The Human Brain Project aims to unravel the organ's complexity.

RA2 STUDIO/FOTOLIA.COM/FLICKR

The Human Brain Project aims to unravel the organ's complexity.

The Human Brain Project (HBP), a humongous, controversial research project backed by the European Union, must reform to stay on course, a review panel has recommended—and it must do so fast. A summary of the panel's report, published today by the European Commission, says a series of "corrective actions" needs to be taken in HBP's governance, the way it collaborates, and its communication.

The report doesn't directly address last year's revolt against HBP by a group of European neuroscientists, but appears to address several of their concerns. "We are very pleased, because it's confirming the problems that we have been pointing out," says computational neuroscientist Alexandre Pouget of the University of Geneva in Switzerland, one of the critics. "They are making the exact same points we have made."

But Philippe Gillet, chairman of the HBP's board of directors, says the review isn't unusually critical and that HBP welcomes the suggestions. "We are ranked as a good project, but [the review panel] gives us some tasks," Gillet says. "You never get a perfect review in science."

The panel says HBP's governance must be changed "to ensure that decision making processes are simple, fair and transparent," and that various HBP subprojects must work together better. Key changes must be implemented by June 2015, according to the 5-page summary, which uses the words "as quickly as possible" or "as soon as possible" five times.

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Geneviève Fioraso in 2013.

MATTHIEU RIEGLER/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Geneviève Fioraso in 2013.

The French secretary of state for higher education and research, Geneviève Fioraso, has stepped down for health reasons, the French government announced yesterday. The minister in charge of national education, higher education and research, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, will temporarily take over her duties.

Fioraso became minister for higher education and research in May 2012 after François Hollande was elected president; her role was downgraded to that of secretary of state last year in a cabinet reshuffle. Fioraso's main achievement was a new law that aimed to simplify France's higher education and research landscape and give the nation a stronger strategic research agenda; it was passed in 2013 after an exhaustive nationwide consultation.

Limited by France's austerity policies, Fioraso had few budget increases to offer, however, and she came under fire from groups that hoped that she would make a more radical break with the policies of the right-wing government of Nicholas Sarkozy. She was pressured to increase baseline funding for universities and research centers and create more permanent positions for early-career researchers, culminating in a 3-week protest in October.

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Rioji Noyori in 2013.

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Rioji Noyori in 2013.

TOKYO—Ryoji Noyori plans to resign as president of RIKEN, the network of Japanese national labs that has spent much of the past year embroiled in a fraud scandal, news outlets here report. A search for a successor is apparently already under way.

Noyori, 76, won a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2001 and became head of RIKEN in October 2003. He has 3 years remaining in his third 5-year term as president. Various news reports said he was retiring because of his age. But some also mentioned his desire to bring to a close a drawn-out drama over fraudulent papers on stem cells.

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Harold Varmus in 2011.

NIH

Harold Varmus in 2011.

Late yesterday afternoon, as Washington, D.C., was readying to shut down for a snowstorm, National Cancer Institute (NCI) chief and Nobel Prize–winning cancer biologist Harold Varmus announced that he is stepping down at the end of this month. Although few even on his own staff were expecting the news, it was not a big surprise coming less than 2 years before the end of the Obama administration, when many presidential appointees leave for their next job.

In a resignation letter to the research community, Varmus decried the harsh budget climate he has faced and pointed to a list of accomplishments, from creating an NCI center for global health to launching a project to find drugs targeting RAS, an important cell signaling pathway in cancer. “I think he’s done a wonderful job under difficult circumstances,” says cancer biologist Tyler Jacks of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and chair of NCI’s main advisory board. “He brought tremendous scientific credibility to the position. And he managed to do some new and creative things.” NCI Deputy Director Douglas Lowy will serve as acting director.

In a phone interview this morning as the first snowflakes began to fall, Varmus reflected on his time at NCI and what he will do when he returns full time to New York City. (He has been commuting from his home there to NCI in Bethesda, Maryland.) He will run a “modestly sized” lab at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, Varmus wrote in his letter, as well as serve as an adviser to its dean, and work with the New York Genome Center.

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Harold Varmus

ADAM FAGEN/FLICKR (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Harold Varmus

Harold Varmus, the fiesty, outspoken virologist who has led the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for nearly 5 years, will leave his post at the end of March.

"It has been our great fortune to have Harold at the helm of the NCI," said NIH Director Francis Collins in a statement today. "His breadth and depth of expertise in biomedical research is unparalleled, and he's been a tremendous colleague to me and invaluable to the agency."

