University College London

Steve Cadman from London, U.K./Wikimedia Commons

University College London

LONDONThe anticipation is over. Scientists and higher education officials in the United Kingdom are now poring over the findings of an influential evaluation of university research released here today. The periodic and typically controversial report, now called the Research Excellence Framework (REF), highlights overall improvement in research quality across the United Kingdom. The government funding councils that ran the massive review evaluated individual research departments, but didn't rank them or the universities. As usual, though, others quickly crunched the numbers and officials started bragging. 

University College London (UCL) was first to trumpet its ranking, claiming the top slot that had in the previous evaluation gone to the Institute of Cancer Research and before that to the University of Cambridge. Cardiff University boasted of its "meteoric rise" in the rankings. Meanwhile, the Russell Group, a consortium of UCL, Cardiff, and 22 other large universities, said the REF’s results justified concentrating limited funds into the best performing institutions. “The volume of world-leading research in Russell Group universities is more than double that in other universities," said Wendy Piatt, the group’s director general in a statement.

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Howard Ignatius/Flickr

A sunset in Havana, Cuba.

A new era in U.S.-Cuba relations could be a boon for scientific cooperation between the two nations. The diplomatic breakthrough between the Cold War foes, announced separately today by U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, is expected to immediately loosen restrictions on U.S. and Cuban scientists getting together for joint research. It may also pave the way for U.S. organizations to sponsor workshops and meetings in Cuba and to export state-of-the-art instruments to Cuba, activities now essentially prohibited under U.S. law.

“This is huge news for science,” says David E. Guggenheim, president of Ocean Doctor, a nonprofit that has sponsored marine research with Cuba. “These policy changes will go a long way to ensure a more robust science relationship,” said Alan Leshner, CEO of AAAS, in a statement.  (AAAS  publishes ScienceInsider and has been working in recent years to promote science diplomacy with Cuba.) The new Obama administration policy, Leshner says, should boost collaboration on such topics as the spread of emerging pathogens like the chikungunya virus and atmospheric research on hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.

The U.S. has imposed a web of sanctions, including a trade embargo, on Cuba for more than half a century. The U.S. Treasury Department prohibits most expenditures by U.S. citizens in Cuba, including tourism. In 2009, however, the agency relaxed its regulations to allow U.S. scientists to conduct research visits to Cuba under a general license. That rule is unchanged.

But the watershed agreement should still dissolve obstacles to collaboration, predicts Abel Valdivia, a Cuba-born marine ecologist at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The “huge difference,” he says, will be on the Cuban side, which has been very slow to process licenses for scientific ventures. Valdivia thinks pressure from the U.S. may incentivize Cuba to...Continue Reading »

MERS coronavirus particles (yellow).

NIAID/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

MERS coronavirus particles (yellow).

Scientists who met in Washington, D.C., earlier this week to debate the risks and benefits of dangerous virus experiments found little to agree on, except for two points: A moratorium on U.S. funding for certain experiments should probably not cover studies of the virus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), a novel virus infecting people in the Middle East; and both sides worried that the U.S. government’s plans to quantify the risks and benefits of these experiments in the next 6 months seems unrealistic.

The 2-day meeting at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences is one step in a yearlong review that the U.S. government launched after imposing the research moratorium in October. Officials were responding to a debate about studies that modify the H5N1 avian flu and other risky flu strains to spread among ferrets, potentially making the bird viruses more dangerous to humans. Several accidents this year in federal high-containment labs heightened concerns that such gain-of-function (GOF) studies could result in a dangerous virus escaping the lab and touching off a pandemic. The ban is much broader, however: It covers about 18 projects on influenza, MERS, and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) viruses that make these respiratory viruses more pathogenic or likely to spread in mammals.

Former Institute of Medicine President Harvey Fineberg, who chaired the symposium committee, compared the polarized debate over the GOF flu studies to the movie Groundhog Day, in which the main character wakes up and relives the same day over and over. The same people continue to make the same arguments, and some scientists "feel like they're treading water," Fineberg said.

