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- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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- Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 7:35pm
A working group advising the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on chimpanzee research today urged that the agency sharply scale back biomedical and behavioral studies involving these animals. NIH should retire most of the nearly 700 chimps it supports, end many research projects, and make sure that chimps still being studied are kept in proper living conditions, the panel's report says.
If NIH follows through on the report, "Clearly there is going to be a reduction in the use of chimpanzees in research," said veterinary researcher K. C. Kent Lloyd of the University of California, Davis, who chaired the working group of the NIH Council of Councils, to reporters. "I don't believe that will be at the cost of research advances."
Today's 84-page report is a response to a December 2011 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report that found that most research on chimps was unnecessary. Today's working group, part of the NIH Council of Councils, was asked by NIH Director Francis Collins to help NIH implement the IOM report, which laid out specific criteria for when chimp studies are justified. For example, such a study should take place only if it could not be done ethically in humans or in another animal model and if the chimps were maintained in an ethologically appropriate environment.
After reviewing 22 NIH-funded research studies using chimps, the working group found that half should be shut down. That includes six of nine biomedical projects that are using 81 of 93 chimps in those studies; only three of these projects, all involving infectious agents or immunology, should continue. The working group also recommended ending five of 13 comparative genomics and behavioral studies that use 10 of about 300 animals. NIH would continue to fund seven ofContinue Reading
- Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 4:55pm
Male scientists—especially at the upper echelons of the profession—are far more likely than women to commit misconduct. That's the bottom line of a new analysis by three microbiologists of wrongdoing in the life sciences in the United States. Ferric Fang of the University of Washington, Seattle; Joan Bennett of Rutgers University; and Arturo Casadevall of Albert Einstein College of Medicine combed through misconduct reports on 228 people released by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI) over the last 19 years. They then compared the gender balance—or imbalance, in this case—against the mix of male and female senior scientists and trainees to gauge whether misconduct was more prevalent among men.
Here's what they found and published today in mBio: A remarkable 88% of faculty members who committed misconduct were men, or 63 out of 72 individuals. The number of women in that group was one-third of what one would expect based on female representation in the life sciences (the field that accounts for the overwhelming majority of ORI cases). The trend seems clear, but the authors did admit that "[w]e cannot exclude the possibility that females commit research misconduct as frequently as males but are less likely to be detected."
Among trainees, the gender gap narrowed, although men were still overrepresented. Sixty-nine percent of postdocs were male, and 58% of students, both of which are higher than the proportion of men in those groups.
Many interventions to prevent misconduct, the authors note, focus on trainees, even though faculty members comprise 32% of cases. Principal investigators "are a legitimate target for interventions to improve ethics," Fang says. And "they also, more than anyone else, create the environment in which science is performed."
Look for a broad feature on Fang and Casadevall'sContinue Reading
- Monday, January 21, 2013 - 10:41am
ROME—The L'Aquila judge who last October sentenced seven scientists and engineers to 6 years in prison each for advice they gave ahead of a deadly 2009 earthquake explained his reasons for the manslaughter convictions on Friday. He said that the seven, at the time members of an official government body called the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, had analysed the risk of a major quake in a "superficial, approximate and generic" way and that they were willing participants in a "media operation" to reassure the public.
The seven were brought to trial in September 2011 for advice they gave in a meeting on 31 March 2009, 6 days before the earthquake, and a day after the latest, and strongest, in an ongoing series of tremors, known as a swarm, to strike the area around L'Aquila. They were accused by the public prosecutor of having caused some of the town's residents to change their behaviour and led them to stay indoors on the night of the quake instead of seeking shelter outside, as they were used to doing when tremors happened.
