Southern California schools clash in court over Alzheimer’s grant

In an unusual dispute, the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), is suing a former faculty member and rival school, the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, for allegedly conspiring to take over a federally funded Alzheimer’s disease study.

According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, which broke the story on 2 July, the suit filed last week by the UC regents in San Diego Superior Court alleges that USC acted improperly when it began wooing Alzheimer’s expert Paul Aisen around April with the promise of a $500,000 annual salary to be supported by extramural research funding. Aisen was then director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS), which has a $55 million, 5-year cooperative agreement from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) as well as other private and public grants. Aisen told his staff he would likely bring the grants with him to USC, according to the suit. The multi-institution project testing Alzheimer’s drugs in clinical trials has been based at UCSD since it began in 1991; Aisen had directed it since 2007.

Aisen stepped down from UCSD on 21 June to head a new Alzheimer’s center at USC in San Diego—without bringing the grants. The suit alleges that Aisen and his co-workers have declined to share passwords needed to access data from the ADCS that is stored on computer servers owned by Amazon.

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Cleaned boots drying at the Ebola treatment center in Conakry.

MARTIN ENSERINK

Cleaned boots drying at the Ebola treatment center in Conakry.

If the World Health Organization (WHO) is to better protect humanity from major epidemics, it will have to change fundamentally. That is the conclusion of an independent panel charged with assessing WHO's handling of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has killed more than 11,000 people. The report, issued today, is highly critical of some aspects of WHO’s response and makes wide-ranging recommendations on reforming the organization’s structure and decision-making processes, including the proposal to establish a new Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response within WHO.

But the report also concludes that WHO needs more power, more money, and more support from member states to fulfill its role. "I think this is a frank and important report," says Preben Aavitsland, an epidemiologist at epidemi in Kristiansand, Norway, who helped craft the International Health Regulations (IHR), a 2005 treaty that lays down what powers WHO has in an international health crisis. "The authors are not afraid of making bold proposals.“

Founded in 1948 as an agency of the United Nations, WHO aims for “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.” But there is wide agreement that it bungled its response to the Ebola outbreak last year. In March, an independent six-member panel led by Dame Barbara Stocking, the former chief executive of Oxfam in the United Kingdom, was appointed to look at what went wrong and what should be changed. Panel members interviewed WHO sources and outside experts, met with representatives of numerous relief organizations, and flew to the affected countries in West Africa.

In the report, the panel faults WHO for several problems, most notably for “significant und unjustifiable delays” in declaring the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). WHO didn't label the epidemic a PHEIC—a formal acknowledgement of its...Continue Reading »

Tim Peake will be the first U.K. astronaut to visit the International Space Station.

NASA (Bill Stafford)

Tim Peake will be the first U.K. astronaut to visit the International Space Station.

A few months ahead of the first visit by a U.K. astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS), the U.K. Space Agency has published its first strategy on human spaceflight, promising greater involvement in crewed missions and perhaps even participation in a mission out into the solar system.

The United Kingdom for decades has declined to send people into space; it preferred to focus on the commercial and scientific aspects of spaceflight through its satellite-building industry and its membership of the European Space Agency (ESA). The U.K. Space Agency was only established in 2010. But in 2012, the country made its first contribution to ESA’s involvement in the ISS and the agency’s life and physical sciences research program; today, the United Kingdom's contribution totals £49.2 million. The government’s enthusiasm for human spaceflight was no doubt boosted by the selection of Tim Peake, a British Army helicopter pilot, as an ESA astronaut. Peake will fly to the ISS for his first mission, lasting 6 months, in November.

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Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis resigned today.

Brookings Insitution/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis resigned today.

The decisive rejection of bailout terms in Greece yesterday has ratcheted up an already tense situation in Europe and left Greek researchers wondering about the fate of hundreds of millions of euros that fund science in their debt-ridden country.