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Many small aircraft in the United States still burn leaded gas.

Andrew W. Sieber/Flickr

Many small aircraft in the United States still burn leaded gas.

The United States phased out the use of leaded gasoline for automobiles in 1996, but many small aircraft continue to run on it. That’s worrying to some public health experts, because lead is a potent neurotoxicant, and leaded aviation gas is now the nation’s leading contributor to airborne lead pollution. And studies suggest that people who live near or work at airports can have elevated lead levels in their blood. As a result, for years advocates have been pushing the aviation industry to get the lead out of aviation gasoline, or avgas.

Last week brought a milestone in that effort. The Center for Environmental Health (CEH), an advocacy group based in Oakland, California, announced a legal settlement with 30 companies that sell or distribute leaded avgas in California, bringing closure to a long-running lawsuit that had been closely watched within the small-aircraft community. Under the settlement, the companies must sell the lowest lead fuel that is commercially available in sufficient quantities, warn the public about the danger of lead exposure through signs posted at airports and notices sent to nearby residences, and pay a total of $550,000 in penalties and legal costs.

“We’re really optimistic that it will make a transition [away from leaded avgas] occur,” says Caroline Cox, CEH’s research director.  It’s a shift, she says, that “should have happened back when they transitioned cars away from leaded gasoline.”

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A researcher under investigation by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston is suing the institution, claiming it has wrongfully damaged his career. The investigation into the lab of cardiac stem cell scientist Piero Anversa came to light in April, when the journal Circulation retracted a 2012 paper from the lab, and The Lancet issued an “expression of concern” about another. Now, The Boston Globe reports that Anversa and a Harvard associate professor in his lab, Annarosa Leri, are suing the hospital and Harvard Medical School in a U.S. District Court for an unspecified amount. They claim the investigations harmed their reputations and cost them millions by derailing a deal to sell their stem cell company, Autologous/Progenital. According to the Globe, Anversa claims that the evidence of misconduct uncovered in the investigation—including image and data manipulation—are solely the responsibility of Jan Kajstura, a former member of the his lab and first author on the retracted paper.Continue Reading »

The Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute in Chicago, Illinois, is one of several new advanced manufacturing centers to be funded by the federal government and industry users.

UILabs.org

The Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute in Chicago, Illinois, is one of several new advanced manufacturing centers to be funded by the federal government and industry users.

Last week’s 1600-page bill to finance the U.S. government through September 2015 contains a section creating a network of research institutes aimed at strengthening U.S. manufacturing. It also requires the government to draw up a national manufacturing strategy that would be reviewed every 4 years. The idea of allowing government to help repair this former cornerstone of the U.S. economy was once derided as industrial policy by many Republicans. But now it’s entered the political mainstream.

That’s good news for Representative Daniel Lipinski (D–IL), a leading advocate of the manufacturing initiative. Its inclusion in the massive spending bill also validates his faith in the adage about politics being the art of the possible.

“I think it’s a big victory,” Lipinski tells ScienceInsider. “Were this 4 years ago, I would not have thought that. But you have to remember where we are now. Given how few things get done around here with respect to science and advanced manufacturing, I’m very pleased with how things ended up.”

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The promise of developing new medical treatments from stem cells (green) helped persuade California voters to fund research effort.

Christina Tu/Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center/Flickr

The promise of developing new medical treatments from stem cells (green) helped persuade California voters to fund research effort.

California’s $3 billion stem cell funding agency has made a sweeping New Year’s resolution. The governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) yesterday approved a plan to overhaul the agency’s grant process, effective 1 January. The theatrically titled “CIRM 2.0” represents a big move by the agency’s president, Randy Mills, who took the helm in May with a plan to speed promising stem cell therapies through clinical testing to make them available to patients.

