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The annual U.S. federal budget cycle is set to kick off Monday at 11:30 am in Washington, D.C.,  when the White House releases its spending request to Congress for the 2016 fiscal year that begins in October. Many researchers will be watching closely to see how it treats the agencies that fund their work – and ScienceInsider will reporting the numbers and providing analysis throughout the day.

President Barack Obama has already signaled that he will ask for a 7% increase in discretionary spending (the part of the budget that includes annual research funding). But it’s not yet known how much key science funding agencies will get. Then the Republican-led Congress gets to weigh in, and it’s almost certain to object to things the president wants. Still, the White House request helps set the terms of the annual budget debate, which likely won’t be settled until late this year.

Here is some background that will help you put the numbers in context, along with some resources that provide more information.

1. The big picture: Most federal spending pays for mandatory programs and interest on the debt.

All federal spending on research & development (about $140 billion in 2015) fits into the relatively small “discretionary spending” portion of the federal budget. Discretionary spending, which is the only part of the budget that Congress and the White House can control from year to year, accounted for just 29% of the nearly $4 trillion the government will spend this year (the green slice in this pie chart, prepared by the nonprofit National Priorities Project). The rest -- 72% -- goes to so-called mandatory programs, such as the Medicare health program for senior citizens, and interest on the federal debt. This spending is automatic, although Congress can always change the rules...Continue Reading »

Casas-Rodríguez Collection/Flickr

Children being protected from infectious disease in a French institution in 1925.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is scrambling this year to spend a windfall of more than $150 million on pediatric research. And things could get a little hairy, judging from an outside advisory panel’s reaction Friday to the agency’s initial public airing of its plans.

“Given the diffuse nature of what you have described, and its complexity, I don’t want to use the word ‘nuts’, but it’s a daunting challenge,” Lila Gierasch of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, told principal deputy NIH director Lawrence Tabak after his presentation to a Council of Councils meeting in Bethesda, Maryland. “Thank you for changing ‘nuts’ to ‘challenging,’” Tabak replied, tongue-in-cheek. “We’re just trying to do what makes the most sense, and multiply the potential value of the resources available to us.”

The situation is certainly unusual for the $30-billion agency, where a succession of flat budgets has meant plunging success rate on grant proposals. But NIH is just following orders from Congress regarding two separate research initiatives to help children.

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American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

President Barack Obama with liver cancer patient Elana Simon at precision medicine event at White House.

President Barack Obama this morning unveiled the Precision Medicine Initiative he’ll include in his 2016 budget request to a White House East Room audience packed with federal science leaders, academic researchers, patient and research advocacy groups, congressional guests, and drug industry executives. By and large, they seemed to cheer his plan to find ways to use genomics and other molecular information to tailor patient care.

After poking fun at his own knowledge of science—a model of chromosomes made from pink swim noodles “was helpful to me,” he said—Obama explained what precision medicine is: “delivering the right treatments, at the right time, every time to the right person.” Such an approach “gives us one of the greatest opportunities for new medical breakthroughs that we have ever seen,” he added. He went on to describe the $215 million initiative, which includes new support for cancer genomics and molecularly targeted drug trials at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and a plan to study links among genes, health, and environment in 1 million Americans by pooling participants in existing cohort studies.

“So if we have a big data set—a big pool of people that’s varied—then that allows us to really map out not only the genome of one person, but now we can start seeing connections and patterns and correlations that helps us refine exactly what it is that we’re trying to do with respect to treatment,” the president explained in his 20-minute speech, flanked by a red-and-blue model of the DNA double helix.

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Part of new initiative will focus on understanding the genomes of cancer cells.

NHGRI

Part of new initiative will focus on understanding the genomes of cancer cells.

The White House today revealed a price tag and other details of the precision medicine initiative announced in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address last week. As expected, much of the $215 million proposed to launch the multiagency initiative in the 2016 fiscal year, which begins in October, will support building a cohort of 1 million American volunteers for genomics and other biomedical research. Another chunk of money will fund efforts to understand the genomes of cancer cells. (Click here for a White House fact sheet on the plan and here for a National Cancer Institute [NCI] fact sheet.)

