Smoke rises from a Fukushima reactor damaged in the 11 March 2011 disaster.

Digital Globe/Wikimedia Commons

Smoke rises from a Fukushima reactor damaged in the 11 March 2011 disaster.

To avoid the kind of complacency over safety that led to the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan, U.S. nuclear plant operators and regulators must be prepared to take timely action to upgrade plant safety features in line with advances in the understanding of natural hazards, states a report released today.

The report, Lessons Learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving Safety of U.S. Nuclear Plants, was written by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences. The panel drew on Japanese and international investigations into the causes of the Fukushima disaster, precipitated by the magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami of 11 March 2011.

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An artist's conception of NASA's Europa Clipper mission.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

An artist's conception of NASA's Europa Clipper mission.

Hunter Waite has waited years for the chance to use his planetary science engineering chops on a mission to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. Now, the director of the space and engineering program at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, may finally get that chance.

Last week, setting its sights firmly on the outer reaches of our solar system, NASA invited scientists to submit designs for instruments that could ride to Europa on the agency’s proposed Clipper mission. NASA ultimately plans to pick 15 to 20 proposals to receive about $1 million each for further development—making the Clipper competition one of the largest of its kind in 25 years.

But Clipper, which NASA hopes to launch in the 2020s, is still a long way from securing the estimated $2 billion to $3 billion it will need to get off the ground.

Still, NASA’s move has sparked excitement among researchers such as Waite, who has spent half of his adult life on projects associated with the jovian moon. “Most people in the community think we’re way overdue for doing this,” he says. “It has been high on [researchers’] recommendation list for many years. It’s time.”

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Broad Institute receives $650 million for psychiatric research

Nicolas Rougier/Wikimedia

The Broad Institute, a collaborative biomedical research center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has received a $650 million donation from philanthropist and businessman Ted Stanley to study the biological basis of diseases such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The largest donation ever made to psychiatric research, the gift totals nearly six times the current $110 million annual budget for President Barack Obama’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. Stanley has already given Broad $175 million, and the $650 million will be provided as an annual cash flow on the order of tens of millions each year, with the remainder to be given after Stanley’s death. (See other coverage here and here.)

The gift accompanies a paper published online today in Nature from researchers at Broad and worldwide, which identifies more than 100 areas of the human genome associated with schizophrenia, based on samples from almost 37,000 people with schizophrenia and about 113,000 without the disease. Researchers are likely to find hundreds of additional genetic variations associated with the disease as the number of patients sampled grows, says psychiatrist Kenneth Kendler of the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics in Richmond, a co-author on the study.

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Senator Jay Rockefeller (D–WV)

U.S. Senate

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D–WV)

Taking issue with its counterpart in the U.S. House of Representatives, a Senate panel has embraced how the National Science Foundation (NSF) does its business in a bill that sets policies and recommends funding levels for NSF over the next 5 years.

The proposed legislation, released Friday afternoon in draft form by the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, calls on Congress to increase NSF’s budget by nearly 40%, to $9.9 billion, by 2019. It also endorses NSF’s current policies for reviewing grant proposals and—in sharp contrast to a House bill—emphasizes the importance of the social sciences as part of a balanced research portfolio.

“[T]he Federal science agencies should receive sustained and steady growth in funding for research and development activities, including basic research, across a wide range of disciplines, including … [the] social, behavioral, and economic sciences,” declares the 146-page Senate bill, titled the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2014. The legislation, which sets policies affecting research programs at NSF and the National Institute of Standards and Technology as well as science education activities across the federal government, would replace the 2010 America COMPETES Act, which expired last year.

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The U.S. government is heading toward advice on sustainable diets.

USMC

The U.S. government is heading toward advice on sustainable diets.

Advice about a healthy diet might soon take the planet itself into account. The next version of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the major nutrition report from the government agencies that brought you the food pyramid, seems likely to contain advice about sustainable food choices. The prospect is already generating controversy.

Every 5 years, a new set of dietary advice comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It usually boils down to what your parents told you about eating a balanced diet. In 2010, the guidelines tried something new, switching from a food pyramid to a plate (and, for the first time, specifically urging Americans to eat more fish and less pizza). The changes are based on a review of recent research findings by outside scientists, whose recommendations are turned into guidelines by agency scientists and officials.