A key feature of the plan is a rolling application process, which will replace the system of proposal windows that opened and closed somewhat unpredictably. Groups can apply for funding at any time, and applications will be reviewed monthly. “We want the best programs coming to us—the programs that are ready to go,” Mills explains in a presentation on CIRM’s website, “and not one that’s been shoehorned into an artificial timeline.”

Mill has also vowed to shorten the time from application to funding from an average of about 2 years to 120 days, and groups must start work on a funded project within 45 days of approval.

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Federal officials are pulling the plug on an ambitious plan hatched 14 years ago to follow the health of 100,000 U.S. children from before birth to age 21. The National Children’s Study (NCS), which has struggled to get off the ground and has already cost more than $1.2 billion, has too many flaws to be carried out in a tight budget environment, advisers today told National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins. He announced he is dismantling the study immediately.

At the same time, the advisers endorsed the aims of the study and urged NIH to fund related research. NIH now plans to figure out a way to do that by redirecting some of NCS’s $165 million in funding for 2015, Collins said today at a meeting of the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD).

Collins insisted that the news is not all bad. “This is not killing the study. It is discontinuing a study in the form that had been previously contemplated. But it is opening up a much broader array of scientific horizons to try to accomplish those goals, which we all strongly agree are worthwhile and highly deserving of that kind of attention,” he said.

One researcher who has been involved with NCS since it began says he’s not surprised by NCS’s demise. “It’s a bittersweet moment. I think it was not only the right thing, it was the only thing that could be done,” said pediatrician and epidemiologist Nigel Paneth of Michigan State University in East Lansing, who is part of a group of academic researchers who until recently led NCS research sites.

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is cancelling the National Children’s Study (NCS), a controversial and long-delayed plan to follow the health of 100,000 U.S. children from birth to age 21, NIH director Francis Collins announced this morning.

The move follows the release this morning of a report, from a working group created by the NIH director's advisory committee, that concluded "the NCS, as currently outlined, is not feasible.”

"I am accepting the ACD findings that the NCS is not feasible," Collins said in a statement. "I am disappointed that this study failed to achieve its goals. Yet I am optimistic that other approaches will provide answers to these important research questions."

"I concur with the report’s conclusions that research addressing the links between the environment and child health and development is much needed, and that the specific research in this area should be initiated within the scientific community, use mechanisms that can evolve with the science, employ the use of a growing number of clinical research networks, and capitalize on research and technology advances that have developed since the inception of the study. NIH will consider the alternative approaches defined in the report in consultation with the broader scientific community."

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Smithsonian freezers will preserve the diversity of life.

Donald E. Hurlbert/Smithsonian Institution

Smithsonian freezers will preserve the diversity of life.

On the heels of two vast analyses of the genomes of both birds and insects, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., has announced that it will launch a virtual biodiversity genomics institute to accelerate efforts to capture and catalog all the DNA from Earth’s flora and fauna.

The Smithsonian is already devoting $10 million a year toward genomics research in evolutionary, diversity, conservation, and ecological studies. By formally tying all those efforts together, the Smithsonian hopes to “mobilize [its] internal troops”—about 100 scientists—to do even more, says John Kress, the Smithsonian’s interim under secretary for science. At the same time, he hopes the Smithsonian will take a lead in coordinating biodiversity genomics worldwide. Toward that goal, he hopes to raise $100 million over the next 10 years.

“The Smithsonian is one of the very few institutions around the world that are able to do this,” says Erich Jarvis, a neurobiologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who coordinated the sequencing of the genomes of 48 bird species. For one, the Smithsonian already has quite a diverse collection: hundreds of thousands of museum specimens and thousands of blood samples in 30 special freezers, part of an initiative to freeze 50% of the diversity of life in the next 5 years. For another, the name carries clout. “You need some global leadership, and the Smithsonian is recognized for that,” Jarvis says. It has already partnered with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop the bioinformatics power to support the genomics efforts.

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A false-color enhancement of an image from a 2006 paper on which cancer researcher Fazlul Sarkar is last author—part of an expert affidavit submitted with PubPeer’s motion to quash Sarkar’s subpoena.

