Chinese paper on embryo engineering splits scientific community

Yorgos Nikas. Wellcome Images via Wellcome Images/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The announcement that a Chinese team had altered the genetics of a human embryo for the first time has ignited a firestorm of controversy around the world and renewed recent calls for a moratorium on any attempt to establish a pregnancy with such an engineered embryo. But it has also underscored that while scientists are united in their opposition to any clinical application of such embryo manipulation, they are split on the value of basic research that involves genetically modifying human embryos.

In China itself, where the precedent-setting research is big news and some in the public have expressed concern on the Internet about the embryo experiments, "most scientists are more positive," says Guo-Qiang Chen, a microbiologist at Tsinghua University in Beijing. "My personal opinion is that as long as they can control the consequences they should continue this work.”

That viewed is echoed by many outside of China as well. “I personally would defend the fundamental scientific value of research into gene editing” in human embryos, in part to explore the risks of any potential clinical use, Harvard Medical School stem cell biologist George Daley tells Science.Continue Reading »

Among other things, House appropriators would zero out SUNPATH III, a $25.5 million program to help develop the manufacturing of photovoltaic solar cells in the United States.

DOE/Flickr

Among other things, House appropriators would zero out SUNPATH III, a $25.5 million program to help develop the manufacturing of photovoltaic solar cells in the United States.

Republican budgetmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives signaled their support for basic research and their reluctance to invest federal dollars in applied research today in their markup of a bill that would set the budget for the Department of Energy (DOE) next year. The bill has already drawn a veiled veto threat from the White House, however, in part because of the cuts it would make to DOE's applied research programs.

The House Committee on Appropriations' version of the so-called energy and water bill for fiscal year 2016, which begins 1 October, would boost spending by 0.6% for DOE's basic research arm, the Office of Science, to $5.10 billion. It would maintain the current budget of $280 million for DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which strives to translate the most promising ideas from basic research into budding technologies. The Obama administration has requested a 5.3% increase for the Office of Science and a 16% hike for ARPA-E.

The split between the White House and House Republicans is much larger with respect to DOE's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) program. The House bill would cut its current budget by 13.8%, to $1.66 billion, while the Obama administration wants a 41.5% boost, to $2.72 billion.

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Chair Representative Lamar Smith (right) and ranking member Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson at a 2013 hearing of the science committee.

U.S. House of Representatives science committee

Chair Representative Lamar Smith (right) and ranking member Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson at a 2013 hearing of the science committee.

Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX) took a small, tactical step back today from his assault on the policies of the National Science Foundation (NSF). But Smith hasn’t abandoned his 2-year strategy of pushing NSF in directions that the U.S. scientific community doesn’t want it to go. And in marking up his America COMPETES Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1806) before the science committee that he chairs, he made it clear that he’s calling the shots.

(The rest of this story is based on the first few hours of today’s markup of the bill, which covers NSF, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the science programs at the Department of Energy, and federal science education policy. The markup continued well into the afternoon; see the update below on the final bill's approval.)

The committee spent most of the morning rejecting a slew of Democratic amendments aimed at reversing proposed cuts to research programs and removing language seen as an attack on NSF’s vaunted peer-review process. Smith’s big concession was to drop language in the bill about how NSF builds and manages large scientific facilities that NSF officials say is unreasonable, unnecessary, and in places even contradictory.

In particular, the language would have required NSF to “correct” any problems identified by an independent audit of projected costs before starting construction. It would also require NSF to apply rules on how project contingency funds can be spent that are at odds with existing federal policies. That language could seriously delay new projects and drive up costs, according to agency officials, who say they conveyed their concerns to the committee after the bill was unveiled last week.

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Finance Minister Joe Oliver shows off his new shoes on the eve of the budget announcement—buying "budget shoes" is an annual tradition for Canadian finance ministers.

Finance Canada

Finance Minister Joe Oliver shows off his new shoes on the eve of the budget announcement—buying "budget shoes" is an annual tradition for Canadian finance ministers.

Call them deferred olive branches.

