An already bitter legal dispute between the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and the University of Southern California (USC) over control of data from a large, federally funded Alzheimer’s study just got nastier.

Last month, UCSD sued USC and Alzheimer’s researcher Paul Aisen, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS), for allegedly conspiring to commandeer data from the large, federally funded study after USC lured Aisen, a $55 million federal grant, and many of his lab members away from UCSD in June. According to UCSD, Aisen “took unauthorized control of ADCS data” after leaving UCSD by moving it to an Amazon cloud account. On 24 July, a California superior court found in favor of UCSD, issuing a preliminary injunction to restore control of the study data to the school.

On 31 July, USC launched a blistering cross-complaint against UCSD, which claims that the university’s actions were unjustified, defamatory, and in violation of the California Constitution. Among UCSD’s alleged illegal “shenanigans”: cutting off Aisen’s email and other electronic communications while he was still at UCSD, “jeopardizing his ability to monitor clinical trials and protect patient safety and research integrity;” “pressuring Dr. Aisen to sign an unconstitutional “Oath of Loyalty”; and “defaming” him by stating to research sponsors that Aisen would be arrested and barred from practicing medicine. USC describes the USCD lawsuit as “aimed at stifling academic freedom and to intimidate [sic] researchers from leaving the UC System.”

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Abraham Karam, NEON

Field technician training taking place at a NEON flux tower equipped with sensors at the Central Plains Experimental Range field site in Colorado.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) today acknowledged that it bit off more than it could chew when it agreed in 2010 to build a unique network of dozens of ecological stations across the United States. Facing cost overruns and construction delays, NSF officials have decided to reduce the scope of the troubled National Ecological Observatories Network (NEON) and eliminate a major aquatic research component.

NSF recently discovered that the $433 million project, which was scheduled to be completed next year, “was delayed and projected to be approximately $80 million over budget if it stayed on its current trajectory,” says James Olds, head of NSF’s biology directorate. After consulting with NEON officials and outside scientists, Olds says NSF “identified a descope option that will keep the project scientifically transformational and should bring it in on time and on budget.”

The move to shrink NEON follows years of complaints from scientists that NSF and project management have been inflexible and that the community has been shut out of the decision-making process. And all sides acknowledge that NEON was terra incognito. A report in February by a top-level advisory body noted that “it is important to remember that the ecological research community has no experience with a project of this scale.” The report also tried to revive the flagging spirits of researchers who may have lost interest in the project because of what it called the “long time period of design and construction without any data flow.”

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The Z machine at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico is just one of the many research efforts funded by the Department of Energy.

Sandia Labs/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Z machine at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico is just one of the many research efforts funded by the Department of Energy.

Just before Congress takes its August break, the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has finished marking up its bipartisan energy bill, an effort to make the most sweeping update to the country’s energy policy in more than 8 years. The legislation—which would authorize a wide array of programs—includes a call to boost funding for the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science by 4% per year for 5 years. The office is the nation’s major funder of energy and physical science research.

Other provisions within the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 would push for greater energy efficiency, updates to the energy grid, and a grid storage program; ease the permitting of natural gas pipelines; and permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provides money for habitat protection. The committee passed it by an 18 to 4 vote.

“What we have done today is laid out a base bill that has good, strong bipartisan support and regional support,” said Lisa Murkowski (R–AK), one of the bill’s two sponsors, at a press conference yesterday.

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Golden rice (right) protects against vitamin A deficiency in children.

Golden Rice Humanitarian Board

Worth its weight in gold? Golden rice (right) protects against vitamin A deficiency in children.

A controversial study that showed genetically engineered golden rice could alleviate vitamin A deficiency in children was retracted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on 29 July, nearly 2 years after investigations found problems with how the study had been conducted. Supporters of golden rice are dismayed by the outcome, first reported by Retraction Watch, but they point out that the data and conclusions remain robust.

Vitamin A deficiency is a major health problem in the developing world, causing blindness and impairing the immune system, particularly in children. Golden rice was first developed in the 1990s as a way to supplement diets lacking in vitamin A. Researchers added genes to allow rice to make beta-carotene, a precursor molecule for vitamin A synthesis. In 2008, Guangwen Tang of Tufts University organized a nutritional trial of golden rice. Working with colleagues in China, the researchers gave golden rice, spinach, or a supplement to 68 children aged 6 to 8 in Hunan province.