Precision medicine, a term for tailoring treatments to an individual’s genetic makeup, microbiome, and other factors, is “a game changer” that “holds the potential to revolutionize the way we approach health in this country and ultimately around the world,” said Jo Handelsman, associate director for science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in a call with reporters yesterday to discuss the initiative. The $215 million will be new money added to agencies' budgets, not funds redirected from existing programs, added National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins. 

As ScienceInsider previously reported, the centerpiece of the initiative—funded with $130 million in 2016—will be a longitudinal research cohort consisting of at least 1 million volunteers. Such large cohort studies of both healthy and sick people that represent the general population—often referred to as biobanks—are already established in countries such as the United Kingdom and Japan.

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Tamiflu

Richard Sunderland/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Tamiflu

The latest—and possibly last—salvo in a long-running debate over the merits of the influenza-fighting drug Tamiflu was fired off today, but it seems unlikely to quell skeptics or nurture unanimity around the drug’s effects. 

For years, members of the Cochrane Collaboration, an international network of scientists who review medical evidence, have charged that Tamiflu’s benefits are overstated. They agree that if taken soon after symptoms surface, the drug reduces by about a day the length of time someone feels sick. But they dispute that the evidence—including 12 randomized trials conducted by Roche, which makes Tamiflu, known generically as oseltamivir—shows that it cuts down on serious complications, hospitalizations, and deaths. The Cochrane group has also put a focus on transparency in science: It argued that publication bias had left Tamiflu looking better than it really was.

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Representative Tom Cole listens to physicist Michael Santos in his University of Oklahoma lab.

Tim Miller

Representative Tom Cole listens to physicist Michael Santos in his University of Oklahoma lab.

Next week, the Obama administration will kick off the annual U.S. budget process by sending Congress its spending request for the 2016 fiscal year that begins in October. Researchers will be watching the 2 February budget rollout carefully, to see where science ranks in the White House’s priorities. But the request is just the beginning, because Congress determines final spending levels in a process that isn’t likely to be finalized until late in the year.

This week, ScienceInsider is running a few stories that offer varying perspectives on the process of setting science budgets—and the people involved. Yesterday, we met Representative John Culberson (R–TX), the new leader of the House of Representatives spending panel that oversees the budgets of NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and other key research agencies. Tomorrow, we’ll follow the money and look at some of the numbers. Today, we meet a former historian who is the new head of a House spending panel that oversees the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the major federal funder of basic biomedical research.

If you’re shocked that a member of the Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives would cite a Marxist historian in defending peer review at a federal agency, then you don’t know Representative Tom Cole (R–OK).

The 65-year-old Oklahoman has stayed below the radar screen of most U.S. scientists, despite serving in Congress since 2003 and holding a Ph.D. in history. But that’s about to change: This month he takes the reins of what is traditionally the most contentious of the 12 appropriations panels that set federal budgets, the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-H) subcommittee. Its portfolio includes NIH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Earth's atmosphere from the International Space Station.

NASA

Earth's atmosphere from the International Space Station.

The long and tangled history of U.S. climate politics got a new chapter this week, as the U.S. Senate today finished work on a bill that would force the Obama administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry crude from Canada’s oil sands to the United States. Senators voted 62-36 to approve the bill, but that is short of the 67 favorable votes needed to override a promised presidential veto.

The debate over the Keystone XL bill has ranged far and wide. Senators have offered dozens of amendments to the bill, testing a promise by the body’s new Republican leaders to allow all sides to be heard. For many researchers and Washington wonks, however, the highlight was seven votes on climate science and policy measures (see full list below) that the Senate took over the past week. The votes—largely symbolic, to be sure—marked the first time in 5 years that the full Senate had spent substantial time debating climate issues, and the skirmishing included plenty of surprise maneuvers, theatrics, and fierce rhetoric.

