The Communist Party’s effort to root out corruption in officialdom is now targeting its biggest fish to date in the Chinese science establishment. On 12 April, the state news agency Xinhua reported that Shen Weichen, Communist Party secretary at the China Association for Science and Technology, or CAST, “is now under investigation for suspected serious violation of discipline and laws.”
On its website, CAST describes itself as “the bridge linking Chinese science and technology community with the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government.” The nongovernmental organization, headquartered in Beijing, may be best known in China for its efforts to popularize science for the general public and its occasional reports on the state of the nation’s scientific workforce. Its U.S. equivalent is AAAS, publisher of ScienceInsider.
BERLIN—Global greenhouse emissions are skyrocketing. Emissions cuts required to avoid dangerous impacts of climate change are steep. And despite decades of talk, world governments have made paltry efforts to address the problem.
That’s the grim picture painted by a major report on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions released today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
“There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual,” said Ottmar Edenhofer, an energy expert at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, who was a co-chair of the roughly 500-page report, in a statement.
The report also describes the daunting work required to sidestep climate dangers, says energy expert Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California. “To greatly reduce [carbon dioxide] emissions, we must revolutionize our systems of energy production and consumption,” he says. And that’s a “long, hard, and costly undertaking.”
A 2012 paper on the regenerative powers of the human heart has been retracted from the journal Circulation amid an investigation of compromised data. The American Heart Association, which publishes the journal, issued an 8 April retraction for the paper, whose corresponding author was Piero Anversa, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The retraction states that “an ongoing institutional review by Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital has determined that the data are sufficiently compromised that a retraction is warranted.”
Another author is Circulation’s editor-in-chief, Joseph Loscalzo, who is chair of Brigham’s Department of Medicine. The journal received a letter late last week from Harvard University’s dean for faculty and research integrity calling for the retraction, Rose Marie Robertson, chief science and medical officer at the American Heart Association, tells ScienceInsider. She said the letter mentioned problems with the data in several of the paper’s figures. A Brigham representative declined to give any details about the ongoing review. Robertson said that, based on Harvard’s letter, she has no concerns about Loscalzo’s role in the paper and that he recused himself from both the review process and the retraction.
President Barack Obama today nominated Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the White House budget office, to replace Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Burwell, 48, has a background in public policy and held several positions in the Clinton administration, including deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). From 2001 to 2011, she worked for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where for several years she headed the foundation’s Global Development Program. Under her purview were projects ranging from agricultural development—including crop research—to polio eradication. She directed the Walmart Foundation before she became OMB director a year ago.
As HHS director, Burwell will continue efforts to carry out the Affordable Care Act. Sebelius struggled with that task, enduring months of criticism for problems with the government’s health insurance website. The former governor of Kansas announced her resignation today.
Imagine the McDonald’s Australia Antarctic Expedition or perhaps the launch of Australia’s new research vessel, the Microsoft Australis. These scenarios are not complete fantasy. Government officials this week told staff at the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), the nation’s lead polar science agency, that planned funding cuts mean the division will be seeking “[a]lternative funding models” for research, including philanthropic donations and commercial sponsorship.
Gordon de Brouwer, secretary of the federal Environment Department, which oversees AAD, told scientists and support staff on 8 April that the division, based near Hobart, Tasmania, also faces an unspecified number of “voluntary” job losses. According to the acting regional secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union, Jessica Munday, AAD has already lost 30 employees over the past few months, leaving the remaining 300 staff members stretched. “So more cuts could impact workloads and research capabilities,” she told Fairfax Media.
The news follows a warning issued late last month by the Australian Academy of Science that the country’s strategic position in Antarctica is at risk because of a declining scientific effort there. Seven countries have made territorial claims to Antarctica under the 1961 Antarctic Treaty, and Australia’s claim of 43% of the continent is the largest. Such claims, however, have little practical effect under the treaty, which does not recognize, dispute, or establish territorial claims, and establishes an access system to the continent governed by the 50 nations that have signed the treaty.
