proclamation expanding the monument to about 1.27 million square kilometers. Obama is acting under authority granted by the Antiquities Act, which allows a president to create a national monument with the stroke of a pen, and without action by Congress.

The total is somewhat smaller than a proposal to protect some 1.8 million square kilometers that the White House floated in June. Obama will extend fishing bans and other monument protections to include the entire U.S. exclusive economic zone around the islands of Jarvis, Johnson, and Wake (the zone extends to up to 200 nautical miles offshore). But the White House did not advance plans to greatly expand protections around the islands of Palmyra, Howland, and Baker, which are targeted by tuna fishing boats. Making that move would have allowed the new U.S. monument to bump up against another megareserve, the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, and create the world's largest swath of ocean closed to fishing. Fishing groups had opposed closing the tuna fishing areas, saying it would have created economic hardship.

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Artist's conception of the Mars Orbiter Mission

Nesnad/Wikimedia Commons

Artist's conception of the Mars Orbiter Mission

BANGALORE, INDIA—Scientists here at the Indian Space Research Organisation’s mission control center erupted in thunderous applause this morning when a transmission from the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) confirmed that the probe had reached Mars. Also on hand was India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, a self-professed space buff. “Mars and MOM have been united,” he declared in a speech broadcast nationwide.

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New rules will require researchers to consider whether their results could be misused.

Florence Ivy/Flickr

New rules will require researchers to consider whether their results could be misused.

Academic scientists with federal funding who work with any of 15 dangerous microbes or toxins will soon have to flag specific studies that could potentially be used to cause harm and work with their institutions to reduce risks, according to new U.S. government rules released today.

The long-awaited final rule is similar to a February 2013 draft and is “about what we expected,” says Carrie Wolinetz, a deputy director of federal relations at the Association of American Universities (AAU) in Washington, D.C., which represents more than 60 major research universities. Those schools see the rules as replicating other federal security and safety rules, Wolinetz says, but will adjust to them.

But some observers have concerns, such as that the rules do not apply to other risky biological agents. In a conference call with reporters today, a White House official said the government is open to a “broader discussion” about whether it should expand the list of 15 regulated agents.

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A gas field in Wyoming.

Bruce Gordon/EcoFlight

A gas field in Wyoming.

Natural gas is being touted as the climate-friendlier fuel that the United States can use to wean itself off coal, which releases twice the amount of carbon dioxide as natural gas when burned. But the surge of cheap natural gas may not do much to reduce long-term U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, a new study suggests, because it could delay the deployment of cleaner renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

"If you have lots of cheap natural gas available, ultimately it's not fighting only against coal but renewables, too," says Steven Davis, an energy scientist at the University of California, Irvine, and co-author of the study, published online today in Environmental Research Letters.

For their analysis, the authors developed scenarios of what the future mix of energy sources might look like in the United States, based on factors including cost and technology availability. In part, they drew on forecasts of future U.S. natural gas supplies developed by 23 experts in academia, industry, and finance; the forecasts ran the gamut from bullish to bearish. The researchers next ran those numbers through an optimization model that produced a likely energy mix.

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A figure in the new CDC paper shows that delaying intensified control measures will lead to vastly more new cases later. (For the full paper, click here.)

MMWR

A figure in the new CDC paper shows that delaying intensified control measures will lead to vastly more new cases later. (For the full paper, click here.)

Six months after the World Health Organization (WHO) was notified of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, its experts have released a new study warning that the situation is quickly growing worse and that Ebola may even "become endemic among the human population of West Africa, a prospect that has never previously been contemplated.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, meanwhile, released a new model for the spread of the deadly virus. Its worst-case scenario estimates that up to 1.4 million people could be infected by the end of January. If control efforts are stepped up in a truly dramatic fashion and prove a stunning success, however, the epidemic could be almost over by that time. "Delay is extremely costly in terms of lives and efforts,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said at a press conference today.

The Ebola outbreak, which probably started in Guinea in December last year, has already sickened at least 5843 people, according to the latest WHO figures—more than twice as many as all known previous outbreaks combined—and killed 2803. Epidemiologists expect the real numbers to be two or three times that, however, because only a fraction of cases is reported. And the spread of the disease keeps accelerating.

