- News Home
6 March 2014 1:04 pm ,
Vol. 343 ,
Magdalena Koziol, a former postdoc at Yale University, was the victim of scientific sabotage. Now, she is suing the...
Antiretroviral drugs can protect people from becoming infected by HIV. But so-called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP...
Two studies show that eating a diet low in protein and high in carbohydrates is linked to a longer, healthier life, and...
Considered an icon of conservation science, researchers at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) headquarters in Washington, D.C.,...
The new atlas, which shows the distribution of important trace metals and other substances, is the first product of...
Early in April, the first of a fleet of environmental monitoring satellites will lift off from Europe's spaceport in...
Since 2000, U.S. government health research agencies have spent almost $1 billion on an effort to churn out thousands...
- 6 March 2014 1:04 pm , Vol. 343 , #6175
- About Us
- Wednesday, May 8, 2013 - 3:00pm
Perched on the summit of a dormant volcano in the Mexican state of Puebla, the Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT) watches how stars, galaxies, and planets form. The result of a binational collaboration between the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Mexico's National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics, and Electronics (INAOE), the LMT saw first light in 2011 and is about to begin its first scientific observation season. ScienceInsider chatted with LMT Director David Hughes about millimeter-wavelength telescopes, Mexico's growing astronomy community, and his plans for the LMT's future. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What makes the LMT unique?
D.H.: If we talk only of single dish, steerable, millimeter-wavelength telescopes, then the LMT is the world's largest. Since its very conception, it's been designed to operate optimally at high millimeter frequencies or short millimeter wavelengths. And it's been constructed on the summit of the Sierra Negra, a 4600-meter-high volcano in central Mexico. The combination of the physical size, the optimal design for millimeter wavelengths, and the high altitude makes the LMT unique.
Q: What are the advantages of millimeter-wavelength astronomy?
D.H.: At millimeter wavelengths, we are sensitive to the coldest objects in the universe. And those are typically found in the most dense and obscured regions of the universe, and in particular the most dense and obscured regions of star formation. We're actually seeing the initial stages of structure formation in the universe, all the way back to the Big Bang. More locally, in our galaxy, we're able to see the formation of planets. So it's an opportunity to really study how the universe has evolved from shortly after the big bang to the observable universe we see around us today.
Q: How did you getContinue ReadingPosted In:
- Wednesday, May 8, 2013 - 1:35pm
The Canadian government's makeover of the 97-year-old National Research Council will significantly alter the nature of its research and how it operates, says NRC President John McDougall.
Plans to make it a "toolbox for industry" will require the NRC's structure, staffing, and research programs to evolve as industrial partnerships develop, McDougall says in an interview today. Some institutes or research groups may have to be transferred to other government departments or to academe, he says, while others will be jettisoned if they prove "obsolete in a total sense" or "they are operating too far up upstream."
The new NRC will be very "fluid," he says, pulling expertise from its various divisions and groups to focus on an industrially-driven initiative. "The intent is to allow people to access the full-meal deal," MacDougall says. "We used to operate in a very siloed way, in fact, virtually as independent organizations and because of that, we weren't able to give people what they really need. People don't need a little bit of science or a component of technology. What they need is a whole solution, and if you can't provide the whole solution, then it's very difficult to get things to go anywhere."
McDougall hopes that this new approach will overcome Canadian industry's notorious indifference to research by demonstrating what he called the "mutual value" of collaborative projects. "The risk is much higher if we do things that they don't value if we don't talk to them," he says. "But if we're working with them right from the beginning, and we're not even going to launch if they don't come along, then it sort of becomes much less likely that that kind of risk will actually play out."
Getting Canadian businesses to investContinue Reading
- Wednesday, May 8, 2013 - 12:35pm
BRUSSELS—The European Commission is reforming the European Union's plant and animal health legislation in a bid to enhance food safety across the bloc. But critics say that the measures, proposed on Monday, threaten seed diversity and favor large agrochemical businesses.
The commission has proposed five pieces of legislation to replace and clarify existing regulation, a whopping 70 legal texts governing the European Union's food chain. The package includes rules to better prevent and eradicate pests and animal diseases across the union and to toughen up controls and penalties against food fraud.
