Shaw Prizes hail hunt for habitable planets

(Left to right) NASA; Princeton University; University of Washington; Max Planck Institute for Mathematics; ETH Zurich

Work on spotting extrasolar planets, bacterial communications, and number theory has netted lucrative Shaw Prizes for a quintet of researchers.

William Borucki, of the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, has captured the astronomy prize for two achievements: conceiving the observational technique of transit photometry that raised the tantalizing prospect of sighting Earth-like planets orbiting other stars, and leading the 25-year-long development of the Kepler mission, which in 2009 placed a telescope in space to make those observations.

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Disc coral (<i>Turbinaria mesenterina</i>) at the GBR’s Ribbon Reefs.

Richard Ling/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Disc coral (Turbinaria mesenterina) at the GBR’s Ribbon Reefs.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—A threat by a key U.N. agency to list Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR) as “in danger” has been averted—for now. A draft decision announced on 29 May by a working group of the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture's World Heritage Committee allows the GBR to keep its current World Heritage Area status but requires Australia to report on progress to safeguard the iconic reef from further decline by 1 December 2016. If “anticipated progress” is not demonstrated, an “in danger” listing will be reconsidered in 2017. Australia will also have to report in 2020 on whether the nation’s Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan is meeting its targets.

Demonstrating progress by the end of next year is “a real challenge given the enormity of the reef and the short time-line,” says Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Townsville. He is critical of the Reef 2050 plan. When it was released in March, he told ScienceInsider it “virtually ignores climate change.”

The World Heritage Committee working group “notes with concern” that the overall outlook for the reef is “poor,” and that climate change, poor water quality, and impacts from coastal development are major threats to its health and have been degrading key habitats, species, and ecosystem processes in the central and southern inshore areas.

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Study had claimed that a brief discussion with a gay canvasser could make a voter more likely to support gay marriage.

Fibonacci Blue/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Study had claimed that a brief discussion with a gay canvasser could make a voter more likely to support gay marriage.

The lead author of a now-retracted study of voter persuasion and gay marriage published by Science has released a lengthy response to some of the allegations that led to the retraction.

In the 23-page document, political science graduate student Michael LaCour of the University of California (UC), Los Angeles, attacks the methods and motives of researchers who raised questions about his research, but confirms that he lied about some funding sources and the incentives used to attract participants. And he admits that he destroyed the data used to produce the study, claiming that action was required by a UC Los Angeles institutional review board (IRB) in order to protect the privacy of participants.

LaCour’s response does not, however, directly answer a number of other questions surrounding the study—and it raises new issues. LaCour does not address, for example, why the company that he claimed had conducted his surveys says it has no knowledge of the researcher or his project and does not have the capability to conduct some of the claimed work. (After the statement’s release, LaCour told The New York Times that he did not use that company, but another unidentified company.)Continue Reading »

European commissioners Carlos Moedas, Kristalina Georgieva, and Jyrki Katainen (from left to right) at yesterday's press conference.

European Union

European commissioners Carlos Moedas, Kristalina Georgieva, and Jyrki Katainen (from left to right) at yesterday's press conference.

Facing pressure from E.U. parliamentarians and scientists, the European Commission agreed yesterday to spare the European Research Council (ERC) from budget cuts. But this is only a limited relief: The overall E.U. research and innovation program Horizon 2020, of which ERC is part, will see €2.2 billion of its €74 billion budget until 2020 go into to a new, controversial investment fund aimed at boosting Europe's sluggish economy.

In January, the commission had proposed trimming €2.7 billion from Horizon 2020's budget, including €221.2 million from ERC's envelope, to fodder the European Fund for Strategic Investment. This prompted an outcry from scientists and members of the European Parliament.

After eight talks with the European Parliament and member states in the past month, which culminated yesterday in an all-nighter session in Brussels, the commission said it would find €500 million elsewhere. Two other Horizon 2020 budget lines are safe from cuts as well: the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, which provide funding for Ph.D. and postdoc fellowships, and a program called Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation, which aims at helping member states with poor research performance.

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John Nash at a memorial service in Oslo for Niels Henrik Abel, for whom the Abel Prize is named, on 18 May 2015.