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The chikungunya virus is spread by mosquitoes.

Centers for Disease Prevention and Control

The chikungunya virus is spread by mosquitoes.

Eleven days after news broke that an unknown disease had killed eight people in the city of Maracay, Venezuela, doctors have concluded that the deaths were caused by chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus. Meanwhile, Ángel Sarmiento, the doctor who first announced the deaths, has fled the country after being accused of terrorism by President Nicolás Maduro.

Although officials initially speculated that the deaths were caused by an unknown hemorrhagic fever, six of the eight original fatalities tested positive for chikungunya when samples were analyzed in nongovernmental labs, says Julio Castro, the health minister of the municipality of Sucre and a professor in the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV). “We don’t think these deaths are due to an unknown or rare disease,” he told ScienceInsider, adding that “I have no doubt” that chikungunya is responsible.

After arriving in the Caribbean late last year, chikungunya has been sweeping the Americas. As of 19 September, the Pan-American Health Organization reported 729,178 suspected and 9537 confirmed cases in the region. There is no vaccine or cure for the disease, which is similar to dengue fever and causes joint pain. It is fatal in about one in 1000 cases.

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Luc Montagnier

Prolineserver (talk)/Wikimedia Commons

Luc Montagnier

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is potentially wading into hot water next month when it hosts a meeting set up by Nobelist Luc Montagnier to discuss his controversial research on what has become known as "the memory of water." The afternoon at the agency's Paris headquarters will feature talks about the virologist’s widely ridiculed idea that water can carry information via an electromagnetic imprint from DNA and other molecules.

The meeting has so far raised little public opposition from researchers, but the announcement on UNESCO's website acknowledges its controversial nature, saying:

The promoters of this conference are aware of the critical reactions aroused by this work in parts of the scientific community, so they wish to communicate their results with the utmost rigor. The aim is to foster a broad and multidisciplinary discussion. These data seem particularly important because they further enrich the immense achievements of molecular biology. They also suggest the development of new modes of transmission of genetic messages (transmission, transduction, teleportation, etc.).

Montagnier says the issue is actually getting less controversial as fresh evidence for his claims is coming in. "More scientists are becoming convinced by the data," he says.

At least one blogger is taking offense, however: "Shame on @UNESCO for hosting this absurd pseudoscience conference about Montagnier's nonsense," tweeted Andy Lewis, who hosts the blog The Quackometer, last week. "This is classic pathological science—dredging around in the noise of irreproducible experiments by practitioners whose expertise is not in these fields in order to support hypotheses that fly in the face of well-established scientific principles," Lewis writes in an e-mail to ScienceInsider.

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A screen shot of PubPeer users discussing the work of Fazlul Sarkar.

A screen shot of PubPeer users discussing the work of Fazlul Sarkar.

The power of anonymous comments—and the liability of those who make them—is at the heart of a possible legal battle embroiling PubPeer, an online forum launched in October 2012 for anonymous, postpublication peer review. A researcher who claims that comments on PubPeer caused him to lose a tenured faculty job offer now intends to press legal charges against the person or people behind these posts—provided he can uncover their identities, his lawyer says. 

The issue first came to light in August, when PubPeer’s (anonymous) moderators announced that the site had received a “legal threat.” Today, they revealed that the scientist involved is Fazlul Sarkar, a cancer researcher at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Sarkar, an author on more than 500 papers and principal investigator for more than $1,227,000 in active grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, has, like many scientists, had his work scrutinized on PubPeer. More than 50 papers on which he is an author have received at least one comment from PubPeer users, many of whom point out potential inconsistencies in the papers’ figures, such as perceived similarities between images that are supposed to depict different experiments.

Recently, PubPeer was contacted about those comments by Nicholas Roumel, an attorney at Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard & Walker P.C. in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who represents Sarkar and spoke to ScienceInsider on his behalf. On 9 June, the University of Mississippi Medical Center announced that Sarkar would join the faculty in its school of pharmacy. Records from a meeting of the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning note that he was offered a tenured position and a salary of $350,000 per year, effective 1 July.