Environmental groups have taken aim at one part of the proposal that regulates the production and marketing of seeds and other "plant reproductive material," such as young plants and tubers. At present, companies have to register seeds in each country where they want to sell them; under the new law, procedures valid in one member state would automatically be recognized across the European Union. This would make the variety registration process faster and more conducive to innovation, the commission says. (These rules don't apply to seeds used for testing and scientific activities, or those maintained by seed banks for conservation purposes.)
But groups like the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements and the Soil Association say that the proposal perpetuates criteria for "distinct, uniform and stable" varieties that favor large companies producing homogeneous seeds. Besides, critics claim that annual registration fees would be prohibitive for small companies, pushing them out of the E.U. market. "The plans play directly into the hands of larger corporations that prioritise mass-production of monoculture seed varieties, at the expense of diversity," José Bové, a Green member of the European Parliament from France, said in a statement.
Bruno Henry de Frahan, aContinue Reading
- Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - 5:55pm
After 2 years of flogging the need to transform Canada's National Research Council (NRC) into a toolbox for industry, the Conservative government announced today that the 97-year-old agency is "open for business" under its new philosophy.
"If Canada is going to continue to compete internationally, we must do it through new ideas, new products, and opening new markets. In other words, through innovation," Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear told a press conference in Ottawa. "The NRC will now focus on the identified research needs of Canadian businesses. It will be customer pull."
NRC has for decades been the government's primary in-house performer of research in perceived areas of national need, including radio astronomy and agriculture. Its successes include the pacemaker, canola, the crash position indicator to locate downed airplanes, and the Canadarm, which deploys payloads for the space shuttles and the International Space Station.
Those innovations were the fruits of curiosity-driven research. But under the new policies, NRC scientists will tackle questions raised by individual businesses, while more basic research will be shuffled off to other departments or abandoned altogether.
It's not clear what that change will ultimately mean for the roughly 4000 employees at about 50 facilities across the country with an overall budget of $900 million per year. Goodyear indicated that NRC's existing divisions, which he called "institutional fiefdoms," will be restructured around specific economic sectors. An agency press release notes that there are now 12 "industry-themed entry points" such as "automotive and surface transportation," "security and disruptive technologies," and "human health therapeutics." However, the list also includes one umbrella category called "national science infrastructure."
Opposition leaders wasted no time in condemning the new approach. "Conservative incompetence meets Conservative narrow-mindedness," said New DemocratContinue Reading
- Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - 5:25pm
Now it's the U.S. Senate's turn to take a crack at heading off a looming shortage of helium. Today, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources heard testimony on a bill sponsored by chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) and ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that would authorize sales of federally owned helium past this fiscal year, which ends on 30 September. Without such legislation, those sales will cease, cutting off 42% of the U.S. supply of helium and 35% of the global supply. The only element that remains a liquid at absolute zero temperature, helium is indispensable for cooling the superconducting magnets in MRI machines, purging rocket engines, and performing low-temperature physics experiments. It's also key to manufacturing optical fibers and microchips. The House of Representatives passed a similar bill 2 weeks ago.
The problem itself is largely of Congress's own making. In 1996, it mandated that the federal government sell off the vast reserve of helium that it had accumulated primarily during the Cold War and stored in a natural geological formation near Amarillo, Texas. Those sales began in 2003 and aimed to recoup the $1.3 billion that the government spent accumulating the helium. Even though it is now selling helium at below-market value, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will break even this fall with roughly 370 billion liters of gas still in the ground. At that point, the sales will stop—unless Congress acts. That's why both the House and the Senate committee are rushing to pass legislation to keep the sales going.
Like the House bill, the Senate bill would continue the current sales for another year. Then, in a second phase, BLM would sell a portion of the helium at auction, so as to realize a marketContinue Reading
- Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - 1:00pm
Neuroscientists from around the country are wrapping up a meeting today in drizzly Arlington, Virginia, in which they discussed possible directions for the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative—a $100 million federal investment in brain research that has yet to be clearly defined. This meeting is focused on how the project should address the physical and mathematical principles underlying brain function. An open call for white papers on "Major Obstacles Impeding Progress in Brain Science" inspired responses from more than 70 prominent neuroscientists. The scientists cite problems that need to be addressed, such as to"increase the density and longevity of neural recordings in untethered, freely behaving animals" and come up with "beautiful models" of brain function that can be mathematically analyzed.Continue Reading
- Monday, May 6, 2013 - 5:45pm
Eugenie Scott has spent 26 years helping teachers do what's right for their students in the name of science. And while the need to defend the teaching of evolution and climate change certainly hasn't disappeared, Scott announced today that she is stepping down later this year as the founding CEO and "the public face" of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).
