BEIJING—Chinese science leaders here today threw their weight behind plans to embrace open access and Western norms of scientific conduct, including a plea from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) for more rigorous evaluation and peer review.
At the start of the Global Research Council meeting here on Monday, CAS released a statement exhorting its scientists to raise their game. “Chinese science today still faces formidable challenges and problems … result[ing] in a weak scientific ethos.” The academy called for “urgent measures to establish excellence-oriented evaluation systems and funding mechanisms for Chinese science.”
BRUSSELS—The European Commission today turned down a request by pro-life organizations to block E.U. funding for research using embryonic stem cells—causing many scientists to breathe a sigh of relief. The commission says the existing rules under the European Union's science program, Horizon 2020, are appropriate and will not change.
Last month, a citizens' initiative called One of Us asked the commission to stop funding research in which embryos are destroyed. Because the initiative reached 1 million verified signatures from seven or more member states, the commission had to formally consider the proposal.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the state of Florida cannot execute death row inmate Freddie Lee Hall based solely on his IQ test score.
In line with amicus briefs written by a bevy of professional mental health organizations, the court ruled that Hall and his lawyers must be allowed to present additional evidence of his intellectual disability before state officials can decide if he can be put to death. The decision reins in a state’s power to determine who is mentally competent enough to qualify for the death penalty.
NEW DELHI—India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, today appointed a pair of physicians to the top science jobs in his Cabinet.
Science minister Jitendra Singh, 57, a diabetes specialist from the conflict-riven state of Jammu and Kashmir, has studied, among other things, stress as a cause of diabetes in Kashmiri Hindus forced to migrate from the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley in the 1990s. Singh has several hot potatoes already on his plate, including crafting regulations governing genetically modified foods and how to make clinical trials more transparent. Singh told ScienceInsider that he feels “tense” about meeting the expectations of India’s scientific community. “A new odyssey has begun,” he says.
BERLIN—Financing for German science got a boost yesterday when politicians agreed on how to spend €9 billion slated for education over the next 4 years. Disagreements between the federal and state governments had delayed plans for distributing the money, promised in November, between preschools, schools, and universities.
At a meeting on Monday evening, Angela Merkel and leaders of her party’s coalition partners agreed that the federal government will take over the full cost of the country’s financial aid program for university students—which will amount to a €1.2 billion savings for state budgets each year. The states have promised to spend those savings on schools and universities.
In addition, the states agreed to a change in the constitution that would allow the federal government to fund universities directly, which is currently forbidden. Science leaders have lobbied for the change for years, but the states have been reluctant to give up any of their control over education to the federal government.
Legislators once liked to brag about increasing the budgets of their favorite programs. Today, in an era of fiscal constraints, most members of Congress prefer to remind voters how they have held down federal spending.
Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX) says he’s accomplished both goals—boosting spending in certain areas while remaining fiscally prudent—in his pending bill setting out policy for the National Science Foundation (NSF). But it takes some unorthodox arithmetic to square the claims by the chair of the House of Representatives science committee with the actual numbers in his Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology Act (FIRST) Act.
In a recent online commentary for Scientific American, Smith claims that FIRST would authorize Congress to increase funding next year for four of NSF’s seven research directorates—engineering, mathematics and physical sciences, computer science, and biology “by between 7 and 8 percent.” Yet, in the bill itself, the 2015 budgets of those four directorates would rise by only 2.2%, 2.4%, 2.2%, and 2.2%, respectively, from 2014 levels.
Work on the telltale traces of the early universe, protein production, and algebra has netted Shaw Prizes for 2014 for a half-dozen scientists.
Half of the astronomy prize goes to Daniel Eisenstein of Harvard University, and the other half will be split by Shaun Cole of Durham University and John Peacock of the University of Edinburgh for the trio’s contributions to measuring galaxy distribution. That distribution reveals the imprint of sound waves in the hot plasma of the primordial universe. The sound waves, called baryon acoustic oscillations, may help probe the nature of the dark energy that's accelerating the universe’s expansion.
Last week's European elections have seen an unprecedented surge of parties that want to cut back on the union's powers—prompting fears that pan-European research policies could be slowed down.
According to the latest official estimates today, the biggest winners of the elections are extremist parties with an anti-immigration, anti-E.U. stance. This includes the U.K. Independence Party, which has pledged to pull the country out of the European bloc, and France's far-right National Front, which scooped 25% of the country's votes, relegating the ruling socialist party to third place.
These parties will remain a minority in the European Parliament, however. The center-right European People’s Party (EPP) won 28.36% of the Parliament's seats, down from 35.77% in the outgoing chamber. Despite this drop, it remains the largest political group in the Parliament ahead of the social-democrats (S&D, who appear stable with about 25% of seats), followed by pro-European liberals, and greens.
While E.U. research funding programs make up an ever-growing part of the bloc's budget, R&D policy largely remains the turf of individual governments—and Eurocritics will certainly prefer to keep it that way. Efforts to make the union's research policies more cohesive, for example through joint science programs where several countries share funding pots and priorities, have remained noncompulsory, complex, and slow to pick up steam.
A group of crowd-funded amateurs, students, and NASA retirees are on the cusp of resurrecting—and possibly taking control of—a disused NASA spacecraft that has been coasting around the solar system since the days of disco.
On 21 May, NASA said it would allow the group to contact the International Sun-Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3), which studied space weather after its launch in 1978 and went on to study two comets. NASA stopped operating the spacecraft in 1997, but through the years the plucky probe has kept broadcasting a carrier signal.
The group, called the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, is installing a radio amplifier at the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. Sometime in the next few days, some of its members will use the powerful radio dish to try and exchange “tones” with the spacecraft. That handshake would be a first step toward regaining control of the spacecraft. In the subsequent weeks, the group would check the spacecraft’s vital signs and attempt to move it into a new orbit.
An opinion column in today’s issue of The New York Times tackles a long-standing tension in the clinical trial world: the reluctance to include older subjects, even though they’re most of the population taking medications. Trials routinely bar senior citizens from their ranks, in part because researchers and drug regulators worry that the older you are, the more likely you are to have complicated health conditions that make testing new drugs more challenging. The opinion piece cites a paper published in The Journal of the American Medical Associationback in 2007, which found that nearly 40% of trials in big-name journals between 1994 and 2006 excluded people over 65.