Now that the smoke has cleared, onlookers are still debating exactly who accomplished what—if anything.

Here are a few take-homes:

The climate votes were not about creating substantive policy.

President Barack Obama’s veto threat has long made it clear that the underlying bill (S. 1) is headed to oblivion. (The White House argues that the executive branch, not Congress, should have the final say on the pipeline.) The version that the House of Representatives passed on 9 January failed to muster enough votes to override a presidential veto; the same outcome is expected in the Senate.

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A woman who 20 years ago became the first Ebola case in West Africa has retained her privacy.

Graham Monro/gm photographics/Getty Images

A woman who 20 years ago became the first Ebola case in West Africa has retained her privacy.

For Ebola patients who end up in Western hospitals, it's hard to remain anonymous. As a story in this week's special issue on privacy shows, public health fears often trample privacy concerns during disease outbreaks, and the media's curiosity is relentless.

But one Ebola patient who had a brush with fame has held on to her anonymity. The only Ebola case ever recorded in West Africa before the current outbreak, she is simply described in four scientific papers as a 34-year-old woman who contracted the disease in 1994 while working as a chimpanzee researcher in the Taï National Park in Ivory Coast. She was evacuated to Switzerland for treatment.

The researcher has never before spoken to the press, but she agreed to discuss her thoughts with ScienceInsider about the importance of privacy and why, to this day, she does not want her name publicly known in relation to Ebola. “I don’t want it to be my claim to fame,” she says. “It seems wrong.”

The woman’s case did receive substantial media attention. Not only were the circumstances of her infection dramatic and somewhat bizarre, but her case also provided the first strong evidence that the Ebola virus naturally infected chimpanzees and suggested that the virus might be devastating both chimp and gorilla populations. Some stories also questioned the risks her Swiss medical team took by caring for her.

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A PETA ad run in Washington, D.C.’s Union Station Metro stop.

PETA

A PETA ad run in Washington, D.C.’s Union Station Metro stop.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has responded to calls from members of Congress to investigate monkey experiments being carried out at a government lab. Four U.S. representatives—prompted by an aggressive ad campaign by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which claimed that baby rhesus macaques at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development lab of Stephen Suomi were being ripped from their mothers at birth and being mentally traumatized—called on NIH to conduct a bioethical review of the lab.

In a letter to the representatives sent late last week, NIH Director Francis Collins said that his agency “takes animal welfare allegations seriously” and that it had recently conducted an investigation into the lab. The review, he wrote, found no major problems with the research, though he did say additional steps would be taken to “further protect and improve animal welfare.”

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Japan Prize winners Yutaka Takahasi, Alain Fischer, and Theodore Friedmann.

The Japan Prize Foundation

Japan Prize winners Yutaka Takahasi, Alain Fischer, and Theodore Friedmann.

TOKYO—The winners of this year's Japan Prizes are grateful for the awards, but also hope the recognition will further their scientific objectives in improving treatments for genetic disorders and reducing the toll from flood disasters.  

Theodore Friedmann of the University of California, San Diego, and Alain Fischer of the Imagine Institute in Paris and of the Collège de France will share the prize for "Medical Science and Medicinal Science." Their winning work involved gene therapy, an experimental technique in which genes are inserted into patients to replace mutated genes that are causing disease. Friedmann is credited with originating the concept in the 1970s and furthering basic research. Fischer, in 2000, reported demonstrating the clinical efficacy of gene therapy for the first time, using blood stem cells to treat a fatal genetic disorder called X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency. "Gene therapy has become a reality in recent years with many cases of successful treatments; the field is flourishing," said Hiroshi Komiyama, a chemical engineer and former president of the University of Tokyo who chaired the selection committee.

Yutaka Takahasi, a professor emeritus of civil engineering at the University of Tokyo, convinced engineers and policymakers to look holistically at entire river basins and the hydrological cycle when attempting to control flooding, rather than simply building more dams and higher embankments, Komiyama explained. Takahasi is being recognized in the field of "Resources, Energy and Social Infrastructure."