"I think all nonprofits hope someday to put themselves out of business," says Scott, now 67. "But I guess I found a sinecure," she adds with a laugh.
Her leadership skills will be sorely missed, says Kenneth Miller, a biology professor at Brown University. "She's incomparable, irreplaceable, and indispensable," says Miller, who was a key figure in one of the center's most decisive victories, a 2005 court case that blunted an attack on evolution by the Dover, Pennsylvania, school district. Scott was masterful at building the coalition needed to win the case, he adds.
Sean Carroll, vice president for science education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland, calls Scott "a national hero of science education. The entire scientific community, legions of teachers, and millions of students owe her a great debt for her dedication and passionate advocacy. She has established a remarkable legacy at NCSE."
Trained as a physical anthropologist, Scott was on the faculty of the University of Kentucky in 1980 when she and other educators opposed attempts to teach creationism in the local schools. NCSE was the product of a national grassroots network that had sprung up to battle similar attempts across the country during that era, and Scott joined the fledgling organization in 1987.
Based in Oakland, California, NCSE has grown into a 15-person, $1.2 million a year operationContinue Reading
- Monday, May 6, 2013 - 5:10pm
The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)—slated for release this month—has lost a major customer before even going to print. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), declared last week on his blog that the institution will no longer use the manual to guide its research. Instead, NIMH is working on a long-term plan to develop new diagnostic criteria and treatments based on genetic, physiologic, and cognitive data rather than symptoms alone.
Insel's pronouncement is the most recent hit in a long barrage of criticism that has rained down upon the latest DSM revision process since it began over a decade ago. "While DSM has been described as a 'Bible' for the field," he wrote, "it is, at best, a dictionary, creating a set of labels and defining each." Although the manual's strength has been to standardize these labels, he wrote, "[t]he weakness is its lack of validity," and "[p]atients with mental disorders deserve better."
Although Insel's blog was reported as a "bombshell," and "potentially seismic," NIMH's decision to scrap the DSM criteria has been public for several years, says Bruce Cuthbert, director of NIMH's Division of Adult Translational Research and Treatment Development. In 2010, the agency began to steer researchers away from the traditional categories of DSM by posting new guidance for grant proposals in five broad areas. Rather than grouping disorders such as schizophrenia and depression by symptom, the new categories focus on basic neural circuits and cognitive functions, such as those for reward, arousal, and attachment.
Helena Kraemer, a biostatistician at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who was responsible for field trials of diagnostic categories proposed for DSM-5, says that Insel is right thatContinue Reading
- Monday, May 6, 2013 - 1:00pm
New MERS cases. The MERS coronavirus. Or—if things turn really bad—the MERS pandemic. That's how the world may soon be talking about the new virus that surfaced in the Arabian Peninsula last summer and that has been rattling health experts since. In a move that may end more than 7 months of confusion, an international group of scientists and public health officials will soon recommend that the new virus be called Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).
The group plans to publish a paper recommending the new name, says Raoul de Groot, a veterinary virologist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who has coordinated the effort. De Groot chairs the Coronavirus Study Group of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV), which took the initiative to find a new, widely accepted name. The study group has no power to enforce use of the name, however; it will be up to researchers to decide whether to adopt the moniker.
News of the name comes as Saudi Arabia has reported 13 new cases of the virus, including seven deaths, in just the past 5 days. The wave—more than a month after the last reported case, a 73-year-old man from Abu Dhabi who died in Munich on 26 March—has sparked fresh worries that the virus might start spreading between humans and trigger a global outbreak. As of today, the total reported number of cases is 30, including 18 deaths.
Confusion had reigned over the new name since the virus was first reported by Ali Mohamed Zaki, an Egyptian microbiologist who isolated it in June 2012 from a patient at a hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he worked at the time. Zaki sent the virus to Ron Fouchier's virology group at Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, which characterized itContinue Reading
- Friday, May 3, 2013 - 5:40pm
How much will the international fusion experiment called ITER really cost? That's what four U.S. senators want to know, and today they sent a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting an investigation of the current cost and schedule for the gargantuan experiment, under construction in Cadarache, France. They're also interested in possibilities for reducing the cost of the United States' share of the hardware, in part because of worries that ITER's ballooning costs are consuming the U.S. domestic fusion program.