Peter Brown

John Nash at a memorial service in Oslo for Niels Henrik Abel, for whom the Abel Prize is named, on 18 May 2015.

The life of John Forbes Nash Jr., the Princeton University mathematician who, along with his wife, Alicia, died 23 May in a car crash on the New Jersey Turnpike, was never lacking in drama. It was only last week that Nash stood before a crowd of well-wishers in Oslo as the Norwegian king, Harald V, presented Nash with the Abel Prize.

Nash had already won the 1994 Nobel Prize in economics for his work in game theory—an event that became the redemption scene in the 2001 biopic about Nash, A Beautiful Mind. But the Abel Prize celebrated Nash’s accomplishments in geometry, which Mikhail Gromov, another Abel Prize winner, described as “incomparably greater than what he has done in economics, by many orders of magnitude.”

I, too, was in Oslo last week, selected by the World Federation of Science Journalists to observe and report as Nash and his Abel co-laureate, Louis Nirenberg, a mathematician at New York University, received their awards. I worked my contacts and reported what I could. But frankly, I wasn’t surprised that my attempts at pitching the story to various media outlets were mostly in vain. Except for the Nobels, there is really not a lot of interest in prizes. That interest is vanishingly small when the prize, like this year’s Abels, was announced 2 months ago.

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Study had claimed that a brief discussion with a gay canvasser could make a voter more likely to support gay marriage.

Fibonacci Blue/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Study had claimed that a brief discussion with a gay canvasser could make a voter more likely to support gay marriage.

Amid a tidal wave of criticism, Science is retracting a study of how canvassers can sway people's opinions about gay marriage published just 5 months ago. The retraction comes without the agreement of the paper’s lead author, Michael J. LaCour, a political science Ph.D. student at the University of California (UC), Los Angeles. LaCour’s attorney has told Science that LaCour made false claims about some aspects of the study, according to the retraction statement, including misrepresenting his funding sources and the incentives that he offered to survey participants.

“In addition to these known problems, independent researchers have noted certain statistical irregularities in the responses,” Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt wrote in the retraction statement. “LaCour has not produced the original survey data from which someone else could independently confirm the validity of the reported findings."

McNutt wrote: “The reasons for retracting the paper are as follows: (i) Survey incentives were misrepresented. To encourage participation in the survey, respondents were claimed to have been given cash payments to enroll, to refer family and friends, and to complete multiple surveys. In correspondence received from Michael J. LaCour’s attorney, he confirmed that no such payments were made. (ii) The statement on sponsorship was false. In the Report, LaCour acknowledged funding from the Williams Institute, the Ford Foundation, and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund. Per correspondence from LaCour’s attorney, this statement was not true.”Continue Reading »

NSF's France Córdova speaks at a public symposium ahead of a meeting of the Global Research Council.

Dennis Normile

NSF's France Córdova speaks at a public symposium ahead of a meeting of the Global Research Council.

TOKYO—How can research funding agencies foster scientific breakthroughs? Funding agency heads tackled that question this week at the annual meeting of the Global Research Council (GRC) here. Their conclusion: Researchers need freedom and the flexibility that leads to serendipity, and they should be encouraged to take risks even if it leads to failure. 

As Peter Strohschneider, president of the German Research Foundation in Bonn, said at a public symposium preceding the GRC meeting, trying to plan for breakthroughs is paradoxical: "Real innovations are those that come about unexpectedly, and this means we cannot actually plan for and organize them. In our strategies, we have to institutionalize something we cannot actually institutionalize."

If GRC didn't exactly resolve that particular paradox, participants believe the organization is making a valuable contribution to research management. Formed in 2012, GRC brings together funding chiefs to compare notes on common challenges and discuss cooperation. This was GRC's fourth annual meeting and included representatives from 56 science and engineering funding agencies from around the world. Each year, the council focuses on one or two specific topics. Previous meetings examined proposal review processes, open access, research integrity, and supporting the next generation of researchers.   

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Roman funerary temple in Palmyra, dating to the 3rd century C.E.