The findings, published in 2012, showed that the beta-carotene in golden rice was just as effective at alleviating vitamin A deficiency in children. A single serving of 100 to 150 grams of golden rice could provide about 60% of the daily requirement of vitamin A. The paper is one of several cited by IRRI, the nonprofit rice research institute in the Philippines, as support for the potential of golden rice.

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The Korean government wants daily life in the country to go back to normal.

Ahn Young-joon/AP/Corbis

The Korean government wants daily life in the country to go back to normal.

South Korea has almost conquered the explosive Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) epidemic that began in May—but not quite. On Tuesday, Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn declared a "de facto end" to the outbreak, but to officially call the country MERS-free, South Korea has to wait 28 days—twice the virus' incubation period—after the last patient has died or cleared the virus, says a spokesperson for the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

That period hasn't even begun, because one patient, lingering in hospital isolation, continues to test positive for the virus.

A single Korean traveler to the Middle East sparked what became the largest MERS outbreak outside that region when he sought treatment after returning home. Unrecognized until his diagnosis on 20 May, the virus spread among health care workers and patients in several hospitals, resulting in 186 laboratory-confirmed infections. Of those, 36 patients have died, 138 have recovered and been discharged, and 11 remain hospitalized but have cleared the virus from their systems and are recuperating in general wards.

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Cecil the lion in 2014.

Vince O'Sullivan/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Cecil the lion in 2014.

The death of Cecil the lion, a particularly photogenic male cat in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, has sparked international outrage. Cecil was allegedly lured out of the reserve in early July by hunting guides, and then shot with an arrow by Walter Palmer, a trophy hunter and dentist from Minnesota. Palmer reportedly paid more than $50,000 for the opportunity. U.S. and Zimbabwean officials are now seeking to question Palmer, who has dropped out of sight.

For one researcher, however, Cecil’s death may have a silver lining. David Macdonald is part of a team of scientists at the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Research Conservation Unit in the United Kingdom that was studying Cecil. They have been tracking the movements of more than 200 lions with satellites to better understand the animals' behavior. After Jimmy Kimmel, a popular U.S. TV host, made an emotional plea for lion conservation on his show on 28 July, donations started pouring in to Macdonald’s program. Since Kimmel’s appeal, the research unit has received some $500,000 in donations.

ScienceInsider spoke with Macdonald about his work and Cecil. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX)

NASA/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX)

Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX) has struck again. Just when it looked as if he had struck a truce with opponents in a 2-year battle over legislation—passed this spring by the House of Representatives—that provides guidance to the National Science Foundation (NSF), Smith yesterday reintroduced the most contentious portion of that bill as standalone legislation.

The new bill repackages Section 106 of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1806), which would require NSF to tell the public why every award is “in the national interest.” It lists seven criteria, including bolstering the nation’s economy, improving its scientific workforce, and fostering partnerships with industry.

NSF Director France Córdova has said the agency is already doing what the COMPETES bill requires as part of an effort to “enhance transparency and accountability.” A recent “important notice” to the academic community, for example, explains how NSF program managers are now working with principal investigators to make sure the abstract and title of every grant conveys the value of the research being funded.

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The Titan supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee is currently the world’s second fastest computer.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Titan supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee is currently the world’s second fastest computer.

The United States is now committed to building an exascale computer, some 30 times more powerful than today’s top machine. Yesterday, President Barack Obama signed an executive order creating a national strategic computing initiative, which aims to coordinate high-performance computing research and development between federal agencies. The order should make it easier for agencies to justify increasing their budget requests to Congress for supercomputing R&D.

“This is an extremely important step for high performance computing in the U.S.,” says Horst Simon, deputy director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. The absence of a coordinated federal supercomputing effort had made it more difficult for agencies like the Department of Energy (DOE) to make their case with the Office of Management and Budget that they needed to boost supercomputing budgets, Simon says. The new order “reverses that.”

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Susan Larson with Hercules at Stony Brook

Courtesy Susan Larson

Susan Larson with Hercules at Stony Brook

A state judge in New York has dealt the latest blow to an animal rights group’s attempt to have chimpanzees declared “legal persons.” In a decision handed down this morning, New York Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe ruled that two research chimps at Stony Brook University are not covered by a writ of habeas corpus, which typically allows human prisoners to challenge their detention. The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), which brought the lawsuit in an attempt to free the primates, has vowed to appeal.

