Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • Europe says University of California deserves broad patent for CRISPR

    European Patent Office headquarters

    The European Patent Office (above) has granted the University of California a key patent.

    European Patent Office

    The European Patent Office (EPO) announced on 23 March its “intention to grant a patent” to the University of California (UC) for its broad-based claims about the genome-editing tool popularly known as CRISPR. UC, on behalf of several parties, has been in a pitched battle with the Broad Institute of Cambridge, Massachusetts, over CRISPR patents, and the new decision marks a sharp departure from the position of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

    The UC team first reported how to use CRISPR in pieces of circular DNA called plasmids that can invade bacteria, but the Broad won a race to apply the method to human cells, which represents a potential billion-dollar marketplace for medicines. The Broad won the first U.S. patents on CRISPR by paying to have USPTO give them a fast review, but UC’s application is still under review and it filed a so-called “interference” claim against the Broad last year. After a prolonged legal battle, USPTO in February ruled that it wasn’t obvious that UC’s discovery would work in human and other eukaryotic cells, giving the Broad a distinct patent advantage.

    But now EPO apparently favors the UC argument that its discovery covers CRISPR use in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic systems. The Scientist first reported this news on 24 March.

  • Playing no Trump at AAAS policy forum

    France Córdova

    France Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation.

    Mark F.Jones/

    The relationship between U.S. scientists and the Trump administration hit a new low today after organizers of a major annual science policy conference were unable to find anyone willing to discuss the president’s priorities.

    For weeks, the 42nd annual Forum on Science and Technology Policy put on by AAAS (which publishes ScienceInsider) listed a 50-minute talk on “science and technology priorities of the new administration” in its online program. Past administrations have always made someone available to discuss its approach to research or innovation. But over the weekend that slot was quietly removed and the schedule reshuffled.

    The show went on. But there was nary a word spoken today in defense of the president’s recently released budget blueprint that would slash research spending both this year and in 2018. Instead, AAAS CEO Rush Holt, a former Democratic congressman from New Jersey, reminded the assembled policy wonks that it is Congress, not the president, that has the final word on annual spending. And National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, a temporary holdover from the Obama administration, spoke optimistically of a pending appropriations bill that could give NIH as much as a $2 billion boost this year.

  • Trump recruits controversial Bush-era global health official

    Bill Steiger speaking at event

    Bill Steiger in January spoke at an event that offered the Trump administration advice about how to prepare for the next pandemic.

    Georgetown University

    William “Bill” Steiger, a global health official under former President George W. Bush who crossed swords with many scientists, is now advising President Donald Trump.

    Steiger is working at the U.S. Department of State on a so-called “beachhead team,” which helps agencies transition from the Obama to the Trump administration. Several sources tell ScienceInsider that Steiger attended the executive board meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, in January. Steiger did not respond to an email request for an interview.

    Steiger, who has a doctorate in Latin American history, directed the Office of Global Health Affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) during both terms of the Bush administration. During his tenure, he served as the U.S. representative to both the WHO executive board and the board of directors of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Both WHO and the Global Fund are now in the process of selecting new leaders.

  • NIH enables investigators to include draft preprints in grant proposals

    Shelves with scientific journals

    A new National Institutes of Health policy encourages researchers to include in their grant proposals preprints, which are early, unedited versions of papers that later appear in journals like these.


    Researchers should feel free to include preprints, or draft manuscripts that haven’t yet been gone through peer review, as part of their applications when they seek funding from the Bethesda, Maryland–based National Institutes of Health (NIH), the agency announced today.

    “The NIH encourages investigators to use interim research products, such as preprints, to speed the dissemination and enhance the rigor of their work,” a notice says. They “can be cited anywhere other research products are cited” in a research proposal or progress report, it explains. Until now, preprints could only be listed in a certain part of a proposal, says Michael Lauer, NIH deputy director for extramural research.

    The announcement is a victory for biomedical researchers who have been championing preprints as a way to share findings more quickly than waiting for a paper to go through formal peer review and appear in a journal. “This is huge!” tweeted Jessica Polka, director of ASAPbio, a nonprofit group pushing for the use preprints in life sciences.

  • Data check: NSF sends Congress a garbled message on misconduct numbers

    black and white bottles

    Bill Dickinson/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

    When a senior National Science Foundation (NSF) official told the House of Representatives science committee this month about a “significant rise in the number of substantive allegations” of research misconduct, her testimony set off alarm bells.

    Legislators from both parties were clearly disturbed by this trend, which had led to three dozen findings of misconduct a year, and asked what the Arlington, Virginia–based NSF was doing about it. Committee Republicans unhappy with NSF’s current system of awarding grants saw her words as further proof that Congress needs to keep a closer eye on the $7.5 billion agency.

    Well, it turns out there is no such trend, and the overall size of the problem had been greatly exaggerated. Within days of her appearance at a 9 March hearing to discuss NSF’s business practices, NSF Inspector General Allison Lerner admitted as much in a two-page memo to committee Democrats. But her flawed testimony could rekindle a long-simmering debate over the government’s approach to research misconduct.

  • Climate doubters gather, call for killing EPA's finding that carbon dioxide endangers public health

    Earth's atmosphere from the International Space Station.

    Earth's atmosphere from the International Space Station.


    Originally published by E&E News

    The most important message to send the Trump administration and Capitol Hill right now: The 2009 finding that carbon dioxide endangers public health "must go."