Robert Preston Photography/Alamy

Roman funerary temple in Palmyra, dating to the 3rd century C.E.

Archaeologists around the world feared for the spectacular ruins in Palmyra, Syria, after Islamic State militants took over the city and brutalized its population last week. The group had already looted and bulldozed another World Heritage Site, the city of Hatra in northern Iraq. However, after a preliminary examination of the latest satellite images from Palmyra, Michael Danti, the academic director of the Syrian Heritage Initiative at the American Schools of Oriental Research in Boston, reported that he saw no new damage to the stunning crossroads of Roman, Greek, and Persian cultures, whose ruins include the Roman emperor Diocletian’s camp.

The Islamic State group has released a video showing that these ruins are still intact. And in an interview released yesterday, the head of the group's military forces in Palmyra, Abu Laith al-Saoudi, stated that they would preserve the ruins—perhaps because some buildings lack religious connotations or worship—but destroy the site’s statues, which the group believes are religious idols.

Recent satellite images reveal no new damage, confirmed Einar Bjorgo, the manager of UNOSAT, a U.N. satellite imaging project. But he and Danti cautioned that a more in-depth comparison with older satellite images and eyewitness accounts are needed for confirmation. UNOSAT’s more complete analysis is expected to be released Friday

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Russian foundation tarred with 'foreign' label

V&A Dudush/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons

MOSCOW—Russian authorities on Monday branded the Dynasty Foundation, one of the country’s most important science foundations, a “foreign agent.” Dmitry Zimin, the telecom tycoon who established Dynasty, has vowed to shut it down.

Last year, Dynasty, based here in Moscow, spent about $10 million on 20 projects supporting young researchers (mainly mathematicians and physicists), competitions for school science teachers, science festivals, and public lectures by world-class researchers. Rumors that the Ministry of Justice would label the foundation a foreign entity had been circulating for weeks. Now that it has happened, scientists are devastated. “The main thing that we have lost is hope,” says Valery Rubakov, a physicist at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ (RAS’s) Institute for Nuclear Research in Moscow.

Dynasty was set up in 2002 by Zimin, a co-founder of VimpelCom, one of three nationwide cellular communications networks. According to Zimin, each year since then he has transferred about $10 million of his fortune to Dynasty. The foundation’s 2013 financial report also lists small donations from other sources such as the Royal Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and private donors.

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Begin HIV treatment immediately says major study, ending long debate

A study in 35 countries that involved 4685 HIV-infected people has ended early because results showed that immediate treatment cut the risk of disease and death in half. The data, revealed today at a teleconference held by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), brings to a close a divisive issue. The United States and many other countries already recommend treating everyone diagnosed with an HIV infection, but guidelines in the United Kingdom and elsewhere call for starting treatment only after immune system damage occurs, in part because of worries about long-term toxicities of the drugs.

As NIAID Director Anthony Fauci explained, evidence suggested that early treatment benefited people but no randomized, controlled clinical trial had ever proven it until now. “These findings clearly demonstrate that starting antiretroviral treatment sooner rather than later is of significant health benefit to the HIV-infected individual,” Fauci said. “These results are certain to impact medical treatment guidelines.” He said the new findings also validate the push to use treatment as a prevention tool, as other studies have shown that HIV-infected people on antiretrovirals (ARVs) are far less likely to transmit the virus to others.

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An artist's conception of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

TMT Collaborative

An artist's conception of the Thirty Meter Telescope

In an attempt to break the impasse over a mammoth telescope that astronomers plan to build atop the tallest mountain in the Pacific, Hawaii Governor David Ige has called for the elimination of a quarter of the telescopes already there. At a press conference yesterday, Ige, a Democrat, affirmed his support for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), a $1.55 billion behemoth that would perch 193 meters below the 4205-meter summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii. Construction is currently on hold as Native Hawaiian protesters claim the mountain as sacred and have blocked access to the construction site. But Ige also chastised the University of Hawaii for its handling of the mountain and called for removing a quarter of the 13 telescopes already there before the start of TMT operations, planned for 2022. He also called for the return to a state agency of 4000 hectares of land that the university isn't using for astronomy and the formation of a Mauna Kea Cultural Council to oversee the mountain. In the past, protesters have said no compromise over the construction of TMT is possible.

