ScienceInsider

Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • Q&A: Iran’s top science official strives for a Silicon Valley spirit

    Sorena Sattari

    Sorena Sattari

    Courtesy of the Vice-Presidency for Science and Technology of Iran

    NEW YORK CITY—During his 2 years in office, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has filled his cabinet with Ph.D.-trained technocrats. One of the youngest is Sorena Sattari, the vice president for science and technology. A mechanical engineer by training, Sattari, 43, has been a forceful proponent of yoking science more tightly to the economy and says he would like to imbue Iran with an “entrepreneurial spirit.” His Innovation and Prosperity Fund has handed out $600 million in low-interest loans to 1650 technology startups and to other firms seeking to branch out in new directions.

    He has not turned his back on basic research, however. He cites as “a point of pride” for his country the $30 million Iranian National Observatory, a world-class, 3.4-meter optical telescope that is expected to see first light in 4 or 5 years. Backers credit him with helping get the long-delayed project back on track earlier this year (Science, 4 September, p. 1042). Sattari spoke with Science last week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

  • New Mexico says no to wolves, creating quandary for federal officials

    The Mexican wolf

    The Mexican wolf

    Jim Clark/USFWS

    A new political battle is brewing over Mexican wolves, a species that was hunted and poisoned to extinction in the U.S. Southwest, but reintroduced to the wild by the federal government in 1998. Earlier this week, the New Mexico Game  Commission upheld an earlier decision denying the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) permits to release Mexican wolves onto federal land in southwestern New Mexico. According to FWS and independent scientists, such releases are critical for diversifying the gene pool of the increasingly inbred wolf population.

    State officials have said they are unwilling to approve new releases until FWS updates its recovery plan for the wolf, which was written in 1982. Concerned about impacts to ranchers and elk hunters, they’ve pressed FWS for the total number of wolves it aims to restore to the landscape in the long-term. But the agency doesn’t have that number yet, and though it is updating the recovery plan, the process is likely to take at least 2 years. 

  • This machine produces the largest humanmade waves in the world

    The new facility is 300 meters long and boasts waves as high as 4.5 meters.

    The new facility is 300 meters long and boasts waves as high as 4.5 meters.

    John Verbruggen

    DELFT, THE NETHERLANDS—Dutch scientists are making waves—big ones. A new experimental facility at Deltares, a research institute here, has begun producing the largest humanmade waves in the world. Like kids building sandcastles below the tideline on the beach, scientists will let the walls of water crash on dikes of different designs and other structures—sometimes until they're destroyed.

  • More than $100 million in new BRAIN funds

    Shaping up. In a highly anticipated report, the mysterious BRAIN Initiative begins to take form.

    NIH

    WASHINGTON, D.C.—As part of President Barack Obama’s high-profile initiative to study the brain, the Kavli Foundation and several university partners today announced $100 million in new funding for neuroscience research, including three new institutes at universities in Maryland, New York, and California. Each of the institutes will receive a $20 million endowment, provided equally by their universities and the foundation, along with start-up funding to pursue projects in areas such as brain plasticity and tool development.

    The new funding, geared at providing stable support for high-risk, interdisciplinary research, exceeds the original commitment of $40 million that the Kavli Foundation made to the national Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, when it was first launched by President Obama in 2013. The funds are also unrestricted, allowing each institute to determine which projects to pursue. “That’s the most precious money any scientist can have,” Robert Conn, president and CEO of The Kavli Foundation, noted at a meeting today on Capitol Hill. Neuroscientist Loren Frank, who will serve as co-director at the new institute at the University of California, San Francisco, says the funds will allow his lab to explore fundamental questions such as how the brain can maintain its function despite constant change, and to form interdisciplinary partnerships with labs such as the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

  • New U.S. ozone standard won’t please greens or industry

    Smog in Los Angeles, California.

    Smog in Los Angeles, California.

    Metro Library and Archive/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

    After years of controversy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today tightened its national limits on ground-level ozone pollution, a main contributor to smog. But it has picked a level that the agency's own science advisers have said might not fully protect health and the environment.

    EPA will lower the standard from the current 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb, a move that agency officials say will deliver health benefits (in the form of avoided maladies such as asthma attacks, premature deaths, and sick days) that outstrip the costs by a factor of two to four. The move will disappoint industry groups that had waged an expensive and intense campaign to keep the standard at 75 ppb.

    And it will also disappoint environmental advocates, who have argued that even EPA’s own technical advisers had said in 2014 that scientific evidence would support a tighter standard. "For a standard that’s supposed to protect health with an 'adequate safety margin,' we don’t think that’s been done here with that many lives sacrificed and that many asthma attacks allowed," John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, tells ScienceInsider.

  • Predatory publishers earned $75 million last year, study finds

    Predatory publishers earned $75 million last year, study finds
    Ram Joshi/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

    Need to get your research published? Don't want to be hassled by peer review or editorial quality control? You are in luck: There are thousands of scientific journals waiting to publish it right away, for a fee.

    A new study finds that the fake journal business is booming—and puts some hard numbers on this murky academic underworld. Last year alone, so-called predatory publishers took in about $75 million and published nearly half a million articles, researchers report today online in BMC Medicine.

