A screen shot of PubPeer users discussing the work of Fazlul Sarkar.

A screen shot of PubPeer users discussing the work of Fazlul Sarkar.

The power of anonymous comments—and the liability of those who make them—is at the heart of a possible legal battle embroiling PubPeer, an online forum launched in October 2012 for anonymous, postpublication peer review. A researcher who claims that comments on PubPeer caused him to lose a tenured faculty job offer now intends to press legal charges against the person or people behind these posts—provided he can uncover their identities, his lawyer says. 

The issue first came to light in August, when PubPeer’s (anonymous) moderators announced that the site had received a “legal threat.” Today, they revealed that the scientist involved is Fazlul Sarkar, a cancer researcher at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Sarkar, an author on more than 500 papers and principal investigator for more than $1,227,000 in active grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, has, like many scientists, had his work scrutinized on PubPeer. More than 50 papers on which he is an author have received at least one comment from PubPeer users, many of whom point out potential inconsistencies in the papers’ figures, such as perceived similarities between images that are supposed to depict different experiments.

Recently, PubPeer was contacted about those comments by Nicholas Roumel, an attorney at Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard & Walker P.C. in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who represents Sarkar and spoke to ScienceInsider on his behalf. On 9 June, the University of Mississippi Medical Center announced that Sarkar would join the faculty in its school of pharmacy. Records from a meeting of the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning note that he was offered a tenured position and a salary of $350,000 per year, effective 1 July.

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New military base could seal fate of Okinawa dugong

Julien Willem/Wikimedia Commons

The Okinawa dugong's days could be numbered. At most 10 of the marine mammals remain in Japan's southernmost prefecture, according to the Nature Conservation Society of Japan (NACS-J). Now, land reclamation needed for a new U.S. Marine Corps air base threatens two of the region's few remaining major beds of seagrass, which dugong depend on, says NACS-J, which has petitioned U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy for permission to conduct a survey.

Dugong inhabit coastal zones in tropical and semitropical waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans. Populations have been decimated by hunting, habitat loss due to coastal development, and fishing by-catching. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the dugong as vulnerable to extinction worldwide. Japan's environment ministry considers the Okinawa dugong, the northernmost population of the species, critically endangered.

The new base offshore of the Henoko district of Nago city in Oura Bay could be the death knell for the Okinawa dugong. One seagrass bed will be covered by the construction, and another will be dredged for sand. In mid-July, the Okinawa Defense Bureau, which is overseeing construction, restricted access to the site to start a drilling survey needed to finalize reclamation plans. NACS-J had planned to have two foreign experts last month examine recently sighted feeding trails, the characteristic paths through seagrass beds dugong create as they uproot and eat the vegetation. But the U.S. Marine Corps denied access to the construction zone, citing safety concerns. So last week NACS-J appealed to Kennedy, emphasizing the scientific nature of their intended survey and asking for her "special attention to and reconsideration on this profound problem."

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Graduate training is seen as a crown jewel of U.S. higher education.

University of Southern Mississippi/Van Arnold

Graduate training is seen as a crown jewel of U.S. higher education.

They probably should have known better, admits Harold Varmus, one of the authors of a controversial proposal this spring to correct the “systemic flaws” affecting U.S. biomedical research. But he and two of the other co-authors acknowledged Friday that one aspect of their call to arms was flawed, namely, that the community was close to agreeing on how to deal with the complex problems that affect training and funding.

 “We were naive,” said Varmus, director of the National Cancer Institute, after a presentation to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). “We were hoping to pick off some low-hanging fruit.”

But that fruit isn’t ripe yet, he and Princeton University’s President Emerita Shirley Tilghman and Harvard Medical School’s Marc Kirschner told PCAST. The council had invited the four authors (Bruce Alberts, the former editor of Science, was unable to attend) because of the furor their article had raised within the biomedical community, explained PCAST Co-Chair Eric Lander.