Screen shot from John Krueger's affidavit

A false-color enhancement of an image from a 2006 paper on which cancer researcher Fazlul Sarkar is last author—part of an expert affidavit submitted with PubPeer’s motion to quash Sarkar’s subpoena.

PubPeer, a website that encourage researchers to share anonymous critiques of published research, is amping up its legal fight against a scientist who is trying to unmask some of its hidden users.

Yesterday, lawyers for the website filed a motion to quash a subpoena filed on behalf of a cancer researcher who claims that PubPeer comments noting potential image irregularities in his publications cost him a lucrative new job. The researcher is suing the commenters for defamation, arguing they made baseless suggestions of misconduct. But PubPeer’s legal team yesterday submitted an affidavit from an expert in scientific image analysis that concludes there were in fact irregularities in several of the researcher’s figures.

In a related development, PubPeer’s anonymous moderators yesterday laid out their position on the case in a Wired op-ed. And one anonymous commenter has gone to court in an effort to be dropped from the case.

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Study of massive preprint archive hints at the geography of plagiarism

New analyses of the hundreds of thousands of technical manuscripts submitted to arXiv, the repository of digital preprint articles, are offering some intriguing insights into the consequences—and geography—of scientific plagiarism. It appears that copying text from other papers is more common in some nations than others, but the outcome is generally the same for authors who copy extensively: Their papers don’t get cited much.

Since its founding in 1991, arXiv has become the world's largest venue for sharing findings in physics, math, and other mathematical fields. It publishes hundreds of papers daily and is fast approaching its millionth submission. Anyone can send in a paper, and submissions don’t get full peer review. However, the papers do go through a quality-control process. The final check is a computer program that compares the paper's text with the text of every other paper already published on arXiv. The goal is to flag papers that have a high likelihood of having plagiarized published work.

"Text overlap" is the technical term, and sometimes it turns out to be innocent. For example, a review article might quote generously from a paper the author cites, or the author might recycle and slightly update sentences from their own previous work. The arXiv plagiarism detector gives such papers a pass. "It's a fairly sophisticated machine learning logistic classifier," says arXiv founder Paul Ginsparg, a physicist at Cornell University. "It has special ways of detecting block quotes, italicized text, text in quotation marks, as well statements of mathematical theorems, to avoid false positives."

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NIH Building 1

Lydia Polimeni/NIH

NIH Building 1

Although the massive 2015 spending agreement reached by Congress last night gives the National Institutes of Health (NIH) a flat budget, it contains modest increases for a few programs within the agency. An accompanying report also contains several directives that biomedical research advocates are eyeing warily.

The $150 million increase, a mere 0.5% boost over the $29.9 billion it received last year, still leaves NIH below its budget level in 2012 before sequestration took a 5% bite, note biomedical research advocates. It falls short of the $606 million increase that a Senate spending subcommittee had approved and is less than the White House’s request of $211 million. “We appreciate any increase, but it’s not getting the job done. We’re going backwards,” says Jennifer Zeitzer, deputy director of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s Office of Public Affairs in Bethesda, Maryland.

The bill singles out a few areas for larger increases. The National Institute on Aging gets a $28.6 million increase, or a 2.4% raise to $1.2 billion. “[A] significant portion” of the new money should go to Alzheimer’s disease depending on the quality of grant proposals, says a report accompanying the bill. Some institutes also received a boost as part of a $25 million increase for the Obama administration’s BRAIN Initiative, which receives a total of $65 million.

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The rise of patient peer review

AJC1/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

When it comes to clinical research, the participation of the people being treated—the patients—usually ends by the time the study is submitted to a journal. A few U.K.-based publishers are now looking to change that. Last month, BioMed Central, an open-access publisher, announced that in 2015 it will launch the journal Research Involvement and Engagement, which will closely collaborate with patients in all aspects of its editorial processes, including peer review.