Following his conviction of the seven commission members on 22 October, Judge Marco Billi had 90 days to make public his reasoning, and in the event did so with just 3 days to spare. The 950-page document Billi released, known as the "motivazione," shows him to have largely accepted the prosecutors' argument. He explains that the trial was not against science but against seven individuals who failed to carry out their duty as laid down by the law. The scientists were not convicted for failing to predict an earthquake, something Billi says was impossible to do, but for their complete failure to properly analyze, and to explain,Continue Reading
- Sunday, January 20, 2013 - 11:25am
More than 140 nations agreed yesterday to a treaty to limit mercury emissions and releases. Delegates in Geneva concluded 4 years of negotiations with an all-night session, coming to final agreement at 7:00 a.m. Saturday. The Minamata Convention—named for a city in Japan where thousands of people were injured or killed by mercury poisoning—will require its signatory nations to phase out the use of mercury in certain types of batteries, fluorescent lamps, and soaps and cosmetics by 2020.
The agreement also requires countries to limit emissions of mercury from coal-fired power plants, waste incineration, and cement factories. Countries in which small-scale gold mining takes place must draw up strategies to reduce or eliminate mercury use in that sector. Coal power plants and unregulated gold mining are the world's two largest sources of mercury emissions and releases into the environment.
The delegates agreed to limit mercury amalgam use in dental fillings, and to phase out the use of the element in medical thermometers and blood pressure devices.
The treaty will, however, allow the use of mercury as a preservative in vaccines. Many in the public health community had argued strongly that banning mercury from vaccines would make many common vaccines much more expensive and harder to deliver, potentially leaving hundreds of thousands of children in poor countries vulnerable to deadly diseases.
The Zero Mercury Working Group, a coalition of non-governmental organizations that lobbies for strong mercury protection measures, said the treaty is a step in the right direction. It said, however, that limits on the two main sources of mercury contamination are disappointingly weak. Controls on coal-fired power plants don't go into effect for 5 to 10 years, the group noted in a statement. The group also would haveContinue Reading
- Friday, January 18, 2013 - 12:45pm
TOKYO—The economic stimulus the Japanese government announced last week includes $11 billion for science and technology according to a preliminary analysis released by the Cabinet office yesterday. Combined with previously planned spending, total national and local government support for science for the fiscal year through March will reach $57 billion—a new record. Much of the new money will go to applied research.
The stimulus package includes $958 million to upgrade research infrastructure, $107 million for disaster prevention and mitigation studies, $359 million to promote innovative medical treatments and pharmaceuticals (including $238 million for research on induced pluripotent stem cells and other regenerative therapies), and $437 million for next-generation energy technologies. Another $666 million will go to Earth, marine, and polar observation programs.
The largest science-related line item in the package is $2 billion to promote university-industry collaboration. Though details are still being worked out, some of the spending will aim to equip universities for industrially relevant research, and some will support R&D, according to a spokesperson for the Japan Science and Technology Agency, which will disburse part of the funding. "Even though Japan is strong in basic research and funding is increasing, I think it's true that there is little connection to industry," says Kazuhito Hashimoto, a physical chemist at the University of Tokyo who helped take a self-cleaning photocatalytic material from lab discovery to commercial use in cladding products. He hopes to use his position on a new Industrial Competitiveness Council to boost ties between universities and industry. "Of course to guarantee long-term growth, there must be investment in basic research and human capital," adds Reiko Aoki, an economist at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo who serves on the Cabinet's Council for Science and Technology Policy. She expects those areas to get moreContinue Reading
- Thursday, January 17, 2013 - 5:05pm
Three pesticides routinely used by European farmers pose an "acute risk" to honey bees, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). In three studies published yesterday, EFSA addresses long-standing concerns of beekeepers and scientists about dwindling populations of pollinator bees, which are essential to farming and natural ecosystems.
The review, requested by the European Commission last year and carried out by EFSA's Panel on Plant Protection Products and their Residues, assesses the risks posed to bees by three types of neonicotinoid insecticides: clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam. This family of pesticides has been used by European farmers since the early 1990s and is sold by Syngenta in Basel, Switzerland, and Bayer CropScience in Monheim, Germany. EFSA says none of the three should be used on crops that are attractive to bees, such as maize, rapeseed, or sunflower. Although the study does not link the pesticides to the collapse of whole bee colonies, the agency's advice could open the door to a neonicotinoid ban in the European Union. Several countries, including France and Slovenia, have already restricted the compounds' use in the past years.