Douglas Lowy, who currently serves as NCI's deputy director, will become acting director. Lowy is a long-time NCI intramural researcher known for his work on vaccines.

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Roger Pielke Jr. at a conference in 2014.

INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL FOR SCIENCE

Roger Pielke Jr. at a conference in 2014.

Conflicts of interest and disclosure of funding sources have been topics du jour lately in science policy circles. Last month activists opposed to genetically modified food rattled academic scientists working in that field by submitting requests for their correspondence under state open records laws. Then the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report warning that such requests can become vehicles for harassing academic researchers. In Wisconsin, an ongoing effort by the state’s largest public university to shield some research efforts from freedom of information requests has caused controversy.

Then, in the highest profile development, news outlets released information gathered by environmental groups about the funding sources of Willie Soon, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The groups alleged that Soon, a prominent critic of mainstream climate science and opponent of government action on climate change, had not disclosed funding from corporate sponsors to journals that published his work, potentially violating journal policies. The Smithsonian has launched an investigation.

The Soon revelations inspired Senator Edward Markey (D–MA) to send letters to numerous energy industry groups, asking them to disclose the names of scientists they had funded. They also prompted Representative Raul Grijalva (D–AZ), the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, to launch an investigation last week into the funding sources of seven academics who have studied climate change or testified before Congress on the matter, often to criticize research findings or policy proposals. Grijalva asked universities to provide the salaries of the seven, official disclosure policies and statements, details on any external funding sources of the academics, and copies of any “communications” related to testimony they provided to government bodies.

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E.U. Commissioner Carlos Moedas (<i>left</i>) and Bulgarian science minister Todor Tanev.

EUROPEAN UNION

E.U. Commissioner Carlos Moedas (left) and Bulgarian science minister Todor Tanev.

BRUSSELS—Bulgaria and Hungary are the first E.U. member states to enlist the European Commission's help to reform their research policies. The two Eastern European countries will receive advice from external reviewers as part of the Commission's new Policy Support Facility (PSF), announced here yesterday.

Endowed with a budget of up to €20 million until 2020, the PSF provides “a sort of technical aid,” E.U. research commissioner Carlos Moedas told reporters. Moedas praised the countries for signing up for the scheme. “Having a [science] minister [who] says: 'we are committed to doing the reforms, please come with independent experts and tell me if I'm doing the right thing'; I think it takes a lot of courage,” said Moedas, who presented the plan with Bulgaria's science minister Todor Tanev.

Bulgaria has requested “peer-review” and advice in three policy areas: public funding of research, science careers, and knowledge transfer from academia to business. The Commission has assembled a group of five external reviewers and five “peers”—senior government officials involved in research policy in their own country. The panel, led by Luc Soete, rector of Maastricht University in the Netherlands, will conduct country visits in April and June and is expected to provide recommendations by the end of July.

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Physical scientists offer outside-the-box idea for funding U.S. basic research

Andrew Magill/Flickr

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS—Researchers across the United States are well aware that times are tight. Despite a recent budget proposal from the Obama Administration to increase spending on federal R&D by 7% next year, dollars flowing to research have largely been flat in recent years, and declining when inflation is taken into account. The long-term outlook is even worse. Growing federal commitments to Medicare, Medicaid, social security, and interest on the federal debt continue to chew up a greater proportion of the federal budget. The money for “discretionary” items that’s left over—including R&D—is expected to drop to 23% of the federal budget by 2040, down from 67% in 1970 and 36% in 2012. So it’s perhaps no surprise that basic researchers are beginning to look for new sources of support.  

At the annual March Meeting of the American Physical Society (APS) here this week, a pair of physicists floated one new idea: Congress should create a $100 billion national endowment to help fund basic research. The endowment, which they’re calling the National Research Bank, isn’t an official proposal of APS. Rather, says Michael Lubell, a physicist at the City College of New York who is pushing the idea, “we’re trying to start a conversation.”

That conversation began last summer when Lubell got together with a longtime friend, Tom Culligan, then the legislative director for Representative Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia who had just announced his decision to retire from Congress. Wolf and Culligan were staunch supporters of federal funding for basic research. So Culligan and Lubell began hashing out ideas for coming up with a new pot of money for supporting research that wouldn’t fall prey to the ever-tightening budget realities of Washington.