“I feel horrible,” says Achilleas Mitsos, an economist and science policy expert at the University of the Aegean, Mytilene, and a former director general for research at the European Commission. “I’m really worried about science but I’m worried about my country, more than anything else.” But what the “no” vote will mean for the country's place in Europe and the future of Greek science is still very unclear.

Polls had shown Greek voters more or less evenly divided on the referendum; as ScienceInsider reported on Friday, some researchers believed a “yes” would be better for science, which has benefited greatly from Greece's membership in the European Union. Greek researchers have done well in Seventh Framework Programme, the funding scheme that preceded Horizon 2020, and the E.U.'s so-called structural funds have helped provide stable funding for many Greek labs. According to the commission’s Joint Research Centre, the European Union paid for 15.8% of Greece's total R&D spending in 2012.

An exit from the euro and a return to the drachma could not just make the financial situation for Greek labs much worse; some experts have argued that Greece would have to leave the European Union if it drops the euro, which scientists worry could imperil E.U. research funds. Costas Fotakis, Greece's vice minister for research and innovation, told ScienceInsider that those worries were baseless.

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These computer simulations of a spiral galaxy show that the proposed High Definition Space Telescope would provide sharper images of distant objects than the existing Hubble telescope (left).

D. Ceverino, C. Moody, G. Snyder, and Z. Levay (STScI)

These computer simulations of a spiral galaxy show that the proposed High Definition Space Telescope would provide sharper images of distant objects than the existing Hubble telescope (left).

Astronomers today laid out their case for building a new super-Hubble, a giant space telescope covering optical and ultraviolet wavelengths. The so-called High Definition Space Telescope would complement the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is due for launch in 2018 and will observe the universe at infrared wavelengths. A report published today by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C., lays out the rationale for another orbiting observatory. It will have a mirror as big as 12 meters across, to both look for habitable planets around other stars and peer deep into the early aeons of the universe.

Reconciling those two roles was a tricky process, and astronomers may have a hard time convincing funders in Congress after the lengthy delays and huge cost increases experienced by JWST. But with this new report astronomers are laying the groundwork for the next decadal survey of astronomy and astrophysics, a priority-setting process that usually gives funders an idea of where scientists would like money to flow.Continue Reading »

Marcia McNutt

AAAS

Marcia McNutt

Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt, a geophysicist who has served as editor-in-chief of the Science family of journals since 2013, today was nominated to stand for election as next president of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). If elected, as expected, McNutt would become the first woman to head the U.S. government's premier science advisory organization, which was founded in 1863.

McNutt is slated to take the helm at NAS on 1 July 2016, when current president Ralph J. Cicerone ends his second term, the Council of NAS said in a statement. Cicerone, an atmospheric scientist, has served as president since 2005. McNutt plans to remain at the helm of the Science journals until she formally takes the NAS post.

In a statement, McNutt said she was "immensely honored" to be nominated to lead NAS, an organization that she said "represents the highest standards of scientific honesty, quality, and integrity."Continue Reading »

Xue Feng reads the inscription in a book given to him by U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus.

Catherine Matacic/Science

Xue Feng reads the inscription in a book given to him by U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus.

When Xue Feng landed his first job after academia as a petroleum consultant in 2000, he was delighted. His new employer, Englewood, Colorado–based IHS, had high ambitions for the young geologist: overhaul how the company—a corporate intelligence firm—gathered oil and gas data on China. Feng dove into his assignment with gusto—so much so that in 2005, when he was 40 years old, he suffered a mild heart attack. By then, he had snared a rare, unclassified database of 30,000 oil wells in China from a private broker. The database promised substantial profits for IHS and—in a country that tightly guards such data on national security grounds—substantial risks.

Disaster struck on 20 November 2007. Feng, who had just left IHS for Houston, Texas–based C&C Reservoirs, was on a business trip in Beijing when he was abducted from his hotel room. Chinese security personnel interrogated him and charged Feng, a Chinese-born U.S. citizen, with selling state secrets. His chief crime: arranging for IHS’s purchase of the oil well database, which the Chinese government declared a state secret in 2007. In 2010, Feng was convicted and sentenced to 8 years in prison, including the nearly 3 years he had already spent in detention.