"With hindsight, EFSA appears to agree that the [initial approval procedure for neonicotinoids] was not thought through at the time," says ecologist David Goulson of the University of Stirling in the United Kingdom.
Syngenta has already pledged to defend its product, slamming EFSA's study as "hurried" and poorly researched. John Atkin, the company's chief operating officer, said in a statement issued yesterday that "this report is unworthy of EFSA and of its scientists." In a more gently worded statement, Bayer CropScience pointed out that "poor bee health and colony losses are caused by multiple factors," incriminating in particular the parasitic Varroa mite.
Antonio Gómez Pajuelo,Continue Reading
- Thursday, January 17, 2013 - 1:10pm
The body responsible for fusion research in Europe has published a road map to get it from ITER—a giant international reactor under construction in France which will be the first to produce useful amounts of energy—to an industry-ready prototype fusion power plant by 2050. Although the successful operation of ITER, still more than 6 years away, will be considered a major breakthrough for fusion energy, the new road map from the European Fusion Development Agreement (EFDA) includes a daunting list of the technical hurdles that fusion scientists and engineers still face over the next few decades.
Fusion reactors use the power source of the sun and stars—fusing together isotopes of hydrogen—to produce energy. To do this they must compress and heat a plasma of fusion fuel to prodigious temperatures, at least 150 million°C, using powerful magnets, radio waves, and particle beams. It takes so much energy to get a plasma up to a temperature at which fusion occurs that no reactor has yet produced net energy gain.
ITER is expected to break through that barrier and generate 500 megawatts from a 50 MW input for periods lasting a few minutes. But it will be only a scientific demonstration; ITER won't generate any electricity. That job will be left for its successor, the prototype power plant DEMO. Fusion researchers are just starting to think about designs for DEMO but it is looking increasingly likely that it won't be a global collaboration like ITER, whose members are China, the European Union, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States.
Korea announced recently that it was beginning preliminary design work on a next-step reactor called K-DEMO. China is already working on a design for an intermediate step between ITER and DEMO called theContinue Reading
- Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - 5:55pm
President Barack Obama today lifted a 17-year drought in U.S. funding for research on gun violence, instructing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to step up its support for such work. But his request for Congress to approve $10 million for research on several aspects of violence prevention—including a look at the effects of video games and media images—could face stiff resistance among advocates of gun ownership.
Lifting the ban is one of 23 new actions, including a series of legislative proposals, to curb gun violence that the White House announced today in the wake of last month's shooting of children and teachers at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Among other goals, the president said he aims to require a "universal background check" for everyone buying a gun (about 40% of gun sales are not covered now), a prohibition on the sale of "military-style assault weapons," a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines that can hold more than 10 bullets, and a push for better mental health care.
Even as this initiative was being unveiled, the National Rifle Association had begun lobbying against it. NRA released a video ad criticizing the president as an "elitist" and "hypocrite" for trying to limit access to guns while he protects his own children with armed Secret Service agents.
The American Public Health Association, in contrast, issued a statement praising the administration's support for violence research and increased mental health care, noting that "[t]here is an irrefutable link between access to guns and increased homicides."
The memorandum signed by Obama today gives Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, the authority to direct CDC to:
[C]onduct or sponsor research into the causes ofContinue Reading
- Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - 5:10pm
As federal agencies go, the $1.1-billion-a-year U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) tends to fly under the radar. Sidestepping controversy, its scientists quietly and reliably crank out reams of data on national concerns such as streamflow, earthquakes, and white-nose bat syndrome.