“The decision … was correct, not only because it followed existing precedent, but because the entire project of seeking to confer legal rights on animals is misguided from the ground up,” writes Richard Epstein, a legal scholar at New York University (NYU) in New York City, in an email to ScienceInsider. But NhRP President Steven Wise says he is encouraged by the judge’s wording, noting that Jaffe wrote that legal personhood isn’t necessarily restricted to human beings and that “efforts to extend legal rights to chimpanzees are thus understandable” and may someday even succeed. “Justice Jaffe's decision is another large step towards attaining legal personhood for chimpanzees,” Wise writes in an email. “We will be quoting from her opinion for years.”

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A case brought by two cardiac stem cell researchers against their institution for allegedly mishandling a misconduct investigation was dismissed by a federal judge in Massachusetts this week. The plaintiffs, Piero Anversa and Annarosa Leri, had sued Harvard Medical School and its affiliate, Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) in Boston, claiming that the inquiry into their lab at BWH wrongfully damaged their professional reputations, derailed the sale of their stem cell company, and cost them lucrative job offers.

But as Retraction Watch reports, a federal district court judge ruled that the court lacked jurisdiction in this case because the plaintiffs haven’t yet exhausted the administrative process set up to handle misconduct investigations at federally funded labs. The researchers must wait for the ongoing investigation to conclude and air their grievances with the federal Office of Research Integrity (ORI)—but they aren’t precluded from bringing the case back to court in the future.

The investigation came to light last April, after the journal Circulation retracted a paper from Anversa’s lab, and The Lancet issued an “expression of concern” about another. In December, Anversa and Leri sued Harvard and BWH, along with BWH President Elizabeth Nabel and Gretchen Brodnicki, Harvard’s dean for faculty and research integrity, who launched the initial inquiry and called for the retraction of the two papers.

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Legislation would require agencies that spend at least $100 million a year on research to make the published papers they fund free within a year.

Tobias von der Haar/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Legislation would require agencies that spend at least $100 million a year on research to make the published papers they fund free within a year.

Open-access advocates are heralding a Senate panel’s approval today of a bill that would require U.S. science agencies to make the peer-reviewed research papers they fund freely available to the public. Although a similar White House policy is already in place, supporters say the bipartisan measure—if approved by both chambers of Congress and signed by the president—would ensure the requirement stands through future administrations.

The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research (FASTR) Act, approved by unanimous voice vote by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, requires that agencies that spend at least $100 million a year on research make the peer-reviewed manuscripts they fund freely available within 12 months of when the paper appears in a journal. That’s consistent with a 7-year-old policy at the National Institutes of Health and a directive to all U.S. research agencies that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued in February 2013. Agencies have begun steps to comply with the OSTP order.

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Representative Chaka Fattah (D–PA) at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee in 2012.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Representative Chaka Fattah (D–PA) at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee in 2012.

One of the leading advocates for neuroscience research in the U.S. Congress was indicted today for alleged misuse of funds in connection with a failed 2007 campaign to become mayor of Philadelphia.

A statement by the U.S. Department of Justice says that Representative Chaka Fattah (D–PA) and four associates “embarked on a wide-ranging conspiracy involving bribery, concealment of unlawful campaign contributions, and theft of charitable and federal funds to advance their own personal interests.” Specifically, Fattah is alleged to have misused $600,000 of a $1 million campaign loan by creating what the department describes as “sham contracts and false entries in accounting records, tax returns, and campaign finance disclosure statements.”

Fattah, 58, who has represented a west Philadelphia district in the House of Representatives since 1994, described the indictment as the culmination of “an 8-year effort by some in the Department of Justice to link my public service career to some form of wrongdoing. As I have previously stated, I have never participated in any illegal activity or misappropriation of taxpayer dollars as an elected official.”

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Eindhoven University of Technology

AMSTERDAM—A Russian computer scientist was fired from his job at a university in the Netherlands last year after Dutch intelligence officers warned he was spying for his home country. Ivan Agafonov, a postdoc at the Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE) who was working on quantum computing, lost his work visa around the same time and left the Netherlands.

TUE confirmed the case in a statement today after Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant reported the story this morning. The statement said the university was informed in July 2014 that Agafonov “maintained contact with Russian intelligence services,” by the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD). AIVD didn't tell TUE to fire Agafonov, says Barend Pelgrim, a university spokesman, and didn't discuss his activities in detail. "Basically it just said he was doing things he shouldn't do and was a danger to national security," he says. The TUE board immediately suspended Agafonov and later terminated his contract, Pelgrim adds.