Back in the United States, Feng’s former Ph.D. adviser, University of Chicago geologist David Rowley, campaigned for his early release. Rowley met with U.S. embassy staff in Beijing and spurred prominent activists to petition both governments. But even U.S. President Barack Obama’s personal request to Chinese leaders in 2009 wasn’t enough. Feng was finally released in April—10 months before his sentence was set to expire—and immediately deported to the United States, where he rejoined his wife and two children in Houston. Feng spoke with Science about his time in prison and what other researchers working abroad might glean from his...Continue Reading »

From left to right: David King, Rianne Letscher, and António Vitorino.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Ben Bergman/KNAW; Jacques Delors Institute

From left to right: David King, Rianne Letscher, and António Vitorino.

The European Commission has asked a trio of scouts to help fill the void left by the former Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA), a role that the commission controversially removed from its organigram when it took office in November. The three will be tasked with finding suitable scientists for a seven-strong “high level group” of advisers, one of the key elements of the commission's new science advice system.

Research commissioner Carlos Moedas will formally announce their names on Monday and meet them for lunch. The trio consists of David King, a chemist and a former British CSA; Rianne Letschert, a law professor at the International Victimology Institute Tilburg in the Netherlands; and António Vitorino, the president of the Jacques Delors Institute, a European policy think tank.

“The identification committee strikes me as sensibly balanced,” but its job will not be easy, says James Wilsdon, a science policy specialist at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom. The committee will have to find the “right mix” of people who will “between them need to reflect Europe's geographical and disciplinary diversity, command the respect of their peers, and be skilled in navigating the often treacherous terrain that lies between science, policy and politics,” Wilsdon tells ScienceInsider in an email.

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Researchers taking samples from the Evrotas River in Greece. The project was suspended because the group lacked money to buy gas.

Hellenic Centre for Marine Research

Researchers taking samples from a river in Greece. Some sampling trips had to be postponed because of the cash crunch.

With their banks closed and the economy grinding to a halt, Greek voters will go to the polls on Sunday in what could be a crucial moment in international negotiations over the country’s crushing debt. Greek scientists are watching the referendum nervously, because it could herald a Greek departure from the Eurozone or even the European Union itself—a devastating prospect, many say, because it would imperil E.U. funding streams that help keep Greek science alive. “This would be a total nightmare,” says Babis Savakis, the director of the Biomedical Sciences Research Center "Alexander Fleming" in Vari.

But Costas Fotakis, Greece's vice minister for research & innovation, sought to downplay such concerns in an interview with ScienceInsider. The Greek government has no intention of leaving the euro, Fotakis says, and “even in the hypothetical case that Greece decides to leave the Eurozone, Greece will be able to apply for E.U. grants as an E.U. member.”

Like most other people in Greece, scientists have suffered under the austerity-driven cuts to government budgets—and so has their ability to work. University salaries have been cut by 30% to 40% since 2010, and research centers are receiving less than half their previous support from the government. Some centers have not gotten any government funding at all this year. “Greek science is not well,” says George Christophides of Imperial College London, who last year helped review the status of two universities there. “It’s like a freefall.”

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Mark Abbott

Photo courtesy of Oregon State University

Mark Abbott

Biological oceanographer Mark Abbott was tapped this week to be the next president and director of the venerable Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts. It is one of the top ocean science and engineering institutions in the world. Abbott has abundant leadership experience: He has been the dean of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University, Corvallis, since 2001, and has also served on the National Science Board, the body that oversees the National Science Foundation (NSF), and on the Board of Trustees for the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, which advocates for marine science. Abbott will start his new job in October. He will take WHOI’s helm amid choppy seas for the ocean sciences. Some members of the U.S. Congress, seeking to limit funding for climate change research, have said the geosciences are not “core sciences” and want to restrict NSF funding to the discipline. Meanwhile, a National Research Council report earlier this year found that the tough budget climate will necessitate significant spending cuts to major ocean infrastructure such as the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), in which WHOI plays a large role. (Outgoing WHOI President Susan Avery has urged a reassessment of the cuts to the still-fledgling OOI after the initiative is fully formed and data becomes available.) ScienceInsider talked with Abbott about the challenges the ocean science community is facing, and where he hopes to steer WHOI. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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Politics doesn't always rule