The agency likes it that way, says outgoing USGS Director Marcia McNutt. But a string of natural and humanmade disasters has placed it more often than usual in the public eye since McNutt became its chief in 2009. Back-to-back major earthquakes in Haiti and Chile were quickly succeeded by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Shortly afterward, McNutt headed up the Flow Rate Technical Group, a dozen scientists and engineers from public and private institutions charged with estimating the flow of oil from the spill and determining what wasn't being captured. Their estimates proved critical in determining BP's liability for the spill. And last fall's Hurricane Sandy along the U.S. East Coast has kept USGS scientists hopping, assessing storm surges, the effects of erosion, and the pulses of sediment and pollutants thrust into waterways by the storm.
But, in McNutt's own words, "all good things must come to an end." Last week, McNutt announced her plans to depart USGS. Yesterday, she spoke with ScienceInsider about reorganizing USGS, the uncertain future of the Landsat Earth-observing program, and what she suspects will be the biggest headache for the next administrator.
Q: Compared with, say, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] or the Environmental Protection Agency, USGS doesn't tend to get a lot of attention or press. Is there any bitterness about that?
M.M.: [Laughs] No, no bitterness. We're happy that we don't make headlines. Compared to many federal agencies that have science in their portfolios,Continue Reading
- Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - 10:40am
As President Barack Obama prepares to put forward a plan for comprehensive immigration reform, the idea of a single bill remains a nonstarter for Republicans in the House of Representatives. That opposition reduces the chances that the new Congress will pass stand-alone legislation allowing more highly trained immigrants to remain after earning graduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees from U.S. universities.
Speaking yesterday at a forum sponsored by Politico, two leading Republicans who support easing restrictions on foreign STEM graduates reiterated their preference for piecemeal reforms. "I don't think it should be a comprehensive bill because if you do that, every member will find something in it they don't like … and it will be almost impossible to pass in the House," asserted Representative Raul Labrador (R-ID), who appeared on a panel along with representatives Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). He added, "I think we should have a comprehensive approach, offering four or five or six bills that we can debate separately but vote on at the same time."
In 2011, Labrador introduced such a bill aimed at retaining STEM graduates. It was never voted on, but it served as a template for legislation championed by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), then chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Smith's bill, with a provision to end a lottery that allowed unskilled workers to earn permanent residency, passed the House on 30 November largely along party lines. But ending the diversity lottery made it anathema to the White House and many Democrats, and it died in the Senate.
Chaffetz won bipartisan support in the House more than a year ago for a more limited bill that would shorten the wait for visas for immigrants from countries with the highest numberContinue Reading
- Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 2:55pm
Texas legislators are threatening to cut off funding for the state's troubled $3 billion cancer research agency unless the organization can resolve problems with how it awards money.
Initial spending bills introduced by the state legislature's House of Representatives and Senate contain no new grant funds for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), the Houston Chronicle reports today. "I felt strongly we should stop the process to make any necessary changes," said Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst about the Senate bill, according to the Chronicle.
Last fall, CPRIT's chief scientific officer and many of its outside scientific reviewers resigned to protest what they saw as a failure to conduct proper peer review. The Texas attorney general and others are also investigating a $11 million commercialization grant that was approved without formal review. In December, the agency agreed to a moratorium on new grants.
A CPRIT official suggested that the legislature may yet approve the $600 million the agency needs for the next 2 years. "We have until May to show the legislature we will carry out its wishes the way they want them carried out," Wayne Roberts, CPRIT's interim executive director, told the Chronicle. "Those bills show the legislature's concern, their need for assurance that this agency has proper controls in place to ensure money is allocated appropriately."Continue Reading
- Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 1:55pm
The director of the U.S. Geological Survey, Marcia McNutt, is stepping down from her post on 15 February and heading back to California.
McNutt was seen as part of the Obama administration's scientific "dream team": a group of prominent researchers who had agreed to come to Washington early in the president's first term. Another member of that group, Jane Lubchenco, is leaving next month as director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
McNutt, a geophysicist, had been president and CEO of California's Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute for 12 years before joining the survey in 2009. In an e-mail sent out on Friday to staffers entitled "Early Edition of the Monday Message: All Good Things Must Come to an End," McNutt noted that she wanted to remain until the launch of the long-awaited Landsat 8 satellite, scheduled for 11 February.