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Congressional Republicans say bills are designed to make the process of writing EPA regulations, such as those covering drinking water, more transparent.

Daniel Parks/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Congressional Republicans say bills are designed to make the process of writing EPA regulations, such as those covering drinking water, more transparent.

The U.S. House of Representatives could vote as early as this week to approve two controversial, Republican-backed bills that would change how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses science and scientific advice to inform its policies. Many Democrats, scientific organizations, and environmental groups are pushing back, calling the bills thinly veiled attempts to weaken future regulations and favor industry. White House advisers today announced that they will recommend that President Barack Obama veto the bills if they reach his desk in their current form (statements here and here).

The bills, introduced by a mostly Republican cast of sponsors in both the House and the Senate, would require that EPA use only publicly available, reproducible data in writing regulations and seek to remake the membership and procedures of the agency’s science advisory panels. Supporters, including industry groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, argue that the legislation would improve the transparency and soundness of how EPA uses science, making regulations less costly and more effective.

Opponents, however, are calling the bills wolves in sheep’s clothing. “I cannot support legislation that makes it easier for industry to implement their destructive playbook, because risking the health of the American people is not a game that I’m willing to play,” said Representative Paul Tonko (D–NY) at a 25 February committee meeting on the bills.

Versions of both bills had been introduced in previous Congresses, and their revival was widely expected as part of Republicans’ continuing efforts to block key parts of Obama’s environmental agenda.

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The military wants academic researchers to explore how to emulate the explosive biological forces produced by organisms, such as frogs, when they jump.

Paul Tessler/iStockphoto

The military wants academic researchers to explore how to emulate the explosive biological forces produced by organisms, such as frogs, when they jump.

A long-running Pentagon program that pumps about $250 million annually into U.S. universities for basic research is taking on an international flavor. This year, for the first time, the Department of Defense (DOD) formally encouraged U.S. applicants to partner with researchers from the United Kingdom in seeking grants from the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program.

“Although international collaboration isn’t totally new to us … we decided it was time to formalize cooperation between the U.S. and the U.K.,” Robin Staffin, the director of DOD’s basic research office, recently told ScienceInsider. “There’s been a recognition at senior levels of government that this [international collaboration] is something we should try … to accelerate progress in some key research areas.”

Since it was founded in the mid-1980s, MURI has become a mainstay of DOD’s basic research programs, accounting for about one-quarter of the $1 billion in basic research funding that the Pentagon spends annually at U.S. universities. In some fields, including computer science, engineering research, and math, the military is now the dominant U.S. funder of fundamental science. Whereas many of DOD’s funding efforts focus on single-investigator grants, MURI aims to unite researchers from different disciplines and universities on a single project. When MURI began, Staffin says, “there was a perception that the new things were occurring not within the traditional university departmental areas, but in the intersection of traditional disciplines.”

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The recession put the brakes on driving in Europe, a new environmental report finds, but car use remains popular.

Dirk-Jan Kraan/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The recession put the brakes on driving in Europe, a new environmental report finds, but car use remains popular.

The latest big-picture analysis of the state of the environment in Europe finds that although the continent is making progress in energy efficiency, it is falling short in protecting biodiversity and natural resources. In some areas, the financial recession led to improvements in trends, but the gains may be short-lived, the report warns.

Every 5 years since 1995, the European Environment Agency provides a broad assessment of status and trends. The refrain is familiar to Andrew Jordan, an environmental policy analyst at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. “They’ve continuously said the same thing: We’re not moving as rapidly toward sustainable development as we should.”

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Report takes the University of Minnesota to task for its efforts to protect human subjects.

Jason Moran/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Report takes the University of Minnesota to task for its efforts to protect human subjects.

A damning report on how the University of Minnesota (UM) protects volunteers in its clinical trials concludes that researchers inadequately reviewed research studies across the university and need more training to better protect the most vulnerable subjects. It also found that a “climate of fear” existed in the Department of Psychiatry, where concerns about clinical trials first surfaced.

The 97-page report, released 27 February, was prepared by a group of six experts appointed by the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs. It comes after years of complaints by some UM faculty members, led by bioethicist Carl Elliott. They charged that the school and its doctors failed to protect 27-year-old Dan Markingson, who died by suicide while enrolled in a psychiatric drug trial in 2004. They also expressed grave concerns about how Markingson’s death was investigated. (More on that case is here and here.)