Pew Research Center

Ideology is not the dominant factor in shaping what Americans think about most science-related issues, according to a new poll by the Pew Research CenterAlthough a person’s political views are a strong predictor of their attitudes on climate change and a handful of energy issues, their gender, age, religion, race, or education play a larger role on many other controversial topics.

The Washington, D.C.–based think tank surveyed 2002 U.S. adults last summer on 22 issues ranging from global warming and offshore drilling to the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods, the use of animals in research, and the value of the International Space Station. A previous report based on the same survey found striking differences in what scientists and the public think about many topics, including GM foods and animal research.

The new analysis suggests that an oftrepeated claim that Republicans are “antiscience” is simplistic. “Sometimes politics is at the center of the story,” says Cary Funk, the lead author and associate director for science research at Pew, “and sometimes politics has very little to do with the way people think about science issues."

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A new 3D documentary about Antarctica highlights its beauty and fragility.

Courtesy of Giant Screen Films and Oceans 8 Productions

A new 3D documentary about Antarctica highlights its beauty and fragility.

The breathtakingly beautiful images in a new documentary, Antarctica: On the Edge, are meant to appeal to anyone curious about this fragile, frozen continent. But Deborah Raksany, head of development for the Chicago-based company that is distributing the 40-minute film by Jon Bowermaster, thought that some of it might also resonate with scientists and policymakers.

So Raksany reached out to a few professional friends in Washington, D.C., who know the political landscape much better than she does. After months of complicated logistics, Raksany and her colleagues got their wish: a 36-hour climate tripleheader in the nation’s capital. The three events, hosted by the National Science Foundation (NSF), AAAS (which publishes ScienceInsider) and a group of Democratic senators, played to capacity crowds earlier this month.

The climate lollapalooza was not your normal science lobbying fly-in, a venerable political strategy in which advocates for a particular cause descend on the nation’s capital for a day to lobby Washington’s movers and shakers. One big difference was that the organizers added artists and entertainers to the usual lineup of scientists, legislators, federal employees, and lobbyists. There also was no “ask”—their support for a particular bill or change in federal policy.

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A red wolf.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A red wolf.

Can the red wolf survive outside of zoos? Is it really a distinct species? These are some of the questions that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) says it needs to answer before it can decide whether to continue managing the only population left in the wild. The agency announced today that it would spend the rest of the year evaluating its recovery efforts and conducting research on the controversial species, and won’t release any more animals into the wild for the time being.

Advocates are concerned that the agency is winding down its efforts to protect the wolf. “The emphasis and tone have moved far away from the conservation and recovery of an endangered species and seems to be preparing the public for its eventual extinction in the wild,” says Sierra Weaver, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Red wolves were nearly hunted to extinction in the 20th century. Biologists established a captive breeding population in zoos, some of which FWS released back into the wild starting in 1987. Between 50 and 75 red wolves (Canis rufus) remain on a peninsula in North Carolina. The main threat is hybridization with coyotes, which have encroached on wolf habitat. Until recently wolves were being shot by hunters at night, but a court banned the practice in 2013. Many landowners were upset, and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) promptly demanded that FWS take a hard look at its wolf recovery program.Continue Reading »

A billboard in Monrovia earlier this year.

UNMEER/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

A billboard in Monrovia earlier this year.