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Obama’s precision medicine initiative will likely aim to enroll a large number of people in a genetic database representing the U.S. population.

Amy West/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Obama’s precision medicine initiative will likely aim to enroll a large number of people in a genetic database representing the U.S. population.

The precision medicine initiative proposed by President Barack Obama last week would center on a huge new biobank containing medical records and genetic information for perhaps a million Americans. It would not be created from scratch by enrolling new volunteers, however, but would instead pull together existing studies into one giant database.

That’s according to several scientists familiar with the broad outlines of the project who spoke on background with ScienceInsider. The biobank would be used for studies ranging from finding new disease-gene associations to working out how to use genomic and other molecular information in routine medical care. On Friday, the White House is expected to reveal details of the initiative, which will reportedly cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Such a national biobank would put the United States in line with other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Iceland, and Japan, which have built large population databases for research and medical care. A similar U.S. biobank has long been on the wish list of National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, who led the effort to sequence the human genome as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).

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Representative John Culberson (left) and Bill Nye pose with Earth and Europa.

Courtesy of the office of Representative John Culberson

Representative John Culberson (left) and Bill Nye pose with Earth and Europa.

Next week, the Obama administration will kick off the annual U.S. budget process by sending Congress its spending request for the 2016 fiscal year that begins in October. Researchers will be watching the 2 February budget rollout carefully to see where science ranks in the White House’s priorities. But the request is just the beginning, because Congress determines final spending levels in a process that isn’t likely to be finalized until late in the year.

This week, ScienceInsider is running a few stories that offer varying perspectives on the process of setting science budgets—and the people involved. On Friday, we’ll follow the money and look at some of the numbers. Tomorrow, we’ll meet Representative Tom Cole (R–OK), a Ph.D. historian who is the new head of a House of Representatives spending panel that oversees the budget of the National Institutes of Health, the major government funder of basic biomedical research. Today, we meet another House appropriations “cardinal,” a lawyer and science enthusiast who is overseeing NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and other key research agencies.   

Space exploration is not in the U.S. Constitution. But “promoting the progress of science” is. That makes it easy for Representative John Culberson (R–TX) to reconcile his allegiance to the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution—which states that all powers not vested in the federal government are reserved for the states—with his passionate support for multibillion-dollar scientific missions to distant objects, such as Jupiter’s moon Europa.

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The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that products based on naturally occurring DNA can’t be patented.

Nathan Nelson/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that products based on naturally occurring DNA can’t be patented.

The molecular diagnostics company Myriad Genetics has put an end to a long battle to defend controversial patents on genetic tests for cancer risk. Several of the companies Myriad was suing for patent infringement announced settlements this week, and The New York Times reports that the company is in discussions to settle the remaining suits.

In a high-profile 2013 decision, the Supreme Court invalidated many of Myriad’s key patents by declaring human genes to be unpatentable products of nature. But as other companies began to develop and market competing genetic tests, Myriad sued several of them, claiming that certain patents had not been invalidated by the decision. Myriad’s targets included the firms LabCorp, Ambry Genetics, and Quest Diagnostics.

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Townes’s accomplishments earned him a statue in Greenville, South Carolina.

Jason A G/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Townes’s accomplishments earned him a statue in Greenville, South Carolina.

Charles Townes, whose research and creativity led to the development of modern lasers, died on Tuesday in Oakland, California. For his work, Townes received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1964, sharing it with two colleagues. Since then, lasers have become ubiquitous in modern life, enabling technologies ranging from barcode scanners to atomic clocks.

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Representatives Fred Upton (R–MI) and Diana DeGette (D–CO) last year made a video promoting their 21st Century Cures initiative.

Offices of representatives Fred Upton and Diana DeGette

Representatives Fred Upton (R–MI) and Diana DeGette (D–CO) last year made a video promoting their 21st Century Cures initiative.