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Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz (second from left), Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX), and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R–AK) listen to a presentation on high-performance computing at National Lab Day.

Department of Energy

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz (second from left), Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX), and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R–AK) listen to a presentation on high-performance computing at National Lab Day.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) 17 national laboratories can be a rambunctious and fractious lot, often feuding over funding, prestige, and greater independence from their parent bureaucracy. But earlier this week, in a U.S. Senate committee room here, the labs were on their best behavior, presenting themselves as a well-functioning—if not necessarily happy—family.

The occasion was the first-ever National Lab Day, a brainchild of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz designed to show off how the labs contribute to U.S. science and security. The main target audience: members of Congress who, to put it bluntly, provide most of the money to run the multibillion-dollar research network. And although it wasn’t mentioned directly, the 16 September Lab Day also occurred as the labs are facing renewed scrutiny over their efficiency and purpose.

The labs “provide essential capabilities for university and industrial researchers” and have made important contributions to America’s economic and military might, Moniz reminded a room packed with science policy heavyweights, including 15 lab directors, National Cancer Institute chief Harold Varmus, former White House science adviser Neal Lane, and lawmakers and staffers who serve on key committees overseeing federal research agencies. “[They] continue to advance science, clean energy, and nuclear security in this country, as they have for decades.”

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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power at today's Security Council meeting.

United Nations

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power at today's Security Council meeting.

Ebola’s devastation in three West African countries today compelled the U.N. Security Council to convene its first emergency meeting ever to discuss a public health crisis. It unanimously passed a resolution that declared the spread of the virus a “threat to international peace and security” and called on the world to send more health care workers and supplies to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, and not to isolate those countries.

Several speakers stressed that the epidemic is especially tragic because the three countries have made significant progress in their development in the past few years.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who chaired today's meeting, noted that the resolution had 130 co-sponsors, more than any previous one in the history of the Security Council.

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A federal watchdog office has dismissed allegations that last year National Institutes of Health (NIH) officials improperly interfered with another federal office’s oversight of the ethics of a controversial NIH-funded study involving premature infants.

At issue is the $20 million, 23-institution SUPPORT (Surfactant, Positive Pressure, and Oxygenation Randomized Trial) study, which from 2005 to 2009 studied the levels of oxygen that premature infants should receive. In early 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) found that parents of the 1316 babies in the study had not been adequately informed of risks and sent a letter imposing sanctions to the University of Alabama, Birmingham, which led the study. NIH officials publicly defended SUPPORT, which they noted used oxygen levels within the standard of care.

Then in May, a public advocacy group, Public Citizen, released a flood of e-mails exchanged among NIH, HHS, and OHRP officials in which NIH recommended revisions to a second OHRP letter to the university. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D–CT) and Public Citizen asked the HHS inspector general (IG) to investigate whether NIH had improperly intervened in OHRP’s deliberations.

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Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae—flourishing in the plate on the right despite nearby disks containing antibiotics.

James Gathany/CDC

Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae—flourishing in the plate on the right despite nearby disks containing antibiotics.

In the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the U.S. government is dangling a new incentive: a $20 million prize for a quick diagnostic test to recognize highly resistant infections. The prize is just one in a slew of actions announced by the White House today to signal its greater attention to the threat of antibiotic-resistant microbes.

Alongside the prize, the administration announced a national strategy that sets goals to be achieved by 2020, including better surveillance of highly resistant infections, faster development of new antibiotics, and more judicious use of existing drugs. The president also signed an executive order creating both an advisory council of nongovernmental experts and an interagency task force, co-chaired by the secretaries of the Health and Human Services (HHS), Defense, and Agriculture departments. “This represents a major elevation of the issue, a major upgrading of the administration’s effort to help address it,” said John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, during a press conference today.

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Co-chairs Neal Lane and Norman Augustine listen to Bart Gordon (at podium) discuss new report.