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GMTO

Edward Moses

Change is afoot at the offices of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO), which is building one of the world’s largest telescopes. Today the group announced that its president, physicist Edward Moses, is stepping down after less than a year in the job. Moses is leaving to “deal with family matters that require his attention,” according to a statement on the GMTO website.

It’s the second recent high-profile departure from the project. On 9 July the organization announced that Wendy Freedman of the University of Chicago was stepping down as chair of the GMTO board after 12 years in the role.  

When completed, the Giant Magellan Telescope will have a mirror 25 meters across, roughly 2.5 the size of today’s top telescopes. When it begins operation in 2024 at Las Campanas in northern Chile, it will join two other giant telescopes that are also just beginning construction: the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) in Hawaii and the 39-meter European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) at Cerro Armazones in Chile. The GMT’s huge reflector will be made up of seven large mirrors mounted together, each one 8.4 meters across and weighing 17 tonnes. The other two giant scopes use a segmented mirror approach, their reflectors patched together with a much larger number of hexagonal mirror tiles (798 on the E-ELT and 492 on the TMT), each one independently steerable.Continue Reading »

NIH wants Congress to spend roughly $1 billion per year on Alzheimer’s research.

ZUMA Press/Alamy

NIH wants Congress to spend roughly $1 billion per year on Alzheimer’s research.

From time to time, Congress asks federal science agencies to prepare an expert “bypass budget” that lays out the funding the agency thinks is necessary to meet an important goal. Usually such budgets are purely aspirational, and aren’t included in the White House’s formal budget request to Congress (hence the name; they “bypass” White House budget officials). But lawmakers see the documents as an opportunity to get straight talk from an agency without White House interference. And, occasionally, bypass budgets have helped build political support for shunting new money toward research in areas such as cancer and HIV.

Yesterday, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released the first such bypass budget proposal for Alzheimer’s disease, which is projected to triple in prevalence by 2050. Distilled from discussions at a series of NIH meetings and consortia, the new document requests $1.06 billion for Alzheimer’s research in the 2017 fiscal year that begins 1 October. That’s $323.5 million more than the $737 million the president requested in the formal budget request. The new request, which NIH expects to update yearly, identifies 66 separate “milestones” for the Alzheimer’s community, ranging from research projects into the molecular pathogenesis and physiology of Alzheimer’s to new clinical trials, and studies aimed at caregiver support.

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Jun Wang

BGI

Jun Wang

SHANGHAI, CHINA—Surprising many in the worldwide genomics community, the head of Shenzhen-based sequencing powerhouse BGI stepped down earlier this month. Jun Wang will now concentrate on research into artificial intelligence (AI), the institute announced on 17 July.

Wang, 39, has been with BGI from its 1999 inception as the Beijing Genomics Institute. While still a Ph.D. candidate at Peking University, Wang led the bioinformatics team as BGI completed China's contribution to the Human Genome Project and then sequenced the rice genome on its own. Wang took on additional responsibilities as BGI launched more ambitious projects, including sequencing the giant panda as well as multiple silk worms to identify genes selected for during domestication. He became executive director in 2008 as BGI pushed into providing sequencing services to other research groups, diagnostics, and applications in agriculture. Along the way, BGI moved from Beijing to the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen and grew into a global operation, with 5000 employees working at offices scattered around the world.

Wang gained fame throughout the community for his quick decision-making and a willingness to take on ambitious projects, such as an ongoing effort to sequence the genomes of all 10,500 or so bird species.

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Manuel de León

ICMAT

Manuel de León

One of Spain’s star mathematicians was removed from the head of a national research institute over accusations that the center had mismanaged public funds. Manuel de León remains a professor of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) but has lost the directorship of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (ICMAT), a research center run jointly by CSIC and three universities in Madrid.

CSIC and the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM) confirmed de León's exit in an email on 29 July, one week after Spanish newspaper El Mundo first reported the news. De León confirms that he has lost his directorship over what CSIC considered inappropriate spending, and ScienceInsider has seen the internal audit reports listing irregularities.

For example, ICMAT paid for computing services in several chunks, each below the €18,000 limit over which the institute would have had to go through a lengthier procurement process. CSIC insiders say that, at least until a few years ago, these practices were “rather common” to work around cumbersome procedures. In addition, the audit flags expenses for the organization of a scientific congress that it says were insufficiently justified, but which de León says were duly authorized at the time.