A U.S. House of Representatives panel today released a widely anticipated proposal for speeding the development of new medical treatments. The massive, 393-page document, dubbed the 21st Century Cures Act, has been under development by Fred Upton (R–MI) and Diana DeGette (D–CO) of the House Energy and Commerce Committee since last April. It grew out of a series of hearings and roundtables last year on ways to spur biomedical research innovation and streamline clinical trials and the drug approval process. The result is a long list of ideas summarized in this document.

The document is a "discussion draft," the committee said in a statement. Upton has invited comments via the Twitter handle #Cures2015. “Some things may be dropped, some items may be added, but everything is on the table as we hope to trigger a thoughtful discussion toward a more polished product,” he said in a statement.

DeGette, in a statement, said that she appreciated Upton's effort "to publicly share possible legislative language on a number of proposals that might be included in an eventual bill. … While I don’t endorse the draft document, I know that with continued engagement, we can reach a bipartisan consensus to help advance biomedical research and cures.”

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Hoping to entice more foreign scientists to work in China, the Chinese government has unveiled regulations that greatly expand the number of talent programs, the recipients of which are eligible for favorable immigration status. But the research culture in China would deter many potential recruits, experts say.

Previously, permanent resident permits were limited to applicants to the Thousand Talents plan, a scheme launched in 2008 by the Communist Party of China directed at attracting highly skilled scientists and entrepreneurs, and a handful of other cases. Other researchers largely enter under annual work permits or even on tourist visas; the bulk of recruits are Chinese educated overseas who had relinquished their passports upon obtaining foreign citizenship. Under the new regulation, awardees in an additional 55 programs will now be eligible to obtain permanent resident permits, or so-called Chinese green cards. Most of the programs affected are province- or city-level talent plans. Also included are a few Chinese Academy of Sciences programs, including the well-known One Hundred Talents plan.

“Setting up a talent visa category under the law shows that our talent policy is more open and more clearly directed at attracting talent,” former Chinese Academy of Personnel Science President Wu Jiang told People’s Daily in a 25 January news report. But others say that immigration policy is only one in a long list of considerations for researchers contemplating a post in China.

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NASA's SMAP mission will monitor large swathes of Earth.

NASA/JPL

NASA's SMAP mission will monitor large swathes of Earth.

Globally, soils hold a tiny fraction of Earth’s water. But that moisture is nevertheless a crucial quantity in water, carbon, and energy cycles: It determines how vulnerable regions are to drought and flood, how well plants grow and suck up atmospheric carbon, and how Earth heats up and cools off—a key driver for storms. Yet for the most part, soil moisture has been monitored by a sparse set of probes stuck in the ground. “The three biggest cycles in a climate model are being modeled with something that’s a complete fantasy,” says Dara Entekhabi, a hydrologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

That will change with NASA’s Soil Moisture Activity Probe (SMAP), a $916 million satellite due to launch on 29 January. A high priority among U.S. earth scientists, the mission will generate a global map of soil moisture every 2 to 3 days at 10 kilometers resolution, helping improve weather forecasts, flood forecasts, and drought monitoring. “This is an important factor that people have been chasing from the earliest days of optical remote sensing,” says Entekhabi, the science team leader for the mission.

The satellite looks like a contraption out of a Dr. Seuss book: a dish antenna 6 meters across spins like a lasso atop a long boom. Soon after reaching orbit, the boom will extend and the dish will unfurl. The dish, made of a gold-plated molybdenum webbing, serves as a reflector for both of the satellite’s instruments: a radar and a radiometer. The radar works actively, by sending a pulse bouncing off the dish to Earth and then listening for the reflection. The radar has higher resolution, but has a harder time penetrating foliage than the radiometer, which detects radiation emitted from the soil itself (with poorer resolution but fewer interference problems).

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White House plans big 2016 budget ask to fight antibiotic resistance

Sheep purple/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In advance of the 2016 budget proposal, the White House has tipped its hand on one big priority: the fight against antibiotic resistance. A fact sheet released today describes how President Barack Obama plans to double the government's investment in combating the mounting public health crisis of drug-resistant infections by spreading roughly $1.2 billion in funding across several federal agencies.