Deputy Director Suzette Kimball has been named acting director. It is likely to be months before McNutt's successor is in place, given that the position requires Senate confirmation.
There is speculation that McNutt may be a candidate to head the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, whose director, Tony Haymet, announced his departure last month.Continue Reading
- Friday, January 11, 2013 - 5:13pm
A team of Russian scientists has successfully retrieved its first sample from Antarctica's 20-million-year-old Lake Vostok, which is buried under nearly 4000 meters of ice.
The team, from Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, had completed drilling to the surface of the lake in February 2012. To prevent contamination during sampling, the scientists devised a plan to drill just to the lake's surface, but then allow the pressurized lake water to rise into the borehole and freeze there. They returned this Antarctic summer to retrieve the frozen core—and on 10 January, the team told Ria Novosti, the researchers collected their prize.
"The first core of transparent lake ice, 2 meters long, was obtained on January 10 at a depth of 3,406 meters," declared the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in a statement. "Inside it was a vertical channel filled with white bubble-rich ice."
Next up: Analysis of the core itself, which many hope will contain evidence of microbial life.Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Friday, January 11, 2013 - 4:45pm
More than 100 researchers sent a letter yesterday to Vice President Joseph Biden asking the government to boost research on gun violence. Biden heads up the White House's Gun Violence Commission, which is looking into ways to reshape national policies in the wake of last month's mass shooting of schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut.
The researchers' petition, sent under the letterhead of the University of Chicago social science center known as the Crime Lab, says that "politically motivated constraints" have held back U.S. research on gun-related violence since the mid-1990s. That's when groups backing private gun ownership, including the National Rifle Association, leaned on Congress to limit such research. The lobbying push came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlighted firearms-linked deaths as a preventable public health problem.
In 1996, Congress cut CDC's budget by the exact amount the agency was spending on such research and adopted language stating that no funds "may be used to advocate or promote gun control." Other agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, were later waived off funding gun-related studies, according the letter. It argues that this loss of data collection and analysis pushed the government to a "muddling through" approach that hasn't worked well.
"We recognize that a lot of the gun‑policy debate in Washington, D.C. will hinge on how different people value the tradeoffs associated with different policy approaches," said Jens Ludwig, director of the Crime Lab and a co-author of the letter, in an e-mail to ScienceInsider. "Right now the research community is hampered in its ability to inform policymakers about the expected benefits and costs of different policy approaches because of politically‑motivated limits on data access, and substantial federal under‑funding of research on gun violence."
In the letterContinue Reading
- Friday, January 11, 2013 - 3:15pm//-->
The new chair of the House of Representatives science committee has taken exception to an article this week about the legislators who were named to lead the panel's six subcommittees.
Here is the full text of the letter from Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), followed by an explanatory footnote:
An article in ScienceInsider tries to speculate on the recent Subcommittee appointments to the Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Unfortunately, I regret that the reporter didn't call to get the facts.
For example, ScienceInsider opines that Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill) was somehow "lost in the shuffle" in the decisions on subcommittee chairs. But in fact, House Republican rules prohibit members who serve on exclusive committees, including Budget and Financial Services, from serving as Subcommittee chairman on another committee. Rep. Hultgren is a member of the Financial Services Committee. Along with his work on other committees, I am confident that Rep. Hultgren will continue to be a strong voice in support of science and innovation.
Other claims about members being stripped of their posts or questions about their qualifications could have been easily answered had Science Insider contacted my office for comment. As Vice-Chairman of the Space Subcommittee, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala) has said that he is "thrilled" with his new position and looking forward to representing the interests of the Marshall Space Flight Center, located in his congressional district. And had I been contacted, I would have been happy to explain why Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky) was selected to chair the Subcommittee on Technology. A successful innovator and entrepreneur, Rep. Massie started his own company after receiving a Master's degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1995, Rep. Massie wonContinue Reading
- Friday, January 11, 2013 - 11:15am
TOKYO—Japan's government today approved a plan to spend $116 billion to jump-start the economy and set the stage for long-term growth. Sources in the Japanese press are hinting that research on renewable energy and on stem cells could land a significant chunk of the new cash.