At an advisory panel meeting today, scientists discussed why it matters how the food you eat is produced. A subcommittee on food sustainability and safety, chaired by Miriam Nelson, a nutritionist at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, presented its preliminary conclusions. "Promoting more sustainable diets will contribute to food security for present and future generations by conserving resources," the subcommittee found. "This approach should be encouraged across all food sectors."

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Cora Marrett steps down as NSF deputy director

Photo by Sandy Schaeffer

Cora Marrett has been a jack-of-all-trades administrator at the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a good part of the past 2 decades, including two stints as acting director of the $7 billion agency. Yesterday, the 72-year-old sociologist announced she will retire next month, before the end of her term as NSF’s deputy director, and return home to Wisconsin.

“I’m been commuting for 7 years, with my husband [Louis Marrett] in Madison,” she told ScienceInsider today. “As you know, the past year has been very challenging, with the shutdown and the effects of sequestration. And having seen that NSF was moving along and that the prospects looked very good, I thought this would be a good time to go home, as I had planned.”

Marrett’s decision to leave on 24 August comes 4 months after France Córdova took up the reins as NSF’s 14th director. In addition to dealing with the government-wide funding crunch, NSF has spent the past year battling Republican legislators over how it manages its grants portfolio, including its funding of the social sciences. Some U.S. science policy observers say the agency was put at a disadvantage in that fight by Marrett’s status as acting director.

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This former building belonging to drug developer Merck Serono will soon house a center devoted to neuroprosthetics.

Cathrin Badzung - Merck KGaA Germany, Corporate Communications [CC BY-SA 3.0]

This former building belonging to drug developer Merck Serono will soon house a center devoted to neuroprosthetics.

Neuroscientist John Donoghue of Brown University has spent the past decade working on brain-machine interfaces that allow paralyzed people to control prosthetic limbs using only their minds, a project called BrainGate. This summer, he’s packing his bags for Switzerland to become director of the new Wyss Center for Bio- and Neuro-Engineering in Geneva, part of the resurrection of an extensive research facility abandoned by pharma giant Merck Serono in 2012. The firm sold the site last year to Swiss billionaires Hansjörg Wyss and Ernesto Bertarelli—Bertarelli used to run the biotech firm Serono before Merck purchased it. The new center, funded with more than $100 million from a foundation started by Wyss, will host more than a dozen new laboratories devoted to research in areas such as neuroengineering and regenerative engineering. Science talked to Donoghue about the move. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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Joep Lange is remembered as one  of the most loved and respected people in his field.

AIGHD

Joep Lange is remembered as one of the most loved and respected people in his field.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—As thousands of researchers gathered here today to attend the 20th International AIDS Conference, which starts Sunday, the usual joyous hugs of greeting between far-flung colleagues were replaced by hugs of sorrow at the loss of Dutch HIV scientist Joep Lange, a leading light in the field, and at least five others heading to the meeting who were on the Malaysian Airlines flight shot down over Ukraine on 17 July.

Media reports today speculated that as many as 100 HIV researchers may have been aboard the downed jet, which was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur—a number repeated by President Barack Obama in his remarks today on the tragedy. But at what was supposed to be a celebratory dinner tonight for select delegates, Sharon Lewin, co-chair of the meeting, said that so far, six people expected to come to the meeting were known to have boarded the flight: Lange, his partner Jacqueline van Tongeren, three others working in the HIV/AIDS field in the Netherlands, and World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman Glenn Thomas. “We actually don’t know the full story,” said Lewin, a researcher here at the Burnet Institute. (A story in The Washington Post says the meeting has now confirmed seven names.)

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Gas field in Utah's Uinta Basin.

Google Maps

Gas field in Utah's Uinta Basin.

MISSOULA, MONTANA—New energy development in the United States could take up a land area roughly twice the size of Maine by 2040, according to a new estimate. Building the new coal mines, oil and gas wells, and solar and wind farms needed to meet projected energy production levels could require an additional 175,000 to 250,000 square kilometers of real estate, researchers reported here at the North America Congress for Conservation Biology. Such “energy sprawl” will complicate efforts to preserve wildlife habitat, they predicted.

“There is going to be a very large challenge in siting all of this energy infrastructure,” says landscape ecologist Anne Trainor of Yale University, who is developing the estimates with Joseph Fargione, a science director at the Nature Conservancy in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “But it is important that we understand how much space we might need under different scenarios, and be able to understand the trade-offs related to different energy sources.”