    Advisers to the Trump administration's transition team at U.S. EPA and other long-established climate contrarians repeated that mantra for the past 36 hours at the Heartland Institute's 12th annual International Conference on Climate Change.

  • Lamar Smith, unbound, lays out political strategy at climate doubters’ conference

    Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX)

    Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX)

    House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

    Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX) rarely expresses his true feelings in public. But speaking yesterday to a like-minded crowd of climate change doubters and skeptics, the chairman of the science committee in the U.S. House of Representatives acknowledged that the committee is now a tool to advance his political agenda rather than a forum to examine important issues facing the U.S. research community.

    “Next week we’re going to have a hearing on our favorite subject of climate change and also on the scientific method, which has been repeatedly ignored by the so-called self-professed climate scientists,” Smith told the Heartland Institute’s 12th annual conference on climate change in Washington, D.C. The audience cheered loudly as Smith read the names of three witnesses—climate scientist Judith Curry, who recently retired from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta; policy specialist Roger Pielke, Jr. of the University of Colorado in Boulder; and John Christy, a professor of earth system science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville—he expects to support his view that climate change is a politically driven fabrication and that taking steps to mitigate its impact will harm the U.S. economy.

    Then boos filled the ballroom of the Grand Hyatt hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., after Smith mentioned the fourth witness—Michael Mann, a climate researcher at Pennsylvania State University in State College and a frequent target of climate change doubters. “That’s why this hearing is going to be so much fun,” Smith said with a huge grin on his normally impassive face.

  • Update: After quick review, medical school says no evidence Monsanto ghostwrote professor's paper


    Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide has been the focus of a long running controversy over whether it poses a cancer risk to humans.

    Mike Mozart/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

    After a quick investigation, officials at a medical school in New York State say they have found "no evidence" that a faculty member violated the school's prohibition against authoring a paper ghostwritten by others. The statement came one day after ScienceInsider reported that New York Medical College (NYMC) in Valhalla, New York, would examine a researcher who, according to internal documents released last week by a federal court in California, put his name on a 2000 paper partially ghostwritten by employees at Monsanto, the giant agricultural chemicals company based in St. Louis, Missouri. 

    An NYMC spokesperson declined to provide details of how it conducted its investigation, saying in a statement that NYMC "does not disclose details of its internal investigations, but the college does consider the matter in question to be closed." (The school later amended its statement, adding: "If new information is provided to us, we will evaluate it. If not, we have no further comment.")

    At issue is a 2000 paper published in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology.  It concluded that a review of studies of one of Monsanto’s most successful products, the widely-used herbicide Roundup, showed no evidence of harmful effects on people.The lead author on the paper is Gary Williams, a pathologist at NYMC. His last name appears briefly in documents unsealed last week as part of a lawsuit against Monsanto by people alleging they developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma from exposure to Roundup and its primary ingredient, glyphosate.

  • Research stays frozen in Canadian budget

    Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau trying on new shoes

    Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau tries on his new shoes—a budget day tradition—while meeting with children at Nelson Mandela Public Park School in Toronto.

    Department of Finance Canada

    OTTAWA—Wind chills here approached -30°C as Finance Minister Bill Morneau unveiled the Liberal government’s second budget on Wednesday. Spring may eventually arrive in Canada’s capital, but the deep freeze for Canada’s research community will continue into fiscal 2017–18 as the granting councils received no significant boosts in funding.

    Overall, Morneau’s budget proposes an $11.3 billion spending increase, to $247.7 billion. But at best, academic researchers can hope to tap modest monies either allocated or reprofiled for a bevy of national programs generally aimed at promoting “innovation,” particularly through partnerships between industry and universities, or from several smaller, boutique initiatives, such as one to develop a national action plan to respond to health risks posed by climate change.

    Finance officials, who speak on condition of anonymity during the budget lock-up, indicated the budgets of the granting councils, the main source of operational grants for university researchers, will be “static” until the government can assess recommendations that emerge from an expert panel formed in 2015 and headed by former University of Toronto President David Naylor to review basic science in Canada. Until then, the officials said, funding for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) will remain at roughly $848 million, whereas that for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) will remain at $773 million, and for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council at $547 million.

  • India neutrino lab dealt a serious blow

    Bodi West Hills where the INO is supposed to be sited

    The Bodi West Hills, where the India-based Neutrino Observatory is supposed to be sited.

    courtesy of MVN MURTHY

    NEW DELHI—India’s plans for a world-class neutrino facility have hit a serious roadblock. Regulators this week directed the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) to seek new environmental permits, pushing the long-delayed facility’s completion further into the future—and further jeopardizing its hopes of making an important discovery.

    Perhaps the most expensive basic science project India has ever contemplated, the $220 million INO would be installed deep under a mountain in southern India. It aims to solve the neutrino mass hierarchy: to determine, that is, which of the three types of neutrinos is heaviest and which is lightest. That arcane knowledge would allow physicists to probe long-standing mysteries such as how neutrinos acquire mass and why the universe has so much more matter than antimatter.

    Indian physicists originally hoped to have the INO up and running by 2012. That target evaporated in 2009, when India’s environment ministry denied permission to construct the INO on the edge of prime elephant habitat in Tamil Nadu state. The project team then found an alternative site in the Bodi West Hills, also in Tamil Nadu. Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved the INO in January 2015, and a new completion date was set for 2020.

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