In the run-up to a national election later this year, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has been dispensing peace offerings to those who have become aggrieved by the conservatives since they first took office in 2006. The recipients include veterans, seniors, families with children, and all other manner of voting bloc. Now, Canadian researchers, who in recent years have generally vilified Harper as being antiscience and anti-intellectual, have joined the queue. But they will have to wait a while longer to begin enjoying their peace offerings.

Yesterday, Finance Minister Joe Oliver unveiled a 2015 to 2016 financial blueprint in which honoring a commitment to balance the budget takes precedence over immediate goodies for science. The deferred list includes a new, $1.08 billion competition by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation for research infrastructure grants to begin 3 years down the road, as well as modest funding toward buying a 15% to 20% stake in the colossal Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) to be built in a dormant Hawaii volcano by 2024.

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Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX)

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX)

Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX) has never hidden his desire to reshape federal research policy—
often over the objections of much of the scientific 
community—since he became chair of the House of Representatives science committee 2 years ago. Last week, he introduced legislation that lays out those plans in unprecedented detail, and the reaction was predictable. Although academic leaders say that some parts of the new, 189-page bill are better than previous versions, they believe it would seriously damage the U.S. research enterprise.

The bill not only sets out funding levels for several research agencies that in some cases depart sharply from those the Obama administration requested for 2016; it would also reshape key policies and priorities guiding those agencies. In particular, researchers complain that the bill (H.R. 1806), called the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015, would:

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The 200-year-old practice of homeopathy is estimated to be a multibillion-dollar industry in the United States.

Jonathan Wilson/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The 200-year-old practice of homeopathy is estimated to be a multibillion-dollar industry in the United States.

This week, officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took a 15-hour foray far outside the scientific mainstream. In a 2-day hearing, the agency invited public input on how it should regulate homeopathy—a traditional healing practice that has been called into question by numerous scientific studies. For now, homeopathic remedies, sold largely over the counter, are classified as drugs that can be marketed without FDA approval in the United States. But the agency may be ready to rethink its policy.

“We’ve had tremendous growth in the market and also some emerging safety and quality concerns,” Cynthia Schnedar, director of the Office of Compliance at FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) in Silver Spring, Maryland, told ScienceInsider. “In light of that, we thought it was time to take another look.”

The 200-year-old practice of homeopathy—estimated to be a multibillion-dollar industry in the United States—is based on two controversial principles: First, a substance that causes a specific symptom in a healthy person can relieve the same symptom in a sick person if consumed at a very low dose. Second, repeatedly diluting a substance actually makes treatment more potent, even if no detectable molecules of the original substance remain.

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Relations between Australian scientists and the government haven’t improved since last year’s protest over spending cuts.

CSIRO Staff Association

Relations between Australian scientists and the government haven’t improved since last year’s protest over spending cuts.

The Australian government and a big part of its research workforce are headed for a showdown. Barring a breakthrough in negotiations over a new employment agreement at a meeting on 29 April, staff at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) could start skipping meetings with managers and ignoring their phone messages, refusing to fill in time sheets, and working strictly to specified hours. These industrial actions could escalate to strikes.

"These are not workers who go on strike at the drop of a hat; it takes a lot to get them into a situation where they feel they need to take action," says Anthony Keenan, a spokesman for the CSIRO Staff Association, which is affiliated with the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU).

In response to a query from ScienceInsider, CSIRO spokesman Huw Morgan wrote in an e-mail: "We’re aware of the comments regarding industrial action by the CPSU. Our objective remains to develop an agreement that supports our future strategy, reflects the commitment of our staff and maintains our position as an attractive employer."

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Two Stony Brook chimpanzees (not pictured) are about to get their day in court.

Afrika Force/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Two Stony Brook chimpanzees (not pictured) are about to get their day in court.

Update, 21 April: Science has learned that the court order referred to in this story has been amended. The words “writ of habeas corpus” have been struck out, suggesting that the court has made no decision on whether Hercules and Leo—two research chimpanzees at Stony Brook University in New York—deserve to be treated as legal persons. The Nonhuman Rights Project has responded to the amendment, stating, “This case is one of a trio of cases that the Nonhuman Rights Project has brought in an attempt to free chimpanzees imprisoned within the State of New York through an ‘Article 70-Habeas Corpus’ proceeding.  These cases are novel and this is the first time that an Order to Show Cause has issued. We are grateful for an opportunity to litigate the issue of the freedom of the chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, at the ordered May hearing.” Stony Brook has also issued a statement about the case: “The University does not comment on the specifics of litigation, and awaits the court's full consideration on this matter.” 