Tony Brown/imijphoto.com

Co-chairs Neal Lane (left) and Norman Augustine (right) listen to Bart Gordon (at podium) discuss new report.

When academics argue for more U.S. government spending on basic research, they usually haul out statistics that demonstrate how research has played an outsized role in spurring economic development. Those numbers may appeal to other scholars, but to date that approach hasn’t been particularly effective in winning over Washington policymakers. Bart Gordon prefers the Peyton index.

“There are two ways we can compete with the rest of the world,” explains Gordon, the former chair of the science committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. “If we compete on wages, which are less than $2 a day for half the people in the world, the standard of living for my 13-year-old daughter’s generation will be dramatically reduced. Or we can invest in research and innovation.”

Gordon made the reference to his daughter, Peyton, at a media briefing this week on a new report by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. It recommends a huge increase in federal spending as well as changes to the U.S. research enterprise that will make it more efficient. The title, Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream, is meant to highlight the link between research and the country’s future prosperity. But the optics of the event were at odds with that forward-looking message.

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A child is vaccinated in Syria last year.

European Commission DG ECHO/Flickr/Creative Commons

A child is vaccinated in Syria last year.

At least 15 children, all or most under age 2, have died after receiving an injection in a measles immunization campaign in an opposition-held area of northern Syria. Up to 50 more children were sickened.

Details are hazy, says a World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Geneva, Switzerland, but at this point the cause looks like a “very bad human error,” in which a strong muscle relaxant was administered instead of the measles vaccine. The tragic deaths threaten to undermine all vaccination efforts across Syria, where childhood immunization rates have dropped precipitously after years of civil war.

WHO and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) have dispatched an investigation team but for now are dependent on secondhand information from nongovernmental organizations and other partners in northern Syria, says WHO’s Christian Lindmeier. (For security reasons, neither organization has staff on the ground in Idlib, where the deaths occurred.) Until the cause is confirmed, rumors will continue to circulate, he warns; various press accounts are alleging a plot by the government of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or perhaps the terrorist group ISIS.

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Treponema pallidum spirochetes, which cause syphilis.

CDC/Dr. Edwin P. Ewing Jr.

Treponema pallidum spirochetes, which cause syphilis.

Public health experts in Australia are sounding alarms over a record number of new cases of syphilis and a dramatic rise in viral hepatitis deaths. Experts trace the spike in syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to a decrease in condom use, particularly among men who have sex with men (MSM), and they see the hepatitis death toll as the inevitable result of long-term trends in injecting drug use.

The alarming numbers and the underlying behaviors are examined in a pair of reports on HIV, viral hepatitis, and STIs in Australia released today by the Kirby Institute for Infection and Immunity in Society and the Centre for Social Research in Health, both at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. 

"Unfortunately, it's really bad news for STIs in Australia," says epidemiologist David Wilson of the Kirby Institute. And for hepatitis, "there is a very large epidemic that largely went on under our nose but it is catching up with us right now," he says.

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Coffee rust

Richard/Flickr/Creative Commons

Coffee scientists from around the world last week flew into Colombia's Eje Cafetero region, a verdant collage of deep gullies and mountainsides covered in thousands of small-scale coffee farms framed by banana trees. At the heart of the 25th International Conference on Coffee Science (ASIC) was a burning question: how to deal with coffee leaf rust, or roya. The world's most damaging coffee disease, leaf rust has torn through Latin America, costing farmers an estimated $1 billion and cutting some harvests by more than half in Central America. Between copious coffee breaks, scientists announced several new molecular techniques to help combat this continental epidemic.

Resistant coffee plants

Helping the coffee plant defend itself from the fungus is a top priority. Colombia leads the world in developing rust-resistant coffee breeds, also known as cultivars. When coffee leaf rust—which was first spotted in East Africa in the 1860s—made it to South America in the 1970s, Colombia's national coffee research center, Cenicafé, was already a decade into its rust resistance breeding program. Since then, it has released two major coffee cultivars—Colombia (in 1980) and Castillo (2005)—that have been effective since 1983 in tempering leaf rust while preserving the characteristics so important to world-class coffee: high yield, large grain size, great taste.