The Liberal Democratic Party won parliamentary elections last month on promises to get the economy out of a 2-decadelong rut. At a press conference here today, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the first step is for the government to create demand through spending on infrastructure and recovery from the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster. He also pledged to create stable growth by improving manufacturing competitiveness and supporting innovation. Details are still being worked out. But the Japanese press has reported that proposals under consideration include steps to encourage private investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy and induced pluripotent stem cell applications. The government also wants to bolster the national research infrastructure in part to foster closer university-industry ties.Continue Reading
- Thursday, January 10, 2013 - 4:50pm
Researchers with the National Institutes of Health say that Junior Seau, a star defender in the U.S. National Football League (NFL), had a degenerative brain disease linked to athletes who suffer chronic head trauma associated with violent sports, according to The New York Times.
Seau, who killed himself last year, is the latest former NFL player now known to have had the disease, which is called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). In May 2011, researchers confirmed that Dave Duerson, another NFL defensive star who committed suicide, had CTE; it was also found in the brain of Andre Waters, a third former NFL defender who killed himself. Overall, researchers at Boston University have found CTE in all but one of the 19 brains of former NFL players they have studied, according to The New York Times.Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Thursday, January 10, 2013 - 3:00pm
In 2004, Science published a climate change study—now widely known as the "wedges" paper—that drew attention to the question of how to tackle the challenge of mitigating carbon pollution in the 21st century. The paper called for seven massive campaigns that would each avoid the emissions of 25 billion tons of carbon by 2054, stabilizing annual emissions at 2004 levels. The authors dubbed each chunk of avoided emissions a wedge, after the shape formed on a graph illustrating the idea. It was an audacious goal, the authors wrote, but one achievable with existing techniques such as building new nuclear plants and preventing tropical deforestation.
A new analysis of the wedges approach released this week, however, suggests that things could be much more difficult. Stabilizing and then phasing out emissions by 2060 could require the elimination of 19 to 31 wedges, says the study, which appeared in Environmental Research Letters.
A story on the paper and the issues it explores appears in this week's issue of Science, and on 17 January I'll be hosting a ScienceLIVE chat devoted to the issue.
The following are edited excerpts from extensive e-mails that I received from Robert Socolow, an energy expert at Princeton University who co-authored the original wedges paper, and Steven Davis, an earth systems scientist at the University of California, Irvine, who is the lead author of the new update. The sometimes feisty and poignant exchanges offer additional insight into how the two scientists are thinking about this complex and difficult problem, and into some of the points of debate raised by the two studies.
One main issue discussed in the correspondence is how to view the needed "transformation" of the global energy system: Does transformation mean weContinue Reading
- Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 2:40pm
High turnover is not unusual within the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology of the House of Representatives, which ranks low on the totem pole of powerful committees. Even so, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), the new chair of the full 40-member committee, has made some surprising decisions in selecting the chairpersons of the panel's six subcommittees.
Chairs are one way that party leaders reward members for loyal service, or simply for longevity. But there appear to be other factors that carry more weight this time around. Take the new head of the technology and innovation subcommittee: Representative Thomas Massie (R-KY).
For starters, Massie is a freshman, and rookies rarely get a chance to lead a subcommittee. More notable, however, is the fact that Massie has already snubbed the leaders of his party on two major votes—and apparently escaped the usual consequences of such rogue behavior.
On 3 January, Massie was one of a handful of Republicans who voted against reelecting Representative John Boehner (R-OH) as speaker in a failed insurrection. Instead, he chose Representative Justin Amash (R-MI), a sophomore legislator well-known for his scorn of party discipline. On New Year's Day, Massie parted ways with Boehner on the bitterly contested bill to blunt the fiscal cliff, although in that vote he was joined by a majority of his party colleagues.