Reflecting this unorthodox approach, the journal will have joint editors-in-chief, with Sophie Staniszewska of the University of Warwick, who leads the Patient and Public Involvement Research Programme at the Royal College of Nursing Research Institute, joining forces with Richard Stephens, who has become a well-known patient advocate in the United Kingdom, having survived two cancers and other serious medical conditions. The journal also plans to have joint peer review, with each article typically being reviewed by at least one academic and one patient. “We wanted to send a signal to the community that active collaboration [between academics and patients] is a vital part of high-quality research,” Staniszewska says. Stephens adds: “More and more of us [patients] are becoming increasingly involved in academic health research.”

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A site on Apache Mountain, where Apache warriors plunged to their deaths to avoid the U.S. cavalry, may soon overlook a copper mine.

Brent Bristol/Flickr

A site on Apache Mountain, where Apache warriors plunged to their deaths to avoid the U.S. cavalry, may soon overlook a copper mine.

Archaeologists and Native American tribes are protesting language in a Senate bill that would approve a controversial land exchange between the federal government and a copper mining company—a swap that may put Native American archaeological sites at risk. The bill is needed to fund the U.S. military and is considered likely to pass the Senate as early as today.

The company Resolution Copper Mining hopes to exploit rich copper deposits beneath 980 hectares of Arizona’s Tonto National Forest. The land, however, also contains important archaeological sites and places sacred to local Native American tribes, especially the Apache. “This is the best set of Apache archaeological sites ever documented, period, full stop,” says John Welch, a former historic preservation officer for the White Mountain Apache Tribe and a professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada.

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NASA would get $100 million to pursue a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa under the new spending agreement.

NASA

NASA would get $100 million to pursue a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa under the new spending agreement.

For an agency regularly called "adrift" without a mission, NASA will at least float through next year with a boatload of money for its science programs.

Yesterday Congress reached agreement on a spending deal for fiscal year 2015 that boosts the budget of the agency’s science mission by nearly 2% to $5.24 billion. The big winner within the division is planetary sciences, which received $160 million more than the president’s 2015 request in March. Legislators also maintained support for an infrared telescope mounted on a Boeing 747, a project that the White House had proposed grounding. NASA’s overall budget also rose by 2%, to $18 billion. That’s an increase of $364 million over 2014 levels, and half a billion dollars beyond the agency’s request.

Planetary scientists are thrilled not only that their discipline was supported but also that no other space science areas were taxed to pay for their increase. “They added nearly $300 million to the entire science mission directorate. No one paid the price for restoration of the cuts to planetary science. That’s a big deal,” says Casey Dreier, advocacy director for the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California. Congress is expected to pass the spending deal later this week, and Obama is expected to sign it into law.

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New spending plan will enable NSF to move forward with plans to build a new headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia.

NSF

New spending plan will enable NSF to move forward with plans to build a new headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia.

Funding for the social sciences at National Science Foundation (NSF) is safe for another year, and the agency will be able to participate fully in the Obama administration’s BRAIN Initiative. But NSF may not have enough money to boost stipends for its prestigious graduate research fellowships, and it will have to pinch pennies in planning a 2017 move to a new building in northern Virginia.

Those are some of the NSF highlights tucked within a $1.01 trillion budget agreement reached last night to fund nearly the entire federal government through 30 September 2015. Congress is expected to approve the 1600-page package in the next few days before adjourning.

NSF fared extremely well compared with most federal agencies, which received flat or reduced funding. It gets an increase of 2.4% increase, to $7.344 billion. That amount is $89 million above the president’s request, which would have been a 1.2% boost, although it falls short of the $222 million hike that the House of Representatives had approved in May.

Within that total, NSF’s six research directorates would grow by $125 million, or 2.8%, to $5.93 billion. In contrast, the Obama administration had proposed no boost for research. The increase will allow the agency to double, to $29 million, its spending on cognitive and neuroscience in light with the administration’s ambitious cross-agency plan to develop neurotechnologies to better explore brain function.