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Heinz Feldmann in scrubs and a rain jacket outside one of the tents in Monrovia.

NIAID

Heinz Feldmann in scrubs and a rain jacket outside one of the tents in Monrovia.

Virologist Heinz Feldmann has spent most of his career studying the deadly Ebola virus at research institutes in Germany, Canada, and the United States. He is now at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Hamilton, Montana.

Feldmann has co-developed one of the vaccine candidates that is scheduled to be tested soon and has helped contain several Ebola outbreaks in the past. On 8 September, he returned from 3 weeks in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, where he ran a diagnostic lab for a treatment center operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF). This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: What was your impression of the situation in Monrovia?

A: The first impression was actually that nothing is wrong. The part of the city we were in, outside the center, was pretty calm. But when you get to the Ebola ward, that impression turns. It is a disastrous situation. There are a lot of sick people hanging around, trying to get in, but the ward is just not big enough. They have to turn obviously sick people back into the community because there are no beds. I think we would need at least five to 10 times the capacity in Monrovia. The city is totally overwhelmed by the number of cases and the outbreak.

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The Ebola virus

CDC/Dr. Frederick A. Murphy/Wikimedia Commons

The Ebola virus

Mark 16 September 2014 as the day the United States declared an all-out war on the Ebola epidemic raging in West Africa.

As President Barack Obama explained in remarks he made today at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, the world is looking to the United States for help. “It’s a responsibility we embrace,” Obama said. “We’re prepared to take leadership on this to provide the kinds of capabilities that only America has, and to mobilize the world in ways that only America can do.  That’s what we’re doing as we speak.”

At the same time Obama was speaking in Atlanta, the U.S. Senate held an Ebola hearing that featured testimony from leading public health officials and perhaps the world’s most famous Ebola survivor, Kent Brantly, who became ill with the disease while treating patients in Liberia in July. “We must take the deadly dangerous threat of the Ebola epidemic as seriously as we take ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria],” said Senator Lamar Alexander (R–TN).

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Okairos uses a “wave bag” to shake up cells and produce small lots of vaccine.

Loredana Siani/Okairos

Okairos uses a “wave bag” to shake up cells and produce small lots of vaccine.

As the Ebola outbreak in West Africa accelerates, the containment measures that worked in the past, such as isolating those who are infected and tracing their contacts, clearly have failed. This has spurred hopes that biomedical countermeasures, such as monoclonal antibodies and vaccines, can help save lives and slow spread. But as President Barack Obama calls for an aggressive ramp up of the U.S. government’s response, resolve is colliding with a grim reality: The epidemic is outpacing the speed with which drugs and vaccines can be produced.

Administration officials have begun working with industry to speed manufacturing of experimental drugs and vaccines. “We’re trying to do everything we can to scale up product,” says Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). But the logistical obstacles are huge, and makers are getting a late start.

An Ebola vaccine made by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Rixensart, Belgium, is the furthest along, having entered phase I human trials on 2 September. GSK has committed to manufacturing up to 10,000 doses of the vaccine, which consists of an Ebola surface protein stitched into a weakened chimpanzee adenovirus, by the end of the year. If it passes muster in the early studies, it could be given to health workers as soon as November. But hundreds of thousands of doses would be needed to put a dent in the outbreak. That “would take one-and-a-half years at the scale we’re working at,” says Ripley Ballou, who heads the Ebola vaccine program for GSK.

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Tetrafluoropropene, a hydrofluorocarbon used as a refrigerant.

Jynto/Wikimedia

Tetrafluoropropene, a hydrofluorocarbon used as a refrigerant.