In a press release on his appointment, Massie says his engineering background and track record as a high-tech entrepreneur "makes him uniquely suited to serve as the chairman" of the panel. He wasn't available for additional comment.
Smith's choice for the research subcommittee is also raising eyebrows. The chair in the previous Congress, Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL), had explored the role of the federal government in supporting academicContinue Reading
- Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 12:50pm
The Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering opened its doors 10 years ago with the goal of being a disruptive force in U.S. higher education. But its radically different approach to training undergraduate engineers isn't obvious at first glance.
On paper, the students attending Olin College look and act like their peers at the many small, elite private schools spread across the United States that have been around for generations. They arrive straight from high school, with sterling academic records and staggering lists of extracurricular activities. They spend their entire careers at the Needham, Massachusetts, campus, and they leave after 4 years with a degree that prepares them for top-ranked graduate schools and well-paying jobs.
But looks can be deceiving. Few institutions have more eagerly embraced the winds of change blowing through U.S. engineering education than Olin College. And last week it received the $500,000 Bernard M. Gordon Prize from the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE) that recognizes "experiments in education that develop effective engineering leaders."
The award cites the college's commitment to design process, collaborative teams, entrepreneurship, and real-world projects that are helping the school redefine what an engineering degree represents. The academy also praises the college's attempt to scale up the Olin experience through summer workshops for engineering faculty members from other institutions who want feedback on their innovative ideas before implementing them. At the same time, what passes for radical at many universities today—notably their lust after massively open online courses and other uses of educational technology—isn't at all what Olin officials have in mind.
The NAE award recognizes three academic leaders at Olin—Richard Miller, the college's first employee and its founding president, and the husband-and-wife team of David Kerns and Sherra Kerns, chaired faculty members and,Continue Reading
- Monday, January 7, 2013 - 2:10pm
A veteran science journalist will be the next editor of Science's news section. Tim Appenzeller, chief magazine editor for Nature for the past several years, will replace current News Editor Colin Norman later this year, Alan Leshner, the chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of Science, announced today.
Norman announced last year that he would retire after 32 years at Science once a successor was found. He has led the magazine's award-winning news section since the mid-1990s.
It will be Appenzeller's second stint at Science. He helped coordinate the magazine's news and feature sections from 1991 to 1999. He has also worked as a writer and editor for Time-Life Books, Scientific American, National Geographic, The Sciences, and U.S. News & World Report.
Appenzeller has won numerous awards for his work, including the American Geophysical Union's 2005 Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism for a National Geographic feature on climate science.Continue Reading
- Monday, January 7, 2013 - 1:10pm
Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA), the incoming chair of the U.S. House of Representatives panel that controls the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has a long-standing reputation as a conservative budget hawk intent on reducing government spending. He's also known for being skeptical that humans are contributing to climate change and for rejecting Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. But although that record might make many scientists anxious, his reputation as an inside operator who understands the importance of funding research makes many science boosters breathe a little easier.
"We are looking forward to working with him," said Mary Woolley, president of the advocacy group Research!America in Alexandria, Virginia. "He has made clear his support for breast cancer funding and for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He's the kind of person who gets the job done."
Kingston, a 10-term congressman, is taking over the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies from Representative Denny Rehberg (R-MT), who left Congress after failing to win a Senate seat. Kingston previously chaired the appropriations subcommittee responsible for agriculture, a job in which he gained a reputation for being friendly to agricultural research.
In his new job, Kingston will oversee NIH's budget, which is currently slated to be $30.86 billion in fiscal year 2013. That figure represents a flat budget, currently being carried over from 2012 as part of a continuing resolution to keep the government funded until Congress can agree on a permanent deal. But Kingston may struggle to fend off future cuts: Science research advocates worry that steep budget reductions are looming as part of upcoming battles over short- and long-term federal spending plans.