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New military base could seal fate of Okinawa dugong

Julien Willem/Wikimedia Commons

The Okinawa dugong's days could be numbered. At most 10 of the marine mammals remain in Japan's southernmost prefecture, according to the Nature Conservation Society of Japan (NACS-J). Now, land reclamation needed for a new U.S. Marine Corps air base threatens two of the region's few remaining major beds of seagrass, which dugong depend on, says NACS-J, which has petitioned U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy for permission to conduct a survey.

Dugong inhabit coastal zones in tropical and semitropical waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans. Populations have been decimated by hunting, habitat loss due to coastal development, and fishing by-catching. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the dugong as vulnerable to extinction worldwide. Japan's environment ministry considers the Okinawa dugong, the northernmost population of the species, critically endangered.

The new base offshore of the Henoko district of Nago city in Oura Bay could be the death knell for the Okinawa dugong. One seagrass bed will be covered by the construction, and another will be dredged for sand. In mid-July, the Okinawa Defense Bureau, which is overseeing construction, restricted access to the site to start a drilling survey needed to finalize reclamation plans. NACS-J had planned to have two foreign experts last month examine recently sighted feeding trails, the characteristic paths through seagrass beds dugong create as they uproot and eat the vegetation. But the U.S. Marine Corps denied access to the construction zone, citing safety concerns. So last week NACS-J appealed to Kennedy, emphasizing the scientific nature of their intended survey and asking for her "special attention to and reconsideration on this profound problem."

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Graduate training is seen as a crown jewel of U.S. higher education.

University of Southern Mississippi/Van Arnold

Graduate training is seen as a crown jewel of U.S. higher education.

They probably should have known better, admits Harold Varmus, one of the authors of a controversial proposal this spring to correct the “systemic flaws” affecting U.S. biomedical research. But he and two of the other co-authors acknowledged Friday that one aspect of their call to arms was flawed, namely, that the community was close to agreeing on how to deal with the complex problems that affect training and funding.

 “We were naive,” said Varmus, director of the National Cancer Institute, after a presentation to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). “We were hoping to pick off some low-hanging fruit.”

But that fruit isn’t ripe yet, he and Princeton University’s President Emerita Shirley Tilghman and Harvard Medical School’s Marc Kirschner told PCAST. The council had invited the four authors (Bruce Alberts, the former editor of Science, was unable to attend) because of the furor their article had raised within the biomedical community, explained PCAST Co-Chair Eric Lander.

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Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz (second from left), Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX), and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R–AK) listen to a presentation on high-performance computing at National Lab Day.

Department of Energy

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz (second from left), Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX), and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R–AK) listen to a presentation on high-performance computing at National Lab Day.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) 17 national laboratories can be a rambunctious and fractious lot, often feuding over funding, prestige, and greater independence from their parent bureaucracy. But earlier this week, in a U.S. Senate committee room here, the labs were on their best behavior, presenting themselves as a well-functioning—if not necessarily happy—family.

The occasion was the first-ever National Lab Day, a brainchild of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz designed to show off how the labs contribute to U.S. science and security. The main target audience: members of Congress who, to put it bluntly, provide most of the money to run the multibillion-dollar research network. And although it wasn’t mentioned directly, the 16 September Lab Day also occurred as the labs are facing renewed scrutiny over their efficiency and purpose.

The labs “provide essential capabilities for university and industrial researchers” and have made important contributions to America’s economic and military might, Moniz reminded a room packed with science policy heavyweights, including 15 lab directors, National Cancer Institute chief Harold Varmus, former White House science adviser Neal Lane, and lawmakers and staffers who serve on key committees overseeing federal research agencies. “[They] continue to advance science, clean energy, and nuclear security in this country, as they have for decades.”

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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power at today's Security Council meeting.

United Nations

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power at today's Security Council meeting.

Ebola’s devastation in three West African countries today compelled the U.N. Security Council to convene its first emergency meeting ever to discuss a public health crisis. It unanimously passed a resolution that declared the spread of the virus a “threat to international peace and security” and called on the world to send more health care workers and supplies to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, and not to isolate those countries.