Update, 22 April: The court hearing has been moved back from 6 May to 27 May. At that time, the judge will hear legal arguments regarding whether Hercules and Leo should remain at Stony Brook. 

In a decision that seems to recognize chimpanzees as legal persons for the first time, a New York judge today granted a pair of Stony Brook University lab animals the right to have their day in court. The ruling marks the first time in U.S. history that an animal has been covered by a writ of habeas corpus, which typically allows human prisoners to challenge their detention. The judicial action could force the university, which is believed to be holding the chimps, to release the primates, and could...Continue Reading »

A humpback whale breaches off shore in late March.

NOAA

A humpback whale breaches off shore in late March.

The U.S. government proposed removing most of the world’s humpback whale populations from the federal endangered species list today, saying that many of the marine mammals have recovered in the 45 years since they were first listed. “We’re happy to announce a conservation success story,” said Donna Wieting, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Office of Protected Resources, in a telephone press conference today. She explained that efforts to bring the species back from the brink of extinction worked.

“This is good news for whales and whale conservation and should be cause for celebration, not a reason to run screaming from the room,” says Patrick Ramage, whale program director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “It shows that when we take appropriate steps to protect whales, they can recover.”

The proposal will reclassify the world’s humpback populations—the most iconic of whale species—into 14 distinct segments based on scientists’ recommendations. If the proposal is approved (which is expected to happen next year), only two of these populations will remain on the endangered list; another two will be considered threatened. The threatened populations—the Central American and the Western North Pacific humpbacks—enter U.S. waters during their migrations. But the two that will keep their endangered status—Arabian Sea and Cape Verde Islands—do not.

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“I changed my approach to life completely," Förster wrote on his website.

Humboldt-Stiftung/Sven-Müller

“I changed my approach to life completely," Förster wrote on his website.

Jens Förster, the German social psychologist found responsible for data manipulation last year, has withdrawn his candidacy for a prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Professorship at Ruhr University Bochum (RUB). His decision was made public today in a statement by the Humboldt Foundation. It's unclear whether Förster decided to relinquish the professorship—which comes with €5 million in funding—because he expects an ongoing investigation to issue a damaging report.

Also unclear is whether Förster can continue to work at RUB, where he currently has a temporary position; a long personal statement published today on Förster's website doesn't directly address that issue. "I will leave the materialistic and soulless production approach in science," the text reads, however. "I am going my own way now.” Förster didn’t respond to e-mailed questions from ScienceInsider about his decision.

The Humboldt Foundation awarded Förster the professorship early in 2014, then suspended it in May of that year pending more clarity about allegations about three studies that Förster published while working at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) in the Netherlands.

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E.U. Parliament up in arms against raid on research funds

European Commission

The European Parliament has thrown a spanner into the works of European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker’s plan to slash €2.7 billion from the European Union's 2014 to 2020 research budget for a new investment fund to help ramp up Europe's economy. Although E.U. member states seem happy to sign off on Juncker's proposal, the Parliament says the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) must find its money elsewhere. Talks will start on 23 April in Brussels to reconcile these opposing stances.

Juncker and Carlos Moedas, the European Union's research commissioner, say researchers have no cause for alarm. First, the money diverted—including €221 million intended for the European Research Council, which distributes individual grants for fundamental research—represents “only 3.5%” of the overall budget of Horizon 2020, the European Union's 7-year research funding plan, the commission reasons. “After this redeployment, the Horizon 2020 financial envelope is still 38% higher” than that of the previous 7-year program, it adds. Second, the commission claims that the money will not be lost to science: “On the contrary, this is money that will be used to attract much more important sums [from national governments and private investors] that will then be reinvested in innovation.”