The White House today announced a plan to reduce U.S. emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas with 2400 times the climate impact of CO2. Companies that make the refrigerants have pledged to dramatically reduce and eventually phase out their production at the same time they develop greener alternatives, and retailers have agreed to use equipment that is HFC-free.

HFCs became a significant climate issue in the wake of the success of the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which eliminated the emissions of ozone-depleting chemicals including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). HFCs were a common substitute for CFCs in refrigerators and air conditioners in the 1980s and 1990s. Scientists have warned of the impact of HFCs on climate for years, but government action has been slow to follow. Today’s announcement notes that U.S. emissions of HFCs, if left unchecked, were on track to double by 2020.

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Collaborations between industry and universities are essential for innovation, report says.

Robert Scoble/Flickr/Creative Commons

Collaborations between industry and universities are essential for innovation, report says.

How long can U.S. science lobbyists keep repeating the same message—that boosting federal funding for basic research and removing barriers to innovation is a proven way to ensure economic prosperity—without tuning out their intended audience? And is there any reason to think that those who have resisted their pleas in the past will warm to their arguments this time around?

Neal Lane and Norm Augustine are about to find out. Today the two eminent science policy veterans came to Washington, D.C., to unveil a report from a panel of academic and industry leaders assembled by the Cambridge, Massachusetts–based American Academy of Arts & Sciences. The 152-page report takes its place alongside a half-dozen other tomes in the last decade intended to first warn U.S. policymakers of an impending disaster and then describe how to avert it.

The twin message is captured in the report’s title, Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream. China and other nations are a growing threat to U.S. preeminence in science and innovation, the report notes, and the best response is spending more on basic research and reforming the current U.S. system of innovation.

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Burying an Ebola victim in West Africa.

© EC/ECHO/Jean-Louis Mosser

Burying an Ebola victim in West Africa.

A week after sharp criticism met the U.S. military’s announcement that it planned to help Liberia combat its Ebola epidemic with a “deployable hospital” that has a mere 25 beds, U.S. President Barack Obama tomorrow plans to unveil dramatic new efforts to assist the West African countries besieged by the disease. 

(Update: The White House on Tuesday morning released a fact sheet outlining its planned response. It will be coordinated by a U.S. Army general stationed at a new command center in Monrovia with an estimated 3000 troops. The Department of Defense has asked to "reprogram" $500 million toward the effort.)

Obama will be visiting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to discuss the U.S. response, At about the same time, a U.S. Senate hearing on Ebola will also take place with testimony from key public officials and Ebola survivor Ken Brantly.

Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), spoke with ScienceInsider on Friday and said she expected there would be “a substantial surge” in the U.S. government’s assistance. She particularly wants to see more attention paid to providing infected people with good care. “There’s a very, very wide variability in what’s being delivered as clinical care,” says Lurie, noting that case fatality rates differ dramatically  in different locations. “We know that simple interventions are likely to save the most lives.”

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An entrance to the Los Alamos National Laboratory during a 2012 snowstorm.

LANL

An entrance to the municipality of Los Alamos, New Mexico during a 2012 snowstorm.

An independent watchdog at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will investigate whether political scientist James Doyle was booted out of Los Alamos National Laboratory this summer after writing about the futility of nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

In a letter today to Doyle’s attorney, Mark Zaid, DOE officials rejected Doyle’s petition to reverse or modify his dismissal this summer. Doyle had argued that the lab’s decision to classify the scholarly article—“Why Eliminate Nuclear Weapons?”—after it had appeared in the February-March 2013 issue of Survival: Global Politics and Strategy violated federal guidelines and that he was wrongly punished. Los Alamos officials have said that Doyle was laid off for budgetary reasons.

It’s no surprise that DOE stands by that decision. But what has raised eyebrows is that the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, has asked the department’s inspector general to determine “whether Mr. Doyle’s termination resulted, in whole or in part, from the publication of his article … or the views expressed in it.”

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The University of Bern. A new agreement with the European Union means that Swiss researchers are eligible for some Horizon 2020 grants.