To get that big picture, the researchers built on a similar 2009 analysis that appeared in PLOS ONE.  Drawing on official energy forecasts, they explore four scenarios: a “business-as-usual” world that assumes no major changes in energy trends; an “increased oil and gas” future in which those fuels play a bigger role; a “limited carbon” world which includes government curbs on greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels; and a “renewables” future that includes expanded solar, wind, and biofuel energy production. They then estimate how much new land would be needed for each energy source through 2040, including infrastructure like roads and transmission lines. A conventional gas well, for example, typically requires 2 to 4 hectares. They made the numbers comparable by converting everything to a common unit, “kilometers squared per terawatt hour” of energy produced.

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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Bucking global efforts to curtail carbon pollution, Australia’s conservative government yesterday abolished a national carbon tax that it had long opposed. The move to “ax the tax”—as Prime Minister Tony Abbott is fond of saying—makes Australia the first country in the world to abolish a functioning carbon pricing scheme.

In 2009, Abbott, then leader of the opposition, dismissed climate change as “absolute crap.” The centerpiece of Australia’s Clean Energy Act passed in 2012, the carbon tax required 350 of the nation’s biggest polluters to purchase carbon credits, valued at AU$23 per ton, if they exceeded their allotted targets.  At a press conference on Thursday, Abbott hailed the demise of the “useless, destructive tax.”

Australian researchers have condemned the move. The tax repeal is a “dereliction of duty with respect to the rights of young people and future generations,” says energy research expert Hugh Outhred of the University of New South Wales in Sydney. “The perfect storm of stupidity,” adds Roger Jones, a specialist in climate change risk and adaptation at Victoria University in Melbourne. Scrapping the tax, he argues, demonstrates a “complete disregard” for the science of climate change. “It’s hard to imagine a more effective combination of poor reasoning and bad policymaking.”

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The ISS headquarters in Rome.

Ferdinando Chiodo/Wikimedia Commons

The ISS headquarters in Rome.

The Italian government has chosen a prominent scientist to take charge of the country’s leading biomedical research institute with the goal of improving its precarious financial situation. But some researchers at the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS) are worried that implementing the needed fiscal reforms will also result in curtailing programs and cutting staff.

Gualtiero Ricciardi, professor of hygiene and public health at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Rome, began his new job today as ISS commissioner. He replaces Fabrizio Oleari, who became ISS president last year amid controversy about his scientific qualifications for the job.

Last month, the Italian government declared that ISS was in receivership “because of the financial situation of deficit recorded in the financial statements for two consecutive years," and on Tuesday Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin named Ricciardi for a 6-month stint as ISS commissioner. Ricciardi now heads the Department of Public Health in Rome and is completing a 4-year term as president of the European Public Health Association.

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George Hazelrigg

Paul Fetters

George Hazelrigg

After 32 years as a program officer at the National Science Foundation (NSF), George Hazelrigg knows the rules governing peer review, especially the one that says researchers can’t be both an applicant and a reviewer in the same funding competition. Last year, however, he got permission to throw the rules out the window. His experiment, aimed at easing the strain on NSF staff and reviewers produced by a burgeoning number of proposals and declining success rates, not only allowed applicants to serve as reviewers, but it also required them to assess seven competing proposals in exchange for having their own application reviewed.

Some scientists might be horrified by such a “pay to play” system. But researchers in the engineering systems community responded enthusiastically, submitting 60% more proposals than usual by the 1 October deadline. A preliminary NSF evaluation concluded that the process, which used mail reviews rather than the in-person panels that are the norm at NSF, not only saved time and money but may also have improved the quality of the proposals and the reviews.

NSF is now considering whether to expand use of the offbeat approach, which is based in part on NSF-funded research into better voting and decision-making systems. In the meantime, some astronomers have already jumped on the bandwagon: Faced with a similar reviewing crunch, in January the Gemini Observatory will begin using a similar system to allocate observing time on its Hawaii telescope. “Finding good reviewers willing to spend the time is getting harder and harder,” says Rachel Mason, a Gemini astronomer in Hawaii who is coordinating the experiment, called Fast-Turnaround. “People also thought it would be kinda fun to have the chance to read their competitors’ proposals.”

