ScienceInsider

Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • PLOS ONE ousts reviewer, editor after sexist peer-review storm

    Tweet excerpting provocative review has drawn an extensive response.

    Tweet excerpting provocative review has drawn an extensive response.

    Twitter

    The journal PLOS ONE announced today that it is has "removed" a reviewer whose remarks about a manuscript by two female researchers caused an uproar earlier this week. "[W]e have removed the referee from our reviewer database," wrote Damian Pattinson, PLOS ONE’s editorial director, in a Web posting.

    The journal has also "formally removed the review from the record, and have sent the manuscript out to a new editor for re-review. We have also asked the Academic Editor who handled the manuscript to step down from the Editorial Board."

    PLOS ONE is also considering ways to make the identity of a reviewer known to submitting authors, Pattinson wrote. "We are reviewing our processes to ensure that future authors are given a fair and unprejudiced review. As part of this, we are working on new features to make the review process more open and transparent, since evidence suggests that review is more constructive and civil when the reviewers’ identities are known to the authors (Walsh et al., 2000). This work has been ongoing for some months at PLOS ONE, and we will be announcing more details on these offerings soon."

  • U.S. House bill would slash NASA earth science

    NASA's earth science programs would take a hit under proposed legislation. Here, a dust plume streams from Egypt into the Red Sea.

    NASA's earth science programs would take a hit under proposed legislation. Here, a dust plume streams from Egypt into the Red Sea.

    NASA

    An increasingly partisan confrontation over some of NASA’s research programs is getting testier. Yesterday, the science committee of the U.S. House of Representatives approved, on a party-line vote, a Republican-backed bill that calls for deep cuts in spending on earth science. The move drew a sharp response from science groups, NASA leaders, and White House officials.

    Even though the proposed NASA authorization bill would increase funding for planetary missions, it has gotten decidedly mixed reviews from interest groups, reports Marcia Smith of Space Policy Online. Smith writes that Thursday’s “rancorous markup of H.R. 2039, the NASA Authorization Act for 2016 and 2017, was in sharp contrast to recent committee and subcommittee hearings on space topics as well as action on two prior NASA authorization bills for 2014 and 2015.”

    The bill authorizes NASA to spend $1.45 billion for earth science in the 2016 fiscal year that begins 1 October, well below the $1.95 billion requested by the White House, reports Lee Roop of AL.com. “The committee authorizes $1.5 billion for planetary science in 2016 and 2017, up from the $1.36 billion the White House wanted next year.”

  • Scientists call for limits on emerging class of common, long-lived chemicals

    Researchers are concerned about long-lived fluorinated compounds used in nonstick pans and other products.

    Researchers are concerned about long-lived fluorinated compounds used in nonstick pans and other products.

    Jean-Pierre/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

    More than 200 scientists from 38 countries spoke with one voice today, calling for curbs on the global production and use of a class of chemicals found in hundreds of grease- and water-resistant industrial and consumer products. To avoid long-term harm to the environment and human health, nations should act now to limit use of the toxic compounds, which can persist for long periods in the environment, the scientists conclude in a statement appearing in Environmental Health Perspectives. Industry groups, however, say currently used versions of the chemicals are safe.

    The synthetic chemicals, called polyfluorinated and perfluorinated substances (PFASs), have unusually strong fluorine-carbon bonds that can resist heat and help materials repel water, oil, and stains. These special properties make fluorinated chemicals a key ingredient in a wide range of products, including nonstick cookware, cosmetics, microwave popcorn bags, waterproof outdoor gear, carpets, and firefighting foams. Because PFASs are nearly indestructible, they can persist in the environment for decades or more and are prone to accumulate in the tissues of wildlife and humans.

    Researchers have found that two of the most-studied fluorochemicals, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoate (PFOA), can damage the liver and disrupt reproduction and development in wildlife and lab animals. Emerging epidemiological evidence suggests the compounds—which have been detected in nearly every person who has participated in national studies—can cause similar problems in humans.

  • In symbolic blow, Native Hawaiian panel withdraws support for world's largest telescope

    An artist's conception of the TMT.