Scientists and research organizations don't buy this argument. A group of Nobel laureates urged Juncker in February to reverse what they termed a “misguided and short sighted policy.” Cutting Horizon 2020 funds “send[s] a message that Europe is not the place to do high level science,” they wrote. Universities won't be able to use the money that is diverted, adds the European University Association: Instead of research grants, the funds would become seed capital for loans that many public organizations cannot use because they are not allowed to borrow money.

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And then there were three. The last remaining wolves on Isle Royale, photographed this past winter, are a pair and a smaller, hunchbacked wolf (last in line) that may be their pup.

Rolf Peterson

And then there were three. The last remaining wolves on Isle Royale, photographed this past winter, are a pair and a smaller, hunchbacked wolf (last in line) that may be their pup.

Each January, before they fly to snowbound Isle Royale in Lake Superior, ecologists Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich guess how many wolves they’ll spot. This U.S. national park in Michigan is home to the world’s longest running predator-prey study, of wolves and moose. This year, Peterson figured that they’d likely find a mere seven wolves, given complications of inbreeding in the dwindling population. But the island held only three wolves, as the researchers from Michigan Technological University (MTU) in Houghton announced today. “The collapse of the wolves was beyond our expectation,” Peterson says.

The three wolves included a pair, probably the last ​known to have reproduced, plus a notably smaller wolf that might be their pup. The other wolves are presumed to have either died or left the island last year, in a reverse of how carnivores originally came to Isle Royale, when a bitter winter completely froze the channel to the mainland.

But even as the famed predator-prey study on Isle Royale appears to be on its last legs, other researchers may have caught the birth of a similar natural experiment: Across the lake in Canada, three mainland wolves crossed the ice to a smaller island with different prey and seem to have settled in, as population ecologist Brent Patterson of Trent University in Peterborough, Canada, will report at a wildlife meeting next week. “It’ll be very fascinating to watch,” Patterson says.

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U.S. House weighs in with its version of chemical regulation reform

Raymond Bryson/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The U.S. House of Representatives opened a new front this week in the emerging battle over overhauling the nation’s troubled system for regulating toxic chemicals, as lawmakers held their first discussion of a new proposal to revamp the system. The bipartisan House bill, which wouldn’t change the existing law as drastically as two bills introduced last month in the Senate, got mixed reviews at a 15 April hearing of a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

At issue is the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which tasks the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the job of assessing and regulating thousands of industrial chemicals. The House's TSCA reform bill, which has drawn bipartisan support as well as some industry backing but measured criticism from environmental groups, aims to make it easier for the EPA to assess risks and give the agency more power to impose restrictions on unacceptably risky chemicals.

The bill “does not attempt to realize the goal of a fully reformed TSCA with assurances that all chemicals in commerce are safe,” said Representative Frank Pallone (D–NJ), the top Democrat on the energy and commerce panel, at the hearing. “But it will give EPA tools to reduce risk now, in a package that I think has the potential to become law."

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Biomedical researcher Miguel Seabra stepped down last week from the presidency of Portugal's science funding agency, the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), after more than 3 years in office.

Although Seabra invoked “personal reasons” for his decision, scientists note that he resigned amid mounting criticism of the agency's policies. “The climate was very tense,” says Marco Alves, head of numerical modeling at WavEC-Offshore Renewables in Lisbon. “[His resignation] was something that could be expected.”

Crystallographer Maria Arménia Carrondo will take over from Seabra, the Ministry of Education and Science announced in a statement yesterday. According to the newspaper Público, Carrondo previously served as an adviser to FCT's board, which Seabra led until his resignation.

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A rubber tree plantation in Indonesia

Ryan Woo/Center for International Forestry Research (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A rubber tree plantation in Indonesia

Scientists are warning of yet another growing threat to biodiversity in Southeast Asia: rubber plantations. Over the past decade, more than 2 million hectares of forests and farms worldwide have been turned into rubber plantations. The biggest impact has been in Southeast Asia—including the Xishuangbanna region of southwest China—which hosts 84% of the world's 9.9 million hectares planted with rubber trees, according to a new review. The driver is growing demand for rubber products, particularly tires, which consume 70% of annual rubber production. But conservationists hope new efforts to grow rubber more sustainably could curb the ecological impact.