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With "gene drive" malaria control, certain genes (blue mosquitoes) will become more common over time, eventually spreading to the entire population.

Science/AAAS

With "gene drive" malaria control, certain genes (blue mosquitoes) will become more common over time, eventually spreading to the entire population.

In 2011, experiments that allowed the potentially deadly H5N1 flu virus to spread between mammals ignited intense discussions about whether such research should be done at all, much less published. But most of the debate occurred after the research had been carried out.

Kenneth Oye, a social scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, thinks that the discussion needs to take place before the lab work starts. In an article appearing online today in Science, he and nine colleagues have outlined what they think needs to be done about an emerging technology called gene drive.   

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Golden rice (right) protects against vitamin A deficiency in children.

Golden Rice Humanitarian Board

Worth its weight in gold? Golden rice (right) protects against vitamin A deficiency in children.

A researcher whose nutrition study in Chinese children was found in breach of ethical regulations is going to court to salvage a paper describing her results. Nutrition scientist Guangwen Tang is suing the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) and Tufts University, where she has worked for more than 25 years, to prevent the retraction of her 2012 paper in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The society intends to withdraw the paper because a Tufts investigative panel found ethical lapses in the study last year; Tang argues that retraction is tantamount to defamation, according to a report by Courthouse News Service, which states that she filed her suit on 9 July.

According to Adrian Dubock, executive secretary of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board in Switzerland, which was not directly involved in the study, ASN twice asked Tang and her six co-authors to withdraw the paper voluntarily, which they declined to do. The society recently decided to retract the paper on its own, Dubock says—but it has agreed to a 90-day stay after Tang filed her lawsuit, to see if the matter can be settled out of court. (At the moment, the paper is still up on the journal's website.)

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A vial of the smallpox found earlier this month at NIH.

CDC

A vial of the smallpox found earlier this month at NIH.

A U.S. House of Representatives investigative committee today grilled Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden about an accident last month with anthrax and other biosafety problems with dangerous pathogens in his agency’s labs—including some revealed years ago that supposedly led to reforms. Frieden explained that his agency failed to see “the pattern” that the latest incidents have exposed.

The hearing by the House Energy and Commerce Committee investigations subcommittee came in response to a June incident in which CDC scientists in Atlanta moved anthrax samples they mistakenly thought were inactivated from high-containment labs to less secure ones, potentially exposing dozens of workers. Last week, two more problems came to light: a recent CDC shipment of flu samples contaminated with the deadly H5N1 avian influenza and the discovery of smallpox vials from 1954 in a government lab at the National Institutes of Health. The incidents prompted Frieden to announce on Friday several actions to improve safety, including the closure of two CDC labs and a moratorium on shipping samples from the agency’s high-containment labs until new procedures are put in place.

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The LZ experiment in a South Dakota mine will use a 7-tonne tank of liquid xenon to look for WIMPs.

Matt Hoff, Berkeley Lab

The LZ experiment in a South Dakota mine will use a 7-tonne tank of liquid xenon to look for WIMPs.

For a change, U.S. particle physicists are savoring some good news about government funding. The Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced on Friday that they will try to fund two major experiments to detect particles of the mysterious dark matter whose gravity binds the galaxies instead of just one. The decision allays fears that the funding agencies could afford only one experiment to continue the search for so-called weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs. It also averts having to choose between the two leading WIMP-search teams in the United States.

"We have the opportunity right now for the U.S. experiments to push further in sensitivity and possibly make a discovery," says Richard Gaitskell, a physicist at Brown University and a member of the team developing a WIMP detector called LZ, one of the two leading projects. "There's a real commitment from the community and the funding agencies." Blas Cabrera, a physicist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and spokesman for the rival SuperCDMS experiment, says that having to pick only one team “would have been a grave mistake."

For decades, astronomers and astrophysicists have reasoned that some sort of otherwise unobservable dark matter provides most of the gravity that keeps the galaxies from flying apart. Physicists hope to identify that stuff by detecting particles of it floating around us. For example, dark matter could consist of WIMPs, hypothetical particles that would barely interact with ordinary matter and weigh much more than protons.

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NIH is reshuffling the membership of NSABB.

NIH is reshuffling the membership of NSABB.

On the heels of several mishaps involving deadly pathogens, U.S. officials are reconvening an expert advisory panel that hasn’t met in nearly 2 years. But the government has also dismissed 11 of the original members of the 23-person panel, called the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB).