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NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) appear to be among the winners—relatively speaking—in a spending deal reached Tuesday night by lawmakers in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, with both agencies receiving modest funding boosts. But research budgets at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Energy would remain flat.

The legislation also includes provisions that would continue efforts to open a national nuclear waste dump in Nevada, prevent the Obama administration from moving ahead with new environmental rules aimed at strengthening protections for small streams and wetlands, and bar adding the sage grouse to the endangered species list.

The $1.013 trillion package sets spending levels for the 2015 fiscal year, which began 1 October. Lawmakers were unable to reach agreement on 2015 spending levels in September, however, so the government has been operating on a temporary measure that has frozen spending at 2014 levels. The temporary measure expires on 12 December, and both bodies are now moving to vote on the new spending agreement later this week. It is expected to pass.

Below are highlights for some key science agencies drawn from summaries prepared by the House appropriations committee. Come back to ScienceInsider on Wednesday for more details.

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Giving cities a road map to reducing their carbon footprint

Mark Goble/Wikimedia Commons

Armed with data from the GPC, Rio de Janeiro expanded public transportation to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Cities are not just where 3.5 billion of us live—they are where more than  half of humanity uses electricity, drives cars, and throws out garbage, among myriad other activities that emit greenhouse gases. Now, a global coalition has released the first standardized method for measuring and reporting a given city’s greenhouse gas emissions. Called the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC), the new standards were unveiled today at the United Nations’ ongoing climate negotiations in Lima.

Cities are responsible for 70% of global carbon dioxide emissions, says Wee Kean Fong, who led development of the GPC at the World Resources Institute—a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.—in partnership with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI). But there has been no standardized way to measure and report an individual city’s emissions. That has impeded plans to reduce urban climate footprints and track the effectiveness of local policies designed to reduce emissions. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” Fong says.

A key element of the GPC is its recognition that a city may be responsible for gases emitted far outside its borders. Take power plants that burn fossil fuels to generate electricity, or landfills that receive solid waste, Fong says. Those can be located outside of a city, but their emissions are directly tied to urban activity. Holding cities accountable for such emissions may lead to some pushback when it comes to convincing them to adopt the GPC protocol, but it’s important for making sure measurements are accurate as possible, Fong says.

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Epithelial cells will be one target of the new research institute.

VCU Libraries/Flickr

Epithelial cells will be one target of the new research institute.

Eleven years after he established an institute dedicated to mapping the brain, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is announcing a sequel: the Allen Institute for Cell Science. Just like its predecessor, the new institute will be seeded with $100 million from Allen himself; will embrace big-team science, bringing together cell biologists, mathematicians, computational biologists, and other specialists; and will seek to decipher a world whose complexity is still largely uncharted.

The buzz began just over a year ago, but the details weren’t revealed until today. At a press conference in downtown Philadelphia this afternoon, during the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology, the scientists guiding the new institute spoke of it as science fiction come true.  “We are embarking on an amazing journey,” declared Rick Horwitz, the new institute’s executive director, who until recently was a professor of cell biology at the University of Virginia.

The venture will be housed in the same Seattle, Washington, building as the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and initial plans call for hiring 75 scientists to fill it. Its goal is grand: Decode the human cell by deciphering how its various pieces of machinery work together and how they are perturbed by gene mutations, drugs, and other forces. Ultimately, its leaders want to be able to predict how specific cells will behave in different circumstances.

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Congress moves to protect Pentagon’s basic research spending at universities

DoD photo by Master Sgt. Ken Hammond, U.S. Air Force/Wikimedia Commons

Proposed cuts to basic research conducted by universities for the U.S. military would be erased under budget legislation approved yesterday by the U.S. House of Representatives. But the Pentagon’s overall basic research accounts would still shrink by about 3%, or $60 million, to $2.1 billion in 2015 under a defense authorization bill approved Thursday on a 300 to 119 vote. That cut is smaller than the 7% cut proposed by the White House earlier this year.