    An artist's conception of the TMT.

    Courtesy TMT Observatory Corporation via Wikimedia Commons

    Trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA)—a state agency established to advocate for Native Hawaiians—voted Thursday to withdraw their support for construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the summit of the Mauna Kea volcano. The vote follows weeks of protests by Native Hawaiians who say the massive structure would desecrate one of their most holy places. The protests have shut down construction of the telescope, which would be the world’s largest optical telescope if completed.

    The vote, which reverses a 2009 decision to endorse the project, strikes a powerful if symbolic blow against a project that, for many Native Hawaiians, has come to symbolize more than a century of assaults against their land, culture, and sovereignty.

    “The magnitude of this issue is immense,” said OHA Trustee Dan Ahuna before the vote, adding: “Self-determination is right at our fingertips. We have the opportunity to send a strong message that it is no longer business as usual for Hawaiians.”

  • In the wake of new cures bill, NIH celebrates while FDA mulls responsibilities

    House lawmakers have developed extensive marketing materials for their draft bill.

    House lawmakers have developed extensive marketing materials for their draft bill.

    U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce

    A day after the much-heralded rollout of a new draft bill to accelerate biomedical innovation, lawmakers got some feedback from officials at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In a hearing held by the Health Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee, much of the buzz centered around a proposal to bump up NIH funding—a dramatic change from a previous version of the bill, known as the 21st Century Cures Act. The new draft recommends $10 billion in extra funding for NIH over 5 years.

    The response from Kathy Hudson, NIH’s deputy director for science, outreach, and policy, was straightforward. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you,” she told the committee. “The research community is ecstatic.” She later added that the legislation may mark a transition “from a very dreary phase in biomedical research to a much brighter phase.”

    Legislators also discussed the details of the $10 billion, which would be provided through a new NIH innovation fund for three purposes: support for “young emerging scientists,” precision medicine, and a third category still to be determined. Asked to speculate on what that third category should be, Hudson said one priority is simply funding more innovative research that the agency has been unable to fund with its current budget; another would be NIH’s role in the $110 million Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

  • APA hit with new torture allegations

    The APA has come under fire over alleged role in torture of prisoners at Guantánamo and other U.S. military bases.

    The APA has come under fire over alleged role in torture of prisoners at Guantánamo and other U.S. military bases.

    Wikimedia Commons

    Did the American Psychological Association (APA) collude with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to enable the torture of detainees in the War on Terror? The answer won't be known until June, when an independent investigation is due to conclude. But at least one thing was made clear today in a report from an independent group of psychologists based on e-mail exchanges between APA and CIA officials from 2003 to 2006: The world's largest professional organization for psychologists has maintained a surprisingly cozy relationship with the defense and intelligence community.

    Last year, James Risen, a reporter for The New York Times, alleged in his book Pay Any Price that APA worked closely with CIA and the White House to provide ethical justification for involving psychologists in harsh interrogations of detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. In 2003, those interrogations were revealed to involve degrading treatment and, at times, unambiguous torture. Risen claimed that APA worked closely with officials from CIA, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the White House to craft a 2005 report concluding that psychologists' involvement with CIA interrogations was ethical. And he asserted that APA incorporated language provided by CIA directly into its ethical code, providing professional cover for psychologists involved with interrogations.

    Risen's evidence is a cache of 683 e-mails provided to him by several activists and psychologists critical of APA's involvement with the government. Until now, none of those e-mails were released publicly.

  • Can unrest be predicted?

    According to an analysis of Twitter data, social unrest like the riots and marches in Baltimore can be predicted ahead of time.

    According to an analysis of Twitter data, social unrest like the riots and marches in Baltimore can be predicted ahead of time.

    AP Photo/Matt Rourke

    The broken glass and burned wreckage are still being cleared in the wake of the riots that convulsed Baltimore's streets on 27 April. The final trigger of the unrest was the funeral of a 25-year-old African-American man who had died in police custody, but observers point to many other root causes, from income inequality to racial discrimination. But for a few researchers who are studying Baltimore's unrest, the question is not the ultimate causes of the riot but its mechanism: How do such riots self-organize and spread? One of those researchers, Dan Braha, a social scientist at the New England Complex Systems Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been collecting data from Twitter that spans the riot from buildup to aftermath, part of a larger study of social media and social unrest around the world.