Recently, Elliott’s crusade began having an impact. In December 2013, the UM Faculty Senate called for an independent review of current practices in clinical trials. The administration agreed to open its records to outsiders. Although the review did not look back at history, it nonetheless had plenty to say about how the university handles trials, which bring in millions of dollars from drug companies along with much prestige.

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An investigation into how a pathogen may have escaped from a laboratory has halted studies involving regulated bioagents at a Tulane University research facility.

Tulane Public Relations/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

An investigation into how a pathogen may have escaped from a laboratory has halted studies involving regulated bioagents at a Tulane University research facility.

The apparent escape from a high-security lab of a dangerous bacterium that led federal officials last month to suspend research on certain high-risk pathogens at Tulane University has left questions about an ongoing investigation of the incident and broader risks.

According to a lengthy 1 March news article in USA Today, two rhesus macaques at the Tulane National Primate Research Center in Covington, Louisiana, that fell ill in early November later tested positive for infection with Burkholderia pseudomallei, which is found naturally in soil and water in Southeast Asia and northern Australia. Center researchers had been working with rodents on a vaccine for the bacterium, which can cause a sometimes serious illness called melioidosis in animals and people. The two macaques, which later had to be euthanized, and two other rhesus macaques that tested positive for the bacterium may have been exposed while being treated at the center’s hospital.

Adding to concerns, a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) investigator who visited the site in late January fell seriously ill a day later and tested positive for Burkholderia pseudomallei. It is not clear whether the investigator, who has since recovered, was infected at Tulane or earlier during travel abroad, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in February. The agency said it had suspended all studies at the center involving select agents, a list of dangerous viruses, bacteria, and toxins that are tightly regulated. That includes about 10 projects, USA Today reports.

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The human placenta is the focus of a new NIH initiative.

John Bavosi/Science Photo Library/Corbis

The human placenta is the focus of a new NIH initiative.

The Human Placenta Project, launched last year by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) despite uncertainty over how much money would back in the effort, has just received a whopping $41.5 million in 2015 to study the vital mass of tissue that sustains a developing fetus.

The placenta carries nutrients and oxygen to a fetus from its mother’s bloodstream and removes waste; problems with its performance may contribute to health concerns ranging from preterm birth to adult diabetes. Yet it is the least understood human organ, according to Alan Guttmacher, director of NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Last year, Science reported on a NICHD workshop where planning began for a Human Placenta Project that would aim to monitor the placenta during a woman’s pregnancy, using new imaging approaches, tests for fetal molecules shed into a mother’s blood, and other tools.

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Representative Bill Foster at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois last year.

Argonne National Laboratory

Representative Bill Foster at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois last year.

The U.S. House of Representative’s one-man physics caucus is joining its science committee—with the goal of restoring science to its rightful place in legislative discourse.

Representative Bill Foster (D–IL) holds a physics Ph.D. from Harvard University and spent 22 years as a particle accelerator designer at Fermilab, a Department of Energy national laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. When he arrived in the House in 2008, he was one of three members with a Ph.D. in physics. But the two others—representatives Vern Ehlers (R–MI) and Rush Holt (D–NJ)—have since retired, leaving Foster as the sole remaining member of that troika. (There are no doctoral-level physicists in the Senate.)

Foster didn’t join the House’s science committee as a rookie, instead focusing his legislative energies on reforming the nation’s tattered banking system after the 2008 financial meltdown. He also feared being pigeonholed as “the science guy.” But the world has changed, he tells ScienceInsider today in a phone interview after revealing he has been chosen to fill one of three Democratic vacancies on the science panel.

“Congress is now seized in gridlock, and that made the Financial Services Committee a smaller drain on my time and my staff’s time,” he explains. “And secondly, science has come under attack. Support for science, and even acknowledging that scientific thought is a useful way to operate our government, has come under increasing partisan attack. And the [House] science committee is one important platform to have that discussion about the proper role of science in government and in the economy.”

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Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz at the Idaho National Laboratory last year.

Idaho National Laboratory/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz at the Idaho National Laboratory last year.

Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz went committee-hopping this week, defending President Barack Obama’s 2016 budget request for the Department of Energy (DOE) before two panels in the U.S. House of Representatives. And although some lawmakers worried that DOE’s request tilts too far toward applied research in its science programs, their grilling of Moniz on science was relatively light.

On Wednesday, Moniz appeared before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and yesterday testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies. Representatives mostly peppered Moniz with questions that focused on hot-button energy issues—including DOE’s role in evaluating the controversial Keystone pipeline and efforts to promote nuclear power—but the department’s science programs also saw some time in the spotlight.