"At a time when federal budgets for research are likely to be constrained for the foreseeable future, concerns have been raised that funding for other U.S. fusion energy science programs and user facilities have [sic], and may continue to be, cut to pay for increasing ITER costs," write Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the chair and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the chair and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. GAO is Congress's investigative arm, and lawmakers frequently ask it to review projects that have raised budgetary flags.
ITER aims to show that a fusion generator, or tokamak, can generate more energy than it consumes. There's no doubt that ITER has proved to be a lot more expensive than estimated when the official agreement to build the device was signed in 2006. Back then, ITER was estimated to cost roughly $12 billion, and the Department of Energy (DOE), which funds U.S. fusion research, estimated that the U.S. share would cost $1.1 billion. Now, that number has more than doubled. DOE currently estimates that it can fulfill the U.S. obligations for $2.4 billion, as least until the ITER tokamakContinue ReadingPosted In:
- Friday, May 3, 2013 - 5:05pm
Scientific journals are being asked to help tighten U.S. trade sanctions on Iran. On 30 April, the Dutch publishing behemoth Elsevier of the Netherlands sent a note to its editorial network saying that all U.S. editors and U.S. reviewers must "avoid" handling manuscripts if they include an author employed by the government of Iran. Under a policy that went into effect in March -- reflecting changes in a law passed by the U.S. Congress in December -- even companies like Elsevier not based in the United States must prevent their U.S. personnel from interacting with the Iranian government.
The sanctions, aimed at punishing Iran for its pursuit of nuclear technology, have been broadened somewhat from previous rules issued by the enforcement agency, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), a division of the Treasury Department.
According to a treasury official, OFAC has not changed its "general license" policy for journals; it still allows them to publish articles authored by nongovernmental scientists from Iran and other sanctioned countries. The new wrinkle is that OFAC insists that all U.S. citizens, no matter who employs them, comply with the sanctions against papers authored by governmental researchers. That apparently prompted Elsevier to issue a warning to its employees.
Elsevier spokesperson Harald Boersma explained in an e-mail that the new restrictions are expected to affect a small number of papers and that the company had implemented "more specific sanctions … over the past year or two" as a result of U.N. recommendations.
In recent changes … U.S.-owned scientific and medical journals would violate OFAC regulations if they handle scientific manuscripts where any of the authors are employed by the government of Iran. This includes research departments of nuclear facilities as well as theContinue Reading
- Friday, May 3, 2013 - 4:10pm
Jeffrey Atherton has been named as the new director of the troubled laser fusion lab, the National Ignition Facility (NIF), at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California. Edward Moses, who has been running NIF for more than a decade as Livermore's principal associate director for the NIF & Photon Science Directorate, will remain in that role. Atherton is a long-time LLNL employee with extensive laser science experience.
The new role is needed, Moses says, so that Atherton can coordinate with scientists in the three major user communities that NIF serves: nuclear weapons researchers involved in maintaining the U.S. stockpile, fusion energy researchers, and basic scientists working with materials and in other fields. "He's had that role in a fundamental sense for the past year or so," Moses says. "So he's just the right guy for this."
NIF uses the world's highest energy laser to crush peppercorn-sized targets filled with fusion fuel (a combination of hydrogen isotopes) to a temperature and pressure greater than in the core of the sun. If the isotopes can be coaxed to fuse, forming helium, a lot of energy is released. NIF's ultimate goal is "ignition," a self-sustaining reaction that produces more energy than was pumped into the target by the laser beams.
NIF opened for business in 2009 with the target of achieving ignition by the end September 2012. When it failed to do so, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which manages the facility, had to report to Congress on why it failed and what should be done next. The result is a 3-year "Path Forward" plan to better understand the physics of target implosions and figure out why the reality of the implosions is so far adrift from the predictions of theContinue Reading
- Thursday, May 2, 2013 - 12:33pm
A congressional proposal to alter how the National Science Foundation (NSF) chooses research projects "would throw the basic research baby out with the bath water," says presidential science adviser John Holdren.