For the moment, however, the expansion of rubber plantations is taking a growing toll on flora and fauna. The researchers surveyed previous studies and found that conversion of forest to rubber monoculture significantly decreases the number of bird, bat, and insect species. The change in landscape is particularly hard on specialized and often threatened birds that feed on the fruit and insects found in forests. The team reports that no studies have documented the impact of forest conversion on ungulates, primates, large predators, or waterbirds, but they conclude that it is unlikely these larger animals are unaffected.

The impact goes beyond the boundaries of the plantations. Pesticide, herbicide, and sediment runoff leads to eutrophication of area streams, affecting aquatic life. The loss of smaller trees and shrubs leads to soil erosion and increased landslide risk. And rubber trees soak up deep soil moisture, making it harder for native vegetation to thrive.

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The RV Sikuliaq at rest in a frozen section of the Bering Sea during recent ice and science trials.

UAMN/Roger Topp

The RV Sikuliaq at rest in a frozen section of the Bering Sea during recent ice and science trials.

Seaman Sikuliaq reporting for duty, Captain. The low rumbling of the engine of the RV Sikuliaq was music to ocean scientists’ ears last week during a 23-day cruise to test how the newest addition to the U.S. oceanographic fleet handled icy seas. Starting from Dutch Harbor on the Aleutian island of Amaknak in Alaska, the ship ventured north into so-called ten-tenths sea ice—the name shiphands give to a sea ice coating that stretches to the horizon.

The 80-meter-long Sikuliaq is not an icebreaker, but its hardened hull is rated to move through sea ice as thick as 0.8 m. And it “crunched” smoothly through ice it encountered during various trial procedures, reports chief scientist Carin Ashjian, a biological oceanographer from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts. (The ship moved easily through 0.5 m-thick solid ice, but was stopped by stacked "rafting" ice that was 1.5 m thick. For images of the ship in action, see 1:53 in the video below.)

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Minke whale

Len2040/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Minke whale

In an unprecedented move, an expert panel that advises the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC’s) Scientific Committee has rejected Japan’s latest plan for resuming the killing of minke whales in the Antarctic. Japan, however, says it will continue with its whaling plans.

The panel’s nonbinding finding, released this week, “is a stunner,” says Phil Clapham, a cetacean biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle, Washington. “Never before has a body associated with the Scientific Committee told Japan that they have failed to demonstrate a need for killing whales.”

Japan has long argued that its whaling activities are necessary for scientific research. It killed some 10,000 minke whales in the Antarctic between 1987 and 2014, for example, citing a special IWC clause that permits “scientific whaling.” That program took a legal blow in 2014, however, when Australia won a ruling from the International Court of Justice that Japan’s harpooning project was not for “purposes of scientific research.” As a result, Japan ended its existing Antarctic whaling program and this year collected only nonlethal samples from minke whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. (Japan runs a parallel program in the North Pacific, where it also hunts minke whales for research. That program was not part of the IWC ruling, although many scientists argue that it has the same problems—that is, it is less about research and more about killing whales.)

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Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX)

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX)

The science committee in the U.S. House of Representatives took a major step today in its 2-year effort to reshape federal research policy, introducing a long-awaited and controversial bill that covers the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), research at the Department of Energy (DOE), and federal science education policy.

The 189-page legislation, called a reauthorization, includes suggested spending levels, as well as changes to a host of current policies and practices. It would replace a law covering those agencies that expired in 2013. The science committee had initially broken up that law, first passed in 2007 and revised in 2010, into several pieces. But today’s bill folds them all into one and retains the original name—the America COMPETES Act.

Authored by the panel’s chair, Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), the text was not shared ahead of time with the panel’s minority members and has no Democratic sponsors. Likewise, the scientific community will need time to digest its wealth of details—some of which are certain to infuriate, whereas others are likely to please. But there won’t be much time for cogitation: The committee plans to convene next Wednesday to mark up the legislation. 

Based on an initial review, here are some provisions that the research community is likely to find interesting. Stay tuned for more analysis and reaction.

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Rapid test for Ebola now available

Val Altounian/Science

The second ever real-life test of an Ebola vaccine began today in Sierra Leone. It is unlikely, however, to achieve its main goal: proving that the vaccine, a livestock pathogen modified with an Ebola surface protein, protects humans against the deadly disease. That’s because there simply may not be enough patients.