More than 7 weeks after Liberians took to the streets to celebrate that their country had been declared free of Ebola, the deadly virus has come back, raising fears of a resurgence. The body of a 17-year-old boy who died recently has tested positive for Ebola, Liberian deputy minister of health Tolbert Nyenswah announced yesterday. The big question now is how he became infected.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has sent a team to investigate the case and trace all contacts in collaboration with the Liberian health ministry. "Obviously this is not good news," says Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman for WHO. But he also pointed out that a sample was taken from the body after death, an Ebola test was done, and when it came back positive, a team was dispatched immediately to conduct a safe burial. "This shows clearly that Liberia is in a much better position than it was a year ago," Jasarevic says.

"It is really important to understand how this person got infected," Jasarevic adds. The patient's hometown of Nedowian is close to Liberia’s capital Monrovia, and far away from the border regions with Sierra Leone (SL) and Guinea, the two countries where the virus is still spreading. At a meeting about the case held this morning at Liberia's ministry of health, some suggested that the boy might have traveled within Liberia the past 2 weeks, says Philippe Le Vaillant, a program manager for Liberia at Doctors without Borders currently working in Monrovia, who attended the meeting. Travel inside the country would not explain how he became infected, however, because Liberia is officially Ebola-free. "There is no known source of infection and there's no information about him traveling to Guinea or SL,” a spokesperson for the ministry of health wrote in an email. 

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Mosaic of the Cuban flag

Cuba on 30 June became the first country in the world to receive validation from the World Health Organization (WHO) that it has eliminated mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV and syphilis. Low-level transmission still occurs there: In 2013, three babies were born with congenital syphilis and two with HIV. But the country has met the official WHO criteria for elimination: fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 live births for at least 1 year.

Although Cuba is a relatively small country with an extremely low prevalence of HIV—it has fewer than 4000 HIV-infected women—Pan American Health Organization Director Carissa Etienne called this “a truly historic accomplishment.” Etienne said Cuba’s elimination of MTCT of HIV and syphilis “provides inspiration for other countries.”

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Upcoming clean power rule aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Li Tsin Sun/Flicker (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Coal-fired power plants are a major source of mercury pollution.

Long-delayed action on the health risks of mercury produced by U.S. coal power plants will have to wait even longer, as the Supreme Court decided today that federal authorities failed to properly weigh the benefits of regulation against the costs.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing the opinion for a 5-4 majority, said that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acted unreasonably when it deemed cost "irrelevant" to the question of whether or not to regulate hazardous power plant pollution.

The decision blocks enforcement of rules that just went into effect this past April after decades of study, lawsuits, and political wrangling through four administrations.

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A huge study of U.S. children that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) terminated last year after spending more than $1 billion appears to have come back to life. House of Representatives and Senate spending committees this week called for a new version of the National Children’s Study (NCS) in 2016 that would be funded at the same level as the now-defunct NCS—$165 million a year.

According to sources, lawmakers agreed with pediatric groups that the study’s goals were too important to abandon. NIH is moving ahead with planning for the new study.

The history of the NCS goes back to 2000, when Congress called for NIH to follow a large group of children from before birth to age 21 and explore the influences of the environment, from toxic chemicals to social factors, on children’s health. Researchers set out to recruit 100,000 pregnant women at sites around the country. But the study became bogged down by a complex, expensive recruitment strategy. In December 2014, after an Institute of Medicine report found serious design and management flaws, NIH Director Francis Collins canceled the study.

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A inquiry has concluded that Paolo Macchiarini, a surgeon who transplanted artificial windpipes, committed research misconduct.

STAFFAN LARSSON/KAROLINSKA INSTITUTE

A inquiry has concluded that Paolo Macchiarini, a surgeon who transplanted artificial windpipes, committed research misconduct.

Surgeon Paolo Macchiarini has now responded to the report, released last month, that concluded he was guilty of scientific misconduct as part of his clinical testing of artificial tracheas that he has helped pioneer. Macchiarini’s 23-page response disputes key parts of the misconduct report’s findings, saying that the investigator, Bengt Gerdin, a professor emeritus of surgery at Uppsala University in Sweden, did not have access to all the relevant clinical records describing patient conditions. As a result, the surgeon writes in an opening note of his response, there has been “a potentially disastrous miscarriage of justice.”