Speaking this morning at the annual Science and Technology Forum sponsored by AAAS (which publishes ScienceInsider), Holdren sharply criticized legislation drafted by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), chair of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. Smith's bill would require NSF to promise that any research it funds "advance[s]" national health, prosperity, and security, "is ground breaking," and is not being supported by another federal agency. In a statement released 30 April, Smith said the bill "improves" on NSF's current process of peer review "by adding a layer of accountability" intended to "ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent on the highest-quality research."
Holdren said that Smith's bill, called the "High Quality Research Act," would wrongly inject lawmakers into a decision-making process that he described as "the gold standard" for the rest of the world. NSF now judges grant proposals on their "intellectual merit" and on the "broader impacts" of the research on society, and Holdren said that having politicians revise those criteria is fraught with danger.
"I have no objection to looking at the peer-review process to make sure that it is everything it can be," Holdren said in response to a question after his speech. "But I think … adding Congress as reviewers is a mistake. The basis of peer review is to employ experts in the relevant fields. Most members of Congress are not experts in the relevant fields. They are certainly experts in making decisions under uncertainty on complicated issues. But that does not qualify them to review research proposals in science."Continue Reading
- Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - 3:50pm
A court has ordered the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to keep data from two drug companies confidential, running counter to EMA's recent push to share clinical and nonclinical information as widely as possible. The temporary injunction from the General Court of the European Union backs two drug firms on the U.S. side of the pond: AbbVie, headquartered in North Chicago, Illinois, and InterMune in Brisbane, California.
The companies filed independent complaints earlier this year, charging that EMA's policy to release information about therapies it has either approved or rejected would put their commercial interests at risk. "If the EMA makes this knowledge freely available to other companies (in particular to InterMune's competitors) at no cost this could facilitate their development programs and enable them to reach the market and compete with InterMune faster than they would otherwise to be able to do," writes Jim Goff, InterMune's spokesperson, in an e-mail to ScienceInsider, explaining his company's concerns.
The temporary injunction remains unpublished, and the companies' publicly released complaints are bare-boned. (See here and here.) But what's clear is that the challenge is the first time EMA's push for transparency has been successfully torpedoed. The agency, which is the European version of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, changed its protocols in November 2010. At the time, it had just been through a mirror version of what it's experiencing now: A nonprofit called the Cochrane Collaboration had requested documents about certain drugs, and EMA had refused. The European Ombudsman, a sort of conduct guard for E.U. institutions, "spent quite a lot of time investigating this, and in the end ruled that we had to release the data," says Martin Harvey-Allchurch, EMA's head of communications. As a result of the ombudsman's decision, EMA overhauled its policiesContinue Reading
- Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - 3:05pm
A 2-year-old who was born without a trachea has received a synthetic replacement seeded with her own stem cells, the Karolinska Institute announced today. The operation, which took place in Peoria, Illinois, on 9 April, is the first time that the technique has been used in the United States. The New York Times reports that the recipient, Hannah Warren, has had a few complications related to the surgery but is recovering well.
Paolo Macchiarini of the Karolinska Institute, who led the surgery, transplanted the first stem-cell seeded trachea 5 years ago into a patient in Barcelona. Since then, more than a dozen patients have received similar bioengineered trachea transplants. But some observers worry that not enough is known about what happens to the transplants over the long term. For more on the technique and the researchers who pioneered it, see the story in the 19 April issue of Science.Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Monday, April 29, 2013 - 6:35pm
ROME—A bioengineer has been appointed minister of education, universities, and research in Italy's newly formed government. Maria Chiara Carrozza, 47, is a professor at the Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa and a member of Parliament for the center-left Democratic Party, which is about to lead a new government formed as a result of February elections. Observers anticipate broad support for Carrozza's appointment, while noting that she faces huge obstacles.
Carrozza replaces electrical engineer Francesco Profumo, research minister in the "technocratic" government of Mario Monti since November 2011. A government formed from a broad coalition of center-left and center-right politicians was expected to assume power following a confidence vote in the upper house of Parliament on 30 April, having already obtained the backing of the lower house.
Carrozza has been in charge of developing the Democratic Party's policies on university and research, including measures to improve job security for junior researchers and to simplify the evaluation of research quality. Although most scientists in Italy are likely to support Carrozza's appointment, says Renzo Rubele, a science policy analyst at Free University of Brussels, some academics will object to her support of a controversial university reform launched by Profumo's predecessor, Mariastella Gelmini; critics have argued that the reforms, approved at the end of 2010, may end up reducing universities' autonomy.