“We had no inkling it was going to happen this way,” says Paul Keim, a pathogen genomics researcher at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff who formerly chaired NSABB and has been on the panel since it was formed in 2005. The 11 members learned they were being dismissed Sunday evening in an e-mail from the board’s executive director, Mary Groesch, who works at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), NSABB’s overseer. The e-mail prompted this tweet from NSABB member Michael Imperiale of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor: “#NIH just gave remaining inaugural NSABB members pink sheets. Bizarre time to eliminate all institutional memory.”

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H5N1 bird flu virus growing in cells

Cynthia Goldsmith/Wikimedia Commons

H5N1 bird flu virus growing in cells

A group of prominent scientists and others are calling for a limit to experiments that modify influenza and other dangerous viruses to make them spread more easily in mammals.

Three recent safety lapses in federal labs with smallpox, anthrax, and avian influenza are a reminder of the “fallibility” of even the most secure labs, writes a group calling itself the Cambridge Working Group in a 14 July statement drafted at Harvard University. “Laboratory creation of highly transmissible, novel strains of dangerous viruses, especially but not limited to influenza, poses substantially increased risks” that an accidental infection could lead to a global outbreak, they write.

The group urges that experiments that produce potential pandemic strains “should be curtailed until there has been a quantitative, objective and credible assessment” of the risks, potential benefits, and alternatives. They call for a process akin to Asilomar, a 1975 summit that came up with guidelines for recombinant DNA technology.

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David Willetts

www.davidwilletts.co.uk/

David Willetts

David Willetts resigned from his post as U.K. universities and science minister yesterday as part of a government reshuffle. Today, Greg Clark, a conservative minister responsible for cities policy and constitutional reform, has taken over Willetts' portfolio.

Prominent U.K. scientists and policy leaders have praised Willetts, who was appointed in May 2010, as a strong advocate for research funding after the financial downturn. “Despite the fact that he's not a scientist, he went native. His personal affection and enthusiasm for science have been crucially important in sustaining the government's commitment to science through challenging times,” said Colin Blakemore, a neuroscience and philosophy professor at the University of London, in a statement to the Science Media Centre (SMC).

Imran Khan, chief executive of the British Science Association, lauded Willetts as one of the country's “sharpest and most talented politicians.” “You'd be hard-pressed to find many in our sector who have a bad word to say about him,” Khan wrote to SMC.

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Lax reviewing practice prompts 60 retractions at SAGE journal

Journal of Vibration and Control

The academic publishing industry has been rocked by scandals in recent years, most of them uncovered by outsiders. But the latest comes from an internal probe: A 14-month investigation by the publisher SAGE has uncovered a fake peer-review scam involving hundreds of fraudulent and assumed identities. A total of 60 research articles published over the past 4 years in the Journal of Vibration and Control (JVC) are being retracted. SAGE concludes that the scam was orchestrated—possibly alone—by one physicist, Peter Chen, at the National Pingtung University of Education (NPUE) in Taiwan. But what ultimately made the scam possible, ScienceInsider has learned, was a lax editorial policy at the journal.

The story broke 8 July at Retraction Watch, but the first hint of a conspiracy emerged in May of last year, says Daniel Sherman, head of public affairs at SAGE. “An author (later confirmed to be an innocent party) contacted SAGE after receiving two suspicious e-mails from individuals related to a paper he had submitted to JVC.” The senders claimed to be university-based scientists but were using Google Gmail accounts. By directly contacting the scientists via their official university e-mail accounts, SAGE investigators discovered that the identity of at least one of the scientists had been stolen—that researcher did not have a Gmail account. (SAGE is not revealing the names of the people involved.)

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The Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility on the NIST campus is an energy laboratory disguised as a home.

National Institute of Standards and Technology

The Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility on the NIST campus is an energy laboratory disguised as a home.

A virtual family in Gaithersburg, Maryland, is helping scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) demonstrate that an ordinary-looking home can more than offset its energy usage.

The home generated a surplus 491 kilowatt hours of energy in its first year of operation, according to a report on the agency’s Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility released earlier this month. That savings, which exceeded expectations, amounts to more than half of what the average American household uses in a month.

