Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • University finds prominent astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss grabbed a woman’s breast

    Lawrence Krauss

    Lawrence Krauss, pictured at a January press conference in Washington, D.C., is on administrative leave from Arizona State University in Tempe.


    The provost of Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe concluded this week that high-profile astrophysicist and atheist Lawrence Krauss violated the university’s sexual harassment policy by grabbing a woman’s breast at a conference in Australia in late 2016.

    “Responsive action is being taken to prevent any further recurrence of similar conduct,” ASU’s executive vice president and provost, Mark Searle, wrote in a 31 July letter to Melanie Thomson, a microbiologist based in Ocean Grove, Australia, who is an outspoken advocate for women in science. Thomson, who witnessed the breast-grabbing incident, received the provost's written judgment, called a "determination" from Searle and shared it with Science. His conclusion concurred with the findings of investigators from ASU’s Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI).

    In response to an email asking what specific actions the university is taking, an ASU spokesperson wrote: “Professor Lawrence Krauss is no longer director of Arizona State University’s Origins Project, a research unit at ASU. Krauss remains on administrative leave from the university. It is the policy of the university not to comment on ongoing personnel matters.”

  • Researchers not thrilled to see their work cited by Trump car mileage proposal

    traffic jam on a highway in Los Angeles, California

    Originally published by E&E News

    University of Washington, Seattle, engineering professor Julian Marshall was surprised to find his study cited in President Donald Trump’s administration’s proposal for revised clean car rules.

    The proposal refers to Marshall’s 2008 study, “Environmental inequality: Air pollution exposures in California’s South Coast Air Basin,” which was published in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

  • Updated: Officials move to use vaccine against new Ebola outbreak

    ebola virus
    Science Picture Co/Science Source

    An experimental Ebola vaccine will likely be used again in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to help end an outbreak.

    Roughly a week after celebrating the defeat of an Ebola outbreak in Équateur province, the DRC has four new confirmed cases of the disease 2500 kilometers across the country in North Kivu province. The DRC’s health ministry says there’s no indication of a link between the outbreaks. “It’s sad,” says Yap Boum, a microbiologist based in Yaoundé who works with Doctors Without Borders, a nongovernmental organization that helped run an Ebola vaccine campaign against the previous outbreak.

    A DRC Ministry of Public Health spokesperson told ScienceInsider today that the decision to use the vaccine again was “common sense” because they had remaining doses in stock and scientific and ethical committees already have approved its continued study. The Équateur “trial” of the vaccine had no control group and cannot conclude whether it contributed to the end of that outbreak, but preliminary results show that none of the 3300 vaccinated people became infected.

  • Mylan, lambasted for EpiPen price hikes, complains of overpriced anti-HIV drugs in the United States

    Mylan headquarters

    Mylan is one of the world’s largest generic drug manufacturers.

    Backyard Productions/Alamy Stock Photo

    Mylan, a giant generic drugmaker headquartered in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, that took a bashing in 2016 for steeply raising the price of its EpiPen that treats severe allergic reactions, has now flipped the tables and is arguing that the United States is wasting billions of dollars on name brand anti-HIV drugs instead of its cheaper alternatives.

    At the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam last week, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch noted that 90% of the dispensed drugs in the United States are generics. But for antiretrovirals (ARVs) that treat HIV infection, Bresch says, “You’re looking at 0% utilization.” Mylan says it is the world’s largest supplier of ARV drugs, but that entire business is outside of the United States. In February, Mylan received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for two products that provide novel combinations of popular ARVs. (They are not technically “generics” because no one sells these specific coformulations.) Bresch claims they could knock down the country’s cost of treating an HIV-infected person—now $35,000 a year, according to what’s known as the average wholesale price—by at least 20%.

    Others say the issue is far more complicated.

  • Atmospheric carbon last year reached levels not seen in 800,000 years

    a view of earth from space

    The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in Earth’s atmosphere reached 405 parts per million (ppm) last year, a level not seen in 800,000 years, according to a new report. It was also the hottest year on record that did not feature the global weather pattern known as El Niño, which is driven by warmer than usual ocean waters in the Pacific Ocean, concludes the State of the Climate in 2017, the 28th edition of an annual compilation published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Overall, 2017 ranked as the second or third warmest year, depending on which measure is used, since researchers began keeping robust records in the mid-1800s.

    Even if humanity “stopped the greenhouse gasses at their current concentrations today, the atmosphere would still continue to warm for next couple decades to maybe a century,” said Greg Johnson, an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Washington, during a press call yesterday about the report.

  • March of Dimes abruptly scales back research funding

    participants in the March for Babies hold up a sign

    March of Dimes, which sponsors the nationwide March for Babies fundraiser, will reduce its funding for research on birth defects and infant mortality.

    Parker Knight/Flickr (CC BY-SA)

    March of Dimes, the 80-year-old nonprofit organization that has funded pioneering studies on premature birth, infant mortality, and birth defects, is abruptly scaling back its investment in research amid financial struggles—catching scientists by surprise.