Budgetary constraints will be the main hurdle for Carrozza to overcome in her new post, Rubele says. Italy spends just 0.8% of its gross domestic product on universities, compared with an E.U. average of 1.3%. As part of a package of austerity measures brought in by the Monti government, university funds were cut by €300 million last year alone. Alberto Baccini, a political economist at the University of Siena, also points out that severalContinue Reading
- Monday, April 29, 2013 - 5:15pm
President Barack Obama faces plenty of critics in Washington these days. But he found an appreciative audience today at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS), where he delivered a speech celebrating the august body's 150th anniversary. In addition to touting his administration's support for research, Obama took an oblique swipe at political adversaries in Congress who want to require the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other funding agencies to adopt new grant funding criteria.
"[W]e've got to protect our rigorous peer review system and ensure that we only fund proposals that promise the biggest bang for taxpayer dollars," Obama said. "And I will keep working to make sure that our scientific research does not fall victim to political maneuvers or agendas that in some ways would impact on the integrity of the scientific process."
The remarks appeared to address two legislative initiatives much on the minds of the audience. In one, first reported yesterday by ScienceInsider, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), the head of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, is drafting legislation that would require NSF to certify that research the agency funds meets three new criteria. It demands that the work advance the "national health, prosperity, or welfare" of the United States, "is groundbreaking," and "is not duplicative" of studies funded by another federal agency.
The other is a temporary prohibition, sponsored by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and approved by Congress last month, against NSF's funding any political science research unless the director certifies that the research addresses economic or national security interests. Both lawmakers say that their efforts are intended to ensure the best use of taxpayer dollars, but critics charge that they are trying to politicize the peer-review process.Continue Reading
- Monday, April 29, 2013 - 4:50pm
BRUSSELS—The European Commission is going ahead with a 2-year moratorium on three widely used pesticides that are potentially harmful to bees, although E.U. countries remain split on the issue. The decision follows reports published in January by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluding that the three so-called neonicotinoids—clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam—pose an "acute risk" to honey bees essential to farming and natural ecosystems.
After two inconclusive votes by member states, the commission is allowed to drive its proposal through. The first of these votes happened on 15 March in the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, where 13 member states endorsed the proposal for a moratorium, nine voted against, and five abstained. But because each country has a different weight depending on its population size, the proposal didn't get the required "qualified majority."
Today, member states voted again in an appeals committee. This time, 15 backed the ban, while eight rejected it and four abstained—which, despite the growing support, is still short of a qualified majority. Now, the commission has decided to use its right to go ahead with the plan.
"The commission's role is to protect consumers. EFSA's reports have revealed a risk, so we're taking time to step back and assess the situation," says a Brussels source close to the negotiations—adding that countries that have already restricted neonicotinoids on their own initiative, such as France and Slovenia, have not suffered a drop in agricultural production.
Germany has sided with France and others by approving the ban in the appeal vote after abstaining last month. That's a significant move for a large, powerful E.U. country that is home to Bayer CropScience, one of the two firms that manufactures neonicotinoids, says Marco Contiero, Greenpeace'sContinue Reading
- Sunday, April 28, 2013 - 3:48pm
The new chair of the House of Representatives science committee has drafted a bill that, in effect, would replace peer review at the National Science Foundation (NSF) with a set of funding criteria chosen by Congress. For good measure, it would also set in motion a process to determine whether the same criteria should be adopted by every other federal science agency.
The legislation, being worked up by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), represents the latest—and bluntest—attack on NSF by congressional Republicans seeking to halt what they believe is frivolous and wasteful research being funded in the social sciences. Last month, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) successfully attached language to a 2013 spending bill that prohibits NSF from funding any political science research for the rest of the fiscal year unless its director certifies that it pertains to economic development or national security. Smith's draft bill, called the "High Quality Research Act," would apply similar language to NSF's entire research portfolio across all the disciplines that it supports.