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What did Leonard Nimoy mean to you?

A.F. Archive/Alamy

Leonard Nimoy—poet, photographer, and Star Trek’s “Mr. Spock”died today at 83. The New York Times has the full story here. Though Nimoy wasn’t a scientist, he undoubtedly inspired generations of children to become one, thanks to his role as the U.S.S. Enterprise’s science officer. Nimoy also contributed to science-themed projects, such as the 1994 IMAX documentary Destiny in Space, which contained footage from nine Space Shuttle missions. We here at Science will feel his loss deeply. What did Leonard Nimoy mean to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Marc Kastner

Kay Herschelmann

Marc Kastner

After 42 years of doing atomic physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, and 16 years as an MIT administrator, Marc Kastner knows intimately both the value of basic research—and how to convince rich people to foster its growth at a premier research institution. Yesterday he announced he was leaving MIT for a job that will give him the chance to make the case on a national scale.

Kastner is the first president of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, a new effort by six foundations to boost private giving to basic science research, which is largely conducted at universities. The alliance has set itself the 5-year goal of boosting such giving by $1 billion a year—an estimated 50% jump over current levels, although Kastner admits that there are no good baseline numbers.

Philanthropy will never replace U.S. government support for basic research, Kastner says. But what he calls a “tilt” in federal support toward applied research over basic science has created a “desperation situation” for academic researchers that “in my view, is probably the worst since the Second World War.”

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The Ebola treatment center in Nzérékoré, Guinea, one of the trial sites.

Xavier Anglaret and Dadoua Sissoko/INSERM

The Ebola treatment center in Nzérékoré, Guinea, one of the trial sites.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—When French scientists presented the results from an Ebola drug trial at a press conference on Monday, they did so with plenty of caveats, but their message was hopeful: The drug, favipiravir, appeared to lower mortality in people with low and medium-high levels of virus in their blood, the researchers told journalists at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) here.

But when study leader Denis Malvy of the University of Bordeaux in France presented more details of the results at CROI, many colleagues were underwhelmed. Several scientists criticized the evidence as well as the design of the trial, which is ongoing at four clinics in Guinea. “It doesn’t tell us anything,” said epidemiologist Scott Hammer of Columbia University, who chairs the meeting.

In his presentation, Malvy focused on a group of 40 patients who began the trial with lower viral loads than 29 others who clearly did not benefit from favipiravir. As he explained on Monday, only six of those 40 patients died—half of what was expected based on similar patients treated at the same clinics over the past 3 months. What’s more, after 4 days of starting treatment on favipiravir, an influenza drug, 51% of these patients had such low levels of the virus in their blood that the standard test could no longer detect it. “There was a signal that monotherapy with favipiravir may decrease viral load,” Malvy said.

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Earth scientists Jean Bergeron of the University of Sherbrooke; Lauren Garofalo of the University of California, Berkeley; and Lev Horodyskyj of Arizona State University participate in a climate negotiation game in late 2014.

Kerry Klein

Earth scientists Jean Bergeron of the University of Sherbrooke; Lauren Garofalo of the University of California, Berkeley; and Lev Horodyskyj of Arizona State University participate in a climate negotiation game in late 2014.

“Welcome, delegates,” the U. N. official boomed to the international negotiators gathered to find a way to prevent catastrophic global warming. The delegates whispered and scribbled on pie charts as she spoke. One popped open an orange cream soda.

“What is the planet,” the woman concluded, “that you will leave to our collective future?”

It’s a question those in the room contemplate daily. But on this day, they knew the burden of decision didn’t really rest on their shoulders—because neither the U.N. official nor the negotiation was real.

It was World Climate, a game that simulates international climate negotiations. The U.N. official was biogeochemist Juliette Rooney-Varga, director of the Climate Change Initiative at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. And she addressed not diplomats, but earth scientists, gathered late last year in San Francisco for a meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

The game, created in 2010 by the nonprofit Climate Interactive and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology System Dynamics Group, is to U.N. climate negotiations what Model UN is to the real thing: a chance for outsiders to get a glimpse of what it takes to hammer out a consensus on a thorny international issue. And the players’ collective goal is straightforward: Commit enough resources to prevent dangerous global warming by the year 2100. The benchmark is to prevent Earth from warming more than 2°C above preindustrial levels, or about 1.2°C. higher than today—the same as the goal set by the United Nations’ climate agency.