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Steve Rhodes/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A 2013 demonstration in favor of labeling GMO foods in California.

The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday approved a bill that would block states and localities from requiring mandatory labeling of food made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It would also set up a voluntary federal program for manufacturers to certify foods that don’t contain GMOs.

The bill’s supporters—Republicans, some Democrats, and the food industry—call the bill a science-based effort to balance consumer right-to-know concerns with the need for a uniform national policy. Opponents of the bill, including environmental and food activists and liberal Democrats, argue that it would deny people the right to know what is in their food.

On a 275 to 150 vote, with 45 Democrats joining 230 Republicans, the House approved H.R. 1599, the Safe and Affordable Food Labeling Act, a measure sponsored by Representative Mike Pompeo (R–KS). The bill’s future in the Senate is unclear and the White House has yet to weigh in. But proponents called it a first step toward a badly needed update to the nation’s food policy in the biotechnology age.

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A large clinical trial that included this child showed that a candidate vaccine offered some protection against malaria.

D. Poland/PATH

A large clinical trial that included this child showed that a candidate vaccine offered some protection against malaria.

You’d think that the first-ever vaccine candidate to protect against malaria would be cause for jubilation. But instead, as data on the candidate, known as RTS,S or Mosquirix, have dribbled out over the past couple of years, it has been greeted with considerable head-scratching and some consternation about whether and how to use it.

The problem is that the vaccine, developed by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in partnership with the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, doesn’t work all that well. In a large phase III trial, it reduced episodes of malaria by about one-third in young children in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s well under the 50% efficacy expected at the beginning of the trial, and a far cry from the 95% efficacy vaccine makers dream of, leaving scientists and policymakers asking: How good is good enough?

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The NIST Administration Building on the agency’s campus in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

© Robert Rathe

The NIST Administration Building on the agency’s campus in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) appears to have been the unwitting victim of a real-life Walter White, the meth-cooking chemistry teacher in the hit television show Breaking Bad. A weekend explosion at the federal laboratory’s Gaithersburg, Maryland, campus was linked yesterday to the production of methamphetamine, an illegal stimulant often “cooked” in home laboratories. Federal and local law enforcement agencies are now investigating how the explosion happened and whether a NIST security guard injured in the blast might have been involved.

“Just as in any investigation … we’re interviewing possible witnesses and letting the evidence take us just where it should,” said Montgomery County Police Department spokesman Captain Paul Starks, who added that no charges have been filed and no suspects publicly identified.

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Senator Lamar Alexander (R–TN)

AMSF2011/FLICKR (CC BY 2.0)

Senator Lamar Alexander (R–TN)

Senator Lamar Alexander (R–TN) today told a National Academies panel examining federal oversight of academic research that he hopes to make reform happen as part of broader legislation to hasten medical advances. The catch: The panel must deliver its recommendations by the end of the summer. That’s a much shorter timetable than the panel had envisioned, but one that it now seems eager to meet.  

Alexander’s offer is not an empty promise: He chairs the Senate panel that oversees both the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the 800-pound gorilla for federally funded basic research, and the Department of Education, which monitors higher education, where most NIH-funded research is performed. The political stars are favorably aligned, Alexander told the Academies’ Committee on Federal Research Regulations and Reporting Requirements, which Congress has asked to look at ways to streamline the process by which institutions comply with federal rules governing research.

Alexander says he is eager to hear the committee’s views on rules affecting the entire scope of federally supported research. But a major driver is to clear the way for finding cures and treatments for dread diseases. “For example, I hear repeatedly that our conflict-of-interest rules [for NIH-funded research] prohibit participation in clinical trials by many of the people who know the most about what is going on,” he told ScienceInsider in comments after his presentation. “It doesn’t protect the public to spend money on administrative costs that would be better spent finding a cure for Alzheimer’s.”

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A new study says that climate-induced feedback loops could lead to a change in ocean stratification and the more rapid melting of ice sheets.

Flickr/mariusz kluzniak (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A new study says that climate-induced feedback loops could lead to a change in ocean stratification and the more rapid melting of ice sheets.