    "It took more than half a year to finish the data collection," says Cenyu Shen of the Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki, who conducted the survey with fellow information systems scientist Bo-Christer Björk. With some help from undergrad students, the team combed through hundreds of discredited academic journal websites to gather basic data.

  • Venus and a bizarre metal asteroid are leading destinations for low-cost NASA missions

    The ultra-dense asteroid Psyche is thought to be made almost entirely of iron and nickel metal. It could be the remnant core of a planetesimal that was stripped of its mantle (artist's impression).

    Corby Waste/JPL

    Venus is back on NASA’s agenda. Today, NASA winnowed down the contenders for the agency’s next low-cost planetary science mission. Five finalists were announced from among 27 proposals in Discovery, a competitive mission line with a $500 million cost cap, and two of them are missions to Venus, not visited by a NASA spacecraft since 1994. The other three finalists would study asteroids.

    “It sends a very positive message that it’s time to go back to Venus,” says Lori Glaze, a planetary scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the leader of one of the two Venus mission proposals.

    Typically, NASA picks just three finalists in its Discovery competitions, which take place every few years. But this time the agency may choose two winners instead of the usual one, says Michael New, Discovery program scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. The two winners’ development and launch would be staggered. “It depends on what our budgets in the out years look like,” he says. “Based on what we’ve seen to date, it looks like we’ll be able to do two.” Each of the five finalists will now get up to $3 million to pursue a more detailed proposal for the final selection about a year from now.

  • Treat all HIV-infected people, says new WHO guideline

    Candles form a ribbon during World AIDS Day 2014 in South Sudan.

    UNAIDS

    In a widely anticipated move, the World Health Organization (WHO) today endorsed antiretroviral (ARV) treatment for all 37 million HIV-infected people around the world. Previous guidelines called for only treating the estimated 28 million HIV-infected people who have fewer than 500 CD4 lymphocytes per microliter of blood. (The normal range is 600 to 1200.) The new guidelines also call for offering the drugs to prevent HIV infection—so-called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP—to all people at “substantial risk” of infection.

    Currently, only 15 million HIV-infected people are receiving antiretrovirals. But in rich countries, it's becoming more and more common to start therapy early, before a patient's CD4 cells have had significant declines. Large studies have shown that early treatment benefits HIV-infected people and, separately, that ARVs dramatically reduce the risk of transmission. Several PrEP studies similarly have shown that ARVs protect uninfected people regardless of the route of transmission.

  • Amid budget fight, Illinois State Museum prepares to close

    Eric Grimm (right) and Chris Widga look over fossils in the Illinois State Museum's collection. The museum is set to close Thursday.

    Eric Grimm (right) and Chris Widga look over fossils in the Illinois State Museum's collection. The museum is set to close Thursday.

    Justin L.Fowler/The State Journal-Register

    Last week paleoecologist Eric Grimm, the director of science at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, rented an 8-meter-long truck, bought $500 worth of lumber, and built temporary shelves in the back. Then, with the help of his wife and former coworkers, he loaded his cargo: roughly 30 sediment cores drilled from lake bottoms.

    The cores, which hold pollen grains, minerals, and other clues that help researchers reconstruct past environments, had been stored at the museum where Grimm has worked for 28 years. But the museum is scheduled to close on 1 October as the result of a tense budget standoff between the state’s Democrat-led General Assembly and its Republican governor. So Grimm is moving his collection to the University of Minnesota’s National Lacustrine Core Repository (LacCore) in Minneapolis. And he’s retiring from his post at the museum—with a certain sense of dismay.

    “It’s a travesty,” Grimm says of the political stalemate that has dominated Illinois for months, and the consequences for the museum. “I think it’s political corruption and malevolent anti-intellectualism.”

  • Scientist says researchers in immigrant-friendly nations can't use his software

    A 2009 Science paper that used Helicobacter pylori bacteria to trace the peopling of the Pacific relied on Treefinder to produce the microbes' phylogenetic tree.

    A 2009 Science paper that used Helicobacter pylori bacteria to trace the peopling of the Pacific relied on Treefinder to produce the microbes' phylogenetic tree.

    Moodley, Y. et al., Science, 23 January 2009, p. 527

    A German scientist is revoking the license to his bioinformatics software for researchers working in eight European countries because he believes those countries allow too many immigrants to cross their borders. From 1 October, scientists in Germany, Austria, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Denmark—"the countries that together host most of the non-European immigrants“—won't be allowed to use a program called Treefinder, informatician Gangolf Jobb wrote in a statement he posted on his website.

    Treefinder has been used in hundreds of scientific papers to build phylogenetic trees, diagrams showing the most likely evolutionary relationship of various species, from sequence data. Although the change in the license may be a nuisance for some researchers, the program is far from irreplaceable, several scientists tell ScienceInsider. Treefinder had not been updated for several years and it was mostly used by researchers who had grown used to it, they say. Some pointed to a list of possible alternatives online.

    "Immigration to my country harms me, it harms my family, it harms my people. Whoever invites or welcomes immigrants to Europe and Germany is my enemy,” Jobb's statement reads. "Immigration unnecessarily defers the collapse of capitalism, its final crisis," the statement also reads.

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