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Mice have become the world’s most used mammal in research.

Armin Rodler/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Mice have become the world’s most used mammal in research.

The number of animals used by the top federally funded U.S. biomedical research institutions has risen 73% over 15 years, a “dramatic increase” driven mostly by more mice, concludes an animal rights group. They say researchers are not doing enough to reduce their use of mice, which are exempt from some federal animal protection laws.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), which collected the data, says the analysis by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is “inappropriate.” The analysis was published online today in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Although the Animal Welfare Act requires that the U.S. Department of Agriculture track research labs’ use of cats, dogs, and nonhuman primates, smaller vertebrates—including mice, rats, fish, and birds bred for research—are exempt. To get a sense of the trends, PETA filed Freedom of Information Act requests for data from inventories that NIH-funded institutions must submit to NIH every 4 years to receive an “assurance” allowing them to do animal research.

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H5N1

Cynthia Goldsmith/Wikimedia Commons

H5N1

Last fall, in a startling move, the U.S. government announced that a handful of U.S.-funded studies on risky pathogens were so dangerous that researchers should halt the work until experts could review them. After weeks of quiet, that review now appears to be moving forward. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has chosen a private firm to conduct a formal risk assessment to help experts decide whether the halted studies, which generally focus on flu viruses, should ever be allowed to resume.

But two prominent scientists have written the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), a federal advisory board that is helping guide the analysis, to complain that it is being rushed through in secret and that the board lacks the needed range of expertise.

The controversy goes back to the fall of 2011, when two labs announced that they had modified the deadly H5n1 avian influenza virus to make it spread more readily in mammals. Many researchers worried about the risks of a pandemic if the new virus escaped the lab, and flu scientists doing so-called gain-of-function (GOF) experiments agreed to a 1-year pause in these studies. But the studies then restarted, despite ongoing concerns from many scientists that the risks were unacceptable.

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Climate change is just one controversial issue that provokes differing views on the relevant science. Here, demonstrators in Washington, D.C., in 2013.

Stephen Melkisethian/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Climate change is just one controversial issue that provokes differing views on the relevant science. Here, demonstrators in Washington, D.C., in 2013.

The bad news is that everybody does it. The good news is that social scientists are making progress in understanding why people ignore solid scientific evidence in deciding what they think about all manner of science-based issues—including how those topics should be taught in schools and addressed by policymakers.

The U.S. research community has long lamented how often the public disregards—or distorts—scientific findings. Many media pundits point the finger at partisan politics, although they offer contrasting explanations: Liberals often assert that Republicans are simply antiscience, whereas conservatives often insist that Democrats tout scientific findings to justify giving government a larger and more intrusive role.

A leading social science journal, The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, takes a deep dive into the debate by devoting its March issue (subscription required) to “The Politics of Science.” The issue, edited by political scientists Elizabeth Suhay of American University in Washington, D.C., and James Druckman of Northwestern University, includes some 15 articles that explore “the production, communication, and reception of scientific knowledge.” And nobody gets a free pass.

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Rajendra Pachauri in 2011.

Kris Krüg for PopTech/Flickr

Rajendra Pachauri in 2011.

The resignation of Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has focused new attention on the question of who will become the next head of the global body. Pachauri stepped down today amid allegations of sexual harassment by a female colleague, The Guardian reports. Pachauri, who had led the IPCC since 2002, had announced plans to step down this fall, The Daily Climate notes, after the group’s annual meeting in October. A new IPCC chair will be elected at that meeting by the panel’s 195 member nations, which nominate candidates.

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A mitochondrion.

Michael Taylor/Shutterstock

A mitochondrion.

The United Kingdom’s House of Lords has approved legislation to allow a new type of in vitro fertilization (IVF) that would replace faulty DNA, preventing certain types of genetic diseases. The vote follows the House of Commons approval of the measure on 3 February, making the United Kingdom the first country to explicitly allow the procedure, which would combine DNA from two biological parents and an egg donor.

The technique will be allowed under fairly tight regulation: Researchers who wish to offer the service to couples still must apply for and receive a license from the country’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

The technique, called mitochondrial DNA replacement therapy, would allow women who have mutations in the DNA of their mitochondria, the organelles that provide chemical energy for cells, to have genetically related children who don’t carry the mutations. It is controversial, however, because it would modify the DNA of an embryo in a way that could be passed on to future generations.

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