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Physicists will nearly double the number of particle detectors like this one in the vast Telescope Array.

John Matthews, University of Utah

Physicists will nearly double the number of particle detectors like this one in the vast Telescope Array.

Every once in a while, a cosmic ray—a subatomic particle from outer space—strikes the atmosphere with an energy 10 million times higher than a humanmade particle accelerator has ever achieved. Physicists don't know where such mind-bogglingly energetic particles come from, but they could be closing in on an answer thanks to the expansion of one of the world's biggest cosmic ray experiments.

Japan will spend $3.7 million to nearly quadruple the size of the Telescope Array (TA), which currently consists of 507 particle detectors spread across 700 square kilometers of Utah desert. The detectors sense the avalanche of particles, or what physicists call an "extensive air shower," triggered when a ray hits the atmosphere. Physicists will deploy 400 more loosely spaced detectors to stretch TA's area to about 2500 square kilometers—twice the area of New York City—says Yoshiki Tsunesada, a physicist and TA team member at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. From the size and direction of an air shower, physicists can deduce the energy and direction of the original ray. Researchers hope to complete the expansion in 2017. Japan paid two-thirds of the current array's $25 million cost.

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Paolo Macchiarini made headlines for giving patients new tracheae.

Consuelo Bautista

Paolo Macchiarini made headlines for giving patients new tracheae.

The Karolinska Institute in Stockholm today released its English translation of a report critical of surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, famous for transplanting tissue-engineered tracheae into more than a dozen people. The report concludes that Macchiarini committed scientific misconduct in publications describing the results of several of the transplants. Karolinska, where Macchiarini is a visiting professor, commissioned the external inquiry after allegations arose in August 2014.

The investigator, Bengt Gerdin, professor emeritus of surgery at Uppsala University, examined six papers about the patients and one on animal tests of the procedure and found multiple problems that he deemed serious enough to constitute misconduct, including inaccurate descriptions of the condition of patients at the time of publication and stating that ethical permission had been obtained for the work although there is none on record. The report, submitted to the Karolinska vice chancellor on 13 May, concludes that Macchiarini “bears the main responsibility for the publication of false or incomplete information in several papers, and is therefore guilty of scientific misconduct.”

Macchiarini has disputed the allegations, but he told ScienceInsider that he could not comment further until Karolinska Vice Chancellor Anders Hamsten issues his decision on the case. That is expected sometime in June.

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Hiroshi Matsumoto

Dennis Normile

Hiroshi Matsumoto

Seven weeks into his presidency of RIKEN, Hiroshi Matsumoto at a press conference on Friday outlined his strategy for restoring luster to the scandal-tarnished network of national laboratories. His big new idea: introducing a tenure track system that would retain the best young researchers now on temporary contracts at RIKEN.

Matsumoto’s overriding task is to help RIKEN recover from last year’s debacle. A high-profile paper reporting a new way of creating stem cells, dubbed stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP), proved bogus after a series of investigations. The fiasco led to the suicide of a senior scientist and the restructuring of RIKEN’s Center for Developmental Biology.

A specialist in magnetic fields and space plasma, Matsumoto had spent his entire career at Kyoto University and served as its president from 2008 to 2014. Since taking the helm at RIKEN on 1 April, Matsumoto has visited all of RIKEN's 15 major facilities, meeting leaders and young researchers to listen to their concerns. He presented his "Initiative for Scientific Excellence" on 22 May here at the RIKEN headquarters near Tokyo.

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Carlos Jared got into hot water trying to ship this kind of velvet worm out of Brazil.

Carlos Jared

Carlos Jared got into hot water trying to ship this kind of velvet worm out of Brazil.