Over the past decade, Macchiarini has transplanted tissue-engineered tracheae into more than a dozen people whose own windpipes were damaged by disease or injury. At the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, he transplanted into three patients artificial tracheae that consisted of a polymer scaffold seeded with the patient’s own stem cells. The stem cells were supposed to grow over the scaffold and ultimately form a living graft. Two of the those recipients have died, however, and the other remains in intensive care at a Karolinska hospital nearly 3 years after receiving the transplant.

The report by Gerdin, whom the Karolinska requested conduct an investigation after whistleblowers lodged complaints, concluded that the series of clinical reports published by Macchiarini and his colleagues did not accurately describe the condition of patients; Gerdin said that constituted scientific misconduct. In particular, a paper in The Lancet describing a patient’s status 5 months after the transplant claimed that the patient was doing well and the graft was starting to show evidence of being covered by growing cells. However, Gerdin concluded, the clinical information in the paper was based on the patient’s condition when he was initially discharged from Karolinska, 1 month after the transplant. Gerdin’s investigation was not able...Continue Reading »

A fundraising challenge from philanthropist Phil Knight and his wife Penny will fuel new cancer detection research at Oregon Health & Science University.

OHSU

A fundraising challenge from philanthropist Phil Knight and his wife Penny will fuel new cancer detection research at Oregon Health & Science University.

The Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland is gearing up to see how far $1 billion will go toward better cancer detection. The university declared victory today in a challenge launched in 2013 by Nike shoe mogul Phil Knight and his wife, Penny, who offered up a $500 million donation if the university could match that amount through fundraising.

The money flowed in from more than 10,000 donors—including the state of Oregon, which pledged $200 million for new research buildings. Brian Druker, head of the OHSU cancer institute created with a previous donation from the Knights, will lead the new project—a 10-year effort that focuses on distinguishing lethal from benign growths and catching life-threatening cancers at earlier stages.

Current tests for common cancers, including mammograms and prostate-specific antigen blood tests, may miss lethal tumors or lead to unnecessary treatment for benign ones. Druker, who led the development of the blockbuster blood cancer drug Gleevec, plans to survey the field for a range of possible detection targets, which could include circulating tumor DNA in blood or other molecular markers in urine, stool, or saliva.

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An artist's conception of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

TMT Collaborative

An artist's conception of the Thirty Meter Telescope

An attempt to restart construction on what would be one of the world’s largest telescopes was blocked yesterday, after state authorities escorting construction vehicles clashed with protesters blockading the road to the summit of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano.

Officers from Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), and construction workers for the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT), turned back from the summit shortly after noon Wednesday, citing concerns for public safety after finding the road blocked by boulders.

The withdrawal followed several hours of clashes with Native Hawaiian protesters blockading the road, culminating in the arrests of 11 men and women, including several protest organizers. The protesters have said the $1.4 billion TMT would desecrate sacred land.Continue Reading »

Joy in the courtroom after the ruling in Urgenda’s favor.

Urgenda/Chantal Bekker

Joy in the courtroom after the ruling in Urgenda’s favor.

In a ruling that came as a surprise to many legal experts, a court in the Netherlands today ordered the Dutch government to dramatically intensify its fight against climate change. The district court in The Hague ruled that by 2020, the Netherlands must cut CO2 emissions by 25% from 1990 levels. Current government policies would lead to a reduction by just 17%.

The court ruled in a civil case against the government brought by an environmental group called Urgenda. (The name is a contraction of “urgent” and “agenda.”) The case framed global warming as a human rights violation that the Dutch government must do more to prevent.

Environmental groups hailed the ruling as a legal landmark that could inspire similar action elsewhere. But the court didn’t specify which measures the government must take to meet the target, and the verdict immediately triggered discussions about whether a 25% reduction in 5 years is feasible and whether it might hurt the Dutch economy.