There are other net-zero projects around the country, says A. Hunter Fanney, chief of NIST’s Energy and Environment Division, but NIST’s house is unique in achieving net-zero energy consumption without skimping on the comforts of a regular home. The home touts a long list of energy-saving technologies and design features, from geothermal heat pumps to smart energy zones that concentrate power only where it’s needed. With the exception of the five solar panels on the roof—a large one which converts solar power into electricity and four smaller panels that convert solar into heat energy—the home looks indistinguishable from what you might find in any comfortable neighborhood in the Gaithersburg area.

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Workers last week began pouring a 1.5-meter-thick concrete slab that will support the 360,000-ton Tokamak Complex.

ITER

Workers last week began pouring a 1.5-meter-thick concrete slab that will support the 360,000-ton Tokamak Complex.

The promise of fusion energy has temporarily bridged the wide gap that separates Democrats and Republicans on the science committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. But that meeting of minds wasn’t the only surprise to emerge from an oversight hearing Friday on the status of ITER, an experimental fusion reactor being built in France that has been plagued by rising costs and construction delays.

Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), chair of the full committee, and Representative Eric Swalwell (D–CA), the top Democrat on the energy panel that conducted the hearing, have sparred repeatedly this year over a wide swath of pending legislation. But they were in the same corner in praising the massive international project to achieve sustained ignition of a burning plasma, the first step in building a commercial reactor to generate power.

“This experiment is absolutely essential to proving that magnetically confined fusion can be a viable clean energy source,” Swalwell declared in his opening statement. His words were immediately followed by a comment from Smith that “I agree completely with the ranking member.” Swalwell returned the favor later in the hearing, observing that “I was delighted to hear the chairman’s remarks about how ITER could get us to a carbon-neutral source of energy … and really make moot a lot of the back-and-forth debate in this town about fossil fuels versus other sources of energy.” 

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The 1% of scientific publishing

Aaron Logan/Wikimedia Commons

Publishing is one of the most ballyhooed metrics of scientific careers, and every researcher hates to have a gap in that part of his or her CV. Here’s some consolation: A new study finds that very few scientists—fewer than 1%—manage to publish a paper every year.

But these 150,608 scientists dominate the research journals, having their names on 41% of all papers. Among the most highly cited work, this elite group can be found among the co-authors of 87% of papers.

The new research, published on 9 July in PLOS ONE, was led by epidemiologist John Ioannidis of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, with analysis of Elsevier’s Scopus database by colleagues Kevin Boyack and Richard Klavans at SciTech Strategies. They looked at papers published between 1996 and 2011 by 15 million scientists worldwide in many disciplines.

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CDC Director Thomas Frieden

Center for Disease Control/Wikimedia Commons

CDC Director Thomas Frieden

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has closed two labs and halted some biological shipments in the wake of several recent incidents in which highly pathogenic microbes were mishandled by federal laboratories. The cases include an accidental shipment of live anthrax; the discovery of forgotten, live smallpox samples; and a newly revealed incident in which a dangerous influenza strain was accidentally shipped from CDC to another lab.

The two cases involving CDC mistakes reveal “totally unacceptable behavior” by staff, said CDC chief Thomas Frieden at a press conference today at CDC headquarters in Atlanta. He announced several actions that CDC is taking to step up safety and security, including a moratorium on shipping highly risky pathogens. “I’m disappointed by what happened and frankly I’m angry about it,” he added.

Frieden also revealed that two of six vials of smallpox discovered last week in a cold storage room in a Food and Drug Administration lab at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, have tested positive for live virus when grown in culture. Some smallpox experts had predicted that the 1950s-era samples would no longer be viable. Four samples have yet to be tested; all will then be destroyed, Frieden said.

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BEIJING—Science has once again come into the crosshairs of China’s anticorruption drive. This week, the Communist Party’s antigraft watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, announced that it had uncovered fraud in research grants managed by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and at prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai.

Both announcements were sketchy on details. The Fudan probe unearthed unspecified corruption in research funding and graft connected with facilities management. Fudan officials are expected to respond to the charges with a “rectification work plan” next week, according to China Education Daily News. Xinhua, the state-run newswire, asserted that the malfeasance at Fudan was just the tip of the iceberg. In China’s scientific establishment, Xinhua stated, “project support does not depend on merit but on relationships,” and “funds are basically unsupervised” by universities once they are doled out by ministries.

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