That sum includes $650 million for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to study mechanisms of resistance in bacteria and promote the development of new antibiotics and diagnostics. Funding for NIH would also support a clinical trial network that would let drug developers more easily collect data across multiple clinics, according to the fact sheet.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would receive $280 million for monitoring and research, including the addition of 10 sites to its Emerging Infections Program. The fact sheet also hints at two new programs: a detection network to identify new outbreaks and a comprehensive “isolate bank” to collect known resistant bacteria.

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Gianluca Felicetti (<i>left</i>) is the president of LAV, one of the groups that filed a complaint against Green Hill.

LAV

Gianluca Felicetti (left) is the president of LAV, one of the groups that filed a complaint against Green Hill.

ROME—Three employees of Green Hill, a company that breeds beagles for animal studies, are guilty of unjustified killing and mistreatment of dogs, a court in Brescia, Italy, ruled on Friday. Ghislaine Rondot, Green Hill’s executive manager, and Renzo Graziosi, the facility's veterinarian, were each sentenced to 18 months in jail; Green Hill’s director, Roberto Bravi, received a 1-year sentence. A fourth defendant was cleared of all accusations.

The court has to release a written motivation for the verdicts within 60 days.

The accusations against Green Hill, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Marshall BioResources and one of Europe's largest suppliers of dogs for research, were presented to prosecutors in June 2012 in a complaint filed by Legambiente, an environmental organization, and the animal rights group Lega Anti Vivisezione (LAV). In July 2012, the court in Brescia ordered the temporary closure of the facility and the seizure of all animals. Legambiente and LAV took custody of more than 3000 dogs, which were later placed in foster homes all over Italy. The trial against Green Hill employees started in June 2014.

Enrico Moriconi, a veterinarian who served as a consultant to the prosecutor and reviewed evidence gathered by the police, says that 6023 dogs died at the center between 2008 and 2012, compared with 98 in the 2-year period that followed the animals’ seizure in 2012. In 44 cases, the court was able to establish that dogs were euthanized even though they suffered only from mild, curable diseases, Moriconi says. Some of the beagles were put down with Tanax—a drug that causes cardiorespiratory failure—without prior anesthesia, which is widely considered a less ethical way to kill them.

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Cannabis

Don Goofy/Flickr

Cannabis

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) today urged that federal restrictions around marijuana be loosened to facilitate research on the drug’s potential medical benefits. In a statement published online in Pediatrics, the organization walked a tightrope between strongly discouraging recreational marijuana use among teenagers while acknowledging that medical applications, including in young children, have grown more popular and that more research is needed to better understand when and how the drug might help.

“[N]o studies have been done on the use of medical marijuana in children and adolescents,” wrote Seth Ammerman, a pediatrician at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and co-author of the new policy, in a news story accompanying it. “Therefore, the effects of medical marijuana use on the developing brain is unknown.”

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New report calls for cutting spending on infrastructure for the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) by 20% to free up funding for research. Above, researchers prepare to test a part of the OOI network.

Craig Risien, Oregon State University/OOI

New report calls for cutting spending on infrastructure for the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) by 20% to free up funding for research. Above, researchers prepare to test a part of the OOI network.

A bleak U.S. federal budget outlook requires aggressive moves to revitalize ocean research, a distinguished panel of the National Research Council (NRC) has concluded. Their report, released today, calls for cutting spending on major ocean infrastructure, such as new ships and fixed seafloor observatories.  If implemented, the report’s recommendations could increase the share of funding available for experiments at sea, which has been on the decline.

“Like a ship maneuvering through a narrow channel, the field of ocean science requires careful course adjustments to be well-positioned for the next decade,” concludes the report, titled Sea Change: 2015-2025 Decadal Survey of Ocean Sciences.

The National Science Foundation (NSF), one of the major funders of oceanographic research, requested the report 2 years ago. It asked NRC to determine major research priorities for the next 10 years and suggest how spending could be rebalanced to fit those priorities. Although such decadal surveys have long been used by physicists and astronomers to develop unified priorities, today’s report marks the first time the oceanography community has attempted to grapple with those issues in such detail.