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Congress is struggling to rewrite a law regulating industrial chemicals.

Carly Lesser & Art Drauglis/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Congress is struggling to rewrite a law regulating industrial chemicals.

The U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday evening overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan bill that would update the nation's industrial-chemicals regulations for the first time in nearly 40 years. The bill—which would make it easier for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to request new safety data on chemicals and regulate chemicals already on the market—takes a narrower approach than a competing bill in the Senate. But it brings Congress another step closer to making long-sought reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) a reality.

The 398 to 1 vote came just weeks after the bill, H.R. 2576,  sailed through a key House committee with unanimous bipartisan support. A Senate panel last month also advanced a far more expansive (but also more contentious) compromise measure of its own. The two actions mark what is arguably the furthest lawmakers have ever come in efforts to overhaul what they agree is a broken law, which they say has analytical and legal hurdles that have often prevented EPA from cracking down on harmful substances.

The House measure, sponsored by Representative John Shimkus (R–IL), who chairs a key subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, resulted from negotiations that go back to the previous Congress. After previous measures that sought to update TSCA more comprehensively failed to gain support, lawmakers opted for a smaller bill to make it easier to gain broad support among industry's allies and environmental advocates in Congress. "The bill does not try to be all things for all people," Shimkus said on the House floor on 23 June. "Of course we want to be protected from harm. But we do not want needless expensive regulation."

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Jonathon Colman/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

At last, biomedical researchers may be getting some relief. A Senate panel today approved a bill that would bestow a generous $2 billion increase on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2016, or what appears to be a 6% raise, to $32 billion. Although a House of Representatives panel last week approved a lower figure, it seems the agency may be on track to its first significant increase in more than a decade.

The draft bill approved today by the Senate appropriations panel that oversees NIH’s budget would give the agency twice the $1 billion proposed by the Obama administration and $900 million more than the corresponding House panel, according to a summary statement.

The National Institute on Aging, which the panel notes funds Alzheimer’s disease research, would receive $350 million more, or a roughly 25% increase. (The House version of the bill also favors Alzheimer’s, but takes a different approach, directly earmarking $300 million for the disease—$250 million more than the president’s request.)

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Jill Hruby

Sandia National Laboratories

Jill Hruby

Engineer Jill Hruby was named director of the Sandia National Laboratories on Monday, becoming the first woman to head one of three U.S. government labs charged with developing and maintaining the country’s nuclear arsenal.

The 32-year veteran of the Albuquerque, New Mexico–based labs has overseen a wide range of research there, including studies focused on nuclear weapons, solar power, and machines that build miniscule electrical components the width of a human hair.

Hruby’s promotion is a significant milestone in a system historically dominated by men, says Hugh Gusterson, an anthropologist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, who has spent years examining the culture of the weapons labs: Sandia, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. At the labs, the fields of physics and engineering intersect with the world of weapons development—all traditionally male-dominated realms. “To have a female director is a major development,” Gusterson says.

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Research commissioner Carlos Moedas at the E.U. Innovation Conference

Michael Chia/European Commission

Research commissioner Carlos Moedas at the E.U. Innovation Conference

BRUSSELS—The European Union’s research commissioner Carlos Moedas has proposed setting up a European Innovation Council (EIC) to fund applied research and innovation. Inspired by the well-loved European Research Council (ERC), this idea is one of several measures announced here yesterday to boost innovation across the union.

When Moedas took on the research portfolio in November, the E.U. research program Horizon 2020 and its 7-year budget were settled, and it appeared that the new commission had little leeway to make profound changes during its 5-year term. That hasn’t stopped the commission from raiding Horizon 2020's cash pile to fodder a new investment fund. By citing ERC's success, Moedas also signals that he wants the future EIC to be a game changer.

“Europe does not yet have a world-class scheme to support the very best innovations in the way that the European Research Council is the global reference for supporting excellent science,” Moedas said yesterday at a large research and innovation policy conference held here by the European Commission.

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