Several speakers stressed that the epidemic is especially tragic because the three countries have made significant progress in their development in the past few years.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who chaired today's meeting, noted that the resolution had 130 co-sponsors, more than any previous one in the history of the Security Council.

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A federal watchdog office has dismissed allegations that last year National Institutes of Health (NIH) officials improperly interfered with another federal office’s oversight of the ethics of a controversial NIH-funded study involving premature infants.

At issue is the $20 million, 23-institution SUPPORT (Surfactant, Positive Pressure, and Oxygenation Randomized Trial) study, which from 2005 to 2009 studied the levels of oxygen that premature infants should receive. In early 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) found that parents of the 1316 babies in the study had not been adequately informed of risks and sent a letter imposing sanctions to the University of Alabama, Birmingham, which led the study. NIH officials publicly defended SUPPORT, which they noted used oxygen levels within the standard of care.

Then in May, a public advocacy group, Public Citizen, released a flood of e-mails exchanged among NIH, HHS, and OHRP officials in which NIH recommended revisions to a second OHRP letter to the university. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D–CT) and Public Citizen asked the HHS inspector general (IG) to investigate whether NIH had improperly intervened in OHRP’s deliberations.

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Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae—flourishing in the plate on the right despite nearby disks containing antibiotics.

James Gathany/CDC

Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae—flourishing in the plate on the right despite nearby disks containing antibiotics.

In the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the U.S. government is dangling a new incentive: a $20 million prize for a quick diagnostic test to recognize highly resistant infections. The prize is just one in a slew of actions announced by the White House today to signal its greater attention to the threat of antibiotic-resistant microbes.

Alongside the prize, the administration announced a national strategy that sets goals to be achieved by 2020, including better surveillance of highly resistant infections, faster development of new antibiotics, and more judicious use of existing drugs. The president also signed an executive order creating both an advisory council of nongovernmental experts and an interagency task force, co-chaired by the secretaries of the Health and Human Services (HHS), Defense, and Agriculture departments. “This represents a major elevation of the issue, a major upgrading of the administration’s effort to help address it,” said John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, during a press conference today.

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A child is vaccinated in Syria last year.

European Commission DG ECHO/Flickr/Creative Commons

A child is vaccinated in Syria last year.

At least 15 children, all or most under age 2, have died after receiving an injection in a measles immunization campaign in an opposition-held area of northern Syria. Up to 50 more children were sickened.

Details are hazy, says a World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Geneva, Switzerland, but at this point the cause looks like a “very bad human error,” in which a strong muscle relaxant was administered instead of the measles vaccine. The tragic deaths threaten to undermine all vaccination efforts across Syria, where childhood immunization rates have dropped precipitously after years of civil war.

WHO and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) have dispatched an investigation team but for now are dependent on secondhand information from nongovernmental organizations and other partners in northern Syria, says WHO’s Christian Lindmeier. (For security reasons, neither organization has staff on the ground in Idlib, where the deaths occurred.) Until the cause is confirmed, rumors will continue to circulate, he warns; various press accounts are alleging a plot by the government of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or perhaps the terrorist group ISIS.

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Co-chairs Neal Lane and Norman Augustine listen to Bart Gordon (at podium) discuss new report.

Tony Brown/imijphoto.com

Co-chairs Neal Lane (left) and Norman Augustine (right) listen to Bart Gordon (at podium) discuss new report.

When academics argue for more U.S. government spending on basic research, they usually haul out statistics that demonstrate how research has played an outsized role in spurring economic development. Those numbers may appeal to other scholars, but to date that approach hasn’t been particularly effective in winning over Washington policymakers. Bart Gordon prefers the Peyton index.

“There are two ways we can compete with the rest of the world,” explains Gordon, the former chair of the science committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. “If we compete on wages, which are less than $2 a day for half the people in the world, the standard of living for my 13-year-old daughter’s generation will be dramatically reduced. Or we can invest in research and innovation.”

Gordon made the reference to his daughter, Peyton, at a media briefing this week on a new report by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. It recommends a huge increase in federal spending as well as changes to the U.S. research enterprise that will make it more efficient. The title, Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream, is meant to highlight the link between research and the country’s future prosperity. But the optics of the event were at odds with that forward-looking message.