Scientists in recent years have run afoul of a law aiming to clamp down on what Brazil perceived as rampant pillaging of its biological resources. After wrangling over how to fix the statute, in which officials sought to balance the interests of scientists, the agricultural industry, and biotech firms with those of indigenous populations demanding compensation for traditional knowledge, Brazil President Dilma Rousseff last week signed a law that is raising hopes among scientists. Like its predecessor, the new "biodiversity law" regulates research on "genetic resources": an all-encompassing term covering everything from genes and proteins to oils and fragrances. It sets rules for sharing benefits with indigenous peoples when R&D leads to a product, such as a drug, shampoo, energy drink, or industrial enzyme, while eliminating bureaucratic hassles and encouraging biodiversity research. The scientific community has greeted the new law with a sigh of relief.

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As part of its call for increased funding for the Department of Energy, the Senate version of COMPETES would boost spending on basic energy research.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

As part of its call for increased funding for the Department of Energy, the Senate version of COMPETES would boost spending on basic energy research.

Three Republican and four Democratic senators introduced a bill on Wednesday that would give the Department of Energy (DOE) the authority to grow its science programs by 4% a year over the next 5 years. Although the bill's sponsors say that sets the stage for doubling DOE’s science budget, including that of the agency’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), at that rate the doubling would take more than 17 years. Still, the bill is more generous than a corresponding bill passed this week by the House of Representatives to authorize a host of research programs at DOE, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and other agencies.

"Governing is about setting priorities, and this legislation will put us on a path to double basic energy research—one of the best ways to keep good paying jobs from going overseas," said Senator Lamar Alexander (R–TN) in a statement. The bill was introduced into the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which is chaired by Lisa Murkowski (R–AK), who co-sponsored the bill.

The bill would be part of the Senate version of the renewal of the American COMPETES Act, bipartisan legislation that was passed in 2007 and reauthorized in 2010 and that aimed to bolster U.S. capabilities in the physical sciences. The 2007 law was drafted in response to Rising Above the Gathering Storm, an influential report from the U.S. National Academies that warned the United States would lose its economic edge if it did not invest more in such research.

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NSF

NSF

NSF

A congressional spending panel has proposed a 16% cut in funding next year for the social and geosciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF). But you’ll need a magnifying glass and a calculator to come up with that number.

The reduction is buried in a report that accompanies a $51 billion spending bill for 2016 covering numerous federal agencies that was approved Wednesday by the appropriations committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. (Kudos to Richard Jones of the American Institute of Physics, who did the math and reported it yesterday in his FYI blog.) The legislators disregarded pleas from NSF officials and science advocates not to tie the agency’s hands by designating funding levels for individual research directorates rather than the agency’s overall portfolio. It also intensifies a 2-year attack on those disciplines that until now has been led by the House science committee.

The science panel sets policies for NSF, and its controversial America COMPETES Act, which would reduce authorized spending levels for the two disciplines, passed the same day by the full House. But that panel does not control NSF’s purse. The $51 billion spending bill, on the other hand, does set budgets. It would give NSF a $50 million increase, to $7.4 billion—a 0.7% boost that is far short of the 5.2% requested by President Barack Obama.

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The 21st Century Cures Act will provide new funding for research in areas including biomarkers, precision medicine, infectious diseases, antibiotics, and basic research.

mathrong/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The 21st Century Cures Act will provide new funding for research in areas including biomarkers, precision medicine, infectious diseases, antibiotics, and basic research.

A major congressional effort to spur medical innovation passed another milestone today when a House of Representatives committee signed off on the 21st Century Cures Act.

The bill, developed by representatives Fred Upton (R–MI) and Diana DeGette (D–CO), revamps policies and provides new funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Approved unanimously by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the bill contains a few changes from a version introduced in April.

As before, the measure authorizes annual $1.5 billion raises to NIH’s budget for 3 years and also provides $10 billion over 5 years in mandatory funding for a new NIH Innovation Fund. Annually, at least $500 million of the fund will support the new Accelerating Advancement Program, which would provide matching funds for NIH’s 27 institutes and centers for research in areas including biomarkers, precision medicine, infectious diseases, antibiotics, and basic research. The remainder would go to young scientists (at least 35%); high-risk, high-reward research; and NIH intramural research. This is somewhat different from an April draft bill that would have directed the Innovation Fund to young scientists, precision medicine, and a third, unnamed category.