Against this backdrop comes Kingston, a formerContinue Reading
- Monday, January 7, 2013 - 11:45am
The Supreme Court today rejected a request to ban U.S.-funded research on human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). The decision brings to an end a long legal battle that has cast a shadow over hESC studies for over 3 years.
Two scientists who study adult stem cells filed their suit, Sherley v. Sebelius, in August 2009. They argued that new National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines lifting restrictions on hESC research violated a law banning federal funds for research that destroys embryos. A year later, the plaintiffs won a preliminary injunction that briefly shut down NIH-funded hESC research until an appeals court stayed the injunction. The appeals court and a trial court later ruled in favor of the government.
In October, the plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court. But today, the court "denied certiorari," meaning it rejected their petition.
Amy Comstock Rick, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research in Washington, D.C., which supports hESC research, called the decision "a victory for scientists, patients, and the entire biomedical research community. Science can now continue to move forward, knowing the threat to promising research and funding has been eliminated."
*Correction 1:15 p.m., 7 January: A change clarifies that the suit argued against new NIH guidelines that lifted restrictions on hESC research.Posted In:
- Thursday, January 3, 2013 - 5:30pm
KOLKATA, INDIA—The Indian government today adopted a new science, technology, and innovation policy that calls for doubling the investment in science in the next 5 years and establishing India among the top five nations in output of scientific publications by the end of the decade. The initiative differs from a similar announcement a decade ago in that it emphasizes innovation but does not specify bold new actions.
"[S]cience-led innovation is the key to development," said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, speaking in at the centenary session of the annual Indian Science Congress.
India "aims to produce and nurture talent in science, to stimulate research in our universities, to develop young leaders in the field of science, to reward performance," Singh added.
Today, India invests about $12 billion annually on science and technology—about one-third of it from industry—for a total of about 1% of the GDP. The goal is to raise that figure to 2% of the GDP by 2017. Building support for a "science-based value-system" is critical, Singh said: "Complex issues, be they genetically modified food, or nuclear energy, or exploration of outer space, cannot be settled by faith, emotion, and fear but by structured debate, analysis, and enlightenment." The prime minister stressed the need for excellence and flexibility, saying, "the quality of our scientific institutions will depend upon the quality of the students we can attract into science, the freedom we give them in pursuing scientific research, and the human resource policies we follow in selecting leaders. We must select only the best and we must expand our search to the many Indian scientists abroad."
This statement is a step in the right direction, said Raghunath Anant Mashelkar, former director general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in NewContinue Reading
- Thursday, January 3, 2013 - 4:20pm
The anonymous author of a popular Web site that claimed to identify manipulated images—and the scientists behind them—confirmed his identify this afternoon, a day after he removed previous posts and announced that he would suspend posting on the site following threats of legal action. The man behind www.science-fraud.org is Paul Brookes, a 40-year-old associate professor who studies cardiac mitochondrial function at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. In a statement posted on his blog that was subsequently taken down, Brookes said he was "aided by dozens of helpers, who both submitted material to the site and helped in analyzing suspected data, a triage system of sorts was developed, such that only the most egregious examples were posted." Since it went live 6 months ago, the site "documented over 500 problematic images in over 300 publications."
Brookes had considered some of the possible legal ramifications of accusing prominent scientists of fraud. The site pointed out that "cease-and-desist letters from individuals whose work I report on will be ignored, because I'm only highlighting what's already out there and allowing readers to draw their own conclusions." Genuine legal concerns, however, would be taken seriously, and "I will be happy to discuss editing or removal."
But over the past week or so, Brookes says that he received threats from lawyers "acting on behalf of individuals whose science was openly discussed on the site." One lawyer, Brookes wrote on his blog, managed to subpoena his personal contact information from the Web hosting company and sent an e-mail to dozens of scientists whose findings had been questioned on http://www.science-fraud.org, along with deans and journal editors. The e-mail (whose author did not respond to an e-mail from ScienceInsider for comment, and which was also postedContinue Reading