Climate scientist James Hansen has fired a new salvo in the climate wars. In a new paper, Hansen and colleagues warn that the current international plan to limit global warming isn’t going to be nearly enough to avert disasters like runaway ice-sheet melting and consequent sea-level rise. Hansen told reporters at a press conference yesterday that he hoped the paper—to be published online this week—would influence global climate talks this December in Paris and encourage negotiators to reconsider their goal of keeping warming to less than 2°C above preindustrial levels, a laudable but insufficient target, some scientists say. But how influential this paper will be is unclear, given its flaws.

The new study, which includes nearly 300 references and is 66 pages long, argues that the 2°C target—hard-won as it might be politically—isn’t good enough, and is in fact “highly dangerous.” At that temperature, the study says, enough ice-sheet melting causes a positive feedback loop that leads to more melting and rising seas. Instead, Hansen and his co-authors say, a far better target would be to return to an atmosphere with 350 parts per million CO2. That number currently stands at about 400 parts per million.

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Chemical biologists hope a new Internet portal will improve information on small, druglike molecules that are used to study protein vital to human health and disease.

Len Rubenstein/The Broad Institute

Chemical biologists hope a new Internet portal will improve information on small, druglike molecules that are used to study protein vital to human health and disease.

Chemists looking to design and test new medicines are awash in a sea of bad data, according to a report released today by an international panel of experts. The panel, made up of researchers from 46 nonprofit institutions, universities, and biotech and pharmaceutical firms, say they are setting up a TripAdvisor-like crowdsourcing portal to disseminate up-to-date information about chemical probes that they see as the heart of the problem.

The issue with faulty chemical probes has been growing rapidly in recent years. These small, druglike molecules are used primarily to block the activity of specific proteins to determine their roles in biochemistry. Ideally, this helps researchers design drug compounds that perform similar functions but retain attributes needed for successful medicines, like nontoxicity and the ability to travel through the human body. Today, thousands of such probes exist. But most of them interact with nontarget proteins as well or have other unwanted “off-target” effects.

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A new report recommends eight steps to bring stability to the U.S. biomedical research workforce and improve the experiences of  young scientists.

NCATS/NIH

A new report recommends eight steps to bring stability to the U.S. biomedical research workforce and improve the experiences of young scientists.

The authors of a new report urging changes in training the U.S. biomedical workforce say they were motivated by a desire for “less talk, more action.” But their prescription for how the National Institutes of Health (NIH) should deal with a glut of young scientists demonstrates why the problem has been so hard to solve.

Report after report in recent years has decried the surfeit of young biomedical scientists stuck in seemingly endless years of training and chasing too few academic research positions. In hope of finding consensus, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) in Rockville, Maryland, combed through 267 recommendations in nine of these reports from a variety of groups that include the National Academy of Sciences and a group of postdocs. ASBMB pulled out eight suggestions common to most of the reports and presented them today in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.

A consensus already exists around many of those recommendations: NIH needs more stable funding and a larger budget, and researchers should face fewer administrative burdens. But provisions aimed specifically at young scientists are more problematic.

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Artist’s conception of Kepler 186f, an Earth-size exoplanet in the habitable zone of its star that might harbor extraterrestrial life.

NASA

Artist’s conception of Kepler 186f, an Earth-size exoplanet in the habitable zone of its star that might harbor extraterrestrial life.

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) received a huge shot in the arm today thanks to Russian internet entrepreneur Yuri Milner, who will devote $100 million to a much beefed-up 10-year effort to detect signals from other technological civilizations in the universe. The project will make use of two of the world’s largest radio dishes and an optical telescope, and will develop new digital signal processing technology to monitor 10 billion radio frequencies simultaneously. “It’s time to answer the question of whether there is life beyond Earth,” physicist Stephen Hawking told a press conference in London today, where Milner announced the plan.

Milner has amassed a large fortune investing in Web-based companies, including Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, Spotify, and Groupon. In 2012, he established himself as a benefactor of science through a series of Breakthrough Prizes with individual awards of $3 million, the largest in the world. Today’s “Breakthrough Listen” project aims to quicken the pace of SETI with increased amounts of telescope time, improved technology, and the development of new open-source software to process the huge quantities of data it will produce.

SETI has been going on since 1960, when radio telescopes became sensitive enough to detect signals from another planet if it was broadcasting signals similar to those which our civilization does. Researchers developed devices that could monitor millions of frequencies at once for any signal that looked at all different from that produced by astronomical objects or the natural background. At first funded by universities and NASA, public funding for SETI was axed by Congress in the early 1990s. Since then, the nonprofit SETI League has received funding of a few million dollars a year from private donors.

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