    Last week, the group told 37 of 42 recipients of its individual investigator awards that it is cutting short their grants. On average, the grants total $300,000 over 3 years. It plans to maintain reduced funding for just five such awards; all are focused on understanding and preventing premature birth. The group, based in White Plains, New York, is also trimming grants to its prematurity research centers, which are housed at academic institutions around the United States. And it will not award any new research grants this year, but will still give out its 2-year, $150,000 awards for young scientists in 2019.

    The moves are part of an effort to slice about $3 million from the March of Dimes’s annual research budget of roughly $20 million, says Kelle Moley, the group’s chief scientific officer. The belt-tightening is the result of declining donations, particularly from the organization’s signature March for Babies. “The walks were our main funding source … and now there’s a million different kinds of walks,” she says. “They’re just not getting the donations that we used to get 10 or 20 years ago.” The group’s tax filings show that expenses exceeded revenue in each year from 2012 to 2016. It announced last year that it would be selling its national headquarters in White Plains.

  • Science candidates are on the ballot next week in three states

    Shannon Hader

    Shannon Hader is hoping her background in public health will propel her into Congress.

    Hader for Congress

    The fight over the makeup of Congress continues next week with primary elections on 7 August in four states. As part of our yearlong series on scientists running for Congress, here’s a look at three Democrats from districts in Washington, Michigan, and Missouri who are seeking the chance to face a Republican opponent in the 6 November general election.

    Shannon Hader: Public health expert wants to treat body politic

    Shannon Hader oozes experience in public health at many levels. She’s led the U.S. government’s $1.1-billion-a-year global fight against HIV and tuberculosis at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, after a previous stint leading CDC’s effort in Zimbabwe. She has turned around a troubled HIV/AIDS program run by Washington, D.C. She’s been a senior executive for a Washington, D.C.–based health care firm that supports CDC projects around the world. A pediatrician with a master’s degree in public health, she also recently spent a year as a congressional fellow.

    Those posts have given her an inside look at the power of government to do good—and to do harm. In January, Hader decided to play a more visible role in trying to ensure the first outcome, declaring her candidacy for Congress in Washington’s eighth congressional district.

  • Trump’s effort to roll back auto efficiency rules could hinge on debate over safety

    emergency responders working at the scene of a traffic accident

    President Donald Trump’s plan to reduce auto fuel efficiency requirements rests, in part, on the controversial claim that stiffer rules produce more fatal car accidents.

    David R. Frazier Photolibrary, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo

    Originally published by E&E News

    The battle over car rules is a math problem, and it might have life-or-death consequences.

    At issue is how President Donald Trump’s administration will estimate potential fatalities in new cars that meet stringent standards on fuel efficiency established under former President Obama.

    The White House is making a central argument: More fuel-efficient cars and trucks will cost more money, so drivers could purchase fewer of these safer new models. The result? Older cars stay on the road longer, increasing the risk of injury to motorists and failing to reduce air pollution.

  • Trump’s pick to head White House science office gets good reviews

    Kelvin Droegemeier, Oklahoma Secretary of Science and Technology, is pictured in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017.

    Kelvin Droegemeier

    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    The long wait for a White House science adviser is over. President Donald Trump announced today that he intends to nominate meteorologist Kelvin Droegemeier, a university administrator and former vice-chair of the governing board of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), to be director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The OSTP director traditionally, but not always, also holds the title of the president’s science adviser.

    The move caps a search process of record-setting length—nearly 560 days, double the longest time taken by any other modern president to name an OSTP director. Many in the research community had lamented the delay. But the wait may have been worth it: Droegemeier, a respected veteran of the Washington, D.C., policymaking scene, is getting positive reviews from science and university groups.

    “He’s a very good pick. … He has experience speaking science to power,” says environmental policy expert John Holdren, who served as science adviser under former President Barack Obama and is now at Harvard University. “I expect he’ll be energetic in defending the R&D budget and climate change research in particular.”

  • Plan to replicate 50 high-impact cancer papers shrinks to just 18

    conceptual illustration of four scientists at separate lab benches

    An ambitious project that set out nearly 5 years ago to replicate experiments from 50 high-impact cancer biology papers, but gradually shrank that number, now expects to complete just 18 studies.

    “I wish we could have done more,” says biologist Tim Errington, who runs the project from the Center for Open Science in Charlottesville, Virginia. But, he adds, “There is an element of not truly understanding how challenging it is until you do a project like this.”

    The Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology (RP:CP) began in October 2013 as an open effort to test replicability after two drug companies reported they had trouble reproducing many cancer studies. The work was a collaboration with Science Exchange, a company based in Palo Alto, California, that found contract labs to reproduce a few key experiments from each paper. Funding included a $1.3 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, enough for about $25,000 per study. Experiments were expected to take 1 year.

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