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Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moves Doomsday Clock 2 minutes closer to midnight

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

The board that runs the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) has decided to move the minute hand on its symbolic Doomsday Clock 2 minutes closer to disaster. The clock now shows 3 minutes before midnight because the “probability of global catastrophe is very high” as a result of continuing climate change and efforts to modernize nuclear weapons stockpiles.

“In 2015, unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity,” the group said in a statement. “[W]orld leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe. These failures of political leadership endanger every person on Earth.”

At a press conference in Washington, D.C., today, BAS Executive Director Kennette Benedict said accelerating climate change and stalled efforts to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles had “equal weight” in pushing BAS’s Science and Security Board to reset the clock at 11:57 p.m.

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LSTHM took second place in the new ranking.

LSHTM

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine took second place in the new ranking.

Only a handful of U.K. universities are deeply involved in the fight to improve global health, according to a new ranking table released yesterday at the United Kingdom’s Houses of Parliament. The idea behind the list—which follows a similar ranking for U.S. and Canadian universities and another one for pharmaceutical companies—is to encourage spending on global health research and to increase the pressure on stragglers to step up their efforts.

The University of Oxford came out on top in the table, followed by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Imperial College London, University College London, and the University of Liverpool. These five account for 74% of the United Kingdom's global health research spending and 78% of the spending on neglected tropical disease, according to the ranking. Out of the 20 others listed in the table, eight are ranked with a D grade; only six received a B or above. The University of Cambridge, which shared the No. 2 spot in a ranking of the world's best universities last year, is 15th on the list with a C-minus grade.

The list received plaudits from Harvard University's Paul Farmer, the co-founder of Partners in Health, a U.S. research and aid group. The table helps "illuminate the effects of academic biomedical research on the health of the world’s poor, and hold universities accountable for the impact, or lack of impact, that their policies have on global health," Farmer said in a statement yesterday.

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An excerpt from the federal complaint.

Department of Justice

An excerpt from the federal complaint.

A prominent cancer researcher has become entangled in a high-profile corruption case in New York state. Media outlets are reporting that Robert Taub of Columbia University is the “Doctor-1” described in a criminal complaint that accuses Democratic state Representative Sheldon Silver, the powerful speaker of the New York State Assembly, of arranging bribes and kickbacks that netted Silver millions of dollars.

Doctor-1 is cooperating with federal investigators, according to the complaint. In exchange for his cooperation, he will not be charged with any crime.

The complaint, some of which is based on information supplied by Doctor-1, alleges that Silver steered to Taub some $500,000 from a state health care research fund that Silver controlled. In exchange, Taub referred patients suffering from asbestos-related disease to Silver’s law firm, investigators allege. Some of the funds were used to establish a university research center on mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer, the complaint states; Taub helped found Columbia University’s Mesothelioma Center, according to several online biographies. Taub is the Vivian and Seymour Milstein Family professor of clinical medicine at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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Measures declaring humans contribute to climate change got a majority of votes, but fell short of the 60 needed for adoption.

Curtis Perry/Flickr

Measures declaring humans contribute to climate change got a majority of votes, but fell short of the 60 needed for adoption.

Nearly all U.S. senators agreed today on a measure affirming that climate change is real and not a hoax—including, to the surprise of many observers, Senator James Inhofe (R–OK), the man who once declared global warming a hoax. Meanwhile, although two other measures stating that humans are contributing to climate change won a majority of votes from the 99 senators present, they failed to garner the 60 votes needed to be adopted by the Senate.

All three measures were offered as amendments to legislation that would approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which could carry crude oil from Canada’s oil sands to the United States.

By a 98 to 1 vote, the U.S. Senate approved Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D–RI) amendment that asked simply whether it is “the sense of the Senate that climate change is real and not a hoax.” The only senator voting no was Roger Wicker (R–MS).

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