Since peaking at the end of November, the number of newly reported cases in Sierra Leone has dropped steadily, from 95 4 weeks ago to just 21 last week. That makes it very unlikely, that the trial—led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation—can get a statistically significant result, says Stephan Becker, a virologist at the University of Marburg, Germany.

Together with the College of Medicine and Allied Health Science at the University of Sierra Leone, CDC and the ministry aim to vaccinate 6000 nurses, doctors, and other frontline workers battling the Ebola outbreak over the coming months. The vaccine—developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory and now backed by pharmaceutical giant Merck—was made by stitching a gene coding for an Ebola surface protein into the vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), a relative of rabies that infects cattle, horses, and pigs.

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Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX)

Adam Fagen/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX)

Do women researchers have a fair shot at winning grants from NASA and the U.S. departments of energy (DOE) and defense (DOD)? It’s impossible to answer that question, says a new report from a congressional watchdog agency, because those agencies don’t collect information on the demographic characteristics of the people who apply for funding.

The top Democrats on three committees in the U.S. House of Representatives—all women—are concerned that “gender bias is inhibiting women and girls” from pursuing careers in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. So last year they asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to ask the six leading federal research agencies for data on their applicant pools. The two agencies that fund the largest amount of basic research—the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF)—keep careful records as part of an ongoing effort to monitor whether agency officials and grant reviewers are discriminating against women and minority scientists. But the three agencies with the next biggest portfolios—DOD, DOE, and NASA—“do not routinely collect demographic information about researchers who submit grant proposals and receive awards,” GAO reports in a 17 March letter to representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX), Rosa DeLauro (D–CT), and Louise Slaughter (D–NY).

GAO didn’t know what it was going to find, says the report’s author, Melissa Emrey-Arras. But Johnson had an inkling: In January she reintroduced legislation that would require all federal research agencies to collect demographic information from applicants and give it to NSF for inclusion in its biennial compendium, Science and Engineering Indicators. The bill, the STEM Opportunities Act (H.R. 467), proposes several steps aimed at leveling the STEM playing field for women.

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The World Health Organization's building in Geneva, Switzerland.

Yann (talk)/Wikimedia Commons

The World Health Organization's building in Geneva, Switzerland.

The movement to ensure that clinical trial results don't end up in drawers has found an important global ally. Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a call to make results from every clinical study publicly available within a year. Not doing so can harm patients and research subjects, waste time and money, and hold back medical science, WHO says.

“Failure to publicly disclose trial results engenders misinformation, leading to skewed priorities for both R&D and public health interventions,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, an assistant-director at WHO, in a press statement today. “It creates indirect costs for public and private entities, including patients themselves, who pay for suboptimal or harmful treatments.”

Clinical trials go unpublished for a variety of reasons. Sometimes a study's sponsor prefers not to call attention to unwelcome results; sometimes researchers have trouble getting a journal to print their findings—for instance if they show a treatment had no effect; and sometimes scientists never get around to writing a manuscript. But withholding results leads to "publication bias," which causes treatments to seem more or less effective than they really are, and it can put volunteers in future trials at risk unnecessarily.

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Paolo Macchiarini, a surgeon who transplanted artificial windpipes, has been found not guilty of scientific misconduct.

Staffan Larsson/Karolinska Institute

Paolo Macchiarini, a surgeon who transplanted artificial windpipes, has been found not guilty of scientific misconduct.

A thoracic surgeon who attracted widespread attention for transplanting artificial tracheae into patients—and then faced scientific misconduct charges—has been found not guilty in the first of two investigations into his work. The decision, announced today, was made on 7 April by the Karolinska Institute’s vice-chancellor, Anders Hamsten, on the basis of an internal investigation by the institute’s ethics council. The council concluded that the issues raised are of a “philosophy-of-science kind rather than of a research-ethical kind.”

“We all felt terrible [about the investigation] because it affected our credibility, the credibility of my team,” says the accused, Paolo Macchiarini, a visiting professor at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. “We are now happy that everything has been cleared.” Pierre Delaere, a head and neck surgeon at UZ Leuven in Belgium who brought the case against Macchiarini, says he is "stunned about such outright injustice.”