Bobo11/Wikimedia Commons

The University of Bern. A new agreement with the European Union means that Swiss researchers are eligible for some Horizon 2020 grants.

BRUSSELS—Starting today, scientists in Switzerland will again be able to apply for some research funds from the European Union's Horizon 2020 program—including coveted grants from the European Research Council (ERC). Both sides reached a short-term deal undoing restrictions imposed on Swiss scientists after a referendum to curb mass immigration back in February.

Scientists were the first to feel the cooling of the relationships between the European Union and the affluent country it surrounds after the referendum. The union expects Switzerland to include Croatia, which entered the union last year, in its agreement on the free movement of persons. But following the vote, Switzerland said it couldn't sign the Croatian deal. As a result, Switzerland lost its privileged status as an associated country to Horizon 2020, the bloc's research funding program.

After several months of negotiations, the commission has now agreed to give Switzerland its associated country status back for the so-called first pillar of Horizon 2020, worth €24.4 billion for 7 years. This includes individual grants from ERC and the Marie Curie fellowships for science training, staff exchanges and mobility, as well as the Future and Emerging Technologies scheme, which is showering two 10-year projects with up to €1 billion each. (One of them, a controversial plan to model the human brain, is the brainchild of Henry Markram, a researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.)

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A pro-democracy rally earlier this year in Hong Kong.

larique/Flickr/Creative Commons

A pro-democracy rally earlier this year in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's academics are being drawn into a long-running debate over local election procedures as student activists organize a boycott of classes to protest what they argue are undemocratic restrictions proposed by Beijing. More than 500 professors and staff members at 20 of the city's colleges and universities have signed a statement supporting the students. And at least a few worry that Beijing's attempts to micromanage local affairs could eventually crimp academic freedom.

A statement of support titled "Don’t let the striking students stand alone" is posted in Chinese and English on the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union’s website. 

"As teachers and as citizens, we are pained and outraged to see the advancement of democracy in Hong Kong stifled and suppressed," the statement begins before strongly endorsing student activism: "When we look back at history, both in China and overseas, we see that student movements have been an important force in pushing for social progress. Our hope in Hong Kong’s future lies in the passion and spirit shown by our young people and their willingness to take up the mantle in the fight for democracy and social justice."    

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Circle marks landing spot: Lander hopes to avoid jets of gas and dust that could complicate descent.

ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Circle marks landing spot: Lander hopes to avoid jets of gas and dust that could complicate descent.

The Rosetta mission has picked a destination on top of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for its Philae lander, mission managers announced today at European Space Agency (ESA) headquarters in Paris.

The area—site “J”—is near the top of the smaller lobe, or head, of the comet, which some have likened to the shape of a duck ever since the Rosetta spacecraft arrived at the comet on 6 August. The spacecraft is the first to accompany a comet as the sun heats it up and turns on its jets of gas and dust. The landing, to take place on 11 November, would be the first to scoop up a sample of dust and ice and analyze its composition.

Scientists and engineers picked the site, an ellipse with an area of about a square kilometer, from a shortlist of five candidates following a 2-day meeting in Toulouse, France. Site “C” will be the backup landing, in case site “J” proves troublesome on further inspection. “It is not a perfectly flat area,” says Stephan Ulamec, the Philae landing manager at the German space agency (DLR) in Berlin. “Even here the risk is high.”

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Health care workers in Sierra Leone earlier this year.

© EC/ECHO/Cyprien Fabre

Health care workers in Sierra Leone earlier this year.

The Cuban government is sending 165 doctors and nurses to battle the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced this morning in Geneva, Switzerland, at a joint press conference with Cuba’s minister of public health, Roberto Morales Ojeda. The health care workers, 103 nurses and 62 doctors, are going to be deployed to Sierra Leone in the first week of October.