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Bioinformaticist Andrew Su (center front) has launched a crowdsourcing campaign to find game-changing links in biomedical literature by using volunteer “citizen scientists.”

© John Gastaldo/The San Diego Union-Tribune/ZUMAPRESS.com

Bioinformaticist Andrew Su (center front) has launched a crowdsourcing campaign to find game-changing links in biomedical literature by using volunteer "citizen scientists."

Biomedical research is often slow and incremental, but it can take a leap when someone uncovers a hidden connection. For example, researchers might never have tested a hunch that fish oil eases symptoms of Raynaud syndrome, a circulatory disorder, if an information scientist hadn’t taken the time to painstakingly scour stacks of technical articles on the seemingly unrelated topics.

It’s likely that other game-changing links lurk elsewhere in the biomedical literature. But with new papers getting published every 30 seconds, scientists are hard-pressed to find those needle-in-haystack connections. Today, one group of researchers is launching a crowdsourcing initiative to pave the way, by harnessing the efforts of lay volunteers who will scan papers for key terms to help create a powerful searchable database.

This crowdsourcing curation campaign, dubbed Mark2Cure, is first reaching out to a particularly motivated crowd—the community of people affected by NGLY1 deficiency, a newly discovered genetic disorder. Researchers have diagnosed the disease—which is caused by defects in NGLY1, an enzyme that removes sugar molecules from proteins to ensure proper degradation—in about 35 people worldwide, but they believe some 1500 others may have it. The disorder has a bewildering array of symptoms that include liver problems, poor reflexes, an inability to produce tears, and sometimes seizures.

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Jonathon Colman/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Everything had already been said, repeatedly. And so a controversial bill that would set policy for three major U.S. science agencies passed today after a debate on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives that changed nobody’s mind. The vote was 217 to 205.

The America COMPETES Act (H.R. 1806) has been the subject of a 2-year battle between Republican lawmakers in the House and the research community (see previous coverage, below). It would take research at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE) in dangerous directions, say Democrats who sarcastically dubbed the bill the America Concedes Act or the America Can’t Compete Act. It authorizes a shift in spending away from the geosciences and climate science, two areas that Republicans feel the Obama administration has indulged. It would tighten the strings on NSF’s grantsmaking process in ways that Republicans say are simply meant to serve the national interest but that most scientists consider too restrictive. It also cuts authorized spending levels at the National Institute of Standards and Technology far below what the White House has requested.

“This bill does absolutely nothing” to preserve U.S. research excellence, said Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX), the top Democrat on the House science panel that drafted the bill, her voice almost breaking in anger as she kicked off the 3-hour debate. The chair of that committee, Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), rejected those and other accusations by Democrats. “Real priorities require making real choices,” he asserted, “and H.R. 1806 proves we can set priorities and still invest more in innovation.”

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A booming open-access (OA) publishing company has dismissed virtually the entire leadership of two medical journals amid a heated conflict over editorial independence. Frontiers, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, removed 31 editors of Frontiers in Medicine and Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine on 7 May after the editors complained that company staff were interfering with editorial decisions and violating core principles of medical publishing.

Emotions are running high. The editors say Frontiers' publication practices are designed to maximize the company's profits, not the quality of papers, and that this could harm patients. Frederick Fenter, executive editor at Frontiers, says the company had no choice but to fire the entire group because they were holding up the publication of papers until their demands were met, which he likens to "extortion."

Both journals were launched in 2014 as part of a fast-growing OA publishing company founded and run by husband-and-wife couple Henry and Kamila Markram, both neuroscientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. (Henry Markram is also the brain behind the controversial €1 billion Human Brain Project, which agreed to substantial reforms earlier this year after two critical reports.)

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A tweet from LaCour's account.

A tweet from LaCour's account.

A political science graduate student accused of faking data behind a recent Science paper on gay marriage is preparing to offer a defense “at my earliest opportunity,” according to statements posted on his Twitter account. “I’m gathering evidence and relevant information so I can provide a single comprehensive response,” tweeted an account registered to Michael J. LaCour, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles, at about 12:15 p.m. Eastern Time today.