Macchiarini produced artificial windpipes by taking a polymer scaffold and “seeding” it with stem cells from the recipient, which he claimed colonized the scaffold and eventually grew into a living organ. Delaere argues that Macchiarini's claims of success were exaggerated and that he misrepresented his results in several papers in The Lancet. Delaere first e-mailed Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson, then-president of the Karolinska Institute, about his concerns in 2011; he made a formal complaint to the institute in June 2014, which led to the current investigation. In its report, the council rejected all the issues Delaere had raised.

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Rhesus monkeys at Harvard’s New England Primate Research Center.

Tom Landers/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Rhesus monkeys at Harvard’s New England Primate Research Center.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has launched an investigation into Harvard University’s New England Primate Research Center after several suspicious deaths at the Southborough, Massachusetts, facility. The inquiry coincides with a series of articles published by The Boston Globe, which has uncovered a number of potential animal welfare violations at the center, including a dozen dehydrated squirrel monkeys found dead in their cages or euthanized because of poor health between 1999 and 2011. In several cases it appears that the animals were not given water or were unable to drink due to malfunctioning water lines. In one incident, a monkey’s tooth caught in her jacket, preventing her from drinking. Some of these animals were the subject of a 2014 Veterinary Pathology paper on the impact of dehydration on lab animals. The journal says it is now investigating this study. The primate center is set to close at the end of next month, though—according to the Globe—the university blames finances, not animal care problems.

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A LEGO figurine of astrophysicist Lisa Randall, by artist Maia Weinstock, aimed at highlighting the role of women in science.

Maia Weinstock/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A LEGO figurine of astrophysicist Lisa Randall, by artist Maia Weinstock, aimed at highlighting the role of women in science.

A woman applying for a tenure-track faculty position in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) at a U.S. university is twice as likely to be hired as an equally qualified man, if both candidates are highly qualified, according to a new study.

The results run counter to widely held perceptions and suggest that this is a good time for women to be pursuing academic careers. Some observers, however, say that the study—which involved actual faculty members rating hypothetical candidates—may not be relevant to real-world hiring. And they worry the results may leave the incorrect impression that universities have achieved gender parity in STEM fields.

Still, the “important” results will spark “a lot of discussion,” predicts psychologist Virginia Valian of Hunter College in New York City. “It will definitely make people think more thoroughly and more subtly” about the issue.

In previous research, the authors, psychologists Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci of Cornell University, found that men and women generally fare equally well once they are hired into tenure-track positions (although some critics have challenged those findings). For this study, the researchers focused on the hiring phase. It “is a key juncture in understanding the problem of women’s underrepresentation” on STEM faculties, they wrote in an e-mail.

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Research advocates watch, warily, as Congress tries to finish its budget outline

Wally Gobetz/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Congress returns to work today after a 2-week recess, and a top priority for House of Representatives and Senate Republican leaders is reconciling their versions of a largely symbolic but politically sensitive budget plan.

Many research advocates are watching the machinations closely.

In general, science boosters loathe the spending blueprints approved last month by the House and Senate. That’s because they would, if implemented, squeeze federal funding for civilian research over the long term. But they are also hoping any final plan—if lawmakers can agree on one—will retain some language they like, including provisions that promote a funding boost for biomedical research and call on officials to respond to the threat of climate change.

The budget plan—technically known as a budget resolution—is intended to be Congress’s overall spending blueprint for the coming decade, starting with the 2016 fiscal year that begins 1 October. The two bodies are supposed to agree on a final version by 15 April. But the resolution is nonbinding, and there is no penalty for failing to meet the deadline. Indeed, Congress has essentially skipped writing a budget resolution in recent years, as partisan gridlock took hold.

After Republicans took over leadership of both the House and Senate in the 2014 elections, however, they made returning to “regular order” a priority—and that meant trying to produce a budget for the first time since 2010. Besides setting target spending levels for the relatively more powerful appropriations committees, the resolution serves as a parade banner that lawmakers can use to highlight their spending and policy priorities for the public and to draw contrasts with political opponents.

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