It is the biggest contribution of health care staff by any single country so far to help control the epidemic, noted WHO Director-General Margaret Chan. “This will make a significant difference in Sierra Leone,” Chan said.

To put the numbers in perspective: WHO has deployed about 500 foreign medical experts to the region. Because they rotate, at any one time about 170 of them are in the affected countries, Chan said.

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Carlos Moedas

Portuguese Republic Government

Carlos Moedas

BRUSSELS—Carlos Moedas, secretary of state to Portugal's center-right prime minister, has been appointed European commissioner in charge of research, science, and innovation here yesterday. If his appointment is approved by the European Parliament, he will take over from Máire Geoghegan-Quinn for a 5-year term in this top-level position at the European Commission, the European Union’s executive branch.

Moedas will oversee the use of funds from Horizon 2020, the European Union's €80 billion research program. Jean-Claude Juncker, president-elect of the European Commission, has tasked Moedas with promoting the excellence of European science, monitoring national research policies, making sure that “Commission proposals and activities are based on sound scientific evidence,” and focusing more on applied research, among other duties.

Moedas, 44, has no apparent research policy experience, but he is likely to have a good understanding of scientific research, says Marco Alves, a researcher at WavEC - Offshore Renewables, a nonprofit research center in Lisbon. Moedas earned his civil engineering degree at the Higher Technical Institute of the University of Lisbon—one of the country's top schools, with a strong research component—where Alves also studied. Moedas worked as an engineer before turning to banking and economics. After an MBA from Harvard Business School in 2000, he worked as a banker for Goldman Sachs and Aguirre Newman, and founded his own investment company in 2008.

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Questions have dogged the STAP technique—which the researchers claimed could make all the cell types in a mouse fetus—from the start.

HARUKO OBOKATA

Questions have dogged the STAP technique—which the researchers claimed could make all the cell types in a mouse fetus—from the start.

As two discredited, and now retracted, stem cell papers have produced an almost unimaginable fallout—a national hero accused of scientific fraud, the revamping of one of Japan’s major research institutes, and the suicide of a respected cell biologist—researchers have privately and publicly asked how Nature could have published work that, in retrospect, seems so obviously flawed. 

Another piece of the puzzle has come to light. The Science news team received a copy of e-mail correspondence between a Nature editor and Haruko Obokata, the lead author of the papers, that indicates the work initially received as rocky a reception there as at two other journals, Cell and Science, that had rejected the work previously. The e-mail, dated 4 April 2013, includes detailed separate criticisms of the two papers and suggestions for new data to support the authors’ claims of a simple and novel way to make stem cells that could form the myriad cell types within a body. The Nature editor rejected the papers, but left open a window, writing, “Should further experimental data allow you to address these criticisms, we would be happy to look at a revised manuscript.” The two papers were published 10 months later.

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The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

Lawrence Berkeley National Lab - Roy Kaltschmidt

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

Think nationally, act regionally. That’s the bumper-sticker version of a new study out today that says the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) 17 national science laboratories need to get more engaged in economic development, innovation, and technology commercialization at the regional level.

To date, the DOE labs have failed “to aggressively and fully seize the opportunity to turn federally funded research into new products and services, particularly at the state and regional level,” concludes the report, available here and here. The trio of authors, from the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s Center for Clean Energy Innovation (CCEI), offers 15 recommendations for improving the labs’ connections to their communities. They include giving lab managers more control over funds for building local economic partnerships, creating off-campus “microlabs” to attract local businesses, and providing small- and medium-sized firms with “vouchers” for research assistance. The report also calls for making an array of current federal technology transfer and commercialization programs more flexible and nimble.

The idea, says co-author Mark Muro of Brookings, is to help a federal laboratory system initially established to fight the Cold War adapt to the global economic and security challenges of the 21st century. “The competitiveness and innovation game is changing very quickly, and [the United States] needs to be seeking the greatest return on our investments,” he says. “The point is not to completely rethink what the labs are, but update them.”

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