Yesterday, the paper's co-author, political scientist Donald Green of Columbia University, sent a letter to Science asking to retract the December 2014 paper as a result of concerns about the underlying data. LaCour was the only other author of the paper.

The study, based on in-person and Internet surveys of some 9500 registered voters in California conducted by a survey company, found that even relatively short conversations with a gay canvasser could make voters more supportive of gay marriage and equality. But questions about the study arose earlier this month when another group of researchers began a follow-on study, but got very different preliminary results. When they approached the survey company for information about the original methods, “the survey firm claimed they had no familiarity with the [original] project and … denied having the capabilities to perform many aspects of the recruitment procedures described in LaCour and Green,” the researchers report in a statement posted online.

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New White House pollinator plan gives big buzz to science

Orangeaurochs/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A new White House plan to promote the health of bees and other pollinators calls for boosting research into ongoing population declines—and potential solutions. The plan, released yesterday, also recommends numerous measures to address growing concerns about the threat that bees, birds, butterflies, and other pollinators face from multiple factors, including pathogens, pesticides, climate change, and habitat loss. By addressing scientific knowledge gaps, the research should make the plan’s suggested measures much more effective, the report says.

The call for more research is just one part of the much broader pollinator health strategy unveiled 19 May by a multiagency task force convened by President Barack Obama last year. The strategy—widely anticipated but issued 5 months later than the White House had originally planned—also outlines a series of steps and goals for agencies to pursue, such as tackling bee-killing pathogens and mites, reducing pesticide use and reviewing its safety to bees, restoring degraded pollinator habitats, and encouraging the planting of more flowering plants and other pollinator-friendly vegetation.

So far, scientists are giving the plan a thumbs-up. “I think it's phenomenal,” says May Berenbaum, an entomologist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in an e-mail to ScienceInsider. “To my knowledge, [it is] the first national-scale effort to address pollinator declines.”

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Drawing of the ITER reactor in action.

ITER ORGANIZATION

Drawing of the ITER reactor in action.

For the second year in a row, Senate budgetmakers have moved to pull the United States out of ITER, the huge and hugely over budget international fusion experiment under construction in Cadarache, France. The cut comes in the Senate version of the so-called energy and water spending bill, which would fund the Department of Energy (DOE) and other agencies for fiscal year 2016, which begins 1 October. But nixing ITER is hardly a done deal: On 1 May, legislators in the House of Representatives passed their own version of the energy and water bill, which includes $150 million for the U.S. contribution to ITER—the amount the White House has requested.

"This year we have recommended eliminating funding for the U.S. contribution [to ITER],” said Senator Lamar Alexander (R–TN) chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development at the subcommittee's markup of the bill today. "This saves $150 million in just this year." The subcommittee also moved to cut funding to ITER last year, when the Democrats controlled the Senate and Dianne Feinstein (D–CA) chaired the energy and water subcommittee. But the final budget bill for fiscal year 2015, signed by President Barack Obama on 16 December 2014, contained $150 million for the project.

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A inquiry has concluded that Paolo Macchiarini, a surgeon who transplanted artificial windpipes, committed research misconduct.

STAFFAN LARSSON/KAROLINSKA INSTITUTE

A inquiry has concluded that Paolo Macchiarini, a surgeon who transplanted artificial windpipes, committed research misconduct.

An investigation has concluded that surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, famous for transplanting tissue-engineered tracheae into more than a dozen people, committed scientific misconduct. The Karolinska Institute in Sweden, where Macchiarini is a visiting professor, commissioned the external investigation in response to allegations brought by four researchers at the institute and the affiliated Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, where several of the transplants were performed.

The external investigator, Bengt Gerdin, professor emeritus of surgery at Uppsala University, submitted his report (in Swedish) on 13 May. (The newspaper Svenska Dagbladet first reported the findings yesterday.)

The allegations leveled by the Karolinska researchers involved three surgeries performed at Karolinska for people who had a damaged trachea. One patient, described in a paper in The Lancet, survived for 2 years after receiving the artificial trachea, which incorporated human stem cells. Another patient survived for just 2 months. A third is still alive, but has been in intensive care at Karolinska since the surgery in August 2012.

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