Lawmakers reversed proposed cuts to Pentagon programs that fund basic research at universities, however, bumping up those programs by 6% or more. The reversal comes as a relief to many in academia, which has become increasingly reliant on Pentagon research funding. About one-half of the Pentagon’s basic research spending, or $1 billion annually, is distributed to university researchers. And certain fields, including engineering, computer science, math, and physics, receive up to one-half of their research dollars from the Department of Defense (DOD). Military research officials had estimated that the proposed cuts would mean about 1500 fewer grants to academic institutions.

Lawmakers in both the House and the Senate had expressed concerns about that outcome, and earlier this week they acted in the massive defense authorization bill. It details how DOD should spend some $585 billion in the 2015 fiscal year, which began 1 October. Although the bill does not actually appropriate the funding—that is done in separate legislation—it typically dictates appropriations levels.

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Janet Napolitano

Scott Henrichsen, CGS

Janet Napolitano

Janet Napolitano may be the rookie president of the University of California (UC) system. But that doesn’t make the 57-year-old lawyer any less of a politician than when she served two terms as governor of Arizona or 4 years as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security during President Barack Obama’s first term.

Last month, Napolitano scored what pundits are calling an initial victory over California Governor Jerry Brown in what is expected to be a long battle over her proposal for an annual 5% hike in UC tuition to offset what she calls the state’s “disinvestment” in higher education. Fresh off that success, Napolitano came to Washington, D.C., yesterday to press federal lawmakers to increase support for graduate education.

Her first stop was the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools, where her message of activism clashed with the association’s traditional low profile on the federal scene. Only a half-dozen of the 600 deans and other university officials in attendance raised their hands when Napolitano asked how many planned to find time during the meeting to meet with congressional leaders and agency officials. “I was shocked,” she told ScienceInsider after her speech. “That’s what I mean by the echo chamber,” she added, noting that talking to like-minded colleagues isn’t going to move the needle.

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A march against Monsanto, which produces genetically modified crops, in Amsterdam in 2013.

Floris Looijesteijn/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

A march against Monsanto, which produces genetically modified crops, in Amsterdam in 2013.

BRUSSELS—A long-stalled proposal to let individual countries in the European Union ban genetically modified (GM) crops took a major step forward last night, when representatives of the European Parliament and the bloc's member states agreed on a joint version. The bill is now very close to becoming law: It could come into force in the spring if the whole Parliament and member states formally endorse the proposal in the coming weeks.

Regulatory decisions regarding GM crops are now made at the European level; the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Parma, Italy, assesses which ones are safe to put on the market. In the past decade, however, divisions between pro- and anti-GM European nations have hindered authorization decisions following EFSA's assessment.

Countries favorable to growing transgenic crops, such as Spain and the United Kingdom, want to unlock approval processes that have been delayed for years and allow more crops onto European fields; the governments of countries like Germany, France, and Austria want to be able to ban products on their territory—even if EFSA deems them safe—without being challenged in court.

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Renewal of R&D tax credit seems like sure bet after U.S. House vote

Microphyt/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Better than nothing—but barely.

That is how many lawmakers and business groups are reacting to a vote last night by the U.S. House of Representatives to retroactively revive a tax credit that allows companies to write off certain research expenses.

Backers of the so-called R&D credit, worth some $7 billion annually in recent years, had hoped this would be the year Congress finally made the 33-year-old tax break permanent—as many economic experts have long urged. But those hopes were again dashed by political infighting. Instead, Wednesday’s 378 to 46 vote will temporarily restore for 2014 the R&D credit and nearly 50 other tax breaks that expired earlier this year.

A bipartisan alliance of lawmakers had hoped to move legislation that revived many of the expired tax breaks through at least 2015 and to make several—including the R&D credit—permanent. Even the White House had embraced the idea, joining others who argue that businesses need certainty to make long-term plans for investing in research. Supporters also insist that the cost of the credit is more than offset by related economic gains.

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