ScienceInsider has obtained a copy of the legislation, labeled "Discussion Draft" and dated 18 April, which has begun to circulate among members of Congress and science lobbyists. In effect, the proposed bill would force NSF to adopt three criteria in judging every grant. Specifically, the draft would require the NSF director to post on NSF's Web site, prior to any award, a declaration that certifies the research is:
1) "… in the interests of the United States to advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science;
2) "… the finest quality, is groundbreaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large; and
3) "…Continue Reading
- Friday, April 26, 2013 - 4:55pm
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill by a vote of 394 to 1 that would head off a critical shortage of helium that is sure to strike in October if Congress does nothing. That news should come as a relief to the thousands of scientists and technologists who rely on the stuff as an irreplaceable resource to run MRI machines, manufacture optical fibers and microchips, and cool samples to near absolute zero. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate earlier this week.
The shortage would be of the federal government's own making. In 1996, Congress mandated that the government sell off the vast reserve of helium it had accumulated and stored underground in a natural geologic formation near Amarillo, Texas. Sales of the federal helium reserve began in 2003 and were to continue only until the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had recouped the $1.3 billion the government spent accumulating the helium, mostly during the Cold War. BLM will break even this fiscal year, which ends 30 September. Beyond that date, it has no mandate to sell the roughly 370 billion liters of gas that will remain in the ground. That's a problem because BLM sales now supply 42% of the United States' demand for helium and 35% of the global demand.
The House bill would continue sales as they are now conducted for another year. Then, the bill would require at least 60% of the helium to be sold in semiannual auctions. That arrangement is meant to remedy the problem that BLM now charges a below-market price for its helium, which encourages waste and discourages the development of new sources of helium. Finally, when the reserve dips to roughly 85 billion liters of gas (inContinue Reading
- Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 5:20pm
In a bid to restart discussion of what to do with the nation's nuclear waste, four U.S. senators today unveiled a draft plan to create a federal agency that would oversee short- and long-term storage of the highly radioactive materials produced primarily by commercial power reactors. The effort follows the Obama administration's decision to abandon a planned centralized waste repository under Yucca Mountain, Nevada, which led to recommendations from a blue ribbon panel assembled by the White House on what to do next.
"Our country can't wait any longer to find a long-term solution for disposing of nuclear waste," said Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, in a statement. "I'm hopeful the feedback we receive will help us finish the job and allow us to move forward with legislation that puts the U.S. back on the path to safely managing and permanently disposing of the most radioactive wastes."
The other members of the waste quartet are senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who lead the Senate appropriations subpanel that oversees waste issues, and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the senior Republican on the energy committee.
The draft bill includes many of the suggestions made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future. It calls for the creation of a new nuclear waste administration, for example, that would coordinate a "consent-based process" for building new nuclear waste storage facilities. (That process is, in part, a response to complaints that Congress placed the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada without the state's consent.) Two of the senators also offered alternative ideas on several issues.
The proposals are already drawing mixed reactions. Alex Flint, the Nuclear Energy Institute's senior viceContinue ReadingPosted In:
- Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 4:45pm
LONDON—Scientists campaigning for libel law reform in England and Wales have a reason to celebrate. A new Defamation Bill that advocates say will help protect free speech—including statements included in peer-reviewed scientific publications—on Wednesday received the go-ahead from Parliament after several months of ping-pong between the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
The bill aims to "ensure that a fair balance is struck between the right to freedom of expression and the protection of reputation," according to the Parliament's summary of the bill.
Under current English law, plaintiffs alleging spoken defamation or published libel must meet a relatively low bar to get into court: They need only show that a public statement might inflict reputational damage. Under the new law, however, claimants will have to present evidence of "serious financial harm" before a suit can move forward. (Scotland has its own libel law.)
"It's a good libel bill, it's something we should all be proud of," says Simon Singh, a science writer who was unsuccessfully sued by the British Chiropractic Association in 2008 over a column he wrote for The Guardian questioning the effectiveness of chiropractic treatments. The lawsuit attracted wide attention, and campaigners for libel reform cited it—alongside a couple of other high-profile cases—as examples of how libel laws in England and Wales could be used to stifle scientific debate.
In 2007, U.K. cardiologist Peter Wilmshurst was sued after criticizing a U.S. biomedical company, NMT Medical, over the adequacy of its clinical trials. He won the case, but nearly lost his home as a result of the cost of the process.