ITER, the international fusion experiment under construction in Cadarache, France, aims to prove that nuclear fusion is a viable power source by creating a "burning plasma" that produces more energy than the machine itself consumes. Although that goal is at least 20 years away, ITER is already burning through money at a prodigious pace. The United States is only a minor partner in the project, which began construction in 2008. But the U.S. contribution to ITER will total $3.9 billion—roughly four times as much as originally estimated—according to a new cost estimate released yesterday. That is about $1.4 billion higher than a 2011 cost estimate, and the numbers are likely to intensify doubts among some members of Congress about continuing the U.S. involvement in the project.
The United States and ITER share a complicated history. The project was first proposed in 1985 as a joint venture with the Soviet Union and Japan. The United States backed out of that effort in 1998, citing concerns over cost and feasibility—only to jump in again in 2003. At the time, ITER was envisioned to cost roughly $5 billion. That estimate had grown to $12 billion by 2006, when the European Union, China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and United States signed a formal agreement to build the device. The United States agreed, essentially, to build 9% of the parts for the reactor, at whatever price was necessary.
The next chapter in the long-running scientific story of Michigan’s Isle Royale wolves will not include a dramatic genetic rescue. After 2 years of consideration, the National Park Service (NPS) announced this week that it will not introduce mainland wolves to revive the genetically inbred and declining wolf population on the isolated island. “The decision is not to intervene as long as there is a breeding population,” Isle Royale National Park Superintendent Phyllis Green tells ScienceInsider.
Isle Royale, in Lake Superior, is a wilderness area where hands-off management has been the rule. But a recent record decline in wolf numbers—and ripple effects on the island’s moose and forest—convinced researchers studying the predator-prey system that genetic rescue of the wolves was an ecological necessity. The decision not to introduce wolves is disappointing to many scientists who have consulted with NPS about its plan.
Wildlife ecologist Rolf Peterson of Michigan Technological University (MTU) in Houghton, who has been studying the Isle Royale wolves since 1970, notes that the park service announcement makes no mention of ecosystem functioning or health. He and MTU collaborator John Vucetich are planning a response to the NPS decision, which they will release next week. It will accompany their annual report on this winter’s fieldwork, the 56th year of the study. “I’m sure the word disappointed will be in our statement,” Peterson says.
BERLIN—Former German Education and Research Minister Annette Schavan is giving up her fight to keep her Ph.D. title, she announced today on her website. It marks the end of one of the most hotly debated plagiarism cases here in recent years.
Schavan was awarded the degree in educational science at the University of Düsseldorf after completing her dissertation in 1980. More than 30 years later, Schavan, by then the nation's education and research minister, was charged with plagiarism by an anonymous accuser who posted an analysis of the dissertation online. The University of Düsseldorf investigated and in February 2013 revoked the degree. Just 4 days later, Schavan resigned.
But the wrangling continued even after her resignation. Although Schavan acknowledged mistakes in her dissertation, she denied any intent to mislead and took her case to court. Last month, the Düsseldorf Administrative Court ruled that the university's action "was taken in compliance with the law." Schavan had taken several passages from secondary sources without citing them correctly, the court found. "After being able to think about the judgment … for a few days, I have decided not to appeal and to end the legal fighting," Schavan wrote in the statement on her home page. "Now I am preparing for new challenges and am looking forward to them." Schavan, a devout Catholic, has been tapped as Germany's ambassador to the Vatican.
BMJ has published the latest volley in a battle over one of the most controversial drugs of the 21st century: the anti-influenza compound oseltamivir, better known as Tamiflu. A working group of the Cochrane Collaboration, an international network of scientists that performs systematic reviews of the medical literature, has carried out the most exhaustive meta-analysis yet of the drug’s efficacy—and its conclusions are, once again, pretty damning.
Tamiflu can make flu symptoms disappear a little sooner than they would otherwise, the authors say, but there is no evidence that it can prevent serious complications from flu, or keep people out of the hospital. The group questions the wisdom of buying massive stockpiles of the drug to prepare for influenza pandemics, as many countries have done.
The review comes after a long, drawn-out fight to obtain all available data from Tamiflu trials from Roche, the company that produces the drug. The Cochrane group, with active support from BMJ, eventually won that tussle, and in doing so made Tamiflu the poster child for a successful broader campaign to ensure access to clinical trial data. (The European Medicines Agency has already said that it will make the information it receives from drug companies publicly available, and several companies—including Roche and GlaxoSmithKline—have pledged to become far more transparent.)