    Q: What can you learn about the Baltimore riots from social media?

    A: The protesters are mostly teens who use social media routinely. The riots that started around 3:30 p.m.—ignited by messages on social media urging high school students to “purge”—spread within 3 hours around the city. It's interesting to see the pattern of spread, much like forest fires, spreading in clusters and locally. The riots, in my view, could easily spread also across other cities in the United States where racial tensions are high and are close to a tipping point.

  • President’s science adviser attacks COMPETES bill in U.S. House, raises concern about NASA bill

    John Holdren at a White House event earlier this year.

    John Holdren at a White House event earlier this year.

    NASA/FLICKR (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    The president’s science adviser today criticized science policy legislation moving through the U.S. House of Representatives, hinting that his boss would veto the two bills if they ever reached his desk.

    Speaking at the annual Forum on Science and Technology Policy sponsored by AAAS (publisher of ScienceInsider), John Holdren had harsh words for the America COMPETES Act approved last week by the House science committee. He also expressed concern about a bill being marked up today by the science committee to reauthorize NASA programs. It’s the first comment on either bill by the White House, which typically refrains from taking an official position on legislation until it is scheduled for a vote by the full House or Senate.

    “In my personal opinion, the COMPETES bill as it now stands is bad for science, it’s bad for scientists and engineers, bad for the federal science agencies, and damaging to the world-leading U.S. scientific enterprise,” Holdren told the Washington, D.C., audience.

  • World's biggest telescope will build its headquarters in the United Kingdom

    An artist's impression shows the proposed extension to SKA's current building at Jodrell Bank.

    An artist's impression shows the proposed extension to SKA's current building at Jodrell Bank.

    University of Manchester

    The partners planning to build the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which will be by far the world’s biggest radio telescope, have passed up the chance of headquartering the organization in the historic Castello Carrarese in the northern Italian city of Padua and will instead move into a new purpose-built HQ at Jodrell Bank near Manchester, U.K., SKA’s current interim home.

    At a meeting at Jodrell Bank yesterday, the 11 partners—Australia, Canada, China, Germany, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom—weighed up bids from the United Kingdom and Italy and came down in favor of the former. “Now we’ll begin formal negotiations with the United Kingdom to establish the headquarters at Jodrell Bank,” says SKA Director General Philip Diamond.

    Italy was something of an underdog in the competition to host the SKA HQ, which began last year with an invitation to bid. Castello Carrarese was used as a prison for much of the 20th century and is now being renovated. Padua is also home to an observatory of Italy’s National Institute of Astrophysics and a world-class university. Jodrell Bank is the site of Britain’s Lovell Telescope which, although built in 1957, remains the third largest steerable radio dish. The site is 30 kilometers from the university city of Manchester.

  • New version of cures bill recommends $10 billion boost for NIH

    An ambitious effort in the U.S. House of Representatives to jump-start biomedical innovation took another step forward today with the release of a bipartisan draft bill. The so-called 21st Century Cures Act contains huge news for supporters of biomedical research: It recommends substantial budget increases for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including $10 billion in extra funding over 5 years. Other provisions aimed at speeding the drug approval process at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are mostly unchanged from an earlier version, but some incentives for drug developers have been removed.

    Although the call for increased NIH funding is aspirational—the bill can only recommend funding levels, not require congressional appropriators to provide the cash—it is still “some of the best news for NIH funding since 2003,” says Patrick White, president of Act for NIH, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. (A big one-time budget increase as part of the 2009 to 2010 stimulus funding was another high point, he notes.)

    United for Medical Research, a Washington, D.C.–based coalition of research, patient, and industry groups, commented that a $10 billion increase would “help put the NIH on a sustainable growth path and ensure the United States remains the world’s medical innovation leader.” Other provisions affecting NIH have drawn concern, however, and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), based in Rockville, Maryland, calls the draft bill “a mixed bag.”

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