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Treponema pallidum spirochetes, which cause syphilis.

CDC/Dr. Edwin P. Ewing Jr.

Treponema pallidum spirochetes, which cause syphilis.

Public health experts in Australia are sounding alarms over a record number of new cases of syphilis and a dramatic rise in viral hepatitis deaths. Experts trace the spike in syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to a decrease in condom use, particularly among men who have sex with men (MSM), and they see the hepatitis death toll as the inevitable result of long-term trends in injecting drug use.

The alarming numbers and the underlying behaviors are examined in a pair of reports on HIV, viral hepatitis, and STIs in Australia released today by the Kirby Institute for Infection and Immunity in Society and the Centre for Social Research in Health, both at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. 

"Unfortunately, it's really bad news for STIs in Australia," says epidemiologist David Wilson of the Kirby Institute. And for hepatitis, "there is a very large epidemic that largely went on under our nose but it is catching up with us right now," he says.

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Coffee rust

Richard/Flickr/Creative Commons

Coffee scientists from around the world last week flew into Colombia's Eje Cafetero region, a verdant collage of deep gullies and mountainsides covered in thousands of small-scale coffee farms framed by banana trees. At the heart of the 25th International Conference on Coffee Science (ASIC) was a burning question: how to deal with coffee leaf rust, or roya. The world's most damaging coffee disease, leaf rust has torn through Latin America, costing farmers an estimated $1 billion and cutting some harvests by more than half in Central America. Between copious coffee breaks, scientists announced several new molecular techniques to help combat this continental epidemic.

Resistant coffee plants

Helping the coffee plant defend itself from the fungus is a top priority. Colombia leads the world in developing rust-resistant coffee breeds, also known as cultivars. When coffee leaf rust—which was first spotted in East Africa in the 1860s—made it to South America in the 1970s, Colombia's national coffee research center, Cenicafé, was already a decade into its rust resistance breeding program. Since then, it has released two major coffee cultivars—Colombia (in 1980) and Castillo (2005)—that have been effective since 1983 in tempering leaf rust while preserving the characteristics so important to world-class coffee: high yield, large grain size, great taste.

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Heinz Feldmann in scrubs and a rain jacket outside one of the tents in Monrovia.

NIAID

Heinz Feldmann in scrubs and a rain jacket outside one of the tents in Monrovia.

Virologist Heinz Feldmann has spent most of his career studying the deadly Ebola virus at research institutes in Germany, Canada, and the United States. He is now at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Hamilton, Montana.

Feldmann has co-developed one of the vaccine candidates that is scheduled to be tested soon and has helped contain several Ebola outbreaks in the past. On 8 September, he returned from 3 weeks in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, where he ran a diagnostic lab for a treatment center operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF). This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: What was your impression of the situation in Monrovia?

A: The first impression was actually that nothing is wrong. The part of the city we were in, outside the center, was pretty calm. But when you get to the Ebola ward, that impression turns. It is a disastrous situation. There are a lot of sick people hanging around, trying to get in, but the ward is just not big enough. They have to turn obviously sick people back into the community because there are no beds. I think we would need at least five to 10 times the capacity in Monrovia. The city is totally overwhelmed by the number of cases and the outbreak.

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The Ebola virus

CDC/Dr. Frederick A. Murphy/Wikimedia Commons

The Ebola virus

Mark 16 September 2014 as the day the United States declared an all-out war on the Ebola epidemic raging in West Africa.

As President Barack Obama explained in remarks he made today at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, the world is looking to the United States for help. “It’s a responsibility we embrace,” Obama said. “We’re prepared to take leadership on this to provide the kinds of capabilities that only America has, and to mobilize the world in ways that only America can do.  That’s what we’re doing as we speak.”

At the same time Obama was speaking in Atlanta, the U.S. Senate held an Ebola hearing that featured testimony from leading public health officials and perhaps the world’s most famous Ebola survivor, Kent Brantly, who became ill with the disease while treating patients in Liberia in July. “We must take the deadly dangerous threat of the Ebola epidemic as seriously as we take ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria],” said Senator Lamar Alexander (R–TN).

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