In 2008, the journal Nature was dragged into a costly court battle by an Egyptian researcher who claimed that one of Nature's articles damagedContinue Reading
- Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 2:15pm
The announcement on 24 April that U.S. and South Korean negotiators seek to extend the current terms of a long-term agreement on nuclear power cooperation is not pleasing anyone. Under the 1974 deal, the United States provides expertise and fuel to South Korea's nuclear power industry as long as the latter refrains from enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel. The agreement is due to expire next year, and South Korea is chafing under its restrictions.
South Korea wants to enrich uranium to supplement its growing nuclear power plant export business, and it wants reprocessing technology to handle a growing stockpile of spent fuel from its 23 reactors, which produce nearly 40% of its electricity. The rub is that such know-how can also be applied to producing nuclear bomb material.
Unable to reach terms on a long-term deal, U.S. and Korean negotiators have opted to extend the current agreement for 2 years, though even that has to be ratified by the U.S. Congress. The issue is complicated by the nuclear threat from North Korea, which has prompted some South Korean politicians to call for the country to develop its own nuclear weapons. Many South Korean researchers scoff at the idea. The politicians "don't exactly know what they are talking about," wrote Kune Yull Suh, a nuclear engineer at Seoul National University, in an e-mail to Science prior to the 24 April announcement. But the fact that U.S. and Korean negotiators are kicking the can down the road doesn't please scientists. "Frankly, the nuclear power research community is disappointed," writes nuclear fusion specialist Gyung-Su Lee to Science in an e-mail. Lee, who led the development of South Korea's Korean Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research reactor, or KSTAR, emphasized that he is not involved in fission research, let aloneContinue Reading
- Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 11:25am
BRUSSELS—The European Commission wants to allow Kosovo to take greater part in E.U. research funding programs after the country signed a reconciliatory deal with Serbia last week. The move would give the small Balkan country fresh opportunities to shore up its minuscule research effort—but it may have to invest more itself to benefit from them.
Leaders from Serbia and its former province—whose population of 1.8 million is 92% ethnically Albanian—reached an E.U.-brokered agreement on 19 April, normalizing their ties after years of conflict. Three days after the signing, the European Commission formally proposed to let Kosovo participate in 22 E.U. programs, including the €55 billion Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) for R&D, Europe's satellite navigation program Galileo, and the European Earth-monitoring system GMES. FP7 ends this year, but the agreement is expected to also apply to its successor, Horizon 2020, which covers the next 7 years.
If E.U. member states agree, Kosovo will move up from taking part in research programs as a "third country" to becoming an "associated country." In return for paying a fee to the European Union, its representatives will be able to take part in program management committees, and its organizations and proposals will receive the same treatment as those from E.U. member states. Non-E.U. countries such as Norway, Switzerland, and the Western Balkan nations of Croatia and Serbia have the same status.
Out of 20 eligible proposals submitted since the beginning of FP7, the European Union has financed three research projects involving five Kosovo-based organizations; together, these institutions received a mere €286,000. Whether Kosovo's future funding will exceed its contribution as an associated country is difficult to say, a commission official says; that depends in part on how much Kosovo invests in research and innovation itself.
- Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - 6:00pm
Canada's renowned freshwater research facility, the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), will be able to remain open this year with money from the province of Ontario. But that funding, announced today by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, may be only a temporary lifeline.
The facility has conducted ecosystems research at the 58 lakes in a remote, northwestern area of the province near the city of Kenora since 1968. Last year, the Canadian government axed its $2 million annual appropriation, gave notice that it planned to start tearing down structures in September, shifted its staff of 16 to the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg, and hired security guards to keep scientists off the site after 31 March.
Wynne's announcement gives ELA a reprieve. But the provincial government has not decided how much money it will free up for operating costs, says Laurel Broten, Ontario's minister of intergovernmental affairs. Negotiations are ongoing with the federal government and the province of Manitoba "to find the best arrangement."
Roughly $600,000 is needed to operate core ELA facilities annually, while an additional $1.4 million is needed to cover the cost of salaries for ELA staff members that carry out scientific projects or conduct the routine work of taking water samples and monitoring water flows.
Although the federal government has shown no inclination to become involved in any effort to save ELA, Broten says that she has had "very productive" talks with Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield. "The conversations are active, are current, and we understand the importance of moving quickly" to ensure that the "one of a kind" facility can continue to undertake world class research, she adds.
It's hoped that ELA can ultimately survive under the umbrella management of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).Continue Reading